Blog 13: Theory in Qualitative & Quantitative Designs in Ag Comm

In quantitative agricultural communications research, there are two ways in which researchers typically apply theory. The first way, is to inform the study. In this type of study, the researchers determine how theory might influence the objectives of the research. The first of your JAC readings from this week represents this application of theory. The Baker, Abrams, Irani, and Meyers study utilized the PR Excellence Theory in order to inform their research related to the media’s perception of a specific land-grant institution. The authors took this theory into consideration while designing their study and their conclusions and discussion tie back to the theory. However, this was not built upon the PR Excellence Theory; it did not test the theory or add to the theory.

The second reading for this week, as you may have guessed, represents the other way theory is typically utilized in quantitative agricultural communications research. The Hall and Rhodes study was built upon the theory of planned behavior and the theory of diffusion of innovations. You will notice the researchers’ objectives tie to specific components of the these theories. As you compare the objectives from the other reading, you will notice that the Baker et al. reading’s objectives do not tie to theory.

Both types of application of theory are important for the field of agricultural communications. As scholars, we should strive to always include a theoretical or conceptual framework for our research. In some cases the research questions or objectives we have may lend themselves to testing theory. As you are reading about a theory, you are likely asking yourself questions like “I wonder if this theory would hold true in a family-farm setting or in my place of business or home?” A study with objectives designed to answer those questions would fall into the model of basing a study on a theory and testing the theory. In other cases our research questions or objectives may be more applied like “I wonder how farmers perceive the organization I work for?” It is quite likely that theory will inform this question, but unlikely that a study designed to answer this question would test a specific theory.

At this point, you are all extremely familiar with the theory you used for your in-depth analysis of a theory assignment. You know where there may be gaps to be tested or how it might inform future studies. For discussion this week, write two research objectives: one that will be informed by the theory you used in your in-depth theory assignment and one that is designed to test the theory (possibly in a new context or with a new audience). Use the objectives in this week’s readings as examples to guide you. Remember to remind everyone what theory you are using and explain how each objective fits into the category you are assigning it. I recognize your posts may be much shorter this week, but I also know that writing quality objectives will take up a fair amount of time. I look forward to reading your objectives!

The JAC article you read for qualitative research this week, is an excellent example of how theory is used in qualitative research. Qualitative research, as you may remember form your research methods courses, is not used to test theory. That is not to say that we don’t use theory in qualitative research designs. We certainly do! We typically use theory in qualitative research to inform our research studies. As scholars we want to continually build on previous knowledge, so we need to continually evaluate how theory applies to our research. You will notice in the article this week, that instead of objectives the authors used research questions. This is common in qualitative studies. You can use objectives in qualitative research, but it is more typical to see research questions. You may also have noticed that the questions are extremely broad in nature. This is also typical. While theory and previous research inform the study, there are still a lot of unknowns which is why the authors chose a qualitative research design.

There is another way in which theory can be used in qualitative research. This is through grounded theory. This is almost a reverse process of how we typically use theory. In grounded theory research, the researchers are actually systematically developing new theory in the analysis process. Research questions in this case are extremely broad, as no theory has come before to assess what is happening in this particular area of study.

I have really enjoyed reading your objectives over the previous weeks, and would like to continue our discussion with research questions. This time, let’s again use the theory you used for your in-depth analysis of a theory assignment and the theory you peer reviewed.  For discussion this week, write two research questions: one that is informed by the theory you used in your in-depth theory assignment and one that is informed by the theory you were assigned to peer review. Use the research questions in this week’s readings as examples to guide you. Remember to remind everyone what theories you are using. Think broad – tie in larger questions that are informed by the theory, but not directly testing it. I am looking forward to reading how you can adapt your research questions, or develop new ones for qualitative research.

Blog 12: Organizational Communication and IMC

As you read chapter 19, did you consider organizations you currently belong to? Think of an organization you currently belong to now. How do you know it is, in fact, an organization and not just a group of people? What agricultural groups can you identify that do not meet the definition of an organization. What makes them groups of people instead of organizations?

Chapter 23 explored integrated marketing communications (IMC), which is a concept/theory that can be applied to multiple organizational communication practices. It is a model that a myriad of  organizations consider as they audit or reorganize their communication efforts. Think back to one of the organizations you identified. Is IMC a good model of communication for this organization to follow in its relationships with its various stakeholders? What benefits are there for the organization to utilize IMC? Are there any possibilities for disadvantages from using IMC?  


