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Article

Ee Lin Lee

Language is an arbitrary and conventional symbolic resource situated within a cultural system. While it marks speakers’ different assumptions and worldviews, it also creates much tension in communication. Therefore, scholars have long sought to understand the role of language in human communication. Communication researchers, as well as those from other disciplines (e.g., linguistics, anthropology, psychology, and sociology), draw on each other’s works to study language and culture. The interdisciplinary nature of the works results in the use of various research methods and theoretical frameworks. Therefore, the main goal of this essay is to sketch the history and evolution of the study of language and culture in the communication discipline in the United States. Due to space constraints only select works, particularly those that are considered landmarks in the field, are highlighted here. The fundamentals of language and the development of the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis in leading to the formation of the language and social interaction (LSI) discipline are briefly described. The main areas of LSI study—namely language pragmatics, conversation analysis, discourse analysis, and the ethnography of communication—are summarized. Particular attention is paid to several influential theories and analytical frameworks: the speech act theory, Grice’s maxims of implicatures, politeness theory, discursive psychology, critical discourse analysis, the ethnography of speaking, speech codes theory, and cultural discourse analysis. Criticisms and debates about the trends and directions of the scholarship are also examined.

Article

Joshua F. Hoops and Jolanta A. Drzewiecka

Critical perspectives toward culture and communication address how power and macro historical, institutional, and economic structures shape and constrain interpersonal, intergroup, and mediated communication. Scholars critique forms of domination and examine how oppressed communities resist and subvert power structures to identify possibilities for change and emancipation; some strive to become public intellectuals engaged in activism in solidarity with disadvantaged communities. Analyses uncover multiplicity and fluidity of meanings and dislodge essentialist and ideological closures in interactions and discourses. This approach has been shaped by critical theory of the Frankfurt School, European poststructural and critical theories, British cultural studies, and postcolonial theories. Critical scholarship is diverse, interdisciplinary, and multimethodological. Critical scholars are self-reflexive of their own social positioning in relation to research topics and participants. Culture, the key concept, is conceptualized as a site of multiple meanings and differences that are loci of power struggles and contestations amidst daily practices and power structures. Culture is a site of mixing and fusions across borders as groups struggling for power attempt to restrict meanings, categories, and practices. Identity and its categories, such as race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, etc., have multiple and shifting meanings that are nevertheless contingently fixed within structures supporting domination of some groups. Concepts such as diaspora, hybridity, and intersectionality address indeterminacy of belonging. Other main concepts include difference, articulation, ideology, hegemony, interpellation, and articulation.

Article

In the wake of what has been called the “discursive turn” or “linguistic turn” in the social sciences, research at the intersection of language and communication and race and racism shifted from being largely dominated by quantitative and experimental methods to include qualitative and particularly discursive approaches. While the term “discursive” potentially encompasses a wide range of modes of discourse analysis, discursive approaches share a focus on language use as social action, and as a constitutive feature of actions, events, and situations, rather than as merely a passive means of describing or transmitting information about them. When applied to the study of race and racism, such approaches have examined ways in which language functions to construct, maintain, and legitimate as well as subvert or resist racial and/or racist ideologies and social structures. Research in these areas has made use of a range of empirical materials, including “elite” texts and talk (media texts, parliamentary debates, academic texts, etc.), individual interviews, focus groups and group discussions, “naturally occurring” talk-in-interaction from conversational and institutional settings, and text-based online interactions. Although these different data types should not be seen as strictly mutually exclusive, each of them serves to foreground particular features of racial or racist discourse(s), thus facilitating or constraining particular sorts of discourse analytic findings. Thus, different data sources respectively tend to foreground ideological features of racial discourse(s) and their intersection with power and domination, including examination of “new” racisms and the production and management of accusations and denials of racism; discursive processes involved in the construction and uses of racial subjectivities and identities; interactional processes through which prejudice and racism are constructed and contested; and the everyday interactional reproduction of systems of racial categories, independently of whether the talk in which they occur can or should be considered “racist.”

