2014-2015 WFI Funded Projects

Grant Awarded ($6,000): Labor of Love: Gender and Creative Work in the Age of Social Media

Principal Investigator: Brooke Erin Duffy, Temple University.

Against the backdrop of digitally reconfigured circuits of media production and consumption, communication scholars and sociologists have expressed renewed interest in the cultures and practices of creative labor. While this research has helped to advance our understanding of emergent structures of work and productivity in a new media economy, much of the literature overlooks distinctions related to subjectivities of gender. The proposed research project seeks to bridge this intellectual gap by exploring gendered forms of creative production that are becoming increasingly visible in an age of social media. This includes fashion and lifestyle blogging, YouTube vlogging, DIY/hobbyist design, and digital taste making, all of which, I argue, can be conceptualized as forms of aspirational labor. Drawing upon in-depth interviews with female producers and participant-observation at industry events (e.g., blogging conferences and technology summits for women), I seek to uncover how individuals make sense of and derive value from their creative activities. The findings of this study will help to propel forward contemporary understandings of creative labor, professionalism, and expertise while challenging pervasive gender inequalities and male-dominated work cultures.

Grant Awarded ($5,810): Barbara Lee's Peacebuilding Rhetoric: Communication Leadership in the Social Justice Tradition of African American Congresswomen

Principal Investigator: Ellen W. Gorsevski (PI) & Zhao Ding, Bowling Green State University.

This proposed research project explores Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) as the lone dissenter who advocated peace, not war, in the United States Congress in the aftermath of September 11, 2001. As the ‘War on Terror’ expanded from 2001 onward, Lee’s pacifist voice persisted, offering an independent-minded critique of the morass that was Iraq, and which was to spread into the theatre of war in Afghanistan. Much has been researched and written about hawkish rhetorics of myriad European-descended politicians, yet comparatively little has been researched about the influence of countervailing peace discourses of diverse members of the U.S. Congress. Even less has been studied regarding the impact of the nonviolent stance and transformative social justice rhetoric of past and current African American women members of Congress. This study seeks to remedy this serious omission in scholarly literature by analyzing the influence of the pro-peace messages of Congresswoman Barbara Lee. Barbara Lee’s influence has remained steadfast despite external factors, including death threats against her after she critiqued the popular pro-war stance of her colleagues during the immediate patriotic fervor in the months following September 11, 2001. Lee’s justice oriented leadership will be studied in terms of rhetorical resources and techniques she has employed. Lee’s rhetoric will be assessed and situated within the tradition of African American women’s leadership communication in politics, especially in the U.S. Congress. Surprisingly, to date, only a single published study exists to highlight the importance and value of persistent voices of conscience such as Barbara Lee’s. The proposed project aims to help redress this glaring gap in the literature.

Grant Awarded ($5,126): Breaking the Silence: Empowering Communities to Take a Stand against Prejudice and Discrimination

Principal Investigator: Lisa K. Hanasono, Bowling Green State University.

Despite evolving cultural norms, institutional policies, and social activism in favor of diversity and inclusion, discrimination remains a pervasive problem (Brondolo et al., 2009; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2014; Pascoe & Richman, 2009; United States Department of Education, 2014). Unfortunately, many people remain silent about their experiences with discrimination (Hanasono & Chen, in press; Krieger & Sydney, 1996; Leets, 2002). This is problematic for two key reasons. First, people who attempt to cope in silence are more likely to experience adverse health effects like cardiovascular problems, depression, social isolation, and anxiety than those who seek support and talk about their experiences with others (Gaines, 2001; Major & O’Brien, 2005; Thompson, 2006; Williams & Mickelson, 2008). Second, silence masks the ubiquity of discrimination and hinders anti-hate efforts by communities, government agencies, and social justice groups. If we don’t know about the frequency and nature of discrimination in our communities, how can we address it? Drawing from research on prejudice, discrimination, disclosure, social media, supportive communication, and advocacy, the purpose of this project is to establish and test the effectiveness of a community-based communication intervention (CBCI) that aims to help people share their experiences with discrimination (i.e., break the silence) and take a collective stand against hate. Recognizing the power of social media in today’s society, the CBCI consists of three interrelated initiatives: Share Your Story, Snapshots of Support, and Social Media Activism Workshops. Designed to help people break the silence about their experiences with discrimination, Share Your Story invites community members to use a special YouTube channel to upload and view short videos about their experiences with discrimination and offer messages of support to targets of hate. Designed to foster a more inclusive and caring community climate, Snapshots of Support allows community members to post photos of themselves with written messages of support to people coping with discrimination; these photos will be featured on a dynamic website and shared on Facebook. Finally, the Social Media Activism Workshops will be delivered to different community stakeholders with the goal of teaching individuals how to use

