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Article

Rhetorical Field Methods/Rhetorical Ethnography  

Roberta Chevrette, Jenna Hanchey, Michael Lechuga, Aaron Hess, and Michael K. Middleton

Rhetorical scholars have recently taken up rhetorical field methods, rhetorical ethnography, and other participatory methods to augment textual approaches. Following critical rhetoric, field researchers engage emplaced and embodied perspectives, thereby gaining an immediate understanding of rhetoric and its effects on audiences. Rhetorical field methods/ethnography challenge key assumptions and ethics about rhetorical research, including conceptions of text, context, the critic, the rhetor, and audiences. Although antecedent work at this intersection exists, only recently have rhetorical scholars given full attention to how fieldwork orientations and participatory approaches challenge the project of rhetoric. Rhetorical field methods/ethnography have been applied in a wide array of topic areas, including social movement research, public memory, environmental/ecological rhetoric, digital rhetoric, international contexts, and audience studies. Tensions that have arisen as a consequence of taking up participatory perspectives include whether such research engages in critical/cultural appropriation or can effectively be conducted within groups that researchers ideologically oppose. Moreover, incorporating participant perspectives, non-textual elements, and affective considerations opens rhetoric to forms of expression that span well beyond traditional, logos-centered criticism. Such a move may dilute rhetorical research by flattening expression, making nearly all elements of human life open for critical consideration. Finally, rhetorical field methods/ethnography have emerged in a larger context of disciplinary reflexivity, with many questioning rhetoric’s racist and colonial histories and legacies. To this end, we offer anti-colonial landmarks, orienting toward multidimensionality, liquidity, queering, and community, while disorienting from citizenship. These landmarks trouble rhetoric’s legacies, and invite scholars to engage more deeply with de/colonial possibilities of rhetorical fieldwork.

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

Queering Colonialisms and Empire  

Roberta Chevrette

Scholarship engaging queer theory in tandem with the study of colonialism and empire has expanded in recent years. This interdisciplinary area of research draws from queer of color theorizing and women of color feminists who made these links during queer theory’s emergence and development in social movements and within the field of women’s and gender studies. Together, queer of color, (post)colonial, transnational feminist, and Indigenous scholars and activists have highlighted the centrality of gender and sexuality to colonial, settler colonial, and imperial processes. Among the alignments of queer and (post)colonial inquiry are their emphases on social transformation through critique and resistant praxis. In the communication discipline, scholarship queering the study of colonialism and empire has emerged in critical/cultural studies, intercultural communication, rhetoric, media studies, and performance studies. Two broad thematics defining this scholarship are (a) decolonizing queerness by identifying how queer theory, LGBTQ activism, and queer globalizations have reinforced Whiteness and empire; and (b) queering decolonization by identifying how heteropatriarchal, binary, and normative systems of sex, sexuality, and gender contribute to colonial processes of past and present.

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

Cultural Fusion Theory  

Eric Mark Kramer

Cultural fusion is the process of integrating new information and generating new cultural forms. Cultural fusion theory recognizes the world as a churning information environment of cultural legacies, competing and complementing one another, forming novel cultural expressions in all aspects of life, including music, cuisine, pedagogy, legal systems, governance, economic behavior, spirituality, healthcare, norms of personal and interpersonal style, family structures, and so forth. This is a process of pan-evolution, involving countless channels, not merely two cultures coming together to form a third, hybrid culture. During this process the traditional pace and form of change is itself changing. Cultures are also transformed as a result of the churning process of an emergent global semantic field generated by countless networked exchanges.

Article

The Public Sphere and Journalism  

Anthea Garman

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 via colonialism 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.

Article

Ritual and Journalism  

Chris Peters

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.

