Home Departmental News Fall Quarter 2020 Newsletter

Fall Quarter 2020 Newsletter

Welcome back!

Welcome to a new 2020-21 academic year! We begin this term with all classes and departmental activities being held remotely—a circumstance that will continue at least for Winter Quarter (Spring quarter is undecided). We are pleased to welcome two new faculty (introduced below), seven new graduate students, along with a growing cohort of majors and minors, all of whom hope to meet in person before too long. Our staff and faculty have worked hard to make the most of our distributed existence, doing what we can to make our classes, as well as other dimensions of the department’s intellectual and social life meaningful at a distance. 

Notable, in this regard, will be the launch of our Democracy Lab which brings together research and creative efforts of faculty and grads in and beyond the department who are invested in critical and interdisciplinary approaches to various forms and definitions of Democracy. The Lab’s launch will be marked by a set of virtual events this Spring (more information forthcoming), initiation of a pod-cast series, and if possible the ribbon cutting for the physical labs. I encourage you to participate in planning meetings and activities for the Demo-Lab throughout the year.

The department has also initiated two important committees dedicated to confronting critical concerns. The Anti-Racist Working Group was formed as one outcome of discussions of the department’s response to the events surrounding the Murder of George Floyd (see our Commitments to Actions at https://communication.ucsd.edu/about/blm.html). Building on the Department’s historical commitment to struggles for social justice, the working group will discuss and make recommendations of how the department’s practices and resources can best be leveraged to dismantle white supremacy while simultaneously promoting anti-racism. We have also formed an ad hoc committee responding to the need for Support for Care Providers which is currently gathering input on heightened challenges for parents and other care-givers during the pandemic. Composed of department members, this working group is researching strategies for these issues and will be making recommendations to the department and the division and campus administrations.

Protesters gather at a vigil for George Floyd and other Black men and women killed by police outside of the San Diego County building, May 31, 2020.

Since this past spring there has been a notable increase in the number of cases of individuals facing critical health and wellness concerns—a situation that is unsurprising given the expanded pressures, stresses, and losses that we are facing. In general, I call on all of you to extend your care and empathy, and to be vigilant in engaging and/or reporting any concerns you have for the well-being of others in our community. Note: the Triton Concern Line (858-246-1111) is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to report your concerns.

The importance of communication, both scholarly and engaged, is more evident than ever as we continue to confront the unprecedented crises, uncertainties, and disorder around us. We have experienced the convergence of threats to our physical and mental well-being including the COVID-19 pandemic, heightened tensions around racial violence, and a growing social divide at both national and international scales. Our teaching, research, and scholarly activities this year will offer various frameworks and approaches to understanding and mediate these challenges.  

Wishing you a healthy, safe, engaging, and productive quarter!

Brian Goldfarb

Associate Professor and Chair

Department of Communication

Faculty Achievements

Welcome to our newest faculty members

Welcome Dr. R. Stuart Geiger!

Dr. R. Stuart Geiger joins us with a dual appointment with the Halıcıoğlu Data Science Institute. As a self-described “disciplinary nomad,” Dr. Geiger fits seamlessly into our unique community by “integrating disciplines like computer science, information science, social psychology, and organization/management science with fields like philosophy, sociology, anthropology, and history of science and technology.” Read more about Geiger’s education and current research at his website here. 

Welcome Dr. Lillian Walkover!

Dr. Lillian Walkover joins us with a dual appointment with the Global Health program which offers undergraduate and graduate degrees. Dr. Walkover’s current projects include an exploration of the translation and adaptation of the community health guide Where There Is No Doctor for use in India, and a study of the adaptation of Community Health Worker programs in the US. Read more about Walkover’s education and current research at her website here. 

Look out for news articles introducing Geiger and Walkover coming this September! Welcome to you both!

Assistant Professor Matilde Córdoba Azcárate publishes Stuck with Tourism: Space, Power, and Labor in Contemporary Yucatan from UC Press

Congratulations Dr. Córdoba Azcárate on this achievement!

About the book: “Tourism has become one of the most powerful forces organizing the predatory geographies of late capitalism. It creates entangled futures of exploitation and dependence, extracting resources and labor, and eclipsing other ways of doing, living, and imagining life. And yet, tourism also creates jobs, encourages infrastructure development, and in many places inspires the only possibility of hope and well-being. Stuck with Tourism explores the ambivalent nature of tourism by drawing on ethnographic evidence from the Mexican Yucatán Peninsula, a region voraciously transformed by tourism development over the past forty years. Contrasting labor and lived experiences at the beach resorts of Cancún, protected natural enclaves along the Gulf coast, historical buildings of the colonial past, and maquilas for souvenir production in the Maya heartland, this book explores the moral, political, ecological, and everyday dilemmas that emerge when, as Yucatán’s inhabitants put it, people get stuck in tourism’s grip.”

Dr. Córdoba Azcárate

“This original ethnography offers a new theoretical perspective on tourism and its impact on local communities. Rather than accepting the received view that tourism benefits the inhabitants of a place, it takes a more critical perspective that uncovers how tourism restructures every aspect of the environment and the economy through its predatory and extractive practices.” ––Setha M. Low, Distinguished Professor of Environmental Psychology, Anthropology, Earth and Environmental Sciences, and Women’s Studies, The Graduate Center, City University of New York

Download a flyer for this book which includes a discount from the publisher. 

Professor Gary Fields’ article “Lockdown: Gaza through a Camera Lens and Historical Mirror” featured in the Spring 2020 issue of Journal of Palestine Studies

The latest issue of the Journal of Palestine Studies (JPS) featured Professor Gary Fields’ recent publication “Lockdown: Gaza through a Camera Lens and Historical Mirror” as its lead article and discussed its relevance as a prescient reminder of the current pandemic’s parallels in history. 

Gaza Strip, North perimeter Wall near Erez checkpoint (2017).  Photo by Gary Fields

JPS editors Rashid Khalidi and Sherene Seikaly, had this say about the article: 

Congratulations, Professor Fields!

“We prepared this issue of JPS before the global lockdown in the spring of 2020.  One indication of how deeply this moment speaks to our past and future is Gary Fields’ prescient article, ‘Lockdown:  Gaza through a Camera Lens and Historical Mirror.’  Fields links the status of the Gaza Strip to historical carceral sites such as Algeria under French settler colonialism, the antebellum South in the United States, and plague-stricken European towns.  He highlights both Palestine’s specificity, and its parallels with other times and places.  Gaza, and we would suggest Palestine writ large, can best be understood as part of what Fields calls a “broader historical lineage of confinement landscapes.

To read more please visit: https://communication.ucsd.edu/research/publications/fields-lockdown-2020.html

Assistant Professor Alex Fattal’s work receives multiple awards

Dr. Alex Fattal recently won the book award of the Global Communication and Social Change’s Division of ICA for his book Guerrilla Marketing: Counterinsurgency and Capitalism in Colombia. This publication has already received the Sharon Stephens Prize by the American Ethnological Society, Honorable Mention for the Society for Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology and has been reviewed by the New Yorker, Revista: Harvard Review of Latin America, and Cultural Anthropology’s Visual and New Media Review. Fattal’s award winning book has also been translated into Spanish: Guerrilla Marketing: Contrainsurgencia y Capitalismo en Colombia (Editorial Universidad del Rosario, 2019, translation by María Clemencia Ramírez and Andy Klatt).

Congratulations Dr. Alex Fattal!

Dr. Fattal’s experimental short film Limbo continues to receive acclaim with its most recent award for Best Short Film at the Latin American Studies Association’s Film Festival. 

Limbo has been making the film festival circuit with screenings at the Sheffield Doc Fest (UK), Bogoshorts (Colombia) where it won Honorable Mention for Best Documentary Short, Cinema du Reel (France), and the Lasa Film Festival (Mexico). You can view a trailer for Limbo here. Read more about Dr. Fattal’s publications, films, and current research at his website here.

