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Claire Sisco King
Within the field of communication studies, critical cultural scholarship examines the interarticulation of power and culture. Drawing from critical theory and cultural studies, this research offers analysis of texts, artifacts, practices, and institutions in order to understand their potential to promote or preempt equality and social justice. Critical theory, which has Marxist origins, uses theory as a basis for critiquing and challenging systems of domination or oppression. The field of cultural studies focuses on social formations with a particular emphasis on media texts and the reception practices of audiences. Both critical theory and cultural studies emphasize the important interrelationship between ideology, or structures of belief, and the material conditions in which people live. Critical cultural research examines discourse and representation, including language and visual culture, as well as social relations, institutional structures, material practices, economic forces, and various forms of embodiment.
Central to critical cultural scholarship is attention to the construction, regulation, and contestation of categories of identity, including race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, ability, and class. A significant branch of critical cultural studies examines how ideas about gender and sex develop and circulate, asking how and why some constructions of gender and sex become normative and gain hegemony—or, cultural privilege—in a particular context. For example, such scholarship might critique the idealization of certain performances of masculinity and the attendant devaluation of femininity or other subordinated masculinities; or, this research might consider how particular iterations of masculinity or femininity may be counter-hegemonic, operating in opposition to prevailing ideologies of gender and sex. Critical cultural approaches also emphasize the intersectionality of gender and sex with other categories of identity. For instance, ideas about masculinity or femininity can rarely be separated from assumptions about race and/or sexuality; as such, prevailing ideologies of gender and sex often reflect the presumed normativity of whiteness and heterosexuality.
Helene A. Shugart
If food studies is an inherently interdisciplinary field of enquiry, communication is central to its uptake in any scholarly context, for food is inherently relational, symbolic, and deeply cultural, a powerful discourse in its own right and imbricated in a host of other discourses. Accordingly, while food studies is a relatively new area of study within the communication discipline, scholarship in that vein has had rather seamless entrée into the broader scholarly arena and has proliferated along the same general lines of investigation that characterize the field in general.
Originally rooted in cultural anthropology, early studies of the cultural significance of food assessed how food both reflects and accomplishes social identity and status, a focus that has been sustained and expanded in more contemporary studies as relevant to how food signals and mobilizes particular identities, such as race/ethnicity, nation, class, gender, and sexuality. Matters of identity are sometimes apparent in studies of the role(s) of food in global flows, including globalization, colonization, immigration, diaspora, and tourism. Much of this scholarship also or instead takes up food in terms of production and consumption, assessing the politics, economics, and geographies of food. Endeavors in this vein, in global, national, and local contexts, examine food policies and patterns of industry and how they privilege certain interests while disenfranchising others: food safety, security, and justice feature prominently in these investigations. These motifs are reflected, as well, in scholarship that examines social movements around food that seek to disrupt or resist problematic industry and farming policies and/or practices as relevant to, for example, environmental exigencies, animal welfare, eradication of the local, and availability of and/or access to safe, healthy foods.
The mediation of food is perhaps a natural subject of study for communication scholars, ranging from representations of food in film to food packaging and advertising. The recent rise of “foodie” culture has generated a proliferation of media fare, signaled by indices ranging from the now recognized genre of “food films,” to multiple television networks devoted to food, to the rise of “celebrity chefs”; food is, moreover, an increasing presence on the Internet, proliferating especially across social media. The imaginaries of authenticity and egalitarianism and the materialities of class that frequently drive foodie culture have been the focus of much of this scholarship, and they have been further identified as figuring prominently in urban practices ranging from the establishment of farmers’ markets to gentrification.
Even within the communication discipline, food studies is a wide-ranging topic, but it is not simply a diverse subject of study for communication scholars. The inherently liminal and malleable nature of food renders it difficult if not impossible to engage or theorize in terms of conventional binaries or rifts that characterize many if not most fields, such as subject/object and self/other; perhaps most salient for the communication discipline, food denies the particularly nettlesome materiality/discursivity binary. Accordingly, food studies holds considerable promise for the field relevant to theoretical innovation and expansion.
Marouf Hasian Jr.
