Jari Lyytimäki and Timo Assmuth
Communication is typically understood in terms of what is communicated. However, the importance of what is intentionally or unintentionally left out from the communication process is high in many fields, notably in communication about environmental and health risks. The question is not only about the absolute lack of information. The rapidly increasing amount and variability of available data require actors to identify, collect, and interpret relevant information and screen out irrelevant or misleading messages that may lead to unjustified scares or hopes and other unwanted consequences. The ideal of balanced, integrative, and careful risk communication can only rarely be seen in real-life risk communication, shaped by competition and interaction between actors emphasizing some risks, downplaying others, and leaving many kinds of information aside, as well as by personal factors such as emotions and values, prompting different types of responses. Consequently, risk communication is strongly influenced by the characteristics of the risks themselves, the kinds of knowledge on them and related uncertainties, and the psychological and sociocultural factors shaping the cognitive and emotive responses of those engaged in communication. The physical, economic, and cultural contexts also play a large role. The various roles and factors of absent information in integrative environmental and health risk communication are illustrated by two examples. First, health and environmental risks from chemicals represent an intensively studied and widely debated field that involves many types of absent information, ranging from purposeful nondisclosure aimed to guarantee public safety or commercial interests to genuinely unknown risks caused by long-term and cumulative effects of multiple chemicals. Second, light pollution represents an emerging environmental and health issue that has gained only limited public attention even though it is associated with a radical global environmental change that is very easy to observe. In both cases, integrative communication essentially involves a multidimensional comparison of risks, including the uncertainties and benefits associated with them, and the options available to reduce or avoid them. Public debate and reflection on the adequacy of risk information and on the needs and opportunities to gain and apply relevant information is a key issue of risk management. The notion of absent information underlines that even the most widely debated risk issues may fall into oblivion and re-emerge in an altered form or under different framings. A typology of types of absent information based on frameworks of risk communication can help one recognize its reasons, implications, and remediation.
Matthew S. May and Kate Siegfried
Louis Pierre Althusser (1918–1990) is widely recognized as one of the most significant and influential Marxist philosophers associated with the structuralist turn in the middle of the 20th century. The ongoing publication of scholarly monographs that develop his conceptual legacy, the depth of his impact in disciplinary debates in fields across the humanities and social sciences, and the continued translation of his work from French into multiple languages, to offer only a few examples, testify to the consensus regarding the enduring importance of his theoretical innovations and often controversial interventions. He devoted tremendous intellectual energy toward a critique of humanism and phenomenological-based Marxism even as he eschewed traditional positivist economic explanations of history and exploitation—engaging in what amounts to nothing less than an effort to fundamentally shift the way the West reads and interprets Marx. Despite the controversial aspects of his interventions, there is little disagreement that the concepts produced by Althusser irreversibly affected and continue to affect the trajectory of Marxist and post-Marxist thought throughout the world, albeit often through the back door, smuggled in and unrecognized—in his lexicon: as an embedded but nevertheless absent cause.
Shawn Meghan Burn
Bystander intervention is a form of helping that occurs when onlookers intercede to provide direct or indirect aid to a victim. When bystanders step in to prevent or reduce harm to others, they act as agents of primary and secondary health prevention. But theory and research suggest the bystander intervention process is complex and multiple social-psychological and situational barriers imperil bystander action. Bystanders are often ill-prepared to intervene when others are at risk for emotional or physical harm. They may not notice that someone needs help due to distraction from self-focus, engagement in social interaction, intoxication, or aspects of the situation like crowding or noise. Due to inadequate knowledge, bystanders may misdiagnose the situation and believe intervention is unnecessary. The negative consequences of nonintervention may be unknown to them such that the situation fails to increase their empathic arousal and motivate their action. Lacking knowledge, they may not recognize the seriousness of the situation and or the potential costs of inaction, and so are insufficiently alarmed. Pluralistic ignorance can arise when multiple uncertain bystanders conceal their concern and hesitate to act, assuming others’ inaction means intervention is inappropriate or unnecessary. When there are multiple witnesses, bystanders may assume their help is unneeded, place intervention responsibility on others, or feel less responsible for helping due to diffusion of responsibility. When the victim is not a member of their in-group, or is assumed at fault for their predicament, they may feel less empathy and a reduced responsibility to help. Or, bystanders may assign responsibility for intervention to the victim’s friends or fellow in-group members, or to those “in charge” of the setting. Even when bystanders realize help is needed and take responsibility for helping, they may not act if they do not know how or lack confidence in their ability to successfully carry out the actions required to help. When they have the skills, they may not help if they perceive the costs of action to outweigh the benefits of action. Audience inhibition arising from group norms supporting inaction and from bystander worry about what others will think about them if they act unnecessarily or ineptly can prevent bystander action by increasing bystanders’ perceived helping costs.
