Communication - Theses, Dissertations, and other Required Graduate Degree Essays

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Virtual friction: Networking sexuality and HIV prevention in the digital age

Author: 
Date created: 
2017-12-06
Abstract: 

From advances in HIV prevention science bringing us pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to the proliferation of hook-up apps like Grindr, the late 20th/early 21st centuries have introduced intense socio-technical transformations in gay men’s intimate lives. In particular, the networked decentralization and privatization of sexuality has generated a corresponding set of discourses within gay men’s communities and in the social world of HIV prevention. Community narratives either construct the Internet as a virtual community where acceptance, solidarity, friendship, romance, and sex become easily accessible in a largely hetero-normative world, or a virtual bathhouse accelerating the depoliticization and commodification of gay life (Kapp, 2011; Ward & Arsenault, 2012). In public health, accounts oscillate between exploring the Internet’s potential to revitalize HIV prevention efforts (Chiasson et al., 2009; Rhodes et al., 2011; Rosser et al., 2010), and debating its possible role in facilitating HIV risk and transmission (Berry et al., 2008; Bull & McFarlane, 2000; Wohlfeiler & Potterat, 2005). Intersecting perspectives from communication, Internet studies, and public health, this dissertation traces the erotic and epidemiological contours of a “network society” (Castells, 1996) where the Internet plays an ambivalent role in social life. Based on archival research, personal experience, and 31 interviews with gay men, public health actors, and Internet entrepreneurs in San Francisco and Vancouver, this project uses the concept of virtual friction to think through the tensions, contradictions, and paradoxes that characterize the networking of sexuality and HIV prevention in the digital age. Broadly speaking, I ask whether and how the Internet has transformed sexuality and HIV prevention by examining the discourses, subjectivities, and practices that have emerged, as well as the subsequent set of opportunities and challenges they generate for the various social worlds involved (Strauss, 1978). I argue that virtual friction is not only an inevitable but necessary part of the process because it renders visible the limits of imagining social problems and solutions in purely technological terms. Friction challenges us to acknowledge the competing epistemologies, interests, and perspectives that underpin life in the digital age, taking us out of our comfort zones by asking how we know and believe what we do about science, technology and society.

Document type: 
Thesis
File(s): 
Senior supervisor: 
Peter Chow-White
Department: 
Communication, Art & Technology: School of Communication
Thesis type: 
(Thesis) Ph.D.

The pink tide: A survey of research on the rise of the left in Latin America

Author: 
Date created: 
2018-05-25
Abstract: 

The reframing of international relations over the past three decades, from the nation-state to regional blocs, such as NAFTA or the European Union, was an attempt by analysts to better understand the interconnected globalized world. However, more recently, there has been a notable upsurge in nativist feeling in many parts of the world, accompanied by a renewed sense of nationalism in many nation-states. Still, regional blocs continue to be important players on the world stage in respect to trade, defence alliances, and patterns of international investment. In this regard, the importance of the supranational region is far from eclipsed and becomes an ever more present feature in international configurations. The rise of Leftist governments in Latin America over the past 19 years has led to a wave of research, not only into the reasons why so many leftist parties have been successful in the region, but also how much such successes at the state level have translated into a relatively coherent bloc of leftist policies. Some have argued that a greater cohesiveness within Latin America has resulted in a comparatively new spatial layer where the whole is more significant than the sum of its parts. Notably, a leftist turn across much of Latin America since the late 1990s has been interpreted as the attempt to deviate from (neo)liberal tendencies of the late 20th century ‘Washington Consensus’ toward more socialist policies. This thesis examines 20 of the key studies on the rise of the Left in Latin America since 1998 and analyzes the reasons they posit as being the key causes of the shift to the Left across the region. This analytical breakdown then allows for an overview of the factors that social scientists have used to examine regional political shifts, and highlights what is missing.