Critical studies of humanitarian discourses involve the study of the arguments, claims, and evidence that are used to justify intervention or non-intervention in key local, regional, national, or international contexts. These discourses can take the form of arguing over whether we should practice isolationism and not intervene in the sovereign affairs of other countries, or they can take the form of deliberations over the transcend needs of populations that cope with myriad disasters. In some cases these discourses are produced by foreigners who believe that the less fortunate need to be rescued from their misery, while at other times humanitarian discourses can be used in discussions about the human rights of the disempowered. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), nation-states, celebrities, medical communications, and militaries are just a few of the rhetors that produce all of these humanitarian discourses.
Joshua F. Hoops and Jolanta A. Drzewiecka
Critical perspectives toward culture and communication address how power and macro historical, institutional, and economic structures shape and constrain interpersonal, intergroup, and mediated communication. Scholars critique forms of domination and examine how oppressed communities resist and subvert power structures to identify possibilities for change and emancipation; some strive to become public intellectuals engaged in activism in solidarity with disadvantaged communities. Analyses uncover multiplicity and fluidity of meanings and dislodge essentialist and ideological closures in interactions and discourses. This approach has been shaped by critical theory of the Frankfurt School, European poststructural and critical theories, British cultural studies, and postcolonial theories. Critical scholarship is diverse, interdisciplinary, and multimethodological. Critical scholars are self-reflexive of their own social positioning in relation to research topics and participants.
Culture, the key concept, is conceptualized as a site of multiple meanings and differences that are loci of power struggles and contestations amidst daily practices and power structures. Culture is a site of mixing and fusions across borders as groups struggling for power attempt to restrict meanings, categories, and practices. Identity and its categories, such as race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, etc., have multiple and shifting meanings that are nevertheless contingently fixed within structures supporting domination of some groups. Concepts such as diaspora, hybridity, and intersectionality address indeterminacy of belonging. Other main concepts include difference, articulation, ideology, hegemony, interpellation, and articulation.
Critical whiteness studies can be understood in terms of three overlapping waves ranging from the national to the international and from the 19th to the 21st centuries. Beginning in the Reconstruction era in the United States, the first wave criticized whiteness in the form of protection of white femininity, possessive ownership, and the public and psychological wages paid to white people during Jim Crow America. The second wave began after the end of World War II, when challenges to legalized racial segregation and European colonialism flourished. The third wave, whose beginning can be marked roughly at the end of the 20th century, is distinguished by increased examination of nonblack immigrants’ relation to whiteness, the growing number of white authors contributing to the field, and a blossoming international range of critical studies of whiteness.
Young Yun Kim
Countless immigrants, refugees, and temporary sojourners, as well as domestic migrants, leave the familiar surroundings of their home culture and resettle in a new cultural environment for varying lengths of time. Although unique in individual circumstances, all new arrivals find themselves in need of establishing and maintaining a relatively stable working relationship with the host environment. The process of adapting to an unfamiliar culture unfolds through the stress-adaptation-growth dynamic, a process that is deeply rooted in the natural human tendency to achieve an internal equilibrium in the face of adversarial environmental conditions. The adaptation process typically begins with the psychological and physiological experiences of dislocation and duress commonly known as symptoms of culture shock. Over time, through continuous activities of new cultural learning, most people are able to attain increasing levels of functional and psychological efficacy vis-a-vis the host environment. Underpinning the cross-cultural adaptation process are the two interrelated experiences of deculturation of some of the original cultural habits, on the one hand, and acculturation of new ones, on the other. The cumulative outcome of the acculturation and deculturation experiences is an internal transformation in the direction of assimilation into the mainstream culture. Long-term residents and immigrants are also likely to undergo an identity transformation, a subtle and largely unconscious shift from a largely monocultural to an increasingly intercultural self-other orientation, in which conventional, ascription-based cultural categories diminish in relevance while individuality and common humanity play an increasingly significant role in one’s daily existence. Central to this adaptation process are one’s ability to communicate in accordance to the norms and practices of the host culture and continuous and active engagement in the interpersonal and mass communication activities of the host society.
