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The Geopolitics of Infotainment  

Lindsay H. Hoffman and Gilbert K. Rotich

Although there is a lack of consensus among political communication scholars on the standard conceptualization of infotainment, scholarship converges on the idea that infotainment describes an admixture of information and entertainment. It is a buzzword used as an umbrella term for sensationalized content, satire, including tabloidization, caricaturization, impersonation, and personalization of political actors. Infotainment is not a unique and isolated genre in and of itself, but a term often used pejoratively to describe the decline and shift away from hard to soft news. This cluster of television programming has made it difficult to discern between information and entertainment content. Significantly, this fusion of entertainment and journalism has gained prominence as a function of exponential changes in the media industry. These trends in political journalism, fueled by the public’s changing patterns in the consumption of political news and the increasing use of the “softer” outlets by political actors to reach the masses, facilitated the cosmetic rise of infotainment. Consequently, we have seen the news becoming more entertaining while the entertainment programs take on politics. Notably, infotainment is contextualized as a tool of geopolitical influence; its uses and gratifications have moved beyond informing and entertaining audiences to become tools of political influence and resistance. Political satire and comedy have been used to interrogate power and create space for political freedom in various corners of the world, used as a soft means of power to transmit culture. Overall, political entertainment has become a means to an end.

Article

Propaganda and Rhetoric  

John Oddo

Propaganda was first identified as a public crisis following World War I, as citizens discovered that their own governments had subjected them to deception and emotional manipulation. Today, it seems no less disturbing. Accusations swirl decrying fake news, spin, active measures, and, again, propaganda. But with nearly every accusation there is also a denial and, more important, a counteraccusation: that propaganda is merely a label applied to messages one dislikes, a slippery word that says more about the accuser’s politics than it does about supposed defects in communication. The slipperiness surrounding propaganda has fascinated scholars for over a century, as they have grappled with whether and how it can be distinguished from other kinds of rhetoric. One crucial sticking point concerns propaganda’s means of persuasion. It is commonly supposed that propaganda relies on falsity, emotion, and irrational appeals. However, adjudicating what is true and reasonable is not as clear-cut as it may seem, and much work attempts to differentiate manipulation from legitimate persuasion. Another key concern is the morality of propaganda. Some theorize that it is intrinsically wrong because it seeks its own partisan agenda. But others argue that partisanship is characteristic of all advocacy, and they wonder whether propaganda can and should be employed for worthy democratic purposes. Finally, scholars propose different models for how propaganda works. One model features a propagandist who deliberately targets a passive audience and attempts to move them for selfish ends. But other models see propaganda as a more collective activity, something that audiences pass around to each other, either purposefully or without any design. Difficult as it is to define propaganda, however, scholars do agree on two things: It is enormously powerful, and it shows no signs of slowing down.

Article

Psychoanalysis in Rhetorical Theory  

Christian Lundberg

The traditions of rhetoric and psychoanalysis share a common interest in speech as an object and grounds for analysis. The two traditions diverge in their approach to speech: rhetoric understands speech to be primarily concerned with the contextual effects of speech as statement; psychoanalysis with speech as symptom. Understanding the points of mutual overlap, reaffirmation, and critique between the two traditions requires an account of how both traditions mobilize the conception of meaning in interpreting and/or analyzing speech. In clarifying the investments bound up with critical work as interpretation and/or analysis in each of the traditions, it is possible to approach the productive points of tension and affinity between the two traditions anew: in doing so, it may also be easier to understand the roles of audience, affect, and form in detailing the conditions through which speech constitutes subjects and identities, and by which it exerts rhetorical effects.

