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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

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

Discursive Approaches to Race and Racism  

Kevin A. Whitehead

In the wake of what has been called the “discursive turn” or “linguistic turn” in the social sciences, research at the intersection of language and communication and race and racism shifted from being largely dominated by quantitative and experimental methods to include qualitative and particularly discursive approaches. While the term “discursive” potentially encompasses a wide range of modes of discourse analysis, discursive approaches share a focus on language use as social action, and as a constitutive feature of actions, events, and situations, rather than as merely a passive means of describing or transmitting information about them. When applied to the study of race and racism, such approaches have examined ways in which language functions to construct, maintain, and legitimate as well as subvert or resist racial and/or racist ideologies and social structures. Research in these areas has made use of a range of empirical materials, including “elite” texts and talk (media texts, parliamentary debates, academic texts, etc.), individual interviews, focus groups and group discussions, “naturally occurring” talk-in-interaction from conversational and institutional settings, and text-based online interactions. Although these different data types should not be seen as strictly mutually exclusive, each of them serves to foreground particular features of racial or racist discourse(s), thus facilitating or constraining particular sorts of discourse analytic findings. Thus, different data sources respectively tend to foreground ideological features of racial discourse(s) and their intersection with power and domination, including examination of “new” racisms and the production and management of accusations and denials of racism; discursive processes involved in the construction and uses of racial subjectivities and identities; interactional processes through which prejudice and racism are constructed and contested; and the everyday interactional reproduction of systems of racial categories, independently of whether the talk in which they occur can or should be considered “racist.”

Article

Public Discourse and Intergroup Communication  

Mikaela L. Marlow

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.

Article

Media Constructions of Culture, Race, and Ethnicity  

Travis L. Dixon, Kristopher R. Weeks, and Marisa A. Smith

Racial stereotypes flood today’s mass media. Researchers investigate these stereotypes’ prevalence, from news to entertainment. Black and Latino stereotypes draw particular concern, especially because they misrepresent these racial groups. From both psychological and sociological perspectives, these misrepresentations can influence how people view their racial group as well as other groups. Furthermore, a racial group’s lack of representation can also reduce the group’s visibility to the general public. Such is the case for Native Americans and Asian Americans. Given mass media’s widespread distribution of black and Latino stereotypes, most research on mediated racial portrayals focuses on these two groups. For instance, while black actors and actresses appear often in prime-time televisions shows, black women appear more often in situational comedies than any other genre. Also, when compared to white actors and actresses, television casts blacks in villainous or despicable roles at a higher rate. In advertising, black women often display Eurocentric features, like straight hair. On the other hand, black men are cast as unemployed, athletic, or entertainers. In sports entertainment, journalists emphasize white athletes’ intelligence and black athletes’ athleticism. In music videos, black men appear threatening and sport dark skin tones. These music videos also sexualize black women and tend to emphasize those with light skin tones. News media overrepresent black criminality and exaggerate the notion that blacks belong to the undeserving poor class. Video games tend to portray black characters as either violent outlaws or athletic. While mass media misrepresent the black population, it tends to both misrepresent and underrepresent the Latino population. When represented in entertainment media, Latinos assume hypersexualized roles and low-occupation jobs. Both news and entertainment media overrepresent Latino criminality. News outlets also overly associate Latino immigration with crime and relate Latino immigration to economic threat. Video games rarely portray Latino characters. Creators may create stereotypic content or fail to fairly represent racial and ethnic groups for a few reasons. First, the ethnic blame discourse in the United States may influence creators’ conscious and unconscious decision-making processes. This discourse contends that the ethnic and racial minorities are responsible for their own problems. Second, since stereotypes appeal to and are easily processed by large general audiences, the misrepresentation of racial and ethnic groups facilitates revenue generation. This article largely discusses media representations of blacks and Latinos and explains the implications of such portrayals.

Article

Critical Perspectives on Humanitarian Discourses  

Marouf Hasian Jr.

Critical studies of humanitarian discourses involve the study of the arguments, claims, and evidence that are used to justify intervention or non-intervention in key local, regional, national, or international contexts. These discourses can take the form of arguing over whether we should practice isolationism and not intervene in the sovereign affairs of other countries, or they can take the form of deliberations over the transcend needs of populations that cope with myriad disasters. In some cases these discourses are produced by foreigners who believe that the less fortunate need to be rescued from their misery, while at other times humanitarian discourses can be used in discussions about the human rights of the disempowered. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), nation-states, celebrities, medical communications, and militaries are just a few of the rhetors that produce all of these humanitarian discourses.

