Gayatri Spivak is one of the foremost intellectuals of the 20th and 21st centuries. Although a literary critic, her work can be seen as philosophical as it is concerned with how to develop a transnational ethical responsibility to the radical “other,” who cannot be accessed by our discursive (and thus institutionalized) regimes of knowledge. Regarded as a leading postcolonial theorist, Spivak is probably best seen as a postcolonial Marxist feminist theorist, although she herself does not feel comfortable with rigid academic labeling. Her work is significantly influenced by the deconstructionist impulses of Jacques Derrida. Additionally, the influence of Gramsci and Marx is prominent in her thinking.
Spivak’s work has consistently called attention to the logics of imperialism that inform texts in the West, including in Western feminist scholarship. Relatedly, she has also written significantly on how the nation, in attempting to represent the entirety of a population, cannot access otherness or radical alterity. This is best seen in her work on the subaltern and in her intervention into the famous Indian group of Subaltern Studies scholars. Other related foci of her work have been on comprehending translation as a transnational cultural politics, and what it means to develop a transnational ethics of literacy.
Damien Smith Pfister
Public spheres are sites of communicative interaction that feature citizens turning their attention to collective problems and democratically legitimate solutions. Closely associated with German critical theorist Jürgen Habermas, the idea of public spheres constituted by a range of publics and counterpublics animates a broad array of interdisciplinary scholarship relating to democracy and political theory, argumentation and deliberation, citizenship and civic engagement, media ecologies and the press, and institutions and power relations. Habermas originally theorized the emergence of the bourgeois public sphere as a counterpoint to the aristocratic regimes of early modern Europe, aiming to rescue select democratic practices from an otherwise flawed ideology. Critics of Habermas’s early formulation of the bourgeois public sphere have noted the presence of a multiplicity of public spheres, rather than a single public sphere, the problem of the public/private divide that is definitive of the public sphere, the role of bodies and emotions in addition to language and reason in the formation and operation of publics and counterpublics, the role of media technologies in sustaining and expanding critical publicity, and the difficulties in extracting knowledge claims from the power relations that constitute them. The idea of public spheres has remained resilient despite these criticisms, as any functioning democracy requires a space between the family, the market, and the state to thematize, problematize, and address the challenges of life in groups. Strong public spheres are characterized by hospitality to counterpublics, groups that distinguish themselves from the rational-critical debate of dominant publics through different dispositions, styles, and strategies for steering public attention. Scholarship on public spheres, publics, and counterpublics continues to proliferate, with new directions accounting for the increased prominence of visuality, ecology, digitality, and transnationality in deliberating bodies.
Within communication studies, critical and cultural scholars will likely encounter psychoanalytic methods by way of rhetoric scholarship, which has made plentiful and recurring use of Freudian and Lacanian concepts. This entry offers a survey of psychoanalytic methods “before” and “after” the linguistic turn, juxtaposing key concepts with rhetorical scholarship that employs it. Psychoanalytic theory is foundationally the study of the unconscious. Before the linguistic turn, the Freudian theory of the unconscious informed Kenneth Burke’s theory of identification developed in A Rhetoric of Motives and numerous Jungian analyses of cinematic texts. In the linguistic turn’s aftermath, the psychoanalytic theory of Jacques Lacan contributed understandings of speech, identification, and rhetoric that transformed Freud’s original formulations and productively supplemented Burke’s. These contributions, captured in Lacan’s four fundamental concepts of psychoanalysis, registers of the unconscious, and The “Seminar on ‘The Purloined Letter,’” illustrate a variety of ways that critical and cultural scholars have enlisted psychoanalysis to describe instances of public address, social movements, political and legal discourse, and cinema/film. The unique feature of Lacan’s approach is that the unconscious is structured like a language, which means that the unconscious is received as a speech act. Moreover, contrary to the view that the subject uses the signifier, Lacan maintains that the signifier exercises an organizing role over the subject and its desire. Conceived within the history, theory, and practice of rhetoric, psychoanalytic theory offers conceptually rich insights tethered to the concepts of the unconscious, the signifier, and the drive (among others) that are enabling to the aims of critical and cultural studies.
