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Communicating culture: Public discourse and ritual action in a Jewish community

Karen Michelle Wolf, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This dissertation is an ethnographic exploration, and a cultural discourse analysis of the relationship between communication and culture. The study of cultural discourses as they are active in situated speech communities allows for the description and interpretation of the way members of a particular speech community come to make meaningful their symbolic worlds. The perspective adopted suggests that cultural identity and its enactment is locatable through rhetorical dimensions of communication (such as symbolic clusters and public forums for talk) and at the local level of particular speech communities (such as situated communicative acts) where participants, through communication, create and constitute what it means for them to be, act, and feel like a person. This study presents the symbols, forms and meanings of one particular cultural discourse and how this system constitutes culture in this scene. Specifically, the dissertation is organized to review the public discourse of the havurah movement; how one particular havurah (“our havurah”) constitutes a sense of what it means to be a member of this group; the appropriate ways for acting in that particular scene; the cultural premises of belief and value that are deeply meaningful throughout this havurah's communicative enactments; and the rules communicated throughout symbolic rituals. This study of cultural communication contributes to a growing body of literature that emphasizes the local, emic narrative that is active in a particular speech community and analyzes it through a systematic etic theory of cultural discourse.

Subject Area

Communication|Cultural anthropology|Minority & ethnic groups|Sociology

Recommended Citation

Wolf, Karen Michelle, "Communicating culture: Public discourse and ritual action in a Jewish community" (1999). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9920668.