Critical communication studies of space and place consider the ways power becomes located within a wider topography of social relations. How a body thinks, its exposure to pollutants, or access to societal resources: these all depend, in part, upon where that body moves in relation to the other bodies that share their historical moment. The logic of power becomes manifest in the spatial organization of a society, and subsequently influences social practice. Emergent from multiple intellectual traditions—including humanistic geography, the spatial turn in the critical humanities, and postcolonial theory—spatial studies understand space and place as the product of social relations and maintain a critical, de-essentializing politics: Spaces are always being made and remade with consequences for marginalized populations. Moreover, as sites of public identification, certain spaces and places (a national park landscape or urban park) are imbued with epideictic significance. In order to understand and critique the relationship between communication, space, and place, scholars employ a number of concepts, many of which they share with neighboring fields, including mobility, globalization, affect, imagined geographies, place-making, critical regionalism, heterotopia, omnitopia, and memory places.
Scholars of space and place, moreover, remain committed to mapping both as method and object of analysis. If a society’s spatial logic (who and what resides where and with what consequences) provides insight into power and subjugation, then mapping offers a potentially useful critical methodological practice. At the same time, mapping remains a technology of colonialism, a way of seeing space that stabilizes its movements and continues to enable colonial domination. Thus, critical communication scholars of space and place also analyze and critique the rhetoric of mapping, analyzing both the ways in which maps are used to uphold operations of domination as well as those “countermapping” efforts that employ and subvert the history of cartography towards more emancipatory ends.
Phaedra C. Pezzullo
Central to the study of communication and cultural studies is the relationship between nature and culture, not as a rigid dichotomy, but as elements that are coconstituted by each other materially and symbolically. With the rise of ecological awareness, the past three decades has fostered an increase in scholarship addressing environmental matters explicitly, as well as professional organizations mobilizing around the ways this perspective has shaped research, teaching, and praxis. Communication scholars from a range of perspectives have contributed to ongoing conversations about “environment” as a keyword, including at least these seven general approaches: (1) environmental personal identity and interpersonal relationships; (2) environmental organizational communication studies; (3) science, technology, and health communication; (4) public participation in environmental decision-making; (5) green applied media and arts; (6) environmental mass media studies; and (7) environmental rhetoric and cultural studies. Given this rich and expanding disciplinary terrain, identifying the heart of this research is a complicated task.
Environmental communication is the study and practice of pragmatic and constitutive modes of expression that define and trouble our ecological relationships within the world. It has been founded as a crisis discipline, one dedicated to addressing some of the greatest challenges of our times and to foregrounding the ethical implications of this orientation. In this article, environmental communication also is characterized fundamentally as a care discipline, one devoted to unearthing human and nonhuman interconnections, interdependence, biodiversity, and system limits. In the United States, environmental discourse has articulated dominant, residual, and emergent attitudes, values, and practices related to—though not limited to—wilderness, preservation, conservation, public health, environmental justice, sustainability, climate science, and resilience. Despite historical reluctance, future possibilities for scholarship on the environment are exigent and expanding, including communication-based research on climate justice, as well as digital environmental communication and archives.
Cyberlibertarianism, broadly speaking, refers to a discourse that claims that the Internet and related digital media technology can and should constitute spaces of individual liberty. Liberty here is understood as non-interference such that individuals are able to act and express themselves as they choose, and thus are self-governed, where interference is understood as most readily emanating from governments but also at times from corporations, particularly crony-capitalist ones. Various strands of this discourse have developed over the last few decades. These strands differ in the weight that they place on technology, markets, policy, and law for securing cyberspace as a space of, and for, individual freedom.
Research empirically investigating the influence of media exposure on issues of race and ethnicity has long documented that media use meaningfully impacts the cognitions, emotions, and behaviors of audience members. Certainly, media are only one among a number of factors that contribute to perceptions regarding (and actions toward) one’s own and other racial/ethnic groups. However, theory and empirical evidence consistently demonstrate that the manner in which racial/ethnic groups are characterized in the media can harm or benefit different groups, depending on the nature of these depictions (alongside other social and psychological determinants). Consequently, it is both practically and theoretically important to both identify how and how often different groups are portrayed across the media landscape as well as to assess the ways in which exposure to this content influences media audiences.
What quantitative content analytic studies have revealed is that there is variation in depictions of race/ethnicity in U.S. media depending on the group, the medium, and the genre. Thus, whereas Blacks have achieved a degree of parity when it comes to the quantity of depictions on primetime U.S. television, there is variation in the quality depending on the genre. Further, the same advances have not been seen for Blacks in news, in film, and across other media forms and platforms. For Latinos, little has changed across decades when it comes to numeric representation in the media. When it comes to the quality of these portrayals, although some of the more egregious media stereotypes have faded, other long-standing media definitions of Latinos remain persistent. For other racial/ethnic groups, few images are presented. Within these infrequent images, a constrained set of characterizations often predominates, such as spiritual American Indians, tech-savvy Asian Americans, and terrorist Muslims.