Article

Discourse analysis is focused on the implicit meanings found in public discourse, text, and media. In the modern era, public discourse can be assessed in political or social debates, newspapers, magazines, television, film, radio, music, and web-mediated forums (Facebook, Twitter, and other public discussion). Research across a variety of disciplines has documented that dominant social groups tend to employ certain discursive strategies when discussing minority groups. Public discourse is often structured in ways that marginalize minority groups and legitimize beliefs, values, and ideologies of more dominant groups. These discursive strategies include appealing to authority, categorization, comparison, consensus, counterfactual, disclaimers, euphemism, evidence, examples, generalizations, rhetorical questions, metaphors, national glorification, and directive speech acts. Evoking such discourse often enables prevailing dominant groups to reify majority social status, reinforce negative assumptions about minorities, and maintain a positive public social image, despite deprecating and, sometimes, dehumanizing references.

Article

While each term denoting the area of “Rhetoric and Critical/Cultural Studies” denotes a broad area of academic study on its own, there are numerous to contain or capture a specific area of study. Regardless of how it gets cordoned off, the area is defined by similar themes. In one sense, the area now going under this banner begins with the march of British cultural studies (especially, the so-called Birmingham School under Stuart Hall’s leadership) into the U.S. academic discussion that began in the 1970s. As this particular study of culture found its way into communication studies departments across the country, many scholars emerging from their graduate programs were shaping the area of rhetoric and critical/cultural scholars in the very act of researching the ways meanings/ideology were constrained and enabled by the operation of the entire circuit of meaning (i.e., production, consumption, representation, identity, and regulation). As the critical/culture study of rhetoric and communication has grown, several themes have emerged: (a) the study of ideological and discursive constraints (often linked to a critique of neoliberalism); (b) the study of media ecology and its way of shaping meaning; (c) studies focusing on reception/agency/resistance; (d) studies concerning materialism and the ways communication is altered by the political economy; (e) studies based in performativity; and (f) studies based in affect theory. In general, regardless of the orientation, these studies are concerned with issues of power and action around intersectional axes such as gender, race, class, sexuality, ethnicity, class, and nationality.

Article

In the last 30 years or so, the relationship between power and resistance has been theorized as a defining feature of organizations and organizing. While there is little consensus around its definition, a useful starting point for thinking about the organization–power–resistance relationship is to view organizations as political sites of contestation where various stakeholder groups compete for resources—economic, political, and symbolic. Much of the research on power, resistance, and organizations has emerged out of a critical tradition that draws on numerous theoretical and philosophical threads, including Marxism, neo-Marxism, critical theory, poststructuralism, and feminism. Common to these threads are various efforts to link power and resistance to issues of meaning, identity, and discourse processes. In this sense—and particularly in the last 30 years—there have been multiple efforts to theorize power as intimately connected to communication. This connection has become particularly important with the shift from Fordist (bureaucratic, hierarchical, centralized, deskilled) organizational forms to post-Fordist (flexible, flat, dispersed, knowledge-based) organizations that place a premium on decentralized, “consensual” forms of power and control (as opposed to the coercive methods of Fordist regimes). Exploring communicative conceptions of power and resistance shows how these phenomena are closely tied to the regulation of meaning and identities in the contemporary workplace.

Article

Both inside and outside of the Communication Studies discipline, the place of sexuality scholarship is unsettled—and that shaky ground materializes especially around the discussion of sexual pleasure in the field and beyond. Candid discussions of sex, pleasure, desire, sexual tastes, fantasies, and bodily responses have long inspired heavy-breathing anxiety inflected by a reach for “propriety.” This anxiety envelopes public discourses of what feels good—especially things that feel really good under less-than-great conditions and things that deviate from what normative structures say should feel good. There are three areas in which pleasure emerges in the field of queer communication studies: analyses of representational pleasure, resistance to normative public discourses, and embodied autoethnographies of pleasure, which trace moments of queer sexual pleasure articulation in communication research despite disciplinary attempts to elide this field of study.

