Media and Communications

Doctoral Projects in Media and Cultural Studies

Browse some of the research projects our PhD students are working on below:

Yilmaz AliskanFree/Open source hardware design as a commons

This research will examine how, in contrast to the first wave of open-source software  a second wave of open-source approaches has emerged in the 2010s with a turn towards questions over the property regime that surrounds computer hardware. In some senses we can understand this as a radicalisation of the copyright licensing models that were developed in response to the specific considerations of shared code, algorithms and programming being adapted to the particularities of hardware production, dissemination and use. This thesis argues that the production and manufacturing of the free open source hardware projects are crucial parts of the digital revolution and have specific material considerations in contrast to, as well as complementary of the previous software-based contestations over commons-based making. 

Nermin Alkan, Migrant Women`s Use of Social Media and Their Construction of Identity Through Online Representation of the Self and Their Narratives of Personal Experiences

My thesis research concerns itself mainly with migrant women from Turkey, livıng in Sussex and their everyday use of social media with a particular focus on the impact of social media use on the everyday offline practices of these women. Employing intersectional analysis of migration, ethnicity, gender and social class, the specific aim of this research is to examine the way in which migrant women construct, maintain and negotiate their identities online and to investigate and compare how this online construction of their identities overlaps and differs from their offline narratives about themselves.

Naif Alotaibi, The 'credibility' of Digital New Journalism in Saudi Arabia

My research will focus on news credibility in digital journalism in Saudi Arabia, and will provide a comparison between the credibility of digital journalism and other news media, particularly from the perspective of the Saudi audience. Also, the general objective of this study is to identify the credibility of digital journalism news through the views of a Saudi audience, and to compare this credibility with other traditional media, especially newspapers, radio and television. Detailed objectives of the research are summarized as follows:

1. Identify the constituent elements of the concept of news credibility on digital journalism through a Saudi audience’s points of view.
2. Compare the credibility of news from sources of digital journalism and the credibility of news in other mass media from the perspective of a Saudi audience.
3. Determine the relationship between news credibility from digital journalism, the kinds of news which published in digital journalism, the sources of this news (Governments, organizations and so on), and the for these news outlets.
4. Identifying the appropriate alternative media which the Saudi community might turn to if they do not trust the news from sources of digital journalism.

Khaled AlsalehQueens of the Desert: The Digital Practices of Arab MSMs

My project is concerned with examining the ways in which Arab MSMs from the Arabian Gulf region make use of online media. At this point I intend to study their online practices, interactions and content to:
1) Consider if there is specificity in their experience when compared to Arab MSMs experiencing online media and spaces outside the Arabian Gulf.
2) Consider if there is specificity in their experience when compared to Non-Arab MSMs using online media and spaces in the Western hemisphere
3) Consider how this feeds into the offline lives the Arab MSMs live in continuum with their ‘online’ ones.
4) Question how they relate to and diverge from current debates about Arab sexual identities.

Daisy Asquith, This is Not Us: Contested representations and cultural space in the One Direction fandom

My research is looking at the way the One Direction fandom responded to my representation of them in the Channel 4 documentary I made in 2013 Crazy About One Direction. The research is practice-based and involves the use of their YouTube rant videos criticising my documentary, re-edited into a new film which challenges both television ethics and the etiquette of online communities such as Larry Shippers as they negotiate the boundaries of public and private on Twitter and Tumblr.

