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Faculty Profile: Paul Booth

"I realized that what I‘m interested in is the way technology shapes but also reacts to the way we as a culture make ourselves or imagine ourselves and create our identities." - Paul Booth

By Caelin Niehoff

Paul Booth
American popular culture increasingly encompasses a wider presence of media forms. Professor Paul Booth​ investigates the meaning behind the media's impact on culture: its ability to shape our time, identities and communities. Teaching about new media, technology, and popular culture in the College of Communication, American Studies students explore both the interdisciplinary nature and contemporary themes in his Media and Cinema Studies​ courses.

While Professor Booth has always considered himself a professor and academic at heart, his career aspirations have evolved since childhood. After teaching for a graduate school apprenticeship, Professor Booth couldn't imagine doing anything else. It combined his love of theater with his own academic history. He pursued studies in digital media and completed a PhD in Communication and Rhetoric at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Because PhD programs are small to begin with, Professor Booth needed to look at the big picture when selecting a program. Rhetoric and its roots in identity became an indispensable focus.

After finishing his dissertation, Professor Booth condensed roughly 550 pages into a 250 page book, Digital Fandom (2010).

"Digital Fandom is the result of that dissertation and research. It looked at the way media fans, people that really feel this close emotional attachment to a media text— and in this case it was a television program — how they‘re using social media to create identities, rhetoric and arguments. I looked at blogs, wikis, and MySpace because that‘s what was big at the time.

"I concluded that in the past fans wrote fan fiction and made fan videos, but it‘s much more visible today because of the internet. They‘re using social media a bit differently. It‘s not just to create their own text, but to create their own communities and groups of like- minded fans who can interact with each other, help each other and support each other. So it‘s much more about creating a network and that was the ultimate conclusion of Digital Fandom."

There is a parallel between Professor Booth‟s academic interests and teaching style. His research in fandom involves attendance at fan conventions, and exchanging knowledge with the fans he studies. Likewise, his classes are interactive and participatory. Creative project assignments allow students to explore the process of becoming a fan in MCS 361 Fandom and Participatory Culture. Whether producing their own fan fiction, website, or movie, students engage in alternative ways at looking at the media.

"You can‘t really study the media without making the media. It kind of goes hand in hand... I really try and let students be as creative as they want to be as long as they are also critical, because my classes mainly focus on critical thinking and being able to express deep and intelligent ideas in an articulate way."

Article originally published in the American Studies (part of the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences) Program's Spring 2013 Newsletter. Reprinted with kind permission.