Communication scholar at USC Annenberg
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Research

 

Research

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.

 
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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.


Current projects

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) transgender coverage in digital news media; (3) the influence of media consumption patterns on the effects of transgender representations in fictional media; and (4) media system dependency and its influence on the belief in misinformation on transgender political issues.


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.


past work

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.” 


Research Methods

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. Yet, despite being well-versed in various methods, my true passion lies in ethnographic fieldwork, which I conduct largely in the tradition of Michael Burawoy's extended case method.


 

My Dissertation

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. Having 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, I am presently completing the primary fieldwork for my dissertation as Archival Fellow at NCTE through the end of 2018.

The Trans Equality Archive

In my capacity as Archival Fellow, I am 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 am 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 observe 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 conduct interviews with members of those teams, gaining crucial insight into the logics of social change that underlie the work processes I witness. For a more in-depth discussion of my methodological approach to my dissertation research, feel free to contact me.

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 and comparison sites to extend theoretical development on media activism and sociopolitical change.