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.
Rebecca S. Richards
For much of human history, “femininity” and “masculinity” were unknown terms. But that does not mean that the concept of gender did not exist. Indeed, many societies in recorded history had conceptions of what it means to be a gendered person—most often noted in the binary of “man” and “woman”—but these conceptions were normative and perceived as intrinsic to human behavior and culture. Masculinity and femininity were naturalized concepts, assumed to be the ways in which men and women should act, look, or communicate.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, scholars and activists noted that femininity and masculinity are social constructions of a gendered society, often denoting the ways in which people, objects, and practices conform to or transgress gendered expectations. Both terms are highly contingent upon the cultural, historical, and geopolitical locations in which they are used, meaning that they can only be accurately understood or defined for a given time or context; it is impossible to define either term in a universal manner. Femininity, as an articulated concept, has a longer history of being visible and enforced by communities. Masculinity, on the contrary, historically elided critique or visibility because its attributes were often the normative and prized values and characteristics of a given social context. However, feminist movements and intellectual projects have brought masculinity to light, showing the ways in which masculinity, just as much as femininity, is a learned and enforced way of viewing actions, people, and things.
In communication studies, current scholarship on masculinity and femininity examine how they circulate in a globalized world, picking up new definitions and often restructuring people’s lives. Even though both terms are abstractions with shifting definitions and applications, they create the conditions for people’s sense of identity and limit or enhance their ability to engage in communicative acts. Differently stated, while abstract concepts, they have material consequences. To understand how an abstract social construction creates material consequences, communication scholars have looked at several research locations where masculinity and femininity most obviously manifest, such as leadership and authority, media representations, rhetorical style and delivery, and interpersonal communications.
Performance studies presumes that political economy, cultural continuity, self-fashioning, and interpersonal exchange are embodied, aesthetic, affective, creative, contested, and rhetorical processes whose work can be understood through analyses of their presentational and representational particulars. Scholars in the field investigate storytelling, ritual, dance, music, and theater: live and mediated, professional and amateur. But they also deploy “performance” as a heuristic tool for examining practices of everyday life, history, the economy and the law, material culture, and other cultural forms not typically considered performance with the goal of excavating their aesthetic, theatrical, spectacular, audience-directed qualities, then explaining how these qualities do cultural and political work. Thus, in performance studies, performance is both an object and a method of study: a mode of communication and a strategy for framing and examining cultural artifacts and processes. Performance practice is a primary commitment in performance studies; it is a site to be investigated, a mode of scholarly inquiry, and a tool of scholarly representation. Within the field of communication, it is most closely aligned with rhetoric and critical cultural studies. But its many interdisciplinary incarnations include those that privilege modes of communication other than the linguistic, including dance studies and ethnomusicology.
The field of performance studies is highly interdisciplinary, with its roots in the practices of elocution, the oral interpretation of literature, and theater, as well as anthropology and folklore studies. The fundamentally contested nature of performance as a concept requires researchers to clarify the parameters and presumptions about performance in their analyses, including who or what performs, and in what sense. The field’s investment in the body as a site of knowledge and cultural production is evidenced in its primary methodologies, including performance ethnography, performance historiography, and oral history. This investment in the body also emerges in the field’s use of performed and written autoethnography and in experiments with performative writing.