Document type: 
Thesis
File(s): 
Senior supervisor: 
Rick Gruneau
Department: 
Communication, Art & Technology: School of Communication
Thesis type: 
(Thesis) M.A.

The critical construction of geolocational life

Author: 
Date created: 
2018-04-24
Abstract: 

This dissertation is an analysis of the widespread adoption of locative digital media in urban space. Building upon prior phenomenological theories of mobile interfaces and critical theories of technology, I provide an account of the micropolitics of locative media, using locational literacy as a key concept for articulating a renewed, and politically and ethically empowered understanding of how locative media play important roles in modern urban experiences. The thesis proceeds by first contextualizing the idea of locational literacy within locative media studies and mobilities research. I then elaborate the idea of locational literacy by synthesizing phenomenological and critical theories of technology, including Andrew Feenberg's critical constructivist approach (2002) in order to problematize geolocational media as a site of micropolitical struggle. Then I provide an account and analysis of field data collected through my ethnographic research. Here, I show how geolocational media users come to terms with and organize their values, attitudes, and identities through media technologies, and how both individual technical knowledge and institutional constraints influence their relative access to and effective use of geolocational media. Further on, I describe a user experience study involving mobile phone users, who were surveyed (a) before and (b) after using a geolocation tracking app for a two week period. In this discussion, I show how geolocational awareness is associated with attitudes, values, and opinions about urban life, sustainability and mobile locative devices. I conclude the dissertation with the claim that the potential for perceptual shifting enabled by geolocational media empowers individuals – albeit somewhat unevenly – in very particular ways. This perceptual shift and sense of empowerment, I argue, can lead to improved forms of community interaction and deliberation, which hinges on an express articulation and acknowledgement of locational media literacy in everyday experience. I also examine how the micropolitical struggles of users with geolocational media signify the potential for broader political change as these technologies become progressively more accurate and granular, and more surveillant and invasive.

Document type: 
Thesis
File(s): 
Senior supervisor: 
Richard Smith
Department: 
Communication, Art & Technology: School of Communication
Thesis type: 
(Thesis) Ph.D.

#Unions: Canadian unions and social media

Date created: 
2018-04-19
Abstract: 

By changing the connectivity between people across the globe, the rise of social media has shifted the resources and capacities of political activists, opening up new horizons for social movements. Many of the labour movement’s renewal goals—such as improving equity within unions, adopting more inclusive grassroots organizing, and reaching out to a precarious, fragmented workforce—seem to line up with this open potential of social media. However, existing research on unions’ use of social media suggests the goals and practice don’t align, arguing that unions tend to use social media in a unidirectional, centralized way. To explore this discord, this study investigates the use of social media by four of Canada’s largest labour organizations—the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), the United Food and Commercial Workers Canada (UFCW), Unifor Canada, and the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC). In comparing the strategies expressed in interviews with key communications staff and the practices evident in the unions’ social media output with the stated principles and goals of the organizations as a whole, a number of tensions between labour communications and social media platforms become evident. On the one hand, unions struggle in maintaining centrally controlled messaging in a context that favours open, pluralistic communications. On the other hand, while social media has become an essential arena for public discourse, it’s one where the connectivity it offers is manipulated by algorithms created in the interest of private profit. There is a clear and compelling need to strengthen Canadian unions in order to address growing economic inequality, and by filling gaps in the research of unions’ current communication strategies, this study can contribute to efforts to formulate some best practices for using social media as a democratic tool in the Canadian labour movement.

Document type: 
Thesis
File(s): 
Senior supervisor: 
Enda Brophy
Department: 
Communication, Art & Technology: School of Communication
Thesis type: 
(Thesis) M.A.

