Category Archives: Theoretical concepts

Theories of persuasion

When was the last time you were persuaded by someone? That is, made up your mind about something, changed your opinion on a matter or did one thing rather than another because of what was communicated to you? Our guess is that these questions turn out to be more difficult to answer than what might be expected. Although we are constantly influenced by the flows of communication in which we engage, the exact moment and cause of persuasion usually eludes us. Was it a forceful argument, the authority of the communicator, the emotions stirred in us? Classical rhetoric suggests that persuasion arises from a combination of all of the above. These three forms of appeal are termed logos (appeal by reason ethos (appeal by character) and pathos (appeal by emotion), respectively. Persuasion, the ancients tell us, arises if and when these three are combined in an appropriate manner, making a communicated utterance persuasive. This understanding of persuasion begins with the communicator and his or her intention to persuade; it sees persuasion as the planned effort on the part of the speaker to shape the message in such a way as to make it convincing. Having the intention to persuade someone and using all the means available, however, is not the same as succeeding in this endeavour. An utterance may be ever so beautifully crafted, its reasoning may be impeccable, the communicator may be just the right person to deliver the message – and yet the communication may fail utterly in having the desired effect on the audience. So, what is persuasion? Here are three possible answers.

First, we should not necessarily give up the classical mode of explanation just because actual efforts at persuading are not always effective. Aristotle, for instance, clearly saw that being able to ‘see the available means of persuasion’ is not the same as actually persuading; he was concerned with the crafting of the message, not with its actual effect. And in many ways this is still as good as it gets from the communicator’s point of view. We can try as best we may to analyse the situation, understand our audience, attune our reasoning and style of presentation to the situation at hand, but once the communication is out there, it is also out of our hands. This is the reasoning behind Lloyd F. Bitzer’s (1968) idea that rhetorical situations call for fitting responses. A rhetorical situation, as Bitzer defines it, consists of an exigence, an audience, and a number of constraints. The exigence is that which calls forth the intention to persuade, i.e. rhetorical discourse; it is an ‘imperfection marked by urgency’, something that ought to change and can be changed by means of communication. The audience is the group of people who are able to correct the imperfection; those who have the ability to make the necessary change and who are also open to be persuaded by the communicator to do so. The audience, then, is not anyone who might happen to stumble upon the communication, but only those individuals (or groups) who are or can become mobilized as mediators of change. Finally, constraints are all those elements of the situation that must be considered if the communication is to succeed; e.g. the audience’s prior knowledge about and attitude towards the topic at hand, the communicator’s personality and authority (in relation to the topic and the audience), other communicators who have similar or different opinions on the matter, the circumstances in which the communication is to take place (the medium and the genre). The constraints, then, are many and varied; they can generally be divided into those aspects of the situation, which the communicator has little or no chance at changing, but must take into account (e.g. the procedure for making a decision, the opponents’ arguments, the general norms and values of the audience), and those that can be shaped directly by the communicator (e.g. through the selection of a certain argumentative strategy or the adoption of a particular communicative style). Bitzer’s final argument is that if and when a communicator analyses these three elements correctly, he or she will deliver a fitting response – that is, an utterance that holds persuasive potential.

However, Bitzer’s position has been heavily criticized for being both deterministic and functionalistic. Richard E. Vatz (1973) offers one of the earliest and most influential articulations of this critique. Vatz basically turns Bitzer’s argument on its head, stating that situations do not determine persuasive efforts, nor do such efforts function by being fitted to situations. Instead, it is persuasive efforts that create situations, establish exigences, call forth audiences. This is the second answer to the question of persuasion: it is the creation of meaning by communicators. Here, a main issue becomes the identification between the communicator and the audience; persuasion can (only) happen when there is common ground, when the communicator and the audience create meaning in similar ways. We can return to the classics for an explanation of this process. In the words of Cicero:

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This may still sound somewhat like a fitting (or rather, fitted) response, but the fit is now with an audience rather than with a situation. And audiences, as e.g. Edwin Black (1970) has argued, can also be shaped; they may even be constituted in and through communication (Charland, 1987). This second answer, then, views persuasion more as a process of creating common meaning and less as an intentional effort on the part of the speaker.

