The concept of public culture refers most broadly to the dynamic negotiation of beliefs, values, and attitudes regarding collective association through media and other social practices that are defined by norms of open access and voluntary response. The concept is a recent innovation and applies primarily to modern societies, where public culture is the envelope of communication practices within which public opinion is formed; those practices can include news, entertainment, the arts, advertising, social media, and many other means for representing and judging any individual, institution, or custom having collective significance. The term “public” emphasizes relatively unrestricted communication across civil society regarding governance and other matters affecting the general welfare. The term “culture” emphasizes that public opinion depends on contextual factors that emerge through multiple media and embodied responsiveness. These considerations provide a basis for analysis of distinctively modern relationships across civil society, media technologies, and political action in a global context.
Mikaela L. Marlow
Discourse analysis is focused on the implicit meanings found in public discourse, text, and media. In the modern era, public discourse can be assessed in political or social debates, newspapers, magazines, television, film, radio, music, and web-mediated forums (Facebook, Twitter, and other public discussion). Research across a variety of disciplines has documented that dominant social groups tend to employ certain discursive strategies when discussing minority groups. Public discourse is often structured in ways that marginalize minority groups and legitimize beliefs, values, and ideologies of more dominant groups. These discursive strategies include appealing to authority, categorization, comparison, consensus, counterfactual, disclaimers, euphemism, evidence, examples, generalizations, rhetorical questions, metaphors, national glorification, and directive speech acts. Evoking such discourse often enables prevailing dominant groups to reify majority social status, reinforce negative assumptions about minorities, and maintain a positive public social image, despite deprecating and, sometimes, dehumanizing references.
The public sphere is a social entity with an important function and powerful effects in modern, democratic societies. The idea of the public sphere rests on the conviction that people living in a society, regardless of their age, gender, religion, economic or social status, professional position, sexual orientation, ethnicity, race, or nationality, should be able to publicly express their thoughts, ideas, and opinions about issues that matter to them and impact their lives. This expression should be as free as possible in form and function and should operate through means and methods that people themselves deem suitable, so not via channels that are official or state-sanctioned. The classic Habermasian idea of the public sphere is that it is used by private individuals (not officials or politicians) who should be able to converse with each other in a public-spirited way to develop opinions that impact state or public-body decisions and policies. Also contained within this classic idea is the conviction that public sphere conversations should be rational (i.e., logical, evidence-based, and properly motivated and argued using an acceptable set of rhetorical devices) in order to convince others of the usefulness of a position, statement, or opinion. In commonsensical, political, and journalistic understandings, the public sphere is a critical component of a democracy that enables ordinary citizens to act as interlocutors to those who hold power and thereby hold them to account. As such it is one of the elements whereby democracy as a system is able to claim legitimacy as the “rule of the people.”
Journalism’s imbrication in the social imaginary of the public sphere dates back to 17th- and 18th-century Europe when venues like coffee houses, clubs, and private homes, and media like newspapers and newsletters were being used by a mixture of gentry, nobility, and an emerging middle class of traders and merchants and other educated thinkers to disseminate information and express ideas. The conviction that journalism was the key vehicle for the conveyance of information and ideas of public import was then imbedded in the foundations of the practice of modern journalism and in the form exported from Western Europe to the rest of the world. Journalism’s role as a key institution within and vehicle of the public sphere was thus born. Allied to this was the conviction that journalism, via this public sphere role and working on behalf of the public interest (roughly understood as the consensus of opinions formed in the public sphere), should hold political, social, and economic powers to account. Journalists are therefore understood to be crucial proxies for the millions of people in a democracy who cannot easily wield on their own the collective voices that journalism with its institutional bases can produce.