Political economy approaches examine the power relations that comprise the production, distribution, and exchange of resources. They are distinguished from economics by a deeper concern for history, the social totality, moral philosophy, and praxis. Numerous schools of thought mark the political economy approach including early conservative, communitarian, and Marxian perspectives. Today, neoconservative, institutional, neo-Marxian, feminist, environmental, and social movement based approaches offer a wide variety of political economies. Communication scholars have drawn on political economy approaches to carry out research on media technologies, including broadcasting, telecommunications, and computer communication. In doing so they have developed distinctive geographic perspectives covering North America, Europe, and the less developed world.
Political economy approaches are built on specific philosophical assumptions including a range of epistemologies that, on one end of a continuum, accept the reality of both concepts and observations and, at the other, claim that all explanations can be reduced to one essential cause, such as the economy or culture. Political economy approaches also range from perspectives that emphasize social change, social processes, and social relations to those that focus on social structures and institutions.
Political economy approaches tend to concentrate on three processes that make up the main starting points for political economy research on media technologies. Commodification is the process of transforming things valued for their use into marketable products that are valued for what they can bring in exchange. This can be seen, for example, in the process of turning a story that friends tell one another into a film or a book to be sold in the marketplace. Spatialization is the process of overcoming the constraints of geographical space with media and technologies. For example, social media surmounts distance by bringing images of world events to every part of the globe and companies use media technologies, now often comprised of cloud computing, big data analytics, the Internet of Things, and telecommunications networks, to build global supply chains. Finally, structuration is the process of creating social relations, mainly those organized around social class, gender, and race. With respect to social class, political economy approaches describe how access to the mass media and new communication technologies is influenced by inequalities in income and wealth, which enable some to afford access and others to be left out. Political economy approaches are evolving in response to challenges from cultural studies approaches. Political economies of media technologies are now placing greater emphasis on international communication, on communication history, on standpoints of resistance, on new media technologies, and on new media activism.
Malcolm K. Read
Louis Althusser bequeathed to his students and coworkers a rich but problematic legacy, not least of all with respect to his notion of the unconsciousness of ideology. Traditionally, even among Marxists, the latter had been associated with the conscious realm of ideas, thereby giving rise to the notion of a “false consciousness.” From the Althusserian standpoint, by way of contrast, ideology was profoundly unconscious in its operations. Two of Althusser’s students, Michel Foucault and Juan Carlos Rodríguez, rose to meet the challenge posed by this facet of their former master’s work, although to very antithetical effect. In Foucault, Althusser’s original insight underwent a radical transformation from which it emerged, stripped of its Marxist framework, as a discursive unconsciousness, materialized in the rules that governed discourse and, subsequently, in social institutions and practices. Rodríguez, on the other hand, reworked the notion of ideological unconsciousness into an ideological unconscious. Understandably, Foucault’s work found favor with a bourgeois academy that, throughout the 1980s and 1990s, increasingly abandoned Marxism to embrace conservative forms of postmodernism and neo-liberalism. During the same period, Rodríguez struggled to make his presence felt from the margins of the global academy. By a curious irony, however, his very location afforded a perfect vantage point from which to study the workings of ideological conflict. His notion of the ideological unconscious remains a seminal if still neglected concept.
