Conversation analytic research on “preference organization” investigates recorded episodes of naturally occurring social interaction to elucidate how people systematically design their actions to either promote or undermine social solidarity. This line of work examines public forms of conduct that are highly generalized and institutionalized, not the private desires or preferences of individuals.
For each action a person does in interaction—be it sequence-initiating or sequence-responding—there are alternative ways of doing it. These alternatives are not, however, symmetrical or equally valued. Rather, each alternative has different implications for “face,” “affiliation,” and the relationship of the participants involved.
As an example of a sequence-initiating action, in accomplishing the transfer of something of value (e.g., a loan of money, a ride, information about fellow participants) from one person to another, a participant may do the action of offering, or requesting, that valued item. But the interactants do not treat these offering or requesting alternatives as equivalent. Several studies demonstrate that the social action of offering is “preferred” over the action of requesting. Participants display their orientation to actions as “preferred” by producing them straightforwardly—without delay, qualification, or account. Correlatively, participants treat actions as “dispreferred” by withholding, delaying, qualifying, and/or accounting for them. More specifically, when opening face-to-face encounters, participants treat offers of information as valued and thus “preferred” over requests for that information, because such offers engender solidarity by enabling people to feel included (rather than excluded): Offers of information identifying unfamiliar persons are preferred during introduction sequences; and when a newcomer arrives to an already-in-progress interaction, an already-present speaker’s offer of information about the previous activity/topic of that interaction is preferred.
As an example of a sequence-responding action, after a participant issues a request, the addressed-recipient can grant, or refuse, that request. Again, participants do not treat these alternative response types as equally valued. Whereas participants recurrently do the action of granting in the preferred format—as this response is usually affiliative and supportive of social solidarity, they tend to do the action of refusing in the dispreferred format, as this response is most often disaffiliative and destructive of social solidarity.
Preference organization research illuminates how interaction works in both casual and institutional settings. For an example of the latter, during parent-teacher conferences, there is a marked contrast between how parents and teachers do the actions of praising and criticizing students: Whereas teachers design their student-praising utterances in the preferred format, parents treat their articulation of student praise as dispreferred. Correspondingly, whereas teachers treat their student-criticizing utterances as dispreferred, parents routinely produce their student criticisms as preferred. This regular pattern of parent-teacher interaction constitutes an endogenous method for circumventing conflict. Research on preference organization thus empirically demonstrates that human interaction is organized to promote social affiliation at the expense of conflict.
Patricia S. Parker, Jing Jiang, Courtney L. McCluney, and Verónica Caridad Rabelo
Difference in human experience can be parsed in a variety of ways and it is this parsing that provides the entry point to our discussion of “race,” “gender,” “class,” and “sexuality” as foci of study in the field of organizational communication. Social sorting of difference has material consequences, such as whether individuals, groups, organizations, communities, and nations have equal and equitable access to civil/participative liberties, food, clean water, health, housing, education, and meaningful work. Communication perspectives enable researchers to examine how difference is produced, sustained, and transformed through symbolic means. That is, communication organizes difference. In the field of organizational communication the communicative organizing of race, gender, class, and sexuality is examined in everyday social arrangements, such as corporate and not-for-profit organizations, communities, and other institutional contexts locally and globally. Topics of central concern in organizational communication difference studies are those related to work and the political economy of work, such as labor, conflicts between public and private domains, empowerment, and agency.
Research on race, gender, class, and sexuality as communicatively structured difference has progressed in the field of organizational communication from early top-down functionalist approaches, to bottom-up and emergent interpretive/critical/materialist methods, to poststructuralist approaches that deconstruct the very notion of “categories” of difference. More complex intersectional approaches, including queer theory and postcolonial/decolonial theory, are currently gaining traction in the field of organizational communication. These advances signal that difference studies have matured over the last decades as the field moved toward questioning and deconstructing past approaches to knowledge production while finding commensurability across diverse theoretical and research perspectives. These moves open up more possibilities to respond to societal imperatives for understanding difference.