Isaac N. West
Queer studies in critical and cultural communication studies concerns itself with interrogating the symbolic and material manifestations of desires, sexualities, genders, and bodies in all manners of our lives, including public policy, everyday talk, protests and direct political actions, and media representations. Although the genealogy of this subfield often rehearses queer studies’ emergence as a point of radical rupture from previous theories and perspectives, another mapping of queer studies is possible if it is understood as an evolution of core questions at the heart of communication studies. Queer studies’ mode of inquiry generally involves a double gesture of identifying implicit and/or explicit biases of a communicative norm and promoting alternative ways of being in the world that do not comport with those norms. Indebted to and conversant with critical race, feminist, and lesbian gay, bisexual, and transgender studies, queer studies in critical and cultural communication studies occupies and contests the terrain of its own possibility in its attention to the intended and unintended consequences of privileging one set of cultural arrangements over another. Without any pure vantage point from which one may start or end a cultural analysis, communication scholars have embraced the contingencies afforded by queer studies to imagine otherwise the cultural legitimacy afforded to some bodies and not others; the necessity of sanctioning some sexual desires and not others; the intersectional affordances of sexuality, race, gender, ability, and class; more and less effective modes of dissent from the various normativities governing our behaviors and beliefs; and the necessity of memory politics and their pedagogical implications.
Research empirically investigating the influence of media exposure on issues of race and ethnicity has long documented that media use meaningfully impacts the cognitions, emotions, and behaviors of audience members. Certainly, media are only one among a number of factors that contribute to perceptions regarding (and actions toward) one’s own and other racial/ethnic groups. However, theory and empirical evidence consistently demonstrate that the manner in which racial/ethnic groups are characterized in the media can harm or benefit different groups, depending on the nature of these depictions (alongside other social and psychological determinants). Consequently, it is both practically and theoretically important to both identify how and how often different groups are portrayed across the media landscape as well as to assess the ways in which exposure to this content influences media audiences.
What quantitative content analytic studies have revealed is that there is variation in depictions of race/ethnicity in US media depending on the group, the medium, and the genre. Thus, whereas Blacks have achieved a degree of parity when it comes to the quantity of depictions on primetime U.S. television, there is variation in the quality depending on the genre. Further, the same advances have not been seen for Blacks in news, in film, and across other media forms and platforms. For Latinos, little has changed across decades when it comes to numeric representation in the media. When it comes to the quality of these portrayals, although some of the more egregious media stereotypes have faded, other long-standing media definitions of Latinos remain persistent. For other racial/ethnic groups, few images are presented. Within these infrequent images, a constrained set of characterizations often predominates, such as spiritual American Indians, tech-savvy Asian Americans, and terrorist Muslims.
Exposure to these representations has consequences. Consuming the images and messages associated with racial/ethnic groups in the media contributes to the formation, activation, and application of racial/ethnic cognitions. For racial/ethnic majority group members (i.e., whites), unfavorable media depictions can mean the perpetuation of harmful stereotypes: this can lead to outcomes ranging from unsympathetic policy positions to active or passive harming behaviors. When media characterizations are favorable, more auspicious outcomes emerge. For the racial and ethnic groups being depicted, the effects of exposure again depend on the quantity and quality of portrayals. Negative characterizations prompt shame, anger, and other undesirable emotions and lead to esteem problems. On the other hand, some research indicates that favorable characterizations can serve as a source of group pride, which boosts esteem.
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.
Stephen M. Croucher, Cheng Zeng, Diyako Rahmani, and Mélodine Sommier
Religion is an essential element of the human condition. Hundreds of studies have examined how religious beliefs mold an individual’s sociology and psychology. In particular, research has explored how an individual’s religion (religious beliefs, religious denomination, strength of religious devotion, etc.) is linked to their cultural beliefs and background. While some researchers have asserted that religion is an essential part of an individual’s culture, other researchers have focused more on how religion is a culture in itself. The key difference is how researchers conceptualize and operationalize both of these terms. Moreover, the influence of communication in how individuals and communities understand, conceptualize, and pass on religious and cultural beliefs and practices is integral to understanding exactly what religion and culture are.
It is through exploring the relationships among religion, culture, and communication that we can best understand how they shape the world in which we live and have shaped the communication discipline itself. Furthermore, as we grapple with these relationships and terms, we can look to the future and realize that the study of religion, culture, and communication is vast and open to expansion. Researchers are beginning to explore the influence of mediation on religion and culture, how our globalized world affects the communication of religions and cultures, and how interreligious communication is misunderstood; and researchers are recognizing the need to extend studies into non-Christian religious cultures.