An oneiric journey through Alex’s life as a former guerrilla leads to a reckoning with the devil inside of him. His only cure is yagé, a sacred plant used by his indigenous community. As both a perpetrator and victim, Alex exemplifies the complexity of the Colombian conflict and the difficulties of simply moving on. ​LIMBO tells Alex’s story in a truck transformed into a giant camera obscura in which up and down, wrong and right are not fixed. It is in this confessional, surreal, psychoanalytic space where we are confronted with life mired between a militant passed and a civilian present.

Associate Professor Lilly Irani’s book Chasing Innovation: Making Entrepreneurial Citizens in Modern India wins award

Congratulations to Dr. Lilly Irani for receiving the International Communication Association’s Outstanding Book Award for Chasing Innovation: Making Entrepreneurial Citizens in Modern India (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2019). Dr. Irani’s book has also won the 2019 Diana Forsythe Prize awarded by American Anthropological Association Society for the Anthropology of Work (SAW) and the Committee for the Anthropology of Science, Technology, and Computing (CASTAC).

This book is a richly detailed, multi-year ethnography of the ways in which social entrepreneurship, design, and innovation work underscore national and global chains of value and power. The book marshals history and political economy around stories of everyday people who invested in impossible dreams that if they are more creative, they will achieve upward social mobility. Instead, innovation and human-centered design projects most benefited those already with social and economic capital. Precarious Indian citizens remained so despite their passionate aspirations. Deconstructing these rationalities and identities of entrepreneurialism in the context of development and governance in India, the book charts a new theoretical frame for understanding the entrepreneur as a figure of exploitation and a tool of nation-building. Dr. Irani asks critically “Who modernizes whom, and towards what horizon?” As such, the book de-Westernizes the figure of entrepreneur as a hero of teleological progress.

Watch Dr. Irani’s interview and read about her reflections in an article published last year here. 

You can also learn more about Dr. Irani’s recent publications and research at her website here. Congratulations, Dr. Irani!

Professor Emerita Dr. Chandra Mukerji reflects on the Decameron and the current pandemic

In response to the pandemic which erupted during the transition from Winter to Spring quarters, Dr. Chandra Mukerji published an article with Public Books, “an online magazine of ideas, scholarship, and the arts”. Mukerji’s piece reflects on Giovanni Boccaccio’s 14th century Decameron which was written shortly after the “Black Death,” a catastrophic plague that killed 50-60% of southern Europe’s population. 

When faced with a pandemic, Boccaccio learned—as we have—that people do not need new moral principles to guide them, but rather means to invent new lives, find inner strength, and laugh off the horror of loss. Boccaccio understood that the plague was a cause and a signal of an old world passing and a new world coming into being. So, in the Decameron, he offered one hundred preposterous, often funny, wise, and risqué tales of human vulnerability and strength.

Professor Mukerji draws similarities and differences between the Black Death and the COVID-19 pandemic, offering insight into how we might learn from such stories.

“The Decameron piece was the result of a friend reading my modernity book that starts with the plague. With so many people dying, social relations had to be reimagined and redesigned. The Decameron piece points to the power of imagination in that period, the importance of storytelling as a means of imagining possibilities in a time of radical change. We talk a lot about the importance of facts and science in discussions of our pandemic, but we don’t  discuss the power of dreams to give people direction. Trump is dangerous in spite of his failures in office because he wields the power of the story, encouraging his followers to imagine a better future with his leadership. Everyone wants a better world, and he helps his followers dream of it. It may not matter in the outcome of the election because the losses and mistakes have had such dire consequences, but it does matter that we need to imagine forms of collective healing. It animates the BLM movement, and it explains Biden’s characterization of himself as a healer. His followers can imagine getting well both in relation to the pandemic and in relation to our weaknesses as a nation.”

Read Professor Mukerji’s entire article here and learn about her past research and publications at her profile here. 

