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Article

Language and Culture  

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

Queer Sexualities in Latin America  

Héctor Domínguez Ruvalcaba

As a field of study constituted by contributions coming from various disciplines and methodologies, queer studies in Latin America can only be understood as a multiplicity of discourses that discipline, regulate, vindicate, or bring into critical view dissident expressions of gender and sexuality. These discursive formations have given rise to moral, scientific, political, and aesthetic conceptualizations through which sexually diverse bodies in this region have been understood. Notable academic texts published since the 1980s have studied the diversity of sexual identities in different modes of representation, including the fields of history, ethnography, and literature, as well as performance, journalistic, cinematographic, and television discourses. The selection for this multidisciplinary review was based on the following thematic axis: colonial studies of Latin American queerness; modern history and literature on sexual dissidence; ethnographies of sexual diversity; and the studies of film, media, and performance.

Article

Performance Studies in Critical Communication Studies  

Judith Hamera

Performance studies presumes that political economy, cultural continuity, self-fashioning, and interpersonal exchange are embodied, aesthetic, affective, creative, contested, and rhetorical processes whose work can be understood through analyses of their presentational and representational particulars. Scholars in the field investigate storytelling, ritual, dance, music, and theater: live and mediated, professional and amateur. But they also deploy “performance” as a heuristic tool for examining practices of everyday life, history, the economy and the law, material culture, and other cultural forms not typically considered performance with the goal of excavating their aesthetic, theatrical, spectacular, audience-directed qualities, then explaining how these qualities do cultural and political work. Thus, in performance studies, performance is both an object and a method of study: a mode of communication and a strategy for framing and examining cultural artifacts and processes. Performance practice is a primary commitment in performance studies; it is a site to be investigated, a mode of scholarly inquiry, and a tool of scholarly representation. Within the field of communication, it is most closely aligned with rhetoric and critical cultural studies. But its many interdisciplinary incarnations include those that privilege modes of communication other than the linguistic, including dance studies and ethnomusicology. The field of performance studies is highly interdisciplinary, with its roots in the practices of elocution, the oral interpretation of literature, and theater, as well as anthropology and folklore studies. The fundamentally contested nature of performance as a concept requires researchers to clarify the parameters and presumptions about performance in their analyses, including who or what performs, and in what sense. The field’s investment in the body as a site of knowledge and cultural production is evidenced in its primary methodologies, including performance ethnography, performance historiography, and oral history. This investment in the body also emerges in the field’s use of performed and written autoethnography and in experiments with performative writing.

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

Cultural Communication  

Patricia Olivia Covarrubias

An enduring problem for all people is the universal call for figuring out how to live together. This problem, which requires some measure of organization, quintessentially is responded to and managed in and through communication. That is, humans coordinate their daily meaningful actions via situated webs of linguistic and nonlinguistic means during the course of daily social interactions. These situated webs can be interpreted as cultural codes about communication. Further, and importantly, these codes vary across social groupings—and the codes are distinctive. This distinctiveness arises from the reality that societies shape their respective codes according to their local means and meanings; that is, to their own sets of beliefs, values, and rules for managing their lives individually and collectively. The communicative means and meanings in and by which humans create meaningful lives are the central concern of cultural communication, which is defined as follows: the social enactment of learned systems of symbolic resources, premises, rules, emotions, spatial orientations, and notions of time that groups of people use to shape distinctive and meaningful communal identities, relationships, and ways of living and being. Indeed, cultural communication pertains to the use of language and other communicative means to carry out the activities and commitments of their particular communities in and through the use of symbolic resources. These resources include verbal and nonverbal means, as well as the rules for using and interpreting them. This paper is inspired by a number of scholars of cultural communication, including Dell Hymes, who conceptualized the ethnography of communication (EOC); Gerry Philipsen and his notion of codes of communication; and the many scholars who have followed their leads. The definition of cultural communication requires some fleshing out—and in particular, the tension between the individual and the communal that exists within the concept of cultural communication needs attention. Empirically accessed, real-life examples of locations where communication can be seen, heard, felt, and experienced help to explicate cultural communication. Such examples include cultural terms, silence practices, terms of address, rituals, and social dramas. Indeed, cultural communication treats culture and people, not with wide brushstrokes where the features of daily life occur uniformly and generically, but rather as unique sets of social actors whose lives are composed of intricate webs of nuanced expressions and attendant meanings, wherein each enactor plays a part in animating the symbolic resources that comprise their richly diverse schemes of life.