The convergence of rhetoric, culture, and communication has led to the development of two predominant areas of study within the field of communication: intercultural rhetoric and comparative rhetoric. Intercultural rhetoric illustrates how culture-based arguments are constructed by advocates during intercultural interactions and how the arguments make sense within a particular cultural frame or worldview. These studies attempt to represent the cultural sensibility and rhetorical traditions invoked by a particular intercultural interaction. Rhetorical practices are seen as emerging from the beliefs and values of distinctive cultural communities, and the convergence of intercultural communication and rhetoric becomes evident when people act rhetorically and their diverse cultural assumptions gradually or suddenly become apparent during intercultural interactions. Comparative rhetoric focuses on the cross-cultural study of rhetorical traditions, past or present, in societies around the world. Comparison of (rather than interaction between) the rhetorical practices of two or more cultures is often the focus of comparative rhetoric studies. Comparison helps in the identification of rhetorical features in one culture that might not be evident otherwise, to unearth what is universal and what distinctive in any rhetorical tradition, including that of the West. Intercultural rhetoric and comparative rhetoric share some conceptual and methodological features; both fields are characterized by similar beginnings and some shared debates. However, they also have distinct characteristics, challenges, and historiographies.
For intercultural rhetoric, approaching intercultural contexts and situations utilizing theories and concepts from rhetorical studies affirms non-Western modes of reasoning and advocacy. Recent methodological developments have allowed critics to more comprehensively represent rhetorical traditions and to discover novel ways to understand intercultural conflicts and mediate cultural differences. Conceptualizing rhetorical situations as intercultural dialogues suggests the ways in which intercultural rhetorical theorists need to be mindful of the multivocal quality of social discourses.
Rhetorical interpretation of texts benefits from a comparative approach that allows for speculation with respect for and grounding in another culture’s history, as well as reflection on the cultural outsider’s motive and assumptions. It is useful for the quest of meaning not to be limited to the standpoints within each disparate culture; pragmatically, they must have a dialogue since comparative rhetoric allows the analysis of different discourses, the discovery of common grounds of engagement, and the revelation of cultural assumptions.
Jennifer A. Malkowski, J. Blake Scott, and Lisa Keränen
Rhetoric, commonly understood as the art, practice, and analysis of persuasion, has longstanding connections to medicine and health. Rhetorical scholars, or rhetoricians, have increasingly applied rhetorical theories, concepts, and methods to the texts, contexts, discourses, practices, materials, and digital and visual artifacts related to health and medicine. As an emerging interdisciplinary subfield, the rhetoric of health and medicine seeks to uncover how symbolic patterns shape thought and action in health and medical texts, discourses, settings, and materials.
In practice, rhetoricians who study health and medicine draw from the standard modes of rhetorical analysis, such as rhetorical criticism and rhetorical historiography, as well as from social science methods—including participant observation, interviewing, content analysis, and visual mapping—in order to deepen understanding of how language functions across health and medical objects, issues, and discussions. The objects of analysis for rhetorical studies of health and medicine span medical research, education, and clinical practice from laboratory notes to provider–patient interaction; health policymaking and practice from draft policies through standards of care; public health texts and artifacts; consumer health practices and patient advocacy on- and offline; public discourses about disease, death, bodies, illness, wellness, and health; online and digital health information; popular entertainments and medical dramas; and alternative and complementary medicine. Despite its methodological breadth, rhetorical approaches to science and medicine consistently involve the systematic examination and production of symbolic exchanges occurring across interactional, institutional, and public contexts to determine how individuals and groups create knowledge, meanings, identities, understandings, and courses of action about health and illness.
Style is in the traditional canon of rhetoric and means the manipulation of language for rhetorical effect. Historically, eras that emphasized style in rhetoric also tended to regard rhetoric as of secondary importance in public discourse, as the window dressing for logic and more substantive modes of invention.
When we think of style more broadly as the use of gesture, clothing, decoration, objects, grooming—in short, of style in the more colloquial sense of “he’s got style”—then we see a wider and more important role for style as a major form of rhetoric. Today, the need of global capitalism to sustain artificially high levels of consumption is largely achieved through a rhetoric of style. The public must be persuaded to churn its clothing, decoration, grooming styles, and so forth constantly to keep consumption up, and the most effective way to achieve that end is through creating in people a preoccupation with style. Once that happens, then style becomes the major way in which we think about presenting ourselves to others. Style becomes the way in which people say who they are, who they want to be, and who they feel opposed to. Style becomes a major expression of political commitment.
