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Terrorism and Intergroup Communication  

Allison E. Betus, Michael K. Jablonski, and Anthony F. Lemieux

Terrorism employs violence or the threat of violence to diffuse and amplify messages to an audience beyond the immediate target or victim of an attack. Violent acts initiate media coverage, as well as word-of-mouth transmission, functioning as a gateway that draws attention to the terror group and its messages in a manner that increases the salience of the communication; then media provides additional information contextualizing the original act. Media coverage may make the group initiating the communication look more dangerous or powerful than is warranted. Terrorist communication strategy involves a noteworthy violent act, or threat thereof, that secondarily communicates with multiple audience groups. One audience may be supporters of the terror group who construct identity from the violent act as well as from grievances that the group seeks to advertise. Another may be outgroups sympathetic with the substance of communicated messages. Still another may be foreign countries, which may provide a sense of legitimacy to the actions of the group. A violent group successfully portrayed as victimized will solidify ingroup cohesion and outgroup hostility while justifying the use of violence as a moral consequence of circumstances. Terrorists often dehumanize the outgroup by stereotyping them in ways they argue will justify violence. People sympathetic with the dehumanization of the outgroup may provide support without actually joining in the perpetration of terror. Some may be radicalized by communication produced by terrorists, such as on social media, to become actors themselves. Counter-terror tactics may disrupt intergroup communication, thus interfering with recruitment or operational capabilities of those supporting or engaging in terrorism.

Article

Rhetorical Dimensions of “Active Shooter” Training Messages  

Bradley A. Serber and Rosa A. Eberly

Mass public shootings in the United States have generated increasingly urgent efforts to understand and prevent active shooter scenarios. After the Columbine High School shooting in 1999, government officials tried to no avail to identify a demographic profile of those who might become active shooters. Confronted with the limitations of identifying potential shooters in advance, government officials, mental health professionals, criminologists, and others interested in preventing active shootings have shifted their focus to guns, mental health, and location security. However, the terrain of each of these topics is murky and exposes additional uncertainties. The sheer number of readily available guns, the prohibition of gun violence research by federal public health and justice institutions, and the variance in attitudes toward and laws about guns in the United States inhibit clear and consistent gun policy. Further, linking active shooters with mental illness risks stigmatizing the vast majority of mentally ill individuals who are more likely to be victims than perpetrators of violence. Because different locations vary in design, function, funding, resources, and vulnerabilities, no organization or institution can guarantee total security despite extensive and costly efforts. While political and social changes can lead to incremental and important improvements in each of these areas, the problem of active shootings is large, multifaceted, and evolving. Adding to the urgency is the increasing number of U.S. states voting to allow concealed and/or open carry of firearms on public college and university campuses. In the absence of certainty and in recognition of contextual differences, government agencies and educational institutions recently have promoted variants of a “run, hide, fight” approach to active shooter situations, and many schools, workplaces, and other sites have subsequently adopted these tactics in their active shooter training messages. From a rhetorical perspective, pentadic analysis (Burke, 1969) of “run, hide, fight” and its variants reveals the complexities of trying to prevent active shootings. “Run” and “hide” demonstrate both the possibilities and challenges associated with the scene, or when and where an active shooting might occur. “Fight” implies the ambiguities of agent and agency, that is, who gets to fight and how, in debates about gun-free zones, concealed and open carry, and on-site and off-site law enforcement. Meanwhile, the multimodal nature and often disturbing content of active shooter training messages sensationalize the act of active shootings, making them seem more real and present despite the low probability of such an event occurring in any particular place at any particular time. Given these complexities, active shooter training messages as a whole illustrate a tension of purpose in that they presumably attempt to alleviate fear while simultaneously producing it. By looking at a variety of government documents and workplace active shooter training messages, this analysis will explore uncertainties, controversies, and lingering questions about the content and consequences of active shooter training messages and how the producers of these messages frame active shooter scenarios as well as efforts to prevent and respond to such occurrences. No previous studies of the rhetorical or communication dimensions of active shooter training have been conducted, and no archives yet exist that cull such training materials for purposes of comparison, contrast, and analysis in the aggregate.

