The International Association for Media and Communication Research (IAMCR) and the Urban Communication Foundation (UCF) announced earlier this week that Doctoral Student Arlene Fernández is the winner of the 2019 Urban Communication Research Grant. The prize will be officially awarded during the upcoming IAMCR conference, held July 7-11, 2019 in Madrid.
Funded by the Urban Communication Foundation, the annual research grant supports communication and media research that advances our understanding of the growing complexity of the urban environment. It is predicated on the assumption that communication scholars have a valuable contribution to make to understanding the urban landscape.
Fernández’s research project, entitled "Meet Me at the Papi Store: Space, Place, and the ‘American Dream’ in Philadelphia Corner Stores," aims to conceptualize corner stores as spatial embodiments of a version of Latinx immigrant identity and border-making. Corner stores are a mainstay of urban communities both in and outside the U.S. and, therefore, rich sites for learning about how identity, community, and technology come together in urban spaces and places that are often situated at the margins. This project builds on her previous work analyzing the discourse around and the complexities of bodega histories and immigrant labor in urban communities, particularly in New York City.
Drawing on broader media narratives and counter-narratives that frame urban corner stores, including those in popular culture, Fernández's research questions mythologies about the American dream; visible and invisible Latinx immigrant labor; the construction of borders through surveillance and technological obsolescence; and class, race, gender, and (de)colonial politics in urban spaces. For the current project, her focus is specifically on corner stores in Philadelphia, known colloquially as ‘papi stores,’ which are distinct from bodegas in New York City.
Through participant observation and interviews in a selection of Latinx immigrant-owned corner stores in the city, this ethnographic research addresses meaning-making tied to corner stores, the people who own and operate them, the people who frequent them, and what these often overlooked, and sometimes literal, corners of the city can reveal about communicative practices in urban spaces. The early findings are presented in the form of a short, ethnographic, documentary film.
Fernández's research interests include diasporic cultures, discursive racial and class formations, decoloniality, and visual communication in urban space and place. She is currently exploring Latina/o/x racialization and ways that racialized experiences and related counter-hegemonic practices are informed by, manifested through, and discursively formed in media and digital spaces, particularly in the current sociopolitical moment. As a mediamaker, she is committed to the idea that multimodal approaches to research can serve as vehicles for public engagement and translation, and as spaces for cultural reimaginings that center those at the margins.