This study explores the utility of strategic ambiguity for understanding how apparent communicative paradoxes and vagaries operate defensively for the discourse of whiteness. Using a guided content analysis of intergroup dialogues on race/ethnicity, videotapes of select sessions were coded for instances and patterns of ambiguous practices and critical responses to them.
Four major categories of ambiguity were identified: Saying Nothing, Saying Everything, Saying Something Else (Redirection) and Saying Something Funny (Humor), each describing a means of communicative presence or participation that contributes to talking around whiteness, even in settings specifically focused on exploring race and racism.
In contrast, the analysis also identified two major types of communicative certainty: clear argument for participants' own and/or against differing opinions, and similarly explicit statements about whiteness/racism and/or their own lack of understanding of it. The presence of these sureties demonstrates that ambiguity need not be communicators' default custom, but is in fact an occasional, potentially selective and therefore strategic practice.
Finally, the study identified four types of critical responses to such strategic ambiguity present in the dialogues: normalizing complexity, specifying/clarifying ambiguity, contextualizing claims/charges and certainty. While there were significantly fewer responses to, than examples of strategic ambiguity, their scarcity speaks to the importance of better understanding how to recognize and respond to whiteness-protective ambiguity, and provides some suggestions for such resistance.
With these findings, the study makes theoretical contributions to the understanding of the discourse of whiteness, expanding on and connecting the intercultural concept of "dialectics" and the organizational concept of "strategic ambiguity" to normalize and explain the functionality of the apparent vagaries. This framework and the examples identified also serve as tools with which scholars and educators can be aware of such ambiguities in their own practice, can recognize it in others' communication, can begin to challenge these defensive mechanisms more effectively, and can continue to study the phenomenon to all those ends.