This takes us to a third possible answer, namely that persuasion is inherent to the process of communication rather than a property of speaker and/or audience. Again, we can find traces of this answer in classical rhetoric. Most notably, Gorgias saw speech as all-powerful, using the story of Helen in the Iliad as an example of how human beings can be overcome by communication:

…if persuasive discourse deceived her soul, it is not on that account difficult to defend her and absolve her of responsibility, thus: discourse is a great potentate, which by the smallest and most secret body accomplishes the most divine works; for it can stop fear and assuage pain and produce joy and make mercy abound.

Whereas persuasion in the Aristotelean sense is a rational exercise in finding the best reasons that may or may not convince an audience, Gorgias sees it as a passionate process; one in which the persuaded part becomes fully and unwillingly immersed. However, Gorgias seems to assume that the communicator is not passionately involved, but rather to blame for the manipulation of the audience’s emotion. This is both the attitude that for centuries gave rhetoric a bad name and it is a position that does not stand to reason: if communication were this powerful, then how can communicators themselves avoid its force? Would not the manipulator be as open to manipulation as others? Or, conversely, if one were able to manipulate, would that not also mean being able to see through other people’s manipulation?

A more appropriate answer, and one that takes all three options into account, then, is that persuasion is the process of bringing speakers, audiences and situations into being in such ways that common meanings are formed. This means that persuasion is both within and beyond the reach of speakers and audiences; it is a force that cannot be controlled entirely by either. Communicators, on the one hand, are not free to persuade as they intent. Audiences, on the other hand, cannot choose freely to remain unaffected by communication. Persuasion is both a driver and an outcome of the communicative process.

SAP studies

By Ursula Plesner

It should come as no surprise that Strategy-as-Practice is not just a set of principles for doing research, but has also produced countless empirical studies of practice. They range from detailed conversation analytic and ethnomethodological studies to longitudinal approaches.

At one end of the continuum, Dalvir Samra-Fredericks is a proponent of close-up observation of strategists’ talk-based interactional routines. To go beyond the prescriptive strategy schools and arrive at an understanding of how strategists ’think, behave and feel’, he suggests doing ethnographic studies with a focus on talk. In a study of a manufacturing company (Samra-Fredericks, 2003), he presents a very fine-grained analysis of strategists’ real-time deployment of relational-rhetorical skills and links these micro episodes to strategic outcomes on a macro level.  His analysis documents the moments where one strategist succeeds at creating the foundation for strategic directions – in specific moments, the strategist shapes the attention of others and creates the facts on the basis of which they act. The strategist does this through question and query, through the display of appropriate emotion, and through the use of metaphors and history. Samra-Frederick analyzes interruptions, choice of words, tone of voice, and other elements of talk, and argues that all these types of linguistic evidence document the way that strategy is shaped though persuasion.

Another corner of the Strategy-as-Practice research has looked into how strategy tools (for instance concepts or models) are used by practitioners. In strategic management, tools are developed and applied to ensure competitive advantage, but from a Strategy-as-Practice perspective, it is more interesting to look at how these tools are used in practice (see e.g. Jarzabkowski & Kaplan, 2015 or Jarzabkowski, Spee & Smets, 2013). To take one example, Paroutis, Franco & Papadopoulos (2015) studied how managers interact visually with strategy tools during workshops. The researchers participated in a six-hour workshop and analyzed video data. They chose to analyze just one workshop in depth to closely examine group interactions – and the video method allowed them to study micro-behaviors and interactions that they consider key to understanding strategy practices. The aim of the specific workshop was to create a shared understanding of the organization’s strategic context, and to support this process, a particular tool was put to use. This was a computer system allowing participants to collectively create a ‘strategy map’ on a common screen, based on contributions from the individual laptops of each participant in the workshop. Examining the video material, the researchers first identified the strategic themes presented in the workshop and then examined the types of meaning negotiation and visual interaction associated with the themes. They could observe how the tool could both constrain and enhance visual interactions during the workshop and used the conclusion of the study to argue for more attention to how workshop participants interact visually around tools in order to develop more reflexive strategy practices.