Article

Race and Affect in Digital Media Cultures  

Donya Alinejad

Media has always been central to the social production and contestation of racial and ethnic difference. The politics of representation has formed the conceptual frame for much of the seminal scholarship examining the role of media in reproducing ideologies of race. Yet, with the advancement of digitally mediated communicative spaces, emerging experiences of interactive social encounters with racial difference compound people’s spatially proximous, “offline” encounters. And the circulation of controversy, together with the changing relationship between counterpublics and mainstream media, further complicates questions of race and media. From online hate speech to hashtagged antiracism movements, ideologies of race and practices of racial and ethnic ordering and discrimination are being reproduced, rethought, and, to some extent, reinvigorated in ways that are unique to the widespread uptake of digital technologies. Race and representation bear revisiting in light of these developments. In what has been called the “affective turn,” scholars have theorized “nonrepresentational” and affective communications as a way of explaining some of the important developments associated with digital media phenomena, such as online virality and digital attention economies. Affect has helped conceptualize the paracognitive and emotional dimensions of social life, as well as the spatial and material dynamics of mediated experiences of encounter and interaction. Through a discussion of literature at the nexus of affect, media, and race/ethnicity, this article maps and draws relations between longer-running debates on media, representation, and race and more current notions of digital affect and emotion. It suggests that the notion of representation has sustained relevance for understanding how emergent digital media forms produce ideologies of race and ethnic difference.The article also signals where the entwinement of affect and representation suggests productive directions for further understanding of race in relation to a changing range of digital-media technologies and practices.

Article

Relational Dialectics Theory  

Kristina M. Scharp

Relational dialectics theory (RDT) is a postmodern critical theory of meaning. Based on the writing of Russian philosopher, RDT attunes researchers to the ways that discourses (i.e., ideologies) compete to make meaning of particular semantic objects (e.g., identities, phenomena, processes, etc.). Of note, not all discourses hold the same amount of power. Some discourses are dominant (i.e., centripetal) whereas others are marginalized (i.e., centrifugal). RDT researchers, then, are primarily interested in exploring how these discourses, with unequal power, compete. This focus on the competition of discourses for power and the ability of RDT to call out the ideological forces that disenfranchise some groups while enfranchising others holds promise for practical applications such as debunking misconceptions and better understanding where privilege comes from and how it is perpetuated. When discourses compete, they might do so within or across a set of utterances. Utterances are turns in talk and serve as the primary unit of analysis in RDT research. Utterances, however, are not standalone entities. Rather, they are connected by different links to form an utterance chain. Some links of the utterance chain pertain to time (what has been said before and what response an utterance can anticipate) whereas the other links of the utterance chain pertain to the relationship level (some pertain to the culture at large whereas other only to an idiosyncratic relationship). Overall, discursive competition takes place across a continuum of interplay. At one end of the continuum is monologue. Monologue represents the absence of meaning. Next are discursive enactments (i.e., closure) that reinforce the dominant discourse and shut down alternatives (see entry for complete list). Diachronic separation occurs when the dominance of a discourse changes across time. Diachronic separation can take two forms: (a) spiraling inversion or (b) segmentation. Synchronic interplay is next and occurs when two discourses compete within a given utterance. When RDT researchers examine a text for synchronic interplay, they often look to see how a marginalized discourse (a) negates, (b) counters, or (c) entertains the dominant discourse. Finally, on the other end of the continuum of interplay, is dialogic transformation. Dialogic transformation occurs through either (a) discursive hybridity or (b) an aesthetic moment whereby discourses suspend their interplay to create new meanings. Conducted using RDT’s corresponding method, contrapuntal analysis, researchers using this theory work to disrupt hegemonic, taken-for-granted assumptions about how things are and call attention to voices overlooked in the past. To date, this theory has been taken up primarily by family, interpersonal, and health communication scholars, although many scholars have used this theory throughout the discipline.