Graduate Achievements and news

Welcome to our new Ph.D. cohort!

An enthusiastic welcome to the newest members of our graduate community:

Marwa Abdalla 

Taylor Brough

Carmel Farzaneh 

Ignacio Evans

Eva Gonzalez-Ruskiewicz

Keven Hernandez

Nithyanand Rao


Congratulations Christina Aushana!

Ph.D. student Christina Aushana was awarded the Judith & Neil Morgan Endowed Fellowship in recognition of her outstanding scholarship, and in support of her dissertation project, “Staging Vision, Screening Others: The Performance and Visual Culture of Contemporary Policing.”

Congratulations Rachel Fox!

Ph.D. student Rachel Fox was awarded this fellowship for the 2019-2020 academic year as well.

Ph.D. student [Dr.] Monika Sengul-Jones, who defended her dissertation earlier this year, has been selected as the winner of the UC San Diego Dean’s Fellowship Prize for Humanistic Studies. This is a competitive award awarded to one graduate doctoral student annually in the humanistic or humanistic social sciences. The prize was established in 2017 and is sponsored by an anonymous donor. Read the full article about Sengul-Jones’ award on our news page. 

Dr. Monika Sengul-Jones receives the surprising news about her UC San Diego Dean’s Fellowship Prize for Humanistic Studies.

Congratulations to all on these achievements! 

Dissertation Defenses

Monika Sengul-Jones

Congratulations Dr. Monika Sengul-Jones!

Title: “The Liminal Work of Online Freelance Writing: Networked Configurations of Gendered Labor, Technologies, Subjectivities.”

Committee: Kalindi Vora, Elizabeth Losh, Martha Lampland, Lilly Irani, Dan Hallin, and Lisa Cartwright (chair).

ABSTRACT: This dissertation is a theoretical, interpretative, and empirical study of online freelance writing work in the 2010s in the United States. The aftermath of the 2008 recession saw a rise in remote writing work opportunities and online platforms facilitating and scaffolding such work. A field of precarious work that was predominately occupied by women, the dissertation tracks freelance writing work done on explicitly feminist online platforms for women readers and writing work done by women on crowdwork marketplace platforms brokering low-paid content writing piece work. Using ethnographic methods, participant observation, and interpretative, historical textual analysis, this dissertation advances the neologism “liminal work” to ground my analysis over four chapters. Liminal, which comes from the Latin word “threshold,” suggests a physical crossing from one place to another. The “liminal work” of freelance writing online is the maintenance of ambiguity, accomplished through attachments to historical and speculative concepts of autonomy and the liberal human subject. I advance this argument with attention to the mythology of entrepreneurialism as a frame that enables contemporary, situated dependencies to perpetuate in platform design. I scope the intersection of historical debates about freedom to access information online before the commercial internet with the gendered work of library service professionals as prefiguring commercial online websites and writerly work. I analyze empirical reports from women doing online freelance writing, interwoven with my own experiences as a researcher and writer. I focus on stories that are told, from the stories in published articles, stories justifying practical work processes and their logics, to stories about professional alignments, hopes, disappointments, and dependencies. The dissertation diagnoses the liminal work of online freelance writing as a technology of a compulsion to possess a subject position that is not quite realized. My analysis is grounded in theories of feminist infrastructure studies and intersubjectivity, and I give close attention to the function of apostrophe, metaphors and non-representational myths as devices of intersubjective feelings and the networked configurations of technologies and subjectivities that they are realized within. The outcome is a modest recuperation of less visible work histories. This is an interpretation of a snapshot of the inner workings of this moment in the early 21st century economy and a map of the ways that gendered intersections of networked configurations of labor and technologies open up certain futures, and also make destabilization possible. While this work is about the 2010s, the dissertation may stoke the imagination beyond the time of this writing, into the 2020s, a period during which we face yet another, even harsher, economic turndown and an unprecedented reliance on commercial and mediated digital work practices.

Ned Randolph

Congratulations Dr. Ned Randolph!

