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Network Analysis and Health and Risk Messaging  

Frank Tutzauer and Thomas Hugh Feeley

A network is a collection of nodes that are somehow connected to each other. Typically, the pattern of ties among nodes is of central interest to scholars in communication and the allied social sciences, with particular salience for health and risk communication. Network analyses of patterns of communication began in the 1940s in work done at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and was popularized in the early 1980s in the communication discipline with the work of Everett Rogers, Larry Kincaid, and others. Networks are measured by using self-report or observational procedures to determine the presence and/or strength among nodes in a given structure. If there is a tie or relation between a pair of nodes, it is said that the two are adjacent to one another or that the two nodes are neighbors, and the neighborhood of a node consists of all nodes adjacent to this first node. Several measures describe networks, including measures of position and measures of the entire network. Positional measures consider the position of any given node in relation to others in the network, and centrality is a popular measure to account for one’s level of influence in a network. Density is an overall network measure of level of activity among network pairs. Finally, network measures allow researchers to compare dependent and independent networks. Network analysis represents one of the more powerful and elegant procedures for measuring small-group, organizational, and international communication patterns among nodes or actors of interest in health and risk communication.

Article

Norm Talk and Intergroup Communication  

Sucharita Belavadi

Norms are regularized patterns of attitudes and behavior that characterize a group of individuals, separate the group from other groups of individuals, and prescribe and describe attitudes and behaviors for group members. Relying on social identity theory and self-categorization theory, the role played by group norms within groups and the processes by which such norms are promulgated within groups are discussed. Norm talk or the communication of normative information within groups is explored, as a major proportion of communication within groups is dedicated to clarifying ingroup identities and group attributes such as attitudes and behaviors that characterize the group. Group members can glean normative information by attending to norm talk for instance, by listening to the content of fellow group members’ communications, from their behavior, and from influential or prototypical sources within the group. According to self-categorization theory, once individuals categorize themselves as members of a salient group or category, they represent normative information cognitively as ingroup prototypes. Prototypes are a fuzzy set of group attributes (such as attitudes and behaviors that characterize the group) and simultaneously minimize differences within groups while maximizing differences between groups. Thus, clear group prototypes help create distinct identities that are clearly demarcated from other groups. Group members should be especially attentive to information that flows from prototypical sources within groups—such as leaders and ingroup media sources—while efforts should be made to differentiate from marginal or deviant members who deviate from the prototype and reduce clarity of ingroup prototypes. The processes through which attending to information communicated by different sources within groups—both prototypical and non-prototypical—help group members seek normative information and clarification of ingroup prototypes are discussed.

Article

The Politics of Scientific Knowledge  

Elizabeth Suhay

This article discusses the various ways in which political concerns among government officials, scientists, journalists, and the public influence the production, communication, and reception of scientific knowledge. In so doing, the article covers a wide variety of topics, mainly with a focus on the U.S. context. The article begins by defining key terms under discussion and explaining why science is so susceptible to political influence. The article then proceeds to discuss: the government’s current and historical role as a funder, manager, and consumer of scientific knowledge; how the personal interests and ideologies of scientists can influence their research; the susceptibility of scientific communication to politicization and the concomitant political impact on audiences; the role of the public’s political values, identities, and interests in their understanding of science; and, finally, the role of the public, mainly through interest groups and think tanks, in shaping the production and public discussion of scientific knowledge. While the article’s primary goal is to provide an empirical description of these influences, a secondary, normative, goal is to clarify when political values and interests are or are not appropriate influences on the creation and dissemination of scientific knowledge in a democratic context.

Article

Public Memory  

Matthew Houdek and Kendall R. Phillips

The term public memory refers to the circulation of recollections among members of a given community. These recollections are far from being perfect records of the past; rather, they entail what we remember, the ways we frame it, and what aspects we forget. Broadly, public memory differs from official histories in that the former is more informal, diverse, and mutable where the latter is often presented as formal, singular, and stable. Beginning in the 1980s, scholars from various disciplines became interested in the way ideas about the past were crafted, circulated, and contested. A wide variety of artifacts give evidence of public memory, including public speeches, memorials, museums, holidays, and films. Scholars interested in public memory have observed the importance of such informal practices in relation to the conception of the nation-state, as well as a growing sense of an interconnected transnational or global network of memories. While the study of public memory spans multiple disciplines, its uptake in communication and rhetorical studies has produced a wealth of critical and theoretical perspectives that continues to shape the field.

Article

Public Relations in Health and Risk Communication  

John Lynch

Research on public relations (PR) in health and risk message design and processing is a small but persistent area of publication within the broader fields of science/health journalism, health communication, and public understanding of science. PR scholars define their field as the creation of two-way communication that emphasizes understanding of the organization’s position among stakeholders like journalists or the general public. In health, medicine, and science, PR is understood to be a bridge between scientists or scientific organizations and journalists, who tell scientific stories to the public. Most studies of science-related PR emphasize that it encourages a positive perception of science in general and scientists or scientific organizations in particular. This emphasis on a positive image for the scientific organization leads to mistrust of PR professionals by journalists. PR in health, medicine, and science consists of two areas. The first involves crisis PR, where the PR professional works to either prevent or respond to an emergency situation. This begins with environmental scanning and then creating plans to anticipate potential crises by considering ongoing political, social, environmental, and technological developments. The second area consists of science popularization, where the PR office provides journalists with story ideas and information that they can use to write their stories. Much of this information is provided in the form of press releases. Research has shown that press releases increase the amount of coverage of scientific and medical findings, and scholars are examining the ways in which press releases contribute to journalistic reportage and the situations in which the efforts of PR offices are frustrated.