Blog 11: Technology and Social Change in Agricultural Communications

Technology continues to affect the way we communicate in agriculture. As a result, communication theory helps to explain how technology aids or hinders communication. As you read this week’s chapter, I am sure you reflected on how communication affects your life. How important has the fifth function of the media, that of social interaction, become in your day-to-day use of the media? How can agricultural communicators utilize the fifth function of media?

We have discussed computer-mediated communication (CMC) before, but this chapter brings it to the forefront of the discussion. I am personally interested in how new and social media alter communication in agriculture. I believe there are multiple opportunities for agriculturalists to use CMC to connect with the public in a meaningful way. I am a part of a couple of grant projects that seek to teach agriculturalists to utilize new and social media to market their businesses. One of these projects is Beyond The Farm Gate.

We have seen the Peterson brothers utilize CMC to connect with people across the country and bloggers like Debbie Lyons-Blythe share the experiences of the agricultural community with moms across the county. What other ways have you seen CMC utilized effectively by the agricultural community? Where have you seen room for improvement? What theory from this week’s reading do you see in action in the CMC use in the agricultural industry?

Blog 10: Setting the Agricultural Agenda

I imagine that this week’s readings were of great interest to you, as much of the discussion on the blog has focused on how we can better understand the general public’s perceptions and attitudes toward agriculture. Agenda setting is an interesting theory that applies to so much of what we do in agricultural communications. The three agendas of media, public, and political are areas of deep concern for agricultural communications professionals. Think about the reason you turned on the television or surfed the Internet most recently. What use were you intending when you initially began using the medium? Was it entertainment, information, or perhaps explanation you were seeking? Did the media affect you in obvious ways you were not originally seeking? Can you imagine any subliminal effects you may have experienced without realizing it at the time?  How can we use your answers to these questions and the theories from the chapter this week to address concerns of agricultural literacy in the general public?

One of the common ways the public hears about agriculture is during a food crisis like in the Barr, Irlbeck and Akers article in JAC we read this week. These authors chose framing as the theoretical/conceptual framework for their study. What other theories in this week’s reading would have implications for this study or future studies of food crises?

The Goodwin, Chiarelli, and Irani study also utilized framing. What differences did you see in the way the researchers applied the theory? If you were to conduct a follow-up study based on these authors’ research, what type of study would you conduct? Which theory would you chose to guide the study?

Blog 9: Media Use & Effects in Agricultural Communications

Take a minute and think about how you learn about current events affecting agriculture. How do use media in this process? What media do you select? Now, think about another topic that you are completely unfamiliar with. How do you learn about it? What role does media play in your understanding? How are these two processes different for you? How are they the same? What does this tell you about how people unfamiliar with agriculture may learn about it? What did you learn is this week’s readings that could help you improve this process?

Sorry to begin with so many questions, but I think it helps to put us in the right frame of mind when discussing the role of media in agricultural communications. We all know that the number of journalists with a specific ag beat has dropped dramatically. Reporters are now asked to cover multiple topics and likely take the pictures and video associated with the stories and upload it to the web or a blog themselves. Very few members of mainstream media understand agriculture, but I hope you realized from this week’s readings that we cannot make grand claims about the media’s power to corrupt (or save) society. Media is one piece of the entire puzzle. People do not absorb 100% of the content they come in to contact with and personal characteristics play a huge role. The theories discussed in this week’s readings play a large role in our understanding of how people process and seek information. If you were seeking to change a person’s attitude toward the handling of livestock, which theory from this week do you think would help explain the process best? Would you select a different theory if you were trying to change a farmer’s attitude toward adopting new technology?

As you are learning in the peer review process, scholars do not always agree. From disagreement arises some of the world’s best discoveries. As scholars you shouldn’t just accept things the way they are. Ask questions, challenge the norm, and test the theories you find issue with. You may disprove what another scholar has found, or convince yourself that the theory should stand. As you read through chapter 14, was there a place where you questioned the author’s claims or how they were presented? Was your reception the result of negotiated meaning or an outright oppositional decoding situation?   



Blog 8: Case studies and theory in agricultural communication research

This week we read two articles from JAC. The Palmer, Irlbeck, Meyers, and Chambers reading introduced us to the concept of case studies in agricultural communication research. The use of case studies is a common practice in agricultural communication research. Case studies offer an opportunity to examine a phenomenon or issue in-depth in order to understand it. In some instances this may mean developing new theory or identifying how theory applies in a new context or setting. When a phenomenon or issue arises, a researcher may notice a tie to an existing theory and use the theory as a guide to research the phenomenon or issue. The latter is similar to this study, although new recommendations based on this analysis were presented. This is applied research at its finest; this is a research study that investigates a crisis in order to develop recommended practices for future crises. These authors chose excellence theory to guide their investigation. Why was this an appropriate choice? Is there another theory we have studied that would have been useful in guiding this research? Explain your reasoning.

