Carbaugh-Fiske

Donal held up his own very well last Thursday, when a handful of us met to continue discussing the merits of the debate between these two titans. Click and scroll down for a summary of our last (the first) discussion.
The way I see it, the basic conflict comes to whether one assumes race, gender, other social identities, are always relevant to communication or not. Donal recognizes that they could be, but reserves the ideal that they may not be and proceeds on the assumption of either possibility. Fiske assumes they always are, and its just a matter of how we bring our epistemological frames to bear that determines whether or not we can identify their inflection(s) on the communicative practice.

One thought on “Carbaugh-Fiske”

  1. OK, here goes the summary of the meeting we had on the 10th. (It looks a lot like minutes but they’re not – I’m not a quick enough notetaker, and so I was guided by a large extent by my own curiosity.) I’ve shown the text to Donal before posting it here and he added some comments. Now, I was debating whether to work his comments into what I’d written and create a hybrid, or just keep his comments the way they were (among [square brackets]). I ended up doing the latter and thereby adding a layer to the interaction between the participants of the meeting, i.e. the layer of the interaction between Donal and my text. (I made corrections only in spots where Donal corrected a factual mistake I’d made.)
    My rationale? For me, this series of conversations about the Carbaugh-Fiske debate is first and foremost a communal experience, the experience of shedding the isolation of grad work. Hence, I am much more excited about the interactions that take place among us than about any “final products” we might come up with.
    ———————————
    Grad meeting (March 10, 2005)
    Topic: the Carbaugh-Fiske debate contd. – this time, with Donal
    Participants: Donal, Joanna, Steph, Xinmei, David, Max (who had to leave
    early)
    A. Donal’s summary of the debate (events leading up to it, its unfolding)
    B. Donal’s comments, with our questions interspersed
    (presented here in a rather fragmented but hopefully accurate way, based on
    my notes – paragraphs where no speaker is indicated are summaries of what
    Donal had to say – [square brackets] indicate his comments on my recording of the exchange)
    – One of Donal’s central critiques against [about Fiske’s approach?] Fiske: F. looks at communication as data, but accounts for it through social theory (British Cultural Studies tradition)
    – the problem with this is that ethnography encompasses all four modes of cultural analysis (interpretive, descriptive, explanatory [rather than explanatory, comparative], critical)
    [and ethnography of communication seeks to account for communicative data through a theory of communication, not to analyze communicative data from the vantage of some other theory such as political theory, or economic theory, etc. but to explore how these are capable of being addressed
    creatively from the vantage of communication theory.]
    – F’s work is, to a certain extent, a product of his time. He follows in the (rather trendy) footsteps of Clifford and Marcus, Van Maanen,
    and, to a lesser extent, Geertz, who have experimented with the idea of equating ethnography with the act of writing)
    – The questions to be asked of any work presented as ethnographic: Is the ethnographer actually doing ethnography [via the modes above]? What
    type of ethnography? Does that ethnography involve spending considerable amounts of time in the field? (for example, to what extent can we call
    ‘autoethnography’ ethnography? the ‘auto’ is there, but where is the ‘ethnos’ whose ways are to be elucidated?)
    – Donal states that his critique of [Fiske’s position] F. is by no means to bury F. but to engage him [delete to end of sentence? my position
    has evolved, with my stance in this particular debate remaining as it was then] and his attitude hasn’t changed since the time of the debate. The goal is not to undermine each other’s points of view but to find points of contact and potential collaboration. (This, by the way, is the strength of our very department – these engagements are more likely to happen here than in many other comm. departments due to the presence of a diversity of theoretical traditions.)
    – The debate in QJS echoed throughout the field. Someone summed up the exchange between Fiske and Donal in a way that expresses the core of Donal’s opinion: “Donal’s position can take him anywhere Fiske wants him to go, but Fiske can’t go where
    Donal can.” Donal’s position is thus a more complex and encompassing one.
    – Another critique against F’s article in the debate: Donal would never characterize himself as a “consensus” theorist. (Even Philipsen calls
    him that.) Rather, he would refer to himself as [as he did in his essay] a “coherence” theorist. Coherence can very much encompass the study of
    conflict in society. Similarly, Donal wouldn’t characterize himself as “objectivist” but rather as an “intersubjectivist” – coherence is created in intersubjective meaning-making processes which will remain intersubjective even if the meaning construction is directed at the “objective” world.
    – Joanna: couldn’t Philipsen’s reference to objectivity be a result of his insistence throughout his academic career that the ethnography of communication can produce objective findings? It took a lot of effort on P’s part to convince his colleagues in the social science [or as some in the field have called it a “science” of communication] of this, so perhaps he is
    characterizing Donal’s work as objectivist from this point of view.
    – Donal: yes, that is possible. Philipsen did carve out a qualitative niche at a time when the field was dominated by traditional social scientists and rhetoricians. But one must still be careful with words like objectivism, or terms like empiricism and positivism, for that matter –
    they mean different things for different udiences. D. would only characterize himself as an objectivist in front of audiences that respond to
    that term the way he wants them to [or in ways he knows they would understand as such].
    – It is important to remember, also, that intersubjectivity [is a basis for, or a site for creating] objectivity, objective reality.
    D. recalls walking through Teamsterville a few years ago, casually observing corner bars – only to see that not much had changed since Philipsen’s
    Teamsterville study.
    – Xinmei: What kind of discourse is Fiske talking about? Isn’t the “natives'” discourse what an ethnographer ought to represent? F’s view of
    discourse seems to preclude that. [and focus mainly on the discourse ethnographers create, a bit self-occupied?]
