Ph.D. Communication Studies
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
MSc. Media Studies
Fort Worth, Texas, USA
B.A. Media Studies
University for the Creative Arts
Farnham, Surrey, England
MEDIA & INFORMATION LITERACY RESEARCH
My research in this area advocates for an alliance between media literacy and information literacy. While recognizing that they emanate from different traditions (communications and library and information science), several influential theorists, including Sonia Livingstone and Renee Hobbs, have made a similar call. Despite these appeals for convergence, many academics, both in the U.S. and Europe, have been slow to formally or explicitly integrate media and information literacy. One reason for this is the persistence of institutional silos, but there is also a lack of awareness in communications and media studies areas in particular, to new critical subfields of information literacy.
I co-developed (with Spencer Brayton) and teach an interdisciplinary information and media literacy undergraduate course that incorporates critical components (i.e. questioning the production of and presumed neutrality of knowledge) from both disciplines. The class eschews the skills based approaches popular in some information and media literacy schools of thought (and a common perception of both fields, even at our own institution) and complicates notions of power, authority, and knowledge. We also decenter the role of the teacher, critique banking methods of education and encourage collaborative learning. Our critical approach challenges traditional classroom hierarchies which in turn facilitates questioning authority discussions in general.
In 'Reflections on Adopting a Critical Media and Information Literacy Pedagogy', in Critical Approaches to Credit-bearing Information Literacy Courses, (Angela Pashia & Jessica Critten, ACRL Press) we argue that the critical wings of information literacy and media literacy have much in common and should be allied. To that end, we introduce the term “critical media and information literacy” or CMIL. In the chapter, we provide an overview of the critical traditions in media and information literacy, a rationale for combining critical information literacy and critical media literacy, alongside practical classroom examples for a credit-bearing IL course, and identify challenges including assessment as well as student responses to our critical media and information literacy (CMIL) course.
In a forthcoming chapter, 'Not Tolerating Intolerance: Unpacking Critical Pedagogy in Classrooms and Conferences', Libraries Promoting Reflective Dialogue in a Time of Political Polarization, Andrea Baer, Ellysa Stern Cahoy and Robert Schroeder (editors), ACRL Press, we draw attention to what we perceive as blinders by some critical pedagogical educators, particularly the contrast between the genuine care towards students apparent in the writings of Freire and hooks on the one hand, and the disdain towards conservative students within the critical information literacy (CIL) and critical media literacy (CML) communities on the other. We reflect on our four-year research and teaching collaborative project across two fields - media literacy (located primarily in communications/media studies) and information literacy (library and information science) and draw on our classroom experiences to highlight some of the challenges faced when teaching students from a wide range of class and political backgrounds. We also examine the ways in which our own collaborative co-teaching impacted our understandings of the viability of critical pedagogies, which seem to be increasingly and unabashedly framed in terms of dictatorial classroom practices, including educators just telling students the ‘right’ way to think about any number of issues, while simultaneously advocating critical thinking. At a time when many have commented on the increased polarization both in the country generally, as well as in academia, we discuss experiences of insularity and incivility in the classroom as well as in academic conference spaces, and offer some alternative pedagogical approaches that could be utilized in both places. It is our intent to give voice to concerns, such as the challenges of integrating critical pedagogy into classroom spaces where students are unfamiliar with, and sometimes resistant to its principles. How do other educators do this in their classroom spaces, what strategies (apart from easy authoritarian approaches) work, and how are different types of student audiences considered? We believe other educators in our communities share these concerns, but they may have been (or witnessed colleagues) marginalized or silenced for raising them. And although we don’t have all the answers to these questions, we would like to see more discussion on these topics in critical conference settings.
We have shared research at The Library Faculty Organization Fall Colloquium (Penn State), the 2nd International Media Literacy Research Symposium (Lisbon, Portugal), the 6th Annual International Critical Media Literacy Conference (Savannah, Georgia), the International Media Education Summit (Rome, Italy), the Canadian Association of Professional Academic Librarians at Ryerson University (Toronto, Ontario, Canada) and the National Association for Media Literacy Education at Roosevelt University (Chicago, Illinois).
