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Article

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.

Article

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.