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Structuration Theory and Health and Risk Messaging  

Joel Iverson, Tomeka Robinson, and Steven J. Venette

Risk can be defined using a mathematical formula—probability multiplied by consequences. An essential element of risk communication is a focus on messages within organizations. However, many health-related risks such as Ebola extend beyond an individual organization and risk is better understood as a social construction cogenerated within and between systems. Therefore, the process is influenced by systemic and supra-systemic values and predilections. Risk from a structurational perspective allows an understanding of the public as well as organizational responses to risk. Structuration theory provides a useful lens to move beyond seeing organizations as something that flows within an organization to understanding how organizations are enacted through communication. Structuration theory articulates the connections between systems and structures through the action of agents, whose practices produce and reproduce the rules and resources of social life. Within the structuration tradition, organizational communication scholars have shifted to an understanding of the communicative constitution of organizations (CCO). Specifically, one of the theories of CCO is the Four Flows Model. The four flows highlight the ways people enact organizations and provide a means to analyze the various ways communication constitutes organizations. The four flows are membership negotiation, activity coordination, reflexive self-structuring, and institutional positioning. Membership negotiation enacts the inner members and outsiders at a basic level including socialization, identity, and assimilation. Activity coordination produces collective action around a specific goal. Reflexive self-structuring is the decentralized enactment of structures for the organization through the communication of policies. Institutional positioning covers the macro-level actions where people in the organization act as an entity within the environment. When considering the public reaction to Ebola, a simple way to evaluate risk perception is the intersection of dread and control. The U.S. public considered Ebola a serious risk. From a structuration perspective, the viral nature of twitter, media coverage, and public discussion generated resources for fear to be exacerbated. Structuration theory allows us to position the risk beliefs as rules and resources that are reproduced through discourse. The organizational implications fall primarily into the two flows of institutional positioning and reflexive self-structuring. For institutional positioning, U.S. healthcare organizations faced general public dread and perceived lack of control. Within the United States multiple policies and procedures were changed, thus fulfilling the second flow of organizational self-structuring. The Ebola risk had a significant impact on the communicative constitution of health-care organizations in the United States and beyond. Overall, risk is communicatively constituted, as are organizations. The interplay between risk and health-care organizations is evident through the analysis of American cases of Ebola. Structuration theory provides a means for exploring and understanding the communicative nature of risk and situates that risk within the larger systems of organizations.


Cultural Fusion in Physician–Patient Communication and Decision Making in Japan  

Miho Iwakuma and Daisuke Son

The term “cinemeducation” was coined by Matthew Alexander in 2002, and according to P. Ravi Shankar, it refers to the use of clips from movies and videos to educate medical students and residents on the psychosocial aspects of medicine. As a counterbalance to the biomedicine-centric medical curricula, cinemeducation deals with the psychosocial aspects of medicine and sensitive topics in healthcare, including but not limited to depression, family and marital counseling, doctor–patient relationships, family systems, addiction, mental illness, cultural competency, and foreign patients and their healthcare beliefs. Cinemeducation is particularly useful when the viewing is followed by a discussion, which engages students in active learning of clinically relevant concepts such as informed consent (IC), palliative care, and patient-centeredness. In other words, cinemeducation provides students in the healthcare fields with opportunities to learn about the humanistic aspects of medicine by watching movies or clips that provide insight into human experiences and challenges in medicine. A famous Japanese medical TV series, Shiroi Kyoto (The Great White Tower) will be examined to discuss the cultural fusion that has occurred in Japan, specifically with regard to clinical communication. Based on a novel authored by Toyoko Yamazaki in the 1960s, this series is of interest because the novel was made into a drama twice, first in the 1970s and again in 2003. Accordingly, several significant changes in health communication are noticeable between the first and second versions. Social changes in paternalism in medicine, palliative care, and IC that were adapted from the West and localized in Japan, as cultural fusion are evident in several noteworthy scenes.


Knowledge and Comprehension  

Ashley R. Kennard, Courtney Anderegg, and David Ewoldsen

Knowledge and comprehension are essential components of an individual’s understanding of a health text. Whether reading a health pamphlet or watching a health campaign in the form of a public service announcement (PSA), or watching edutainment programming, individuals gain knowledge about the health topic being discussed. Knowledge, however, can only be retained if the individual can also comprehend the text or video. Often comprehension in a health context focuses on health literacy or the degree to which individuals can process and understand health information in order to make informed health decisions. Health literacy is commonly viewed in terms of the readability (e.g., reading level, complexity) of the health text or script. However, in order for individuals to gain knowledge and use that knowledge appropriately and effectively in making health decisions, individuals need to comprehend or understand what the text is conveying. Because comprehension is such an important component of gaining and using health knowledge, we must understand how we store health knowledge in memory. A schema is a mental representation that stores knowledge as interrelated pieces of information. Schemas tend to be a fairly static representation of knowledge. A mental model is a more dynamic mental representation in that we use mental models to process, organize, and comprehend incoming information. In a mental model, there is a correspondence between an external entity and the constructed mental model of that entity that allows people to counterfactually manipulate information and engage in problem solving. A situation model is the most contextualized mental representation because it encompasses a specific event or set of interrelated events. There are several ways in which to examine comprehension processes. One way is to examine the most basic level of comprehension by investigating the importance of language and semantic representation of a text. A more complex way to examine comprehension is to view the activation levels of various words or concepts important in creating a representation of the story structure in memory. One model that specifically examines concept activation is the landscape model. The model posits that greater frequency of activation and the strength of activation of a concept determine the concept’s overall activation level. The higher the activation level of a concept in a text or video, the more likely the concept will be included in the mental representation for the text or video and stored in memory. A third way to study comprehension is to examine how concepts change throughout a text and how the concepts relate to one another. The event-indexing model describes how individuals create situation models based on five dimensions of information: time, space, protagonist, causality, and intentionality. Throughout the process of gaining information, the individual updates the situation models for a text on each of the five dimensions. When events have similar dimensions in common, the events are connected in memory; thus, describing health information with similar dimensions in common (e.g., a protagonist the entire way through the text, events happening in the same amount of time) will be better recalled later. Empirical work on comprehension of both text and video messages has demonstrated the landscape model and event-indexing model’s ability to examine comprehension processes based on the format, language, and organization of the information. Health message design can benefit from utilizing these comprehension models to ensure that knowledge is received by the intended audience and comprehended, and thus able to be used in future experiences.


