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Article

Kami J. Silk and Daniel Totzkay

The Breast Cancer and Environment Research Program (BCERP) is a transdisciplinary program of research created to investigate environmental exposures and their relationship to breast cancer with a particular focus on puberty as a potential window of increased susceptibility to environmental exposures. A transdisciplinary approach has a strong focus on translating scientific findings into usable health practices as well as health prevention messages so that current research informs practice as well as communication to the lay public. BCERP engaged in communication science to develop health messages for lay audiences, health professionals, and outreach organizations. The precautionary principle, used as a primary guide in regards to message translation and dissemination, yields a useful discussion of the BCERP organizational structure. An exploration of formative communication science efforts in BCERP, areas of sensitivity for creating BCERP messages, and resources created for BCERP toolkits serves to illustrate and describe this one approach to designing health and risk messages.

Article

Helene A. Shugart

If food studies is an inherently interdisciplinary field of enquiry, communication is central to its uptake in any scholarly context, for food is inherently relational, symbolic, and deeply cultural, a powerful discourse in its own right and imbricated in a host of other discourses. Accordingly, while food studies is a relatively new area of study within the communication discipline, scholarship in that vein has had rather seamless entrée into the broader scholarly arena and has proliferated along the same general lines of investigation that characterize the field in general. Originally rooted in cultural anthropology, early studies of the cultural significance of food assessed how food both reflects and accomplishes social identity and status, a focus that has been sustained and expanded in more contemporary studies as relevant to how food signals and mobilizes particular identities, such as race/ethnicity, nation, class, gender, and sexuality. Matters of identity are sometimes apparent in studies of the role(s) of food in global flows, including globalization, colonization, immigration, diaspora, and tourism. Much of this scholarship also or instead takes up food in terms of production and consumption, assessing the politics, economics, and geographies of food. Endeavors in this vein, in global, national, and local contexts, examine food policies and patterns of industry and how they privilege certain interests while disenfranchising others: food safety, security, and justice feature prominently in these investigations. These motifs are reflected, as well, in scholarship that examines social movements around food that seek to disrupt or resist problematic industry and farming policies and/or practices as relevant to, for example, environmental exigencies, animal welfare, eradication of the local, and availability of and/or access to safe, healthy foods. The mediation of food is perhaps a natural subject of study for communication scholars, ranging from representations of food in film to food packaging and advertising. The recent rise of “foodie” culture has generated a proliferation of media fare, signaled by indices ranging from the now recognized genre of “food films,” to multiple television networks devoted to food, to the rise of “celebrity chefs”; food is, moreover, an increasing presence on the Internet, proliferating especially across social media. The imaginaries of authenticity and egalitarianism and the materialities of class that frequently drive foodie culture have been the focus of much of this scholarship, and they have been further identified as figuring prominently in urban practices ranging from the establishment of farmers’ markets to gentrification. Even within the communication discipline, food studies is a wide-ranging topic, but it is not simply a diverse subject of study for communication scholars. The inherently liminal and malleable nature of food renders it difficult if not impossible to engage or theorize in terms of conventional binaries or rifts that characterize many if not most fields, such as subject/object and self/other; perhaps most salient for the communication discipline, food denies the particularly nettlesome materiality/discursivity binary. Accordingly, food studies holds considerable promise for the field relevant to theoretical innovation and expansion.

