Communication Theses and Dissertations

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    The Paradox of Expertise: U.S. Abortion Law from 1973-2022
    (2023) Farhat, Aya H; Parry-Giles, Shawn; Communication; Digital Repository at the University of Maryland; University of Maryland (College Park, Md.)
    In the last fifty years, abortion rights in the United States have gone from being criminalized in most states, to being legal on a federal level, to being regulated through individual state legislatures. In 1973, the landmark abortion case Roe v. Wade granted fecund persons a federal right to abortion for the first time in this nation’s history. To do so, the Supreme Court conceived of abortion rights within a rhetoric of expertise. The Court relied on legal, medical, and personal conceptions of expertise as knowledge, procedure, and deference to ground abortion rights in a precedent of privacy tied to the trimester framework. Since its codification, multiple cases at the Supreme Court and lower court levels have challenged the precedent established in Roe. These challenges have worked to both protect and constrict fecund persons’ abortion rights to various degrees. Each of these post-Roe cases have reconfigured the triangulation of expertise to make sense of abortion rights in their particular political and temporal moments. For instance, the landmark abortion case Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey (1992) sought to reinforce the precedent in Roe by clarifying its legal and medical inconsistencies with the undue burden standard. Thirty years later, the Court in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization (2022) decided such inconsistencies warranted returning the abortion decision back to the states. The ability for abortion rights to undergo such a significant shift legally exposes the rhetorical paradox of expertise. The last fifty years of abortion law indicates the inability of legal and medical knowledge and procedures to consistency define the boundaries of legal abortion. But it also shows how the Court has deferred to these expert institutions time and time again to first expand, and then constrict, fecund persons’ personal expertise over the abortion decision. The Paradox of Expertise explores the complex triangulation of expertise in abortion law through an analysis of three pivotal U.S. Supreme Court cases: Roe (1973), Casey (1992), and Dobbs (2022). In each of these cases, the justices interpreted this triangulation in differential ways to shift the boundaries of legal abortion. In Chapter One, I explore how Roe read the legal-medical history of abortion to authorize the trimester framework and regulate fecund persons’ abortion rights and expertise. By regulating abortion through the trimester framework, the Court entangled legal, medical, and personal expertise in a complex web that ultimately privileged legal and medical expertise throughout a fecund person’s pregnancy. In Chapter Two, I analyze Casey to show how the Court responded to the ambiguities presented by the trimester framework. In Casey, the Court reinterpreted the precedent in Roe to affirm abortion rights under an undue burden standard. Because the Court failed to define this standard in a consistent manner, future courts continued to battle over the ambiguities of abortion law. In Chapter Three, I examine the decision in Dobbs to show how such legal battles over expertise allowed the Court to reinterpret abortion history and warrant returning the abortion issue back to the states. But because the Dobbs Court failed to clarify the past inconsistencies in abortion law, state legislators, medical physicians, and fecund persons struggle to make sense of the legal, medical, and personal barriers to abortion access in the present moment. Today, the current landscape of abortion politics is still mired in the paradox of expertise that foreshadows the long road ahead for pro-abortion advocates and those seeking abortion access and care.
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    Psychological inoculation against vaccine misinformation: why and how it works
    (2023) Wang, Yuan; Nan, Xiaoli; Communication; Digital Repository at the University of Maryland; University of Maryland (College Park, Md.)
    Vaccine misinformation has posed a significant threat to public health. Drawing upon inoculation theory, this dissertation investigates whether exposure to an inoculation message – a message that forewarns and refutes potential persuasive attacks – can confer resistance to misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines. Based on two online experiments, this research seeks to answer four overarching questions: Can exposure to an inoculation message reduce susceptibility to misinformation? Through which mechanisms does inoculation message confer resistance to misinformation? Does the effect of inoculation messages vary among initially informed, uninformed, and misinformed individuals? How do partisan source cues (in-group vs. out-group) impact the effectiveness of inoculation messages among politically affiliated individuals? Study 1 investigated the effectiveness, mechanisms, and recipient factors related to inoculation messages. A two-condition (inoculation vs. control) between-subject experiment was conducted (N = 659). Results indicated that exposure to an inoculation message effectively reduced individuals' susceptibility to misinformation. Inoculation message not only counteracted beliefs in misinformation but also protected positive attitudes and intentions toward COVID-19 vaccination. Moreover, perceived ease of counterarguing and anger were identified as significant mediators underlying the persuasive effects of the inoculation message, while counterarguing was not a significant mediator. Furthermore, the effectiveness of inoculation message remained consistent among initially informed, uninformed, or misinformed groups, suggesting that inoculation message offers both prophylactic and therapeutic effects. Study 2 examined how partisan source cues impacted inoculation message effectiveness. A 2 (in-group vs. out-group inoculation) X 2 (in-group vs. out-group misinformation) between-subject online experiment was conducted among politically affiliated individuals (N = 448). Results showed no main or interaction effects of in-group (vs. out-group) inoculation and in-group (vs. out-group) misinformation on persuasive outcomes, suggesting that the efficacy of inoculation messages in conferring resistance to misinformation did not differ based on whether the inoculation or misinformation messages came from an in-group or out-group source. Additionally, party identification strength moderated the impact of in-group (vs. out-group) inoculation on beliefs in COVID-19 vaccine misinformation and COVID-19 vaccination attitudes. Surprisingly, the advantage of in-group inoculation over out-group inoculation was stronger among individuals with lower levels of party identification. Moreover, out-group inoculation appeared to be more persuasive than in-group inoculation among individuals with extremely strong political identification. This dissertation offers several theoretical and practical implications for health communication research and practice. First, this research contributes to inoculation theory by examining two alternative mechanisms – perceived ease of counterarguing and anger – underlying inoculation message effects. The findings underscore the importance of considering cognitive, meta-cognitive, and affective routes that underlie resistance to persuasion. Additionally, this research expands the scope of inoculation theory by demonstrating its effectiveness among initially informed, uninformed, and misinformed individuals. These results suggest that inoculation messages can be useful beyond the traditional scope of cultural truisms, offering both prophylactic and therapeutic effects. Furthermore, the study challenges the conventional assumption that messages from in-group sources are more persuasive than those from out-group sources, indicating that political groups should work together to address vaccine hesitancy. Overall, this dissertation supports the use of inoculation messages as an effective tool in counteracting misinformation and promoting vaccination acceptance.
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    Every Cloud Has a Silver Lining: How Residents in Flood-prone Areas in China Cope and Cultivate Community Resilience in the Post-Crisis Stage
    (2023) Yan, Yumin; Liu, Brooke; Communication; Digital Repository at the University of Maryland; University of Maryland (College Park, Md.)
    Background and Purpose. Catastrophic crises such as floods have resulted in millions of fatalities and tens of billions of dollars in direct economic losses annually worldwide throughout the twentieth century (Merz et al., 2021). Crises can create severe and widespread disruption, but successful communication may also act as a catalyst for constructive change in the post-crisis stage, as it fosters a shared understanding of the situation and provides protective action taking instructions (Liu et al., 2016; Sellnow & Seeger, 2021). The role of crisis communication in the post-crisis stage is insufficiently examined (Liu & Viens, 2020) despite the fact that many communities have the greatest need for support when the media spotlight and widespread public attention disappears. This dissertation emphasizes the notion of learning from crises in the post-crisis stage (Huber, 1991; Moynihan, 2009; Renå & Christensen, 2018) by examining individuals’ coping and their perceived community resilience in the post-crisis stage within a collectivistic and non-democratic context (i.e., mainland China). Theoretical Frameworks. To understand how individuals adapt to emotionally charged situations like floods, this dissertation draws insights from the integrated crisis mapping model (i.e., ICM; Jin et al., 2012; Jin et al., 2016), the infectious disease threat appraisal model (i.e., IDT; Jin et al., 2020; Jin et al., 2021), emotional contagion theory (Barsade, 2002; Barsade et al., 2018), social appraisal theory (Manstead & Fischer, 2001; Parkinson, 2011; 2021), and identity-based emotions research (Mackie et al., 2008; Smith & Mackie, 2015; Tajfel & Turner, 1979; Turner et al., 1987) to explore how individuals’ appraisal of a crisis, susceptibility to emotional contagion (Doherty, 1997; Jin et al., 2020), and identification with their local communities influence individuals’ coping and perceived community resilience (the communities advancing resilience toolkit (CART) assessment; Kim et al., 2023; Pfefferbaum et al., 2013; Pfefferbaum et al., 2015). Methods. As a country prone to flooding, China’s flood damage constitutes a significant portion of global flood losses (Ding et al., 2022; Guo et al., 2023; Qazlbash et al., 2021). Yet, no found crisis communication research provides evidence-based scientific guidance for individuals and social groups in flood-prone areas of China to recover and rebound. Thus, this dissertation explores how individuals cope and cultivate community resilience in the post-disaster recovery phase in the Lukou District, Zhuzhou City, Hunan Province of China. This dissertation deploys a self-report survey utilizing systematic cluster sampling to test the proposed model. Because the flood season in Hunan historically is from April to the beginning of September (Du et al., 2019; Hu et al., 2021; Zeng et al., 2021), the data collection started in mid-September 2022 and was completed by mid-October 2022 to capture residents’ post-flooding experiences. A total of 1,000 complete responses were collected. Because this dissertation’s proposed model includes latent factors, a two-phase modeling process (i.e., measurement and structural; Muller & Hancock, 2019) with maximal likelihood with robust standard error (MLR) estimation is adopted for analysis. Results. The overarching idea delivered in this dissertation’s findings is that individual coping mechanisms (e.g., perceptions, affective experiences, and behavioral intentions) as adaptive and socially functional coping, further contribute to individuals’ perceived local community resilience. Focusing on the adaptive perspective of individuals’ coping, this dissertation’s findings show that vulnerable individuals (e.g., those who perceive greater incurred damage and resource constraints) are more likely to experience negative emotions and less likely to engage in information seeking behaviors or take protective measures to recover from damage and prevent future threats in the post-crisis stage. This dissertation’s findings on the relationships between individuals’ crisis appraisals (e.g., perceived crisis predictability, controllability, and responsibility) and individuals’ affective experiences of emotions and behavioral intentions differ from previous research that focuses on the pre-crisis and crisis stages in Western contexts (e.g., Austin et al., 2021; Jin, 2010; Jin et al., 2020). Furthermore, this dissertation’s findings reveal that negative and positive emotions’ influences on individuals’ information seeking intentions, passive protective action taking intentions, and active protective action taking intentions are largely muted in the post-crisis stage within a collectivistic and non-democratic context. Focusing on the socially functional perspective of individuals’ coping, this dissertation reveals that individuals’ perceived social support, feature-driven emotional contagion, meaning-driven emotional contagion, and ingroup identification influence individuals’ affective experiences of negative and positive emotions, information seeking intentions, passive protective action taking intentions, and active protective action taking intentions. Specifically, findings on perceived social support show that participants who perceived higher levels of social support are less likely to experience negative emotions about floods and more likely to have passive protective action taking intentions. Findings on feature-driven emotional contagion in public emergencies show that participants with higher tendencies of unconsciously capturing others’ emotional expressions are more likely to experience negative emotions about floods and have passive protective action taking intentions. Findings on meaning-driven emotional contagion in public emergencies show that participants with higher tendencies to capture others’ emotional expression by cognitively interpreting the crises are more likely to experience positive emotions about floods and have active protective action taking intentions. Findings on ingroup identifications show that participants’ identification with the local community contributes to their information seeking intentions, passive protective action taking intentions, and active protective action taking intentions. For individuals’ perceived community resilience, this dissertation’s findings show that participants with higher information-seeking intentions and active protective action taking intentions were more likely to perceive greater community resilience. Whereas there is no found statistically significant relationship between participants’ passive protective action taking intentions and perceived community resilience. Theoretical and Practical Implications. This dissertation’s findings contribute to crisis communication research and practices. This dissertation contributes to crisis communication research by examining individuals' coping in the post-crisis stage, extending existing crisis communication literature on emotion by integrating group-level factors (e.g., feature-driven emotional contagion, meaning-driven emotional contagion, and ingroup identification) and broadening previous crisis communication literature by studying a collectivistic and non-democratic context. This dissertation also advances crisis communication research on community resilience by tripling the explained variance of perceived community resilience (from 21% to 65%) and paving the way for future crisis communication research by providing measurement instructions with high reliability scores. This dissertation also offers valuable insights for crisis communicators, enabling them to comprehend the intricate mechanisms of individuals' coping and community resilience in a collectivistic and non-democratic context. This dissertation's findings can assist crisis communicators in devising culturally sensitive messaging and recovery-focused intervention programs that cater to the needs of vulnerable groups while bolstering the community's overall capacity to rebound in the crisis recovery phase.
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    What makes a college worth it? A critical examination of constructions and interpretations of institutional prestige in U.S. higher education
    (2023) Ashby-King, Drew T.; Anderson, Lindsey B.; Communication; Digital Repository at the University of Maryland; University of Maryland (College Park, Md.)
    In the United States (U.S.), attending and graduating from college has been positioned as necessary for individuals to get a good job, earn a high salary, and be successful in life (Ashby-King & Anderson, 2022). However, not every college degree seems to be created equal as graduates of elite (i.e., highly selective, well resourced, highly ranked, prestigious) institutions have been found to experience an increased return on investment in comparison to their peers at less selective institutions (Ge et al., 2022). Colleges and universities then compete to increase their ranking and decrease the percentage of students they admit trying to gain prestige and symbolic capital in the marketplace of U.S. higher education (Blackmore, 2018; Brewer et al., 2002). As not every institution can be highly ranked, in addition to engaging in prestige-seeking behaviors, they also use communication and public relations practices to communicatively construct themselves as prestigious. Thus, I suggest that it is important to examine and understand how institutions are constructed as prestigious and how students interpret said constructions as they seek to gain capital themselves by attending college and earning a degree. As determinations of what is deemed worthy capital in different fields creates the social structures that exist in said field, I took a critical public relations approach to examining this problem to understand how communicative constructions of prestige reinforce and/or challenge dominant ideologies—especially neoliberalism and whiteness. In this dissertation, I conducted a two-part qualitative study that included a textual analysis of articles related to prestige and rankings published in two media outlets and in-depth interviews and a follow-up questionnaire with currently enrolled college students. Based on my critical thematic analysis, I argue that discourses of institutional prestige functioned to reinforce the notion that higher education is a marketplace by focusing on competition, hierarchy, and exclusivity. As students interpreted these discourses, they were less focused on institutional prestige and more concerned with the social capital they would gain from an institution that would help them get good jobs post-graduation. Throughout this process, when interpreting institutional communication college students did not always trust the institutions. Therefore, they sought additional information from social media and their networks and interpreted said institutional communication in relation to other texts and discourses. Through this project, I advance theory by (1) emphasizing the agency individuals and publics have when they communicate with organizations; (2) theorize public relations as a vehicle for communicating the social and cultural capital an organization can offer publics; and (3) reinforce the ways discourses of institutional prestige function to reinforce neoliberalism and whiteness. I conclude by offering practical implications to inform public relations and communication practice within and beyond the context of higher education.
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    Queer Ecology of Monstrosity: Troubling the Human/Nature Binary
    (2023) Thomas, Alex Jazz; Steele, Catherine K; Communication; Digital Repository at the University of Maryland; University of Maryland (College Park, Md.)
    As a form of visual communication, monsters in popular culture represent and reinforce the changing thoughts and emotions cultures have toward the human/nature binary. This binary, historically supporting discrimination based on race, gender and sexuality, and the environment’s abuse, is often supported through monstrous representations of the Other, but this is a limited view of a monster’s potential. I argue that contemporary hybrid monsters that blend humans and nature together in one queer, boundary-defying body represent U.S. society’s changing relationship with nature while giving the audience a new form of connecting or identifying with the environment and Othered body that critiques the popular ideology of both being something to fear or use. In this study, I advance a monstrous splice of queer theory and ecocriticism that probes the plasticity and queerness of humans and the environment allowing for new narratives, forms of life, and discourses about naturalization and the environment. Through queer ecological theory and methodology, I examine visual and contextual media to study the monster’s potential to embody nature, people, and their conjoined discrimination. The plasmaticness and subversive culture of animation and comics let the monstrous thrive in their display of the plasticity of humans and the environment. I structure my analysis into three case studies focusing on the potential of monsters to critique evolutionary ideology, human exceptionalism, and ecological interaction in light of queer theory’s critique of what is ‘natural.’ Radford Sechrist’s television series Kipo and the Age of the Wonderbeasts and K.I. Zachopoulos and Vincenzo Balzano’s graphic novel Run Wild oppose human exceptionalism by visually plasticizing humanity and giving animals culture and agency in a way that rejects anthropocentric thinking. The monsters of Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart’s independent film, Wolfwalkers and Morvan and Nesmo’s ecological detective novel Bramble critique the cultural separation of urban and green spaces that has excused racial and sexual violence by displaying humanity’s innate connection to nature. Finally, Marguerite Bennett’s erotic graphic novel Insexts and select episodes from Tim Miller’s Love, Death, & Robots challenge evolutionary ideology. In this last case, characters retain their femininity and humanity in their monstrous transformations, rejecting evolutionary and societal inferiority and ultimately showing they can still retain parts of themselves and be powerful and deadly. Taken together, these texts span genres, writing/drawing styles, intended age groups, and environmental messages. They provide a wide range of monster representations and give audiences new ways to view and understand the issues surrounding what we see as ‘human’ or ‘natural’, balancing empowerment, subversivism, and condemnation.