I studied anthropology before receiving my Ph.D. in Communication from the University of California at San Diego in 2004. I draw on this interdisciplinary background to study how people use digital and social media in everyday ways to shape their social identities and create spaces for themselves. My most recent book, Out in the Country: Youth, Media, and Queer Visibility in Rural America (NYU Press), which won awards from scholarly societies in Anthropology, Media Studies, and Sociology, examined how lesbian, gay, bi, and transgender young people negotiate and express their identities in rural parts of the United States and the role that digital media play in their lives and political work. I served on the Executive Board of the American Anthropological Association from 2008 until 2010 and, now, hold a seat on that Association’s Committee on Public Policy. I maintain an appointment as an Associate Professor of Communication and Culture at Indiana University, with adjunct appointments in American Studies, Anthropology, and Gender Studies.
My research project, “Vulnerable Subjects,” analyzes how university-based research has come to depend on compliance cyberinfrastructures—the distributed and networked hardware, software, and human resources that organize interactions among Institutional Review Boards (IRBs), researchers, and research participants. Specifically, I’m examining how these cyberinfrastructures shape definitions of “human subjects” and “vulnerable populations.” These definitions, fundamental to the management of all social research since the introduction of federal guidelines regulating research ethics, are far from self-evident or static. Seemingly banal cyberinfrastructures literally define the ideal human subject through designation of what is ethically untenable research. I focus on the implications of these practices and their impact on emerging media research in university settings, particularly the directions of ethnographically informed scholarship.
My next book project (tentatively titled Stuck? Theorizing Mobility in a Networked Age) looks at how people use emerging media on-the-go to connect to each other and place themselves in their social environments, particularly in technologically impoverished areas. I am particularly interested in how notions of social and economic mobility, woven into mobile media design and access policies, collide with technological, economic, and spatial barriers to shape people’s experiences of mobility and public presence. At its heart, Stuck is a story about the persistent importance of location and place in a time when the designs of mobile media suggest it should matter less. It asks us to consider what people do at these crossroads of expectations around mobility.