In short, style has become a major if not the major rhetorical system at work in the world today. We understand what others mean, and we influence others, through style much more than we do through carefully planned discursive discourses, argument, and expository presentations. Because global capitalism is the engine behind this preoccupation with style, style is a system of communication likely to increase in dominance and importance.
For millennia, the idea that rituals create a shared and conventional world of human sociality has been commonplace. From common rites of passage that exist around the world in various forms (weddings, funerals, coming-of-age ceremonies) to patterned actions that seem familiar only to members of the in-group (secret initiations, organizational routines), the voluntary performance of ritual encourages people to participate and engage meaningfully in different spheres of society. While attention to the concept was originally the purview of anthropology, sociology, and history, many other academic disciplines have since turned to ritual as a “window” on the cultural dynamics by which people make and remake their worlds. In terms of journalism studies in particular, the concept of ritual has been harnessed by scholars looking to understand the symbolic power of media to direct public attention, define issues and groups, and cause social cohesion or dissolution. Media rituals performed in and through news coverage indicate social norms, common and conflicting values, and different ways of being “in the world.” The idea of ritual in journalism is accordingly related to discussions around the societal power of journalism as an institution, the ceremonial aspects of news coverage (especially around elite persons and extraordinary “media events”), and the different techniques journalists use to “make the news” and “construct reality.” Journalism does more than merely cover events or chronicle history—it provides a mediated space for audiences and publics that both allows and extends rituals that can unite, challenge, and affect society.
John D. H. Downing
Social movements are the matrix of many forms and formats (technologies, genres) of media that contest dominant power. Such media are in many ways the lifeblood of such movements. Media activism denotes collective communication practices that challenge the status quo, including established media. Frequently, such media are underfunded or unfunded and have a much shorter life cycle than capitalist, state, or religiously funded media. They are a “tribe” within a much larger continent of nanomedia (also called alternative media and citizens’ media). Their functions may spill over at times within the operation of established media, especially in times of social turbulence and crisis.
The “dominant power” in question may be quite variously perceived. Extreme-right populist movements, as in several European countries, may define the political establishment as having betrayed the supposed racial purity of the nation, or in the case of India’s Islamophobic Hindutva movement, as having traduced the nation’s religious purity. Labor movements may attack capital, feminist movements, or patriarchal and sexist structures. Sometimes these movements may be local, or regional; other times, they are transnational.
The impact of these media is still a matter of considerable debate. Often, the debate begins from a false premise—namely, the frequently small size and/or duration of many social movement media projects. Yet women’s right to vote and the abolition of slavery in the Americas were not won overnight, and neither was the dismantling of South Africa’s racist apartheid system. The Hindutva movement goes back over a century. We should not hold social movement media to a higher standard of impact, any more than we should ascribe instantaneous power to established media.
Social movements wax and wane, and so do their media projects. But the persistence of some such media activism between the peaks of movement activism is generally essential to the regeneration of social movements.
M. Jeffrey Farrar, Yao Guan, and Kaitlyn Erhardt
Humans live not only in a physical world but also in a mental world. Theory of mind reflects the understanding that the mind is comprised of different mental states, such as intentions, desires, and beliefs. This conception of the mind is a critical achievement in human development because it directly impacts effective communication and social interaction. It allows for the understanding of others’ behaviors by inferring their mental states. The formation of a theory of mind has been a central topic in psychology, neuroscience, cognitive science, and philosophy. It impacts related processes, such as communication skills, perspective-taking ability, and social cognition.
Across the life span, the understanding of the mind becomes increasingly complex. Early in development, infants and toddlers can discern the intentions of others. Later, more sophisticated reasoning about the mental states of others becomes possible. For instance, the ability to follow and understand the recursive thought that “Sam believes, that Mary said, that Jose wanted . . .” develops. Additionally, within distinctive developmental time periods, people differ in their ability to take into account mental states. Once people’s beliefs, including their misconceptions, are identified, it is possible to generate effective communication strategies designed to teach, learn, and even reduce risk-taking behaviors.