Article

“News ecology” and “news ecosystems” are two terms often used in journalism studies. They are, however, different concepts that draw from different lines of research and are used by different groups of scholars rarely connected to one another. The notion of “news ecology” stems from media ecology, a branch of media theory that aims at understanding the effects that mediated technologies have on communication and social interactions. Media ecology has challenged traditional media research by focusing on how communicative technologies impact media consumption on a daily basis. Specifically it argues that communicative technologies encompass a set of implicit rules that affect how humans see, understand, and think about the contents that are being mediated. Building on these principles, “news ecology” is a relevant notion to reflect on how citizens get acquainted with the news as well as the diversity of technologies involved in news use. The notion aims at capturing the fact that news products exist in a diversity of formats, are consumed in diverse manners, and take place on different sites and platforms. Out of all the economic, social and technological changes of the last decades, the popularization of the Internet is often seen as the keystone of this change. However, most recent reception studies mention the terms “news ecology” without relating it to media ecology. The use of the “news ecosystem” metaphor in journalism studies is more recent and focuses on the diversity of actors involved in news production and diffusion. If some scholars use a restricted definition of ecosystems (i.e., the ecosystems of blogs, websites, or social networking sites), others give it a more organic and composite meaning (i.e., the ecosystems of actors, technologies, and contents produced in a specific area or regarding a specific topic). Using the first definition, one can analyze the configuration of news ecosystems online, the diversity of actors involved in news production and their relationships, as well as how news circulates through diverse technologies. Using the second definition forces researchers to consider news as a complex social practice in which a diversity of actors competes to influence the news narrative through mediated and unmediated practices. The two research traditions rarely intersect, as media and news ecology focus more on the reception side of news (i.e., the impact of mediums on people) and the study of news ecosystems has so far paid more attention to the production and diffusion of news. However, they share similarities—such as the facts that they both analyze media as dynamic processes are not normative in nature, or focus on complexity and change more than structure and stability—and could inspire one another in an effort to break the production/reception dichotomy in journalism studies.

Article

Joan Faber McAlister

The phrase “space in rhetorical theory” refers to scholarship that explores the relationships between place and persuasion, location and identity, and/or spatial dimensions of communication and communicative functions of spaces. These relationships have been theorized in a wide variety of ways, from classical conceptions of topos and the agora to recent work on new materialist and mobile rhetorics. Key themes in this research have included (1) settings where rhetoric takes place, (2) spatial metaphors for theorizing rhetoric, (3) rhetorical representations of public places, (4) the role of place in identity, (5) spatial aspects of rhetoric, (6) rhetorical functions of space, and (7) spatial-temporal-material relations. Rhetorical scholarship on such topics has been shaped by metadisciplinary movements, such as the visual, spatial, and affective “turns” in the humanities and social sciences. Rhetoricians of space have drawn on and contributed to widespread interest in public memory, mobile technologies, national borders, environmental communication, and global flows of capital and labor and tourism. Researchers in this arena of rhetorical studies have also addressed problems taken up by critical/cultural theorists more recently, including collective agency, posthuman subjectivity, and animate matter—each of which poses challenges to conventional distinctions between subjects (as individual human rational actors) and objects (as lifeless things to be acted upon). Reconsidering these categories is important when conceptualizing place-making processes and the forces exerted by living landscapes. In pursuing these topics and questions, rhetorical theorists have contributed to conversations among researchers in multiple areas of specialty within communication studies. Such research also engaged themes of interest to scholars of cultural geography, urban planning, gender and sexuality studies, literary criticism, environmental science, and additional diverse disciplines as well as interdisciplinary movements. Communication scholars studying precarity, mobility, and other evolving topics are generating promising new contributions to conversations on space and rhetoric each year. However, essential insights regarding space and rhetorical theory are still being mined from postcolonial/decolonial, critical race, feminist, and queer approaches that many critics argue are insufficiently incorporated into the rhetorical theories of space or spatial theories of rhetoric most often applied and taught.

