Research

My research is broadly concerned with the ways individuals shape vernacular expressive culture in order to influence and persuade others. More specifically, my work incorporates or addresses the following theoretical orientations, genres, and areas.

Theoretical orientations: Cultural poetics and performance, rhetorical uses of genre and tradition, semiotics of identity, ethnography of communication, complex genres and intertextuality, kinwork/domestic life, sustainability

Genres: Material culture, compiled books, foodways, ethnobotany, narrative, vernacular poetry, display events (sport/festival/competition)

Areas and groups: The United States, Hawai‘i, women’s associations

For several years, I’ve been interested in DIY (Do It Yourself) endeavors: crafting, canning, “making” in general. The reasons people are choosing to revive and remember hands-on processes are many, varied, and sometimes surprising. My current book project is a cultural history of home canning; I’m working to place artisanal “we can pickle that” enthusiasms in historical and ideological context. In particular, I want to know who has promoted home food preservation in the 20th century, how, and why. A Gerald E. and Corinne L. Parsons Fund award from the American Folklife Center supported archival research at the Library of Congress in June 2012 and 2013, and a Charles Redd Fellowship in Western American History from Brigham Young University underwrote several weeks of summer research in Utah, where I began to trace how the now-common notion of (urban) homesteading intersects with rhetorics of self-sufficiency and pioneering in the West. As I sift through the mountains of material I’ve uncovered in these archives and others (e.g., Minnetrista, which holds the Ball Corporation records), look for my musings in the “Yes, I’m Studying Home Canning” posts.

After finishing up this project, I plan to return to the subject of my master’s thesis (see below): the social and symbolic roles of slack key guitar in contemporary Hawai’i. Links to my publications are available here.

Major projects to date have included the following:

Dissertation (2009): “Constructing Value: Women, Scrapbooking, and the Framing of Daily Experience.” Director: Richard Bauman, Indiana University

Abstract: Why did scrapbooks—long a cultural commonplace in the United States—become a commercial success and social phenomenon among American women at the turn of the twenty-first century?  One answer lies in the rhetorical and social possibilities engendered by the scrapbook’s material form. Women who sought more durable, accessible, and aesthetic resources for the framing of daily experience in the 1980s initiated an industry that changed the tangible features and referential content of these books and encouraged new contexts of performance. Employing ethnographic fieldwork and textual analysis, “Constructing Value” demonstrates how contemporary scrapbook makers—many of them mothers—variously use the practice to reflect upon and assert the value of their lives and choices. Some justify maternal ‘escape’ by emphasizing the conventionally feminine and family-centered aspects of their practice, while others appeal to the prestige of ‘classic’ aesthetics and written History. Still others adopt a performance frame, displaying carework and defining ‘good’ parenting by means of autoethnographic exhibits that both employ and challenge academic norms of cultural documentation. Finally, some practitioners valorize complex relationships: using print, images, talk, and artifacts, they problematize dichotomies, encourage interaction, or play with indeterminate meanings. These social claims are potentiated by the scrapbook’s status as a layered, evidentiary text-artifact that can be shaped to influence how it is read, what it reveals, and how long it will endure. And because the fabrication process requires time, space, and supplies that are easiest to acquire in extra-domestic spaces, new contexts of creation—including clubs and conventions—embed today’s texts in matrices of exchange that encourage public display and evaluation. More than static objects or instruments of nostalgia, scrapbooks are rhetorically malleable and interpersonally powerful artifacts; indeed, a recent turn to digital forms underscores how materiality affects the construction of social value.

MA Thesis (2000):“‘Island Strings Little Bit Mo’ Relaxed’: Slack Key Guitar and Differential Identities in Contemporary Hawai‘i.” Director: Roger L. Janelli, Indiana University

  • Explores how one musical genre’s links to both tradition and innovation permit it to be positioned variously within contemporary identity politics.
  • Won Esther L. Kinsley Outstanding Master’s Thesis Award, Research and the University Graduate School, Indiana University, 2001

Undergraduate Honors Thesis (1997): “Permission to Be Real: Elouise Bell and the Personal Narrative.” Readers: William A. Wilson and Suzanne E. Lundquist, Brigham Young University

  • Discusses personal narratives as artistic creations with social consequences.