Romantic relationships are an essential part of human experience. As the world becomes more integrated, people from different cultural backgrounds and traditions unavoidably meet and fall in love. An understanding of the role that culture plays in how we fall in love and stay in love is not only relevant, but also necessary in promoting healthy development of romantic relationships. Cross-cultural romantic relationships refer to romantic relationships across national boundaries, such as romantic relationships in China and the United States.
Advances in digital technologies and participatory culture have enabled the efficient use of crowdsourcing in a broad range of contexts, including journalism. Journalism is increasingly deploying crowdsourcing as a knowledge-search method and a means of engaging readers. Through crowdsourcing, journalists can tap into the collective intelligence of large online crowds. The knowledge-search mechanism is based on access to the information held by the crowd.
Using crowdsourcing, journalists can find otherwise inaccessible information that contributes to their investigations. In several countries, crowdsourced investigations have uncovered important news, including lawbreaking and corruption. Crowdsourcing can also unveil a broader range of perspectives about a story topic, leading to more inclusive and objective journalism. As a result, crowdsourcing can support the journalistic norms of accurate, objective, and transparent reporting. Moreover, it engages participants and fosters a stronger relationship between readers and journalists. Finally, in its use of crowdsourcing journalism can enact more efficiently in its monitorial role in society.
At the same time, however, crowdsourcing may compromise the journalistic goals of accuracy and objectivity. A crowd is a self-selected group, so its input reflects a participant bias. If this fact is overlooked, crowdsourcing can lead to biased reporting. Moreover, a direct connection with the crowd can increase pressure on journalists to conform to the crowd’s wishes instead of pursuing journalistic norms and news values. This pressure can be especially strong in crowdfunding, a subtype of crowdsourcing.
Mohan Jyoti Dutta, Satveer Kaur-Gill, and Naomi Tan
Cultivation theory examines the effects of the media, mainly television on viewer perception over an extended period of time. Television is seen by people throughout the globe, with many spending considerable amounts of time watching the medium. The act of watching television has been described as the first leisure activity to cut across social and ethnic divisions in society. This made it a unique mass media tool because mass message dissemination to diverse groups in a population was made possible. Cultivation scholars have studied the effects of the medium, trying to understand how television content can alter one’s social reality. Heavy viewers are considered to be most susceptible to the effects of cultivation. The reality of these effects poses important questions for health communication scholars considering the role television plays in disseminating health messages. Health communication scholars became interested in studying cultivation to understand the health-related effects the medium could have on viewers. Understanding the health effects of television is pivotal, considering that television and the structures that constitute television content set the agendas for many health topics, often disseminating negative and positive messages that can impact society, especially the young and impressionable. With television content addressing health issues such as nutrition, diet, body image, tobacco, cancer, drugs, obesity, and women’s health, cultivation theory can offer health communication scholars a framework to understand how health behaviors are shaped by the mass media and the roles these media play in reinforcing unhealthy behaviors. By establishing a basis for studying how such portrayals have direct health-related effects on viewers, cultivation theory creates openings for questioning the structures of the media that put out unhealthy content and for interrogating the roles and responsibilities of media agenda in inculcating positive health messages. Directions for future research include looking at contextually contrasting populations that share different cultural and community values, and different ways of consuming television. Research questions exploring the roles of community structures with different sets of subjective norms, or with different roles of community norms, in the realm of cultivation effects offer new areas for exploration.
The critical study of cultural and creative industries involves the interrogation of the ways in which different social forces impact the production of culture, its forms, and its producers as inherently creative creatures. In historical terms, the notion of “the culture industry” may be traced to a series of postwar period theorists whose concerns reflected the industrialization of mass cultural forms and their attendant marketing across public and private spheres. For them, the key terms alienation and reification spoke to the negative impacts of an industrial cycle of production, distribution, and consumption, which controlled workers’ daily lives and distanced them from their own creative expressions. Fears of the culture industry drove a mass culture critique that led social scientists to address the structures of various media industries, the division of labor in the production of culture, and the hegemonic consent between government and culture industries in the military-industrial complex. The crisis of capitalism in the 1970s further directed critical scholars to theorize new dialectics of cultural production, its flexibilization via new communications technologies and transnational capital flows, as well as its capture via new property regimes. Reflecting government discourses for capital accumulation in a post-industrial economy, these theories have generally subsumed cultural industries into a creative economy composed of a variety of extra-industrial workers, consumers, and communicative agents. Although some social theorists have extended cultural industry critiques to the new conjuncture, more critical studies of creative industries focus on middle-range theories of power relations and contradictions within particular industrial sites and organizational settings. Work on immaterial labor, digital enclosures, and production cultures have developed the ways creative industries are both affective and effective structures for the temporal and spatial formation of individuals’ identities.
