Communication in Global Crises: Critical Discourses on Consumption, Culture, Power, and Resistance

Guest editors:

COVID-19 was a black swan for which the market and its actors across the globe were not prepared. Such a crisis of global proportion is not unique in world history, but crises tend to take up the character of suddenness because their reverberances get lost in the absence of public or collective memory. The lack of collective/public/cultural/social memory (Casey, 2004) around a crisis contributes to our failure to handle current and future crises. This special issue attempts to move beyond the collective apathy and insularity that is usually hurled at the history of global crises by tracing the impact of contemporary global crises on markets, consumption, and culture, as perceived through the varied practices of communication through which they are constructed and understood. We acknowledge that, during modern global crises, communication practices about organizations, consumers, the relationships they have, and the markets they inhabit, are fraught with discursive power imbalances. This issue critically focuses on the way power imbalances and resistance discourses shape varied perspectives of communication during global crises and how they play an integral role in helping us reimagine market-culture-consumption intersection both during, and beyond the crisis itself.

The volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA) of a world—turned upside down by raging global crises such as economic meltdowns (The International Debt Crisis of 1982, Asian Crisis of 1997-2001, Economic Recession of 2007-2009), the Gulf War, the tsunami of 2004, the 9/11 attack, and the COVID-19 pandemic—call for a radical re-imagining of what constitutes markets, consumers and consumption, and what it means to communicate in such redefined settings. Alongside these crises, ongoing global issues such as global warming, world hunger, terrorism, and refugee/migration flow exert a constant influence on the ways in which consumers relate to markets, make demands of organizations as social and cultural actors, rather than only economic agents, and accept or challenge consumption culture. For example, the current COVID-19 situation compels a re-interpretation of the markets as “political sites of contestation where various stakeholder groups compete for resources—economic, political, and symbolic” (Mumby, 2016). To stabilize the VUCA effect of the global crisis and control the individual idiosyncratic responses to the same, markets, generally, have taken recourse to the Tannenbaumian conceptualization of “control” (Tannenbaum, 1968, 3). However, any such control in a post-Fordist liquid modern world (Bauman, 2000)— one where the markets have to move away from solid structures to virtual online processes, employees have evolved to knowledge workers from industrial laborers, and the economy has moved beyond stability to become a gig-economy—is conditioned by ideologically-designed communication structures (Mumby, 2015, 22-23). The COVID-19 that has reified a Baumanian liquid market system has no less promulgated the hegemonic structures of control through communication, market redefinition, and consumption. Yet, there are also evidence of counter-discourses and practices that resist and subvert the hegemonic narratives of a market during the crisis.

This special issue intends to deflect through a “terministic screen” (Burke, 1966) beyond the surface-level realities of business communication around markets and consumers, during a global crisis, to examine the ideological impact of such communication. For example, communication researchers focused on COVID-19 have highlighted aspects of computer-mediated communication (CMC) in a flipped normal condition (viz. working online from home [Larson, et al., 2020; Raišienė, et al. 2020; Valet, 2020], marketing communication’s huge shift to the digital and social media platforms [Balis, 2020; Mheidly and Fares 2020; Taylor, 2020a; Taylor, 2020b], and insistence on AI and digitally mediated communication replacing face-to-face communication [Marr, 2020; Sivasubramanian, 2020]). There have also been unquestioning assumptions of the ‘positive/effective vibes’ of a strategized crisis/risk communication of an organization [Argenti 2020; Holtom et al. 2020; Honigmann et al. 2020]. However, this call for papers, instead, suggests examining the more hegemonic communication practices of powerful market actors during global crises and exploring the disruptive, resistive counter-communications by marginalized and coerced consumers/actors that highlight the inequalities and power dynamics produced through such communication.

An example of such communication practice, within a market structure and conditioned by a dominant patriarchal culture, is state-sponsored PR or public policies that ignore the gendered impact of COVID-19, treat women laborers as disposable or unwanted receivers of communication, and ignore the work-life balance and psychosomatic well-being of these subaltern market actors (European Network of Migrant Women 2020, Lewis, 2020). The concerns are far graver if women belong to the subaltern sections of refugees, asylum seekers, geriatric population, and service providers of precarious trade (European Network of Migrant Women 2020). On the other end of the spectrum, we have a more disruptive example where the CEO and President of Boston Pride, Linda DeMarco, negotiated the otherwise hegemonic scopes of computer-mediated communication to host a Zoom Pride Party with online dance parties, digital drag shows, and online pride networking (Tavares, 2020).

