Sara Ahmed is a feminist philosopher specializing in how the cultural politics of language use and discourse mediate social and embodied encounters with difference. She has published field-shaping contributions to queer and feminist theory, critical race and postcolonial theory, affect and emotion studies, and phenomenology. Since the publication of Differences that Matter: Feminist Theory and Postmodernism in 1998, her work has epitomized the value of contemporary feminist cultural studies to speak to and against the masculinist traditions of continental philosophy. Unequivocally inserting feminist politics into the rarified air of academic theory, it crosses the sexist boundary which corrals feminist thought into the category of “studies” while opposing it to male-authored philosophy—the latter automatically authorized to speak on the social and material “Real.” In doing so, her work sits squarely within discourse-analytical traditions that seek to expose how various epistemic scenes – activism, the media, and academia, to name a few -- sediment false authority on such issues as happiness, utility, and the good. Moreover, in contesting New Materialism’s search for some monist “matter” beneath experience, she traces how those linguistic moves impose insidiously singular concepts of what social “reality” is, and how it unfolds, for real people. As a field, communication studies concerns itself centrally with matters of social influence, scale, and power, such as the electoral effects of political speech, or the ability of a message to morph as it reaches new audiences. Turning a critical eye upon the (re)production of cultural norms and social structure through interpersonal and institutional encounters, Ahmed’s oeuvre explores the discursive logics and speech acts that sediment or transform the social meanings of race, gender, and other differences.
Shayna Plaut and Peter W. Klein
Sociologists and media scholars have offered a robust body of literature regarding the daily workings of global journalism—both in newsrooms and in the field. Although fixers are sometimes mentioned in this literature, the role they play in the production of global reporting is rarely analyzed. Such work often focuses on logistical assistance provided by fixers and discusses some tensions in the field regarding credit and security. Although this literature starts to paint an accurate picture of current trends in global journalism, it fails to critically examine how institutional and on-the-ground power dynamics impact a fixer’s work, let alone how global, systemic, and institutional dynamics shape which stories are reported and how the reporting itself is done. This is a glaring gap in knowledge as it ignores the impact that fixers can have on global journalism. To rectify this gap, all aspects of global journalism must be explored, including the economic forces that allow global journalism to operate within a context of uneven power and resources. Recognizing that journalism functions in and as a field of uneven power offers a strong introduction to this discussion, but one must also situate journalism, journalists, and fixers themselves within the larger geopolitical realities of unequal economic and political power. These forces shape the process of fixing, which is why any thorough analysis of the role of fixing and fixers in global journalism must situate the conversation within a larger body of critical theory. In this context, mapping current trends and highlighting nuanced dynamics and tensions within the practice of fixing is essential to understanding how global journalism functions—and the role that fixers play in shaping its stories.
Patricia S. Parker, Jing Jiang, Courtney L. McCluney, and Verónica Caridad Rabelo
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.
J. Daniel Elam
Homi Bhabha (b. 1949) is among the founding generation of scholars of “postcolonial theory” as it emerged in the U.S. and U.K. academies in the 1980s and 1990s, and is currently the Anne F. Rothenberg Professor of English and American Literature and Language. Bhabha’s intellectual emergence coincided with the emergence of “postcolonial theory” in the 1980s and 1990s. Bhabha’s particular contribution to postcolonial critique is unique in successfully combining the fields of post-structuralism, history, and psychoanalysis, and in relationship to the texts and histories of British rule in South Asia. Bhabha is best situated within an often-overshadowed strain of postcolonial theory committed to the recovery of universality rather than the demand for particularity, a lineage that includes Frantz Fanon and Edward Said. Bhabha’s key concepts and terms, especially “ambivalence” and “hybridity,” have been taken up across many fields under the rubrics of postcolonial and/or diasporic intervention. Bhabha’s writing and theoretical arguments are based primarily in perpetual negotiation, in opposition to negation. Understanding this key intervention makes it possible to grasp the full scale of Bhabha’s driving concerns, theoretical conceptions, and political commitments.