by Kevin Dicciani
She has presented her research at a science festival in Sweden. She was invited to the White House to participate in a community briefing during former President Barack Obama’s presidency. She is the co-author of a forthcoming book on digital activism. And now Nora Madison, Ph.D., assistant professor of communication at Chestnut Hill College, is the recipient of one of the most renowned and prestigious scholarships in the world: the U.S. Fulbright Scholar Grant.
Madison received the 2019-2020 Fulbright U.S. Scholar Grant from the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board. As part of the grant, she will spend the upcoming academic year with the Digital Culture Program at the University of Bergen in Norway. There, as part of the scholarship, she will conduct a study, “The Semiotics of Digital Protest: Your Resistance Has Become Meme.”
Madison, who is also the coordinator of the communication program at the College, said receiving the Fulbright grant validates her years of hard work and scholarship. More important, the award gives her the chance to develop professionally and personally.
“I’ve really been slowly pushing this research forward with love and dedication, and it feels really nice to have this structural support and belief in the value of the work as well as the time to really focus on it and do it well,” Madison said. “Traveling and getting outside your comfort zone and engaging with students in another culture — in another native language and with a different set of social expectations about education — will be really good for me as a professor and a person.”
Established in 1946 by U.S. Senator J. William Fulbright, of Arkansas, the Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program provides research and teaching opportunities to professors, administrators, scientists, artists, lawyers, and other professionals. It is the largest U.S. cultural exchange program of its kind, granting approximately 470 awards each year to American scholars and professionals. Former alumni of the program include Bose Corporation founder Amar Bose, writer Sylvia Plath, and composer Philip Glass.
Just as it will aid in her evolution as a scholar, a professor, and a human being, Madison’s research at the University in Bergen will prove beneficial for her students, too. Together, using her experiences in Norway as the foundation, Madison and her students will study how education, culture, and politics are viewed and interpreted by Scandinavians. By exploring a diverse landscape of ideas and juxtaposing their findings with present trends in the U.S., she and her students stand to gain a unique and dynamic worldview, one that can further illuminate their understanding of what it means to live as members of a global society.
“Scholarship and the pursuit of understanding the world in its smallest capacities are critical to relating to students, understanding the world they live in, and giving them a vision of something grander and bigger that they haven’t yet had the opportunity to fully engage in themselves,” Madison said.
The goal of her research in Norway, Madison said, is to build upon her past and present research by studying “the digital spaces used to create, disseminate, and curate messages of resistance.” To accomplish this, she will examine the impact of U.S.-centric platforms on non-American activism online, with a particular focus on the aesthetics of Scandinavian digital protest culture. She will also compare and contrast protest posts on social media produced for local and international target audiences.
“When protesters want to reach a broad, international audience, they tend to employ the English language — if possible; however, localized protest is generally conducted in the native language,” Madison said. “The intended or hopeful target audience shapes linguistic and aesthetic practices for activism online.”
Madison’s research on digital activism is featured in a forthcoming book she co-authored with Mathias Klang, “Everyday Activism: Technologies of Resistance.” The book explores how resistance is accomplished with mobile devices and social media platforms. It is tentatively scheduled for publication in December 2019.
The Fulbright scholarship is yet another award Madison can add to her list of various grants and scholarships. Eight years ago, in 2011, Madison received the HASTAC Scholars Fellowship, which allowed her to write and research at a crossroad where technology meets the liberal arts. A year later, the Ford Foundation awarded her with the Emerging Scholars International Research Grant, a financial award to support dissertation data collection and analysis.
A qualitative researcher and a digital ethnographer, Madison has presented her findings at conferences and workshops around the globe, such as Baltimore’s Eastern Sociological Society and Sweden’s International Science Festival. But her expertise has also taken her to other well-known venues. For example, in 2015, as part of former President Barack Obama’s LGBT initiative, she was invited to the White House to contribute to a community briefing on the cultural and material needs of America’s bisexual community.
In addition to conference presentations and invited talks, Madison has authored and published nearly a dozen articles in academic journals and periodicals. She has written about everything from chemotherapy to the policing of social norms through social media to virtual ethnography.
As far as the future is concerned, Madison, rather than decelerating, looks to combine all she has learned and accomplished to elevate her work in scope and intensity. The Fulbright scholar grant and her upcoming research at the University of Bergen, she said, will inform and bolster her learning and teaching at Chestnut Hill College, where she will remain equal parts pupil and professor.
“When your research is supported, and you’re funded both structurally and emotionally, the work reminds you of what you have to give, and I think it makes you want to give even more,” she said. “So while I’m excited to go, I’m also really excited to come back and see who I am at the end of this journey and what I’m going to be able to pass along to others.”