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Read more about the latest student-faculty research collaborations.

Social Media and our Connection to Nature

Associate Professor of Communication & Media Studies Mark Flynn and Julie Donegan '24

Is screen time the antithesis of nature? Maybe not. For the past couple of years, Associate Professor of Communication & Media Studies Dr. Mark Flynn has been exploring the combined health effects of media and nature through qualitative interviews, assisted by Emmanuel undergraduates.

Previously, Dr. Flynn has worked with Emery Veilleux ’21, and their work yielded a paper, “A Post from the Woods: Social Media, Well-being, and Our Connection to the Natural World,” which was published in Computers in Human Behavior Reports in March 2022. In the paper, Dr. Flynn and Veilleux look to challenge this notion that media is a virus and nature is the antidote. Their findings exhibit the ways that CTN (connection to nature) can be mobilized through media.

To continue this research, Dr. Flynn has been working on a qualitative interview research project that examines the nuances within the seemingly contrasting worlds of social media and smartphone use and CTN.  To date, around 60 in-depth interviews have been conducted, and two papers—“Dematerialize, rematerialize, over-materialize: A thematic analysis of social media use and pro-environment behaviors” and “Dirtbags with Smartphones: The Paradox of Environmentally Conscious Consumerism on Social Media”— were selected for presentation at the International Environmental Communication Association conference in June 2023 in Harrisonburg, VA. The two papers feature three student co-authors: Anne Marie Deffe ’22, Madison Suitor ’22 and Lauren Garcia ’23.

Flynn has been working with communication & media studies and writing, editing & publishing double major Julie Donegan ’24 since the fall of 2022, and their work continued into summer 2023. Their current work continues the interview process, both in a broad sense, and in to fill gaps their data hadn’t yet fully examined. Flynn cites newer developments such as the rapid adoption of TikTok as one of the most used social media platforms and the increased trendiness of outdoor brands in influencer culture and fashion (“gorpcore”) as topics that require more attention in the research space as a whole.

The Intersection Between Social Media, Religion and Politics

Assistant Professor of Communication & Media Studies Caitlin Lawson and Cecilia Hafferty '24

A new faculty member within the summer research program at Emmanuel, Assistant Professor of Communication & Media Studies Dr. Caitlin Lawson and research assistant Cecilia Hafferty ’24 continued Lawson’s research into the online discussions that emerge around fundamentalist Evangelical social media content creators. While there is a large body of research in the field of Communication & Media Studies that analyzes content creators or “influencers,” including Lawson’s work on racism and influencers in the online beauty community that was published in the journal New Media & Society in 2021, less work has been done on religious influencers. “With the increasing political and social power of uber-conservative evangelical Christian voting blocs and politicians, this research will add to our understanding of the intersections between social media, religion, ideology, and politics,” Lawson wrote in the research proposal. 

Prior to summer 2023, Lawson presented research analyzing the anti-feminist online content of fundamentalist Evangelical (“fundie”) influencers at the Association of Internet Researchers Conference in October 2022, and at the top conference in the field, the International Communication Association, in May 2023. This summer, Lawson and Hafferty explored a new facet of this phenomenon through interviews with a prominent online community (FundieSnarkUncensored on Reddit) that is critical of the ideological and political messaging of the “fundie” content creators. 

Lawson is interested in how members of this online community understand the role that such criticism plays in their overall beliefs about gender, race, sexuality, politics and religion. In other words, what do they get out of “snarking” on (sarcastically critiquing) these fundamentalist evangelical content creators, and how does it inform their understanding of ideology, politics, and religion? The research team will plan to finalize and submit this project for publication by Spring 2024 and will submit the in-progress work to conferences, including the Society for Cinema and Media Studies conference, for presentation in 2024.