Exposure to these representations has consequences. Consuming the images and messages associated with racial/ethnic groups in the media contributes to the formation, activation, and application of racial/ethnic cognitions. For racial/ethnic majority group members (i.e., whites), unfavorable media depictions can mean the perpetuation of harmful stereotypes: this can lead to outcomes ranging from unsympathetic policy positions to active or passive harming behaviors. When media characterizations are favorable, more auspicious outcomes emerge. For the racial and ethnic groups being depicted, the effects of exposure again depend on the quantity and quality of portrayals. Negative characterizations prompt shame, anger, and other undesirable emotions and lead to esteem problems. On the other hand, some research indicates that favorable characterizations can serve as a source of group pride, which boosts esteem.
Massive migration both within and between countries has been witnessed over the last two centuries. Migration is a multifaceted event with significant socioeconomic, cultural, political consequences for both receiving and sending countries/regions. Migrants typically move to a more developed region with the hope of obtaining better employment and living standards. Migrants, a cheap labor source with high achievement motivation, seem to be the ideal workforce for aging societies that have an urgent need for working populations. Despite migrants being needed for local economic growth, migrant workers are often marginalized in host societies. In addition, lacking human, social, and cultural capital, migrants are more disadvantaged in the job markets, especially during economic downturns. Life establishment in host societies is by no means an easy task for migrants who are also confronted with issues such as cultural differences and extra socioeconomic pressures. Institutionalized and daily discrimination from host societies also have significant negative impacts on migrants’ professional and everyday lives. Thus, migrants often report lower levels of happiness, job satisfaction, and health than their local counterparts. It is urgent to facilitate migrants’ integration and diminish social division between migrants and locals to improve migrant workers’ life quality in the host societies.
Federica Pieragostini, Bruno Gabriel Salvador Casara, and Caterina Suitner
Globalization is making interethnic communication an increasingly widespread issue. The reduction of actual and psychological distances due to migratory flows and media communication increases contact opportunities between individuals from different ethnic groups. Communication between members belonging to different ethnic groups can also be considered a challenge as it brings in more general intergroup controversies. Ethnicity affects both verbal and nonverbal communication at different intensity levels. For example, using verbal communication, interethnic conflict may emerge through the use of hate speech, and—at a lower intensity level—may also emerge by the subtle use of pronouns (e.g., avoiding the use of “we” to exclude members of other groups). Similarly, in nonverbal communication, interethnic conflicts may strongly be evident in explicit exclusion behaviors, but also in subtler cues such as by enhancing spatial distance from persons belonging to other groups. Ethnic identities and their implications are also evident in and influenced by mass media narratives, which mirror, establish, and perpetuate inequalities and discrimination. Interethnic communication is therefore a challenge and an opportunity to understand and to improve relationships between ethnic groups.
William A. Donohue
Understanding intergroup communication in the context of genocide and mass killing begins with an exploration of how this kind of communication can devolve into such heinous human tragedies. How does communication set the stage that enables groups to pursue this path? The literature suggests that genocide is preceded by a period of intense communication that seeks to exacerbate racial divides while also providing social sanctions for killing as a solution to this intergroup strengthening activity. As individuals use language in their intergroup exchanges that seeks to build their own identity through the derogation of an outgroup, they become trapped in a conflict paradox that can then lead to violence or genocide. Strategies for detecting language associated with forming an identity trap and then dealing with it are also discussed.
Michela Menegatti and Monica Rubini
Language is one of the most powerful means through which sexism and gender discrimination are perpetrated and reproduced. The content of gender stereotypes, according to which women should display communal/warmth traits and men should display agentic/competence traits, is reflected in the lexical choices of everyday communication. As a consequence, language subtly reproduces the societal asymmetries of status and power in favor of men, which are attached to the corresponding social roles. Moreover, the hidden yet consensual norm according to which the prototypical human being is male is embedded in the structure of many languages. Grammatical and syntactical rules are built in a way that feminine terms usually derive from the corresponding masculine form. Similarly, masculine nouns and pronouns are often used with a generic function to refer to both men and women. However, such linguistic forms have the negative effects of making women disappear in mental representations. Although the use of gender-fair linguistic expressions can effectively prevent these negative consequences and promote gender equality, there are even more implicit forms of gender bias in language that are difficult to suppress. By choosing terms at different levels of abstraction, people can affect the attributions of the receiver in a way that is consistent with their stereotypical beliefs. Linguistic abstraction, thus, is a very subtle resource used to represent women in a less favorable way and thus to enact gender discrimination without meaning to discriminate or even be aware that this linguistic behavior has discriminatory results. In order to reduce gender bias, it is necessary to change people’s linguistic habits by making them aware of the beneficial effects of gender-fair expressions.
