The Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism held a research seminar called “Race, Ethnicity and Digital Communications Policy Debates: Making the Case for Critical Race Frameworks within Communications Policy Issues” on Monday.
The opening speaker was Lauren Sowa, who shared her research on the breakdown of casting descriptions for roles in television. In her presentation she pointed out several questions about the politics of representation in the entertainment industry. She questions whether minority actors are provided roles, whether ethnicities are stereotyped and whether other categories such as gender, sexuality and disability are represented.
“Beyond studying the inclusion of underrepresented identities in the media, it is crucial to examine the ways in which these characters falls into categories such as gender, race, sexuality and disability are portrayed,” Sowa said.
Rachel Moran and Matthew Bui, two doctoral students in the communications program, presented their research regarding how certain civil rights and racial minority advocacy groups have used the debates surrounding internet policy issues like net neutrality to serve the needs of underrepresented constituents.
“We were seeing these gaps in the literature in terms of race,” Bui said. “The racial inequalities are described but not problematized. So how do we integrate politizations of structural power dynamics? And how do we draw from critical race theory, as well as other frameworks, and think about how does race intersect with these issues…not just on a descriptive level, but actually trying to address structural changes.”
Their research questions centered around working in those communities that are consumer advocates for people of color and how that information might help people reconfigure policy on the national scale. Moran and Bui took a case study approach by examining three cases to look at a variety of communities of color and variants across types of activist organizations related to telecommunications issues and policy.
The first case that they studied was that of the NAACP’s role in the net neutrality debates; the second was related to the idea of set-top box liberalization; and the third was a case study of the tribal international carrier, which is a group that is trying to build broadband infrastructure across tribal lands in the United States. Each of these cases showed a different side of minority activism and the telecommunications industry.
“These are all …different case studies and we had to work with what we had available, so we were primarily looking at documents from these organizations and what they stated as their policy or their stances toward issues, [and] also the press coverage about the issue,” said Moran.
The duo went on to explain how it is more important than ever in this political climate to be aware of the needs and concerns that have gone unaddressed and there is a realization that there is an obligation to do something for those who do not have a voice. Their paper shows how beneficial it would be to enable grassroots organizations to implement change in internet policy.
Bui and Moran’s research paper was awarded the Charles Benton Junior Scholar Award which recognizes scholarship in the field of digital inclusion and broadband adoption.