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Kaitlyn Marie BraybrookeHacking the museum together? Collections makerspaces at cultural institutions in London

As traditional routes to funding dissolve, cultural institutions across the UK are increasingly finding themselves playing the role of entrepreneur instead of cultural custodian, forced to compete for legitimacy in commodified urban centres marked by increased privatization and austerity measures (c.f. Falk and Dierking 1992). In London, census data also suggests that while visits to museums and galleries are increasing, there remains a strong causal correlation between sustained participation in ‘high’ culture and socioeconomic status (Department for Culture, Media & Sport 2016, 2017; Trust for London 2015). To address these issues, some institutions have taken advantage of unprecedented funding from private donors and large technology companies such as Samsung to open their own ‘collections makerspaces’ , or dedicated public sites for digital making and learning with hands-on, experimental programmes that combine culture with technology. Taking inspiration from community-based maker and hacker movements , sites promote hands-on pedagogies, open tools and softwares, and peer-to-peer learning methods. Early reports laud the revolutionary potentials of sites of this kind, saying their presence is democratizing the role of institutions by changing both their functions and the ways they are understood (Brahms and Crowley 2016; British Council 2016; Oates 2015). However, there remains very little UK-based research to refute or confirm such claims. Who actually uses these sites, and what are their perceptions? How much of the revolution is imaginary? This research aims to fill those gaps by examining circumstances and realities at three such sites in London – the Tate Britain’s Taylor Digital Learning Studio, the British Museum’s Samsung Digital Discovery Centre and the Wellcome Collection’s Reading Room. An interdisciplinary researcher-in-resident model has been employed at each site which combines action research, critical making and ethnographic methods. The aim of these hands-on interventions is the creation of a replicable, theoretically-grounded empirical framework that captures the qualitative efficacy of collections makerspaces for the first time.

Barbara Jean ChamberlinHaunted by her histories: representations of the witch in twenty-first century comics
The thesis will explore representations of female monstrosity in contemporary media by focusing specifically on the witch and how she is both visually and textually presented in a medium which continuously interplays these two modes, comics. My decision to focus on the witch stems from the fact that she can be seen as both one of the oldest manifestations of specifically female monstrosity (as evidenced in myth, folklore, fairy tales and history) as well as one that has a long history within comics. I refer to and conceptualise the witch as female, but am aware that there are of course male witches (though male witches are often linguistically marked as such or terms such as wizard and warlock and all that these words connote are used).  Part of my investigation may need to consider gender fluidity within the construct of the witch. By locating my research within contemporary (and by this I mean comics published either in print or digitally in the twenty-first century), I am also positioning my analysis within a postfeminist / third-wave feminist social context.
Seval ErkulThe Representation of Women in Turkish Caricature Magazines, 2000 – 2018

My study aims to provide an in-depth analysis of women’s representations in different types of caricature magazines in Turkey that vary in political orientation, audience, popularity and specialism. The scope of the research includes exploring humorous representations of women living in Turkey’s patriarchal and conservative society and women’s responses to these portrayals. The relationships between women's portrayal in humorous way and their actual life experiences of  female sexuality will be investigated by considering the narratives of female audiences. In this way, the study engages with how the social, cultural and political constructions of gender in Turkey give rise to a certain kind of humour. More particularly it addresses the discursive caricaturing of women's sexuality in a range of publications. In calling attention to this research field, my aim is to expand the discussions regarding the intersection of humour/comics and gender studies.

Thomas Felfer, "Sensing Sound". Auditive experience - memory, place and emotions - through a study of church bells in Austria

The aim of the thesis is to describe the relationship between sound, place, memories and emotions. The new attention on senses in humanities and social science will be used to re-think the relations between senses and places. The particular sound object for the investigation is church bells and the research area is Vorarlberg in Austria. The thesis will be exploring auditive-experiences, memories and emotions of church bells this will be done by analysing the silencing of church bells during the World Wars. It will also involve mediation, apart from the belfry in radio, and debates about church bells in the present. This should help to get a better understanding about the negotiation of auditive spaces and how meanings of sounds are changing.