Article

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are not-for-profit groups, which are independent of commercial businesses and government agencies. They claim to serve various notions of the public good, including advocacy and service delivery. So the definition of an “NGO” is broad, including many different kinds of organizations, such as aid agencies, human rights, indigenous, feminist and environmental lobby groups. Throughout the 19th and early 20th century, the predecessors of NGOs—pressure groups—tried to advance their cause by cultivating close relations with the mainstream press, and/or publishing their own periodicals. But from the late 20th century onward, many NGOs started routinely producing their own news content, including written text but also photojournalism, video, and sophisticated interactive projects. Some of this material is disseminated through “alternative” outlets, social media and activist hubs. But it is difficult for NGOs to gain a mass audience in these ways, so most major NGOs recruit or commission experienced journalists to carry out this work for them. Much of the research in this area has focused on either journalists’ increased dependence on NGOs, or on the restructuring of NGOs’ resources, priorities and working cultures in accordance with news norms. Most scholars have also focused on the work of international aid agencies and/or human rights organizations, as well as particular kinds of crises, such as famines, hurricanes and conflicts. The extant literature is heavily weighted toward organizations which are based in North America or Europe. However, a small but growing number of scholars are challenging this, exploring the news work of other NGOs and/or news outlets, in other countries, and during other kinds of news-making periods, including conferences, summits and “quiet” news weeks. These more diverse approaches to studying NGOs as news organizations have led to the theorization of NGO journalism becoming more nuanced. Researchers have shifted away from polarized, and somewhat over-generalized, assessments of the effects of NGO news-making, toward a greater awareness of complexity and heterogeneity. This has involved them using theory about organizations, institutions, fields and moral economies. However, the kinds of power which NGO workers are able to acquire by becoming news reporters is still under-theorized, and scholars still tend to avoid examining the frameworks they use as a basis for normative evaluation. Finally, changing media practices (including social media practices) and NGOs’ adoption of new communication technology (including satellite and drone imagery) means that this area of news work is still evolving very rapidly.

Article

Soyoon Kim and Brian G. Southwell

Typical discussion about the success of mediated health communication campaigns focuses on the direct and indirect links between remembered campaign exposure and outcomes; yet, what constitutes information exposure and how it is remembered remain unclearly defined in much health communication research. This problem mainly stems from the complexity of understanding the concept of memory. Prolific discussions about memory have occurred in cognitive psychology in recent decades, particularly owing to advances in neuroimaging technologies. The evolution of memory research—from unitary or dichotomous perspectives to multisystem perspectives—has produced substantial implications for the topics and methods of studying memory. Among the various conceptualizations and types of memory studied, what has been of particular interest to health-communication researchers and practitioners is the notion of “encoded exposure.” Encoded exposure is a form of memory at least retrievable by a potential audience member through a conscious effort to recollect his or her past engagement with any particular unit of campaign content. While other aspects of memory (e.g., non-declarative or implicit memory) are certainly important for communication research, the encoded exposure assessed under a retrieval condition offers a critical point at which to establish the exposure-outcome link for the purpose of campaign design and evaluation. The typical methods to assess encoded exposure include recall and recognition tasks, which can be exercised in various ways depending on retrieval cues provided by a researcher to assess different types and levels of cognitive engagement with exposed information. Given that encoded exposure theoretically relies on minimal memory trace, communication scholars have suggested that recognition-based tasks are more appropriate and efficient indicators of encoded exposure compared to recall-based tasks that require a relatively high degree of current-information salience and accessibility. Understanding the complex nature of memory also has direct implications for the prediction of memory as one of the initial stages of communication effects. Some prominent message-level characteristics (e.g., variability in the structural and content features of a health message) or message recipient-level characteristics (e.g., individual differences in cognitive abilities) might be more or less predictive of different memory systems or information-processing mechanisms. In addition, the environments (e.g., bodily and social contexts) in which people are exposed to and interact with campaign messages affect individual memory. While the effort has already begun, directions for future memory research in health communication call for more attention to sharpening the concept of memory and understanding memory as a unique or combined function of multilevel factors.