Patricia Olivia Covarrubias
An enduring problem for all people is the universal call for figuring out how to live together. This problem, which requires some measure of organization, quintessentially is responded to and managed in and through communication. That is, humans coordinate their daily meaningful actions via situated webs of linguistic and nonlinguistic means during the course of daily social interactions. These situated webs can be interpreted as cultural codes about communication. Further, and importantly, these codes vary across social groupings—and the codes are distinctive. This distinctiveness arises from the reality that societies shape their respective codes according to their local means and meanings; that is, to their own sets of beliefs, values, and rules for managing their lives individually and collectively.
The communicative means and meanings in and by which humans create meaningful lives are the central concern of cultural communication, which is defined as follows: the social enactment of learned systems of symbolic resources, premises, rules, emotions, spatial orientations, and notions of time that groups of people use to shape distinctive and meaningful communal identities, relationships, and ways of living and being. Indeed, cultural communication pertains to the use of language and other communicative means to carry out the activities and commitments of their particular communities in and through the use of symbolic resources. These resources include verbal and nonverbal means, as well as the rules for using and interpreting them.
This paper is inspired by a number of scholars of cultural communication, including Dell Hymes, who conceptualized the ethnography of communication (EOC); Gerry Philipsen and his notion of codes of communication; and the many scholars who have followed their leads.
The definition of cultural communication requires some fleshing out—and in particular, the tension between the individual and the communal that exists within the concept of cultural communication needs attention. Empirically accessed, real-life examples of locations where communication can be seen, heard, felt, and experienced help to explicate cultural communication. Such examples include cultural terms, silence practices, terms of address, rituals, and social dramas. Indeed, cultural communication treats culture and people, not with wide brushstrokes where the features of daily life occur uniformly and generically, but rather as unique sets of social actors whose lives are composed of intricate webs of nuanced expressions and attendant meanings, wherein each enactor plays a part in animating the symbolic resources that comprise their richly diverse schemes of life.
Eric Mark Kramer
Cultural fusion is the process of integrating new information and generating new cultural forms. Cultural fusion theory recognizes the world as a churning information environment of cultural legacies, competing and complementing one another, forming novel cultural expressions in all aspects of life, including music, cuisine, pedagogy, legal systems, governance, economic behavior, spirituality, healthcare, norms of personal and interpersonal style, family structures, and so forth. This is a process of pan-evolution, involving countless channels, not merely two cultures coming together to form a third, hybrid culture. During this process the traditional pace and form of change is itself changing. Cultures are also transformed as a result of the churning process of an emergent global semantic field generated by countless networked exchanges.
Yea-Wen Chen and Hengjun Lin
Within the discipline of communication, the concept of “cultural identities” has captivated, fascinated, and received sustained attention from scholars of communication and culture over time. Like the concept of “culture,” which is varied, complex, and at times contested, the study of cultural identity has been approached from diverse lenses, whether theoretically, methodologically, or ontologically. In one sense, cultural identity can be understood as the experience, enactment, and negotiation of dynamic social identifications by group members within particular settings. As an individual identifies with—or desires acceptance into—multiple groups, people tend to experience, enact, or negotiate not just one cultural identity at a time but often multiple cultural identities at once. Further, how one experiences her/his intersecting cultural identities with others can vary from context to context depending on the setting, the issue at hand, the people involved, etc. Not surprisingly, intercultural communication scholars have contributed quite a number of theories concerning cultural identities within communication interactions: co-cultural theory, cultural contract theory, and identity negotiation theory, to name a few. In addition, intercultural communication scholars have offered rich cases that examine dynamic enactments, negotiations, or contestations of cultural identities across important contexts such as race, media, and globalization. Ultimately, the study of cultural identities offers rich understandings for both oneself and others. As the world that we inhabit is becoming increasingly diverse, the study of cultural identities will continue to gain traction within the communication discipline and beyond.