Stephen FortuneData Doubling and Its Asymmetries: the Socio-Aesthetics of Self-Tracking

This thesis addresses the relationship between individual data subjectivity and aggregate data technologies (for instance, population scale datasets or ‘big data’ as used in, for instance, epidemiology, scientific management, marketing). Self-trackers (people who gather, analyse and share their own data) construct subjectivities through the same epistemologies, methodologies and sets of technologies which enterprises implement upon the aforementioned population scale datasets. Data analysis technologies are actors constitutive of contemporary society and it is crucial that we understand them in relation to our lived experience. This thesis asks how a given subject's aesthetic comprehension of both the mechanisms and ratified output of data-analysis informs their agency within data inflected societal systems. Consideration of the heuristics that are formed and employed by outlier data subjects living in data ubiquity affords scope for understanding a new aesthetic comprehension of life conducted through, and integrated with, informatics technologies. Henri Lefebrve's rhythmanalysis will be utilised to better unveil the aisthetic interrelation of these two scales of data. Cultivating a rhythmanalytic disposition concerns developing a corporeal sensitivity to that within which you are ensconced, and as such is fundamentally aesthetic. This thesis posits aesthetics as fundamental to the activities of 'personal informatics'. Research materials gathered from self-tracking communities will be interrogated via STS concepts of 'rendering'. Rhythmanalytic concepts such as 'intervention through rhythm' will be unfolded to consider whether self-trackers are ‘intervening through rhythm’ on their daily lives, by conforming corporeally to the demands exerted upon them by digital personhoods (patterns in databases that possess agency over corporeal existence).

Michael Guida, How was the sonic environment used or optimised to promote well-being and healing, amid the crisis of noise in Britain, 1914-45?

I am interested in the psycho-social impact of the machine age, seen through a consideration of human senses and emotions. My PhD research seeks to understand the role of sound in alleviating the trauma of unchecked mass culture, of war, of modernity itself.

Emma Harrison, Collective Action in the Age of Ubiquitous Computing

My thesis explores how collective action can be realised in a culture in which complete surveillance is a growing reality. This aim follows two strands. Firstly, it explores how collective action can be facilitated by new developments in digital technology; and secondly, it looks at the interconnectedness of digital engagement with processes of 'individuation', and if this has an impact upon the conditions of possibility for collective action. This is being explored through two case studies: the first looks at blockchain technology; and the second explores forms of digital detoxing. These case studies form the original contribution of the thesis, and build and expand upon critical theories of technology which are outlined in the literature review section. 

Ingeborg HasselgrenCute Feelings: the embodied pleasures of cuteness

The thesis addresses the affective properties and uses of cuteness, as well as the embodied experiences of interacting with/performing cuteness. Of particular interest is the political and resistive uses of cuteness, for instance among queer feminists. I mainly analyze ethnographic materials, which were collected on site in Sweden and in the UK, through the logic of a "mobile ethnography", i.e. shorter fieldworks centered on specific events, such as video festivals, performances, or night clubs. In addition, I attempt text analyses, and online ethnographies of the social media sites of semi-famous "ugly" Internet cats.
The theroretical approach is largely post-human, engaging with by among others, Maurice Merleau-Ponty's Phenomenology of Perception, José Muñoz's queer utopianism and Donna Haraway's companion species.
Research questions:
What role does the cuteness-affect play in the enjoyment of cute media and products?
How is the experience of cuteness affected by the “situatedness” of our gaze/perception?
How is the affective power of cuteness used for political purposes?

Christine HuiTranscultural fantasy: exploring cultural constructions and dynamics in 21st century American and Japanese fairy tales in a globalised world 

My thesis aims to explore national and transnational cultural representations and constructions of identity, differences, and dynamics in 21st century American and Japanese animated fairy tales, focusing on the Walt Disney Animation Studio and Studio Ghibli as dominant creators and distributors of such stories. My research project will identify how fairy tales, as products of cultural exchange and struggle that are transhistorical and transcultural, are used as ways to understand national identity in a globalising world that is experiencing new ways of transnational connectivity.
I plan to examine cultural differences and dynamics between American and Japanese animation through (1) physical character and set design; (2) the relationship between fantasy/magic/spirituality (i.e. the supernatural) and reality; (3) narrative and motifemic structures; (4) gender roles and scripts; (5) constructions of good and evil.

