Dissertation? Check.

A few weeks ago, I successfully defended and deposited my dissertation. I have since moved from Madison to my new home, Iowa City, where I am now an assistant professor in the School of Journalism & Mass Communication at The University of Iowa. I am excited and humbled to have this opportunity, to say the least.

My dissertation, as now filed at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Graduate School is titled “Creativity and Constraint in Self-Representational Media: A Production Ethnography of Visual Storytelling in a Nairobi Slum.” Here’s the abstract:

This study is a media production ethnography of members of a marginalized community constructing and telling stories using visual media. It is based off of 10 months of fieldwork in Kibera, a sprawling slum located in Nairobi, Kenya. In this study, I make three central claims. First, I argue that the dominant discourse about Kibera that is constructed and circulated by authors, journalists, NGOs, and unawares is hyperbolic and simplistic. I explore this discourse by speaking with Kibera residents about the disconnect they see between their lived experiences and the representations of their community offered by non-residents and the media. The prevalence of this discourse results in a valuable opportunity for community media producers to introduce counter-discourses that challenge dominant representations and prioritize the multiple perspectives of community members. Second, focusing specifically on the work of two community-media organizations in Kibera, I argue that media production by economically marginalized people is important both because of the counter-discourses offered in their media products and because the process of producing fictional films, documentaries, and news packages about their community is meaningful for those involved. These media products challenge the dominant discourse by drawing attention to otherwise unreported topics and reframing issues to emphasize community perspectives. Also, participants in these projects find value in this work and often redefine who they are in light of their efforts. Third, I argue that authorship and creative expression in self-representational media is complicated by a number of factors operating at the industry, community, organizational, and individual levels of analysis. While it is tempting to claim broadly and optimistically that these projects enable marginalized groups “to tell their own stories,” what occurs during the process of producing this media is much more complicated and interesting. Creative and constraining factors and forces impact the production of individual media texts as well as the larger systems in which such media are produced. While media production research often focuses on either structural constraints or individual creative expression, I argue scholars need to account for the complex and surprising ways these two forces interact with each other.

I am incredibly grateful to the members of my dissertation committee: Greg Downey, Neil Kodesh, Kirin Narayan, Hemant Shah, and especially my chair, Jo Ellen Fair. I also owe a huge debt of gratitude to those I met and worked with in Kenya and my friends and colleagues in the U.S.

Feel free to contact me if you are interested in learning more about my dissertation. I will continue to work with this research as I prepare it for future publication.

Now, about that tenure process…

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