French philosopher Alain Badiou (b. 1937) is one of the more important European thinkers to emerge after May 1968. His work may be read as a response to the structuralism, post-structuralism, existentialism, and postmodern thought characteristic of post-World War II French theory. Through the use of set theory, he argues that our understanding of reality is largely determined by major, world shifting events in politics, mathematics/science, aesthetics/poetry, and love. A Maoist, he maintains that true changes in human reality require decisive interventions that create a new sense of temporality, subjectivity, and order. Events radically change the order of an existing world and create new worlds. For example, the Russian or French revolutions brought an end to absolutist monarchies and the rule that were specific to them. A new order and form of political power were introduced by the ascendant regimes. The sense of who and what human beings living under such regimes were changed from that of subject to citizen. The idea of subjects being absolutely ruled and determined by divine monarchs only responsible to God and themselves would no longer be possible as a legitimate form of political rule. The contents and relations constitutive of a world come to be structured by the event, though the worlds regimented by an event are never identical to the event itself. The event always lies outside, though it conditions, the sets of relations and contents that express it. His work is often read in conjunction with and in opposition to the philosopher Jacques Rancière. Both thinkers form part of what is seen as the new constructivism and universalism.
Few concerns in critical-cultural approaches to communication intersect with as many adjacent fields of inquiry as does “space.” To talk about space is to share a conversation with philosophers (Henri Lefebvre, Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, Edward Casey, Bruno Latour, Manuel DeLanda), critical geographers (Derek Gregory, David Harvey, Edward Soja, Doreen Massey), historians (Fernand Braudel, Michel de Certeau), sociologists (Pierre Bourdieu, Lewis Mumford, Jane Jacobs), literary and cultural theorists (Fredric Jameson, Meaghan Morris, Tony Bennett, Lawrence Grossberg, Timothy Morton), media ecologists (Harold Innis, Marshall McLuhan, Walter Ong, James Carey), political theorists (Jane Bennett, Nigel Thrift), and rhetoricians (Carole Blair, Greg Dickinson, Joan Faber McAlister, Jenny Rice, Nathaniel Rivers, Thomas Rickert). To talk about space is thus to talk with a plenitude of others about a plenitude of social practices, landscapes, mediums, objects, and configurations, but at bottom a concern with space is a concern with the kinds and qualities of relations between and among bodies and things. To be concerned with space is to be invested in the emergent scenery of arrangement, how groupings of bodies come to assume particular shapes and orderings and not others. The “how” question, in turn, is the question of communication as it leads to issues of influence and pressure: of the historical processes that shape our habits and modes of persuasion and constellations of power. Communication and space converge where the “how” of influence meets the “where” of historical emergence. While we have always lived and acted in importantly spatial ways, however, the critical-spatial consciousness that pervades the humanities today is itself a recent historical emergence.
Claire Sisco King
Within the field of communication studies, critical cultural scholarship examines the interarticulation of power and culture. Drawing from critical theory and cultural studies, this research offers analysis of texts, artifacts, practices, and institutions in order to understand their potential to promote or preempt equality and social justice. Critical theory, which has Marxist origins, uses theory as a basis for critiquing and challenging systems of domination or oppression. The field of cultural studies focuses on social formations with a particular emphasis on media texts and the reception practices of audiences. Both critical theory and cultural studies emphasize the important interrelationship between ideology, or structures of belief, and the material conditions in which people live. Critical cultural research examines discourse and representation, including language and visual culture, as well as social relations, institutional structures, material practices, economic forces, and various forms of embodiment. Central to critical cultural scholarship is attention to the construction, regulation, and contestation of categories of identity, including race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, ability, and class. A significant branch of critical cultural studies examines how ideas about gender and sex develop and circulate, asking how and why some constructions of gender and sex become normative and gain hegemony—or, cultural privilege—in a particular context. For example, such scholarship might critique the idealization of certain performances of masculinity and the attendant devaluation of femininity or other subordinated masculinities; or, this research might consider how particular iterations of masculinity or femininity may be counter-hegemonic, operating in opposition to prevailing ideologies of gender and sex. Critical cultural approaches also emphasize the intersectionality of gender and sex with other categories of identity. For instance, ideas about masculinity or femininity can rarely be separated from assumptions about race and/or sexuality; as such, prevailing ideologies of gender and sex often reflect the presumed normativity of whiteness and heterosexuality.
