Justin Dowdall, Communication Studies Club
Dr. Brooke Duffy, Advertising
Justin Dowdall, CMST ’14, is one of few very lucky and ambitious students that received the coveted Diamond Scholars Research Grant this Summer. The grant, according to the website for the Senior Vice Provost for Undergraduate Studies, “provides Temple undergraduates the opportunity to engage in a focused, mentored research or creative arts project during the summer and fall.” Past research has run the gamut from “Wind Energy in the Dominican Republic” (2005), to “Oil Diplomacy” (2007), to “Social Advertising” (2008). This year, Justin is focusing on a project titled, “An Epistemological and Critical Approach to Campanology and its Effects on Social Media Theory.” Whoa. Well what can we say? Comm Studies has some amazing people in its program.
In between research, class and that thing called life, Justin was kind enough to write back to us about his current work and his mentor for the project, Dr. Brooke Duffy, (Advertising) also made a few comments.
Darragh Dandurand Friedman (DDF): First off, please break down the title of your work for those unaffiliated or uneducated in the topic: “An Epistemological and Critical Approach to Campanology and its Implications for Social Media Theory.”
Justin Dowdall (JD): Basically, I am looking at the bells of Philadelphia, and how their history can help us understand our current media moment. I am mainly comparing their role in “collective behavior” and measuring how that has influenced and has been influenced by culture. When I picked the topic I did so because I believe that by studying bells, I would be forced to learn a great deal about the development of media as an institution. By looking at the bells historical structure and hierarchical authoritarian form, I was able to make some interesting connections to the emerging decentralized tendencies of new media technology. In many ways the whole project is just a conversation that I wish I could have with McLuhan.
DDF: Justin, please describe a bit of the process of applying to the Diamond Scholars Research Grant and how you developed skills for future research work by doing so.
JD: First of all, thank you so much for doing this interview Darragh. The [application] process is fairly straightforward, I would say that the hardest part is putting together a project that you are both interested in, and that you believe will have a chance at being accepted. There are so many programs to enhance your Temple experience, but you really have to be proactive in seeking them out. For instance, the CARAS Grant and Library Scholarship are also great opportunities, not to mention Lew Klein.
Getting a better understanding of the IRB (institutional review board) process, poster creation, and even simple things like coding has been great. But more than anything, working one on one with a faculty mentor has been life changing. Dr. Brooke Duffy has really made me understand what it means to be a part of an intellectual pedigree. That is what is so amazing about Temple; you get to work with amazing people!
DDF: Dr. Duffy, this work means so much to Justin. Do you have any comment on what it has been like to be his mentor?
Brooke Duffy (BD): Justin is the type of intelligent, enthusiastic, and highly motivated student that makes my role as his “mentor” both rewarding and enjoyable. I’m continuously impressed by his curiosity and ability to work toward the creation of “new knowledge,” which is essentially what research is all about.
DDF: How are you helping to guide his research through your own experiences researching?
BD: While the process of research is built upon existing theories and methods, there is often a great deal of trial and error. It can be frustrating, but it is also the only path to the magical “Aha!” moment in a scholarly project. It’s exciting to see how much his project has evolved throughout these past few months.
DDF: What lessons / skills are you hoping to teach Justin through this process?
BD: When he began this project, Justin was already widely read in media and communication theory, so I saw this project as a way for him to apply these theories in a specific research context. Not only has he succeeded at this, but he has generated some new theories that can advance our understanding of the interrelationships between communication, technologies, and power. Of course, I have also aimed to teach him about the mechanics of a research project—from conducting a literature review and formulating a research question to selecting a method and drawing conclusions from the data.
DDF: Why is this topic important / interesting to you?
JD: As far as what interests me, I have always been curious about the roots of things. I love anthropology and philosophy for that reason. The Bell just seemed to represent an interesting way to ask some of those questions, while allowing me to explore a diversity of themes in media ecology that I find fascinating.
DDF: Please describe how the Diamond Scholars Research Grant will help you work on other projects and how projects like yours will affect applying to grad school, finding potential mentorships and your resume.
JD: So many ways! I know for many of us in communication, defining what you want to do with your degree is a very difficult process. This project really opened me up to what it means to take part in active research and has solidified my desire to attend graduate school. But more than that, it has given me an opportunity to work with the people that I have been reading and studying for so many years. Actively engaging theorist is such a rewarding process. It forces you to sure up your own understanding, of not only their work, but yours as well. Having big ideas is wonderful but being able to express those ideas is what separates sophistry from having real conversations and developing more meaningful conceptions.
DDF: What did expect to learn about your topic while researching?
JD: My main goal was to correlate the mathematical permutations of a phenomenon called change ringing with the binary system of digital media. But what is so amazing about research is often what you find is even more interesting than what you were looking for. The advice that I have gotten over and over is that research is a dialogue between you and everyone that has researched your topic; but like a conversation you have to be willing to go with the flow and not get stuck in what you think you’re going to find, I mean if you already know then why do the research? The books, Tricks of The Trade by Howard Becker’s and Bruno Latour’s Science in Action, were also so helpful.
DDF: What is the most interesting fact (about your topic / self) that you found
JD: That’s a hard question Darragh, I guess I am currently very excited about the idea of media invisibility and the role of invisibility in shrouding political and economic influence. I strongly believe that in this media moment, part of literacy is about being a hyper critical consumer. The project has directed me to Adorno and Horkheimers work in Dialectic of Enlightenment and I hope that I am able to channel a bit of their perspective. Plus, sometimes this can be crazy making, but I feel like you should always say yes when given a chance. Woody Allen said famously life is 80 percent showing up its one of my favorite sayings and I totally believe that.
DDF: How has a project like this one opened up your ideas of academia
and researching in Philadelphia?
JD: Philadelphia is an amazing city and one of the wonderful side effects of my work was that it has got out exploring it. It’s interesting because, I was honestly unaware of the history of Cromwell “acres of diamonds” speech (until you told me about it), but as I walked the streets and visited the churches and bells of Philadelphia, I really got a sense of how much this city means to the world. I think that many people see research as a stiff practice, and that is so far from the truth. For instance one day I would read about a bell and then go the next day and see it. A fellow Diamond Scholar Phoebe Bachman really helped me appreciate the value of taking research out of the books and into the street, and I hope that the adventure aspect is reflected in my paper. I was also very inspired meeting Deborah Lubken from the University of Pennsylvania. She is arguably the, foremost authority on local bells right now and has been so responsive to helping me. When I asked why she agreed to meet, she kind of
shrugged, and said in her own way, that’s the way it goes. I think that after you get past the administrative encumbrances, you get a chance to see that collaboration is the essence of the Academy. It really makes you feel as though you are a part of something bigger than yourself.
DDF: Are there any archives / locations that you have discovered while researching that you want to share?
JD: The Temple Urban Archives in the basement of Paley and the Free Library were both wonderful resources. Aurora Deshatereurs at the Free Library and Kistin De Voe here at Temple were both incredibly helpful. One thing that amazed me was how often I would examine a source at another location and our archives would be cited, we are so lucky to have them at our fingertips. Finally, the National archives in DC, was well worth the trip. We are so close, and if you have a chance, I would suggest taking advantage of such an amazing and free collection. The trip made me truly understand how important it is to maintain our national cultural institutions.
Contact Darragh Dandurand Friedman at firstname.lastname@example.org