From Berber to Blueberries: Design, Dwelling, and Martha Stewart. Prospectus and chapters under review.
This project is the first comprehensive book-length project not only to explore Martha Stewart, but more importantly to the field of cultural studies, to explore the rhetoric of design. In today’s culture, it is almost impossible to think of an aspect of the home Martha Stewart is not involved with: she sells products for every room in the home from the kitchen to the bedroom to the laundry room, furniture to fill and decorate the home, lawn and garden products for the outside of the home, the very home itself (for the better part of a decade, KB Homes sold Stewart-branded suburbs; see images at left), and publications which direct consumers on how best to make use of these products in the quest for a better life. There is no more prominent figure in the design of 21st-century domestic life than Martha Stewart, making Stewart’s discourse and products critical texts in how we imagine and live in the home. This project is an expansion of work begun in my dissertation.
The key questions this book addresses are: What views of the world underlie the design of Stewart’s domesticity, and how is this world view manifested in Stewart’s domestic design? What are the rhetorical functions of these designs?
Using Stewart as the pivot point for my investigation, I employ critical analysis to examine facets of Stewart’s enterprise (“Everyday” and “Collection” merchandise at Kmart and Macy’s, the Atlanta Hampton Oaks Stewart-branded suburb, and Martha Stewart Living magazine) as a way of understanding both the rhetoric of design generally, and the rhetorical impact of Stewart’s designs specifically. By exploring style and design as both cultural and rhetorical artifacts, I explore how people know the world, constitute personal and corporate identity, and participate in wider social environments through style and design. A precis of Chapter 4 (exploring the graphic design of Living) was published in BSU’s faculty journal, and can be found here.
This book will be of interest to scholars in critical/cultural studies, visual culture, material culture, and postfeminism, as well those interested in the culture and history of North American domesticity, not to mention Martha Stewart enthusiasts. If used as a textbook, it would be most appropriate for a graduate or advanced undergraduate course in visual or material culture in cultural studies, rhetoric, English, or mass communication.
Articles & Book Chapters
Of Art and Drudgery: Homekeeping, Martha Stewart, and Techné. Home Cultures.
Stewart’s voice is an exceptionally influential viewpoint in how we imagine and construct the 21st-century North American home. In an era where more women than men attend college and where women make up a (slim) majority of the workforce, Stewart’s popularity is baffling to many. Locating Stewart within North American traditions of domestic advice, the author investigates how Stewart frames domestic arts as techné, arguing Stewart’s profitability and popularity are so robust and wide-reaching because she rescues domestic arts from denigration, refiguring homekeeping as a techné of worth and importance. This essay provides a framework for understanding the meaningful ways domesticity and design function as an ethics of daily life, problematizing the gendered dichotomy between production and consumption.
Being a Feminist and Ironing One’s Sheets: Domesticity, Feminism and Martha Stewart. Ohio Speech Communication Journal.
This study explores Martha Stewart fans’ motivations for engaging domestic media. Contrary to the assumptions in textual analyses of Stewart’s media products, participants primarily engage domestic media for its artistry, not escapism. Connecting cultural constructions of domesticity and feminism, this study also explores how feminism is contemporarily understood, as well as the connection between feminism and domesticity as it is manifested in popular responses to Martha Stewart. Overall, participants identified Stewart as feminist; fans were less willing to define Rachael Ray (Stewart’s most direct American competition) as feminist.
Reimagining what Images can Achieve (Cases and Commentaries: Detroit’s Ruin Porn). Journal of Mass Media Ethics.
This short essay explores the concept of “ruin porn.” The essay opens by considering the ethics of dissemination—what it means to publish and to look at ruin porn, moving to an examination of the ethics of categorization—what it means to label a class of photography “ruin porn.” Read it
Insurrectionary Womanliness: Gender and the (Boxing) Ring. The Qualitative Report.
Integrating sociological theory on sport with Judith Butler’s concept of insurrectionary speech, I explore why and how womanliness is produced and problematized. In particular, I investigate how participating in combat sport violates conventional womanliness by foregrounding physical capability and aggression. Using my identity as a female fighter as a starting point to engage the cultural construction of womanliness, I connect a critical/cultural look at gender and sport with autoethnography. Read it
Martha Stewart’s Graphic Design for Living. Bridgewater Review.
