Based on our review of the student issue articles, we suggest three major implications of using media analysis to explore learning theory in HRD. First, there is a need to question and interrogate lived experience and the prevailing social order in both teaching and research. Second, media analysis is potentially a form of critical pedagogy that develops key competencies for becoming critical thinkers and conscious consumers. Finally, the experience of media analysis may potentially result in new thinking, critical thought, changed minds, new behaviors, and transformed social systems. Each of these implications will be discussed.
Questioning and interrogating lived experience and prevailing social order in teaching and research
Our world is significantly diverse, increasingly global, technologically connected, and continually blitzed with media. A major contribution of this issue is increased awareness of how popular culture may be leveraged to explore different adult learning concepts, both conceptually and through practice (i.e., curricula and instructional activities). Media analysis provides not only a common experience for learners to examine HRD concepts such as adult development, diversity, marginalization, and power differentials, but also affords learners the capacity to become critical, conscious consumers of media. Sharing the common experience of watching a provocative movie gives learners a stage from which to interrogate reality through questioning dominant practices and assumptions. Critically examining media provides an opportunity to consider and critique social arrangements and asymmetrical power relations. It is also important that learners become more critical of the constant media messages we are bombarded with through advertising and begin questioning and challenging the hegemonic and oppressive messages they convey.
Media represents an important unit of analysis in research. As evidenced in the work of several adult educators (Tisdell, 2007; Tisdell & Thompson, 2007; Wright & Sandlin, 2009) noted here, media analysis offers scholars another vantage point to examine social phenomena through a medium that is often more accessible and perhaps more attractive than a formal learning experience. Many movies address organization and human relations issues. Through research we can explore how the performative and patriarchal ideologies dominate popular culture and translate into everyday practice. Potential research opportunities include deconstructing media messages, questioning assumptions underlying media portrayals, challenging social arrangements, and proposing alternatives, many of which were demonstrated by the authors' critique of their media artifact, and in their own lived experience interacting with the stories
Alvesson and Deetz (2000) suggest that critical approaches to research produce insight, critique, and transformative re-definition. Producing insight involves interpreting dominant knowledge and creating awareness of how such “metanarratives” are not immediately obvious. For instance, the movie “Supersize Me” helped generate insight about the dominant and deleterious practices of consuming fast food that many of us never give a second thought.
Insight in both a hermeneutic and archaeological sense detaches knowledge from the ahistorical ‘truth’ claim and reopens a consideration of its formation thereby reframing knowledge and giving choices that were previously hidden by the accepted knowledge, standards, practices, and existing concepts. The production of insight establishes the possibility of competing discourses through the recovery of conflict and choice. (Alvesson & Deetz, 2000, p. 142).
What Alvesson and Deetz advocate is that we expose other truths, thus destabilizing the dominant truth to open new understandings and knowledge development. This is the beginning of insight into the issue.
Once insight into dominant discourse and practice is attained, the next element in critical research is critique, or the problematizing of the dominant meanings, material arrangements, and social orders (Alvesson & Deetz, 2000). Critique involves disconnecting prevailing power relations from a unitary view of “truth.” In other words, critiquing thought and practice and showing that there have been hidden voices and texts that provide alternative views. Subjects that are critiqued might include male domination, distortions in communication, asymmetrical power relations, or conflicts of interest. Media analysis provides an outstanding platform for critique. Returning to the film “Supersize Me,” we learn about how the dominant food industry fights the release of dietary information that would negatively affect corporate profit, yet this distortion and withholding of information is hurtful to small business and threatens individual and public health.
Transformative re-definition seeks to undermine the robustness of the dominant thought and action by providing alternative constructions of reality (Alvesson & Deetz, 2000). Transformative re-definition results in thought and action grounded in the new knowledge and understandings discovered in the first two steps. Transformative re-definition is the process of creating alternative approaches, discourses, understandings, and practices. Returning to “Supersize Me,” a transformative re-definition would be to change our feelings about fast food and adjust our diets accordingly.
Developing key competencies for critical thinking and conscious consumption through critical pedagogies
Media analysis not only gives us a stage from which to examine lived experience, but also provides an opportunity to develop critical thinking. Since the media is a form of public pedagogy, developing critical medial literacy is an important aspect of adult learning and development. Critical media literacy is a developmental process that is learned and a higher order type of learning and cognitive development (Merriam, 2002). It involves not merely consuming a movie or other form of the media (advertising, music, pop culture), but also deconstructing media for its marginalizing and oppressing messages. Popular media also provide a starting point for dialogue, learning, and change.