Article

Immersive virtual environments (IVEs) are systems comprised of digital devices that simulate multiple layers of sensory information so that users experience sight, sound, and even touch like they do in the physical world. Users are typically represented in these environments in the form of virtual humans and may interact with other virtual representations such as health-care providers, coaches, future selves, or treatment stimuli (e.g., phobia triggers, such as crowds of people or spiders). These virtual representations can be controlled by humans (avatars) or computers algorithms (agents). Embodying avatars and interacting with agents, patients can experience sensory-rich simulations in the virtual world that may be difficult or even impossible to experience in the physical world but are sufficiently real to influence health attitudes and behaviors. Avatars and agents are infinitely customizable to tailor virtual experiences at the individual level, and IVEs are able to transcend the spatial and temporal boundaries of the physical world. Although still preliminary, a growing number of studies demonstrate IVEs’ potential as a health promotion and therapy tool, complementing and enhancing current treatment regimens. Attempts to incorporate IVEs into treatments and intervention programs have been made in a number of areas, including physical activity, nutrition, rehabilitation, exposure therapy, and autism spectrum disorders. Although further development and research is necessary, the increasing availability of consumer-grade IVE systems may allow clinicians and patients to consider IVE treatment as a routine part of their regimen in the near future.

Article

Amy E. Chadwick

Climate change, which includes global warming, is a serious and pervasive challenge for local and global communities. Communication theorists, researchers, and practitioners are well positioned to describe, predict, and affect how we communicate about climate change. Our theories, research methods, and practices have many potential roles in reducing climate change and its effects. Climate change communication is a growing field that examines a range of factors that affect and are affected by how we communicate about climate change. Climate change communication covers a broad range of philosophical and research traditions, including humanistic-rhetorical analyses, interpretive qualitative studies, and social-scientific quantitative surveys and experiments. Climate change communication examines a range of factors that affect and are affected by how we communicate about climate change. Much of the research in climate change communication focuses on public understanding of climate change, factors that affect public understanding, media coverage and framing, media effects, and risk perceptions. Less prevalent, growing areas of research include civic engagement and public participation, organizational communication, and persuasive strategies to affect attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors related to the climate. In all of these areas, most of the research on climate change communication has been conducted in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and Western European countries. There is a need to expand the climate change communication research into other regions, particularly developing countries. In addition, climate change communication has natural links to environmental and health communication; therefore, communication scholars should also examine research from these areas to develop insights into climate change communication.

Article

When it comes to health and risk, “place” matters. People who live in lower-income neighborhoods are disproportionately affected by obesity and obesity-related diseases like heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes; asthma; cancers; mental health issues; etc., compared to those that live in higher-income communities. Contributing to these disparities are individual-level factors (e.g., education level, health literacy, healthcare access) and neighborhood-level factors such as the socioeconomic characteristics of the neighborhood; crime, violence, and social disorder; the built environment; and the presence or absence of health-enhancing and health-compromising resources. Social determinants of health—for example, social support, social networks, and social capital—may improve or further complicate health outcomes in low-income neighborhoods. Social support is a type of transaction between two or more people intended to help the recipient in some fashion. For instance, a person can help provide someone who is grieving or dealing with a newly diagnosed health issue by providing emotional support. Informational support may be provided to someone trying to diagnose, manage, and/or treat a health problem. Instrumental support may come in the help of making meals for someone who is ill, running errands for them, or taking them to a doctor’s appointment. Unfortunately, those who may have chronic diseases and require a lot of support or who otherwise do not feel able to provide support may not seek it due to the expectation of reciprocity. Neighborhood features can enable or constrain people from developing social networks that can help provide social support when needed. There are different types of social networks: some can enhance health outcomes, while others may have a more limiting or even a detrimental effect on health. Social capital results in the creation of resources that may or may not improve health outcomes. Communication infrastructure theory offers an opportunity to create theoretically grounded health interventions that consider the social and neighborhood characteristics that influence health outcomes. The theory states that every neighborhood has a communication infrastructure that consists of a neighborhood storytelling network—which includes elements similar to the social determinants of health—embedded in a communication action context that enables or constrains neighborhood storytelling. People who are more engaged in their neighborhood storytelling networks are in a better position to reduce health disparities—for example, to fight to keep clinics open or to clean up environmental waste. The communication action context features are similar to the neighborhood characteristics that influence health outcomes. Communication infrastructure theory may be useful in interventions to address neighborhood health and risk.

