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

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Does social media make our understanding of community more individualistic?

Author: 
Date created: 
2018-12-06
Abstract: 

Given the ubiquity of social media today, it is important to consider how their use might affect our communication and relationships. This study explores the question of whether social media, given their self-focus, lead us to define community in more individualistic terms. A literature review provides a starting point for addressing this question, touching on themes such as the ubiquity of individuation within modernity, traditional and modern communities, changes in North American communities over the last several decades, characteristics of social media, and cases for and against technological determinism. Building on this review, interviews with 10 subjects help explore the question in a more focused way. Findings suggest a positive correlation between substantial social media use and a largely individualistic understanding of community. I then discuss the implications of this relationship, as well as the roles of education and public policy in facilitating understanding of the potential of social media.

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

Databases of dignity: the politics of open data in post revolutionary Ukraine

Author: 
Date created: 
2018-09-21
Abstract: 

In 2014, Ukraine experienced its most violent and dramatic event since the 1991 independence. The Revolution of Dignity resulted in the removal of a pro-Russian president from power and marked the country’s geopolitical shift towards a closer association with the West. Among reforms introduced was the Open Data Law, which requires all government entities to publish public information in an open data format. The law led to the formation of innovative collaborations based on the development of open data tools and services. The goal was to address corruption, increase citizens’ participation in political processes, and enhance electronic public services. Since the open data movement is still nascent, there is almost no academic literature examining its impact. At the same time, dominant discourses present open data either as a neutral and universally applicable tool or inherently ‘good’ technology in and of itself. These discourses neglect the embeddedness of open data in the broader socio-political structures and the role of individual actors in shaping its potentialities and limitations. I refer to critical scholarship in communication and technology and the field of STS to offer a more nuanced framework for examining the movement. I conceptualize open data as a space of convergence between social and technical domains. This space mediates the existing (geo)political tensions and, simultaneously, offers new forms of political agency characterized by democratic interventions into processes of the technological design. To examine these aspects, I conducted semi-structured interviews with members of the Ukrainian open data community, including representatives from government, civil society, and the startup community. The results demonstrated the presence of impactful civil-led initiatives, while also highlighting their complex interactions with post-Soviet institutional arrangements and Ukraine’s geopolitical realities.

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

Evolved human cognition as risk mitigation: Toward a theoretical innovation in risk communication; Lessons for risk communication learned through the Kahneman-Gigerenzer debate

Author: 
Date created: 
2018-09-25
Abstract: 

Essay 1: The foundational premise of this paper is that influencing an organism’s action depends upon intervention into its psychological processes. Risk communication is not merely about the transfer of information regarding the risk. While information transfer is valuable, if that information fails to avert or at least minimize deleterious outcomes from the threat, this is a sterile exercise. Risk communication is designed not only to inform, but also to motivate relevant individuals to take the appropriate actions to avoid or overcome the greatest risks posed by a circumstance. Achieving such risk reduction outcomes requires not only effective communication technique, but an understanding of evolved human cognition. The paper examines three cases of human evolved adaptations with an eye to how evolution has structured risk mitigation into the evolved cognitive apparatus. These are 1) the unique human version of predator detection mechanisms; 2) the evolution of language; and 3) the role of health symptoms as alarm warnings. In all three of these cases, risk mitigation turns out to be a central feature of natural selection. If risk communication practitioners do indeed need to leverage human psychology for effective interventions that reduce risky behaviour, learning more about evolved human psychology and cognition would seem to provide valuable means for accomplishing those ends. In the end, the paper acknowledges, that while natural selection tends toward risk mitigation, sexual selection can move in the opposite direction, actually increasing the likelihood of risk seeking. For an effective psychology of risk communication, much benefit comes from a deep understanding of what these schools of evolutionary scholarship offer. Essay 2: This paper looks more deeply at the role of both mismatch and sexual selection, in the process of exploring one of the most famous debates in psychology, between Daniel Kahneman’s heuristics and biases school and Gerd Gigerenzer’s fast and frugal school. Kahneman’s school emphasizes the heuristic and bias characteristics of those mental modules illustrated by the study of evolutionary psychology and evolved human cognition, while the Gigerenzer school emphasizes the fast and frugal economy of problem solving made possible by those modules, which if anything can be hindered by increased awareness or information. Kahneman characterizes the dynamics to which he points as irrational, while Gigerenzer insists upon a deeper rationality – an ecological rationality. This is a rationality molded by evolutionary pressures. The lesson for a risk communications practice that wanted to learn from the Kahneman-Gigerenzer debate is not to parse out who is right and who is wrong, but rather to recognize the lesson that comes from seeing how little they actually disagree. A risk communication practice that assumed Kahneman’s scepticism was the expected norm would be incapable of taking advantage of all those situations in which natural selection has properly primed humans for effective risk mitigation behaviour and the specific kinds of risk tolerance generated by sexual selection. On the other hand, a risk communication practice that assumed Gigerenzer’s optimism was the expected norm would not be well prepared to recognize and respond to those situations in which mismatch generated abnormal outcomes from otherwise perfectly sensibly, evolutionarily generated, risk responses. There are several ways in which evolved psychology can play into risk related behaviours in the modern world. In some cases, risk communication practice has to get out of the way; in some cases, that practice needs to know how to leverage those evolved dispositions; and, in some cases, it requires a sophisticated understanding of how and why such evolved risk mitigation dispositions may misfire and go astray.