Article

Rhetorical Approaches to Communication and Culture  

Soumia Bardhan

The convergence of rhetoric, culture, and communication has led to the development of two predominant areas of study within the field of communication: intercultural rhetoric and comparative rhetoric. Intercultural rhetoric illustrates how culture-based arguments are constructed by advocates during intercultural interactions and how the arguments make sense within a particular cultural frame or worldview. These studies attempt to represent the cultural sensibility and rhetorical traditions invoked by a particular intercultural interaction. Rhetorical practices are seen as emerging from the beliefs and values of distinctive cultural communities, and the convergence of intercultural communication and rhetoric becomes evident when people act rhetorically and their diverse cultural assumptions gradually or suddenly become apparent during intercultural interactions. Comparative rhetoric focuses on the cross-cultural study of rhetorical traditions, past or present, in societies around the world. Comparison of (rather than interaction between) the rhetorical practices of two or more cultures is often the focus of comparative rhetoric studies. Comparison helps in the identification of rhetorical features in one culture that might not be evident otherwise, to unearth what is universal and what distinctive in any rhetorical tradition, including that of the West. Intercultural rhetoric and comparative rhetoric share some conceptual and methodological features; both fields are characterized by similar beginnings and some shared debates. However, they also have distinct characteristics, challenges, and historiographies. For intercultural rhetoric, approaching intercultural contexts and situations utilizing theories and concepts from rhetorical studies affirms non-Western modes of reasoning and advocacy. Recent methodological developments have allowed critics to more comprehensively represent rhetorical traditions and to discover novel ways to understand intercultural conflicts and mediate cultural differences. Conceptualizing rhetorical situations as intercultural dialogues suggests the ways in which intercultural rhetorical theorists need to be mindful of the multivocal quality of social discourses. Rhetorical interpretation of texts benefits from a comparative approach that allows for speculation with respect for and grounding in another culture’s history, as well as reflection on the cultural outsider’s motive and assumptions. It is useful for the quest of meaning not to be limited to the standpoints within each disparate culture; pragmatically, they must have a dialogue since comparative rhetoric allows the analysis of different discourses, the discovery of common grounds of engagement, and the revelation of cultural assumptions.