Gang violence and its impact on society is a well-documented phenomenon. Until recently, gang research has been mostly conducted by criminologists and sociologists. Some scholars consider gangs to be special or different from other delinquent or peer groups, warranting special attention and approach to the research. Although this approach has led to substantial advancements in knowledge about gangs, scholars’ attention to emergent ideas from fields of study beyond gang research can contribute to a multifaceted understanding of gangs and group processes of gangs. Specifically, intergroup communication theories and research are well suited to analyze and predict communicative implications of gang membership on gang activities and potential gang members. Intergroup communication theories posit that it is not individuals’ characteristics that shape their communication with others but their salient social memberships, such as being a part of a gang or a certain socioeconomic group; in turn, the communication provides information about why/how they identify with different groups in society. While gangs have been rarely discussed in communication contexts—with an exception of the work by Conquergood who engaged in this topic over two decades ago—some key intergroup communication issues are alluded to in a number of existing definitions of gangs. For example, Pyrooz defines a gang as “a group that hangs out together, wears gang colors or clothes, has set clear boundaries of its territory or turf, and protects its members and turf against other rival gangs through fighting or threats” (2014, p. 355). In another example, Klein and Maxson define street gangs as “any durable, street-oriented groups whose involvement in illegal activity is part of its group identity” (2006, p. 4). These definitions indicate that gang membership is communicated by distinct markers—such as gang colors, clothing, or illegal activities—which help organize the gang’s system and making their identity distinctive from outgroups (other gangs and their surroundings). Also, gangs have clear boundaries for determining in/outgroup, and the shared group identity among ingroup members—rather than their individual identity—drives their communicative behaviors. Importantly, gangs are motivated to engage in risky behaviors to enhance their reputation and communicate dominance by fighting against other gangs or law enforcement (intergang conflicts). Examining these gang activities and processes as intergroup communication phenomena, as opposed to analyzing them in terms of individual and intragroup aspects, can complement gang research grounded in other disciplines and enhance understanding of why/how youths might decide to join gangs, obtain, and maintain gang membership.
Helene A. Shugart
If food studies is an inherently interdisciplinary field of enquiry, communication is central to its uptake in any scholarly context, for food is inherently relational, symbolic, and deeply cultural, a powerful discourse in its own right and imbricated in a host of other discourses. Accordingly, while food studies is a relatively new area of study within the communication discipline, scholarship in that vein has had rather seamless entrée into the broader scholarly arena and has proliferated along the same general lines of investigation that characterize the field in general.
Originally rooted in cultural anthropology, early studies of the cultural significance of food assessed how food both reflects and accomplishes social identity and status, a focus that has been sustained and expanded in more contemporary studies as relevant to how food signals and mobilizes particular identities, such as race/ethnicity, nation, class, gender, and sexuality. Matters of identity are sometimes apparent in studies of the role(s) of food in global flows, including globalization, colonization, immigration, diaspora, and tourism. Much of this scholarship also or instead takes up food in terms of production and consumption, assessing the politics, economics, and geographies of food. Endeavors in this vein, in global, national, and local contexts, examine food policies and patterns of industry and how they privilege certain interests while disenfranchising others: food safety, security, and justice feature prominently in these investigations. These motifs are reflected, as well, in scholarship that examines social movements around food that seek to disrupt or resist problematic industry and farming policies and/or practices as relevant to, for example, environmental exigencies, animal welfare, eradication of the local, and availability of and/or access to safe, healthy foods.
The mediation of food is perhaps a natural subject of study for communication scholars, ranging from representations of food in film to food packaging and advertising. The recent rise of “foodie” culture has generated a proliferation of media fare, signaled by indices ranging from the now recognized genre of “food films,” to multiple television networks devoted to food, to the rise of “celebrity chefs”; food is, moreover, an increasing presence on the Internet, proliferating especially across social media. The imaginaries of authenticity and egalitarianism and the materialities of class that frequently drive foodie culture have been the focus of much of this scholarship, and they have been further identified as figuring prominently in urban practices ranging from the establishment of farmers’ markets to gentrification.
Even within the communication discipline, food studies is a wide-ranging topic, but it is not simply a diverse subject of study for communication scholars. The inherently liminal and malleable nature of food renders it difficult if not impossible to engage or theorize in terms of conventional binaries or rifts that characterize many if not most fields, such as subject/object and self/other; perhaps most salient for the communication discipline, food denies the particularly nettlesome materiality/discursivity binary. Accordingly, food studies holds considerable promise for the field relevant to theoretical innovation and expansion.