We invite theoretical and empirical submissions that engage in the opportunity to critically reimagine markets, consumers, consumption, and culture, through the lens of communication during moments of global crises. Topics of interest include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • How do corporate narratives (Moisander and Eriksson, 2006), organizational storytelling (Gabriel, 1991), and organizational nostalgias (Gabriel, 1993) communicate the moment of the global crisis to consumers and markets?
  • How does a global crisis facilitate the emergence of new, ubiquitous market icons (viz. symbol of twin-towers post 9/11 attack or that of “99.9% effective” hand sanitizers [Kim, 2016], especially during COVID-19) that challenge the consumer-agency of consumption-reimagination or market-narration?
  • To what extent do consumer-centric risk messages during any modern global crisis calm panic (Bove and Benoit, 2020), or act as a homogenizing force, expecting a standardized response from all?
  • How does market/consumption-mediated communication during a global crisis intensify or alleviate inequality vectors such as race, ethnicity, gender, and disability, over time?
  • Does market/consumption-mediated communication during global crises accentuate or undermine a “consumer society” that has already become “a kind of mundane and everyday micro-dystopia” (Fitchett in Bradshaw et al., 2020)?
  • Can the logic of hegemony towards marginal groups, as evident in sustainability communication by capitalist corporates, be better deconstructed during a global crisis (viz. crisis of global warming) to unleash a subaltern view of ethics and communication (viz. the “Stop Adani” protest in Australia by the Wangan and Jagalingou people)? When, where, and how do global crises generate a resistive space for subalterns to speak back to the hegemonic market/consumption narratives?
  • How do “marketing images” (not) communicate “missing persons” (Gopaldas et al. 2018) during a global crisis (viz. the geriatric population, the differently-abled, the Dalits/subalterns, migrant laborers, refugees, Indigenous population, sex-workers, and other such vulnerable populations of the nation-state)?
  • What role do ethics play in market/consumption-mediated communication during a global crisis (viz. while re-strategizing health communication for the economically, geographically, or racially vulnerable population during a pandemic)?
  • How does the state-sponsored communication of public policy erase the voices of subaltern market actors during a global crisis (viz. the concerns of the disposable, vulnerable inter-state migrant laborers in India during COVID-19)?
  • Is computer-mediated communication that drives and supports markets or consumer culture during modern global crises an extension of the logic of digital capitalism and a trope of surveillance mechanism?
  • How does mosomobilization in the digital age co-produce cyber protest (Odou et al., 2017) at moments of global crisis (viz. cyberactivism and peace movement post 9/11 [Carty and Onyett, 2006])?
  • How do social media platforms communicate/influence consumer behavior (individual or collective) during global crises (Naeem, 2021)?
  • Does the postmodern market communicate a higher or lower degree of “liquidity” (Bardhi and Eckhardt, 2017) and/or “rhetrickery” (Takhar and Pemberton, 2018) during a global crisis?
  • How does market/consumption-mediated communication facilitate the (re)distribution of risk and risk management between organizations and consumers, and how does ethics pay into this dynamic (Ravenelle, 2020)?
  • Can market/consumption-mediated communication contribute to collective dialogues about the psychological impacts of global crises?

Closing Date for Submissions: 01 October 2021

Submission Instructions:

Please select this special issue when submitting your paper to ScholarOne. Please ensure that your article is formatted and referenced according to the journal style guidelines. Complete papers should be no longer than 8,000 words (including references and acknowledgements). For this special issue, we wish to prioritise original research articles only.

The special issue editor will review all submitted articles before they are sent for peer review, and may request additional revisions before peer review takes place. Accepted articles will be accordingly rolled out in online version.

Once finalised, the publication of the special issue will fit into the journal’s production schedule; we expect the final special issue to be ready towards the end of 2022.

For further clarification/information about the special issue please feel free to contact any of the special issue editors.