Article

Overview in Critical and Cultural Organizational Communication  

Majia Nadesan

In 2009, one of the most powerful executives in the world, Goldman Sach’s CEO Lloyd Blankfein, asserted that his firm was “doing God’s work.” This comment was made in the wake of the worst financial crisis since the 1930s, a crisis that Goldman Sachs and other U.S. and European investment banks played important roles in creating. The comment’s audacity did not escape notice, raising eyebrows even in the mainstream news media given its historical situatedness at the tail end of the crisis. Although Blankfein’s comment was coded negatively in the cultural consciousness, it was also represented as iconic of the culture of Wall Street’s “Masters of the Universe,” as referred to in the popular vernacular. Blankfein’s comment is deployed to illustrate the conceptual models and methodologies of those fields of study known as critical and cultural organizational communication research. These closely coupled but distinct fields of study will be delimited with special attention to their objects of investigation and methodological deployments using this example. Cultural and critical organizational communication represent closely coupled fields of study defined primarily by their phenomena or objects of study—organizational communications. Scholarship maps and analyzes communications to understand how organizations are constituted through communications that decide organizational policies, programs, practices, and values. Typically, organizational communications include all formal and informal signifying systems produced by members of the particular organization under investigation. Cultural approaches to organizational communication emphasize how these communications produce meaning and experience, while critical approaches address the systemic and historically sedimented power relations that are inscribed and reproduced through organizational communication signifying systems. Organizational communication scholarship from a cultural approach would ordinarily seek to represent the organizational culture primarily using ethnographic methods aimed at disclosing an organization’s employee articulations, rituals, performances, and other circulations of symbol systems in the course of workaday life. However, the challenges to accessing Goldman Sach’s hallow grounds might defeat even the most intrepid ethnographer. Lacking direct access to the day-to-day practices and experiences of investment bankers, challenges of access to work-a-day spaces have encouraged researchers to adopt rhetorical and/or discourse analytical methods to understand the culture as represented in available cultural texts, such as internal communications, press announcements, available corporate policies, shareholder reports, and so on. Ethnographies of communication and rhetorical/discourse analysis together represent the primary nonfunctionalist methodologies commonly used to study how organizational meanings are produced, disseminated, and transformed. Across disciplines, organizational cultural analysis, particularly when pursued ethnographically, is typically rooted in an interpretive tradition known as verstehen, which understands meaning as agentively produced through a temporally emergent fusion of subjective horizons. Culture is therefore regarded as emergent and is believed to be actively constructed by its interlocutors, who are afforded great agency within the tradition of verstehen. The emergent aspects of culture are fertile and seed subcultures that produce novel cultural performances as members delineate symbolic boundaries. Power is regarded by this tradition as largely visible to the everyday interpretive gaze, although admittedly fixed in institutions by rules, roles, and norms. The relatively visible character of institutional power hierarchies is believed to beget open conflict when disagreement exists over the legitimacy of power relations. Power is believed to circulate visibly and is thus subject to re-negotiation. This emergent and negotiated social ontology encourages researchers to adopt a pluralist view of power and a more relativistic approach to evaluating the social implications of specific organizational cultures. However, the Blankfein example raises complex moral questions about organizational cultures. Does everyone at Goldman Sachs really think they are doing God’s work? If they do, what does that actually mean, and is it a good thing for society given the firm’s demonstrable appetite for risk? More deeply, what are the conditions of possibility for the CEO of one of the world’s most powerful organizations saying that his firm is pursuing God’s work? Critical organizational communication adopts the methods of verstehen, in addition to methods from other critical traditions, but interjects ethical interrogation of systemic inequities in access to power and resources that are found across many social institutions and are deeply embedded historically. For example, a critical scholar might interrogate whether Goldman Sach’s cultural exceptionalism is found across the financial sector’s elite organizations and then seek to explore the roots of this exceptionalism in historical event and power trajectories. The critical scholar might address the systemic effects of a risk-seeking culture that is rooted in the collective belief it is doing God’s work. Critical organizational communication research seeks to understand how organizational communications naturalize or reify particular organizational interests, elevating them above the interests of other stakeholders who are consequently denied equitable opportunities for agency. Cultural and critical organizational communication studies have prioritized various discourse-based methodologies over the last 20 or so years. The challenges with ethnographic access may have helped drive this shift, which has been decried by those who see discourse analysis as too disconnected from the daily performances and meaning-makings of organizational members. However, the primary challenge facing these fields of study is the one long recognized as the “container metaphor” (Smith & Turner, 1995). The study of organizational communication too often represents its field of study as a self-contained syntagm—a closed signifying system—that too narrowly delimits boundaries of investigation to communications produced in and by particular organizational members with less examination of the material and symbolic embeddedness of those organizational communications within a wider social milieu of networked systems and historically embedded social structures. In essence, organizational communication has struggled to embed its observations of discrete communications/practices within more encompassing and/or networked social systems and structures.

Article

Queer Studies in Critical and Cultural Communication  

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.

Article

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak: Relevance for Communication Studies  

Raka Shome

Gayatri Spivak is one of the foremost intellectuals of the 20th and 21st centuries. Although a literary critic, her work can be seen as philosophical as it is concerned with how to develop a transnational ethical responsibility to the radical “other,” who cannot be accessed by our discursive (and thus institutionalized) regimes of knowledge. Regarded as a leading postcolonial theorist, Spivak is probably best seen as a postcolonial Marxist feminist theorist, although she herself does not feel comfortable with rigid academic labeling. Her work is significantly influenced by the deconstructionist impulses of Jacques Derrida. Additionally, the influence of Gramsci and Marx is prominent in her thinking. Spivak’s work has consistently called attention to the logics of imperialism that inform texts in the West, including in Western feminist scholarship. Relatedly, she has also written significantly on how the nation, in attempting to represent the entirety of a population, cannot access otherness or radical alterity. This is best seen in her work on the subaltern and in her intervention into the famous Indian group of Subaltern Studies scholars. Other related foci of her work have been on comprehending translation as a transnational cultural politics, and what it means to develop a transnational ethics of literacy.