5 Questions with Ahmet Atay

Ahmet Atay
September 14, 2021

Ahmet Atay is an Associate Professor; Department Chair of Global Media and Digital Studies; Program Chair of Women's, Gender, & Sexuality Studies; and Co-Liaison to the Digital Visual Storytelling Pathway at the College of Wooster. Dr. Atay researches in the areas of transnational communication and media studies, technology and new media, cultural identity and globalization, and diaspora and postcolonial studies. Atay is the author or editor of more than 15 books and is co-editor of the recent volume, Intercultural Communication, Identity, and Social Movements in the Digital Age. Atay is also the author or co-author of more than 50 journal articles and book chapters. In addition, Atay is Second Vice President of the Central States Communication Association, was a seminar leader at the 2021 NCA Institute for Faculty Development (Hope Conference), and is the Past Chair of NCA’s International and Intercultural Communication Division. 

1. Your work has examined intercultural communication, digital spaces, and queer identities. What role do digital spaces play in the lives of transnational, diasporic, and immigrant queer individuals?

I spent years examining this particular question. When I developed my research agenda based on this very question, I was trying to make sense of my own identity. Hence, I was curious to figure out how other diasporic bodies use new media technologies and online platforms. As I deepened my engagement with multiple cyber communities and my investigation of how people use these sites, I realized that they use them for different reasons. These technologies play different roles for people during different periods in their lives. Some people use new media technologies to communicate with queer individuals within their geographical area or beyond. Some use them to look for romantic and/or sexual partners. Others use the technologies as a way to represent themselves and perform different aspects of their identities through digital, visual, and textual means. Over time, as I deepened my exploration, I realized that some diasporic and transnational individuals use these platforms to connect with other queer bodies who can understand their experiences. As several diasporic and transnational queer scholars have argued over the years, the mainstream U.S. queer culture can be oppressive toward domestic and transnational queer individuals as well as toward accented bodies and lives. In these instances, some transnational and diasporic individuals use these platforms to find solace within these digital spaces. For the oppressed, these platforms function as a shelter in which they feel safe. For some people, they are even a way of connecting to home. Because these platforms are global, they allow their members to connect despite time zones and geographic differences, and they provide ways for transnational and diasporic individuals to communicate with people from their home countries. 

Over the last several months, I have also realized that in the absence of face-to-face human interactions and everyday communication with others, people have been experiencing isolation and loneliness. Many members of the LGBTQIA+ community have been negatively impacted by these realities, especially those who live in small towns or isolated places, or who identify as transnational and diasporic. As LGBTQIA+ individuals have experienced loneliness and isolation during these trying times, these platforms have served as connectors to the digital cultures in which they find a sense of belonging.

2. You’ve argued in NCA’s Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies that queer studies within Communication must move away from a focus on white, U.S.-centric experiences. What does decolonizing Communication in this way mean to you?  

Our discipline is white and very U.S.-centric. In so many ways, queer studies mirrors the whiteness and U.S.-centric nature of the larger discipline. Queer studies, while critical in its orientation around and focus on the issues and lives of an oppressed group, takes a very U.S.-centric perspective in its examination of sexuality, queerness, and queer worldmaking. In my Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies essay, I pointed out that to decolonize our discipline and sub-discipline, we must take on transnational perspectives to examine gender and sexuality; otherwise, we will continue to replicate the existing power structures. Decolonizing the discipline from this perspective means that we need to recognize the contributions of transnational queer scholars. As a discipline, we have a serious citationality problem. Most scholars do not cite the work of transnational scholars, and those who do often ignore transnational queer scholars. Our work matters. Our individual and collective voice matters.

If we do not recognize and value transnational queer voices as a discipline, we will continue to produce oppressive structures. We can observe some of these structures and practices when it comes to publishing the work of transnational queer scholars in our journals, and these practices are also reflected in the hiring, tenure, and promotional processes. How many transnational queer scholars are in our research institutions? How many transnational queer scholars are visible at our national and regional conferences? How many transnational queer scholars, journal editors, or department chairs are in positions of power? How many transnational queer scholars are included in our curricula and syllabi? These are the questions we need to be asking in order to decolonize our discipline. I hope my piece and the forum that I edited for Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies can spark these conversations and begin the much-needed decolonization within our discipline.

3. In addition to teaching courses at the intersection of Communication and Media Studies, you’ve taught a course on autoethnography. How do you introduce students to autoethnography?

