Communication studies identifies bodies as both objects of communication and producers (or sites) of communication. Communication about bodies—for example, gendered bodies, disabled bodies, obese bodies, and surgically modified bodies—influences bodies at the physical, material level by determining how they are treated in social interactions, in medical settings, and in public institutions. Communication about bodies also forges cultural consensus about what types of bodies fit in particular roles and settings. In addition to analyzing the stakes of communication about bodies, communication studies identifies bodies as communicating forces that cannot be accounted for by standards of reason, meaning, and decorum. Bodies are physical, material, affective beings that communicate because of, not in spite of, their messy, ineffable status. Moreover, communication is an embodied process that involves a range of material supports, including human bodies, technological bodies, and other nonhuman physical and biological bodies. Investigating bodies as communicating forces compels an understanding of communication that is not exclusively rational, meaning-oriented, and nonviolent.
Rhetorical Construction of Bodies
Davi Johnson Thornton
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.
Diane Marie Keeling and Marguerite Nguyen Lehman
Posthumanism is a philosophical perspective of how change is enacted in the world. As a conceptualization and historicization of both agency and the “human,” it is different from those conceived through humanism. Whereas a humanist perspective frequently assumes the human is autonomous, conscious, intentional, and exceptional in acts of change, a posthumanist perspective assumes agency is distributed through dynamic forces of which the human participates but does not completely intend or control. Posthumanist philosophy constitutes the human as: (a) physically, chemically, and biologically enmeshed and dependent on the environment; (b) moved to action through interactions that generate affects, habits, and reason; and (c) possessing no attribute that is uniquely human but is instead made up of a larger evolving ecosystem. There is little consensus in posthumanist scholarship about the degree to which a conscious human subject can actively create change, but the human does participate in change. As distinguished from posthumanism, humanism is credited with attributing the conscious and intentional human subject as the dominant source of agency most worthy of scholarly attention. Since its inception during the Renaissance, humanism has been constituted in various ways throughout history, but as a collective body of literature, the human is typically constituted through humanism as: (a) autonomous from nature given the intellectual faculties of the mind that controls the body, (b) uniquely capable of and motivated by speech and reason, and (c) an exceptional animal that is superior to other creatures. Humanist assumptions concerning the human are infused throughout Western philosophy and reinforce a nature/culture dualism where human culture is distinct from nature. In contrast, a posthumanist scholar rejects this dichotomy through understanding the human as entangled with its environment. A posthumanist scholar of communication typically integrates scholarship from a variety of other disciplines including, but not limited to: art, architecture, cybernetics, ecology, ethology, geology, music, psychoanalysis, and quantum physics.
Queer Perspectives in Communication Studies
Isaac N. West
Queer perspectives in communication studies vary greatly, but they tend to share some common assumptions about the communicative force of norms, including those related to sexualities, genders, bodies, races, ethnicities, abilities, and desires. In general, queer perspectives question the legitimacy of hegemonic assumptions about bodies and sexualities, opting instead for more fluid and porous discourses and norms. Influenced by Michel Foucault’s theories about the productive and generative nature of discourses and Judith Butler’s elaboration on the performativity of identity and agency, communication studies scholars have mined queer theory for insights into our collective and individual investments in naturalized norms as well as efforts to resist them. One of the difficulties in corralling the varied meanings of “queer” into an encyclopedia entry is that it can operate as a noun, adjective, or verb, which has different implications for critics interested in its employ.
Queer Men’s Bodies and Digital Media
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.
Spanish Queer Cinema
Santiago Fouz Hernández
LGBTQ+ lives in Spain have experienced drastic changes since the days of the Franco dictatorship. Then, laws were made to prosecute and incarcerate queers. Now, Spain enjoys one of the most comprehensive legal frameworks to protect LGBTQ+ rights. Spanish cinema, in part, reflects this evolution. Heavy censorship made representation of LGBTQ+ characters almost impossible during Franco, although in the early years crusade films created homosocial scenarios which could be read against the grain. In late Francoism and in the early years of the transition visibility was very rare and would typically involve damaging stereotypes of gay men in degrading comedies or oversexed lesbian vamps in exploitative horror films. After the abolition of censorship in 1978, filmmakers including Ventura Pons, Pedro Almodóvar or Eloy De la Iglesia made considerable headway in normalizing the presence of queer lives and stories on the Spanish screen. Growing (but vulnerable) levels of social acceptance and visibility in the last three decades or so have made LGBTQ+ characters and stories increasingly more visible. The 1990s saw the proliferation of films set in the then emerging “gay villages” in major urban centers, especially Madrid’s Chueca. In the 2000s, legal advances such as same-sex marriage or the right to adopt led to more romantic comedies and some melodramas dealing with these issues (weddings, families, and so on). More recently there is a greater diversification of spaces, characters, and stories, including immigration and trans issues. New generations of queer creators have found considerable domestic and international success in streaming services, with representation becoming much more explicit and noticeably more complex and diverse.