Sarah C. Vos and Elisia Cohen
Using pictures (also called images) in health and risk messages increases attention to messages and facilitates increased retention of message content, especially in low-literate populations. In risk communication, researchers have found that pictorial warnings stimulate communication and that images without text can communicate risk information as effectively (or, in some cases, more effectively) than text. However, little empirically based guidance exists for designing images for health and risk messages because most studies use an absence-presence model and compare visual communication to textual communication, rather than compare different types of visual communication. In addition, visual communication theories focus on describing the “how” aspect of communication instead of offering proscriptive guidance for message design. Further complicating the design of visual messages is that the number of possibilities for a visual message is, like text-based messages, almost infinite. Choices include colors, shapes, arrangement, and the inclusion of text, logos, icons, and so on. As a result, best practices on visual messages often draw on design recommendations. Before the widespread advent of Internet use and the adoption of social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, using images—especially color images—could be cost prohibitive. However, these online platforms facilitate the distribution of visual content, and many public health organizations use these platforms to distribute visual messages. The need for guidance and research on using pictures effectively is growing. Although there has been increasing focus on images in health messages, many questions still exist about how visual messages should be composed and what their effect is. The existing evidence suggests that visual information can improve persuasive and, on social networking sites, diffusion outcomes. However, visual information may be prone to misinterpretation. Researchers should also evaluate ethical considerations when choosing pictures. Message testing is highly recommended.
A communication style is the way people communicate with others, verbally and nonverbally. It combines both language and nonverbal cues and is the meta-message that dictates how listeners receive and interpret verbal messages. Of the theoretical perspectives proposed to understand cultural variations in communication styles, the most widely cited one is the differentiation between high-context and low-context communication by Edward Hall, in 1976. Low-context communication is used predominantly in individualistic cultures and reflects an analytical thinking style, where most of the attention is given to specific, focal objects independent of the surrounding environment; high-context communication is used predominantly in collectivistic cultures and reflects a holistic thinking style, where the larger context is taken into consideration when evaluating an action or event. In low-context communication, most of the meaning is conveyed in the explicit verbal code, whereas in high-context communication, most of the information is either in the physical context or internalized in the person, with very little information given in the coded, explicit, transmitted part of the message. The difference can be further explicated through differences between communication styles that are direct and indirect (whether messages reveal or camouflage the speaker’s true intentions), self-enhancing and self-effacing (whether messages promote or deemphasize positive aspects of the self), and elaborate and understated (whether rich expressions or extensive use of silence, pauses, and understatements characterize the communication). These stylistic differences can be attributed to the different language structures and compositional styles in different cultures, as many studies supporting the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis have shown. These stylistic differences can become, in turn, a major source of misunderstanding, distrust, and conflict in intercultural communication. A case in point is how the interethnic clash between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs can be exacerbated by the two diametrically opposite communication patterns they each have, dugri (straight talk) and musayra (to accommodate or “to go along with”). Understanding differences in communication styles and where these differences come from allows us to revise the interpretive frameworks we tend to use to evaluate culturally different others and is a crucial step toward gaining a greater understanding of ourselves and others.
Marla L. Moon
A visual impairment can affect cognitive, emotional, neurological, and physical development. Visual impairment impairs reading speed and comprehension, and is often mistaken for a learning disability. Learning is accomplished through complex and interrelated processes, one of which is vision. As a result, visual impairments limit the range of experiences and kinds of information to which one is exposed. A reliance on visual cues in health and risk messages intensifies these effects with regard to health information. The millions of children and adults who are affected by visual impairments worldwide thus require specific consideration regarding how best to make health information accessible for them. The reliance on caretakers to address the health information needs of those living with visual impairments violates their privacy and threatens their emotional well-being. Technological and modality advances that rely on touchscreens that lack tactile or auditory cues marginalize a broad segment of society that is in need of gateways to overcome barriers to accommodating visual impairment. In designing strategic health and risk messages, consideration should be given to this scope of possible limitation and its implications for access to and processing of health and risk information. Health and risk message designers should understand both the realities of challenges to accessing information for the visually impaired and strategies for addressing these realities and the scope of the issue worldwide and across the lifespan.