Kathy Oswald, PhD

Classes start at NC State next week, which signals the return of students, exasperated student emails, and most importantly, regular CRDM blog updates. With that timing in mind, we’re pleased to announce our most recent doctor to the world, Kathy F. Oswald, PhD. She sailed through her dissertation defense on Thursday, armed no doubt with her excellent research and a classic Philly Shell.

(Right? Because it’s a type of defense in boxing and she’s from Philadelphia? Right? Guys? Fine, I’ll be over here in the corner.)

Kathy’s committee consisted of Steve Wiley, Melissa Johnson, and Rebecca Walsh, with Jeremy Packer serving as chair. Speaking on behalf of the committee, Packer said “we were happy to pass her dissertation unconditionally.”

Kathy's dissertation wordle. Not pictured: Kathy.

That dissertation, titled “Smarter, better, faster, stronger: The informationalized infrastructural ideal,” is right in the wheelhouse for an interdisciplinary CRDM research topic, as you can see from her abstract:

As the public and private sector spend and invest billions of dollars maintaining, repairing, securing, constructing, and informationalizing infrastructure, scholars of communication continue to neglect the central role of infrastructure in shaping contemporary mediascapes. This neglect stems from a number of tendencies in the field of communication, including a move away from the transmission model of communication, a separation in thinking about the communication of information and the communication of people and objects, and a tendency to think about technology in terms of their historical development, mediation, effects, uses or potentials rather than to understand technologies as cultural forms subject to alternative arrangements. While these traditions make the study of communication, mobility, and technology challenging, this work takes an interdisciplinary approach that recognizes and works to move past historical divisions in the disciplines in the interest of exploring the ways in which informationalization is changing communication, culture, and mediascapes.

I locate informationalization—adding a data layer to processes through instrumentation, interconnection and intelligence—at the center of changing articulations of communication, transportation, information and housing infrastructure. I take as central a double reorganization of infrastructure under two competing logics: a utopian view that positions the informationalization of networks as “smart” and can be traced across a variety of popular, industry, and government discourses as a compelling argument for connection; and a logic that positions infrastructure as “critical”, which while intensified by post 9/11 sensibilities, has clear origins in earlier beliefs about the dystopian potentials of connection including computer crime and cyberwarfare. I first develop a set of working definitions for a variety of terms as they relate to informationalization. I then explore specific contexts of informationalization, looking to connection as smart in a growing market for electrically powered automobility, dystopian discourses of informationalization in terms of critical infrastructure and cyberwar, and finally to disconnection, examining “grid away from the grid” life assurance solutions. Through these cases, I work to further understand informationalization as an apparatus that rearticulates infrastructure according to a new infrastructural ideal and an associated politics of security that are coextensive with both utopian and dystopian discourses of informationalization.

I ultimately argue that communication and mobilities scholars must look to processes of informationalization with a particular emphasis on those infrastructures that are designated both smart and critical in order to reveal the ways in which smart infrastructure can mean more than intelligent infrastructure, and to discern to what and to whom critical infrastructure is critical. It is my hope that this project will serve as an starting point for productive and meaningful interdisciplinary collaboration concerning a process that promises to radically alter the way that we access and use communication, transportation, housing and utility services and infrastructures.

From her Daft Punk title to her knock-out initials (boxing again! I’m coming out of the corner now!), it was pretty clear Kathy was going to come through with an excellent dissertation. Well done, you, a hearty congrats from all of us, and thanks for picking a title that gave me a relevant excuse to post “Daft Hands.”

Keep up with Kathy 140 characters at a time (@kfoswald) or check out her online portfolio for a little more depth about her research and teaching.


1 Comment

Filed under exams and dissertations

One response to “Kathy Oswald, PhD

  1. Matt – thanks for the awesome write up! You always manage to make grad school sound so very cool, and I appreciate you for that!

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