John D. H. Downing
Social movements are the matrix of many forms and formats (technologies, genres) of media that contest dominant power. Such media are in many ways the lifeblood of such movements. Media activism denotes collective communication practices that challenge the status quo, including established media. Frequently, such media are underfunded or unfunded and have a much shorter life cycle than capitalist, state, or religiously funded media. They are a “tribe” within a much larger continent of nanomedia (also called alternative media and citizens’ media). Their functions may spill over at times within the operation of established media, especially in times of social turbulence and crisis.
The “dominant power” in question may be quite variously perceived. Extreme-right populist movements, as in several European countries, may define the political establishment as having betrayed the supposed racial purity of the nation, or in the case of India’s Islamophobic Hindutva movement, as having traduced the nation’s religious purity. Labor movements may attack capital, feminist movements, or patriarchal and sexist structures. Sometimes these movements may be local, or regional; other times, they are transnational.
The impact of these media is still a matter of considerable debate. Often, the debate begins from a false premise—namely, the frequently small size and/or duration of many social movement media projects. Yet women’s right to vote and the abolition of slavery in the Americas were not won overnight, and neither was the dismantling of South Africa’s racist apartheid system. The Hindutva movement goes back over a century. We should not hold social movement media to a higher standard of impact, any more than we should ascribe instantaneous power to established media.
Social movements wax and wane, and so do their media projects. But the persistence of some such media activism between the peaks of movement activism is generally essential to the regeneration of social movements.
Claudia Lagos Lira
Jesús Martín Barbero is a philosopher specializing in communication and culture, particularly focusing on Latin America as his major geographical research environment and emphasizing the social meanings and practices of cultural consumption. Although he was born in Spain and his formal academic training was developed in Belgium and France, his entire career has been conducted in Latin America and, specifically, in Colombia, where he has lived since the 1960s, with a brief interruption due to his graduate studies in the 1970s.
Along with others, Martín Barbero is considered to be one of the main theorists of the Latin American school of communication. He represents the cultural studies trend within it, and he is one of the few Latin American authors in communication and cultural studies who has been translated or published in English.
Some of Martín Barbero’s main contributions have been to resituate communication studies within the broader field of culture, emphasizing a nonmedia-centered approach, proposing a radically historical perspective, arguing that the concepts of popular and mass culture are not actually opposite, but tightly embedded within each other, and recognizing that popular and mass culture practices are indeed worthy of study. This perspective has often been dismissed or neglected by previous research in communication and cultural studies in Latin America, and the recent focus on telenovelas research is one such example.
De los medios a las mediaciones: Comunicación, Cultura y Hegemonía (1987), Martín Barbero’s most cited book, has several editions in Spanish and has been translated to Portuguese (Dos meios ‘as mediacoes, 1992) and French (Des médias aux mediations, 2002). The translation to English in 1993 includes a little twist on its title: Communication, Culture, and Hegemony: From Media to Mediations.
Although Martín Barbero’s work has been included in edited volumes or special issues in English, it has been overwhelmingly published in Spanish. Drawing on his corpus of work—his books, articles, conferences, and interviews—this article offers an overview of Jesús Martín Barbero’s main concepts, his intellectual trajectory, his major intellectual influences, and how and why he became an influential thinker in the Latin American field of communication and cultural studies. It also highlights some limitations in Martín Barbero’s work.
Understanding the procurement, preparation, and consumption of food as a form of communication, critical/cultural scholars approach food and food related activities as texts, asking questions about power, identity, political economy, and culture. The emergent field of critical food studies represents a growing interdisciplinary interest in taking food seriously. Approaching cultural practices as the site of resistance to and incorporation into hegemonic social structures, cultural studies orients us towards questions regarding the politics of food practices with an eye towards social justice. Framed by an awareness of the performativity of cultural practices, both food studies and critical cultural studies engage questions of subjectivity, symbolic meaning, institutional power, identity, and consumption.
Broadly speaking, critical cultural studies scholars examine foodways—the cultural, social, and economic aspects of the production and consumption of food—as (a) symbolic repertoires for the production of social identity; (b) a site of cultural performance; and (c) a metaphor for race, class, gender, and sexuality within popular culture. These areas overlap, reinforce, and problematize each other, and are not intended to provide an exhaustive account of the approaches critical cultural scholars take when integrating food studies into their research.
As symbolic repertoires, food, foodways, and cuisine are often understood as integral to articulating identity around nationhood, race and ethnicity, class, and gender. Food, foodways, and cuisine provide potent examples of how symbols construct knowledge and meaning. As a site of cultural performance, foodways are understood as part of a cultural system embedded within a matrix of rituals, values, and practices that comprise the rhythm of daily life. Paying attention to food as performance reveals the intricacies of our understandings of and negotiations between self and community; nostalgia and the present moment; home and away; family and individual. Finally, cultural studies deconstructs the metonymic functions of food as presented in media texts. Methodologically, this research provides a textual analysis of how particular foodstuffs function rhetorically within media texts. Theoretically, it provides an important addition to our understanding of the workings of hegemony within the context of food as a metaphor for race, ethnicity, and gender, particularly on cable networks, reality TV, and in film.