The critical study of cultural and creative industries involves the interrogation of the ways in which different social forces impact the production of culture, its forms, and its producers as inherently creative creatures. In historical terms, the notion of “the culture industry” may be traced to a series of postwar period theorists whose concerns reflected the industrialization of mass cultural forms and their attendant marketing across public and private spheres. For them, the key terms alienation and reification spoke to the negative impacts of an industrial cycle of production, distribution, and consumption, which controlled workers’ daily lives and distanced them from their own creative expressions. Fears of the culture industry drove a mass culture critique that led social scientists to address the structures of various media industries, the division of labor in the production of culture, and the hegemonic consent between government and culture industries in the military-industrial complex. The crisis of capitalism in the 1970s further directed critical scholars to theorize new dialectics of cultural production, its flexibilization via new communications technologies and transnational capital flows, as well as its capture via new property regimes. Reflecting government discourses for capital accumulation in a post-industrial economy, these theories have generally subsumed cultural industries into a creative economy composed of a variety of extra-industrial workers, consumers, and communicative agents. Although some social theorists have extended cultural industry critiques to the new conjuncture, more critical studies of creative industries focus on middle-range theories of power relations and contradictions within particular industrial sites and organizational settings. Work on immaterial labor, digital enclosures, and production cultures have developed the ways creative industries are both affective and effective structures for the temporal and spatial formation of individuals’ identities.
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.
Christina R. Foust and Raisa Alvarado
What moves the social? And what is rhetoric’s relationship to social movement? Since 1950, scholars studying the art of public persuasion have offered different answers to these questions. Early approaches to social movements defined them as out-groups that made use of persuasion to achieve goals and meet persistent challenges. However, protest tactics that flaunted the body and spectacle (e.g., 1960s-era dissent) challenged early emphasis on social movements as nouns or “things” that used rhetoric. Influenced by intersectional feminist theories and movements that featured identity transformations (along with ending oppression) as political, rhetoric scholars began to view “a social movement” as an outcome or effect of rhetoric. Scholars treated movements as “fictions,” identifying the ways in which these collective subjects did not empirically exist—but were nonetheless significant, as people came to invest their identities and desires for a new order into social movements. Scholars argued that people manifested “a social movement’s” presence by identifying themselves as representatives of it. More recently, though, rhetoric scholars emphasize what is moving in the social, by following the circulation of rhetoric across nodes and pathways in networks, as well as bodies in protest. Inspired by social media activism, as well as theories of performance and the body, scholars concentrate on how symbolic action (or the affects it helps create) interrupts business as usual in everyday life. To study rhetoric and social movement is to study how dissent from poor and working-class people, women, people of color, LGBTQ activists, the disabled, immigrants, and other non-normative, incongruous voices and bodies coalesce in myriad ways, helping move humanity along the long arc of the moral universe that bends toward justice.
Ashley Noel Mack
Motherhood is not an inconsequential and ideologically neutral individual role in society. Instead, “motherhood” is considered, according to critical and cultural scholars and theorists, to be both a complex set of experiences individuals embody and a symbolic social institution that has been used to regulate human behavior through cultural norms and social scripts that are discursively struggled over across history. The institution of motherhood is imbedded in cultural, economic, and legal systems and is a central consideration in how we come to define the domestic and public spheres. Black feminist, liberal feminist, radical feminist, Marxist, queer, postcolonial, and decolonial theories are mobilized by critics in communication to investigate motherhood as a complex symbolic interlocutor. Critical scholars from these divergent theoretical and political traditions analyze motherhood as an experience, a practice, a performance, and/or an ideology. Because of the importance of the concept of mothering in society, examining discourses about motherhood is a central concern for critical and cultural communication scholars who are interested in the formation of gender and sexual scripts and the maintenance of racial and class-based systems of oppression.
Celebrity politicians are having a profound impact on the practice of politics within the United States and United Kingdom in the 21st century. With the adoption of social media platforms, celebrity and image candidates have deployed new strategies for attracting constituents. Taken together, the proliferation of celebrity politics and the ubiquity of digital platforms have fostered a unique atmosphere in the contemporary political moment, wherein “outsider” candidates may leverage their fame to launch themselves into the public spotlight. In turn, through their celebrity brands and digital presence both populists such as the U.S. President Donald Trump and left-wing leaders including U.K. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn have established an “authenticity” in which they “occupy” a public space to define their candidacies. Consequently, as celebrities and image candidates promote political agendas among target audiences/citizens, it is necessary to reflect upon their significance in election campaigns, policy agendas, and activism.