as a communicative practice:
University of Colorado at Boulder
Practically every occurrence that surrounds us in our everyday life contains both explicit and implicit elements of communication. The sport of snowboarding is no exception to the fact that communication is everywhere. Its characteristics, culture, and members have overwhelmingly presented themselves into U.S. society within the past couple of decades. Robert Craig’s theory of communication as a practice provides a unique way of understanding the phenomenon of snowboarding (2006). The “boarding” culture, like any other “practice” as defined by Craig (2006), involves a “coherent set of activities that are commonly engaged in, and meaningful in particular ways” to its participants (p. 38, emphasis mine). As further explained by Craig’s theory, snowboarding is indeed a communicative practice because it contains specific rituals, normative discourse, theory, and metadiscourse. In other words, the journey that the sport of snowboarding has taken, the way it is talked about among its participants, the way its movements are explained and how it is taught, and the way it is critiqued are all very much the result of a constitutive process of communication within the sport itself.
EXPLANATION of Craig’s Theory of Communication as a Practice
To choose a theory means to choose an ideal for practice;
-R.T. Craig, lecture, January 30, 2007
In his article “Communication as a practice” (2006), Craig seeks to offer an alternative view from the more well-known linear and systems models that the art of communication itself has grown to become its own comprehensive practice. As well, it also serves as the foundation for the development of other practices, like snowboarding.
To be a practice, certain criteria are necessary and often a certain order of events occurs. Simply put, when members engage in a distinct activity, naturally comes along ways of “thinking and talking about” it (Craig, 2006, p. 38). This is known as normative discourse, which is a deeply constitutive process that contains both informal and formal aspects. Also, this type of discourse is a vital foundation for a practice to be meaningful for its participants, in the fact that sharing words which have embedded meanings can serve to create larger meanings. The informal use of the language can be thought of as the practice’s jargon and norms. It reflects how members of a practice talk about that practice, talk about doing it, styles, and the discourse including literally which words are employed, in addition to the less explicit meanings and values conveyed by the words themselves. Furthermore, often a practice’s discourse develops in maturity and sophistication to take on a more formal representation. This is when a practice becomes more academic and experts on the topic emerge. It is studied, written about in specialized terms, theorized, and taught. As the practice becomes more and more defined as an academic discipline, the standards become explicit and thus obviously susceptible to criticism.
Upon establishment of a theory, this is when metadiscourse can take place. The validity or superiority of a certain dominant practical theory can be brought into question, often using the very words within the theory itself to critique and make additions or removals from the current norms and standards. Past theories become foundations for building new theories.
Notable in Craig’s reading is his imperative distinction between communication as an innate biological ability versus communication as an actual practice. Whereas the former seems valid as a practice because we all share the inherent ability to somehow communicate, the difference in the two options is that the latter contains the presence of created meaning and a cultural concept of communication.
APPLICATION of Craig’s Theory to the Communicative Practice of Snowboarding
The practice of communication theory thus contributes to the normative
-R.T. Craig, lecture, January 30, 2007
If you were to meet or observe someone who claims to partake in the practice of snowboarding (AKA a “boarder” or “rider”), there are certain characteristics of their communication that you would undoubtedly observe. Taking a detailed look at the elements of snowboarding through the lens of Craig’s view of communication as practice reveals a precise journey that communicative practices have allowed for the entire “world” of snowboarding to take. Also, communication about snowboarding theory has laid the foundation for snowboarders to constructively discuss and criticize the sport itself and thus take its unique culture wherever they want it to go.
A brief history and examination of the many elements of snowboarding is necessary to fully understand how communication functions within. Snowboarding’s popularization truly accelerated during the late 1990s due to its addition to such events as ESPN’s Winter X- Games in 1997 and to the Winter Olympics in 1998 (wikipedia.org, March 31, 2007). Before this point, snowboarding had already begun evolving into a unique practice, complete with its own vocabulary. Snowboarding has grown to contain an extensive yet exclusive set of activities, rituals, normative and formal discourse, metadiscourse, and theory.