Twitter and Facebook to more effectively prevent and advocate against hate. Using a pretest-posttest design, this project will measure the degree to which the CBCI’s three initiatives empower people to disclose their experiences with discrimination, help individuals share messages of support to victims of hate, and increase community members’ self efficacy to take a stand against discrimination. My research is guided by three research questions: a) why do some people remain silent about their experiences with discrimination?, b) how can people use social media to provide messages of support to targets of discrimination, and c) how can communities use social media to prevent and advocate against hate? By developing and testing the CBCI, this project seeks to advance the mission of WFI and produce innovative research on disclosure, supportive communication, and anti-hate advocacy. In addition to its scholarly merits, this project seeks to helps communities address issues related to prejudice and discrimination.

Grant Awarded ($5,821): Civil Interactivity: Discouraging Hostility in User Comments on News Websites

Principal Investigator: Thomas B. Ksiazek, Villanova University.

Digital platforms afford users the opportunity to immediately respond and react to the news through user comments, resulting in a dynamic public discussion of current events. The ability to comment on a news story is one of the most widely utilized interactive features of the news. These comments appear in “threads” below the story content and constitute public conversation and deliberation in response to the news. Understanding the nature of discussion surrounding the news has both theoretical and applied value. In a normative sense, the interactive capabilities of online news are often celebrated for the potential to facilitate deliberation and dialogue and there is a growing body of research interested in the degree to which conversations around news are civil or hostile (e.g., Alonzo & Aiken, 2004; Author, 2014; Benson, 1996; Díaz Noci, et al., 2010; Lange, 2007; Lee, 2005; Moor, et al., 2010; Ng & Detenber, 2005; O’Sullivan & Flanigan, 2003; Papacharissi, 2004; Richardson & Stanyer, 2011; Ruiz et al., 2011; Zhou et al., 2008). This work is grounded in early Internet research that sought to understand the generative deliberation prospects of the burgeoning technology and its potential to facilitate a virtual public sphere (Buchstein, 1997; Dahlberg, 2001; Papacharissi, 2002; 2004; Rheingold, 1993). In a political era that many characterize as polarizing, it is useful to understand whether discussions that occur around online news are contributing to this trend. While civil deliberation would seem to promote a less polarized social and political reality, hostility (e.g., personal attacks, hate speech, obscene and profane language) may encourage just the opposite. The proposed study investigates the degree to which interactivity with digital journalism is civil or hostile, focusing on the nature of user comments posted to online news sites. There have been widespread assumptions made about the hostile nature of these virtual, public discussion spaces. Yet few empirical studies exist, particularly those addressing factors that may discourage hostility and promote more productive deliberation of the news. Building on a research agenda aimed at understanding factors that predict more civil discussion among online news audiences, this proposal will support a content analysis of 1392 political news stories and 337,882 comments across 20 news websites. The analysis will explore journalist participation in user discussions and primary story topic as predictors of civil and hostile tendencies in user comments. The primary contributions will focus on how journalist participation and story topic might promote more civil discussion of the news, which would not only improve the quality of interaction on news websites, but also has potential normative implications for the health of a deliberative democracy.

Grant Awarded ($8,184): In the Shadow of “King Coal”: Violence, Migration, and Mediation in the Anthracite Region

Principal Investigator: Melissa R. Meade, Temple University.

