Sunday, November 11, 2007

Your Subject Pools, Your Theories

When I came to graduate school in the mid 90s and started learning about many of the health communication theories by reading the empirical literature, I was taken aback by the number of studies that were published out of samples in US classrooms. These were theories tested by scholars embedded in Eurocentric hegemony and were tried out through tests on subjects who were embedded within the same hegemonic configurations.

In contrast, the number of concepts and theories that were advanced by scholars from elsewhere or were developed through methodologies that were open to engaging with alternative publics were simply absent. The lopsidedness of the voices that made the knowledge claims and that served as the building blocks for making these claims in the backdrop of those that were absent was initially jarring. I must say that I continue to be jarred by this lopsideness even after having survived the academia for over a decade and for perhaps having risked being co-opted through the process.

The ommission of other ways of knowing from other geographic, ideological and epistemic spaces leaves deeper impressions on us than we might imagine. What are the implications of such ommissions? As these theories continue to be presented to us as universal theories that ought to explain, interpret, predict human behaviors, we come to take them from granted as the blueprints for understanding human communication processes, patterns and messages. In spite of the glaringly Eurocentric roots of such theories, they are forwarded and presented (and continue to be presented as such) to us as universal theories for understanding "human behavior." The obviousness of this logic leap however escapes most of my US colleagues (even the most "liberal" kinds who typically proclaim that they are all for diversity and multiplicity).

Such perhaps is the deep-rootedness of Eurocentric hegemony that most often we take-for-granted the obviousness of the problematic of logic leaps when we move from culture-bound constructs to making generalizations about universals. In spite of our sophisticated training and perhaps because of them, we become paralyzed in our ability to think critically about the potential consequences of such logic leaps. Perhaps we become so blinded in our hegemonic configurations because these very configurations also maintain and sustain our privilege. Questioning the parochaility of our subject pools and the limited scope of our theoretical insights would perhaps undermine the privilege that equips us with our expertise so we can make pronoucements as health communication experts?

The thoughts posted here build on my scholarly review of health communication campaigns in the article titled "Theory and Practice in Health Communication Campaigns: A Critical Interrogation" published in the journal Health Communication. I am currently working on a follow-up piece that empirically documents the presence and absence of multiple voices in major communication journals.

No comments: