Thursday, February 3, 2011

Graduate Student of the Month: Josh Carney

Josh Carney
Communications and Culture
February 2011

Josh Carney’s path to graduate school in Communication and Culture at IU is as interesting as his research, and it begins with a trip to Africa.

After receiving a BA cum laude from Whitman College in Washington, Carney spent a year in Malawi on a Fulbright where he served as the principal investigator of the Phalombe Ethnobotanical Survey for the Mulanje Mountain Conversation trust. The goal of the survey was to preserve traditional plant knowledge and gauge the effects of deforestation.

While in Malawi, Carney began writing about what he saw and the process appealed to him--enough that his path next led to an MA in English at Western Washington University followed by an MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Arizona. In Arizona, he wrote about his work in ethnobotany and travels in Malawi.

Carney has an interest in how other cultures work, and after completing his MFA, he traveled to Turkey to teach English for a few years. As he spent time learning Turkish and observing the culture, he became increasingly interested in Turkish media.

Carney’s path eventually led to IU where he is currently a doctoral student in Communication and Culture. His dissertation project is a media ethnography based on popular Turkish television. He hopes to spend more time in Turkey next year gathering ethnographic research on the audiences and the producers of the texts he has studied. One aspect of his work may involve interviewing the production team for one of the most popular Turkish television and film series in recent memory.

“It’s sort of a mafia crime drama, but what’s interesting is that it takes events from the daily news and within months they're part of the plot. One of the most interesting offshoots of the series, for example, was a blockbuster film that combined seven major events that happened during the Iraq war. The main plot is about a mafia infiltrator--a secret service agent--who goes into Iraq to get revenge on a commander who insulted some Turks. The insult really happened and it was a hugely important event in Turkey. So, while the main character is fictional, both his motives and much of the world that he operates in have some basis in fact.

"People are concerned about it because it seems to be melding fact and fiction in strange ways and the audiences for that series get very into it. I hope to speak with the filmmakers, but also interview and observe the audiences watching their films--see what kind of communities they are forming and how they feel about the texts,” he said.

“There are a lot of rumors about how these texts work and there are a lot of assumptions about how audiences understand them, but not much work has gone into talking to people and asking what they actually take from these texts. That is, the critique of these texts thus far has come mainly from elites who may have little contact with the people who are actually watching the shows."

In assessing these texts and their social impact, Carney works closely with his advisor, Jon Simons, who specializes in image studies and political theory, as well as with anthropologist Ilana Gershon, reception specialist Barbara Klinger, and Erdem Cipa, from Turkish Studies.

Since joining IU, Carney has been awarded two Foreign Language Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowships to study Turkish and Kurdish, as well as the Virginia Gunderson Award for the best graduate seminar paper in the Department of Communication and Culture, an American Research Institute in Turkey (ARIT) award for intensive Turkish language study at Bogazici University in Istanbul, and an Institute of Turkish Studies (ITS) summer fellowship coupled with an IU Pre-Dissertation grant that enabled Carney to begin his field-work.

While at IU Carney has also helped to found two organizations: the salsa dance group Ritmos Latinos, now in its fourth year in Bloomington and, more recently, a group called Hoosiers for Peace in the Middle East, which is devoted to fostering education and dialog regarding conflicts in the Middle east, including the Israel/Palestine conflict and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.