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Critical Media Effects: Social Scientific Theorizing, #CommSoWhite, and Legitimizing BIPOC Voices

June 18, 2020 (on the eve of Juneteenth)

This is a humbling moment for academics to consider, question, and reflect on the value of our scholarship in the larger context of COVID-19 and #BlackLivesMatter. This past week as we observed #ShutDownSTEM and read through #BlackintheIvory (started by two fellow women of color scholars in Communication, Dr. Sharde Davis and Joy Melody Woods), we were reminded of the negative experiences of women of color in social sciences, including within our discipline of communication. Finding that much of the theorizing did not speak to our lived experiences as women immigrant scholar-moms of color in the U.S. academe, we decided to write our own within our subfield: Critical Media Effects Framework. We offer this framework to our fellow BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, Women of Color) social scientists as an invitation to center our voices and experiences within our subfields.

As we look around in our institutions and disciplines, we wonder what Black lives mattering really means. We do not see BIWOC voices reflected, listened to, cited, or valued as legitimate scholarship. Scholars of color are not seen as innovators, theorizers, thought leaders, and knowledge producers in the discipline. Ironically, the “essential” yet invisible and uncompensated care work we provide is often placed as evidence of our lack of “seriousness” as scholars.

Over coffees and meals at professional organizations and conferences, we have chatted with many women scholars of color about the absence of our voices in much of mass communication scholarship. We wondered what it would look like to center our BIWOC voices as leaders in theorizing about social scientific scholarship within communication? What would it look like to be considered experts in content areas of study rather than only in our lived experiences? One of these conversations has now led to what we would consider a piece that has the potential to shape the discipline in important ways. As the #CommunicationSoWhite movement unraveled last summer, the solidarities that emerged inspired us to feel bold enough to submit our piece to the Journal of Communication’s special issue on “Speaking Across Subfields.”

The Journal of Communication is arguably the most prestigious within the discipline and is the flagship journal of the International Communication Association. 89 entries were submitted to this special issue, of which 56 submissions were desk-rejected. Of the 33 manuscripts sent out for review, 11 manuscripts were invited for revisions, and eventually, only seven pieces were published in this special issue. Our essay has now been published as one of these seven papers: “Critical Media Effects Framework: Bridging Critical Cultural Communication and Media Effects through Power, Intersectionality, Context, and Agency.”

The “Critical Media Effects Framework” offers a new approach to theorizing about media effects scholarship, which is our home territory within communication, although our work now spans multiple subfields of communication. We discuss ways that media effects scholarship can be more inclusive of intersectional social identities, engage questions of social justice, and take a more user-centered approach to understanding audiences in a contemporary hyper-digital media landscape.

The Critical Media Effects Framework bridges critical cultural communication with media effects scholarship through four central pillars of power, intersectionality, context, and agency. It advocates for a more nuanced, multi-perspectival approach to media effects scholarship that centers issues of inclusion and social justice to address some pressing contemporary global issues. It challenges notions that our existing theories are “color-blind,” “neutral,” and “universally valid.” It advocates for considering broader social impact, community engagement, and integration of various subfields to stay relevant and meaningful.

We argue that taking a critical approach to our research process not only provides valuable and socially relevant nuance to our research questions, but also examines the empowering utility of communication technology. Given the increasing interconnectedness of our everyday lives with media systems, media effects research has the potential to explain and respond to global systemic issues and equip people to use their voices through various media platforms. We hope that our framework starts meaningful conversations, as well as theoretical and methodological deliberations about our next steps as a field in these dynamic and evolving times.

Our framework calls on social scientific scholars to consider issues of power, inequalities, access, and social justice within our social scientific theorizing. It provides an opportunity to re-examine our curricula, theories, methods, and merit structures that currently are situated within Euro-centric imperial white logic. It calls for re-defining merit and impact beyond h-indices, citations, and metrics. It seeks to go beyond narrow silos and disciplinary boundaries that limit collaborative possibilities to engage seriously with systemic inequalities.

We thank Dr. Mary Beth Oliver for her support and encouragement during the initial stages of this paper as well as Dr. David Oh for important insights. We also want to thank the co-editors of the special issue, Keren Tenenboim-Weinblatt (Hebrew University of Jerusalem) & Chul-Joo “CJ” Lee (Seoul National University), for creating a space for this special issue on “Speaking Across Subfields.” We are deeply appreciative of our three reviewers, some of whom cared enough about the piece to write some of the most extensive reviewers’ comments that we have received to date for any publication. And indeed our responses to the reviewers were almost as long as our manuscript itself. We would also like to thank all the academic foreparents who laid the foundation for this bridging work to happen across many subfields to bring in critical perspectives into our quantitative empirical communication scholarship including, but not limited to Mary Beth Oliver, Dana Mastro, Travis Dixon, Erica Scharrer, Dave Ewoldsen, and Walid Afifi.

A shout-out to all scholars of color for their support and inspiration on various projects over the years: Dana Mastro, Travis Dixon, Mohan Dutta, Aisha Durham, Robin Means Coleman, Tina Harris, Brenda Allen, John Jackson Jr., Ralina Joseph, Bernadette Calafell, Karma Chavez, Meghan Sanders, Marissa Doshi, Amanda Martinez, Joelle Cruz, Tomeka Robinson, Muniba Saleem, Lu Tang, Darrel Warren-Serrano, Joey Lopez, Lea Hernandez, Jessie Quintero Johnson, Anjali Vats, Jamilia Blake, Phia Salter, Julius Riles, Lanier Holt, David Oh, Reshmi Ballerstadt-Dutt, Devika Chawla, Azeta Hatif, Saras Bellur, Ersula Ore, Manoucheka Celeste, Arienne Ferchaud, Satveer Kaur, Jinhee Kim, Shaunak Sastry, Iccha Basnyat, Vandhana Ramadurai, Parul Jain, Priya Raman, Devina Sarwatay, Usha Raman, Asha Winfield, James Cho, and Anthony Ramirez, among many others.


To read and cite more articles by Dr. Srivi Ramasubramanian go here: and those by Dr. Omotayo Banjo, visit:

About the authors:

Born and raised in South India, Dr. Srividya "Srivi" Ramasubramanian is Presidential Impact Fellow, Professor of Communication, and Affiliated Professor of Women's & Gender Studies, at Texas A&M University, Director of the Difficult Dialogues Project, and Executive Director of Media Rise (a nonprofit for meaningful media). Her scholarship addresses pressing contemporary global issues relating to media, diversity, and social justice.

A child of Nigerian immigrants, Dr. Omotayo Banjo obtained her B.A in Social Psychology and earned her Ph.D. in Mass Communication from Penn State University. Currently she is an associate professor at the University of Cincinnati. As a researcher, she focuses on representation and audience responses to racial and cultural media. Dr. Banjo teaches courses related to media theory, identity, and race. She is also an affiliate faculty of Africana Studies, Women, Gender, & Sexuality Studies, and Journalism.


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