Difference in human experience can be parsed in a variety of ways and it is this parsing that provides the entry point to our discussion of “race,” “gender,” “class,” and “sexuality” as foci of study in the field of organizational communication. Social sorting of difference has material consequences, such as whether individuals, groups, organizations, communities, and nations have equal and equitable access to civil/participative liberties, food, clean water, health, housing, education, and meaningful work. Communication perspectives enable researchers to examine how difference is produced, sustained, and transformed through symbolic means. That is, communication organizes difference. In the field of organizational communication the communicative organizing of race, gender, class, and sexuality is examined in everyday social arrangements, such as corporate and not-for-profit organizations, communities, and other institutional contexts locally and globally. Topics of central concern in organizational communication difference studies are those related to work and the political economy of work, such as labor, conflicts between public and private domains, empowerment, and agency. Research on race, gender, class, and sexuality as communicatively structured difference has progressed in the field of organizational communication from early top-down functionalist approaches, to bottom-up and emergent interpretive/critical/materialist methods, to poststructuralist approaches that deconstruct the very notion of “categories” of difference. More complex intersectional approaches, including queer theory and postcolonial/decolonial theory, are currently gaining traction in the field of organizational communication. These advances signal that difference studies have matured over the last decades as the field moved toward questioning and deconstructing past approaches to knowledge production while finding commensurability across diverse theoretical and research perspectives. These moves open up more possibilities to respond to societal imperatives for understanding difference.
Patricia S. Parker, Jing Jiang, Courtney L. McCluney, and Verónica Caridad Rabelo
Diana Isabel Bowen
Gloria Anzaldúa was a Chicana feminist, queer, cultural critic, author, and artist who is well-known for her concept of the borderlands, physically referring to the U.S.–Mexico border, but also incorporating psychological aspects to describe the spiritual, sexual, or other boundaries that, although arbitrary and painful, guide one’s identity. Using her experiences as a means to create art and social thought, Anzaldúa calls the process of using struggles resulting from sexism, racism, and homophobia a starting point; she explained how theories of the flesh were born out of this necessity. Often, this process involves creating art or writing poetry, fiction, and theoretical essays that require adopting or crafting new terms and categories to more fully explain the lived experiences of people of color. In her writing, she used autohistorias—a term that describes using biographical stories interspersed across genres of writing—and often switched between English, Spanish, and Náhuatl languages. Noticing that scholars tended to use her theory of the borderlands almost exclusively to discuss the geographic tensions between the United States and Mexico, for example, she adopted the Náhuatl term nepantla to more succinctly describe the spiritual dimensions of experience. Scholars interested in Anzaldúa’s work have observed the importance of acknowledging intersectionality and standpoint theories as central to exploring Chicana feminist thought. While her work connects her to the Chicana/o movement and to the women’s movement, Anzaldúa also discusses how the Chicana/o movement excluded women and the women’s movement excluded voices of women of color. Centering experiences of women of color and bringing marginalized voices to the center highlights Anzaldúa’s strategy for gaining awareness of one’s marginal status, reclaiming one’s identity through this knowledge, making use of everyday and structural acts of resistance, and creating theories of social change. These spaces of in-between are uncomfortable but also provide opportunities for social transformation.
Claire Sisco King
Within the field of communication studies, critical cultural scholarship examines the interarticulation of power and culture. Drawing from critical theory and cultural studies, this research offers analysis of texts, artifacts, practices, and institutions in order to understand their potential to promote or preempt equality and social justice. Critical theory, which has Marxist origins, uses theory as a basis for critiquing and challenging systems of domination or oppression. The field of cultural studies focuses on social formations with a particular emphasis on media texts and the reception practices of audiences. Both critical theory and cultural studies emphasize the important interrelationship between ideology, or structures of belief, and the material conditions in which people live. Critical cultural research examines discourse and representation, including language and visual culture, as well as social relations, institutional structures, material practices, economic forces, and various forms of embodiment. Central to critical cultural scholarship is attention to the construction, regulation, and contestation of categories of identity, including race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, ability, and class. A significant branch of critical cultural studies examines how ideas about gender and sex develop and circulate, asking how and why some constructions of gender and sex become normative and gain hegemony—or, cultural privilege—in a particular context. For example, such scholarship might critique the idealization of certain performances of masculinity and the attendant devaluation of femininity or other subordinated masculinities; or, this research might consider how particular iterations of masculinity or femininity may be counter-hegemonic, operating in opposition to prevailing ideologies of gender and sex. Critical cultural approaches also emphasize the intersectionality of gender and sex with other categories of identity. For instance, ideas about masculinity or femininity can rarely be separated from assumptions about race and/or sexuality; as such, prevailing ideologies of gender and sex often reflect the presumed normativity of whiteness and heterosexuality.