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Seminar: This Ain’t Your Grandparent’s Research Methods: Holistic Research for 21st Century Problems and Issues, Christine S. Davis

In her 2014 book Conversations about qualitative communication research: Behind the scenes with leading scholars (Rutledge), and her 2015 co-authored article (with Deborah Breede) published in the Journal of Contemplative Inquiry, titled “Holistic ethnography: Embodiment, emotion, contemplation, and dialogue in ethnographic fieldwork,” Christine Davis theorizes a method of inquiry that moves beyond triangulation or crystallization of research data to a more holistic, “whole-body” approach to research. This holistic technique of considering knowledge is similar to an embodied meditation practice—a conscious awareness of experience in which the researcher moves through narrative, arts-based, social science, and dialogic ways of thinking in order to intentionally and variously focuses her attention on physical sensations, emotions, contemplation, and dialogue to contribute to deep sensemaking and critical examination. This analytical orientation enables the research to better critically examine cultural and social phenomena. In this series of interactive and engaged workshops, Christine Davis will take participants through the four stages of this process: embodiment, emotion, contemplation, and dialogue and will discuss how this method of engagement leads to a better consideration of social problems and issues. While this derives from an ethnographic understanding of the world, participants will apply this manner of inquiry to their own research projects, be they qualitative, rhetorical, or quantitative, and will see how to engage in a deeper, more thoughtful way of approaching any method of study. Throughout, we will discuss how this process can be used in the higher education classroom.

Seminar: Communicating with Taboo Topics, Mark P. Orbe

A taboo (or tabu) is a Polynesian word that refers to a general ban on a particular object; alternatively a taboo is “marked off”—implying that certain things are unsafe for causal contact. Taboo topics, then refer to a strong social prohibition against words, actions, and discussions that are considered offensive, embarrassing, inappropriate, and/or undesirable. This seminar is designed to engage participants who are interested in advancing the ways in which they explore topical areas traditionally marked off as taboo (e.g., race/racism, sex/sexuality, spirituality, etc.) within their teaching and research. More specifically, I will draw from my experiences teaching a special topics course (“Communicating About Taboo Topics”) for the past 10 years, and beginning to engage in scholarship focusing on a pedagogy of the taboo. Through exposure to interdisciplinary readings, experiential learning activities, and other co-curricular resources, we will explore the important role that communication theory, research, and pedagogy plays in facilitating difficult dialogues. Particular attention will focus on strategic ways in which scholar-teacher-practitioners can co-create safe and brave spaces in which transformative forms of communication can emerge. Ultimately, the goal is for participants to gain greater competence and confidence in engaging taboo topics whose power is retained and replicated as long as they remain cloaked in silence.

Seminar: Communicating Positive Deviance for Social Change, Arvind Singhal

Why do some students — who are first in their family to go to college, who work full time, who hail from low socio-economic strata, who have familial responsibilities – find a way to complete their degrees in four years, and with a high GPA, while most others in their situation fail to achieve a similar outcome? What are these positively deviant students (in a statistical sense) doing, without access to any additional resources and against all odds, which leads to better outcomes?

The purpose of this seminar is to understand—experientially, critically, and analytically—the positive deviance approach to social change, and to gain a hands-on experience in framing a positive deviance inquiry and understand what role small micro-communication behaviors can play to solve seemingly complex social problems.  The Positive Deviance (PD) Approach is based on the observation that in every community, there are some individuals or groups, whose uncommon behaviors and strategies (often of the communicative kind) allow them to have more successful outcomes than their neighbors, even though they face the same constraints and have access to the same resources.  Participants will learn from each other and from past experiences in implementation of the PD approach to address a variety of complex social problems.

Seminar: Gender Matters in Contemporary News Media, Linda Steiner

To claim that gender matters, including with respect to news media, is not particularly controversial. Specifically how gender matters and how it intersects with race are far more nuanced questions. This course will address these issues in the context of looking at the extent to which gender and race matter with reference to what topics receive more and less coverage, whose issues are taken seriously, how news is presented, and who gets hired, promoted, and retained at news outlets. Additional questions include what constrains journalists from producing quality coverage of highly-fraught stories and the impacts of the rise of social media platforms.

We will look at some of the literature theorizing these problems and focus on the scandals revealed in October and November 2017, beginning with the sexual harassment of actors and others by movie producer Harvey Weinstein. The exposure of this seemingly lead to a flood of allegations not only about Hollywood figures but also in politics, sports, journalism, and in academia, inter alia, in both the United States and abroad. Using concepts such as “the open secret,” we will analyze the relevant issues, with their sexual, gendered and/or racial implications, to explore what these say about power, gender and journalism. The relevant questions include who has the power to say what about and to whom, particularly in the context of journalism; how do narratives get authorized or delegitimated. Other important questions include how those in power try to stop journalists from reporting, as well as how journalists, news sources, and audiences are using Twitter to exert new forms of authority and disseminate news. These scandals also illustrate how research can be conducted.

Seminar: Critical Interpersonal and Family Communication, Elizabeth Suter

This seminar will address the emergent critical turn in interpersonal and family communication studies. While lamentation over the lack of critically-oriented interpersonal and family communication research can be traced back to the early 1990s, it has been only in the last few years that these expressions have amplified. A critical crescendo seems to be rising. Organization of conference panels and online discussion groups is ongoing. Scholars are discussing similar interests, sharing resources, and talking theory and method. This seminar will add to this conversation. We will discuss the theoretical and methodological promises of critical research for advancing interpersonal and family communication studies. This conversation will be framed by the four shifts espoused by the Critical Interpersonal and Family Communication (CIFC) framework, which calls for research that: (a) centers issues of power, (b) presumes a bidirectional relationship between private interpersonal/familial relations and the public sphere, (c) capitalizes on the potential of research to critique/ resist/transform the status quo in the service of social-justice ends, and (d) embodies author reflexivity in relation to the project.

Seminar: Inventing a Rhetoric of (Black) Suffering, Eric King Watts

Recently the White House Chief of Staff, John Kelly, remarked that the Civil War resulted from the “lack of an ability to compromise.” Not only is this factually erroneous—there were a series of compromises enacted to stave off war—it signifies an incapacity for a segment of US public culture to fully acknowledge black suffering. In this discourse, black suffering remains unacknowledged. When the material conditions of the slave are translated into the political terms of civil society and compromise, the slave’s abject suffering is (necessarily) left behind, in part because civil society presumes human communication and debate and the slave is not human.

This seminar will grapple with inventing a rhetoric of suffering by coming to terms with the reproduction of racism, the repetitive character of postracial fantasies, and the deadly allure of white male sovereignty. Underscoring each of these elements is a disavowal involving black suffering. The seminar will take up the following themes: 1. Modernity, biopower, and racism: this theme will examine how the invention of slavery coincided with the emergence of the racist biopolitical administration of dispossessed groups. 2. The Non-communicability of Blackness: here the seminar will analyze the symbolic and material prohibitions to the acknowledgment of black humanity. 3. Postracial fantasies and the reclamation of white male sovereignty. 4. The trope of the Zombie and the Apocalyptic Genre; this topic brings to bear recent theorizing on trope and genre and questions how the “Zombie” might figure a new way to speak of (black) suffering.