powerpoint-presentation1The focus on tools has also been extended beyond the single episode. In 2011, Sarah Kaplan published an article with the title ‘Strategy and PowerPoint: An Inquiry into the Epistemic Culture and Machinery of Strategy Making’. As the title indicates, Kaplan studies strategy as linked to culture and knowledge practices, and in this particular article she reports on a study of how PowerPoint has become a dominant element in strategy practices. Kaplan carried out a large ethnographic study in a single organization. Through 8 months, she observed daily project activities, conducted 80 interviews, observed team meetings, participated in teleconferences and got access to emails. Although the goal of the study was relatively broad – understanding strategy making as knowledge production – PowerPoint emerged as a pressing theme. She observed how PowerPoint – as a technology and a genre – was able to mobilize conversation and knowledge production in specific ways. PowerPoint worked to structure conversations both during strategy meetings and outside them. Basically, PowerPoint created spaces for discussion, simply because strategists needed to use them in specific ways when they drafted and presented strategies. The fact that PowerPoints are modular implied that they allowed for recombinations and adjustments of various kinds of material, and the fact that they could be shared among a wide range of actors and edited by a document owner made them a central site for negotiation of meaning. Another example of looking into a specific tool and its use over time can be found in Martin Giraudeau’s study of strategic plans in practice. Giraudeau shows that by examining strategic plans, i.e. opening them up, reading their contents and studying how business actors use them, it becomes possible to see them as specific visual and textual representations of contexts and strategies that in practice enhance strategic imagination (Giraudeau, 2008).

At the other end of the continuum, we see more macro oriented, longitudinal studies of strategy-making. When the City of Sydney embarked on a strategy project resulting in the Sustainable Sydney 2030 report, Martin Kornberger and Steward Clegg followed the strategy-making process through a two-year period, from 2006 to 2008. The researchers set out to investigate not only how strategy was practiced, but also what kind of knowledge it was based upon and which power effects it had. They analyzed written documents produced as part of the strategy process, they conducted interviews with the core team involved in the strategy-making process, and they attended public events, strategy workshops and strategy meetings. They analyzed texts, transcriptions and notes by posing the questions; ‘how are different forms of knowledge mobilized in the strategy process’ and ‘what performative impact does strategy have’. Their analysis details how a city administration learns the strategy lingo, how economic language becomes the dominant voice in practicing strategy, and how strategy mobilizes people by inspiring them to ‘think big’. The analysis illustrates that strategy is also an aesthetic phenomenon – a storytelling endeavor to create ‘big pictures’ that are more convincing than technocratic planning discourses. The study contributes with knowledge about how strategy practice becomes performative over time through constituting particular subjects and objects. It offers a perspective on strategy as a sociopolitical practice aiming at mobilizing people, marshalling political will and legitimizing decisions (Kornberger & Clegg, 2011).

As we see, empirical studies from the Strategy-as-Practice tradition expose multiple aspects of doing strategy – often with a focus on either discursive interactions or interactions around material objects or conceptual tools. These are studied through various methods, which are often qualitative.

Netnography

By Julie Uldam

Drawing on ethnographic methods such as participant observation, netnography was coined as a methodological term by American professor of marketing Kozinets during his thesis work in the mid 1990s. Netnography has been most prominent in consumer and marketing research, examining consumer preferences as they are expressed in bulletin boards and social media platforms such as Twitter (Arvidsson and Caliandro, 2016; Kozinets, 2002, 2011). However, netnography has also been adopted in other fields such as media studies where Postill and Pink (2012) have developed the approach so as to sensitise it to ‘digital socialities’ and the interplay between the online and offline in activists’ uses of social media platforms.

Netnography is arguably distinct from related digital methods such as digital ethnography and online participant observation in that it provides a particular framework for analysis (Snee et al., 2016, see Hine 2000 for virtual ethnography as an example of another framework with particular procedures and focal points), including ethical reflections on covert and overt research (see Uldam and McCurdy for a discussion of covert and overt participant observation in online and offline contexts). The adaptation and development of netnography demonstrates the usefulness of the (developed) approach for uncovering the dynamics of interactions between different societal actors, facilitating research beyond the confines of media-centric approaches and a focus merely on technological affordances. These potentialities of netnography makes it a useful approach for studying the role of digital media in strategic communication, especially when strategy is seen as an on-going process influenced by multiple actors as in Guldbrandsen and Just’s perspective. However, further development of netnography is necessary in order to sensitise the approach to the analytics of the power relations that underpin the possibilities for different actors to influence communication, online and offline.

