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Cognitive and Interactive Mechanisms for Mutual Understanding in Conversation  

Ashley Micklos and Marieke Woensdregt

Everyday conversation is, as the term suggests, a frequent and seemingly effortless phenomenon. However, when closely examined, it is seen that the process of achieving mutual understanding in conversation involves both complex social reasoning and finely tuned interactive mechanisms. Referential communication provides an excellent case study for what makes everyday language interactions complex: people recruit an intricate web of cognitive capacities and interactive resources in order to get their message across. In terms of cognitive capacities, reaching mutual understanding in conversation involves social reasoning in order to establish common ground and take into account one’s conversational partner when producing and interpreting utterances. Specifically, people continuously adapt to their conversational partner by keeping track of what information is or is not shared (based on the situational context, preceding discourse, and general knowledge) and adjusting their utterances and interpretations accordingly. In terms of interactive resources, mechanisms that allow us to keep a conversation on track (e.g., backchannels) and the mechanisms that allow us to recover from breakdowns in communication (i.e., repair) contribute to mutual understanding. Specifically, other-initiated repair, a conversational phenomenon that has been documented cross-linguistically and observed in experimental settings, is an interactional resource for (re)establishing intersubjectivity between interlocutors. The historic separation between cognitive capacities on the one hand and interactive resources on the other hand has created an artificial divide, when in fact both mechanisms interact with, and even presuppose, one another. This article puts forward a unified perspective on the cognitive and interactive mechanisms for mutual understanding, moving towards better understanding of the complementary roles of these mechanisms in interaction.

Article

Alternative Media and Ethnic Politics in Kenya  

Susan M. Kilonzo and Catherine Muhoma

The history of the use of alternative media in Kenya’s politics shows evidence that it was in use in 2007, when the country came into the brink of a genocide; and, prominently in use, in the recent 2022 general elections. The development of fiber optic cable, and availability of Internet connection, with expanded use of mobile telephony in the country, is a direct link to the change in political dynamics, and increased use of social media. Subsequently, the availability of alternative media has revolutionized political engagements by enhancing participatory approach while connecting marginalized populations to the political elite. The new wave of alternative media also strengthens the arguments that politics and political processes are no longer for the elite. Further, the new wave of social media can also be used to explain changes seen in the use of ethnicity as a card for mobilization as well as demobilization in political processes surrounding elections. Campaigning and canvasing is no longer bounded by geographical spaces. Ethnic coalescing is not just a physical phenomenon. Mobile telephony and the Internet, which facilitate connection to alternative media platforms allows for virtual spaces for ethnic meetings and discussions. Anyone, even in remotest areas of the country, is able to participate in political debates and forums so long as they can afford a smart phone, and/or Internet connection. The former physical political processes and engagements, especially during campaigns, elections, tallying and acceptance or rejection of results, and which were perceived to be highly sensitive given the ethnic politics that has characterized the country for several decades, are now neutralized through virtual representation of facts as well as propaganda. The vibrancy of these activities present the research arena with a rich field of vignettes from alternative media accounts in the form of Twitter, Facebook and Blogs, to exemplify how ethnic groups align to their preferred candidates, specifically the Presidential contestants. This kind of approach allows for unveiling of an era of e-democracy and e-politics, developments that were otherwise impossible a few years back. Such platform allows for an exposé of a discourse that shows that, social media platforms may be possible tools for reducing physical violence and neutralizing extreme ethnicity as seen in the surprising calmness witnessed after the Supreme Court of Kenya upheld the contested 2022 election results.