In the midst of the upheavals of deindustrialization, Spanish-speaking immigrants are migrating to small towns across the US. In one such town, Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, Mexican immigrant Luis Ramírez Zavala was beaten to death in 2008 by a group of white teenagers who were exonerated of all serious charges in a local court. Since the killing of Ramírez, Shenandoah and the Greater Anthracite Coal Region have occupied a contentious position in the public imaginary as a symbol of racialized violence directed at Spanish-speaking immigrants and also as a white working-class threat to the symbolic power of liberal, middle-class values and regimes of representation. This research contributes to the scholarship on migration, ethnic relations, and violence in deindustrialized regions by addressing four areas of concern to larger media and media-anthropological debates: Firstly, through the lens of the Ramírez killing and related media coverage, to understand the restructuring of the community vis-à-vis the in-migration of Spanish-speaking immigrants and the out migration of local youth; secondly, to explore how area residents address conflicts about migrant newcomers, class, and community revival amidst media and elite framing of the economically disenfranchised in terms of discourses of diversity, tolerance and bootstrapping; thirdly, to study how the structural violence of the political economy of the region limits and makes possible resident participation in larger (mediated) societal discourses; fourthly, to understand the over-determined relationships between this structural violence and violent events like the Ramírez killing.

Grant Awarded ($9,970): Transnational Masculinity in Globalizing India

Principal Investigator: Suman Mishra, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.

This study examines transnational men’s magazines to understand how they are influencing masculinity and masculine expressions of Indian men and whether these influences are helping or hurting progress towards gender equality in a deeply patriarchal country. Scholars have long been concerned with the influence of transnational media on local cultures. Yet transnational media’s influence on gender and gender expressions has received little attention. After 2005, several transnational magazines have been introduced in India because of changes in Indian government’s policy regarding foreign direct investment in the print media sector. However, very little is known about how these magazines are influencing men and women at whom they are targeted. Using a cultural studies approach, this study aims to examine the content of transnational men’s magazines in India and its reception among young Indian men to understand its influences. Media studies on masculinity in the transnational arena are few, and those in developing countries like India rarer still, thus this study will be important in theoretical development of transnational masculinity and will help spark a discussion on gender and class in globalizing India.

Grant Awarded ($5,000): The Best Response is No Response? Exploring Community Responses to Hate Speech

Principal Investigator: Billie Murray, Villanova University.

The U.S. Supreme Court has historically protected instances of “hate speech,” claiming that the state cannot prohibit speech based solely on its content. However, in an interesting maneuver that separates form from content, the Court has increasingly upheld regulations that restrict the time, manner, and place of such speech, allowing for restrictions on how and where speech can be disseminated to various publics. As a result, Constitutional guarantees of free expression and equal protection under the law have been at the forefront of many conversations among legal, communication, and ethics scholars. This project serves to contribute to these conversations through a research project that explores public spaces where tensions between free expression and hate speech are most visible and material. Westboro Baptist Church’s (WBC) demonstrations at GLBTQ persons’ and military personnel’s funerals, and the subsequent Supreme Court decision (Snyder v. Phelps) protecting this speech, have captured not only scholarly interest, but the interest and ire of people throughout the world. Although WBC’s protest spectacles have received a large amount of media attention in recent years, other communities have also responded to hate speech espoused by white supremacist groups in Leith, North Dakota, and Keystone United (a.k.a. the Keystone State Skin Heads) in Pennsylvania. I have chosen to focus on these three groups and responses to them to serve as case studies for this critical investigation. There are two primary goals for this project. First, I will develop a critical inquiry analyzing the rhetorical effectiveness of and ethical issues surrounding community-based responses to hate speech. This project will contribute to scholarly conversations about hate speech by focusing, not on the juridical arguments, but on the role of public communication/rhetoric in responding to instances of hate speech in local communities. For example, multiple instances have been documented of community members forming human walls (known as angel actions) to block mourners’ view of WBC’s demonstrations at funerals, beginning with Matthew Shepard’s funeral in 1998. These responses are worthy of critical attention and contribute to understandings of how we establish, through rhetoric, our relationships to ourselves, one another, and the world we share.