CRITICAL WHITENESS RESEARCH
The status of Irishness in the 1990s departed significantly from its historical antecedents, as it influenced the US popular culture landscape in ways few could have predicted. The mainstream fascination with and consumption of Irish-themed products throughout the US during and subsequent to this decade was extraordinarily far-reaching. For example, enthusiastic audiences and consumers within and beyond the American Irish community embraced Irish-themed films, made for television movies, children’s television programs, dance and theatre productions, advertisements, books, music, festivals, shopping catalogs and stores, and theme pubs, restaurants, and parks. My dissertation, ‘Converging Identities: Irishness and Whiteness in US Popular Culture’, provides a detailed examination of the multiple, varied meanings and uses of Irishness in the US during the past twenty years. Beginning in the mid 1990s, and signaled in part by the success of ‘Riverdance’, claiming an Irish or American Irish identity, or often a simple affinity with Irishness, became an increasingly common way to openly defend one’s white identity in a society perpetually preoccupied with racial concerns.
The issue of race supplied the fundamental prism through which the success of contemporary Irishness is refracted. Through the lens of critical race theory, I examined Irishness as whiteness by reconceptualizing three audience groups that consume Irish themed material culture:
Self-identified American Irish, what I called sanctioned consumers, these are the groups typically associated with ‘American Irish’.
Deviant consumers are white supremacist and nationalist groups that capitalize on the popularity of all things Irish in order to market themselves to new audiences.
Ancillary consumers are white, suburban, upper middle class audiences who claim no ancestral connection to Ireland.
Although much work has been done on ‘traditional’ American Irish audiences, little had been undertaken on the other two groups examined in this study (in part because they are rarely identified as being connected to Irishness – those with few or no ancestral ties to Ireland and white supremacists). Many diverse deviant groups including Stormfront, the American Front, the Aryan Brotherhood and the Council of Conservative Citizens have used (and continue to use) the mainstream fascination with Irishness to appeal to more general white audiences and boost their respective organizations’ membership.
Despite mainstream media tendencies that depict white supremacist groups as one-dimensional, whiteness and its associative Irishness are ideological practices. By examining some of the ways in which Irishness is deployed within these groups, we can learn more about the ways in which they attempt to build barriers against the physical presence of nonwhites and their perceived intrusion into “our” white Irish/Celtic “heritage” in the US. The success of these strategies remind us to heed Abby Ferber’s caution about drawing sharp distinctions between the so-called white supremacist fringe and some supposed nonracist majority. Shamrocks and St. Patrick’s Day, if not Celtic crosses and tattoos, show that the distance between extreme and mainstream is disturbingly narrow and that Irishness is a critical stage upon which US racial ideologies are performed.
My research has been published in an anthology (The Irish in Us, Duke UP), a refereed journal (New Hibernia Review) and I currently have an article in submission to another referred journal. I have also presented this work at various national conferences including the American Conference for Irish Studies, the International Communication Association and the Society for Cinema and Media Studies.
‘Remixing Henry Jenkins & Fiskkit: Media and Information Literacy in the Classroom,’ National Association for Media Literacy Education, Washington, D.C., June 26-28.
‘Not Tolerating Intolerance: Unpacking Critical Pedagogy in the Classroom’, w/Spencer Brayton, 17th Annual Information Literacy Summit, DePaul University Library and Moraine Valley Community College Library, Palos Hills, IL, April 5.
‘Critical Media and Information Literacy in the Classroom: Practical Applications and Theoretical Foundations’, w/Spencer Brayton, 7th Annual International Critical Media Literacy Conference, Coastal Georgia Center, Savannah, GA. February 22-23.
Media and Information Literacy: Growth Through Collaborative Pedagogy, w/Spencer Brayton, 2nd International Media Literacy Research Symposium, Lisbon, Portugal. April 19-20.
Critical Intersections: Collaboration in Media and Information Literacy, w/Spencer Brayton, 6th Annual International Critical Media Literacy Conference, Coastal Georgia Center, Savannah, GA. February 23-24.
Building Media Literate Citizens Across Three Universities: A Study in Collaboration, w/Spencer Brayton, Julie Smith & Laura Wiedlocher, National Association for Media Literacy Education, Roosevelt University, Chicago, IL. June 26-28.
Critical Librarianship in Practice: A Case for Media and Information Literacy Instruction, w/Spencer Brayton, Canadian Association of Professional Academic Librarians / Congress for the Humanities and Social Sciences, Ryerson University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, May 30-June 1.
Media and Information Literacy: A Case for Critical Pedagogy, w/Spencer Brayton, 16th Annual Information Literacy Summit, DePaul University Library and Moraine Valley Community College Library, Palos Hills, IL, May 5.