Globalisation as a disjunctive series of ‘scapes’

It is common to speak of globalization as a question of increased homo- or heterogeneity. Or as a mix of the two – so-called glocalization. This is the lens we adopted in Strategizing Communication as we believe it offers a good starting point for talking about strategic communication as a process of designing messages that can be read, interpreted and repurposed by different audiences. However, globalization is not just a mix of two disparate trends; rather, that view is an analytical simplification that may serve practical purposes, but does not tell the full story of how technological and economic developments as well as political, social and cultural forces shape and are shaped by globalization. The Indian-American professor of Media, Culture and Communication Arjun Appadurai offers a lens that may serve to understand the complexity of these dynamics better: that of seeing globalization as a disjunctive series of ‘scapes’.

Appadurai (1990) begins his conceptualization from the same idea of globalization as driven by tensions between homogenization and heterogenization, but goes on to suggest that the landscape of globalization cannot be fully mapped on this one spectrum, but instead consists of five distinct dimensions: ethnoscapes, technoscapes, finanscapes, mediascapes and ideoscapes. Note the plural. Each scape is actually a multitude of perspectives and the five can be combined in many different ways to form ‘imagined worlds’ – discrete perspectives of various actors: “nation-states, multinationals, diasporic communities, as well as sub-national groupings and movements (whether religious, political or economic). Indeed, the individual is the last locus of this perspectival set of landscapes…” (Appadurai, 1990, p. 296). Before continuing this line of reasoning, however, let us define the five scapes.

Ethnoscapes refer to the flows of people across the planet; the ways in which people move around – whether as refugees, migrants or tourists, to name but a few of the groups that today travel the planet. The ethnoscape is constantly shifting, rearranging bonds of kindship, feelings of belonging. “The warp of stability”, as Appadurai calls it, “is everywhere shot through with the woof of human motion, as more persons and groups deal with the realities of having to move, or the fantasies of wanting to move” (p. 297). The technoscape is “the global configuration of technology” (p. 298), the way in which various technologies are (unequally) distributed across the globe, but also provide the infrastructure for global connections and, further, may shift quickly across geographical, economic and other boundaries. Finanscapes denote the flows and figurations of global capital; the highly volatile and increasingly complicated mesh of financial transactions that seemingly exists apart from the realm of the so-called productive economy (the one in which some people produce, say, coffee so that other people can consume it) yet feeds off it (financialization begins with speculation in developments of the price of a good – say, coffee) and influences it profoundly (during the recent financial crisis some traders surely had to cut down on their consumption of luxury coffee, but it was people like the café owners and coffee farmers who had to close their businesses and leave their homes).

The two last scapes are built upon the first three. However, as ethnoscapes, technoscapes and finanscapes are both co-constitutive (they change in relation to each other) and disjunctive (they do not necessarily develop in similar direction and at similar speeds), they do not form a stable basis for the construction of mediascapes and ideoscapes. Rather, we are dealing with an ever shifting and shaking framework for the construction of images. In mediascapes images are distributed through the available information technologies in ever more complex ways to ever more diverse audiences. “What this means is that many audiences throughout the world experience the media themselves as a complicated and interconnected repertoire of print, celluloid, electronic screens, and billboards. The lines between the ‘realistic’ and the fictional landscapes they see are blurred…” (p. 299). Whereas mediascapes typically deal in ‘small stories’, ideoscapes build ‘grand narratives’; “…they are often directly political and frequently have to do with the ideologies of states and the counter ideologies of movements explicitly oriented to capturing state power or a piece of it” (p. 299).