One criterion that classifies the practice of snowboarding is its distinct set of activities to be shared by its members, via communication. Often, the more that a member complies with and is aware of this set of activities the more altruistic of a snowboarder they are considered to be. In other words, the deeper you go into the sport, the more you allow your life and identity to be influenced by its culture. Some components of the actual event of snowboarding include: purchasing a season pass or a daily lift ticket, putting on your gear, riding the ski lift, “free-riding” in the terrain park on the jumps and rails, snowboarding in the bumps (AKA moguls) or through the trees, taking a break during the run to wait for all the riders in your group to catch up, listening to your Ipod while riding, doing certain “jib” movements to play around, challenging yourself with attempting to conquer more difficult untapped terrain like hiking into the back-bowls in the backcountry, and competing or simply participating for fun.
Rituals, “prescribed performances that are symbolically meaningful to participants,” are shared practices by snowboarders (R.T. Craig, lecture, January 25, 2007). However, practices are not entirely ritualistic, though obviously rituals do make up a part of the practice as a whole. For example, waking up extremely early to drive up to the mountain with friends, stopping to get breakfast, and hanging snowboard goggles from the rearview mirror are just a few examples of rituals. Some people smoke weed and/or drink alcohol before, during, or after, and some “tough-it-out” and bring food and water along with them in a backpack if they plan on exploring all day in the backcountry. A ritual could be giving a friend a high-five or making a certain sound before embarking on a jump in the terrain park, or taking the long drive home and getting stuck in traffic on I-70, often spotting hitchhiking snowboarders who choose not to go to a resort. Though these kinds of rituals do help to create a sense of community among its participants, the practice of snowboarding also contains non-ritual aspects.
The snowboarding experience and the feelings connected to partaking in it are very unique and are the source of personal meaning. Participants can acquire a deeply distinct sense of identity, depending on how much they choose to devote and immerse themselves into the subculture. Riders have the social image as being tough, sporty, adventurous, arrogant, exclusive, laid-back, “chill,” edgy, hip, rebellious, and imprudent. Certain clothing and gear brands are associated with snowboarders as well, like Burton, Volcom, and NeverSummer. The experience is one of empowerment, fun, predictability and unpredictability, community, adventure, endorphins, adrenaline, and challenge, which obviously create an amazing feeling as a member of the practice. Unfortunately, not all of the traits associated with snowboarders are positive, and often all participants are generalized as possessing the unpleasant characteristics as well. Most infamous is the associated image with drinking alcohol and smoking weed as prevalent practices during the practice of snowboarding as well as during the partying nightlife associated with it. This practice is dominant in snowboarding, and often snowboarders who choose not to drink and/or smoke can even face a degree of exclusion from the members. Additionally, the snowboarding industry as portrayed on television and in movies and landmark snowboarding events like the annual ESPN X-Games also play a major role in determining the norms and image of the culture.
If you wish to converse with me, define your terms.
A foundation of normative discourse and words is necessary to be the source from which standards, norms, and meaning can be created. It cannot be emphasized enough that the practice of snowboarding, all of its rituals and activities which combine to create meaning, would simply not be possible without the capability that communication provides. Snowboarding’s normative discourse and jargon include the unique words used by people in culture as well as the terminology used to describe how to do the practice and how to explain it. Some jargon characteristic of how snowboarders talk includes: snowboard = ”ride” = ”shred” = ”board”, “stoked, “man”, “dude”, “sweet”, “sick”, “like,” “awesome”, “gnar” (short for gnarly), and “rad” (short for radical), just to name a few.
Snowboarding also has developed formal discourse, including more sophisticated, specialized vocabulary like “carve” (how you use the edge of your snowboard, with either your “heel-side” or “toe-side edge”), “jib” (describes playful movements), “free style” (riding the terrain), “terrain features” (man-made terrain, like jumps and half pipe), “ollie” (jumping movement), “spins” such as 180s (1’s), 360s (3’s), 540’s (5’s), 720s (7’s), 1080s (10’s), and “corks” (type of trick on a jump) (Hargrave, personal communication, March 31, 2007). Normative and formal discourses have evolved to make up the communicative terms used in snowboarding, which combine to “make the practice meaningful as well as regulate its conduct” (R.T. Craig, lecture, January 30, 2007).
