Laura A Wackwitz, Ph.D.

research & scholarship

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My research is informed by the recognition that structures of power, no matter how essential, limit human experience in unnecessary, frequently brutal ways. These brutalities intersect, manifesting as practices of indifference, discrimination, and hate. Early cultural/critical media studies theorists convincingly demonstrated the impossibility of enduring alterations to overarching core power systems. I both believe and refuse to accept their conclusions. Choosing instead to fight for celebration of differences, elevation of voices, and critique of representations (see, particularly Feminist Communication Theory), I believe communication in all its varied forms both creates spaces for unique perspectives and reveals assumptions of power. In my work, I ask the basic question: How is communication in a particular instance working for or against traditionally underrepresented groups and/or the greater good? What can we learn about ourselves and our structures of power by interrogating texts and practices normally left undisturbed? Enter sex testing in international athletics: a binary assumption of male:female bodies not only leaves no room for non-traditionally defined competitors, but mirrors the larger system in which women police themselves to maintain their purity and the presumed superiority of the true human male (see "Verifying the Myth," and "Sex Testing"). Enter Supreme Court opinions restricting free expression that rest on the presumption of a direct effects model of communication and functionally serve to establish a hierarchy of communicators under the law (see "Burger on Miller" and "Ruled by Passion"). Enter missed opportunities for strategic leader research to change the national security landscape because the apparatus in place to further military education fails to equip future leaders with the communication skills necessary to advance national interests (see "Strategic Leader Research" and "Writing, Integrity, and National Security"). Structures of power deter and empower, promote and silence, preserve and destroy. Communication (largely mediated, especially these days) lies at the center of all these activities of brutality and relief. In my work, I explore some of the spaces in which freedom--to create, communicate, think, compete, live--is both lost and celebrated, forever advocating in favor of meaningful change in opposition to enforced realities.

refereed publications

Women's Studies International Forum cover
Feminist Communication Theory cover
Journal of Communication cover
Joint Force Quarterly 97 cover
Joint Force Quarterly 79 cover
Free Speech Yearbook cover
Communicating Prejudice cover
Women in Mass Communication cover
Women in Sport and Physical Activity Journal cover

"Overall, this article's seminal importance rests in its discussion of naturalization arguments as used to justify harmful sporting practices. Ultimately, Wackwitz challenges the perceived notion that sex testing was reinforcing "natural" sex-gender divisions."

Carly Adams, Article review, Olympika, XIII

Wackwitz, L. (2003). Verifying the myth: Olympic sex testing and the category “woman.” Women’s
Studies International Forum, 26(6), 553-560. DOI: 10.1016/j.wsif.2003.09.009

​"The book will be useful to scholars for their own thinking, to the communication field, to academic feminists desperate for good material to use in upper level undergraduate and introductory graduate courses in communication; and (should they be willing to read outside their cannon) to all who teach such courses." 

Anita Taylor, Book review, Women and Language, 28(2).

Rakow, L. & Wackwitz, L. (Eds.) (2004). Feminist communication theory: Selections in context. Thousand
Oaks, CA: Sage. (Includes 4 co-authored chapters.)

Arguing that "Burger's opinions in the Miller cases indicate a subscription to a direct effects, transmission model of communication" and thus are "critical statements about the character and effects of media in society" (p. 196). An earlier version was presented at the Annual Convention of the Western States Communication Association, Vancouver, B.C. [Top 3 Paper, Communication and Law Interest Group]

Wackwitz, L. (2002). Burger on Miller: Obscene effects and the filth of a nation. Journal of
Communication, 52(1), 196-210. DOI: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.2002.tb02539.x

Arguing that to promote national security and sound decision making among strategic leaders, institutions of Joint Professional Military Education must embrace students as "warrior-scholars in the making." Failure to do so not only fails Senior Service College graduates, it fails the nation. 

Miller, L. & Wackwitz, L. (2020). Strategic leader research: Answering the call. Joint Force Quarterly,
97(2), 39-46. Full Text

Re-visioning writing and writing integrity as essential, teachable components of a "rededicated intellectual era in which empowered senior leaders aggressively pursue original thought as the only viable and enduring foundation for national security" (p. 62).

Miller, L. & Wackwitz L. (2015). Writing, integrity, and national security, Joint Force Quarterly, 79(4),
57-62. Full Text

Arguing that "the [Supreme] Court privileges legislative acts that move the populous away from uncontrolled, emotive, bodily, passionate responses and toward reasoned thought and discourse" (p. 98). An earlier version was presented at the Annual Convention of the National Communication Association, Seattle, WA [Top 3 Paper, Freedom of Expression Commission]

Critically exploring "the layered ways in which sexism is communicated to create and maintain its status as a primary believe system in the dominant culture" (p. 99). [Chapter 5 in Communicating Prejudice, Michael L. Hecht, editor]

Rakow, L. & Wackwitz, L. (1998). Communication of sexism. In M. Hecht (Ed.) Communication of
Prejudice (99-111). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Chapter DOI: 10.4135/9781483328263.n5

Discusses the importance of "feminist theorizing in and about communication," arguing that "feminist communication theory provides alternative ways of understanding theory as well as alternative ways of theorizing communication and media" (p. 257). 

Wackwitz, L. & Rakow, L. (2006). Got theory? In Cramer, J. & Creedon, P. (Eds.) Women in Mass
Communication (3rd Edition). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.  Chapter DOI: 10.4135/9781452233017.n21

A brief history of sex testing created from print media accounts published between 1966 and 1995, "drawing into one forum the arguments for an against sex testing" as portrayed in the popular press. This article was the basis for my NPR interview for Scott Simon: "Analysis: International Volleyball Group to End Gender Tests." Weekend Edition Saturday, January 31, 2004 (audio below). 

Wackwitz, L. (1996). Sex testing in international women's athletics: A history of silence. Women in
Sport and Physical Activity Journal, 5(1), 51-68. DOI: 10.1123/wspaj.5.1.51