Author Biography

Saskia Witteborn (Ph.D., University of Washington) is an Assistant Professor in the School of Journalism and Communication at The Chinese University of Hong Kong where she also coordinates the M.A. program in Global Communication. She is interested in the intersections between culture, communicative practice, and transnational migration and focuses on how people (re)create, adapt, and enact local ways of knowing and communicating in new sociocultural and political contexts. She has published in the areas of culture and communication, language and social interaction, and diaspora studies in such journals as the Journal of Communication, Research on Language and Social Interaction, and the Journal of International and Intercultural Communication.

Leah M. Sprain (Ph.D., University of Washington) is an Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at Colorado State University where she also works with the Center for Public Deliberation. Her research and teaching draw on cultural communication perspectives to study local practices of democracy, including deliberation, political talk, and activism. She is co-editor (with Danielle Endres and Tarla Rai Peterson) of a forthcoming book that stems from a national research project on climate change activism.


This article explicates grouping processes during a public meeting. By applying an Ethnography of Communication and Cultural Discourse Analysis approach, the analysis focuses on ways of place-making and relating as well as enactments of social and racial identities to make empirically grounded claims about grouping processes during the public meeting in question. For most audience members, living in the neighborhood and local knowledge of crime, desperate youth, poverty, and racial discrimination were defining characteristics of being a community member who shared a collective memory of distrust against the local Chamber of Commerce. Some audience members maintained that only neighborhood residents had the right to talk about the neighborhood at the meeting. Chamber of Commerce and affiliated speakers neither shared the premise of residency and right to talk about the neighborhood, nor did they adequately address the distrust. Instead, they promoted community through economic development and collaboration. The tensions during the meeting can be described as differences in notions about what constitutes community, differences which are indicative and constitutive of the divergent approaches to managing problems in the neighborhood. In addition to illustrating that groups don’t exist a priori but are enacted through communicative practices, the article makes recommendations for how to improve public meetings.