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.
Timothy R. Levine
Much research has examined people’s ability to correctly distinguish between honest and deceptive communication. The ability to detect deception is useful, but many misconceptions about effective lie detection have been documented. Research on deception is especially informative because the findings of research often contradict common sense. For example, both folk wisdom and several social scientific theories hold that lies can be detected through the careful observation of nonverbal behaviors. Yet research shows that most of the nonverbal behaviors that are stereotypically linked with deception have less diagnostic value than presumed. The widely accepted conclusion from decades of research is that while people are statistically better than chance at detecting lies, people are poor lie detectors in an absolute sense, averaging just 54 percent accuracy. Poor accuracy findings hold across the biological sex of the sender and judge, adult age and occupation, various types of media, spontaneous and planned lies, and more and less potent motivations for lying. Research also finds that people are usually truth-biased—that is, people tend to believe other people more often than not. As a consequence of truth-bias, accuracy for honest communication is typically higher than accuracy for lies, a finding known as the veracity effect. Subsequent research has yielded promising findings suggesting various ways deception detection accuracy can be improved. Focusing on communication content, especially when understood in context, understanding the motives for deception, using evidence, and persuading senders to be honest all have been shown to improve lie detection accuracy in recent experiments.
The global world brings people increasingly into contact with those from other cultures, or else they read about them in the media, leading them to make comparative judgments about their behavior. Sometimes people make these judgments at a national or international level as nations, multinational organizations, and social action organizations seek to discuss human rights across cultures. Contemporary Western ethics find their origins in discussions of ethics and morality by Immanuel Kant (deontological ethics) and Aristotle (teleological ethics). These and other ethical approaches are certainly relevant to communication scholars and practitioners in general, but those working across cultures face particular ethical dilemmas. Unfortunately, interculturalists often do not discuss ethics, or if they do, they discuss them in a brief and superficial way, which might give way to their own ethical stance to color their understanding of others.
Those who discuss ethics face a major tension between seeking a single ethical approach that applies to all cultures (i.e., ethical absolutism) and letting each culture determine its own ethical direction (i.e., cultural relativism, one form of the broader notion of ethical relativism). Various authors have proposed deriving a stance from what ethical stances seem to be universal, much as the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights seems to do. Others propose peace or humanitarian ethics that would leave most cultural elements alone in other cultures, but speak when actions, policies, or social situations work against the human dignity of individuals.
Jürgen Habermas, on the other hand, proposes that people seek ideal speech situations, where people can have open dialogue without restraints, such as power differentials. Finally, as a way out of the ethical maze, others have proposed a dialogic or communicative approach that is not relative, but with which people involved in ethical decisions enter discussions with each other, often considering a wide array of contextual factors that might affect ethical outcomes.
Patricia Olivia Covarrubias
An enduring problem for all people is the universal call for figuring out how to live together. This problem, which requires some measure of organization, quintessentially is responded to and managed in and through communication. That is, humans coordinate their daily meaningful actions via situated webs of linguistic and nonlinguistic means during the course of daily social interactions. These situated webs can be interpreted as cultural codes about communication. Further, and importantly, these codes vary across social groupings—and the codes are distinctive. This distinctiveness arises from the reality that societies shape their respective codes according to their local means and meanings; that is, to their own sets of beliefs, values, and rules for managing their lives individually and collectively.
The communicative means and meanings in and by which humans create meaningful lives are the central concern of cultural communication, which is defined as follows: the social enactment of learned systems of symbolic resources, premises, rules, emotions, spatial orientations, and notions of time that groups of people use to shape distinctive and meaningful communal identities, relationships, and ways of living and being. Indeed, cultural communication pertains to the use of language and other communicative means to carry out the activities and commitments of their particular communities in and through the use of symbolic resources. These resources include verbal and nonverbal means, as well as the rules for using and interpreting them.
This paper is inspired by a number of scholars of cultural communication, including Dell Hymes, who conceptualized the ethnography of communication (EOC); Gerry Philipsen and his notion of codes of communication; and the many scholars who have followed their leads.
The definition of cultural communication requires some fleshing out—and in particular, the tension between the individual and the communal that exists within the concept of cultural communication needs attention. Empirically accessed, real-life examples of locations where communication can be seen, heard, felt, and experienced help to explicate cultural communication. Such examples include cultural terms, silence practices, terms of address, rituals, and social dramas. Indeed, cultural communication treats culture and people, not with wide brushstrokes where the features of daily life occur uniformly and generically, but rather as unique sets of social actors whose lives are composed of intricate webs of nuanced expressions and attendant meanings, wherein each enactor plays a part in animating the symbolic resources that comprise their richly diverse schemes of life.
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.
Mikaela L. Marlow
Discourse analysis is focused on the implicit meanings found in public discourse, text, and media. In the modern era, public discourse can be assessed in political or social debates, newspapers, magazines, television, film, radio, music, and web-mediated forums (Facebook, Twitter, and other public discussion). Research across a variety of disciplines has documented that dominant social groups tend to employ certain discursive strategies when discussing minority groups. Public discourse is often structured in ways that marginalize minority groups and legitimize beliefs, values, and ideologies of more dominant groups. These discursive strategies include appealing to authority, categorization, comparison, consensus, counterfactual, disclaimers, euphemism, evidence, examples, generalizations, rhetorical questions, metaphors, national glorification, and directive speech acts. Evoking such discourse often enables prevailing dominant groups to reify majority social status, reinforce negative assumptions about minorities, and maintain a positive public social image, despite deprecating and, sometimes, dehumanizing references.
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.
Michael Mackert, Sara Champlin, and Jisoo Ahn
Health literacy—defined as the ability of an individual to obtain, process, understand, and communicate about health information—contributes significantly to health outcomes and costs to the U.S. health-care system. Approximately one-quarter to one-half of U.S. adults struggle with health information, which includes understanding patient education materials, reading medication labels, and communicating with health-care providers. Low health literacy is more common among the elderly, those who speak English as a second language, and those of lower socioeconomic status. In addition to conceptualizing health literacy as an individual-level skill, it can also be considered an organizational or community-level ability.
Increased attention to the field of health literacy has resulted in debates about the definition and the best ways to assess health literacy; there is also a strong and growing movement within the field of health literacy research and practice to frame health literacy less as a deficit to overcome and more as an approach to empowering patients and improving outcomes. As health-care providers have recognized the importance of health literacy, workshops, and training programs have been developed and evaluated to improve the care of low-health-literate patients. Similarly, health promotion professionals have developed best practices for reaching low-health-literate audiences with traditional and new digital media, which can also increase access for patients with hearing or visual impairments. Additionally, recent policy changes in the United States, including those related to the Affordable Care Act, contribute to a greater focus and regulation of factors that impact health literacy. Researchers and practitioners together are advancing understanding of health literacy, its relationship to health outcomes and health-care costs, and improved strategies for improving the health of lower health literate patients. Development and review of health literacy pieces can aid in shared decision making and provide insights for patients on various health-care services.