Article

Collaboration in Organizations  

John G. McClellan

Among organizational communication scholars, the term collaboration is most often used when exploring interactive practices by which a variety of organizational stakeholders (individuals, groups, or organizational representatives) engage in generative conversations to accomplish collective tasks, contend with mutual problems, or pursue mutually beneficial goals. An emergent collaborative turn in organization studies arose as the complex and interconnected challenges facing contemporary organizations intersected with increased acceptance of the constitutive relationship of communication and organizing and growing concern about the inherent politics of meaning making. Motivated by mutual understanding, rather than persuasion and control, scholars focused on collaboration in organizations to attend to the complex ways organizational decisions are made as well as how organizational practices and overall understandings of organizations are constituted and by whom. As interest in collaboration emerged, scholars increasingly recognized the value of mutual engagement as a key motivating force for generating creativity and innovative decision-making. Across the interdisciplinary research on collaboration, covering a wide range of organizational contexts and issues, several discourses of collaboration have emerged. These meta-perspectives of collaboration include collaboration as collective activity, collaboration as responsive engagement, collaboration as pursuit of equitable relations, collaboration as dialogic process, and collaboration as constituted in communication. Future research on collaboration can provide meaningful insights into contemporary organization studies especially if it is attentive to issues of diversity and intercultural communication, everyday intraorganizational contexts, new developments in collaborative technologies, and issues of power and the politics of meaning making. As scholars continue to explore varied forms of collaborative organizing, the ongoing study of collaboration in organizations is ripe with potential for contributing to understanding how communication can promote innovative decision-making in ways that realize the benefits of organizational diversity as organizations work to address today’s complex interconnected problems.

Article

Kuaer Theory  

Ryan M. Lescure

Although queer theory was profoundly influenced by the womanist feminism of the 1980s and its emphasis on the ways in which intersectionality affects lived experience, popular queer theorizing generally lost this as it became more popular in academic contexts during the 1990s. Generally, the popular queer scholarship that was being published in the 1990s did not pay much attention to the diversity of queer experiences and subjectivities. Because many popular queer theorists at the time were White, affluent, cisgender, and based in the United States, their scholarship, while anti-heteronormative, tended to reflect their privileged racial, socioeconomic, gendered, national, and cultural standpoints. Subsequently, this scholarship tended to construct a singular, definitive, and universal queer subject position as White, affluent, cisgender, and based in the United States. Wenshu Lee’s kuaer theory is an example of one of the first significant theoretical challenges to queer theory’s problematic universalizing tendencies. Initially advanced in 2003, kuaer theory is influenced by postcolonialism, womanism, and E. Patrick Johnson’s quare studies, which Lee characterizes as having advanced queer theory in a similar way that womanism did for feminism. Finding inspiration in the writing of Alice Walker, Audre Lorde, Cherríe Moraga, and Gloria Anzaldúa, kuaer theory applies womanist concepts to expand on the foundation built by Johnson’s quare studies, which calls for queer theorists to focus on the particularity and diversity of sexualities as well as the ways in which sexualities relate to and are shaped by race, gender, socioeconomic class, and culture. Kuaer theory agrees with and advocates for all of these things, but it notably adds a transnational perspective and emphasizes that queer theorists must also highlight the relationships between sexualities and nation, nationality, power, and culture at the local, national, and transnational levels. Kuaer theory notes that queerness, queer activism, and queer knowledges are not exclusive to the United States or to the Western world. Because of this, kuaer theory encourages queer theorists to emphasize the local and intersectional particularities of people’s sexual experiences and subjectivities while simultaneously being critical of the ways in which queer theory itself often reproduces imperialism and cultural hierarchies at the global level. Kuaer theory continues to be influential among queer theorists, especially for its critique of queer theory’s often implicit reproduction of hierarchies. Like quare studies, kuaer theory is often cited by queer theorists who challenge queer theory’s continued general inattention to intersectionality and to the multiplicity of queer subjectivities. Finally, kuaer theory’s emphasis on transnational and transcultural perspectives as well as its criticism of queer theory’s imperialistic consequences has proven to be a substantial influence on critical intercultural communication and the emerging field of queer intercultural communication.