The Abrams and Meyers article demonstrates how theory can be utilized in a study to investigate a specific population and determine if this unique population reacts in the theorized way. In this article the authors utilized two theories: social amplification of risk and gatekeeping. These authors provided much more information on the theories they utilized than the first article. In a study that is testing theory, it is of utmost importance to provide adequate background as the research questions or objectives of the study are typically built upon the theory. Additionally, the findings of such a study will likely have implications for the future of the theory in the profession. The authors of this study recommend several followup studies. Pick one of the recommended followup studies and suggest a theory or multiple theories you believe would be appropriate for the study you select.  How would you set up the study in a way that would make sense for the theory or theories you suggest? Use the way the authors we read this week set up their studies as a guideline.

Blog 7: Culture in Agriculture

As you may suspect, the importance of intercultural communication is growing in the agricultural community.  We are in a global economy, which isn’t necessarily new, but our awareness of the importance of other cultures has increased in recent years. I like this chapter in your book, as I feel it seeks to explain how we can communicate better with people from culture’s different than our own instead of just explaining how different cultures communicate.

As we continue to discuss on this blog, agriculture has a culture all of its own with strong roots in community and family. I would argue that  agriculture’s culture is closer to collectivist than the rest of the United States (you may need to refer back to figure 10.3 to remember where the Untied States appeared on Hofstede’s dimensions of culture). My argument for agriculture being collectivistic also aligns with face negotiation theory of conflict. I see agriculturalists typically being high context rather than low context. This communication style creates a culture that caters to in-groups, which we have certainly seen in agriculture. As these in-groups have similar experiences and expectations, they often feel certain messages or ideas are implied and not said leading to high context messages. This creation of in-groups is what can lead to poor communication with those outside of the in-group as we discussed with the “feed the world” message. In many cases, I see theories of intercultural communication applying to the communication of agriculturalists with members of the general public. Of course, as your book concedes, there are both ends of the spectrum in all cultures with certain individuals putting more value on the needs of the group than individual needs and vice versa. Sometimes these differences may lead to conflicts like family disputes when passing down the family farm to the next generation.

Think of a time when you interacted with someone from a culture different from your own. What elements of communication accommodation theory (CAT) and/or communicative theory of identity (CTEI) did you utilize to improve communication?  What role did your personal identity play? What do you know now that may have improved your communication?

One subject discussed in your text that can sometimes be uncomfortable is the topic of “whiteness”. One blogger described what he called the “unbearable whiteness of urban farming“. Many of his points apply to other agricultural groups urban or not. I encourage you to read his entire post, but I have pulled his six recommendations for addressing this issues. These are:

1. Go to where people are at, not where you want them to be.
2. Don’t accommodate people to the extent of ignoring your own needs.
3. Don’t operate from assumptions.
4. Always be focused on leadership development.
5. Be aware of how privileges may be effecting group dynamics.
6. CELEBRATE non-white contributions to Food Justice.

How do these points align with theories in this week’s reading?

Blog 6: Persuade Me

I think persuasion is one of the most fascinating topics in agricultural communication theory. While the chapter this week is in the “face-to-face” communication section of the book, many of the concepts apply to mediated communication efforts. The reading from JAC this week illustrates this point well. I think this study does an excellent job of incorporating theory into a study. As you read the JAC article, was your understanding of the elaboration likelihood model (ELM) changed? Did you agree with the authors’ application of ELM? What would you have done differently? Are there other theories of persuasion that you see as more appropriate for this study? Or ones that should have also been included?

The world around us is constantly seeking to persuade us to do something. As you study persuasion you will become more and more aware of persuasive techniques being utilized in your everyday life. This may be a friend or significant other trying to persuade you to go to the lake instead of studying. Perhaps the persuasion is less subtle and comes in the form of advertising. What agricultural ads or videos have you seen recently that utilize persuasive appeals? Post an example and tell us which appeals you think are used in the example you post. What other theories of persuasion do you see represented in your example? In the spirit of the comparison study we read in JAC this week, what anti-agricultural ads or videos have you seen with persuasive appeals? How does the anti-ag one stack up in relation to theories of persuasion?