Umar Suleiman JahunThe impact of internet on content and practice within the major traditional newspapers in northern Nigeria 

My research interrogates the impact of internet on content and practices within traditional newspapers in northern Nigeria.
As a case study, ethnographic field work in the form of newsroom observation was conducted in two of the major newspapers in the region.Daily Trust and Leadership newspapers.
using Bourdieu's field theory, the concepts of field and haditus, the thesis aims to highlight how different contextual as well as historical factors contribute to the shaping news production within the newspapers under investigation.

Coral James O'ConnorThe impact and influence of social media on party political communications during general elections in the UK and US

This proposed thesis is a comparative study that will explore the development of the UK & US political parties’ social media activity around general election campaigning. It will look at the impact social media has had on party political communication strategies that sees social media also have an influence on traditional media communications.
This research will look at whether the use of social media has changed party political communications and whether the virtual online experience is impacting on the engagement of voters that traditionally vote for a political party time after time.
This research will interrogate whether there is a loss of traditional voters in the physical world, leading to another form of engagement by voters in the virtual one. This thesis seeks to research whether this change sees the voters leave their traditional political party allegiances behind due to their parties’ social media communication strategies, and so these once loyal voters seeks to engage with other political parties online.

Nur KamaruzamanSelf-Representation of Gender and Culture on Social Media Platform: A Malay Muslim Perspective

This thesis aims to explore the practice of ‘self-representation’ within the realm of social media in Malaysia. I am interested in studying the viewers participation on the popular following of Malaysian social media celebrities (mainly on Instagram)  which made visible online on the platform. Besides that, I am also interested in exploring the motivation behind the making of the video. The major concern that revolves around the self-represented phenomenon in Malaysia is  the growing amount of Malay Muslim male performing opposite sex in their Instagram videos . Their acts are clashing with the ideal masculine behavior where they deconstruct accepted norms of gender and appropriate cultures of a Muslim man in Malaysia. This research then will investigate what are the purposes of the self-representation and to what extent self-representation through digital platform allows transgression by not abiding to the gender normative and culture norms in Malay Muslim community. I will also explore the role of social media as a tool in permitting such fluidity by adopting kineikonic method of multimodal analysis and interviews with research participants (viewers and the Instagram celebrities).

Conghao LiHow China imagines itself as a socialist state: The importance of 'othering' in China's national identity: A critical discourse analysis of the representation of North Korea in Chinese newspapers

International Relation Studies have paid particular attention on discussing the changing relationship between China and North Korea because it is believed that as two most intriguing ‘socialist’ systems, China and North Korea have been crucial variables in East-Asia’s geo-strategic and geopolitical dynamics. Moreover, the recent aspiration of nuclear weapon of North Korea and the changing ideational domestic politics in China has led to an unexpected changing relationship between the two countries which have ‘constituted a riddle for policy and scholarly communities the world over’ (Chung and Choi 2013, p. 244, also see Brzezinski 1998 and Morgenthau 1997). This research aims at examining China’s national identity through an analysis of news discourse surrounding key diplomatic events between China and North Korea.
This research is not concerned with the political strategy such as the fulfilment of foreign policy towards North Korea per se, but focus on the ideational and discursive space in which the media has functioned and constructed a cohesive account of China’s national identity especially in regard to socialism. This research will undertake a media discourse analysis to explore and reveal that the representation of North Korea in Chinese newspapers has been taken in an ideational context of needs of constructing China’s national identity domestically and internationally. As a secondary concern, this research believes that media and communications can expand the horizon for understanding the identity construction and international relations. To be specific, this research attempts to address the issues by utilizing the ‘self’ and ‘other’ debate of identity formation to discuss how China’s national identity is constructed in the mediated discourse space while contextualizing the role of North Korea as ‘others’ in the process.