J. Daniel Elam
Homi Bhabha (b. 1949) is among the founding generation of scholars of “postcolonial theory” as it emerged in the U.S. and U.K. academies in the 1980s and 1990s, and is currently the Anne F. Rothenberg Professor of English and American Literature and Language. Bhabha’s intellectual emergence coincided with the emergence of “postcolonial theory” in the 1980s and 1990s. Bhabha’s particular contribution to postcolonial critique is unique in successfully combining the fields of post-structuralism, history, and psychoanalysis, and in relationship to the texts and histories of British rule in South Asia. Bhabha is best situated within an often-overshadowed strain of postcolonial theory committed to the recovery of universality rather than the demand for particularity, a lineage that includes Frantz Fanon and Edward Said. Bhabha’s key concepts and terms, especially “ambivalence” and “hybridity,” have been taken up across many fields under the rubrics of postcolonial and/or diasporic intervention. Bhabha’s writing and theoretical arguments are based primarily in perpetual negotiation, in opposition to negation. Understanding this key intervention makes it possible to grasp the full scale of Bhabha’s driving concerns, theoretical conceptions, and political commitments.
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.”
Michel Foucault, who was born in 1926 into an upper-middle-class family, came of age in post-World War II Paris, studied with Louis Althusser, and rose to intellectual prominence in the 1970s, died on June 25, 1984. The near celebrity status that he acquired during his lifetime has multiplied since his death as the Foucault of disciplinary power has been supplemented with the Foucault of neoliberalism, biopolitics, aesthetics of the self, and the ontology of the present. These different forms of Foucauldian analysis are often grouped into three phases of scholarship that include the archeological, the genealogical, and the ethical. The first period, produced throughout the 1960s, focuses on the relationship between discourse and knowledge; the second period, developed throughout the 1970s, zeroes in on diverse structures of historically evolving power relations; and, the Foucault that emerged in the 1980s explores technologies of the self or the work of the self on the self. This well-recognized periodization highlights the triangulated structure of associations among knowledge, power, and subjectivity that animated his work. Because a number of decentered relations, something he called governmentality, are woven through everyday experience, Foucault questioned the assumption that communication takes place between autonomous, self-aware individuals who use language to negotiate and organize community formation and argued instead that this web of discourse practices and power relations produces subjects differentially suited to the contingencies of particular historical epochs. Although a critical consensus has endorsed this three-part taxonomy of Foucault’s scholarship, the interpretation of these periods varies. Some view them through a linear progression in which the failures of one moment lay the groundwork for the superseding moment: his discursive emphasis in the archeological phase gave way to his emphasis on power in the genealogical phase which, in turn, gave way to his focus on subjectivity in the ethical phase. Others, such as Jeffrey Nealon, understand the shifts as “intensifications” (p. 5) wherein each phase tightens his theoretical grip, triangulating knowledge, power, and subjectivity ever more densely. Still others suggest that the technologies of the self that undergird Foucault’s ethical period displace the leftist orientation of his early work with a latent conservatism. Regardless of where one lands on this debate, Foucault’s three intellectual phases cohere around an ongoing analysis of the relationships among knowledge, power, and subjectivity—associations at the heart of communication studies. Focused on how different subjects experience the established “regime of truth,” Foucault’s historical investigations, while obviously diverse, maintain a similar methodology, one he labeled the history of thought and contrasted with the history of ideas. As he conceives it, the history of ideas attempts to determine the origin and evolution of a particular concept through an uninterrupted teleology. He distinguishes his method, the history of thought, through its focus on historical problematization. This approach explores “the way institutions, practices, habits, and behavior become a problem for people who have certain types of habits, who engage in certain kinds of practices, and who put to work specific kinds of institutions.” In short, he studies how people and society deal with a phenomenon that has become a problem for them. This approach transforms the narrative of human progress into a history broken by concrete political, economic, and cultural problems whose resolution requires reconstituting the prevailing knowledge–power–subject dynamics. Put differently, Foucault illuminates historical breaks and the shifts required for their repair. Whereas the history of ideas erases the discontinuity among events, he highlights those differences and studies the process by which they dissolve within a singular historical narrative. Glossing his entire oeuvre, he suggests that his method can address myriad concerns, including “for example, about madness, about crime, about sex, about themselves, or about truth.” An overarching approach that intervenes into dominant narratives in order to demonstrate their silencing effects, the history of thought undergirds all three of Foucault’s externally imposed periods. Each period explores knowledge, power, and subjectivity while stressing one nodal point of the relationship: archeology stresses knowledge formation; genealogy emphasizes power formation; and the ethical period highlights subject formation. This strikingly original critical approach has left its mark on a wide range of theorists, including such notable thinkers as Gilles Deleuze, Giorgio Agamben, Michael Hardt, Antonio Negri, Donna Haraway, and Judith Butler, and has influenced critical communication scholars such as Raymie McKerrow, Ronald Greene, Kendell Phillips, Jeremy Packer, and Laurie Ouellete.