Article

Rhetorical Contexts of Colonization and Decolonization  

Tiara R. Na'puti

Colonization and decolonization continue to be debated both in terms of their meaning and their efficacy in Communication Studies scholarship and across related fields of inquiry. Colonization is part of ongoing processes of subjugation that are linked to other forms of oppression including labor, occupation, and resource extraction. Inquiries about processes of colonization also involve examining corresponding efforts in decolonization processes. Decolonization entails an effort to critically reflect on colonialism and its impact upon colonized people and environments, it involves processes entangled with issues of sovereignty, self-determination, and territory, and so on. Indigenous Studies scholarship helps to foreground Indigeneity as a place from which broader inquiries on colonization and decolonization may be launched. The legitimacy of colonialism and its communicative dimensions has been a concern for scholars. Within the field of Communication, it notes particular contexts of colonization inquiry that overlap across topics and various areas of the discipline. Research on colonialism and its influence spans throughout rhetorical theory and critical/cultural studies to organizational communication and global communication. This scholarship has employed expansive methodologies from applied research to theoretical work and considered a wide range of issues from domestic, international, and transnational perspectives. The study of these powerful structures in rhetoric draws on interdisciplinary fields and raises challenges to intellectual traditions of the West, which have maintained the rhetoric canon. Rhetorical scholars call for the need to examine artifacts that exist at the “margins” and “outside” the imperial centers. They have theorized methods of rhetorical analysis that attend to the colonial and decolonial elements of discourse, power, and identity.

Article

Becoming Chinese: Sinicization, Nation, and Race in Xinjiang, China  

David O'Brien and Melissa Shani Brown

“Chineseness” is often depicted in public discourses within the People’s Republic of China (PRC) as an identity that blurs together varied notions of shared cultural heritage, as well as common descent, within discourses of a unified national identity. This combines what might be called “ethnicity” (as cultural heritage), “race” (as common descent, physical or intrinsic characteristics), and “nation” (as territory and political state) in complex ways. And yet, a standard position within Chinese discourses (and often replicated in non-Chinese scholarship) is that historically informing the present, Chinese notions of “ethnic difference” are based on differences in “culture,” thus precluding “racism.” This characterization in part derives from the narrative that Chinese history was an ongoing process of “sinicization”—namely “backwards,” “barbarian” ethnic groups eagerly assimilated into the “more advanced” Han “civilization,” thus becoming “Chinese.” However, there are numerous scholarly challenges to this narrative as historically inaccurate or overly simplistic, as well as challenges to the positioning of this narrative as not “racist.” The idea that an emphasis on civilization versus barbarism is “cultural” and not “racial” delimits racism to a narrow definition focusing on “biophysical” difference. However, wider scholarship on race and racism highlights that the latter rests on diverse articulations of hierarchical difference; this includes and mobilizes cultural difference as an active part of racist discourses predicated on the acceptance of ideas of the “inferiority” versus “superiority” of peoples, as well as notions of “purity” within discourses of homogeneous imagined communities. Increasingly, “being Chinese” is being conceptualized in PRC official rhetoric as a culturally, and racially, homogeneous identity. That is, not only is Han culture being positioned as emblematic of “Chinese culture” generally but also it is being asserted that all ethnic groups are descended from the Han and are thus genetically bound by “Chinese bloodlines.” Such discourses have repercussions for ethnic minority groups within China—most clearly at the moment for Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities who are positioned as “infected” by “foreign influences,” namely their religion. This is particularly clear in the contemporary sinicization campaign in Xinjiang (XUAR: Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region), a region in northwest China that has gained increasing international attention due to the government’s use of “re-education” camps in a program it argues is designed to eliminate terrorism. The accompanying sinicization campaign involves a combination of propaganda emphasizing “Chinese socialist characteristics” and “core values” that should be adopted, an emphasis in the media on Uyghurs engaging in Han cultural practices as a demonstration of their loyalty to the state, as well as the removal of many visible signs of Chinese Islamic history and Uyghur culture. The turn toward politically policing culture is hardly new in China; however, the increasing emphasis on racial notions of identity—foregrounding physical appearance, genetics, lineage, and metaphors of “bloodlines”—is an attempt to turn a national identity into a “natural” one, something that raises urgent questions with regard to how China deals with the diversity of its population and the stakes in being, or becoming, “Chinese.”

Article

Sara Ahmed’s Critical Phenomenology of Communication  

Rachel Stonecipher

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.