Sierra Bray

Publication Date

Spring 2014


This qualitative study explores how communication practices socially construct and reflect power dynamics on public buses, focusing exclusively on a bus line that runs through diverse socioeconomic regions of a major metropolitan area.Data from participant observations and qualitative interviews were coded to find patterns pertaining to passengers’ notions of power on the bus.Findings show that the decontextualized setting of a public bus muddles the sensemaking processes of passengers, and in turn, passengers resort to nearly primal ways of understanding their surroundings, with particular focuses on safety and sex.While different demographics (especially men and women) expressed contrasting sense-making techniques to contend with their muddled understanding of other passengers, most passengers exhibited very similar behaviors—particularly, the avoidance of the unknown.This uncertainty avoidance led to more homogeneity and less nuanced understanding of one another, which continued the cycle beginning with a decontextualized setting.Further implications include the criticism of existing research that frames power as a compartmentalized, stagnant, and universally understood entity, for this study demonstrates how collective understanding of power is often changing, hypothetical, and overlapping, especially in low-context settings.Because low-context settings are ubiquitous in society, this study suggests that power should more often be viewed in this effervescent manner.

Publication Information

CST 434: Organizational Communication Capstone Project

Copyright for this work is retained by the author.

Document Type

Student Project

Included in

Communication Commons