Practicing precarity: The contested politics of work experience in cultural industries

Date created: 
2018-02-23
Abstract: 

Over the past decade in Canada, student work has become a topic of public criticism, legal action, academic research, and labour activism. Cultural industry employers’ use of unpaid, low-paid, and flexibilized labour in the form of internships and other kinds of ‘work experience’ raises questions about the future of work in already precarious fields such as news production, advertising, television, and film. Against the backdrop of neoliberal processes still shaping universities and labour markets, the student worker emerges as a strategic figure in the contested politics of cultural work. This thesis offers a theoretical and empirical investigation of the dominant discourse and counter-discourse through which work experience is constructed, legitimized, critiqued, and re-visioned. Drawing on autonomist Marxist theory, critical philosophies of education, and feminist political economy, I situate cultural work experience as a discursive site where struggles over knowledge production and labour rights become visible and urgent.

Document type: 
Thesis
File(s): 
Senior supervisor: 
Enda Brophy
Department: 
Communication, Art & Technology: School of Communication
Thesis type: 
(Thesis) M.A.

Casting Pebbles in a Pond: A Study of Opinion Leader Training to Reduce Carbon Footprints in Social Networks

Date created: 
2018-01-25
Abstract: 

Although we know what actions are required to reduce our fossil fuel dependency, climate change campaigns have generally been unable to narrow the value-action gap between knowledge and political efficacy. The literature indicates that social justice organizations are well positioned to train opinion leaders to deliver climate change messaging to their social networks, however, little research has been conducted on whether this two-step model of communication is effective in climate change campaigns. I sought to address this gap through a case study of the pilot Climate Leadership Project run by the social justice organization Next Up. I explored and assessed the project's training of climate change ambassadors based on interviews with the project's director and participants. Among my conclusions is that such a movement may well be grounded in the most prosaic of actions: People talking with one another through their social networks, either one-on-one or in small groups; the realization of the paramount importance that emotions play in climate change campaigns; the significance of social norms as they relate to our response on climate change; how the two-step model of communication could improve the uptake of political efficacy; and the value of reframing climate change as a social justice issue.

Document type: 
Thesis
File(s): 
Senior supervisor: 
Shane Gunster
Department: 
Communication, Art & Technology: School of Communication
Thesis type: 
(Thesis) M.A.

The commodification of mobile and internet communications under state socialism in Cuba

Date created: 
2018-01-11
Abstract: 

Current processes of commodification in Cuba’s mobile and Internet communications surface in the form of an incongruent relationship between the (relatively high) prices for accessing these amenities, provided by a state-owned company, and the (relatively low) salaries of the state-employed workers. While criticizing state-led commodification, this thesis de-naturalizes the idea of communication commodities as private goods, and historicizes the articulation of commodification under state socialism in Cuba. It argues that, on the side of the state socialist management, the commodification of wireless and Internet communications is a state-led strategy for capturing hard currency from the sphere of circulation. Specifically, these processes of commodification are related to transnational value circulation processes such as remittances (income transfers sent to Cubans from family or friends living overseas), and to local commodification processes such as the TRD scheme (state-run hard currency stores) deployed by the socialist state to capture hard currency from remittances since the economic crisis in the 1990s. The research attempts to offer an explanation for commodification on the basis of Political Economy of Communication (PEC) scholarship, however empirical work demonstrates the inability of some of the PEC frameworks developed in the Global North to address commodification under state socialism given its historical complexity. As a result, the analysis grows beyond the proposed framework to suggest the integration of theories on imperialism and political economy from the periphery in future research in order to contribute to the development of a Political Economy of Communication under State Socialism. Finally, the thesis suggests the potential for grassroots-based decommodification of communications in Cuba in the form of state/civil society alliances which could counteract the existing pressures towards commodification that spring from the capitalist and imperialistic relations of production, distribution and exchange that characterize the telecom sector on a global scale.

Document type: 
Thesis
File(s): 
Senior supervisor: 
Katherine Reilly
Department: 
Communication, Art & Technology: School of Communication
Thesis type: 
(Thesis) M.A.