Article

Violent Media Content and Effects  

Robert Busching, Johnie J. Allen, and Craig A. Anderson

In our modern age, electronic media usage is prevalent in almost every part of the world. People are more connected than ever before with easy access to highly portable devices (e.g., laptops, smartphones, and tablets) that allow for media consumption at any time of day. Unfortunately, the presence of violence in electronic media content is almost as prevalent as the media itself. Violence can be found in music, television shows, video games, and even YouTube videos. Content analyses have shown that nearly all media contain violence, irrespective of age rating (Linder & Gentile, 2009; Thompson & Haninger, 2001; Thompson, Tepichin, & Haninger, 2006; Yokota & Thompson, 2000). It is therefore important to ask: What are the consequences of pervasive exposure to screen violence? One consequence of media violence exposure, hotly debated by some in the general public, is increased aggressive behavior. This relationship was investigated in many studies using experimental, longitudinal, or cross-sectional design. These studies are summarized in meta-analyses, which support the notion that media violence increase the likelihood of acting aggressively. This link can be explained by an increase in aggressive thoughts, a more hostile perception of the environment, and less empathic reaction to victims of aggressive behavior. However, the often debated notion that media violence allows one to vent off steam, leading to a reduced likelihood of aggressive behavior, has failed to receive empirical support. The effect of media violence is not limited to aggressive behavior; as a consequence of violent media usage attentional problems arise and prosocial behavior decreases.

Article

Gender as a Consideration When Designing Health and Risk Messages  

E. Michele Ramsey

Given the impact of gender on health, healthcare decisions, and treatments for illness, as well as the increased inequities encountered by non-white men and women, messages about health and health risks are affected by purposeful assumptions about gender identity. While the term sex denotes the biological sex of an individual, gender identity is about the psychological, cultural, and social assumptions about a person associated with that person because of his or her sex. Gender and health are intimately connected in a number of ways, and such connections can differ based on race, ethnicity, age, class, religion, region, country, and even continent. Thus, understanding the myriad ways that notions of gender affect the health of females and males is fundamental to understanding how communicating about risks and prevention may be tailored to each group. Gender role expectations and assumptions have serious impacts on men’s health and life expectancy rates, including self-destructive behaviors associated with mental health and tobacco use, self-neglecting behaviors linked to the reluctance of men to seek treatment for ailments, reluctance to follow a physician’s instructions after finally seeking help, and risk-taking behaviors linked to drug and alcohol use, fast driving, guns, physical aggression, and other dangerous endeavors. Because gender role expectations tend to disfavor females, it is not surprising that gender generally has an even greater impact on women’s health than on men’s. Even though biological factors allow women, on average, to live longer than men worldwide, various gendered practices (social, legal, criminal, and unethical) have serious impacts on the lives and health of women. From sex discrimination in research and treatment regarding issues linked to reproductive health, depression, sexual abuse, alcohol and drug abuse, the sex trade, and normalized violence against women (such as rape, female genital mutilation, forced prostitution/trafficking, and domestic violence), women’s lives across the globe are severely affected by gender role expectations that privilege males over females. While some general consistencies in the relationships between gender, women, and health are experienced worldwide, intersections of race, ethnicity, class, age, country, region, and religion can make for very different experiences of women globally, and even within the same country. The recent years have seen an increasing call to reconsider the binary means by which we have defined sex and gender. Advances in our understandings of lesbian, gay, bisexual, intersex, and transgendered individuals have challenged traditional notions and definitions of sex and gender in important and complex ways. Such an important shift warrants a stand-alone discussion, as well as the recognition that sexual orientation should not be automatically linked to discussions of sex and gender, given that such categorization reifies the problematic sex/gender binaries that ground sexist and homophobic attitudes in the first place.