Article

Internet freedom is a process. Internet freedom takes place through a myriad of practices, such as technology development, media production, and policy work, through which various actors, existing within historical, cultural, economic, and political contexts, continuously seek to determine its meaning. Some of these practices take place within traditional Internet governance structures, yet others take place outside of these. Crypto-discourse refers to a partially fixed instance of the process in which actors seek to construct the meaning of Internet freedom that mainly takes place outside of traditional Internet governance structures. Crypto-discourse describes a process in which specific communities of crypto-advocates (groups of cryptographers, hackers, online privacy advocates, and technology journalists) attempt to define Internet freedom through community practices such as technological development and descriptive portrayals of encryption within interconnected communities that seek to develop and define encryption software, as well as through the dissemination of these developments and portrayals within and outside of these communities. The discursive work of the cypherpunks, interrelated discourse communities, and related technology journalism is at the core of crypto-discourse. Through crypto-discourse, crypto-advocates employ encryption software as an arena of negotiation. The representation of encryption software serves as a battlefield in a larger discursive struggle to define the meaning of Internet freedom. Crypto-discourse illustrates how social practices have normative implications for Internet governance debates regarding Internet freedom and in particular expectations for state authorities to uphold online rights. The relationship between freedom and the state that these crypto-advocates articulate as a response to specific events excludes other possible positive notions of Internet freedom in which the state has an obligation to ensure the protection of online rights.

Article

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

Martha Augoustinos and Simon Goodman

The recent emergence of discursive psychological approaches has challenged the dominance of cognitive and structural models of language that theorize it as an abstract and coherent system of meanings. Epistemologically informed by social constructionism, discursive psychological approaches examine how language is actually used in everyday formal and informal talk or discourse. Discourse (both written text and talk) is treated as a social practice that is both central to understanding and constructing social reality and oriented to the practical concerns of everyday life. Discursive psychological approaches to intergroup communication have produced a large body of research examining everyday informal talk and institutional discourse on intergroup relations in liberal democratic societies. This work has focused primarily on the text and talk of majority group members and powerful elites about matters pertaining to race, immigration, ethnicity, and gender. How speakers attend to and account for group differences in discourse is perceived to be intimately related to the reproduction and legitimation of social inequalities in liberal democratic societies. This body of research has identified common and pervasive patterns of talk by majority group members that are seen as contributing to the continued marginalization and social exclusion of minorities. These discursive patterns include: positive self and negative other presentation, denials of prejudice, discursive deracialization, and using liberal arguments to justify and legitimate inequality.

Article

Yannis Stavrakakis and Antonis Galanopoulos

Arguably one of the most important political theorists of our time, Ernesto Laclau has produced an extremely influential theoretical corpus involving a multitude of methodological and political implications. His contribution is mainly focused on three fields; discourse, hegemony, and populism, all of them highly connected with communication and mediation processes. In particular, Ernesto Laclau has introduced, throughout his career, a complex conceptual apparatus (comprising concepts like articulation, the nodal point, dislocation, the empty signifier, etc.) as a result of the radicalization and re-elaboration of the Gramscian conceptualization of hegemony. According to this framework, elaborated for the first time in Hegemony and Socialist Strategy, co-authored with Chantal Mouffe (first published in 1985), discourse is a social practice that performatively shapes the social world. Human reality is thus articulated through discourse and obtains its meaning precisely through this discursive mediation. All social practices are therefore understood as discursive ones. To the extent, however, that processes of articulation are never taking place in a vacuum and are bound to involve different or antagonistic political orientations, the field of discursivity comes to be seen as a field marked throughout by the primacy of the political. As a result, any hegemony will be contingent, partial, and temporary. In addition, Laclau is one of the most well known analysts of populism, to which he has (partly) devoted two of his books, Politics and Ideology in Marxist Theory (1977) and On Populist Reason (2005). Populism, for Laclau, is designated, as expected, as discourse, as a specific way to articulate and communicate social demands as well as to form popular identities, to construct “the people.” His elaborations of populism are surely critical for the analysis of a pervasive political phenomenon of our era. All in all, the thought of Ernesto Laclau remains influential in the sphere of theory and political practice, and his theoretical arsenal will be an extremely helpful tool for academics and researchers of discourse theory and political communication.