Grant Awarded ($4,860): Performing Gender-Based Resistance in Eastern Germany

Principal Investigator: Desireé D. Rowe, University of South Carolina Upstate.

The global landscape of gender politics is constantly in flux. A key moment in global gender politics was the December 3, 1989 gathering of 1,200 East German women culminating in the founding of the Independent Women’s Association (Mittman, 2007). While the group was formed prior to unification, the first post-unification election gave them only 8 seats–a disheartening result (Guenther, 2010). These women strove to sustain German Democratic Republic (GDR) created feminist spaces within the public sphere post-unification. For many eastern women, they saw themselves as displaced, colonized, or foreign citizens in unified Germany (Ferree, 2012). As Mittman (2007) and others who have studied post-unification feminist activism (Rosenburg, Guenther) argue, the discourse has shifted since 1990 towards a more nuanced and localized construction of gender-based identity and activism. For this project, a distinct focus on the localized gender-based activism of East German women will be examined to parse out how local feminist movements engage gender-based activism. Specifically, this proposed research project focuses on how postsocialist feminist groups perform local resistance in the eastern German region of Madgeburg-Stendal. This qualitative case study explicitly seeks to answer how post socialist feminists articulate two interlocking concepts: the construction of gender and the cultural performance of political gender-based activism.

Grant Awarded ($10,000): Social Media in Social Movement: A Comparative Study of Twitter Usage During the Arab Spring Egypt Protest and Occupy Wall Street Protest

Principal Investigator: Zuoming Wang, University of North Texas.

In recent years, social media has been increasingly used to generate and organize social movements with the hope of effecting change. Though protests have been happening for centuries, Twitter has changed the way that protests come together, and also impacted the people involved with them. Scholars have identified that social media can provide an important avenue of communication for political dissenters in authoritarian regimes when other means are not possible. We witnessed such an occurrence during the string of political revolutions promoting democratic ideals in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region in 2010 and 2011 (aka, the "Arab Spring"), predominantly through the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. These events provide an important area of analysis to help us understand the role of social media in political movements. While social media, specifically Twitter, played a crucial role in both uprisings, one focus of this project is on the political revolution that occurred in Egypt, ultimately resulting in the removal of President Hosni Mubarak. We also noticed that most current literature regarding social media and protests focuses on locations outside of the US, such as Egypt (Papacharissi & Oliveria, 2012; Fahmi, 2009) and Romania and the UK (Mercea, 2012). Therefore, the other focus of this study is to expand our understanding of the way people use Twitter in protest movements through content analysis of tweets regarding the Occupy Wall Street movement, which may be one of the most talked about protest movements in recent US history and also one of the largest grassroots protest events in the US. Studying social media is also a valuable way to analyze our society and culture as a whole. Ruben and Stewart (2006) wrote about mediated communication as a “cultural mirror, combining with the messages of face-to-face communication to provide a menu and an agenda of concerns, issues, values, personalities, images, and themes that occupy a central role in the symbolic environment to which individuals must adapt” (p. 340). Examining the communication within Twitter provides us with a mirror to examine the ways people organize and share information, especially in regards to new technologies and protest movements. This project analyzes the way that Twitter is used to incite, organize, and perpetuate protest movements in different society and culture. It specifically looks at two protests: the Egyptian election protests in January 2011 and the Occupy Wall Street movement in the United States in September 2011. This study also provides insight into the differences between these groups of people in how they utilize Twitter, and the tonality and the purpose of distributed messages. The importance of this study is to further our understanding of how new technologies are being used in the context of civic dissent. This project enables us to utilize data from both Western and non-Western culture to search for differences between the two regions of the world.

Our grant program was founded on the belief that Communication scholars' work can play a leading role in the creation of social change.

WFI Research Grants have resulted in significant journal articles and book publications--as well as impact on the lives of people living in communities across the US and the globe. For example, a WFI Research Grant awarded to Dr. Spoma Jovanovich played a key role in the city of Greensboro, NC, allocating $500,000 for participatory budgeting.