Central to many definitions of the term “cultural imperialism” is the idea of the culture of one powerful civilization, country, or institution having great unreciprocated influence on that of another, less powerful, entity to a degree that one may speak of a measure of cultural “domination.” Cultural imperialism has sometimes been described as a theory, especially where scholars build a case that the cultural influence of the stronger entity has had a pervasive, pernicious impact on the weaker.
The term evolved from 1960s neo-Marxist discourses within cultural, media, and postcolonial studies that contextualized the post–World War II “independence” wave of new nations emerging from colonial servitude. It was propelled by the writings of nationalist revolutionaries, revolutionary theorists, and their sympathizers of the 1950s and 1960s, but it has sweeping relevance across human history. The foremost western theorist of cultural imperialism in the West was Herbert Schiller. The concept was adopted and endorsed in the 1970s by both UNESCO and the Non-Aligned Movement.
Following Oliver Boyd-Barrett, the concept may denote a field of study embracing all relationships between phenomena defined as “cultural” and as “imperialism.” These encompass cultural changes that are (1) enforced on a weaker entity and (2) occur within both stronger and weaker entities through contact, contest, and resistance, including (3) assimilation of social practices encountered by the stronger in the weaker entity, and (4) original hybrids manifesting cultural traces of both stronger and weaker entities.
The concepts of cultural and media imperialism were much critiqued during the 1980s and 1990s, and many scholars preferred alternative concepts such as globalization and cultural globalization to analyze issues of intercultural contact, whether asymmetrical or otherwise. John Tomlinson critiqued the concept, identified four different discourses of cultural imperialism, and argued in favor of its substitution with the term “globalization.” Mirrlees has placed Tomlinson’s work in context by describing the dialectical—parallel but mutually aware—development of both a cultural imperialism and a cultural globalization paradigm. Both are influential in the 21st century.
“Imperialism” commonly references relations of conquest, dominance, and hegemony between civilizations, nations, and communities. “Cultural imperialism” relates primarily to the cultural manifestations of such relations. Culture and empire relate in many different ways, fueling different theories that often play on dichotomous discourses, including territorial/non-territorial, totalistic/partial, benign/malign, ephemeral/perpetual, superficial/essential, voluntary/involuntary, intended/unintended, welcome/unwelcome, forceful/peaceful, noticed/unnoticed, linear/interactive, homogeneous/heterogeneous, and acceded/resisted.
The concept has affinities with hegemony, the idea that stability in conditions of social inequality is achieved not mainly by force but by securing the consent of the masses (starting with co-option of their indigenous leaders)—through persuasion and propaganda—to the elite’s view of the world. This process is commensurate with forms of democracy that provide the appearance but not the reality of choice and control. Fissures within the ranks of the elites and within the masses create spaces for resistance and change.
Culture encompasses the totality of social practices of a given community. Social practices are manifest within social institutions such as family, education, healthcare, worship, labor, recreation, language, communication, and decision-making, as well as their corresponding domains. Any of these can undergo change following a society’s encounter with exogenous influences—most dramatically so when stronger powers impose changes through top-down strategies of command and influence.
Analysis of cultural imperialism often incorporates notions of media imperialism with reference to (1) print, electronic, and digital media—their industrialization, production, distribution, content, and capital accumulation; (2) cultural meanings that media evoke among receivers and audience cultures; (3) audience and media interactions in representations of topics, people, and ideas; and (4) relationships between media corporations and other centers of power in the reproduction and shaping of social systems.
Media are logically subsumed as important components of cultural imperialism. Yet the significance of media can be understated. The concept of mediatization denotes that “knowledge” of social practices draws heavily on media representations. Social practices that are experienced as direct may themselves be formed through exposure to media representations or performed for media.