In addition, standardization and theories have developed. The American Association of Snowboarding Instructors (AASI) has emerged and claimed authority by requiring certain standards of instructors. An element of a practice is that it becomes academic and its members can become experts. Through AASI, Chris Hargrave published the “Park and Pipe Instructor’s Guide”, basically the first of its kind to explicitly express the theory for how freestyle snowboarding should be taught. Resorts require prior reading of his manual before being able to instruct. Publications in the industry claiming authority on theory, style, and how to teach snowboarding obviously make their information susceptible to critique. One theory serves as basis for anyone to create their own unique theory; different people have different styles of doing or teaching. For example, Hargrave’s manual contains a formula for how to execute a successful jump in the terrain park, using an “ATML” approach (2005, p. 30). This acronym includes taking into account the Approach of the jump, the Takeoff, the in-air Movement, and the Landing. Some riders argue that the ATML model is too simple and should require more steps, like a Pre-approach or Visualization step.
Snowboarding as a communicative process is applicable to the scientific view of theory and practice that claims that “knowledge is power” (R.T. Craig, lecture, January 30, 2007). Valid snowboarding theory can be utilized in order to control outcomes. Hargrave would argue that to a high extent, snowboarding can be understood entirely in this way and that there are quite specific movements that can be learned and mastered to create a perfect foundation for a snowboarder to be successful in any snowboarding situation (personal communication, March 31, 2007). Metatheory, a theory about snowboarding theory, may even develop in the future of the industry.
The pertinent question among the whole discussion about the communication inherent in the practice of snowboarding is whether or not there is the presence of shared meaning among its participants as a RESULT of the communication. So, if every member within the culture simply “practices” snowboarding and goes through the movements and rituals necessary to do it, then does that mere fact in and of itself classify snowboarding as a communicative practice? No, it is when its members utilize and attribute meaning to the practice-specific elements like jargon, movements, culture, and rituals when meaning is created.
The practice of snowboarding theory (as made possible by communicative theory) contributes to the normative discourse that constitutes and regulates the practice of snowboarding in our culture. Snowboarding on its own does not inherently possess meaning for its participants, but by means of communication value is created and snowboarding becomes a true, pure communicative practice.
CRITIQUE of theory’s ability to explain and understand communication within the practice of snowboarding
Rather than the explanatory kind of knowledge valued in empiricist social
Beyond what Craig’s theory of communication as a practice asserts, NOT only is communication an independent practice with its own rituals, normative discourse, and theory, but uniquely I would argue that communication is NECESSARY for ANYTHING to be considered a practice. If a practice is a set of activities with a sense of shared meaning among its members, communication is absolutely necessary to create that meaning. Without words, verbal and non-verbal behavior, a way of talking about the activity and regulating its conduct, and standards from which to critique it, for any activity to fit the definition of a “practice” void of the use of communication would literally be impossible. Karen Tracy expands upon Craig’s idea of communication as a practice by acknowledging the above point that to call something a practice is to imply that it must also be a communicative practice (1995, p 195). There is no practice void of communication.
There are a couple aspects of Craig’s theory that are not necessarily explicitly addressed which I think deserve some important emphasis and side-thought: the timing of the development of communication within a practice as well as an explanation of ideal communication in this view.
The different aspects of Craig’s theory of communication as a practice, as well as any communicative practice, are multi-dimensional, and there is a great deal of overlap in the creation of its components (normative and formal discourse, the set of activities, theory metatheory, etc). The communicative formation and its overlaps are overwhelmingly a constitutive process, influencing and being influenced by itself. Though practices do indeed take a somewhat precise journey from rituals to discourse to theory (one is somewhat necessary for the next), for any practice the timing and interconnectedness of this journey is virtually impossible to entirely pinpoint. Nevertheless, this question of how deeply each element is connected and constitutive is one of great interest.