Expressions of scientific uncertainty are normal features of scientific articles and professional presentations. Journal articles typically include research questions at the beginning, probabilistic accounts of findings in the middle, and new research questions at the end. These uncertainty claims are used to construct clear boundaries between uncertain and certain scientific knowledge. Interesting questions emerge, however, when scientific uncertainty is communicated in occasions for public science (e.g., newspaper accounts of science, scientific expertise in political deliberations, science in stakeholder claims directed to the public, and so forth). Scientific uncertainty is especially important in the communication of environmental and health risks where public action is expected despite uncertain knowledge. Public science contexts are made more complex by the presence of multiple actors such as citizen-scientists, journalists, stakeholders, social movement actors, politicians, and so on who perform important functions in the communication and interpretation of scientific information and bring in diverse norms and values.
A past assumption among researchers was that scientists would deemphasize or ignore uncertainties in these situations to better match their claims with a public perception of science as an objective, truth-building institution. However, more recent research indicates variability in the likelihood that scientists communicate uncertainties and in the public reception and use of uncertainty claims. Many scientists still believe that scientific uncertainty will be misunderstood by the public and misused by interest groups involved with an issue, while others recognize a need to clearly translate what is known and not known.
Much social science analysis of scientific uncertainty in public science views it as a socially constructed phenomenon, where it depends less upon a particular state of scientific research (what scientists are certain and uncertain of) and more upon contextual factors, the actors involved, and the meanings attached to scientific claims. Scientific uncertainty is often emergent in public science, both in the sense that the boundary between what is certain and uncertain can be managed and manipulated by powerful actors and in the sense that as scientific knowledge confronts diverse public norms, values, local knowledges, and interests new areas of uncertainty emerge. Scientific uncertainty may emerge as a consequence of social conflict rather than being its cause. In public science scientific uncertainty can be interpreted as a normal state of affairs and, in the long run, may not be that detrimental to solving societal problems if it opens up new avenues and pathways for thinking about solutions. Of course, the presence of scientific uncertainty can also be used to legitimate inaction.
Michael Chouinard and Daniel Cronn-Mills
The words speech and debate hold a variety of connotations. For some, they refer to the dissemination or exchange of ideas in a general sense, while others will be more familiar with speech and debate as co-curricular activities, commonly referred to using the umbrella term forensics. Not to be confused with the modern understanding of forensic science, the term forensics stems from the Latin forensis, which relates to assembly in public forums. Forensic programs can be found at a broad range of secondary and post-secondary institutions. Students prepare speeches, performances, or arguments for tournaments where they can win individual and team awards. Despite the individual nature of many speech and debate events, teams play a vital role in forensics. In fact, numerous studies have indicated critical thinking is a necessary component to succeed in our fast-paced society. According to Allen, Berkowitz, Hunt, and Louden, education in communication enhances critical thinking by 44%. Forensics involvement is the activity most identified for advancing critical thinking abilities. Both in and out of competition, team membership is widely understood to be a key component of forensic participation.
In many ways, speech and debate serve as laboratories for the study of small groups. For scholars of group dynamics and intergroup communication, forensics provides a plethora of avenues for exploration, related to such key group concepts as integration, group identity, team culture, conflict management, leadership, administration, and competition. The competitive nature of forensics plays a vital role in shaping the activity, and contributes to a unique opportunity for the study of groups. While some scholars (such as Burnett, Brand, Meister, Wood, and Rowland-Morin) perceive tension between the competitive and educational objectives of the activity, others remain adamant that much education comes through competition, and as such, the two are harmonious rather than dissonant ideals. Both philosophies acknowledge the important role of competition in forensics. For scholars of group communication, the features of competitive speech and debate teams make them unique and insightful subjects for examination.
Kami J. Silk and Daniel Totzkay
The Breast Cancer and Environment Research Program (BCERP) is a transdisciplinary program of research created to investigate environmental exposures and their relationship to breast cancer with a particular focus on puberty as a potential window of increased susceptibility to environmental exposures. A transdisciplinary approach has a strong focus on translating scientific findings into usable health practices as well as health prevention messages so that current research informs practice as well as communication to the lay public. BCERP engaged in communication science to develop health messages for lay audiences, health professionals, and outreach organizations. The precautionary principle, used as a primary guide in regards to message translation and dissemination, yields a useful discussion of the BCERP organizational structure. An exploration of formative communication science efforts in BCERP, areas of sensitivity for creating BCERP messages, and resources created for BCERP toolkits serves to illustrate and describe this one approach to designing health and risk messages.