This piece is a precis of a chapter from my book manuscript, exploring the rhetorical power of Living magazine. Stewart’s place in North American domestic history is tied to the success of Martha Stewart Living, the flagship publication of the Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia empire. In turn, the success of Living is tied to its graphic design—a subject little examined outside the field of design studies. This work explores the typographic matchmaking of Martha Stewart Living as a way of investigating both the values and identity of the magazine as well as the values and identity of the ideal audience suggested through its typography. Read it
Hard Cases: Prison Tattooing as Visual Argumentation. Argumentation and Advocacy.
The penitentiary offers an intriguing opportunity to engage the rhetoric of the everyday, to investigate how people make arguments—particularly for specific identities and social selves—in the absence of significant (or even any) face-to-face dialogue. This essay points to some of the ways in which the body can be seen to function as argumentation per se, operating by way of claims supported by evidence and reasoning. Because of the social control exerted by the penitentiary, tattooing is uniquely important as an argumentative device within the social space of the penitentiary system. In this context, tattoos allow prisoners to make arguments and express values they are unable to otherwise.
Guerrilla Communication, Visual Consumption, and Consumer Public Relations. Public Relations Review.
Guerrilla communication has grown into an increasingly prominent strategy adopted by large corporations such as American Express, BP Amoco, Chrysler, Hershey Foods, and Pepsi. In its attention-grabbing instantiations, guerrilla communication points to the convergence of advertising, marketing, and public relations in consumer communication practices. This essay also considers guerrilla communication’s place in the circuit of culture.
In the press
In a professorial pop culture claim to fame, I wax eloquent on images of gender in the 2014 media in a news story by the Sun Chronicle. Read it
I have long desired validation as an expert on style (at last – my addiction to Vidal Sassoon haircuts pays off!). You can read my erudite comments on Michelle Obama’s bangs in a piece by the Sun Chronicle. Read it
Essays under construction
Abu Ghraib, the Sublime, and the Ethical Responsibilities of Looking.
The Abu Ghraib photographs reiterate the importance of visuality to a global environment dominated by and often predicated upon imagery. This essay argues that visuality’s prominence in the 21st century public sphere calls for a corresponding prominence of viewing practices that proffer ethical engagement with images of human trauma. To fully account for the cultural operation of the Abu Ghraib images, this essay explores the ethical obligations attached to viewing human trauma as well as the cultural narratives which prevented some American audiences from ethically engaging the Abu Ghraib photographs. Analyzing letters to the editor from 10 major newspapers, I contend that significant portions of the American public failed to engage these images as examples of the human sublime. This essay further argues that when audiences treat sublime images as if they were otherwise, audiences are unable to meet the ethical responsibilities tied to viewing human trauma.
Squatting in Style: Dwelling, Design, & Graffiti
Graffiti creates a living, breathing, dynamic skin for the city. As stylistic squatting, graffiti is a way of using the old—a run down, faceless city—to depart for somewhere new—a personalized space with special meanings and explicitly political content. I argue that to fully understand graffiti, we must understand it as a skin, as a multilayered, multipurpose organ that shifts across the landscape of the city, providing an interface through which graffiti writers piece together politicized subjectivity.
Style and design are undeniably important components in the rhetorical construction of identity and subjectivity, but the rhetorical operation of the style and design of material objects remains relatively unexplored in rhetorical scholarship. Using Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia as the pivot point for my investigation, this dissertation specific facets of Stewart’s enterprise, answering two foundational questions: how and why has the style and design of home life, epitomized both MSLO’s offerings, become so prominent in 20th and 21st-century North American culture; and, what roles do style and design play in the corporate successes of MSLO? Tacking between broad, more theoretical analysis and close textual analysis of specific MSLO texts, chapters on branding and identity, the politics of popularizing domestic arts and private space, and the graphic design of MSLO’s Living magazine collectively ties theory on style and design to particular practices of style and design.
Scholarship on the body has long-established the corporeal as a site of cultural interest and public concern. This work typically frames the body as an object: a site onto which power is mapped, with little or no agency of its own. This position–signified, not signifier–is rooted in definitions of knowledge and corporeality which occlude the body’s agential power. The body may be traditionally rendered as that which must be spoken for, but it holds significant power to speak. Subjugating the body’s power has meant the subjugation of groups closely connected to the body, the body’s marginalized status conferring its inferior social position onto the groups which engage it. Considering the body’s rhetorical agency, the task of this thesis, reveals the body as rhetor, fleshing out heretofore unexplored aspects of corporeal rhetorical force. Despite the body’s marginalized status, individuals are able to use the body’s rhetorical agency to counteract disempowering social strictures. The body’s rhetorical agency as such is revealed through the experience and memory of rape, as well as through subcultures focused on bodily action (for example, Urban Primitives and cutters).