Discourses of cultural imperialism speak to major current controversies, including: cultural suppression and genocide; ideas of “globalization”; influential economic models of “capitalism” and “neoliberalism”; ideologies that are embedded in the global spread of concepts such as “modern,” “progressive,” “growth,” “development,” “consumerism,” “free market,” “freedom,” “democracy,” “social Darwinism” and “soft power”; cultural specificity of criteria and procedures for establishing “truth”; instrumentalization for the purposes of cultural conquest of academic disciplines such as psychoanalysis, economics, social anthropology, or marketing, or environmental crises, especially as linked to western ideologies that underwrite humanity’s “right” to dominate nature.
Kristina Riegert, Anna Roosvall, and Andreas Widholm
Cultural journalism is a subfield of journalism that encompasses what is known as arts journalism. While arts journalism is characterized by reviews, critique, news, and essays about the arts and popular culture, cultural journalism has a broader take on culture, including lifestyle issues, societal debate, and reflective ethical discussion by cultural personas or expressed in a literary style. Both arts and cultural journalists see their work as “journalism with a difference,” evoking different perspectives and worldviews from those dominating mainstream news reporting. At the same time, cultural journalism shares with journalism issues like boundary work, genre blurring, digitalization, globalization, professionalization, and “the crisis of journalism.” There are three main ways cultural journalism has been studied: one research strand defines cultural journalism as material produced by the cultural desks or material that is explicitly labelled cultural journalism; another defines it as journalism about culture, regardless of how it is labelled or produced; and a third strand includes only arts journalism, examining journalistic content on the fine arts and popular culture. Studies from all of these approaches are included in this article due to the effort to include a wide variety of countries at different time periods and an effort to track joint defining features and developments in cultural journalism. The emphasis is on the Nordic context, where the term “cultural journalism” is well established and where research is relatively comprehensive. The research is divided into three themes: the cultural public sphere and the contribution to democracy; cultural journalism’s professionalism and the challenges of digitalization; and transnational and global aspects of cultural journalism, including tendencies such as cultural homogenization and hybridization.
International research on cultural journalism as a subfield has been complicated by its varying designations (arts journalism, feuilleton, journalism about culture, entertainment), and its numerous aesthetic forms, disciplines, or types of culture, all of which are changing over time. Despite these issues, research points in the same direction: the amount of cultural journalism is increasing, and the boundaries against other types of journalism are becoming more porous. There is also a decline in editorial autonomy. In common with journalism, there is an increase in generalists working with culture and greater central managerial control in new multiplatform media organizations. The research points to an increase in a more transnationally oriented cultural journalism, mainly through a larger share of cultural news and popular culture—while its core, review and critique, has changed in character, or arguably lost ground. The increasing “newsification” of cultural journalism should prompt future research on whether the “watchdog” role vis-à-vis the cultural industries is growing. New forms of art and culture are beginning to get coverage, but also, in some cases, the intermixing of “lifestyle” with cultural journalism. The commercialization and celebrity aspects of this are clear, but new digital platforms have also enabled new voices and different formats of cultural journalism and a wider dissemination and intensity in cultural debates, all of which emphasize its democratic potential. New research on this subject appears to focus on the longitudinal changes in cultural journalism, the implications of digitalization and globalization, and cultural journalism in broadcasting.
Communication and cultural studies share turbulent and contradictory histories, epistemologies, methods, and geographies, both on their own and as partners and rivals. This is in keeping with their status as interdisciplinary areas that emerged in the early to mid-20th century and crossed the humanities and the social sciences. Communication and cultural studies are linked and distinguished both by the topics they analyze and by their politics, countries, disciplines, theories, languages, and methods. Whereas the dominant forms of communication studies are dedicated to scholarly objectivity and disciplinary coherence, cultural studies is more akin to a tendency connected to concerns and identities on the margins of academia, and committed to methodological diversity. And whereas the critical strand of communication studies, notably political economy, examines such social forces of domination as the state and capital, cultural studies investigates the struggles undertaken by ordinary people to interpret dominant cultural forms in terms of their conditions of existence. The supposedly pessimistic orientation of political economy is frequently eschewed in favor of a faith in the resistive qualities of the oppressed and silenced. A similar perspective characterizes cultural studies’ rejection of effects studies for neglecting the politicized way that active audiences interpret media texts. In place of such concerns, the dominant strands of cultural studies tend to favor aesthetic and anthropological ways of analyzing societies to examine subjectivity and power and work with the understanding that popular culture represents and creates rituals and vice versa, through institutions and discourses that construct identities, which in turn form them.
