5 Questions For … Surveillance and Media Culture Scholar Amy Woodbury Tease

Office of CommunicationsAcademics, College of Liberal Arts, Faculty & Staff, Research & Innovation, Z2

Norwich University Office of Communications

September 18, 2015

Assistant Professor of English Amy Woodbury Tease began teaching at Norwich in 2011 after completing her PhD at Tufts. It was during her first year at Norwich that she joined the Council on Undergraduate Research, a faculty body dedicated to fostering undergraduate student research. She now serves as Program Director for the university’s Undergraduate Research Program. A modernist specializing in post-1950 British literature and film, Woodbury Tease focuses her own scholarship on surveillance and media culture. Among other projects, this fall she is co-teaching an honors course with Criminal Justice professor and terrorism expert Travis Morris called, “The Other Side of Innovation.”

Woodbury Tease sat down in her office in Webb Hall to discuss her research interests and why she is such a passionate supporter of independent student scholarship.

What questions do you explore in your research?

I’m really interested the ways in which the ubiquity of technology forces us into this space where we feel really comfortable with our devices. We feel as if they are part of us. But my theoretical perspective is this concept of difficulty. So the ways in which when technical difficulty happens, that’s when we become aware that our positions in the world are not as secure, not as comfortable. That they’re constructed. We are media subjects. Even if we think we’re off the grid. You’re still part of this culture where globally someone is able to see you, right? You can be found or traced in some way. Especially now and in ways we’re unaware of.

So I guess one of the questions is, what does it mean to be a media subject? What are our responsibilities as consumers of media? Things that we watch for entertainment have real world implications. Even if we’re watching a reality television show, there are things about it. What are we actually participating in? What stereotypes are being enacted on those programs? What are we OK with? What are we not OK with? How do we in some ways abandon our ethics and our morals to the screen? That’s one set of questions.

What’s another?

In what ways can surveillance help us? In what ways do these technologies add to our communication? I’m quick to say, and others are quick to say, the screen culture is harming us in more ways than it’s helping us. But in what ways does it allow us to communicate better and talk to people from across world and read text that we wouldn’t otherwise get to read? To share our work with people that wouldn’t necessarily get access to it? So thinking about what I call the possibilities and pitfalls of the media in our digital age.

Do you have a Facebook page?

Yes.

Do you post actively?

I do, but it’s very selective. That’s the other thing. To recognize also that our Facebook selves are constructed. A lot of [my students] are like, huh? A lot of them have grown up into this world. What does it mean for them, too? Because in some ways, there is a generation gap that I’m going to have to deal with. They’re born into this world. Whereas, I’ve become accustomed to it. A lot of things I’ve resisted. With Facebook, I’m one of the few people where I’ve been grandfathered into this space where people can’t actually find me. So I was very paranoid about it when I first started teaching at the college level to allow anyone to see anything. Now I feel more open about it. I don’t post anything that I wouldn’t talk to my students about.

Shifting gears, why is undergraduate student research important?

I think it’s the most important aspect of their education. That they move from being a student in a classroom who is consuming information to being a producer of information. From my freshman students up, I tell them this is where you find your voice. This is where you ask your questions. I’m not going to give you a topic to write about. I’m going to give you a theme or a general sense of a direction, and you need to find what you want. You need to find the thing that inspires you, which is hard. Sometimes you have to sit with them and say, Ok, talk to me a little bit about the things that interest you in class. And you don’t always get what you’re looking for. But I think if students don’t feel like they have the agency or the ability to ask a question that you’re not asking, they’re not really getting the same level of experience.

I can tell them to think what I think. But then in the end, what do they get out of that? They get my particular thesis, which they’re going to get anyway. That’s not to say I don’t have an agenda in my classes. I do. But in the end what I hope is that they will be able to take whatever foundation I’ve given them and think about how they might apply it to something they’re interested in.

And of course those who go out into the field and get to do stuff and get their hands dirty, I think that’s great too.

Interviewed condensed and edited for length and clarity.