June 6, 2017
I have always had a strong interest in language use and storytelling, two compelling parts of the "how," or practice, of communication, which explains in part why I became both a media professional and (later) a communications scholar. Another of my lifelong commitments has been to social justice and fairness. Integrating storytelling and language use with social justice activism is, therefore, fundamental to both my research and my pedagogy.
My research has focused on how marginal groups and movements attempt to take their ideas from the margins to the mainstream, with a particular emphasis on how they produce and circulate their ideas to various publics and the obstacles they face in overcoming the powerful, who often seek to restrict such ideas from gaining currency with the general public.
In 2015, I had the opportunity to reflect upon my approach with other activist scholars as part of a day-long seminar on "Activism and Communication Studies Scholarship," sponsored by the Canadian Communications Association (CCA) and supported in-kind by Mozilla. This resulted in my latest paper, “‘Engaging Class Struggles’: Preparing Students for the ‘Real World’ by Teaching ‘Activist’ Cultural Production in the Classroom," which was published in a special issue of the Canadian Journal of Communication (vol.42, no.1, 2017).
As a result of this process of engagement and reflection via the seminar and paper, it’s become clear that how activist scholars engage students in the classroom helps strengthen students’ writing and communication skills while cultivating their ability to think beyond orthodoxies. This classroom pedagogy enables students to become both engaged citizens and skilled graduates ready for a career in a world where the marketing of "corporate social responsibility" and shared social values are increasingly accepted as "good for business" (think of recent corporate commercials aired on TV in response to particular pronouncements of the Trump administration).
I have been encouraged by students and alumni telling me how useful my courses are to their experience of the "real world," whether in their work for non-profits, industry or government.
As a result of this process, I am working on a second paper tentatively entitled, "Rhetoric Obscura: How the National Post Persuades Publics," part of which I presented at this year’s CCA conference. This paper analyses the writing style and rhetorical strategies employed in editorials in the right-wing press to persuade audiences of its ideology.
These papers reflect some of the themes I am working on with my co-author, Associate Professor Kirsten Kozolanka (Carleton University), for a book for Fernwood Publishing called Media Activism in Canada.
Ideally, scholars and activist scholars will find my examples of assignments, topics and tactics useful for their own classroom teaching. My hope is that these publications will also encourage other activist scholars to view their own engagements in the "real world" as a potential source of valuable ideas for in-class learning and share their stories with the rest of us.
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