Popularity does matter: Situating social capital research in risk communication practice

Author: 
Date created: 
2018-04-23
Abstract: 

The impacts of hazards greatly depend on the social landscape of a society. In order to fully anticipate them, all stakeholders need to be involved in risk management processes. Risk communication, which encourages a two-way flow of communication for addressing risks, is a vital practice for effective mitigation but has been proven difficult, especially in urban, diverse societies. Here, I confront this challenge. I use social capital theory to frame my research in order to better understand the impact of social networks on processes inherent to risk communication and management, such as public participation, community engagement, and stakeholder collaboration. Borrowing from related concepts such as Mark Granovetter’s (1973) strength of weak ties theory and Nan Lin’s (1999) social network approach, I conduct an interview study in Surrey, BC. An analysis of stakeholder activity and communication reveals alternative methods for reaching the South Asian community—a local ethnic group found to be disengaged from risk communication processes. Ultimately, the framework illuminates novel ways to exercise local resources for improving engagement, which supports the integration of social capital theory into the pre-disaster phase of risk management.

Document type: 
Thesis
File(s): 
Senior supervisor: 
Peter Anderson
Department: 
Communication, Art & Technology: School of Communication
Thesis type: 
(Thesis) M.A.

Changing on the Fly: Situating multiculturalism, citizenship, and hockey through the voices of South Asian Canadians

Date created: 
2018-02-07
Abstract: 

Hockey and multiculturalism are often noted as defining features of Canadian culture; yet, rarely are we forced to question the relationship and tensions between these two social constructs. This project examines the growing significance of hockey in Canada’s South Asian communities. It begins by discussing issues surrounding “race” and racism in Canadian sport, before moving to consider the popularity of the Hockey Night Punjabi broadcast and the value of ethnic (sports) media in challenging dominant discourses. This serves as an entry point for a broader consideration of South Asian experiences in hockey culture based on field work and interviews conducted with South Asian Canadian hockey players, parents, and coaches in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia. Drawing on the methodological frameworks of critical race theory, postcolonial feminism, and intersectionality, this project seeks to inject more “colour” into hockey’s historically white dominated narratives and representations. My goal is to encourage alternative and multiple narratives about hockey and cultural citizenship by asking if, how, when, where, and which citizens are able to contribute to the webs of meaning that form the nation’s cultural fabric. Some of the themes discussed in the study include: a tendency to dismiss on-ice racial slurs as gamesmanship; a reluctance to name any particular incident or instigator as racist; the perception of resentment from white hockey parents directed at upwardly mobile racialized citizens; and a consistent erasure from institutions of public memory. The research also considers whether generational change is enough to secure equal representation and access by examining how different forms of capital work to institutionalize racism.

Document type: 
Thesis
File(s): 
Senior supervisor: 
Richard Gruneau
Department: 
Communication, Art & Technology: School of Communication
Thesis type: 
(Thesis) Ph.D.

The issues at play: Examining the learning potential in advergames and nutritional games for children

Date created: 
2018-02-27
Abstract: 

Advergames - digital games with advertising embedded in them developed to promote brands - sit at the intersection of marketing, entertainment, and education. While a relatively recent phenomenon, they have already generated considerable concern, particularly when it comes to the marketing of children's foods. In this thesis, I explore whether or not advergames can be used to evaluate and improve children's nutritional knowledge. Building on game study theories of flow and persuasive games, this study used a custom-built game focused on the promotion of healthy foods, along with pre and post intervention interviews to explore insights about the potential of advergames to contribute to healthy eating preferences. Data from this exploratory study suggest that health based advergames could serve as an intervention tool that both assesses children's knowledge about healthy foods and educates children about nutrition. However, findings also highlight that nutritional knowledge does not necessarily translate into healthier decision making.

Document type: 
Thesis
File(s): 
Senior supervisor: 
Ellen Balka
Stephen Kline
Department: 
Communication, Art & Technology: School of Communication
Thesis type: 
(Thesis) M.A.