Recognition of bystanders as a potentially valuable public health asset has increased interest in promoting bystander intervention. Bystander intervention promotion and communications empower bystander action by combating intervention- and audience-specific barriers to bystander intervention using targeted information, communications, and skills training. Theory and research suggest that effective promotions and communications foster context-specific attitudes, beliefs, norms, and skills such that bystanders: (1) are able to quickly and accurately identify a situation as intervention-appropriate; (2) experience action-motivating arousal (including empathy) in the face of the event; (3) have positive attitudes towards intervention and perceive the benefits of action as outweighing the perceived costs; (4) are empowered to act and feel confident in their ability to effectively intervene (bystander efficacy); and (5) are resistant to evaluation apprehension and norms contraindicating action. Effective bystander intervention promotion draws on social psychology and communications studies, and best practices for health promotion and prevention programs. The application of social marketing and formative and summative program evaluation methods enhance the potential of bystander intervention promotions and communications to empower bystander action.
Behavioral journalism is a term used to describe a theory-based health communication messaging strategy that is based on conveying “role model stories” about real people and how they achieve healthy behavior changes. The aim is to stimulate imitation of these models by audiences of their peers. Theoretical foundations for the strategy itself are in Albert Bandura’s social cognitive theory and Everett Rogers’s model of diffusion of innovations, but it can be used flexibly to convey various kinds of theory-driven message content. Behavioral journalism emerged as an explicit health communication technique in the late 1970s and was developed as a distinct alternative to the social marketing approach and its focus on centrally generated messages devised by experts. It has been used subsequently to promote smoking cessation, improvements in nutrition and physical activity, avoidance of sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancy, reduced intergroup hostility, advocacy for healthy policy and environmental changes, and many other diverse health promotion objectives. Formats used for behavioral journalism include reality television programs, broadcast and print news media, printed newsletters for special audiences, documentary film and video, digital and mobile communication, and new social media. Behavioral journalism is intended for use in concert with community organization and actions to prompt and reinforce the imitation of role models and to facilitate and enable behavior change, and its use in that context has yielded many reports of significant impact on behavior. With citations of use growing steadily in the past two decades, behavioral journalism has proven to be readily adaptable to new and emerging communication technologies.
Celebrity politicians are having a profound impact on the practice of politics within the United States and United Kingdom in the 21st century. With the adoption of social media platforms, celebrity and image candidates have deployed new strategies for attracting constituents. Taken together, the proliferation of celebrity politics and the ubiquity of digital platforms have fostered a unique atmosphere in the contemporary political moment, wherein “outsider” candidates may leverage their fame to launch themselves into the public spotlight. In turn, through their celebrity brands and digital presence both populists such as the U.S. President Donald Trump and left-wing leaders including U.K. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn have established an “authenticity” in which they “occupy” a public space to define their candidacies. Consequently, as celebrities and image candidates promote political agendas among target audiences/citizens, it is necessary to reflect upon their significance in election campaigns, policy agendas, and activism.
