In general, my research interests include critical-cultural approaches to media history and policy; impacts of popular culture on American public life and media institutions; theories, practices, and future of citizen-produced media; critical-cultural approaches to popular music; and disability and media.
My most recent publications and conference presentations concern issues of media localism and popular approaches to media policy.
Below is some of my work from the past few years. I have also written a couple of blog posts at Antenna, which you can read here, and for the In Media Res project at the Media Commons, which you can read here.
Localism in American Media, 1920-1934 (Dissertation)
Against the backdrop of the United States coming to terms with modernity, this study explores how regulators, the radio industry, and the public used discourses and structures of "localism" in a range of struggles to shape the media system.
Localism in American Media Policy, 1920-1934: Reconsidering a “Bedrock Concept”
Radio Journal: International Studies in Broadcast and Audio Media, 4:1-3 (Oct. 2006), 87-110.
Scholars tend to agree that the weak implementation of affirmative localism in US media is primarily due to either the failure of regulators to enforce the principle, or the unworkability of the concept of localism itself. By ‘affirmative localism’ I refer to efforts to foster geographically based local identities and local public spheres through a licensee’s program service.
This study revisits the history of localism to demonstrate that early regulators were not primarily concerned with fostering affirmative localism, but instead used discourses and structures of localism as part of a class-based project of cultural and economic modernisation of local communities through radio. In this view, regulatory concepts such as local program service and local trusteeship were used to reduce local distinctiveness, limit program diversity, and retain content control with nationally minded regulators in Washington. These regulators’ corporate and cosmopolitan vision of modernity is problematic in many ways, but their relative success in using localism to advance that vision calls into question the Federal Radio Commission’s reputation for weakness and incompetence. It also suggests that affirmative localism, since it was actively suppressed by regulators in the formative years of US radio, cannot be considered a failed or unworkable concept for broadcasting policy in itself.
“It Beats Rocks and Tear Gas”: Streaking and Cultural Politics in the Post-Vietnam Era
Journal of Popular Culture 43:5 (October 2010), 1023-1047.
In this paper, I seek to make the case that a properly historical view of "fads" such as streaking interrogates their trivial and ephemeral status, situating them within their social context with an eye toward enduring political and cultural repercussions. In doing so, I show that the meanings of the 1974 streaking phenomenon were actively contested at the time but that active efforts to de-politicize, de-criminalize, and de-sexualize campus streaking resulted in one particular meaning acquiring the status of "common sense": that of streaking as a non-threatening, non-political, and ultimately trivial fad. This dominant meaning not only largely drained streaking of its disruptive or even threatening potential, but also worked to define the college campus—and by metonymic extension, America itself—as a particular kind of place: a site of youthful innocence. Furthermore, this response was possible because streaking was overwhelmingly a white male activity, and I provide evidence that the social response to streaking would likely have been radically different had it been, say, predominantly women or African Americans running around naked en masse. I argue that this discursive construction–streaking as harmless fad–represents one front in the reassertion of an imagined 1950s American innocence following the upheavals of the 1960s and early 1970s, representing the beginnings of a project that culminated culturally and politically in a conservative populism whose repercussions continue to be felt today.
"'A Blessed Boon': Media Policy, Disability,
and the Discourse of the 'Shut-In,' 1920-1930”
Critical Studies in Media Communication 29:3 (2012), 165-184.
Abstract: One of the most frequently invoked figures in discourse about broadcasting in the 1920s was the "shut-in" to whom radio technology promised greater integration in national life; in particular, radio's perceived ability to culturally "re-able" persons with disabilities was widely hailed as a "blessed boon" to those whose disability was seen to prevent their full participation in American society. Drawing on extensive primary and archival research, and using a theoretical framework drawn from Foucauldian concepts of governmentality and biopolitics, this essay explores how the co-articulation of radio and disability operated both as media policy and disability policy, helping to turn radio into an instrument of governmentality more generally. I argue that early media policy both enabled and constrained constructions of disability and empowerment, and that constructions of disability both enabled and constrained the development of the media system in the U.S. The shut-in thus helps reveal how new communications technologies came to be incorporated into modern liberal modes of governance, with important consequences both for the U.S. media system and the social imagination of persons with disabilities. The essay also illustrates the value of bringing two distinct but complementary fields, critical policy studies and critical disability studies, into dialogue.
Cultural Policy in American Music History: Sammy Davis, Jr. vs. Juvenile Delinquency. (Co-authored with Anna Nekola)
Journal of the Society for American Music 4:1 (January 2010), 33-58.
In 1956 entertainer Sammy Davis, Jr., attempted to organize the music industry in a campaign against juvenile delinquency, using musical public service announcements to encourage teens to stay on the right side of the law. Although popular with the public and some industry insiders, Davis’s idea failed, ofﬁcially because of opposition from the Recording Industry Association of America. Although Davis’s campaign went nowhere, we argue that this episode provides an important illustration of the need to broaden our understanding of cultural policy studies in the context of American music history. Speciﬁcally, we argue for an approach to policy analysis that draws on poststructuralist historiography to capture the forms that cultural policy takes in the United States, including the speciﬁc factors of race, intra-industry struggles, and the persona of Sammy Davis, Jr., himself, a pivotal ﬁgure who has been largely neglected by music historians despite embodying many of the key cultural tensions of postwar U.S. society. By examining the case of Sammy Davis, Jr., vs. Juvenile Delinquency, we can achieve a better understanding of how U.S. music, U.S. culture, and cultural policy intersect.
Vernacular Policymaking and the Cultural Turn in Media Policy Studies
A revision of a paper originally presented at the Fiske Matters conference, Madison, Wisc., June 2010.
Media policy analysis remains fixed on traditional technocratic and positivist notions of "policy" and overwhelmingly concentrated on the activities of the official policy sphere of the state. Borrowing concepts from cultural studies, legal pluralism, interpretative policy analysis, and other areas, the author argues for an expanded media policy analysis that also considers unofficial, bottom-up, and "vernacular" media policy: the kinds of media policies that are formulated and enforced in a range of settings and by differently empowered policymakers, from parents restricting the media consumption of children to internet pranksters regulating behavior online. Although this essay remains an initial conceptual statement, with research on particular case studies yet to be done, I argue that a better appreciation of the diverse sites and modes of media policymaking and their relationship to the official policy sphere will deepen our understanding of the media policy.
"Voices Made For Print: Crip Voices on the Radio"
Forthcoming in Radio’s New Wave, edited by Michele Hilmes and Jason Loviglio (Routledge, 2013).
Radio's exclusion of disabled voices (e.g. stuttering, dysphonia) is ordinarily explained away through discourses of "quality" and "listenability." Yet this rejection of sonic disabilities starkly contrasts with our longstanding fascination with visual representations of disabled bodies, and reveals, I argue, how the sight/sound dichotomy, coupled with radio's supposed "intimacy," troubles our relationships to disabled others. Whereas vision offers critical distance from and structured superiority to alterity, radio sound inhibits simple self-other distinctions. Reforming the economics of radio may provide partial inclusion of "crip" voices on the airwaves, but any significant improvement will emerge from the realm of communicative ethics.