Article

Race, Gender, Class, and Sexuality  

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.

Article

Religion, Culture, and Communication  

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.

Article

Rhetorical Judgment  

John Arthos

Rhetorical judgment is a syncretic term that marries the classical concepts of prudence and rhetoric, and suggests their mutual interdependence. The traditions of rhetoric and prudence have had uneven histories, their legitimacy and utility ebbing and flowing within the dominant strains of Western culture. There are four key moments in histories to help find their points of contact, their disjunctions, and their fickle alliance. The key points of tension in their collaboration occur, first, within the Aristotelian corpus itself, next between Greek and Roman conceptions of social reason, then between the ancient and early modern conceptions of prudence, and finally in the fitful return of interest in both of these classical approaches to social reason in late modernity. Their alliance is actuated most potently when the inherently social dynamism of rhetoric transforms prudence from a virtue into a practice. The capacity for prudence to trade in the contingent circumstance then becomes a powerful political resource. Rhetorical judgment is now realizing this potential as critical theory engages it to redefine the terrain of the political, and to reimagine the contours of a seemingly antiquated body of traditions. The dimensions of power, contingency, and expedience that have always had a place within rhetorical and prudential practices are now finding radical new forms of expression and pointing toward new conceptions of democratic practice.

Article

Statistical Evidence in Health and Risk Messaging  

Mike Allen

Persuasive messages use statistical evidence in order to convince an audience to accept a conclusion. Statistical evidence represents a compilation of experiences structured and collected in a manner that permits expression in mathematical form. Research demonstrates that the use of statistical evidence increases the persuasiveness of a message, and a message that uses both statistical and narrative evidence generates the greatest persuasiveness. Statistical evidence can take the form of summarizing the collective opinion of experts on a topic or an expression of the collective set of experiences. The challenge becomes gaining acceptance of statistical expressions of experience versus what is perceived as the narrative or lived experience of the single person. Statistical evidence is often presented using a mathematical expression to indicate the size or force of the evidence. The accumulation of statistical evidence often involves the use of meta-analysis to reduce Type I (false positive) and Type II (false negative) error. The use of evidence is strategic and can target specific elements of belief by understanding the structure of beliefs and the connectivity among elements. The use of the Subjective Probability Model provides a means to capitalize on the use of evidence by changing probabilities in beliefs to increase the effectiveness of a message campaign. Statistical evidence, however, may be ineffective under circumstances referred to as the “base-rate fallacy.” The base-rate fallacy occurs when the presentation of statistical information is accepted, but examples are used that contradict the base-rate. The impact of the use of the example is to create a shift in the belief in the typicality of the example, despite knowledge of the base-rate. Fear appeals provide a particularly useful and important application of statistical evidence in the pursuit of public health campaigns. The tenets of the Extended Parallel Processing Model indicate that message effectiveness relies on a combination of: (a) perceived severity of the threat, (b) perceived vulnerability to the threat, (c) perceived efficacy of the solution, and (d) perceived personal efficacy of the solution. Each element is largely impacted by the application and use of statistical information to make claims. The use of statistics generally outlines the argument and supports the conclusion offered in support of a conclusion offered to the message recipient. Statistical evidence when used in a message often offers data or information that becomes the justification for a conclusion. A large part of a message becomes gaining acceptance of information by an audience, then explaining (reasoning) to the audience how those facts support a conclusion, often involving some type of recommendation for behavior. Understanding statistical evidence requires understanding how the material functions within the context of the belief system of the individual.

Article

Transportation Theory Applied to Health and Risk Messaging  

Melanie C. Green and Kaitlin Fitzgerald

Transportation Theory: Narrative transportation theory focuses on the causes and consequences of an individual being immersed in a story, or transported into a narrative world. Transportation refers to the feeling of being so absorbed in a story that connection to the real world is lost for some time; it includes cognitive engagement, emotional experience, and the presence of mental imagery. This experience is a key mechanism underlying narrative influence on recipients’ attitudes and beliefs, particularly in combination with enjoyment and character identification. Narrative persuasion through transportation has been demonstrated with a wide variety of topics, including health, social issues, and consumer products. Transportation can occur across media (through written, audio, or video narratives) and for both factual and fictional stories. It is typically measured with a self-report scale, which has been well-validated (Green & Brock, 2000). Transportation is conceptually similar to flow (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990) and presence (Klimmt & Vorderer, 2003), although both flow and presence pertain more to being immersed in an experience, rather than specifically in a narrative. While individuals are transported, their mental systems and capacities become concentrated on events occurring in the story, causing them to lose track of time, lack awareness of the surrounding environment, and experience powerful emotions as a result of their immersion in the narrative. Transported recipients may also lose some access to real-world knowledge, making them more likely to adapt their real-world beliefs and behaviors to be more consistent with the story to which they are exposed. Transportation theory suggests several mechanisms to explain this phenomenon, including reduced counterarguing, connections with characters, heightened perceptions of realism, the formation of vivid mental imagery, and emotional engagement. Personality factors can also affect the extent of transportation: narrative recipients vary in transportability, or their dispositional tendency to become transported; and they may be influenced differently by narratives due to a difference in their need for affect (individuals high in need for affect are more likely to be transported into narratives). Additional factors such as story quality and points of similarity between the reader and the story can also influence transportation.