Ongoing Research

1. The Climate of Publicity

With Bob Brulle and Maria I. Espinoza, I am writing a book called The Climate of Publicity, currently under contract with Oxford University Press. The book takes a critical look at the history of professional communication in the United States, with a focus on how public concern about the environment was filtered through the growing public relations industry. The basic premise of this book is that it is not possible to understand the role of the environment in our everyday lives without understanding how something called “the environment” has been invented and communicated to us throughout our lives. To tell this story properly requires a careful account of the evolution of the institutions, norms and movements that have pushed environmental concerns to the fore of public opinion and political action. But it also demands an examination of the simultaneous evolution of professional communicators and the formation of their institutions, norms and movements. Without this piece of the puzzle, we miss crucial ways that struggles are won, resources allocated, and beliefs fostered about environmental problems.

This project is funded by the National Science Foundation.


2. Public Communication in a Promotional Culture

One of the most pressing questions media scholars face is how to reckon with the ways that private media companies take users’ personal data as a proxy for public life; and with what consequences for public knowledge. For years I’ve been trying to answer this question in a variety of ways. I have a short piece here on the decline of the advertising industry and its consequences for news organizations; and two new essays in progress: one on the effects of the branded environments we live in and through; and another on how anxieties about the colonization of big data lead us to forget about all the ways data fails to recognize us.
In Fall 2019 I’ll be teaching a course at Rutgers called Critical Perspectives on Promotional Media that will deal with these evolving issues.