    – Donal: In the commitment to the descriptive mode, we are recording their discourse. The meaning of their discourse [brings in the commitment to the interpretive mode, grappling with another dimension of their discourse, its meanings to them. But] is another
    discourse, but its still theirs, minus the opinion of the researcher. True, there is a generative gesture involved in all this, but that does not mean that the participants’ meanings cannot be accurately represented. It is apparent that Fiske has profoundly misunderstood ‘Talking American’ when he writes that the American discourse Donal is describing is Donal’s theory of that discourse. [a classic confusion of etic and emic moments in
    ethnographic work!]
    – Xinmei: Wouldn’t it be accurate to say that the social structural categories (such as race, gender, class) present in talk are implied in the
    premises (a la cultural discourse analysis) of communicative action?
    – Donal: Definitely. These structures are [at times deeply embedded in the discursive practices of participants] knowledge that need not be
    spoken by the participants because they are largely taken for granted. Communicative action involves not only what is said but what is unsaid, and what is unsayable. What is important to remember is that the basic unit of analysis is the part-whole relationship between utterances and their symbolic meanings (symbols that operate in the wider culturescape, in the network of institutions etc.). The part-whole analysis is sensitive to (1) the sense of what people think they’re doing and (2) where that points symbolically.
    – David: This is interesting because we are addressing issues that came up in the discussion last week: how to grasp, for example, the workings
    of power in social interaction? These may not be spoken, but may be present as ‘shadows’ as Matt put it.
    – Donal: Power can of course be relevant to social interaction. Material and symbolic resources can create differences in power and privilege. But its analysis cannot be based [solely nor merely] on the analytic interests and analytic motives of the researcher, as in the case of Fiske’s analysis of Donal’s data. Explication of power differences needs to happen in a way that separates [at least initially] the participants’ and the analyst’s point of view.
    – Joanna: Isn’t F merely suggesting that another element needs to be added to the Hymesian heuristic? That somehow race, class, gender should be added to the SPEAKING mnemonic as an element of social interaction that the ethnographer must always be mindful of?
    – Donal: Ethnography of communication is interested in these topics, and they [there are extensive, even classic studies] can be studies within the existing mnemonic (under the Participant or Scene categories). The work
    of Thomas Kochman, Keith Chick, or Geneva Smitherman attest to the fact that the ethnography of communication can very much accommodate [engage deeply with] the study of the juxtaposition of conflict and race, class, and gender.
    – Steph: F is not adding another element to the mnemonic. Instead, he is looking at the same thing with a different pair of eyes. F is reacting
    to the colonialist impulse in anthropology, he is articulating the historical baggage that ethnography as a method carries with it.
    Anthropology and ethnography are not as clean as we think.
    – Donal: Yes, we are not clean. But anthropological handwringing can lead to paralysis, and paralysis is not the answer. The ethnographer must be ever vigilant in not speaking in ways that cause harm to the community. He
    is constantly mindful of the ethical implications of his work with the Blackfeet, for example, a community that has been the object of the worst
    colonialism has to offer for centuries. [Part of the publication record of EC illustrates how deeply power is woven into communication and social life. The work on Black communication, ethnic communication, and political power
    is perhaps the deepest, most developed field-based literature in the whole program!]
    – Steph: Of course, talking about race, class and gender as constantly relevant in every situation reifies them. How can we talk about them in a way that avoids this reification?
    – Xinmei: Pre-judgment is something no ethnographer can afford.
    – Donal: We are conflating two things here as we talk about issues pertaining to race, class, and gender: (1) a theoretical commitment to their
    salience, and (2) [the discoveries of their workings in various cases, as when ethnographers conduct] the praxis of the ethnography of communication. The solution [for some of us, but never for all of us] is finding a research
    site where issues of race, class and gender (or any one of these) is salient to social interaction. [The challenge, always, is not forcing people in the field to address the concerns we-ethnographers think are important.] Just don’t have people talk to your interest.
    – Steph: But Fiske says race, class, gander, region etc. are not just a matter of research focus – they are always present in any
    interaction!
    – Joanna: That is to say they will be there even if you’re not looking for them.
    – Donal: They might be. Class, race, and gender can and do have a strong influence on the lives of people. But F. claims to know that a priori. [and forces people’s practices to address his concerns, a priori. This seems ultimately untenable.]
    – Steph: It seems that what we need is a skill of sorts, we have to learn to see race, class, gender in situations when we think they are there.
    – Donal: Right. Race, class, gender are not always put into words, and that often happens for a very good reason. They cannot be mentioned in every social situation, and the reasons for that are just as worthy of investigation as the salience of race, class, gender. [The trick, or one such task, is discovering when for example such concerns are relevant but not spoken, yet are part of the unspoken code of the event or action. This
    provides a powerful finding with much social potential for change.]
    – The presence of unsayables often point to contradictions, paradoxes, or multivocality. That is one reason why D. finds silence so fascinating – in silence, many meanings are active. Multivocality calls for the analysis of what meanings are activated by an utterance, how many
    meanings, which of them are spoken, which of the are not. CMM is a great tool for the exploration of paradoxes. [as he showed in Talking American, as is the principle of plurivocality which he discussed there as well.]
    – Even passions are multivocal! The presence of a passion speaks of carefully selected meaningful behavior. Just read F. G. Bailey’s The Tactical Uses of Passion, a book on the communication of academics.

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