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

Becoming Chinese: Sinicization, Nation, and Race in Xinjiang, China  

David O'Brien and Melissa Shani Brown

“Chineseness” is often depicted in public discourses within the People’s Republic of China (PRC) as an identity that blurs together varied notions of shared cultural heritage, as well as common descent, within discourses of a unified national identity. This combines what might be called “ethnicity” (as cultural heritage), “race” (as common descent, physical or intrinsic characteristics), and “nation” (as territory and political state) in complex ways. And yet, a standard position within Chinese discourses (and often replicated in non-Chinese scholarship) is that historically informing the present, Chinese notions of “ethnic difference” are based on differences in “culture,” thus precluding “racism.” This characterization in part derives from the narrative that Chinese history was an ongoing process of “sinicization”—namely “backwards,” “barbarian” ethnic groups eagerly assimilated into the “more advanced” Han “civilization,” thus becoming “Chinese.” However, there are numerous scholarly challenges to this narrative as historically inaccurate or overly simplistic, as well as challenges to the positioning of this narrative as not “racist.” The idea that an emphasis on civilization versus barbarism is “cultural” and not “racial” delimits racism to a narrow definition focusing on “biophysical” difference. However, wider scholarship on race and racism highlights that the latter rests on diverse articulations of hierarchical difference; this includes and mobilizes cultural difference as an active part of racist discourses predicated on the acceptance of ideas of the “inferiority” versus “superiority” of peoples, as well as notions of “purity” within discourses of homogeneous imagined communities. Increasingly, “being Chinese” is being conceptualized in PRC official rhetoric as a culturally, and racially, homogeneous identity. That is, not only is Han culture being positioned as emblematic of “Chinese culture” generally but also it is being asserted that all ethnic groups are descended from the Han and are thus genetically bound by “Chinese bloodlines.” Such discourses have repercussions for ethnic minority groups within China—most clearly at the moment for Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities who are positioned as “infected” by “foreign influences,” namely their religion. This is particularly clear in the contemporary sinicization campaign in Xinjiang (XUAR: Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region), a region in northwest China that has gained increasing international attention due to the government’s use of “re-education” camps in a program it argues is designed to eliminate terrorism. The accompanying sinicization campaign involves a combination of propaganda emphasizing “Chinese socialist characteristics” and “core values” that should be adopted, an emphasis in the media on Uyghurs engaging in Han cultural practices as a demonstration of their loyalty to the state, as well as the removal of many visible signs of Chinese Islamic history and Uyghur culture. The turn toward politically policing culture is hardly new in China; however, the increasing emphasis on racial notions of identity—foregrounding physical appearance, genetics, lineage, and metaphors of “bloodlines”—is an attempt to turn a national identity into a “natural” one, something that raises urgent questions with regard to how China deals with the diversity of its population and the stakes in being, or becoming, “Chinese.”

Article

Globalization of Formal Debate Training, Civil Society, and Democratic Institutions  

David Worth

Despite myriad sponsoring organizations and formats around the world, student debates at multiple educational levels share some fundamental characteristics. A better understanding of these characteristics can illuminate the activity and the cultural and civilizational assumptions that constitute debate, as well as debate’s relationship to democratic thinking. Debate pedagogy exists as a part of forensics, an Aristotelian term for speech and debate. While oral disputation has classical roots, contemporary debate assumed a more recognizable form with European and British practices in the modern era. Debate then grew tremendously in the United States. Argument models, competition structures, and assumed fundamentals of the activity developed in the 20th century in the United States have been extended into the global debate community. The 2020 World University Debating Championship featured in-person debates between 1,177 students from 243 universities in 50 countries. Formal debates between college students from competing schools is promoted as a tool for critical thinking instruction and empowerment. Generally, this instruction is carried out by advisers, coaches, faculty, alumni, and volunteers. In some cases, debate aids self-education: Students run their own debate teams, using the structure to supplement their normal curricular education. College debate is intrinsically international. Debaters often travel internationally to compete. The events are international in scope and the issues debated are international by nature. Debates that focus on current events or perennial philosophical questions cannot avoid international elements and implications. Economics, interconnected international politics, international media, social media, and other forces ensure that debates cross borders conceptually if not physically, and even critique of borders has been a feature of intercollegiate debate for many years.

Article

Global Jihad and International Media Use  

el-Sayed el-Aswad, M. Joseph Sirgy, Richard J. Estes, and Don R. Rahtz

Globalization and international media are potent contributors to the rise of the Islamist global jihad. Widespread digital communication technologies that connect people all over the world are a substantial component of globalization. Over the past three decades, “virtual jihad” has emerged as a potent disseminator of radical religious-political ideologies, instilling fear and fostering instability worldwide. Western and global media, while often misrepresenting Islam and Muslims, have played a significant role in disseminating jihadist ideologies. The involvement of global jihadists (mujāhidīn) across myriad media outlets and platforms has allowed them to promote their agenda around the world. Using the Internet and media outlets, global jihadists are able to attract and recruit people to their ranks in an accelerated manner. Jihadists have engaged in media activities that have empowered and expanded the global jihad movement, even in the face of increased mitigation efforts.