Diane Marie Keeling and Marguerite Nguyen Lehman
Posthumanism is a philosophical perspective of how change is enacted in the world. As a conceptualization and historicization of both agency and the “human,” it is different from those conceived through humanism. Whereas a humanist perspective frequently assumes the human is autonomous, conscious, intentional, and exceptional in acts of change, a posthumanist perspective assumes agency is distributed through dynamic forces of which the human participates but does not completely intend or control. Posthumanist philosophy constitutes the human as: (a) physically, chemically, and biologically enmeshed and dependent on the environment; (b) moved to action through interactions that generate affects, habits, and reason; and (c) possessing no attribute that is uniquely human but is instead made up of a larger evolving ecosystem. There is little consensus in posthumanist scholarship about the degree to which a conscious human subject can actively create change, but the human does participate in change.
As distinguished from posthumanism, humanism is credited with attributing the conscious and intentional human subject as the dominant source of agency most worthy of scholarly attention. Since its inception during the Renaissance, humanism has been constituted in various ways throughout history, but as a collective body of literature, the human is typically constituted through humanism as: (a) autonomous from nature given the intellectual faculties of the mind that controls the body, (b) uniquely capable of and motivated by speech and reason, and (c) an exceptional animal that is superior to other creatures. Humanist assumptions concerning the human are infused throughout Western philosophy and reinforce a nature/culture dualism where human culture is distinct from nature. In contrast, a posthumanist scholar rejects this dichotomy through understanding the human as entangled with its environment. A posthumanist scholar of communication typically integrates scholarship from a variety of other disciplines including, but not limited to: art, architecture, cybernetics, ecology, ethology, geology, music, psychoanalysis, and quantum physics.
Bryan J. McCann
The term materialist rhetoric refers to scholarly approaches that seek to account for the relationship between rhetoric and the world that it inhabits. Rhetoricians have differed sharply on the character of this relationship and how it should inform rhetorical theory, criticism, and practice. To be a materialist is to insist that there exists a world outside of human agency that exerts force on human affairs. Marxism is the most influential philosophical tradition for materialist rhetoric, although rhetoricians vary in terms of their adherence to and interpretation of its principles. Karl Marx argued that the antagonistic class relations at the core of capitalism were the chief material determinant for social being. Historical materialism is the primary methodology of Marxist critique, and it rests on the premise that the character of class relations is not governed solely by human volition. Rather, these relations create the conditions of possibility for and shape the trajectory of social life.
While Marxism has informed the liveliest debates regarding materialist rhetoric, not all materialist rhetoricians are Marxists. The earliest iterations of materialist rhetoric drew on Marxism for inspiration, but did not adopt an explicitly anticapitalist orientation. Rather, materialist rhetoric initially referred to calls for rhetoricians to better account for the material character of rhetoric itself. Later developments in materialist rhetoric emerged from debates regarding the nature of Marxism as a rhetorical method, the question of whether rhetoric is representational or constitutive, the character of rhetorical agency, and the existence of a knowable material world outside of rhetoric. Classical Marxists in rhetoric have argued that scholars should predicate their work on the presumption of an experiential reality outside of discourse that exerts force on human symbolic activity. They argue that grounding rhetorical critique in a nondiscursive materiality is necessary for ethical judgment and political practice. Others who reject classical Marxism embrace the claim that rhetoric is material—so much so, in fact, that it comprises every dimension of social being.
Debates between these perspectives hinge largely on how different scholars theorize contemporary capitalism. Whereas classical Marxists retain faith in the revolutionary agency of the working class, their critics contend that rhetoric itself has become the central modality of labor in the modern economy and, therefore, the chief resource for resistance. Other materialist perspectives do not dwell on theoretical debates regarding Marxism, but instead attend to other dimensions of being beyond human symbol use. Whereas some scholars are interested in rhetoric’s relationship to the human body and physical spaces, others theorize rhetoric in ways that reach beyond the limits of human cognition.
Colleen E. Arendt and Patrice M. Buzzanell
Feminist organizational communication scholarship can be framed in four ways. The four frames display how feminisms encourage: (a) questioning gender difference; (b) performing/queering organizing; (c) disrupting online and offline organizations and their alternatives; and (d) challenging macro-Discourses and structures of gender inequality. In discussing discourses and structures, it is important to include how feminist organizational communication scholars generate knowledge(s) within and across particularities and unities, engage contradiction, and unveil neoliberalism, especially meritocracy and ideal worker norms. In discussing feminist organizational communication, the emerging trends in discovery, learning, and engagement focus on: (a) contradiction, (b) context, (c) difference, and (d) resistance through and by human and nonhuman agents.