Media analysis also provides a platform from which to develop key learning competencies of critical thinking, reflexivity, and discourse. Educators play an important role in cultivating critical medial literacy through the creation of critical pedagogy for formal learning and facilitation of activities and conversations that promote critical thinking and reflection. Brookfield (1987) suggested that critical thinking is developed through identifying and challenging assumptions, situating our understanding of thought and action within specific social context, exploring and imagining alternative social arrangements, and developing reflective skepticism. “Reflective skepticism” means that learners do not simply allow media messages to wash over them without a healthy level of distrust and scrutiny. Brookfield makes several suggestions for cultivating critical thinking in the classroom using creative thinking. Creative thinking involves:
Rejecting standardized problem solving formats
Exploring widely (interests, fields)
Taking multiple perspectives
Viewing the world as relative and contextual instead of universal and absolute
Using trial-and-error in experimenting with alternative approaches
Holding a future orientation
Trusting one's judgment and having high self-confidence (Brookfield, 1987, pp. 115–116.)
Brookfield also offers several strategies for helping learners imagine alternatives such as brainstorming, future search, developing preferred scenarios, and artistic interpretations. Similarly, Callahan and Rosser (2007) suggest reflective practice activities that can support affective learning and critical thinking. The authors, in describing leadership development curricula using popular culture artifacts, suggest engaging learner reflection through reflective writing activities that are short (just a few minutes) through which learners can share their insights about their learning and potential change that may not be necessarily associated with stated objectives or goals.
Developing a critical pedagogy involving media analysis also requires that learners have the tools to effectively engage in discourse around assumptions, disagreements and questions. Teaching learners how to have a conversation with someone they disagree with is an important competency to facilitate the medial analysis and learning process (Brookfield, 1987; Ellinor & Gerard, 1998). Many of the issue authors shared that their media paper was a useful leverage point for engaging others in discussions about how the character(s) supported or violated different learning concepts, suggesting that critical media analysis assignment can serve as a pedagogical bridge to engaging students in reflective discussions and dialogue. Media analysis provides an excellent springboard for critical examination of lived experience and the opportunity for educators to facilitate learning using critical pedagogies. Such a combination has powerful potential to stimulate new thought and action.
Media analysis promotes new thought and action
This issue also contributes to the burgeoning area of Critical HRD in that it urges us to view and use media as a new medium for developing more critical thinking and awareness in teaching and research. A unique contribution of this issue is that it merges adult learning theory and principles with the critical application of media analysis to HRD. The HRD field lacks a critical perspective in its academic programs (Bierema, forthcoming) and this issue offers a framework and critical pedagogies to open the conversation on challenging organization issues that relate to equality, diversity, power, marginalization, and other challenges. This issue adds to the small, but growing cache of innovative ways of teaching adult learning concepts that also support a critical perspective in the HRD curriculum.
Another contribution of this article is that we examined the authors' own experience of completing the papers in how they viewed the characters, the stories, and how this analysis prompted new ideas and behaviors within each of them. Tisdell (2007) points out that this is a glaring gap in the literature, and that we need to focus more on how adult learners change through their interaction with popular culture. Although the authors deliberately analyzed their media artifact through the lens of adult learning concepts, they also experienced changes in how they viewed alternative representations of the “other”, how they understood different learning concepts, and how their own media consumption was influenced. These results suggest that media analysis is a powerful pedagogy for fostering critical reflection (Brookfield, 1987; 2000) and potentially transformational learning (Mezirow, 1991).
Finally, we posit and promote this article and overall issue, as a contribution to critical HRD research and practice by using popular culture as representative of prevailing social and power relations in workplaces and society. Critical HRD provides a theoretical framework from which to interrogate asymmetrical power relations, dominant culture and discourse, and unquestioned assumptions (Fenwick, 2005; Sambrook, 2009) that are regularly portrayed in the media. Human resource development research and practice has been described as lacking in critical analysis (Bierema & Cseh, 2003). Through this work, we are heeding the call for more critical HRD research that examines issues of power, inequity, and the field's overreliance on instrumentalist, performative frameworks.