Craig’s theory is useful in viewing communication and the practice of snowboarding from a scientific view, but lacks an expression of ideal communication within the view. The scientific view basically holds that “knowledge is power,” that “knowing casual process can be used to control outcomes” (R.T. Craig, lecture, January 30, 2007). According to Tracy (1995), this is also how the empiricist approaches questions concerned with what “is” (p 196). However, what Craig is not concerned with is what “ought” to be, though he does mention that practical theory provides the means to seek out what is an ideal standard within a practice. Tracy’s theory explains the necessity of an expansion upon Craig’s previous theory of communication as a practice. Action-implicative discourse analysis is a method she developed for “the purpose of contributing to a practice’s ongoing critique and improvement” (Tracy, 1995, p. 212). I tend to agree with her stance (quoted above), which claims that the richest communication within a communicative practice like snowboarding comes as a result of trying to understand the internal workings of the practice. This involves pro-active participants who ask the right questions in order to further understand (rather than explain) what it means to be a communicator, as well as a member of a communicative practice, and how to do so in a productive, profound way.
There are many problems within the practice of snowboarding which Craig’s communication theory does not help to illuminate, for instance the communication problem experienced by a beginning snowboarder who happens to go riding for his first time with friends. The process of receiving advice from friends is faulty. Arguably, the majority of snowboarders do not know and/or understand the theory which explains how to precisely break down rotary movements in order to snowboard. Much less, they do not know how to do this in a way that uses simple, accurate words to explain how to move in a way that physically makes sense when executed. This lack of good, effective, and intelligent communication is my theory of why so many beginning snowboarders become frustrated with the sport, give up, and do not improve, because how to improve is not easily communicated unless done by an expert.
Furthermore, the people who do indeed possess the specifications and who have read the manual are the trainers and instructors at resorts. The problem is that they have varying motives for choosing to teach, like receiving a free pass, their friends are doing it, it’s a good way to make money versus actually having a pure love of the sport. Thus these people put forth highly varying degrees of effort to truly attempt to understand the sport and how to communicate its movements effectively (even though, it would be in their best interest because good communication of snowboarding tactics equals good results for the customer equals happy customers equals money).
Another element of communication gone badly in the realm of snowboarding comes from a failure in terms of the linear model. This view holds that successful communication results in the transferring of a message. Well, snowboarding lessons and their effectiveness are not well-marketed at all, and the message is not getting to consumers. Not to mention, there exists a wide gap in skill level (different levels of certification) and communication abilities even among snowboard instructors. Thus those beginners (or really a snowboarder at any skill level) who innately cannot figure out how to snowboard on their own and/or people who receive bad communication about how to execute movements give up. Participants give up and/or remain stagnant because of a lack of receiving the message (really, lack of being SENT the message) from the industry about the service of lessons. These lessons entirely focus on teaching the theory and the movements of snowboarding, with the foundational belief that accurate communication IS the remedy for snowboarding problems. Hargrave would even argue that “perfect communication” from an instructor to his student would create endless opportunities for that student, and teach movements in such a clear way that the movements become innate and easily comprehensible (personal communication, March 31, 2007).
When viewed through the lens of Craig’s theory of communication as practice, light is shed on the ways that snowboarding can be seen as a communicative practice. Its practice is comprised of distinct elements like its set of activities, rituals, normative and formal discourse, and theory. In time, not only will snowboarding’s communicative elements develop, but also how it grows as a practice will be largely influenced by its current utilization of communication. Though Craig’s theory does a superb job of explaining the objective communicative aspects of snowboarding, of course it does not explain everything. One theory in and of itself simply cannot illuminate every facet of a practice. Hence the importance of future expansion upon the previous foundation that Craig has lain in order to better and more wholly understand how communication functions within our many everyday practices, as well as how to become a constructive member of those practices.
Craig, R. T. (2006). Communication as a practice. In G. J. Shepherd, J. St. John & T. Striphas (Eds.), Communication as …: Perspectives on theory (pp. 38-47). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Hargrave, C. T. (2005). AASI: Park and pipe instructor’s guide. Lakewood, CO: self-published.
Tracy, K. (1995). Action-implicative discourse analysis. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 14, 195-215.