Article

Marco Briziarelli and Jeff Hoffmann

Hegemony generally refers to the mechanisms and dynamics describing how a determinate group comes to organize its ruling at multiple levels, such as the political economic, social, cultural, and linguistic. In communication studies, the term is almost automatically associated with the particular conceptualization of Marxist thinker Antonio Gramsci, who provides a way to describe and explore the critical link between “power,” culture, and communicative practices. However, different readings of Gramscian hegemony, mediated by different traditions inside the discipline, have produced competing and evolving definitions. The common trait of all these approaches is an interpretation that tends to privilege “consent” over “coercion,” “leadership” over “domination,” and “civil society” over the “state.” Finally, a narrative is provided regarding how the concept gradually moved out of its Marxist origin to become a more sociologically abstract account of organized asymmetric power relations.

Article

Colonization and decolonization continue to be debated both in terms of their meaning and their efficacy in Communication Studies scholarship and across related fields of inquiry. Colonization is part of ongoing processes of subjugation that are linked to other forms of oppression including labor, occupation, and resource extraction. Inquiries about processes of colonization also involve examining corresponding efforts in decolonization processes. Decolonization entails an effort to critically reflect on colonialism and its impact upon colonized people and environments, it involves processes entangled with issues of sovereignty, self-determination, and territory, and so on. Indigenous Studies scholarship helps to foreground Indigeneity as a place from which broader inquiries on colonization and decolonization may be launched. The legitimacy of colonialism and its communicative dimensions has been a concern for scholars. Within the field of Communication, it notes particular contexts of colonization inquiry that overlap across topics and various areas of the discipline. Research on colonialism and its influence spans throughout rhetorical theory and critical/cultural studies to organizational communication and global communication. This scholarship has employed expansive methodologies from applied research to theoretical work and considered a wide range of issues from domestic, international, and transnational perspectives. The study of these powerful structures in rhetoric draws on interdisciplinary fields and raises challenges to intellectual traditions of the West, which have maintained the rhetoric canon. Rhetorical scholars call for the need to examine artifacts that exist at the “margins” and “outside” the imperial centers. They have theorized methods of rhetorical analysis that attend to the colonial and decolonial elements of discourse, power, and identity.

Article

The concepts of nation and identity are intimately linked to how power functions in society. At its core the nation is associated with some sort of “authentic” cultural location. Speaking of the nation often implies cultural homogeneity and a sense of national unity. Critical cultural studies contest this view of the nation and the consequent construction of a coherent identity. The nation and its identities are neither univocal nor culturally homogenous, nor do the people have a socially cohesive experience. The nation is the product of cultural practices of representation between “Us” and the “Other,” all contained in stored societal knowledge and disseminated in discourses. The knowledge contained in discourses about the nation and its people, critical cultural followers argue, produce and reproduce a very particular type of truth contained in social categories such as sex, gender, age, race, ability, and class. The nation and its identities following a cultural critical tradition have been studied by an array of interdisciplinary theoretical approaches but most notably by postmodernists, postcolonialists, critical feminists, and multiculturalists. At their core, they all share the belief that the nation and its identities are socially constructed and that obscured social relations of power contained in discourses of nationhood can be uncovered. They also share a commitment to denouncing discrimination and inequality and enhancing the voices of the margins, the subalterns, and the multicultural identities contained in and transcending the nation. Critical cultural scholarship examines the interarticulation of power and culture. Central to critical studies is the critical examination of discourses seeking to uncover the socially constructed machinery of power with the end goal of enacting social change. The terms nation and identity are political in nature and thus are highly interrelated with power.