Blog 5: Feeding the World or Just Groupthink?

One of the topics we continue to discuss with great passion, is the need for a better message on behalf of  U.S. farmers. The agricultural community is not the only one who thinks so. A story by NPR concluded that the message of “we feed the world” is no longer a message that resonates with the American public. The story cites a survey where consumers were ask if they think the U.S. even has a responsibility to provide food to the rest of the world. Only 13 percent of these consumers strongly agreed. Additionally, the article mentions focus groups where people said that if feeding the world means more industrial-scale farming, they’re not comfortable with it.

I guess I am not surprised by this, but I think most farmers will be. This is a message that agricultural producers announce loudly and proudly. How does this message continue despite consumers not relating to it? Is this a form of groupthink? Agriculturalists like this message; but if the public doesn’t, how do we change it? What did you learn in this week’s readings related to group communication that might offer suggestions to help? Are there theories of interpersonal communication at play here too?

Think about a specific group you are involved with. What symbols does this group use that have specific meaning for your group. Do these carry a different meaning for outsiders in the way the “feed the world” message does? Which stage of Tuckman’s model do you think your group (has) reached? Does your group have the four requisite functions of effective decision-making? How could knowledge of rules and resources help members of your group be more strategic in reaching the goals and objectives of the group?

The theories in the book related to group communication have underlying assumptions that group decisions are better than individual decisions and that some form of conflict (storming, direct discussion of issues, etc.) is helpful for these decisions. Do you agree with both of these assumptions? Why or why not?

Blog 4: Classical & Contemporary Rhetorical Theory in Agricultural Communications

I appreciate the insight and discussion all of you are contributing to this blog – keep it up!

Now, on with this week’s readings. The classical theorists are an important foundation for rhetoric today. As you may suspect, rhetoric plays an important role in agricultural communications. The credibility and respect of speakers is an issue dealt with in agricultural communications regularly. This concept of the credibility of a speaker is often referred to as source credibility. If you are interested in more about this theory, here is a link to a thesis about source credibility and agricultural opinion leaders. We will discuss theories of persuasion more in depth later in the semester, but for now I would like to explore some of the basic tenants: logos, ethos, and pathos. In agricultural communications we often see persuasive messages crafted using logos, which certainly has powers of persuasion. When explaining complex scientific topics, logical appeals make sense. However, there are times when logos messages are too complicated and turn off a receiver of the message. The Beef Check-off program has done an excellent job of combining logos and ethos through the use of facts comparing chicken to lean cuts of beef, while milk has effectively used celebrities in advertisements from all different backgrounds and genre which combine ethos with the celebrity connection and logos with the health benefits and nutritional information in the advertisements.








An example of a video that seeks to appeal to emotions is this Common Ground video. By showing farmers as moms just like the other moms in the grocery store, ethos is used. The mom farmers also use logos as they discuss their farms. How effective do you think an effort like this is?

What examples have you seen of agricultural communications utilizing logos, ethos, and/or pathos? Which principle do you see agricultural communications utilizing the most? Which standard of theory evaluation or development, discussed in previous chapters, does this speak to?

As we move to contemporary rhetoric, we see the basic premises of classic rhetoric evolve into specific theories. As agricultural communicators seek to engage with the public and alter or change their perceptions, text and discourse are often used as units of analysis. Sometimes the perceptions people have of the agricultural industry are based on images or symbols as seen in the theory of symbolic convergence.  We have all seen the picture of an old man in overalls standing in a golden field of wheat, or a plow and horse. Perhaps these are not symbols of modern agriculture, but symbols none-the-less, and perhaps may even fall into a fantasy theory. Narratives are often built on images, text, and discourse combined. While people may have a fantasy picture of agriculture that is either positive or negative, as agricultural communicators seek to change that narrative it is important to be aware of narrative fidelity. Will it ring true to the receiver? The process of working toward narrative fidelity may be viewed as strategic action. We see the theory of communicative action represented as the public strives for answers to how their food is produced. Communicative orientation indicates it is their right to ask and seek the truth. Agricultural communicators should be prepared to share a narrative strategically, truthfully, and in a way the public is prepared to receive it.

One example of a strategic narrative is Chipolte. Chipotle often divides those in the agricultural community. No matter how you feel about Chipotle, its advertising is persuasive. What theories of rhetoric do you see represented in Chipolte’s ad here?

How could conventional agriculture use the same theory(s) to its advantage?