Document type: 
Graduating extended essay / Research project
File(s): 
Senior supervisor: 
Shane Gunster
Department: 
Communication, Art & Technology: School of Communication
Thesis type: 
(Extended Essays) M.A.

共同生活 (kyōdōseikatsu): In the shadows of witnessing

Author: 
Date created: 
2018-08-28
Abstract: 

Following up on the thousands of pages collected from testimonies by residential school survivors and former employees between 2010 and 2015, The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRCC) presented 94 recommendations to Canadian society, effectively making a call for systemic changes across all forms of governance and organization. Their expressed concern was that Euro-colonial practices continued to systemically discriminate against and cause grievous harm to Indigenous people within the Canadian nation-state. The purpose of this thesis is to answer to their call, specifically, to examine both from within a post-secondary academic institution and beyond its epistemological parameters, how one might attempt to reshape one’s approaches to knowledge formation in trying to build more respectful relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. Taking to heart Indigenous scholarship prioritizing relationships over object-centric pursuits of knowledge, the author draws upon her linguistic, cultural and political upbringing as a member of a Japanese and multi-Asian diasporic community to reach toward Indigenous artists, whose works compel their audiences to be widely socially inclusive, to remember Canada’s colonial past in addressing the colonial present, and to respect one’s elders and ancestors. Distinct relationships are established between the author and Cree multi-media artist, Cheryl L’Hirondelle, Siksika interdisciplinary artist, Adrian Stimson, and Tahltan performance artist and object maker, Peter Morin. Rather than adhering to a pre-set methodology, a mentoring connection with L’Hirondelle, a role model relation with Stimson, and a best friendship with Morin guide the author’s processes of coming to know. Witnessing their practices, the author explores becoming sonorous, performative, and tactile shadows to L’Hirondelle, Stimson, and Morin, respectively. Consequently, the narrative and epistemic organization of the author’s personal experiences and institutionalized learning scatter and are drawn upon so far as they contribute to the relationship at hand. Throughout the dissertation, critical questions are raised and performatively considered to: challenge settler-Indigenous binaries of knowledge formation; investigate the limits of the known and knowable; and, include unexpected others. The dissertation concludes with the suggestion that reconciliation and witnessing are practice-based, and that collective responsibility is an intersubjective regard for that which has been experientially gathered along the way.

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

Freelance journalists and interns: Responses to precarity and reconfigurations of the journalistic ethos

Author: 
Date created: 
2018-07-31
Abstract: 

This dissertation explores the connection between neoliberalism and journalism. It thus contributes to our understanding of ‘neoliberalized media regimes’, as recently examined by Sean Phelan, Nick Couldry and other critical scholars. More specifically, I use theories of neoliberalism to conceptualize how atypically employed journalists navigate a media landscape said to be ‘in crisis’. The subjective experiences of such journalists were explored in qualitative interviews conducted with 25 freelancers and interns in Canada and Germany. Their narrations of contingent journalistic labour capture the financial, ethical, and professional conundrums flowing from the global devaluation of news labour. I argue that these narratives of journalistic labour can be situated in a nexus of neoliberalism on three levels. The first level maps the role of journalists as workers in a neoliberal labour regime, which illuminates how notions of flexibility associated with freelancing resonate with neoliberal logics. The second level maps the role of journalists as citizens, with neoliberalism as a version of government policy-making shaping journalistic labour, that is uneven and nationally specific. The third level maps governmentality in the narratives of freelance and intern labour, understood as subject-constitution and self-governance in neoliberalism. It maps journalists’ professional subjectivity as it oscillates between an “entrepreneurial self” aligning with neoliberal logics and an “ethical self” resisting these. The dissertation illuminates the tenacity as well as the hybridization of journalistic professional identity in a changing labour market. Journalism today is often a part-time job that requires subsidizing work in public relations and similar domains. On the one hand, their journalistic ethos entices journalists to deflect neoliberal logics by upholding a public service dedication, even as it is privatized and corporatized. On the other hand, the journalistic ethos, based on individualized notions of autonomy and independence rather than structural support or cooperative modes of production, both mediates and entrenches working conditions in journalism. Thus, the dissertation complicates political economy accounts that see freelance journalists mostly as exploited workers and neoliberalism as continuing a project of class domination.