Article

Colleen E. Arendt and Patrice M. Buzzanell

Feminist organizational communication scholarship can be framed in four ways. The four frames display how feminisms encourage: (a) questioning gender difference; (b) performing/queering organizing; (c) disrupting online and offline organizations and their alternatives; and (d) challenging macro-Discourses and structures of gender inequality. In discussing discourses and structures, it is important to include how feminist organizational communication scholars generate knowledge(s) within and across particularities and unities, engage contradiction, and unveil neoliberalism, especially meritocracy and ideal worker norms. In discussing feminist organizational communication, the emerging trends in discovery, learning, and engagement focus on: (a) contradiction, (b) context, (c) difference, and (d) resistance through and by human and nonhuman agents.

Article

Sinfree Makoni and Katherine A. Masters

Decolonial scholars are guided by alternative ways of thinking about language and communication that have existed for millennia but have gone unnoticed in scholarship. An approach to communication underwritten by the decolonial approach must be grounded in concepts that expand the repertoires of social emancipation that can constitute alternatives to neoliberalism through emancipatory scripts or social emancipation tropes. There are recent pockets of research in communication studies already working within or advocating decolonial, but such engagement with decoloniality within communication still lies at the fringes of the discipline, even though decolonial approaches can add rich lines of analysis to communication studies. The decolonial turn has the main goal of not only moving beyond, but also inviting relationality with the Western epistemological tradition, putting the Western canon into dialogue with non-Western epistemologies, and decolonizing the assumption of one single epistemic tradition from which to arrive at truth or universality. The decolonization of knowledge is active scholarship (praxis) that seriously considers subaltern racial, ethnic, gendered, and sexual spaces and bodies from the Global South to stop indigenous and subaltern epistemicide. To clarify, decolonial scholars of language and communication do not propose a decolonial universal truth against a modern/colonial one, nor do they adopt varying epistemologies and ontologies into theirs. Instead, they have the goal of building understanding across geopolitical relations. A non-ethnocentric decolonization of communication, then, would require engaging with the processes and products of globalization as entry points into acknowledging the communicative integrity of all positions held by humans within these processes.

Article

Critical studies of humanitarian discourses involve the study of the arguments, claims, and evidence that are used to justify intervention or non-intervention in key local, regional, national, or international contexts. These discourses can take the form of arguing over whether we should practice isolationism and not intervene in the sovereign affairs of other countries, or they can take the form of deliberations over the transcend needs of populations that cope with myriad disasters. In some cases these discourses are produced by foreigners who believe that the less fortunate need to be rescued from their misery, while at other times humanitarian discourses can be used in discussions about the human rights of the disempowered. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), nation-states, celebrities, medical communications, and militaries are just a few of the rhetors that produce all of these humanitarian discourses.

Article

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.