A Culture-Centered Approach to Health and Risk Communication  

Mohan Jyoti Dutta

The culture-centered approach (CCA) to health and risk communication conceptualizes the communicative processes of marginalization that constitute the everyday meanings of health and risks at the margins. Attending to the interplays of communicative and material disenfranchisement, the CCA situates health inequalities amidst structures. Structures, as the rules, roles, processes, and frameworks that shape the distribution of resources, constitute and constrain the access of individuals, households, and communities to the resources of health and well-being. Through voice infrastructures cocreated with communities at the classed, raced, gendered, colonial margins of capitalist extraction, the CCA foregrounds community agency, the capacity of communities to make sense of their everyday struggles with health and well-being. Community voices articulate the interplays of colonial and capitalist processes that produce and circulate the risks to human health and well-being, serving as the basis for community organizing to secure health and well-being. Culture, as an interpretive resource passed down intergenerationally, offers the basis for organizing, and is simultaneously transformed through individual and community participation. Culture-centered health communication, rooted in community agency, drawing upon cultural stories, resources, and practices in subaltern contexts, takes the form of organizing for health, mobilizing agentic expressions toward structural transformations.


Global Health and Critical Studies  

Mohan Jyoti Dutta

Amid the large scale inequalities in health outcomes witnessed globally, communication plays a key role in reifying and in offering transformative spaces for challenging these inequities. Communicative processes are integral to the globalization of capital, constituting the economic conditions globally that fundamentally threaten human health and wellbeing. The dominant approach to global health communication, situated within the global capitalist logics of privatization and profiteering, deploys a culturally targeted and culturally sensitive framework for addressing individual behavior. The privatization of health as a commodity creates new market opportunities for global capital. The extraction of raw materials, exploitation of labor, and the reproduction of commoditization emerge on the global arena as the sites for reproducing and circulating health vulnerabilities. By contrast, the culture-centered approach to global health foregrounds the co-creative work of building communicative infrastructures that emerge as sites for resisting the neoliberal transformation of health care. Through processes of grassroots democratic participation and ownership over communicative resources, culture-centered interventions create anchors for community-level interventions that seek to transform unhealthy structures. A wide array of social movements, activist interventions, and advocacy projects emerging from the global margins re-interpret the fundamental meanings of health to create alternative structures for imagining health.


Medical Tourism and Communication  

Alicia Mason

Medical tourism (MT), sometimes referred to as health tourism or medical travel, involves both the treatment of illness and the facilitation of wellness, with travel. Medical tourism is a multifaceted and multiphase process involving many agents and actors that requires careful planning and execution. The coordinated process involves the biomedical, transportation, tourism, and leisure industries. From the communication perspective, the process can be viewed as a 5-stage model consisting of the: (a) orientation, (b) preparation, (c) experiential and treatment, (d) convalescence, and (e) reflection phases. Medical tourism is uniquely situated in a nexus of academic literature related to communication, business and management, travel and tourism, policy and law, healthcare and health administration. Communication permeates and perpetuates the medical tourism process and does so at the levels of interpersonal interactions (provider-patient communication), small group (healthcare teams), organizational (between healthcare providers), and mass and computer-mediated communication (marketing, advertising, and patient social support). This process may, in some cases, involve high rates of international and intercultural variation. Further study of the MT process can help to gain a better understanding of how healthcare consumers evaluate information about medical procedures and possible risks, as well as the specific message features and effects associated with various communication channels and information delivery systems. Continuing scholarly efforts also should focus on the relationship between medical tourism and communication.


Cross-Cultural Adaptation  

Young Yun Kim

Countless immigrants, refugees, and temporary sojourners, as well as domestic migrants, leave the familiar surroundings of their home culture and resettle in a new cultural environment for varying lengths of time. Although unique in individual circumstances, all new arrivals find themselves in need of establishing and maintaining a relatively stable working relationship with the host environment. The process of adapting to an unfamiliar culture unfolds through the stress-adaptation-growth dynamic, a process that is deeply rooted in the natural human tendency to achieve an internal equilibrium in the face of adversarial environmental conditions. The adaptation process typically begins with the psychological and physiological experiences of dislocation and duress commonly known as symptoms of culture shock. Over time, through continuous activities of new cultural learning, most people are able to attain increasing levels of functional and psychological efficacy vis-a-vis the host environment. Underpinning the cross-cultural adaptation process are the two interrelated experiences of deculturation of some of the original cultural habits, on the one hand, and acculturation of new ones, on the other. The cumulative outcome of the acculturation and deculturation experiences is an internal transformation in the direction of assimilation into the mainstream culture. Long-term residents and immigrants are also likely to undergo an identity transformation, a subtle and largely unconscious shift from a largely monocultural to an increasingly intercultural self-other orientation, in which conventional, ascription-based cultural categories diminish in relevance while individuality and common humanity play an increasingly significant role in one’s daily existence. Central to this adaptation process are one’s ability to communicate in accordance to the norms and practices of the host culture and continuous and active engagement in the interpersonal and mass communication activities of the host society.