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.
Mikaela L. Marlow
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.
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.
James E. Grunig and Jeong-Nam Kim
The concept of publics and related notions such as receivers, audiences, stakeholders, mass, markets, target groups, and the public sphere are central to any discussion of formal communication programs between organizations or other strategic communicators and the individuals or groups with which they strive to communicate. The concept explains why individuals and collectivities of individuals are motivated to communicate for themselves (to seek or otherwise acquire information), with similar individuals to form organized groups, and with formal organizations to make demands on those organizations or to shape the behavior of the organizations. Theories of publics originated in the 1920s as the result of debates over the nature of citizen participation in a democracy, the role of the mass media in forming public opinion, the role of public relations practitioners in the process, and the effects of communicated messages on publics, audiences, and other components of society. J. Grunig developed a situational theory of publics in the 1960s that has served as the most prominent theory of publics for 50 years, and J.-N. Kim and J. Grunig recently have expanded that theory into a situational theory of problem solving. These theories have been used to identify and segment types of publics, to explain the communication behaviors of those publics, to conceptualize the effects of formal communication programs, to understand the cognitive processes of members of publics, and to explain the development of activist groups. Other scholars have suggested additions to these theories or alternatives to more thoroughly explain how communication takes place between members of publics and to identify latent publics that are largely ignored in the situational theories.
Jürgen Habermas is a primary figure in the Frankfurt School of critical theory that emerged in Germany after World War II. He wrote several important works addressing a variety of fields, including legal hermeneutics, to liberal political philosophy, to systems theory, and language analysis. Throughout his research, he has lauded intersubjective “communicative action” as a key paradigm for politics, law, and ethics. Habermas’s theory of communicative action frames human beings as rational arguers. In his view, communication involves discussants disputing “validity claims” to gain mutual understanding and reach consensus. When he applies this communicative action perspective to culture and society, Habermas diagnoses the pathologies that occur when people coordinate their actions strategically through artificial systems rather than cooperatively through dialogue. When he applies it to ethical theory, he draws out the assumptions interlocutors must make when they argue—they are obliged to attempt to justify claims so that they could be universally accepted by those involved in the discourse. In addition to theorizing communication, Habermas throughout his work analyzes the structures and systems that enable public communication in civil society. From this perspective, democratic society relies on spaces and institutions that allow for the public to debate matters of common concern, particularly when they involve the state. In his historical account, Habermas argues that the “public sphere” transformed during the Enlightenment to give communicative outlets to an emerging bourgeois class. From a legal and philosophical perspective, he outlines conditions for political and communicative agency in a modern constitutional state. Communication scholars have had a mixed reaction to Habermas. He offers a vision of critical theory that allows for practical reason, but some assert that his theories are too idealistic and counterfactual to apply to real-life discourse. However, other scholars have nuanced his theory by putting him in dialogue with the rhetorical tradition. Publics and counterpublics especially have become common parlance and have helped explain protest, advocacy, and the constitution of communities in democratic culture.
J. David Wolfgang
Shortly after its emergence as a tool for participatory journalism, online commenting became a popular format for audience public discourse and a subject of controversy for professional journalists. The early 21st century has seen a constant growth in research considering how online comments have influenced journalism by providing new ways to understand the perspective of the audience, by changing the routines and practices of the newsroom, and by encouraging a reconsideration of how content influences readers. News audiences, generally, have been relatively quiet and passive in the past, but online comments have given them the opportunity to speak alongside journalists on professional platforms. This shift in news-mediated public discourse has the potential to reshape the journalist−audience relationship in substantial ways. The research on commenting has provided new evidence on how journalistic practices are changing, how people perceive and process information online, and how journalists negotiate technological change while trying not to upend the profession. However, there is a need for more research that explores critical questions related to comment quality, changing journalistic norms, and the relationship between journalist identity and technology. Online commenting has the potential to help fulfill the journalistic norms of providing a space for public discourse and promoting diverse views from within the community. This potential, however, is reliant upon journalists who uphold the civic function of journalism’s role.