Article

Sean Phelan and Simon Dawes

Neither liberalism nor neoliberalism can be grasped coherently without talking about capitalism and democracy. If liberalism names the political ideology aligned to the historical emergence of “free market” capitalism and Western-style representative democracy, neoliberalism signifies a particular regime of liberalism, capitalism, and democracy that has been globalized since the 1970s, in the form of an active state promotion of market and competition principles that critics see as antithetical to democracy. Liberalism also can be described as the hegemonic common sense of communication research. The political philosophy and ideology that shaped the establishment and trajectory of American democracy was inscribed in the US-foundations of the field. It was internalized in a teaching curriculum—the vaunted liberal arts degree—that inculcated the liberal reflexes of the professions and institutions that employed communication graduates. However, for critical communication scholars—all the way back to the Frankfurt School—liberalism has functioned as an exemplary ideological antagonist: a signifier of political values inseparable from the workings and class dynamics of the capitalist system. This interrogatory view of liberalism underpinned the historical distinction between critical and administrative or empirical communication research; the former signified a desire to interrogate the presuppositions of a liberal democratic capitalist social order that were essentially taken for granted by the latter. It also textured the emergence of British cultural studies in the 1970s and 1980s, which questioned the pluralist assumptions and motifs of liberal media and journalism cultures. In contrast, neoliberalism is sometimes constructed as an ideological antagonist of both critical theorists and progressive liberal identities. Marxist scholars conceptualize neoliberalism as a particular historical regime of capitalism, more corrosive and iniquitous than the “embedded liberalism” of the post-war era in Europe and the United States. Similarly, socially progressive liberals criticize neoliberalism for subordinating public life to market forces and for displacing the welfare state commitments of the Keynesian era. Some on the political left collapse the distinction between liberalism and neoliberalism, seeing them as simply two ways of ideologically justifying capitalist rule. Conversely, some of those most likely to be identified as neoliberals are motivated by a deep hostility to political liberals, particularly in right-wing political discourses where liberal operates as code for left-liberal, even socialist, values that are opposed to a free market identity. Any discussion of the relationship between liberalism and neoliberalism must therefore start by recognizing the contested and nebulous nature of both categories, and their variegated use as signifiers of political identification and disidentification. This article begins by outlining some of the philosophical foundations of liberal thought, highlighting the historical tensions between discourses that privilege economic freedom and those that stress the social character of liberalism. The next section considers different critical perspectives on liberalism, including discussions of the limitations of the account of free speech and press freedom inherited from 19th century liberals. Neoliberalism’s status is examined as a distinct political project that reshaped Western and global political economy from the 1970s onwards, but which had its intellectual origins in 1920s and 1930s debates about the nature of liberalism and its antagonistic relationship with socialism. Following that is an overview of research on neoliberalism and media, where, as in other fields, neoliberalism is commonly invoked as a name for the dominant ideology and social formation. The penultimate section identifies the outlines of a future research program for critical communication researchers, based on critical interrogation of the relationship between neoliberalism and liberalism. The article ends with an overview of further reading suggestions for those interested in making their own contributions to the field. The nature of the topic necessitates an interdisciplinary register that moves between general reflections on liberalism and neoliberalism to questions of particular interest to communication, media, and journalism researchers. There is no attempt to refer to all the communication research of relevance to our topic; liberalism’s hegemonic status would make that an impossible task. Liberal assumptions are arguably most authoritative when they are not named at all, but simply presupposed as part of the common sense framing of the research question.

Article

Erin Sahlstein Parcell and Danielle C. Romo

Military families in the United States reflect diverse family forms. They include not only “traditional” families but also single service members, women service members, dual-career couples, service member mothers, single-parent service members, service members of color, cohabitating military service members (i.e., nonmarried couples), LGB service members, and transgender service members. However, the research primarily reflects white, heterosexual, cisgender, different sexed, married couples who are able-bodied with biological children as well as postpositivist and interpretivist perspectives; trends that parallel interpersonal and family communication studies broadly speaking. Given calls for new approaches within these areas, and in particular military family communication research, scholars should consider “queering” the study of military family communication by including individuals who identify as queer but also varying the research theoretically. Studies that bring attention to different types of military families (e.g., LGBTQ+ military families) would make significant contributions to the scholarship and make these families as well as their unique experiences visible. Informed by calls for critical military studies and the critical interpersonal and family communication framework (CIFC), recommendations are offered for future queer military family communication inquiry. First, a brief history of queer families in the military as well as the current state of military family communication scholarship are presented. Next, the CIFC framework, discourse dependence, and relational dialectics theory are discussed as conceptual paths for engaging in critical military family communication studies.