Juliet Iwelunmor and Collins Airhihenbuwa
We provide an overview on the role of culture in addressing the social determinants of health and risk. The fact that everyone is influenced by a set of locally defined forms of behavior means that while not overtly expressed, culture’s effects can be ubiquitous, influencing everything including the conditions in which people are born, grow, work, live, and age, and the wider set of forces and systems shaping health and risk messaging. While the dynamic nature of culture is underestimated and often not reflected in most research, efforts to close the gap on social determinants of health and risk will require greater clarity on what culture is and how it impacts culture-sensitive health communication. Thus, the paper begins by reviewing why culture is so vital and relevant to any attempts to improve health and reduce health inequalities. We discuss what is meant by the term “culture” through a narrative synthesis of historical and recent progress in definitions of culture. We conclude by describing three distinct cultural frameworks for health that illustrate how culture can be effectively used as a vehicle through which to address culturally sensitive health communication in local and global contexts. Overall, we believe that culture is indispensable and important for addressing inequalities and inequities in health as well as for facilitating culture-sensitive health communication strategies that will ultimately close the gap on the social determinants of health and risk.
Mohan Jyoti Dutta
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Communication. Please check back later for the full article.
Health and risk are constituted globally amid structures of unequal flow of labor, capital, commodities, and communication, shaped by the material inequalities in the distribution of resources. Globalization—the accelerated flow of goods, people, services, and capital across spaces—has been accompanied by large inequalities in economic access to resources; inequalities in access to health opportunities, health resources, and health care services; and inequalities in health outcomes (reflected in mortality and morbidity rates). Disparities in health outcomes observed within and across nation states are shaped by economic inequalities, noting the structural determinants of health, the inequities in access to health services, as well as the local-national-global policies that constitute health. Drawing upon the foundations in postcolonial and Subaltern Studies theories, the culture-centered approach (CCA) examines the communicative processes by which marginalization takes place in global contexts and the ways in which health risks and vulnerabilities are constituted amid material inequalities in distributions of resources.
With an emphasis on the processes of erasure of diverse voices, the CCA asks the question: What are the processes, strategies, and tactics through which the voices of subaltern communities are erased? The access to communicative spaces, platforms, strategies, and tools is shaped within material structures, thus shaping messages, processes, and discourses within the agendas of powerful political, social, and economic actors with economic access to resources. The disenfranchised, with limited access to the communicative spaces and to the spheres of voicing, are often absent from the discursive spaces where health policies and programs are discussed, the sites where interventions are planned, and the processes where communicative strategies targeting them are carried out. The agency of the subaltern is erased from the sites of recognition and representation where policies are debated, decided upon, implemented, and evaluated.
Connecting communication to materiality, the CCA suggests that erasure of the subaltern sectors of the globe is tied to their material disenfranchisement. Materially disenfranchised communities are missing from the policy platforms that target them through a wide variety of interventions. To understand the unequal distribution of health resources and opportunities, we need to closely examine the inequality in opportunities for having a voice and for participating in decision-making structures and processes. Putting forth the argument that inequalities in health outcomes need to be situated amid economic structures that determine how health resources will be distributed and the ways in which these mechanisms will be discussed and determined, the CCA foregrounds strategies for listening to voices that have hitherto been erased. Through strategies of listening, locally grounded understandings are placed within the discursive spaces of policy formulation and program development. In understanding the health experiences of communities that experience poor health outcomes, the emphasis is on creating spaces for listening that foreground local experiences, interpretations, and understanding. Alternative imaginations of the political economy of health are rooted in the voices of local communities at the margins, foregrounding contextually embedded interpretive frames for organizing health, healing, and curing.