Mujie LiMedia as Material Processual Infrastructures in Digital Cultures

This research project aims to understand contemporary media by arguing that media as material processual infrastructures articulate into societal machines and bodies to redistribute and restructure material energies in digital cultures. To construct this argument, the thesis will firstly look at three issues in relation to the argument: language, power and aesthetics. Languages can be seen as forms and structures of media and mediation; power, as the substance of media, derives from the function of language and reflects the malleability of media infrastructures; aesthetics, as sensible activities of pattern recognition, allow media to open up to multiple actions and become concrete. These areas of questions will be unfolded through the approach of critical studies of media and culture, and examined in three case studies: the virtual city model Alphatown, the ticket-grabbing plug-in running over the China national railway website, and temporal media in software. Viewing these parts and processes through the media dynamics allows us to ask how media articulate into operations and conventional social systems, generate effects, and in turn activate themselves as concrete processual things opening to further actions. 

Aasiya LodhiBroadcasting Geomodernism: Transnational Writers and BBC Radio c.1941-1960

My thesis aims to construct a geomodernist history of BBC Radio. Drawing on emerging strands in the fields of modernist scholarship and radio historiography, it sets out to reveal the contours of a geographically oriented radio modernism that has so far been neglected in histories of the BBC. This is a modernism shaped by notions of space, place, ‘home’ and ‘abroad’; by ideas of topography, land and soundscape, distance and proximity, metropolis and periphery. It encompasses a raft of programming from a set of canonical authors who, as BBC radio writers and producers, displayed a reflexive awareness about broadcasting’s abilities to cross national borders and to reimagine space and place through the broadcast vernacular, on both domestic and international networks, as Britain moved through the end of the Second World War and the eventual disintegration of its empire. 

Mark MargarettenIdentifying Authentic Talk in the Twitter Feeds of UK MPs 2011-2012

I am conducting a longitudinal content analysis of UK MPs' tweets (n=774,467) between 2011-2012 for evidence of performed Authentic Talk. This analysis begins with a bit of Lippman, Goffman, and Habermas and adds a healthy dose of Dahlberg, Hennenberg, Blumler, and Coleman to create a framework that combines political communcation, authentic performance, and reality TV into one that identifies Authentic Talk in large datasets. A bespoke datamining application has  been developed to locate this behaviour in large datasets which is not limited to this study, and should provide future research outputs.

Hazel McLeodThe Lifecycle of Breasts

In Britain over the last fifty years the social understanding of breasts as a natural physical attribute has altered and, as a consequence, the meaning of breasts as a personal ‘asset’. This research considers the meaning and purpose of breasts as experienced through a lifecycle and then chaptered through important milestones and issues that women have contributed as significant. This material will be chaptered through important milestones and issues that women raised as significant: the onset of puberty, maternity and breastfeeding; illness in relation to the breast and the intervention of the medical services; cosmetic ‘solutions’ to the breast perceived as ‘inadequate’ and the process of ageing. With this material, I explore the potential impact of breasts upon women’s agency, performance and social class. Further, as a factor in women's experience of 'difference’ to investigate whether, as a marketable commodity, breasts are an advantage.

Gaspard PelursonDandyism in Video Games: Reproduction or Revolution

My thesis explores manifestation of queerness in video games. I first focus on two potential queer characters, and move from a gay to queer readings of these, using forum comments and the works of queer theorists Edelman and Muñoz. In the following chapters, I move beyond queer representation and investigate the concepts of queer time and failure in games and the gaming community, and ultimately argue that video games should be perceived as a medium with strong queer potential. 

Emma PickingSuccess in Reality: The compelling Ideology of 21st Century Reality Culture

Reality TV is the nexus of today’s reality culture. The variety of formats has grown exponentially in the twenty years and it undoubtedly features in the weekly calendar of millions. It fuels a reality industry producing content for social media, print media, spin -off programmes and magazine -style TV shows. Adding to this, a generation of YouTube video bloggers are turning the realities of their own lives into lucrative careers.
This research project is concerned with a specific aspect of reality culture: new conceptions of success. It uses a mixed methods approach, combining fieldwork with textual and content analysis, to explore reality culture and question if it is selling us a particular view of what success looks like and the necessary ‘tool kits’ required to achieve it. It explores the controversial notion of social learning through reality culture and how new conceptions of success are formed in response to reality media output.

