My general areas of study are political communication and media activism. My work is guided primarily by traditional political communication scholarship, as well as sociological theories of social movements and collective action, and social psychological work on media effects. I conduct mixed methods research, utilizing quantitative content analysis, surveys, experiments, archival work, interviews, and ethnography, though I specialize in qualitative methods.
Transgender Media and Politics
The main focus of my research in this area is communication pertaining to the transgender community in the political realm. This includes the relationship between mainstream media and the transgender community, as well as the strategic communications of the transgender movement. I also study the effects of media representations of transgender individuals and identities on social and political attitudes.
Graphic Design and Typography
My research in this area focuses broadly on the processes of production in graphic design and typography. This includes the encoding of meaning in the design process, the design of visual identity in political campaigns (both electoral and activist), and the collective action of design art worlds. I am also interested in the perception of meaning in type, as well as the use of graphically designed resources by citizens to engage in political speech.
I consider myself a mixed-methods scholar, since I have conducted research using both traditional quantitative methods, like surveys, experiments, and content analysis, and qualitative methods, like interviews, participant-observation, and archival work. Despite my apparent methodological agnosticism, my true passion lies in ethnographic fieldwork, which I conduct largely in the tradition of Michael Burawoy’s extended case method. I also write on qualitative methodology and the role of abductive qualitative research in theory development.
My primary project at present is my dissertation, which looks at communicative activism in transgender political advocacy. In addition to my dissertation, however, I am also running ongoing projects on (1) the role of community in levels of transgender civic engagement; (2) the politics of visibility in contemporary identity-based social movements; and (3) how to theorize “structure” is communication research.
Between finishing my undergraduate and beginning my doctoral studies, I worked as a research analyst in the social science department of EurekaFacts, LLC, a DC-area market research firm. In that role I led and managed a team of researchers on a multi-million dollar health communication research project for a federal government agency. I also served as project manager on two series of survey studies for a national business association, and as research support conducting and coding interviews as part of a larger project on business prospects in Montgomery County, Maryland. Additionally, I designed and conducted a survey study on millennial news consumption habits, social media use, and political engagement for the EurekaFacts Millennial Panel, a portion of which was presented in the white paper “Quick Look at Millennial Voters: Predictors of Voting in the 2014 Midterm Elections.”
Experimental Evidence for Differences in the Prosocial Effects of Binge-Watched versus Appointment-Viewed Television Programs. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly (in press).
(No) Shame in the Game: The Influence of Pornography Viewing on Attitudes Toward Transgender People. Communication Research Reports (2019).
Out of the Tower and Into the Field: Fieldwork as Public Scholarship in the Face of Social Injustice. International Journal of Communication (2019).
Setting the Transgender Agenda: Intermedia Agenda-Setting in the Digital News Environment. Politics, Groups, and Identities (2019).
Attitudes Toward Transgender Men and Women: Development and Validation of a New Measure. Frontiers in Psychology (2018).
Citizen Typography and Political Brands in the 2016 US Presidential Election Campaign. Marketing Theory (2018).
Fonts of Potential: Areas for Typographic Research in Political Communication. International Journal of Communication (2016).
Writing in the Margins: Mainstream News Media Representations of Transgenderism. International Journal of Communication (2016).
Over the last decade there has been an unprecedentedly rapid rise in attention to transgender individuals and the issues they face, both in mass and new media and in political institutions at every level of governance. Much, if not all, of this increasing attention has been due to the hard work of transgender rights activists, who have fought both publicly and “behind the scenes” for the cultural and political equality of transgender people. But how have these activists worked to achieve this? What media and communication strategies do they employ in their activism to secure the salience of transgender concerns and improve the status of transgender individuals?
While a robust literature on media activism has documented and theorized the communicative practices of social movement organizations in the United States, recent changes in the communication system—particularly regarding its structure, distribution of resources and power, and organizing media logic—draw into question the applicability of their findings to contemporary rights movements. These changes have necessitated that activists adapt their communicative practices to succeed in a system driven by different fundamental logics, but we have not yet, as a field, theorized these adaptations. My dissertation takes aim at this issue, exploring through the case of the transgender rights movement how media activist organizations adapt their practices to the new communication system in pursuit of sociopolitical and public opinion change.
The core of my research is being conducted at the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), the leading transgender rights organization in the United States. NCTE operates alongside broader LGBTQ rights organizations like GLAAD, HRC, and the National LGBTQ Task Force, but is unique among them for several reasons, including its sole focus on transgender concerns and its transgender leadership. Since its founding in 2003, NCTE has emerged as the leading public policy and media activism organization for the transgender rights movement, and its media placements and policy achievements belie that fact. I conducted an initial round of pre-study fieldwork at the organization in the summer of 2017 as a Consortium on Media Policy Studies (COMPASS) Fellow, followed by seven months main study fieldwork as Archival Fellow at NCTE in 2018.
The Trans Equality Archive
In my capacity as Archival Fellow, I was responsible for the the creation of an historical archive of the policy wing of the US transgender rights movement at NCTE—the Trans Equality Archive. More specifically, I was responsible for the acquisition of material documents, records, and ephemera pertaining to the establishment and development of NCTE over the last two decades; the organization of those materials into coherent research collections; the arrangement of partnerships with potential host institutions for the Archive's collections; and the recording of oral histories with key figures in the history of the DC-based policy wing of the transgender rights movement. In addition to providing a general service both to the organization and to scholars of transgender politics and history, my work establishing this Archive contributes to my dissertation research by providing a historical context to the contemporary political environment and the institutional structure of NCTE that contributed to the emergence of NCTE’s current communicative practices. Read more about the Trans Equality Archive here ↣
Participant-Observation and Interviewing
In addition to my archival work at NCTE, the primary research methods for my dissertation consist of participant-observation and in-depth interviewing. In the course of my fieldwork, I observed the daily workings of the Communications and Outreach & Education teams (as well as other teams with whom they work closely), sitting in on meetings, participating in key programming, and attending strategy sessions. I also conducted interviews with members of those teams, gaining crucial insight into the logics of social change that underlie the work processes I witness.
Where It’s Going
The present plan for my dissertation is to produce an empirically-based monograph in the tradition of Michael Burawoy’s extended case method that draws upon my fieldwork at the National Center for Transgender Equality sites to extend theoretical development on media activism and sociopolitical change.