Denise Scannell Guida
Bella figura—beautiful figure—is an idiomatic expression used to reflect every part of Italian life. The phrase appears in travel books and in transnational business guides to describe Italian customs, in sociological research to describe the national characteristics of Italians, and in popular culture to depict thematic constructs and stereotypes, such as the Mafia, romance, and la dolce vita. Scholarly research on bella figura indicates its significance in Italian civilization, yet it remains one of the most elusive concepts to translate. Among the various interpretations and references from foreigners and Italians there is not a single definition that captures the complexity of bella figura as a cultural phenomenon. There is also little explanation of the term, its usage, or its effects on Italians who have migrated to other countries. Gadamerian hermeneutics offers an explanation for how bella figura functions as a frame of reference for understanding Italian culture and identity, which does not disappear or fuse when Italians interact with people from different countries but instead takes on an interpretive dimension that is continually integrating new information into the subconscious structures of the mind.
In sum, bella figura is a sense-making process, and requires a pragmatic know-how of Italian communication (verbal and nonverbal). From this perspective, bella figura is prestructure by which Italians and some Italian migrants understand and interpret their linguistically mediated and historical world. This distinction changes the concept bella figura from a simple facade to a dynamic interplay among ever-changing interpretations and symbolic interactions. The exploration of bella figura is relevant to understanding Italian communication on both local and transnational levels.
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.
Dialogue and its extension to polylogue are presented as an intersubjective basis of communication. The intersubjective aspect cannot be explained by any discipline without a contradiction, since any explanation would require intersubjective awareness. While necessary, dialogue requires a third aspect: dialogue about something, a theme, a subject matter, a problem, a point of disagreement, such that the topic sets a limit to the dialogical partners. This third aspect shifts the discussion away from subject-to-subject encounter as inadequate and moves to the subjects as partners who first are engaged in a dialogue about something. While speaking to someone about something, there is a mutual exchange of awareness and a broadening of horizons of both, with an addition of others who are co-present even if they are not empirically available. To speak to someone of physical laws is also to speak with Newton, Einstein, Planck, and others who form a polylogical field—forming an extension of the awareness of dialogical partners. The issue that arises is whether the individual can form her own position, or whether she is dominated by a historical tradition of interpretation. The dialectical debate between Habermas and Gadamer shows the problem, which is finally resolved by an extension of dialogue through education. The final and most concrete aspect of dialogical communication is present at the level of praxis as bodily activity which is equally intercorporeal. We build our world and thus our history and form a depth of intercorporeal communication of what we can do.
While the dialogical domain is the focus of this research, it also includes suggestions on critical evaluation of specific theories and mutual controversies among theorists, e.g., Habermas and Gadamer. Such controversies are necessary to show how dialogical procedures not only posit different theoretical positions but help such positions to become clearer and more articulated.