Article

The Politics of Translation and Interpretation in International Communication  

Elaine Hsieh

Traditionally, translators and interpreters are viewed as neutral intermediaries who facilitate communication between people who do not share the same language. However, because cultural consciousness is embedded in language, translation and interpretation do not simply transfer information from one language to another but are political acts that can define, shape, and resist norms and values of both the source and target cultures. The production of translation and interpretation cannot be separated from the analysis of knowledge, reasoning, and cultural consciousness—along with the tensions inherent in the (re)production of power and cultural hierarchies. There are four themes when exploring the politics and political nature of translation and interpreting as communicative activity: (a) the historical roles of translations and interpreters, (b) translation as a change agent, (c) language access as justice, and (d) technology as a solution to language barriers. Translators traditionally claim an invisible, passive, conduit role to legitimize their work. It is assumed that the translator role is akin to a bureaucratic function. Translators may not alter the contents of business conversations and contracts, diplomatic exchanges, literature, or religious texts. Nevertheless, researchers have found that translation is not only a product of cross-cultural interactions but also a process that cannot avoid changing the language, ideology, and knowledge of both the source culture and the target culture. Language itself harbors biases and perspectives. Also, translators’ strategies of foreignizing or domesticating translation can be the result of purposeful decisions, aiming to shape the cultural consciousness of the target culture. Early studies of the impact of translation centered on the use of translation in enforcing and imposing the hierarchical superiority and worldviews of the dominant culture of the colonizers, including proselytizing activities. Recent studies, however, have also argued that translations can be a form of resistance and activism. For example, the translation movement in Ireland at the turn of the 20th century was an important factor in Ireland’s independence. Because translation and interpretation are essential in shaping realities and defining identities in international communication, language access is viewed as the prerequisite to ensure a fair trial and due process in international courts. The history of the “language battle” in the Paris Peace Conference and the subsequent development of simultaneous interpreting demonstrate that interpreters are not passive participants but active collaborators, working with other participants to meet the objectives of both ideological and communicative activities. Finally, technology allows individuals, and not just nations or large institutions, to afford and have access to professional translation and interpretation services for the first time in history. The rise of machine translation and machine learning has transformed the landscape and possibilities of translation and interpreting activities. Technology has the potential to influence not only translation and interpretation but also the larger human/cultural consciousnesses in international communication. The perspective or worldview embedded in a language can be enshrined in artificial intelligence and machine programming.

Article

Bella Figura: Understanding Italian Communication in Local and Transatlantic Contexts  

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.

Article

Sara Ahmed’s Critical Phenomenology of Communication  

Rachel Stonecipher

Sara Ahmed is a feminist philosopher specializing in how the cultural politics of language use and discourse mediate social and embodied encounters with difference. She has published field-shaping contributions to queer and feminist theory, critical race and postcolonial theory, affect and emotion studies, and phenomenology. Since the publication of Differences that Matter: Feminist Theory and Postmodernism in 1998, her work has epitomized the value of contemporary feminist cultural studies to speak to and against the masculinist traditions of continental philosophy. Unequivocally inserting feminist politics into the rarified air of academic theory, it crosses the sexist boundary which corrals feminist thought into the category of “studies” while opposing it to male-authored philosophy—the latter automatically authorized to speak on the social and material “Real.” In doing so, her work sits squarely within discourse-analytical traditions that seek to expose how various epistemic scenes – activism, the media, and academia, to name a few -- sediment false authority on such issues as happiness, utility, and the good. Moreover, in contesting New Materialism’s search for some monist “matter” beneath experience, she traces how those linguistic moves impose insidiously singular concepts of what social “reality” is, and how it unfolds, for real people. As a field, communication studies concerns itself centrally with matters of social influence, scale, and power, such as the electoral effects of political speech, or the ability of a message to morph as it reaches new audiences. Turning a critical eye upon the (re)production of cultural norms and social structure through interpersonal and institutional encounters, Ahmed’s oeuvre explores the discursive logics and speech acts that sediment or transform the social meanings of race, gender, and other differences.

Article

Advice: Communicating to Support and Influence  

Erina MacGeorge and Lyn Van Swol

Advice is a recommendation for action that includes both suggestions for behavior and ways of feeling and thinking about the problem. It is a ubiquitous phenomenon in personal and professional settings, and functions as a form of both social support and social influence. Advice often improves coping and decision-making outcomes but can also be perceived as intrusive, threaten recipient’s sense of competence and autonomy, and damage relationships. Although advisors often have expertise that can benefit the recipient, advice recipients often discount and underutilize advice, to their disadvantage. Recipients are more likely to utilize advice from advisors they trust, who engender confidence, and who have more expertise or experience. They are also more likely to seek and use it when they have not thought of solutions independently. Recipients who are overconfident, have more expertise, or have more power than an advisor are much less likely to seek and utilize advice. When giving advice, advisors often consider different factors than they would if they were making decisions for themselves, resulting in advice that is more normative and less tailored to individual preferences. Advice can be delivered in a variety of ways, and this stylistic variation has consequences for recipient outcomes. For example, highly direct or blunt forms of advice underscore the advisor’s implicit claim to status and often generate more negative evaluations of the advice and advisor. Advice message content also influences recipients’ advice evaluation. Content that emphasizes efficacy of the action, feasibility, and limitations of the advice tends to improve evaluation and utilization of advice. This research is synthesized in advice response theory (ART), which indicates that advice outcomes are influenced by message content and style, interaction qualities, advisor characteristics, recipient traits, and features of the situation for which or in which advice is sought. Behaviors that co-occur with advice, such as argumentation, emotional support, and planning, also influence outcomes. The sequencing of advice in interaction also matters; the integrated model of advice (IMA) indicates that advice in supportive interactions is best placed after emotional support and problem analysis. The contexts in which advice are given influence the exchange and outcomes of advice. These include personal and professional relationships, in which relational cognitions and professional norms affect the process and outcomes of advising; groups and organizations, in which advising processes become complex due to the multiplicity of relationships, goals, and expectations; cultures, in which advice-seeking and advice-giving varies in perceived appropriateness; and digital environments, which are often valued for advice that is unobtainable elsewhere.