Common Ground conference adapts to COVID-19 with new format, content
Intersectional thinking can provide a framework to think deeply about how the current COVID-19 pandemic affects people around the globe on different axes of marginalization, said professor Radhika Parameswaran during the keynote address for Friday’s Common Ground conference.
“Intersectionality can be a part of so many different dimensions of the crisis,” she said.
Parameswaran delivered the conference’s keynote address, which was followed by a roundtable discussion on media in the age of the pandemic and a series of short research presentations. The annual conference, organized by Allison Brown and George Roberson of the Media School Graduate Association, was initially scheduled to take place in Franklin Hall, but was moved online because of the pandemic.
The term “intersectionality” — an inherently ambiguous label for critical theory that understands social categorizations like race, class and gender to be interconnected and interlocked, rather than separate phenomena — was coined by critical race scholar Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw in 1989, a year before Parameswaran came to the United States for grad school. It was a part of her entrance into the academic world and has been a key part of her critical thinking since.
It’s a difficult concept to label because it is so many things. Parameswaran called it a prism.
It can also be a litmus test for social movements and their potential blind spots, she said. The “Slut Walk” movement foregrounded reclamation of white female sexuality, but did little to combat the stigmatization of black female sexuality. The “Occupy” movement fought against socioeconomic inequality but failed to consider the implications of an occupation movement on lands occupied by a settler-colonist state. The Black Lives Matter movement foregrounded violence against Black men, but was less apt at shedding light on violence against black women.
Parameswaran also spoke to the way intersectionality and its use in critical theories has evolved since its birth. What was initially born to address the ineptitudes of ‘60s- and ‘70s-era progressive movements has come to encompass more than just gender and race. One critical expansion, she said, is the addition of class-conscious thinking to intersectionality.
“Race and racism are not simply biproducts of capitalism, or secondary additions, but integral to the functions of capitalism itself,” she said.
In thinking about the current global health crisis, intersectional thinking welcomes critical understandings of the way the COVID-19 epidemic impacts marginalized groups.
Specifically, Parameswaran prompted listeners to consider how the outbreak might affect the homeless elderly — a group that in some regions of the country might be dominated by people of color. Or how it might impact workers in the health and service industries — predominantly women and women of color, respectively. Or that it might more severely hurt incarcerated people. Or the potential it has to reshape the dynamics of families in isolation across gender and age power dynamics.
Media in the Age of the Pandemic
Four graduate students presented in the conference’s roundtable discussion about their own research and how it can be recontextualized as a framework to look at different facets of the pandemic.
As the conference’s organizers began to think about what a retooled, online version of the conference for this moment might look like, they felt they had a number of papers that could adequately speak to the current crisis.
For doctoral candidate Brent Hale, whose research focuses on the way social media prompts a digital coming together, a crisis that necessitates social isolation is a perfect fit.
“There’s a lot of interesting things here for me and the kind of things I’ve researched,” he said.
Specifically, he’s interested in how people have turned to social media for a sense of togetherness as social distancing practices keep them isolated and indoors.
The virus has prompted a sort of renewal for the purpose of social media, he said. What had become largely a mode of distraction and time-wasting has once again become a place for connection.
Doctoral student Jared Meisinger’s research focuses on news framing, or the way different modes of journalistic storytelling can be categorized as thematic or episodic based on what they focus on and how. Episodic framings, which focus on specific people or incidents, tend to lead audiences to blame people or circumstances, while thematic framings focus on big-picture scenarios and lead readers to understand them as societal problems rather than individual failings.
Meisinger said there’s plenty of room to delve into the use of thematic and episodic framings in COVID-19 coverage.
Master’s student Lexi Newman researches the impact of traumatic news coverage on children, specifically their fear of school shootings. Children can show stress and PTSD symptoms from watching news coverage of traumatic incidents like disaster and violence.
“When we have something like a pandemic, or just something really bad in the country, news coverage like that tends to increase,” she said.
Doctoral student Logan Brown’s research looks at mid-century artifacts of people’s perceptions of technology as the creation of educational films and other tech-oriented products created a sort of manufactured consent for the computerization of the United States.
Now, he’s wondering if the social isolation and accompanying reliance on technology prompted by the novel coronavirus will yield another evolution in the ever-shifting relationship we have with technology.
Lightning round presentations
The conference concluded with five-minute presentations by graduate students about their research:
- Allison Brown and Jessica Tompkins, “Bystander Perceptions of Cyberbullying in Video Game Culture: An Exploratory Experimental Questionnaire”
- Keiko McCullough, “Exploring the Connections between Watching Asian American YouTubers, Racial Identity, and Self-Esteem”
- Logan Brown, “‘The Story of a Technique in the Service of Mankind’: Cybernetic Anxiety and Computer Education Films 1958-1962”
- Ruth Riftin, “‘Say No to Synthetic Flesh’: Comics, Analog and Digital Media in Immortel”
- Shadia Siliman, “Squirm: Trauma as a Living Thing”
- Brent Hale, “Posting About Cancer: Predicting Social Support in Imgur Comments”
- Sean Purcell, “Dissecting Empire: The Jigsaw Puzzle and the Consumption of Death”
- Elke Defever, “The Massacre That Ended One War and Caused Another: An Analysis of Ici on noie les Algeriens (Yasmina Adi) and Octobre Noir (Didier Daeninckx and Mako)”
- Khurram Nawaz Sheikh, “Representation of Pakistani Filmmakers at International Film Festivals”
- Meredith Michael, “Diegetic Musicals: Theorizing the Television Musical Episode”
- Jared Meisinger, “Economic Disaster or Moral Responsibility? Framing Politics and Sports”
- Narmeen Ijaz, “De-colonizing the Imperial Gaze: Representation of Women in the Cinema of Pakistan”
- Clara Boothby, “‘Don’t Tell Me What to Do!’: A Full-Text Analysis of Science Careers in a Changing Academic Job Market”
- Seung Woo Chae, “Let’s Not Talk about Politics: Exploring How People React to a Stranger’s Political Talk in Online Spaces”