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

Building birch bark canoes: oral histories, colonial archives, and stories of survivance

Date created: 
2018-07-13
Abstract: 

Colonial archival practices have promoted the absence of Indigenous knowledge as part of broader attempts at cultural assimilation and erasure. 20th century anthropology’s ‘salvage ethnographies’ reduced cultures to their material objects, largely muting the complex social and linguistic forms to which those objects belong. I examine one such object, the birch bark canoe, in two related archives: documentary films produced predominantly by the National Film Board of Canada between the 1920s and 70s; and the canoe researches of American artist, journalist and ethnographer E. Tappan Adney (1868-1950). Archival agendas and conventions give way to what Anishinaabe writer Gerald Vizenor has named practices of survivance, aesthetic expressions which challenge “isolated and stoical” portraits of Indigeneity. Canoe building, a practice that invariably belongs to scenes of everyday life – to people in particular places, and to local languages – enlivens each archives with “motion, presence, and survivance”, telling stories of cultural resilience and humanity.

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

Tracing broadcast diversity and its manifestations in the CRTC’s Let’s Talk TV proceedings

Author: 
Date created: 
2018-06-05
Abstract: 

Nurturing diversity is a key objective in Canadian public policy; however, “diversity” is polysemous, contested, flexible, and usually defined in an institutional context. The challenge of defining and ordering diversity objectives is particularly pronounced in broadcasting, wherein the CRTC is tasked with organizing a multitude of economic and social objectives put forward by a broad range of stakeholders. This dissertation unpacks the complex and contested notion of diversity, with a focus on the CRTC’s largest and most topically broad broadcast policy review of the decade: the 2013-2016 Let’s Talk TV (LTTV) proceedings. Chapters 3 and 4 historically trace and connect the dots between the development of the diversity principle in international and national policy debates. They investigate how “diversity” is understood as a Western value, how it has been used and contested in international (particularly UNESCO) policy, and how Canada has understood and instrumentalized it in pursuit of specific political and economic objectives. Chapter 5 draws from these insights to offer a nine-part analytical model delineating the ways diversity has been understood as a broadcasting policy objective. Chapters 6-8 employ this analytical model to assess the role of diversity objectives in the CRTC’s LTTV proceedings, with a focus on the way the federal regulator operated under Stephen Harper’s Conservative political regime. This dissertation finds that the absorption of “diversity” into Canada’s capitalist and nation-building projects risks purging it of its radical-democratic critique, leading to a politics of recognition that does not necessarily encompass claims for redistribution and hence provides limited latitude for promoting real social change. In broadcasting specifically, it demonstrates the politicized nature of the LTTV proceedings and the extent to which the CRTC under the Harper regime framed “diversity” objectives through the lens of consumer choice, often at the expense of social justice-oriented policy objectives. It concludes with a call for policymakers to realign Canadian broadcasting policy objectives to foreground the social good, and offers suggestions for future research providing practical ways to modify existing policy processes and deeply embedded values anchored in “consumerist” or “free-market” ideologies.

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

Cold War Legacies in Contemporary Institutionalized Thinking on Development Communication: A Case Study of Two UNDP and EP ICT4D Reports

Author: 
Date created: 
2017-08-31
Abstract: 

Although information and communications technologies for development (ICT4D) is situated in a globalized Information Age nominally marked by a shift away from the dominant paradigm of development, Cold War-era ideological fallout continue to linger in development communication literature describing ICT4D. A critical hermeneutic analysis of two ICT4D reports, one commissioned by the European Parliament (EP) and one by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), delineates the Cold War legacies in contemporary supranational organizations’ institutionalized thinking on development communication.

Document type: 
Graduating extended essay / Research project
File(s): 
Senior supervisor: 
Yuezhi Zhao
Department: 
Communication, Art & Technology: School of Communication
Thesis type: 
(Extended Essay) M.A.

Challenging knowledge divides: Communicating and co-creating expertise in integrated knowledge translation

Date created: 
2017-07-19
Abstract: 

To solve complex problems, it makes sense to seek diverse perspectives to develop research-based solutions. In the Canadian health sector, this collaborative approach to research is often called integrated knowledge translation (IKT). This thesis is concerned with how boundaries are both essential and obstructive in IKT. While the goal of partnering is to leverage different expertise, diversity also presents some of the most significant challenges to success, creating barriers that block communication and constrain knowledge sharing. Using situational analysis to explore interview and case study data, I explore how knowledge boundaries are experienced within IKT projects. I outline four discursive positions that emerge, and argue that recognizing their distinct characteristics is important for progress in IKT. I also compare and contrast concepts of boundary work and boundary objects as theoretical lenses for IKT analyses, and argue that broadening our conceptual toolbox is beneficial for the study and practice of IKT.

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

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.