Yes, my teaching and research sit between Communication and Media Studies. Hence, I use several critical and cultural methodologies. This is, of course, reflected in my teaching and classes as well. During my third year as a junior faculty, I taught an undergraduate seminar in autoethnography. At the time, it was one of the very few undergraduate-level courses in this subject. Eighteen students enrolled in my course, and we had a rewarding and intense journey as a group. Initially, it was not easy for the students to think about narrative-based research as research. Most of our students are trained to use quantitative or interpretive research methods, yet they rarely consider performative, visual, or autoethnographic methods as a possibility. Following that particular course, I started to teach autoethnography as a method in my Intercultural Communication course. We read several essays that employed autoethnography or narrative-based writing. Finally, during the fall of 2020, I offered a Critical/Cultural Methods course in which I taught autoethnography as one of the major units. We devoted more than five weeks of the course to learning about this method of inquiry and its writing style. Of course, I wish I had had the time to do more on autoethnography. Typically, students are taken by the method because it is new for them. Some of them fall in love with it because they realize that their voice matters, and they can use the method to critique the social and cultural issues and realities around them. They generally struggle at first with the method and type of writing I want them to do, but it is such a rewarding experience to see when their writing begins to shine. I always look forward to this moment in my courses. I love how autoethnography transforms my students and how they further transform as they write. It is not an easy process, but it is a joy to see students take this methodological journey.

4. You’ve served as a book series editor for two Lexington book series: Transnational Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies and Critical Communication Pedagogy. What was the process of being a book series editor like and how does it differ from editing a single book? 

I enjoy working on edited books and curating manuscripts that provide the opportunity for visibility, voice, and, more importantly, a scholarly voice for scholars, especially transnational and historically marginalized scholars. Because of my commitments, I decided to start a book series called Transnational Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies with Lexington Books. My collaboration with Dr. Deanna Fassett on pedagogy also led to the creation of our co-edited Critical Communication Pedagogy series with the same publisher. Both of these series are dear to me because they embody my academic commitments. 

The process of editing books and being a series editor is rather different. As a book editor, I write the book’s proposal (either alone or with my co-editor), then we respond to the reviewers’ feedback. We then start our work. During the editing process, I am very involved with the essays. I often provide feedback on multiple drafts before the essays take their final shape. I work closely with the authors, then we attend to the reviewer feedback once again. It is a long but rewarding process. As a series editor, I try to find authors who might be interested in submitting their proposals to the series. Then I work with the Lexington Books editors to assess the proposals. It is also my job to make sure that the authors stay on track, meet functional deadlines, and bring the projects to completion. In some ways, I am the curator, but I am not in charge of the content; I merely oversee it.

5. You’ve been involved in NCA as well as CSCA. Could you talk a bit about the different opportunities for service and community at the regional and national level?

Let me begin by saying that it is a tremendous honor and joy to be serving in our organizations in different leadership capacities. I served as the Chair of NCA’s International and Intercultural Communication Division, where I previously served as the Secretary for three years. I cherish these experiences because they allowed me to interact with others in the discipline whose work I admire. It was also exciting to plan the division’s presentations and work on the convention schedule. I got to read new scholarship and see my colleagues present their work. 

As transnational scholars, we do not usually occupy these leadership roles, so I enjoyed being a role model and mentor for junior scholars. I wanted to show them that what we bring to academic discussions matters. These positions also allow us to decolonize and transnationalize our larger disciplines and sub-disciplines by spotlighting new and different issues and voices. I had similar intentions when I ran for the second VP position at CSCA. I am very proud to be the first transnational scholar elected to this post. These positions are typically occupied by scholars who happen to be at bigger universities, unlike me. It is also important to note that we are often overlooked because of the type of institutions we work in, so I wanted to be a vehicle for these cultural changes and shifts when I applied. As the second VP of CSCA, I organized this year’s pre-conference. I purposefully selected the theme of “Decolonizing the Discipline” because I wanted to implement my commitments to diversity, transnationality, and decoloniality. 

In every position I occupy or role I play within our organizations, I hope to generate some positive and meaningful change, start much-needed discussions, and create spaces for others. I often sit in the academic margins, so I know how it feels. I thus believe that as I occupy these leadership positions, I have a duty to my community to provide spaces and opportunities. Is it hard work? Absolutely. I would be a hypocrite if I talked and wrote about decolonization, transnationalization, queering the discipline, or using critical pedagogy to achieve meaningful dialogue without actually practicing what I preach.

Watch a video with additional insights from Ahmet Atay!