Article

Conflict and Perceived Threat in Eastern Africa  

Elvis Nshom

Conflict and prejudice are universal phenomena and represent a major concern in most societies, especially on the African continent. Worldwide, just a few cases, such as the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Northern Ireland, Sudan, Eritrea, Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, and Nigeria, have revealed how destructive prejudice and conflict can be to societies. Eastern Africa is a region that has been tremendously affected by conflict. Unfortunately, nations like Sudan and Somalia have been torn apart by many years of conflict. This has inevitably led to other societal challenges or difficulties, such as displacements, poverty, and famine. The question of why people get into conflict has been examined and debated internationally, especially in the field of social psychology. However, conflict in Eastern African cannot be explained merely by psychology. In order to have a holistic understanding of conflict, especially in Africa, it is important not only to look at social psychological factors, such as prejudice, but also to consider important political, economic, and social factors that may be related to the particular conflict, because the African context is extremely complex and the causes of conflict can sometimes be intertwined.

Article

Arjun Appadurai and Critical Cultural Studies  

Swapnil Rai

Globalization as a phenomenon was seen by scholars as a compression of the world, where the world comes together as a global village in thought and in action. Arjun Appadurai, in his theorization of globalization, challenges this view. He argues that globalization is primarily disjunctive, scalar, and contextual. He defines five basic landscapes that are about people and their migration (ethnoscapes), technology (technoscapes), media (mediascapes), ideology (ideoscapes) and finance (finanscapes). Globalization, according to Appadurai, occurs at the points of rupture and disjuncture between these different landscapes. In this context he defines “imagination as a social practice” and situates the work of imagination at the center of all globalization processes. Media flows decidedly play a large role in shaping the imagination, therefore mediascapes are critical to the understanding of globalization in any given context. Similarly, the flows of capital, of people, of ideologies and technology help create new imagined worlds that are fluid and capable of producing a “globally variable synesthesia.” That is, one type of imagined world can trigger similar imaginaries in other parts of the world, yet they possess different shapes and forms. Appadurai’s theorization was later criticized for presenting too optimistic a view of globalization, for ignoring its dark side. So, in his later work Appadurai explores the “dark” side of globalization. In Fear of Small Numbers, he addresses the widespread global violence against minorities and uses Freud’s “anxiety of incompleteness” to explicate the majority group’s predatory behavior. Globalization has deepened this behavior and thought because it intensifies the possibility and related fear of the majority morphing into the minority and vice versa. Collective group identities, therefore, are forever under threat as “volatile morphing” becomes a reality brought about by rapid global migrations across national boundaries. Appadurai’s later work also points in the direction of hope by presenting the idea of grassroots globalization which is happening alongside the pervasive violence. Grassroots globalization is the idea of globalization from below that is done by non-governmental organizations and transnational advocacy networks that work toward redressing lack of access, injustice and inequity. Appadurai also offers scholars a new framework for how to do globalization research which is not fixated on its “internationalization” but is focused on questions and is inclusive of other worldviews and approaches from around the world.

Article

Collective Protest, Rioting, and Aggression  

Stephen Reicher

In understanding crowd psychology and its explanation of conflict and violence, there are different theoretical approaches that turn on different understandings of communication processes. There are three models of communication in the crowd worth reviewing: classic, normative, and dynamic. Classic models suggest that crowd members are influenced by an idea of emotion presented to them. Normative models suggest that influence is constrained by what is seen as consonant with group norms. And, finally, dynamic models examine how that which becomes normative in the group depends upon intergroup relations. The last of these approaches can explain the patterned, socially meaningful and yet changing nature of crowd action. Crowd action, itself, is a form of communication because it serves to shape the social understandings of participants as well as the social understandings of those beyond the crowd. It is argued that the nature and centrality of crowds contribute to the understanding and creating of social relations in society.