Communication is understood in relationship to materiality, acknowledging the interplays between the symbolic and the material in generating health risks and vulnerabilities, and further suggesting strategies of resistance and participation that seek to invert these inequities by foregrounding subaltern rationalities of health and wellbeing. The presence of subaltern voices brings forth alternative imaginations of health, offering new theoretical frameworks that point toward alternative ways of structuring health, economics, and politics. Attending to differentials in distributions of material and communicative infrastructures, the CCA resists the marginalization of the subaltern sectors through the foregrounding of opportunities for local grassroots participation, in the definition of problem configurations and in the corresponding articulations of locally meaningful solutions. The presence of subaltern voices in discursive spaces offers alternative logics of political and economic organizing that challenge the commoditization of health as private property and suggests ideas of health rooted in community life, sustainable practices, and cooperative economies. Local interpretations of health are foregrounded, situated in relationship to the structures within which these meanings are constituted and fostering openings for imagining new structures of health grounded in local understandings. These local understandings offer entry points of solidarity for re-envisioning global practices that challenge the hegemony of neoliberalism as a universal solution to health and development.
John Baldwin, Iraklis Ioannidis, and Robert Huegel
The global world brings people increasingly into contact with those from other cultures, or else they read about them in the media, leading them to make comparative judgments about their behavior. Sometimes people make these judgments at a national or international level as nations, multinational organizations, and social action organizations seek to discuss human rights across cultures. Contemporary Western ethics find their origins in discussions of ethics and morality by Immanuel Kant (deontological ethics) and Aristotle (teleological ethics). These and other ethical approaches are certainly relevant to communication scholars and practitioners in general, but those working across cultures face particular ethical dilemmas. Unfortunately, interculturalists often do not discuss ethics, or if they do, they discuss them in a brief and superficial way, which might give way to their own ethical stance to color their understanding of others.
Those who discuss ethics face a major tension between seeking a single ethical approach that applies to all cultures (i.e., ethical absolutism) and letting each culture determine its own ethical direction (i.e., cultural relativism, one form of the broader notion of ethical relativism). Various authors have proposed deriving a stance from what ethical stances seem to be universal, much as the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights seems to do. Others propose peace or humanitarian ethics that would leave most cultural elements alone in other cultures, but speak when actions, policies, or social situations work against the human dignity of individuals.
Jürgen Habermas, on the other hand, proposes that people seek ideal speech situations, where people can have open dialogue without restraints, such as power differentials. Finally, as a way out of the ethical maze, others have proposed a dialogic or communicative approach that is not relative, but with which people involved in ethical decisions enter discussions with each other, often considering a wide array of contextual factors that might affect ethical outcomes.
Prejudice is a broad social phenomenon and area of research, complicated by the fact that intolerance exists in internal cognitions but is manifest in symbol usage (verbal, nonverbal, mediated), law and policy, and social and organizational practice. It is based on group identification (i.e., perceiving and treating a person or people in terms of outgroup membership); but that outgroup can range from the more commonly known outgroups based on race, sex/gender, nationality, or sexual orientation to more specific intolerances of others based on political party, fan status, or membership in some perceived group such as “blonde” or “athlete.” This article begins with the link of culture to prejudice, noting specific culture-based prejudices of ethnocentrism and xenophobia. It then explores the levels at which prejudice might be manifest, finally arriving at a specific focus of prejudice—racism; however, what applies to racism may also apply to other intolerances such as sexism, heterosexism, classism, or ageism.
The discussion and analysis of prejudice becomes complicated when we approach a specific topic like racism, though the tensions surrounding this phenomenon extend to other intolerances such as sexism or heterosexism. Complications include determining the influences that might lead to individual racism or an atmosphere of racism, but also include the very definition of what racism is: Is it an individual phenomenon, or does it refer to an intolerance that is supported by a dominant social structure? Because overt intolerance has become unpopular in many societies, researchers have explored how racism and sexism might be expressed in subtle terms; others investigate how racism intersects with other forms of oppression, including those based on sex/gender, sexual orientation, or colonialism; and still others consider how one might express intolerance “benevolently,” with good intentions though still based on problematic racist or sexist ideologies.