Affect in Critical Studies
Brian L. Ott
Affect has historically been conceptualized in one of two dominant ways. The first perspective, which has its roots in psychology and neuroscience, tends to view affect as an elemental state. This tradition is reflected in Silvan S. Tomkins’s theory of primary affects and Antonio Damasio’s theory of basic emotions. Recent extensions of this tradition include the work of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Lisa Cartwright, and Teresa Brennan. The second perspective, which is typically associated with developments in philosophy and the humanities, treats affect as an intensive force. This tradition, whose most famous proponent is Gilles Deleuze, is evident in Brian Massumi’s theory of autonomous affect and Nigel Thrift’s non-representational theory. Recent extensions of this tradition tend to emphasize the importance of materiality, or what Jane Bennett has called “thing-power.” A number of scholars working in communication and cultural studies have created a third, hybrid tradition that attempts to bridge or mediate the two dominant historical accounts. This third perspective includes Lawrence Grossberg’s notion of affective investments, Christian Lundberg’s Lacanian-inspired view of affect, Sara Ahmed’s work on the sociality of emotion, and Gernot Böhme’s theory of atmospheres.
Brian Massumi and Communication Studies
Brian Massumi (1956–) is a contemporary political theorist of communication, critical and cultural studies, philosophy, political theory, science, and aesthetics. One of the foremost thinkers of “radical empiricism,” he is responsible for enabling the widespread use of Deleuzean philosophy in communication and inaugurating the so-called “affective turn” in the theoretical humanities. Massumi is Professor of Communication at the Université de Montréal and a collaborator with the experimental art and activism lab SenseLab, founded by Erin Manning. His most well-known translation is Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus (1987), and he is the author of ten books, including the widely influential Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation (2002). Massumi’s radical empiricist approaches concern the aesthetics of communication and power in the context of global capitalism. He opens the field of communication to the study of relationality, what he calls “being-in-becoming,” which he describes in terms of Gilles Deleuze’s “the actual” and “the virtual.” His critical embrace of becoming reframes the concept of “the event” as a processual unfolding of forces of expression, or experience. Instead of remaining wedded to communication models that limit language to designation, manifestation, and signification, Massumi’s focus on becoming calls for accounts of the extra-linguistic. Three key concepts include expression, affect, and perception. Through creative and experimental dispositions, Massumi position the fields of communication, critical and cultural studies, philosophy, political theory, science, and aesthetics toward vibrant scenes of relations-already-underway, or how feeling, thinking, and being begin, again, in the middle of something already underway—a “happening doing.”
Media Literacy as a Consideration in Health and Risk Message Design
Yvonnes Chen and Joseph Erba
Media literacy describes the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and produce media messages. As media messages can influence audiences’ attitudes and behaviors toward various topics, such as attitudes toward others and risky behaviors, media literacy can counter potential negative media effects, a crucial task in today’s oversaturated media environment. Media literacy in the context of health promotion is addressed by analyzing the characteristics of 54 media literacy programs conducted in the United States and abroad that have successfully influenced audiences’ attitudes and behaviors toward six health topics: prevention of alcohol use, prevention of tobacco use, eating disorders and body image, sex education, nutrition education, and violent behavior. Because media literacy can change how audiences perceive the media industry and critique media messages, it could also reduce the potential harmful effects media can have on audiences’ health decision-making process. The majority of the interventions have focused on youth, likely because children’s and adolescents’ lack of cognitive sophistication may make them more vulnerable to potentially harmful media effects. The design of these health-related media literacy programs varied. Many studies’ interventions consisted of a one-course lesson, while others were multi-month, multi-lesson interventions. The majority of these programs’ content was developed and administered by a team of researchers affiliated with local universities and schools, and was focused on three main areas: reduction of media consumption, media analysis and evaluations, and media production and activism. Media literacy study designs almost always included a control group that did not take part in the intervention to confirm that potential changes in health and risk attitudes and behaviors among participants could be attributed to the intervention. Most programs were also designed to include at least one pre-intervention test and one post-intervention test, with the latter usually administered immediately following the intervention. Demographic variables, such as gender, age or grade level, and prior behavior pertaining to the health topic under study, were found to affect participants’ responses to media literacy interventions. In these 54 studies, a number of key media literacy components were clearly absent from the field. First, adults—especially those from historically underserved communities—were noticeably missing from these interventions. Second, media literacy interventions were often designed with a top-down approach, with little to no involvement from or collaboration with members of the target population. Third, the creation of counter media messages tailored to individuals’ needs and circumstances was rarely the focus of these interventions. Finally, these studies paid little attention to evaluating the development, process, and outcomes of media literacy interventions with participants’ sociodemographic characteristics in mind. Based on these findings, it is recommended that health-related media literacy programs fully engage community members at all steps, including in the critical analysis of current media messages and the production and dissemination of counter media messages. Health-related media literacy programs should also impart participants and community members with tools to advocate for their own causes and health behaviors.