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UHV News

UHV professor takes honors in two fields

Mark Ward receives a paper certificate award from a woman.
Mark Ward receives the Top Paper Award in Mass Communication from Melissa Smith, vice chair of the Southern States Communication Association Mass Communication Division.

Mark Ward Sr., a University of Houston-Victoria professor of communication, recently took home two top awards in two different fields at a regional communication convention.

“Having a paper selected for a research conference and then named the top paper is an honor,” Ward said. “But having two top papers in two different fields is rare.”

Ward presented his work at the Southern States Communication Association annual convention held April 3-7 in Frisco. The two papers were recognized as, respectively, the conference’s Top Paper in Mass Communication and the Top Paper in Language and Social Interaction.

The first paper, titled “The Mediatization of Religious Belonging: Conversion Testimonies Dependent on Media Technologies,” explores the effects when media and religion mix.

“When religious guidance and authority shift from traditional offline settings to online media, the pop-culture logic of media tends to overtake the logic of religion,” he said. “For example, a church Facebook page must play by the rules of social media.”

Ward analyzed websites published by national evangelical organizations that instruct believers on how to write their personal conversion testimonies.

“What I found is that the organizations’ advice followed the pop-culture logic of self-help therapy prevalent in mass media, rather than the religious logic of guilt and redemption,” Ward said.

The second paper, titled “The Road from Teamsterville: Locating Alternate Approaches to the Ethnography of Communication,” was coauthored with Leland G. Spencer of Miami University of Ohio. Their work surveyed a longstanding disagreement between ethnographers, whether to only describe a culture or to also critique communication practices that marginalize certain groups in that culture.

“As coauthors, we agree that ethnographers have an ethical obligation to critique,” Ward said.

With his own ethnographic descriptions of American evangelical culture, Ward in recent years has added critical analyses of how language use, sermons and mass media normalize a gender-based hierarchy. For his part, Spencer is a critical rhetorical scholar whose work explores religious communication, gender and sexuality, and feminist theory and criticism.

The two scholars together lament the lack of discussion between ethnographers of communication on the strengths and drawbacks of different research methods. Their paper proposes a framework that allows ethnographers to compare approaches, providing scholars in the field with a basis for cross-disciplinary conversation.

Ward was recently named a recipient of UHV’s annual Distinguished Faculty Service Award, in part for his work in the Victoria community to promote civic and interfaith dialogue.

“Communication research, from mass communication to language use in social interactions, can identify reasons why dialogue breaks down and why it can succeed,” Ward said. “Helping make that possible is a major motivation for me as a scholar.”

The University of Houston-Victoria, located in the heart of the Coastal Bend region since 1973 in Victoria, Texas, offers courses leading to more than 50 academic programs in the schools of Arts & Sciences; Business Administration; and Education, Health Professions & Human Development. UHV provides face-to-face classes at its Victoria campus, as well as an instructional site in Katy, Texas, and online classes that students can take from anywhere. UHV supports the American Association of State Colleges and Universities Opportunities for All initiative to increase awareness about state colleges and universities and the important role they have in providing a high-quality and accessible education to an increasingly diverse student population, as well as contributing to regional and state economic development.