Article

Qualitative Methods in Intergroup Communication  

Maggie J. Pitts

A researcher’s methodological approach is guided by his or her orientation toward three major philosophical assumptions: epistemological assumptions (i.e., what the nature of truth or knowledge is and how it can be pursued), ontological assumptions (i.e., what the nature of reality is and how it can be understood), and axiological assumptions (i.e., what the researcher’s position in the world is and responsibilities to it). Qualitative inquiry is largely guided by methodological beliefs that hold truth and reality as socially constructed, that value subjectivity over objectivity, that explore questions of “how” or “why” over questions of “what,” and that value participants’ voices and experiences. Broadly, qualitative inquiry seeks to describe the world as it is experienced and lived in by the participants under study. With respect to intergroup communication, qualitative inquiry takes an in-depth approach to understanding how members of a community or culture enact the behaviors of everyday life relevant to their group. Qualitative inquiry comprises several methodologies or methodological approaches including ethnography, autoethnography, and ethnography of communication; narrative paradigm and narrative theory; grounded theory; phenomenology; and case studies. Each methodology employs one method or a combination of methods to collect qualitative data. Methods refer to the tools used to collect data for the purposes of informing research and answering research questions. Qualitative methods include tools for the collection of descriptive, largely non-numeric data, including several types of interviews, observations, and interactions, and the collection of meaningful texts, documents, and objects. The collection of qualitative data often requires the researcher to establish a trusting relationship (rapport) with participants and gain an insider’s (emic) perspective of the context for study. In many cases, this is established through prolonged engagement in the field and carefully crafting interview questions that encourage detailed disclosures. Qualitative data are analyzed through a process of dissection, up-close examination, contrast, and comparison between units of data and then putting pieces back together in a synergetic way that represents data holistically. Most qualitative data analysis involves some form of coding: a process of identifying units of data that are relevant to the research questions, assigning them a short label or code, then clustering similar codes into increasingly abstract thematic categories. Researchers establish trustworthiness in qualitative reports through descriptive writing that preserves the voices of the participants, that reflects the social realities of the participants, and that contextualizes results within broader scholarly discourse by tying findings to previous theory or research. Qualitative research reports can take many forms that range from creative forms of writing and representation including poetry and photographs to more conventional forms of writing that fit expectations of social scientific academic journals. When applied to intergroup contexts, qualitative inquiry can make evident the language and communication patterns and social behaviors that distinguish one group from another. Field observations can reveal identity performance and group behavior. Interviews can solicit information from participants about in-group or out-group perceptions and experiences. And the collection and analysis of texts and documents can establish the means through which group identity is preserved and transferred.

Article

Critical Audience Studies  

Adrienne Shaw, Katherine Sender, and Patrick Murphy

Critical audience studies is the branch of media research primarily concerned with what people do with the media they consume, rather than on the supposedly negative effects of media on people. Critical audience studies has long drawn on “ethnographic ways of seeing” to investigate the everyday uses of media in myriad contexts. This area of audience research has had to define who and what constitutes “an audience,” where audiences are located, and how best to understand how people’s lives intersect with media. Changes in media production and distribution technologies have meant that texts are increasingly consumed in transnational and transplatform ways. These changes have disrupted historical distinctions between producers and audiences. Critical cultural approaches should be considered from a largely qualitative perspective and look at feminist and global reception studies as foundational to the understandings of what audiences might be and how to study them. Taking video game players as a boundary example, we need to reconsider how contemporary media forms and genres, modes of engagement, and niche and geographically dispersed media publics affect audiences and audience research: what, or who, is an audience, how can we understand it, and through what methods might we research it now?

Article

Digital Cultures and Critical Studies  

Larissa Hjorth

The digital is now an integral part of everyday cultural practices globally. This ubiquity makes studying digital culture both more complex and divergent. Much of the literature on digital culture argues that it is increasingly informed by playful and ludified characteristics. In this phenomenon, there has been a rise of innovative and playful methods to explore identity politics and place-making in an age of datafication. At the core of the interdisciplinary debates underpinning the understanding of digital culture is the ways in which STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and HASS (Humanities, Arts and Social Science) approaches have played out in, and through, algorithms and datafication (e.g., the rise of small data [ethnography] to counteract big data). As digital culture becomes all-encompassing, data and its politics become central. To understand digital culture requires us to acknowledge that datafication and algorithmic cultures are now commonplace—that is, where data penetrate, invade, and analyze our daily lives, causing anxiety and seen as potentially inaccurate statistical captures. Alongside the use of big data, the quantified self (QS) movement is amplifying the need to think more about how our data stories are being told and who is doing the telling. Tensions and paradoxes ensure—power and powerless; tactic and strategic; identity and anonymity; statistics and practices; and big data and little data. The ubiquity of digital culture is explored through the lens of play and playful resistance. In the face of algorithms and datafication, the contestation around playing with data takes on important features. In sum, play becomes a series of methods or modes of critique for agency and autonomy. Playfully acting against data as a form of resistance is a key method used by artists, designers, and creative practitioners working in the digital realm, and they are not easily defined.