Article

Armin Scholl and Maja Malik

Observing, describing, and analyzing journalism as part of society requires theories on a macro level. Unlike normative theories, which criticize journalism with respect to its achievements and failures within society, systems theory operates with the concept of function in a non-normative sense. Based on the groundwork of Talcott Parsons’ theory of social systems, Niklas Luhmann developed systems theory further and radicalized it by strictly avoiding any kind of structural conservatism. His approach is built on the assumption that social systems operate autonomously on the basis of the functional differentiation to their environment. Macro-level systems, i.e., societal systems, fulfill unique functions for and within society. Functional autonomy and singularity make a modern society highly efficient but force each system to rely on the functional performances of all other societal systems. Hence, societal systems are structurally coupled and interdependent. Epistemologically, systems do not exist as ontological units but are strictly observer-related, be the observer the system itself or an external observer, such as the scientific community is. In journalism research, Luhmann’s systems theory has been applied to journalism as a societal system. Several competing approaches with different perspectives on the system observed (journalism, the mass media, or the public sphere) have been developed with respect to identifying the basic characteristics on which the system operates. Despite their differences they have this in common: journalism is not considered the sum of individual journalists and their (individual) way of working, instead, the systems-theoretical perspective is holistic. However, compared to theories of professionalism, which is also a holistic concept, systems theory neither identifies journalism with the profession of journalism, nor commits it to professional journalism. Instead, the structure of journalism is flexible, i.e., functionally equivalent, as long as its function is fulfilled. This function can be specified: journalism provides society periodically with current, independent, factual, and relevant information. Empirically, systems theory helps defining the population of journalists by deducing it from its function. Unlike mere empirical approaches, which arbitrarily draw samples from an unknown population, it is possible to clearly draw distinctions between journalism and other forms of public communication, such as public relations, advertising, propaganda, or lay communication. Still, it is challenging to operationalize such an abstract theory, as it is not specially made for hypothesis-driven research.

Article

Phaedra C. Pezzullo

Central to the study of communication and cultural studies is the relationship between nature and culture, not as a rigid dichotomy, but as elements that are coconstituted by each other materially and symbolically. With the rise of ecological awareness, the past three decades has fostered an increase in scholarship addressing environmental matters explicitly, as well as professional organizations mobilizing around the ways this perspective has shaped research, teaching, and praxis. Communication scholars from a range of perspectives have contributed to ongoing conversations about “environment” as a keyword, including at least these seven general approaches: (1) environmental personal identity and interpersonal relationships; (2) environmental organizational communication studies; (3) science, technology, and health communication; (4) public participation in environmental decision-making; (5) green applied media and arts; (6) environmental mass media studies; and (7) environmental rhetoric and cultural studies. Given this rich and expanding disciplinary terrain, identifying the heart of this research is a complicated task. Environmental communication is the study and practice of pragmatic and constitutive modes of expression that define and trouble our ecological relationships within the world. It has been founded as a crisis discipline, one dedicated to addressing some of the greatest challenges of our times and to foregrounding the ethical implications of this orientation. In this article, environmental communication also is characterized fundamentally as a care discipline, one devoted to unearthing human and nonhuman interconnections, interdependence, biodiversity, and system limits. In the United States, environmental discourse has articulated dominant, residual, and emergent attitudes, values, and practices related to—though not limited to—wilderness, preservation, conservation, public health, environmental justice, sustainability, climate science, and resilience. Despite historical reluctance, future possibilities for scholarship on the environment are exigent and expanding, including communication-based research on climate justice, as well as digital environmental communication and archives.