Chandra Talpade Mohanty’s intellectual projects have consistently foregrounded a deep and rigorous critique of power—the power of capitalism, colonialism, and racialization, ethnic nationalism and heteropatriarchy—and have established the significance of feminist perspectives for struggles for economic and social justice. Her work is generative and provocative for critical cultural communication scholarship in providing methodological tools with which to think about the nexus between power and knowledge, discourse, the appropriation of the local and the particular for the formation of the global and vice versa, the formation of universals abstracted from their histories and social formations such as the “Third World Woman,” identity, and historical materialism. Hers is an intellectual project, grounded in feminism, that takes on the thorny task of carving out solidarities through critique. Her project delineates its own ideological standpoint and formulates a feminist historical materialism that strives methodologically to hold local particularities and their global implications in a tight grip. Mohanty’s work is, in fact, a provocation to formulate modes of analysis that are founded on a careful epistemological critique, such that it has often been used most productively to unravel the formulation of ethnocentric universalism. As such, Mohanty’s work has been particularly relevant for the fields of black cultural studies, feminist media studies, postcolonial communication studies, transnational media studies, race, and communication within critical cultural communication studies.
The Christian gospel message was intended to be public. The biblical basis for this is undisputable. Yet in recent times the visibility of the Christian perspective on issues affecting society that are often debated in the public sphere has declined in many Western societies. In “Sociology and Theology Reconsidered: Religious Sociology and the Sociology of Religion in Britain,” John Brewer states that “religion has tended to be restricted to the private sphere” in many modern nation-states over the 20th century, meaning public displays of religiosity have been frowned upon and strictly limited. The privatization of religion is a result of a decline in the importance of religion in modern societies, a process termed “secularization.” Yet the idea of increasing secularization in society is not accepted by all. Despite common-sense notions that such societies have become increasingly secular in nature, Christian values do still clearly underpin the nature and functioning of institutions of the state and government in many Western nation-states. Bryan Turner states in “Religion and Contemporary Sociological Theories” that since the late 20th century at least, there has actually been a “growing recognition of the importance of religion in public life”, something José Casanova termed “public religion.” The sociologist Peter Berger suggested that we began to witness the “desecularization” of the world in the late 20th century as there has been (and continues to be) a global resurgence in religious adherents. This situation was evident most considerably in the rapid growth of Christianity across the globe throughout the 20th century, a phenomenon that continues to gather momentum into the 21st century.
Sophie Christman Lavin and E. Ann Kaplan
Ecocinema involves the human gaze looking at cinema through the lens of the environment, in a manner analogous to the way feminists provided the cinematic lens of gender in the 1970s. However, as with feminism, enormous differences pertain in regard to how the ecocinema lens is mobilized.
In analyzing films from the late 1800s to the early 21st century, ecocinema studies has evolved to include critical lines of inquiry from perspectives of psychology, feminism, socioeconomics, science, and activism. Research frames used in these inquiries include: setting and landscape in films, ecological analyses of mainstream and independent fictional films, posthuman cinematic representations, transnational and regional, and more recently, trauma in speculative dystopian films. Ecocinema critics analyze films of various types, including Hollywood, independent, transnational, documentary, animated, art cinema, and especially climate fiction (“cli-fi”) films.
Ramachandra Guha’s transnational typology of environmental ideologies will provide a useful starting place for the mapping of different perspectives in ecocinema. Guha distinguished utopian wilderness environmentalism, pervasive in the United States, from the agrarian focus typical in India. Meanwhile, most developed nations utilize scientific industrial methods to exploit the environment. Oftentimes, these latter approaches are grounded in growth economies and are thus in conflict with the unrealistic ideals of so-called neo-primitivism (NP). Neo-primitivism involves returning to simple, sustainable lifestyles within or close to the natural world—lifestyles that do no environmental damage. NP is beloved by many, but the consensus is that it is idealistic to consider going back to this way of life. A film such as Avatar (produced and directed by James Cameron in 2009) addresses the complexity of diverse constructions of nature by providing examples of utopian wilderness ideology that compete with, and are opposed to, the destructive scientific industrialism that disregards and dominates nature without compunction. Other films, such as Amazon Sisters (Sweeny, 1992), Elemental (Koch, Roshan, & Vaughan-Lee, 2012), Into the Wild (Blocker, Hildebrand, Kelly, & Penn, 2007), or Grizzly Man (Beggs & Herzog, 2005), act as simultaneous celebrations and critiques of wilderness ideologies and deal with gender and racial identities, and thus they have been a central focus of ecocinema scholarship.