Razlan RashidGaza & New Media Technologies: Shifting Platforms of Conflict Reporting in the Digital Age

This research explores the emergence of new media technologies providing a platform to empower citizen journalists in reporting conflict comparing with a mainstream media, Reuters, an internationally renowned news agency. This research will examine the ongoing war between Palestine and Israel in Gaza. The scope of this study is to look into three social media -Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and examine whether it has led to a more balanced coverage of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in Gaza. The study also will look into whether newsrooms values, practices, processes and techniques have changed with the emergence of such platforms.

Corinna Schafer, A precarious web of identities, places and communication infrastructure: The German colonial settler press in Africa, 1898-1916

I am researching the German colonial settler press in Africa as a precarious, yet forceful web that contributed to the appropriation, creation, and imagination of colonial spaces and to the shaping of German identities. Through Foucauldian dispositif analysis I explore the settler press both as a site that depended on technologies of communication and transport, and as a site of construction and circulation of discourse on these technologies. Of special interest are the relations between Africans and the settler press, and active interventions into that relationship from both sides. I am furthermore exploring the relations of the settler newspapers to their colonial governments as well as to the German central government, and the regulations that the press operated upon. I follow the different strands of discourse that tied the settler newspapers in with local settler communities, their German homeland, and with other colonies.

Madhushala SenaratneFraming ‘victims’ of disaster: Humanitarian narratives, communication strategies and moral frameworks

Inspired by my own work as a communications practitioner with the United Nations in Sri Lanka, my thesis broadly examines how international organisations (IOs) produce narratives of people affected by conflict. It extends debates on representation and mediation of suffering, and responds to calls for more empirical research that creates critical dialogue on the conditions and structures of production of humanitarian messages to better understand the processes of mediation and their implications for IO management. My thesis specifically focuses on IOs operating in Sri Lanka's post-conflict environment, and examines how institutional complexes of these organisations, including texts, discourses, and structures, coordinate, connect, and shape the production of narratives of conflict 'victims'. The research also draws on the broader political contexts and funding environments that shape the production of IO messages, amidst a competitive and changing aid field. 

 Rachel TavernorFrom Spectatorship to Solidarity: visualising protest movements in the British media

In the last decade, the mainstream media has reported on a spectrum of international and national protests. In Britain, the media have constructed visual narratives of celebrity activism and civil disobedience. This research project explores the relationship between images and citizenship, in particular focusing on the potential of photographs to provoke or stifle civic engagement.

Central to the study will be the empirical research gathered from the anti-poverty protest movement. Two coalition campaigns have been selected, the retrospective study of 'Make Poverty History' for its tangibility, running intensely during 2005 and reflecting current trends in reporting international development. The second is a new campaign to be launched in 2013, currently dubbed 'Make Poverty History 2', as it will offer the ability to track how the campaign is communicated across multiple platforms.

Tianyang ZhouRethinking Chinese Gay Male Culture in a Digital Age

This study seeks to contribute to an existing understanding of male homosexuality in the social context of modern China, which is home to the largest ethnic population and perhaps the largest gay population throughout the world. Over the past decade, there have been numerous works published by both academics and non-academics who are interested in gay men’s lives in China. However, since gay male culture has been changing over time with the development of information and communication technologies in China, there is a dearth of research focusing on the significant relationship between the ICTs and the gay male culture in Mainland China. This study aims to examine Chinese gay male culture in a digital age from an up-to-date perspective, exploring how gay men experience possibilities and constraints in their everyday life and how the ICTs contribute to these processes. It will look at several main themes in particular, including the issues of ‘media representation’, ‘identity’, ‘coming-out’, ‘community-making’, ‘space’, ‘gay relationship’, and ‘erotic practices’ in contemporary China.