It follows from the definitions of the five scapes and their interrelations that there can be no general theory of how the scapes are related. Instead, Appadurai offers us a terminology for exploring the relations between the five scapes in particular contexts. As an example, let us briefly apply the lens of scapes to the referendum on EU membership that was held in the UK on the 23rd of June, 2016. First, we can note how the ethno-, techno- and finanscapes of the UK in relation to the EU both worked with and against each other in the pre-referendum debate. The UK has, since its entry into the European Community in 1973, become increasingly technologically and financially integrated with the rest of Europe, yet the City of London has kept its distinct role as a global financial hub. Thus, it was possible to question whether and how exit from the EU would affect the UK economically. As for the ethnoscape, the free movement of labour within the EU has both changed the terms of immigration to the UK from European and other countries, setting the scene for a new and much more hostile tone in the UK’s immigration debate. No longer obligated to newly arrived people by the ties of a colonial past, the question of how to stop the constant inflow of people became a legitimate and popular one. Obviously there are many more factors and facets involved, but we can nevertheless see the contours of how this particular – and particularly strained – configuration created the basis for an ideoscape of national sovereignty, which was re-imagined in the popularized versions of protectionism and isolationalism in the UK’s mediascape. A mediascape that – even if not completely independent from European media – continues to be dominated by national resources and nationalistic narratives. The result: 52% voted leave and 48% remain. How Brexit will reconfigure the UK’s, the EU’s and the global scapes in relation to each other remains to be seen.

Intersectionality

By Andrew DJ Shield

Imagine that you’re a black woman who wants to work for a major U.S. company with hundreds of employees. But you notice something strange: the company doesn’t seem to hire black women. They’re just not there. Seems like an obvious case of discrimination, right?

This was basically the situation at General Motors (GM) in 1976, when a group of black women sued the company for discriminatory hiring practices. But they lost the case. After all, the court found that GM hired plenty of women, so there was no evidence of sexism. (It didn’t matter that these were white women, did it?) And the court found that GM hired plenty of African-Americans, so there was no evidence of racism. (It didn’t matter that these were all men, did it?) In short, the court decided that “black women” were not a unique group that needed protection.

Thirteen years later, in 1989, lawyer and law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw, still grappling with the topic of discrimination across multiple axes (race, sex), introduced the term “intersectionality”. The 1976 GM court case was central to her argument, as were the works in a 1981 anthology (by black feminist authors) entitled All the Women Are White; All the Blacks Are Men, But Some of Us are Brave. Crenshaw was not the first to discuss discrimination across multiple axes: throughout the 1980s, black feminists—most notably in the U.S., but also in the U.K. and the Netherlands—addressed racism in the (predominantly white) feminist movement, and sexism within the (predominantly male) civil rights movement. So why, in 1989, was it still so hard for so many people to understand that black women—and others who experienced discrimination on multiple axes—faced unique obstacles? Intersectionality was there to help.

The concept of intersectionality relates to how we talk about multiple identities (e.g. black, female) that operate within multiple systems of power and oppression (e.g. racism, sexism). Beyond sex and race, the term “intersectionality” has been expanded to include issues related to class, age, religion, migration status, physical (dis)ability, body type/size, mental health, sexual orientation, (trans)gender identity, educational background, ethnic (minority) background, language skills, and much more.

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The most common error that people make when talking about intersectionality is to describe discrimination or oppression as additive: 1+1=2. In other words, they might talk about the discrimination that black women have faced in the U.S. as a matter of “double jeopardy” of sexism + racism. But discrimination can also be synergistic: 1+1=3. In the case of GM, for instance, the black women were even more discriminated against than just sex and race put together.

How individuals experience their identity (e.g. sexual orientation, age, socioeconomic class) is always context-specific, as are the related systems of oppression (e.g. heterosexism/homophobia, ageism, class inequality). These identities and relations of power don’t merely operate differently at the state-level, but also at the organizational level, or even within specific subcultures. In order to understand the ways a group might be marginalized in a specific context, one can begin by looking at the political discussions, media representations, cultural norms, laws, social movements, and histories of that specific state, organization, or subculture.

For those studying strategic communication, intersectionality can be a useful concept when talking about target audiences. If an organization’s key demographic is, say, “young people,” how does the outward communication reflect this? Do the organization’s communications include all young people, or are some groups invisible, perhaps even excluded? Does “young people” in fact refer to the much more specific segment of affluent, white, suburban youth? And if so, who might suffer as others are privileged? What different strategies might an organization use to reach out to marginalized groups of young people?