Title: Clear As Mud: The Struggle Over Louisiana’s Disappearing Wetlands

Committee: Patrick Anderson (Chair), Angela Booker, Kelly Gates, Valerie Hartouni, Octavio Aburto-Oropeza

ABSTRACT: The dissertation is about power and the landscape that power produces. It explicates a paradox of modernity, which is this: how one of the most vulnerable places to sea-level rise organizes its economy and culture around extractive thinking and the production of fossil fuels. To do that, it tracks how power produces its own conditions of possibility through crises and responses to such crises that guarantee future action. The dissertation likewise interrogates structures of discourse, science, and common sense. It analyzes and problematizes the state of Louisiana’s historic responses to various environmental crises of flooding, storms, and, starting in the late 20th century, its disappearing coastal wetlands. It frames the state’s efforts to restore its coast as part of a complex but ongoing continuum that began three centuries ago with the 1718 colonial settlement of New Orleans and recently made visible by Hurricane Katrina. I argue that the state’s political economy organizes itself as the solution to the environmental crisis of its own making. The dissertation relies on mixed methods of archival research, interviews and discourse analysis from a variety of texts, policy position papers, historic newspaper articles, scientific studies, and transcripts of public meetings and court cases. It gestures to traditional and emerging critical fields in the Humanities and Social Sciences such as political geography and political ecology, cultural studies, environmental humanities, science studies, and cultural history. The dissertation is conceptually grounded and organized around a material component of Mississippi Delta Mud. Through mud, it explicates a cultural and environmental history of New Orleans and Lower Mississippi River Delta region. This is a story of both the natural environment and the social conditions and histories entangled within it. Far from being a passive object that has meandered through the backdrop of national identity and struggle, the Mississippi River and its mud functions as agents in the production of difference – racial and ethnic, colonizer and colonized. This dissertation attends to stories as they have been told and uses these moments to provoke a discussion of the way in which natural history becomes a venue for violence.   

Poyao Huang

Congratulations Dr. Poyao Huang!

Title: How to Become “HIV Negative, on PrEP” in the Post-AIDS Era: The Material Culture of Gay Taiwanese Men’s Sexual Health

Committee: David Serlin (Co-Chair), Lisa Cartwright (Co-Chair), Patrick Anderson, Dredge Byung’chu Kang, Kalindi Vora

ABSTRACT: This dissertation is an ethnographic study of contemporary gay Taiwanese men’s sexual health with a focus on the circulation of HIV prevention medicine and blood management. In the 2010s, the governance of HIV/AIDS has undergone a significant shift, moving from biomedical treatment to prevention: pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is prescribed for HIV-negative individuals to prevent sexually contracting HIV. PrEP engenders a new serological condition, “HIV negative, on PrEP.” By signaling the absence of virus and personal use of HIV biomedicine, “HIV negative, on PrEP” implies that this medicine works at the molecular level of human blood to suppress viral incubation and replication, and entails a medical and social urgency of constantly bringing the drug into an individual’s body. This dissertation asks what it means to be “HIV negative, on PrEP” in the neoliberal, transnational context of drug consumption and regulation. In this project, I argue that serostatus associated with HIV biomedicine should not be seen as a fixed scientific category about one’s wellbeing, but instead a dynamic process of becoming “HIV negative, on PrEP.” I tell the story of how gay men, governments, AIDS advocates, pharmaceutical companies, and other social actors utilize “HIV negative, on PrEP” as a means to redefine sexual health during a time when drugs are newly introduced and not yet widely available or financially accessible. In doing so, I unearth the socio-economic tensions, health inequalities, and hegemonic oppressions against gay men amid the HIV biomedical prevention regime. A multi-sited ethnography conducted in Taiwan and Thailand from 2016 to 2019, this dissertation traces PrEP’s social trajectory and gay men’s socio-sexual practices to document the transformation of sexual health in four main chapters: government-led medical support programs, the AIDS advocacy organizations initiated drug-delivery model, gay men’s medical tourism to Thailand, and gay men’s sexual communication through smartphone social apps. Drawing on the theories and methods from the science and technology studies (STS), new feminist materialism, medical anthropology, and media studies, I offer an expansive and performative interpretation of health, safety, risk, and other taken-for-granted notions in public health, illustrating how gay Taiwanese men have undergone a biomedical and social transformation of blood management and body modification. In moving toward self-health enhancement, their bodies and sexualities have become intertwined with the economies of pharmaceutical innovation, governmental regulation, and personal mobility and pleasure. Ultimately, this dissertation contributes to the emerging scholarship of “Queer STS” by addressing the broader issues of the politics of self-medication, the marketization of HIV medicine, and the making of queer sexuality in the digital environment.  