Although films from all genres have historically engaged environmental issues, it was rarely in a way that made a self-conscious or critical statement about the human impact on the natural world from the perspective of ecological concerns—this is the focus of ecocinema. See for example, Birt Acres’s Rough Sea at Dover (1895), the Lumiere Brothers’ Oil Wells of Baku (1896), Thomas Edison’s Sorting Refuse at Incinerating Plant, NYC (1903), and the British South Africa Company’s Rhodesia To-Day (1912). In the early 21st century, the genre that most often engages with the contemporary politics of climate change is the documentary. Documentaries, such as An Inconvenient Truth (Guggenheim, 2006), Manufactured Landscapes (Baichwal, 2006), Into Eternity (Eskilsson & Madsen, 2010), Chasing Ice (Ahrens & Orlowski, 2012), E-Waste Tragedy (Esteve, Popp, Úbeda, & Dannoritzer, 2014), This Changes Everything (Cuarón & Lewis, 2015), among others, critique human damage to the planet and thus position viewers as ethical witnesses. Such works hope to influence the outcome of our shared anthropocentric future.
The analyses of ecocinema are addressed using two distinct methods—the macro and the micro. The macro method studies how films represent the large-scale processes of earth-based climate systems, and its lens evaluates how films represent climate and environmental dilemmas facing humans as a species. The micro-lens provides enhanced analyses that explore how gender, race, and class figure into the cultural work climate fantasies perform. This lens indexes the ways in which various cultures are often disproportionately impacted by climate systems.1 Oftentimes the macro and micro levels are both incorporated in a single film and reveal the intersection between climate and culture, as seen in Taklub (Trap, Castillo & Mendoza, 2015), a film that portrays Super-typhoon Haiyan and its impact on residents in Tacloban, Philippines. As background to mapping the texts, evolving science discourses will be emphasized as evidence for global warming but with the understanding that this evidence relies on modeling. Although our main concern with this cultural work in ecocinema is how climate change impacts across gender, race, and class, the inequalities revealed also speak to the politics of climate change evident in cinematic treatments of the issue.
In understanding crowd psychology and its explanation of conflict and violence, there are different theoretical approaches that turn on different understandings of communication processes. There are three models of communication in the crowd worth reviewing: classic, normative, and dynamic. Classic models suggest that crowd members are influenced by an idea of emotion presented to them. Normative models suggest that influence is constrained by what is seen as consonant with group norms. And, finally, dynamic models examine how that which becomes normative in the group depends upon intergroup relations. The last of these approaches can explain the patterned, socially meaningful and yet changing nature of crowd action. Crowd action, itself, is a form of communication because it serves to shape the social understandings of participants as well as the social understandings of those beyond the crowd. It is argued that the nature and centrality of crowds contribute to the understanding and creating of social relations in society.
Religion encompasses many forms of communication: between groups, within groups, and with God (or other deities). Such communication can be especially powerful when group members highly identify with their religious group and the beliefs therein. Equally, it can be divisive, as evidenced by religion-based intergroup conflict and intolerance (which often overlaps along ethnic or political lines). However, not all religious communication is verbal or explicit. Religious individuals also commonly transmit their beliefs, values, and identities through symbols, physical spaces, and music. Likewise, communication with God is often pursued with silent prayer, meditation, or ritual, which also serve to reinforce one’s spirituality alongside religious group boundaries. Taken together, these varying forms of communication have implications not only for religious intergroup relations (e.g., intergroup contact or conflict), but also for intragroup relations (e.g., the strengthening of social ties) and individual health outcomes (e.g., effective communication with health care providers and coping practices). Given the importance of religious identity for many individuals, the benefits for individual well-being and intragroup relations, and yet the intergroup strife that religious group divisions can incite, the ways in which we communicate our religious group identities deserve closer attention.