Article

Queer Men’s Bodies and Digital Media  

Jamie Hakim

The politics of queer men’s bodies as they relate to digital media are fraught with ambivalence. A very narrowly defined body type is considered the ideal form of beauty in queer men’s cultures in the Global North: white, masculine, able-bodied, lean, muscular, youthful, and hairless. Other body types are also considered beautiful or desirable or both, but this ideal is the norm against which these other types are defined. The politics of this ideal change across contexts. In some, they render anyone who deviates from it less-than-human. In others, the ability to safely express the desire for this body has provided the basis for networks of belonging, pleasure, and experimentation in an otherwise homophobic and transphobic world. The various developments that digital media have undergone since the penetration of the internet into everyday life have not fundamentally altered the ambivalence of these politics. They have, however, rearticulated them anew in various ways. The exponential proliferation of networked spaces that the internet has provided for minorities to share information and to produce and consume culture has meant a number of different queer male beauty ideals have been given room to flourish. But so too have their related constraints and ambivalences. These ambivalences have intensified as the internet, once defined by amateurish user-generated content, has been captured by the interests of global capitalism. One result has been that its increasingly visual culture has become as normative and aspirational as possible in a bid to increase its profitability. However, room for critical or deconstructive body projects still persists. The hegemonic struggle over queer men’s body politics may have started long ago, but it continues, and digital media is now the terrain where much of it occurs.

Article

Representations of Drag Culture  

Niall Brennan

Drag may be understood as performing a gender other than one’s self-identified gender. Drag is therefore underpinned by the concept of gender performativity, or acts that naturalize constructs of gender, yet drag complicates gender performativity by imitating and parodying such “natural” performances of gender. Drag is also underpinned by camp, a sensibility combining incongruity, theatricality, and humor emanating from the 1960s gay liberation movement and more recently appropriated by heteronormative culture industries, bringing forth the need to differentiate queer (political) from gay (mainstream) camp deployment. In American popular culture, the focus of this entry, drag most closely approximates cross-dressing as a mainly humorous narrative trope involving a duplicitous cross-dresser (and knowing viewer) and a duped (and often amorous) “victim.” Cross-dressing therefore should be discerned from transvestism, which involves greater subjective investment in performing a gendered other, and from the antiquated terminology of transsexualism, which implies the desire to become a gendered other. In these differences, drag can invoke gender, race, and ethnicity with different levels of performative consequence, such that women and Black men performing drag assume historical and institutional significance differently from (white) men role-playing as women. Lastly, RuPaul’s Drag Race, the American reality/competition television series, has brought drag into global, commercial mainstream culture by establishing drag as a paradigmatic, professionalized set of performances. While Drag Race has moved queer politics into public discourse with greater visibility for LGBTQ+ peoples and communities, the reality series has circumscribed “winning” and “losing” versions of drag and, by consequence, versions of gender performativity, most notably by circumscribing the boundaries of drag between gender performativity and transgender identities.

Article

Sound Studies and Speech Rhetoric  

Justin Eckstein

The communication discipline has a unique take on the intersection of sound and rhetoric that comes from the history of speech. While scholars of composition examined text as a way to understand sound and rhetoric, the legacy of public speaking teachers (who insisted that speech expressed something beyond the text itself) led to a foundational shift. Speech rhetoric gave birth to a new set of objects, research, and instruction around sound. The public conditions and topoi that help determine signal from noise create a robust area of study. While there are different avenues around how sound is known, each gets at this basic intersection of sound and the contingent of a civic movement that makes up the center of the communication discipline’s unique contribution to the interdisciplinary conversation on rhetoric. The unique configuration of sound and rhetoric that makes up speech was born from the history of communication studies. The vocality inherent in a speech of any form is about drawing relations together in time’s presence, something not captured by the metaphor of the text. Speech as metaphor gives rise to three facets of investigation into rhetoric. The first focuses on sound’s pre-symbolic and pre-cognitive influence on the listener. The second examines sound’s unique contributions to speechmaking from both the speaker’s perspective and the listener’s; it asks how sound serves as a resource for invention and what individual opportunities and constraints it produces. Lastly, the examination moves from individual to societal as speech becomes a mode for public advocacy and cultural exchange, adding to the broader conversation on rhetoric across disciplines.