The Cultural Studies PhD program is pleased to announce that CS alumnus Robert W. Gehl has received the Fulbright Canada Research Chair in Communication, Media, and Film at the University of Calgary in Spring 2020. Robert will teach a graduate seminar and further his research on alternative social media. Severin Mueller conducted a short interview with Robert in which he reflects on the meaning of the award for his current research projects as well as Canada's relationship to American media corporations. Read his responses below.
Could you tell us about your current position? What are your
I am an associate professor in the Department of Communication at the
University of Utah. My responsibilities are primarily centered on
research, teaching, and service.
In what ways does your role as a Fulbright Fellow contribute to
your research and teaching methods?
The Fulbright is based on a project I've been pursuing over the years,
an answer to the question: what do we do if we become disillusioned
with corporate social media systems like Facebook or Twitter? Most of
the time, the answer is quit, but that's unsatisfying. And it ignores
what coder/activists are currently doing: making alternative social
media, a new form of alternative media. I've written about alternative
social media in journals and book chapters, but I find there's much
more work to do.
My Fulbright will allow me to continue this project, with the added
element of thinking about Canada's relationship to American media
corporations. Canada has long struggled with the media behemoth to its
south. This dates back at least to the Massey Commission in the late
1940s and continues to this day with reports like "Shattered Mirror."
My basic question is: how might alternatives to what the Canadians call
the "FANG" (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, and Google) function in the
Canadian cultural and political economic context?
Do you have any current projects you’re working on?
Besides the alternative social media project, I am also working on a
book-length analysis of the hacker practice of "social engineering."
Social engineering is a polite name for bullshitting and con artistry.
With social engineering, instead of trying to break technical security
barriers, a person might simply call up an office and ask for a
password to a network or database. Surprisingly, this works quite
My book will provide a genealogy of social engineering, going back to
the original meaning of the term (a form of societal-scale shaping
envisioned by early social scientists) and tracing it forward to today,
including the use of bots and social media manipulation.
May 30, 2019