Josina M. Makau
Communication has the power to heal and to wound, to tyrannize and to liberate, to enlighten and to deceive, to inspire and to corrupt. Subjecting ideas to the scrutiny of others through engagements of difference has long been recognized as a vital resource for the fulfillment of communication’s constructive potential as well as a critically needed antidote to the corrupting influences associated with demagoguery, confirmation bias, ideological rigidity, and partisanship. Demographic shifts and technological advancements afford unparalleled opportunities for such open, deliberative engagements and related inquiries. Enriched by attentive listening, dialogic communication provides a particularly promising means of tapping these and other resources to reach across differences in pursuit of knowledge, understanding, truth, and wise discernment.
Despite their potential, however, listening and dialogue face formidable obstacles. Among these are dominant narratives regarding the human condition, power imbalances, and privilege, and their implications for communication ethics. Absolutism, radical relativism, and related false dilemmas pose significant obstacles as well. A transformation of vision—from individual adversarialism to an ethic of interdependence—offers a pathway out of the thicket, enabling humanity to tap communication’s potential in shared pursuit of human flourishing across the globe.
Catherine R. Squires
Angela Yvonne Davis is an American-born, internationally acclaimed intellectual, activist, and icon. Davis’s groundbreaking work and generative theorizing synthesizes Marxist, feminist, critical race, and cultural studies to illuminate workings of power. Her many books, articles, and essays pose crucial questions that have inspired the work of generations of scholars, cultural workers, and activists. Spanning from the late 1960s to the early 21st century, her writings and speeches have provided rich understandings of history, justice, representation, identity, and resistance.
Critical whiteness studies can be understood in terms of three overlapping waves ranging from the national to the international and from the 19th to the 21st centuries. Beginning in the Reconstruction era in the United States, the first wave criticized whiteness in the form of protection of white femininity, possessive ownership, and the public and psychological wages paid to white people during Jim Crow America. The second wave began after the end of World War II, when challenges to legalized racial segregation and European colonialism flourished. The third wave, whose beginning can be marked roughly at the end of the 20th century, is distinguished by increased examination of nonblack immigrants’ relation to whiteness, the growing number of white authors contributing to the field, and a blossoming international range of critical studies of whiteness.
Bernadette Marie Calafell
The field of Chicana studies was born out of the experiences of Mexican-American women in the southwestern United States. Chicana leaders, such as Dolores Huerta were central activists in the Chicano civil rights movement in the 1960s, working alongside leaders like Cesar Chavez and cofounding the UFW. Others were involved in social movement activity in New Mexico, Colorado, and Texas with activists Reies Tijerina, Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzáles, and José Ángel Gutiérrez. While fighting for labor, political, and educational rights, Chicanas contested the machismo, sexism, and heterosexism that they experienced from Chicanos. Chicanas were urged to perform stereotypical feminine roles or activities, while men served as the public face of the movement. They were disciplined further by the invocation of the virgin/whore dichotomy, based in Catholicism around the Virgin of Guadalupe; and Malintzin Tenépal, Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes’s translator and lover. In addition, Chicanas were encouraged to take a single-axis approach to social justice and keep silent about their concerns in order to highlight the fight against ethnocentrism and racism, which were deemed by male leaders to be of the utmost importance. Similarly, Chicanas who looked for solidarity in the mainstream women’s movement were encouraged to put aside their racial concerns in favor of an agenda that focused solely on their identity as women. Put in the untenable position of lacking a space in which their complex and intersectional experiences were honored, and of being subjected to the virgin/whore dichotomy and its unrealistic expectations, Chicanas needed to create a space of their own.
The late 1970s and 1980s saw the birth of Chicano Studies departments in academia, as well as the rise of Chicana studies and Chicana feminism. Chicana studies blossomed through works by artists such as Yolanda Lopez, Judy Baca, Patssi Valdez, and Ester Hernández, and scholarship by Deena J. González, Antonia Castañeda, Angie Chabram, Rosa Linda Fregoso, Sandra Cisneros, Cherríe Moraga, Gloria Anzaldúa, and Ana Castillo. The publication of This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color became an important benchmark for Chicana feminist writings, and women of color feminism in general. In addition, Moraga’s Loving in the War Years: Lo que nunca pasó por sus labios and Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza were foundational texts in the development of Chicana feminist thought. Moraga’s work (originally published in 1983 and republished in an expanded edition in 2000) addresses her experiences as a queer Chicana born to a White father and Mexican mother, while Anzaldúa’s book (published in 1987) theorizes about the possibility of a mestiza consciousness or borderlands identity. A central theme in Chicana feminist writings is the reinterpretation of Malintzin Tenépal, also referred to as La Malinche, through poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, while Chicana feminist artists have visually reimagined the Virgin of Guadalupe queerly and in their own images as everyday women. Through the reinterpretation of these figures, Chicanas have created possibilities for Chicana identifications that resist the binary virgin/whore dichotomy.