Kevin A. Whitehead
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Communication. Please check back later for the full article.
In the wake of what has been called “the discursive turn” in the social sciences, research at the intersection of language and communication with race and racism has 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 merely as 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” discourse (media texts, parliamentary debates, academic texts, etc.), individual interviews, group interviews or focus groups, text-based online interactions, and “naturally occurring” talk-in-interaction, from conversational and institutional settings. Specific topics examined in these studies include the construction and uses of racial subjectivities, identities, and categories; features of racist discourse(s) and their intersection with power and domination; “new” racisms, including “colorblind racism”; the production and management of accusations and denials of racism, particularly in contexts characterized by norms against racism and/or prejudice; and contestations of the nature and meanings of racism. While offering important contributions to consideration of the links between “broad” race-related social structures and their situated production and reproduction through language, the centrality of language use for these approaches has resulted in challenges relating to theorizing the relationship between discourse and materiality, and addressing non-verbal or embodied aspects of action with respect to race and racism.
Norms are regularized patterns of attitudes and behavior that characterize a group of individuals, separate the group from other groups of individuals, and prescribe and describe attitudes and behaviors for group members. Relying on social identity theory and self-categorization theory, the role played by group norms within groups and the processes by which such norms are promulgated within groups are discussed. Norm talk or the communication of normative information within groups is explored, as a major proportion of communication within groups is dedicated to clarifying ingroup identities and group attributes such as attitudes and behaviors that characterize the group. Group members can glean normative information by attending to norm talk for instance, by listening to the content of fellow group members’ communications, from their behavior, and from influential or prototypical sources within the group.
According to self-categorization theory, once individuals categorize themselves as members of a salient group or category, they represent normative information cognitively as ingroup prototypes. Prototypes are a fuzzy set of group attributes (such as attitudes and behaviors that characterize the group) and simultaneously minimize differences within groups while maximizing differences between groups. Thus, clear group prototypes help create distinct identities that are clearly demarcated from other groups. Group members should be especially attentive to information that flows from prototypical sources within groups—such as leaders and ingroup media sources—while efforts should be made to differentiate from marginal or deviant members who deviate from the prototype and reduce clarity of ingroup prototypes. The processes through which attending to information communicated by different sources within groups—both prototypical and non-prototypical—help group members seek normative information and clarification of ingroup prototypes are discussed.
Language attitudes are evaluative reactions to different language varieties. They reflect, at least in part, two sequential cognitive processes: social categorization and stereotyping. First, listeners use linguistic cues (e.g., accent) to infer speakers’ social group membership(s). Second, based on that categorization, they attribute to speakers stereotypic traits associated with those inferred group membership(s). Language attitudes are organized along two evaluative dimensions: status (e.g., intelligent, educated) and solidarity (e.g., friendly, pleasant). Past research has primarily focused on documenting attitudes toward standard and nonstandard language varieties. Standard varieties are those that adhere to codified norms defining correct usage in terms of grammar, pronunciation, and vocabulary, whereas nonstandard varieties are those that depart from such norms in some manner (e.g., pronunciation). Standard and nonstandard varieties elicit different evaluative reactions along the status and solidarity dimensions. Status attributions are based primarily on perceptions of socioeconomic status. Because standard varieties tend to be associated with dominant socioeconomic groups within a given society, standard speakers are typically attributed more status than nonstandard speakers. Solidarity attributions tend to be based on in-group loyalty. Language is an important symbol of social identity, and people tend to attribute more solidarity to members of their own linguistic community, especially when that community is characterized by high or increasing vitality (i.e., status, demographics, institutional support). As a result, nonstandard language varieties can sometimes possess covert prestige in the speech community in which they are the speech norms. Language attitudes are socialized early in life. At a very young age, children tend to prefer their own language variety. However, most (if not all) children gradually acquire the attitudes of the dominant group, showing a clear status preference for standard over nonstandard varieties around the first years of formal education and sometimes much earlier. Language attitudes can be socialized through various agents, including educators, peers, family, and the media. Because language attitudes are learned, they are inherently prone to change. Language attitudes may change in response to shifts in intergroup relations and government language policies, as well as more dynamically as a function of the social comparative context in which they are evoked. Once evoked, language attitudes can have myriad behavioral consequences, with negative attitudes typically promoting prejudice, discrimination, and problematic social interactions.
Melissa J. Robinson and Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick
In today’s media-saturated environment, individuals may be exposed to hundreds of media messages on a wide variety of topics each day. It is impossible for individuals to attend to every media message, and instead, they engage in the phenomenon of selective exposure, where certain messages are chosen and attended to more often than others. Health communication professionals face challenges in creating messages that can attract the attention of targeted audiences when health messages compete with more entertaining programming. In fact, one of the greatest obstacles for health campaigns is a lack of adequate exposure among targeted recipients. Individuals may avoid health messages completely or counterargue against persuasive attempts to change their health-related attitudes and behaviors. Once individuals have been exposed to a health message, their current mood plays an important role in the processing of health information and decision making. Early research indicated that a positive mood might actually be detrimental to information processing because individuals are more likely to process the information heuristically. However, recent studies countered these results and suggested that individuals in positive moods are more likely to attend to self-relevant health information, with increased recall and greater intent to change their behaviors.
Since mood has the ability to influence exposure to health messages and subsequent message processing, it is important for individuals to be able to manage their mood prior to health information exposure and possibly even during exposure. One way individuals can influence their moods is through media use including TV shows, movies, and music. Mood management theory predicts that individuals choose media content to improve and maintain positive moods and examines the mood-impacting characteristics of stimuli that influence individuals’ media selections. Therefore, an individual’s mood plays an important role in selection of any type of communication (e.g., news, documentaries, comedies, video games, or sports).
How can health message designers influence individuals’ selection and attention to health messages when negative moods may be blocking overtly persuasive attempts to change behaviors and a preference for entertaining media content? The narrative persuasion research paradigm suggests that embedding health information into entertainment messages may be a more effective method to overcome resistance or counterarguing than traditional forms of health messages (e.g., advertisements or articles). It is evident that mood plays a complex role in message selection and subsequent processing. Future research is necessary to examine the nuances between mood and health information processing including how narratives may maintain positive moods through narrative selection, processing, and subsequent attitude and/or behavior change.
Andrea Kloss and Anne Bartsch
Emotions are an important part of how audiences connect with health and risk messages. Feelings such as fear, anger, joy, or empathy are not just byproducts of information processing, but they can interact with an individual’s perception and processing of the message. For example, emotions can attract attention to the message, they can motivate careful processing of the message, and they can foster changes in attitudes and behavior. Sometimes emotions can also have counterproductive effects, such as when message recipients feel pressured and react with anger, counterarguments, or defiance. Thus, emotion and cognition are closely intertwined in individuals’ responses to health messages. Recent research has begun to explore the flow and interaction of different types of emotions in health communication. In particular, positive feelings such as joy and hope have been found to counteract avoidant and defensive responses associated with negative emotions such as fear and anger. In this context, research on health communication has begun to explore complex emotions, such as a combination of fear and hope, which can highlight both the severity of the threat, and individuals’ self-efficacy in addressing it. Empathy, which is characterized by a combination of affection and sadness for the suffering of others, is another example of a complex emotion that can mitigate defensive responses, such as anger and reactance, and can encourage insight and prosocial responses.