Alumni Achievements

Dr. Diego Cortes (2017) has accepted a position as Assistant Professor, Division of Communication and the Arts, University of Pittsburgh, Bradford.

Dr. Matthew Dewey (2018) has accepted a position as a Clinical Assistant Professor of Interdisciplinary Media, Communication Studies Department and Journalism Program, Loyola Marymount University.

Dr. Poyao Huang (2020) has accepted a postdoctoral fellowship at The Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, Harvard University.

Dr. Reece Peck (2012) has been promoted to Associate Professor at The College of Staten Island CUNY as well as a visiting professorship with us here in the Department of Communication, UC San Diego. Last year Dr. Peck published the timely book Fox Populism: Branding Conservatism as Working Class from Cambridge University Press (2019). Learn more about Dr. Peck’s current research and teaching at his profile page here: https://www.csi.cuny.edu/campus-directory/reece-peck.

Dr. Ned Randolph (2020) has accepted the position of Visiting Assistant Professor of Communication/Environmental Studies Program. He will be teaching Political Communication, Media and the Public Sphere, and Environmental Communication as well as other courses. He will also be joining the Gulf South Anthropocene Working Group which evolved from a multi-discipline workshop convened at Tulane last November entitled Mississippi: An Anthropocene River organized by the Max Planck Institute for the History of Sciences, HKV (Haus der Kulturen der Welt), Tulane Bywater Institute, and the New Orleans Center for Gulf South.

Hand-drawn maps of the Mississippi River meander paths made by LSU Geographer Harold Fisk in 1944 for the Army Corps of Engineers.

This working group brings together scholars, scientists, artists and activists from multiple countries to examine impacts of climate change and hardscape interventions on the Mississippi. You can read more about Dr. Randolph’s involvement here: https://www.vianolavie.org/2019/11/01/can-you-say-anthropocene/.

Dr. Monika Sengul-Jones (2020) has accepted a position as Adjunct Lecturer in the Department of Communication, University of Washington, Seattle

Undergraduate Affairs and Achievements

Alumni startup successfully funds launch on Indiegogo

A team composed entirely of UCSD undergraduate students from Communication, Cognitive science, and Mathematics, has successfully funded their project using Indiegogo. This sleep technology project called Paq involves a new kind of alarm clock called VibeRise which combined with their app promises the ability to:

“Wake up effortlessly, naturally, and with more energy than ever before – all on silent. VibeRise can save your mornings, your mood, and even your relationships. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.” 

“We launched the campaign during the finals week of the Spring Quarter and were completely backed within the first week. We, as fellow tritons, believe that sharing our story with the UCSD community will showcase the resilience of the students of this great institution. We’re proud to be able to show the accomplishments that UC San Diego students can make.” ~ Chief Technology Officer, Samarth Aggarwal, Class of 2020.

Read more about our alumni’s fascinating project at their website here: https://paqwear.com.

Staff updates

Welcome to the team Alanna!

Communication Ph.D. student Alanna Reyes has accepted the position of Undergraduate Student Services Intern for the 2020-21 academic year. She will be joining Shawnnie part-time helping to develop programs and activities to enhance the undergraduate experience for our students, as well as assisting in student advising and undergraduate program management.

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