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Dr. Kate Willink, Associate Professor


Dr. Kate Willink


My research centers on critical intercultural communication with a focus on cultural memory. In particular, I examine how performances of cultural memory shape contemporary debates over public education. My work is driven by the argument that public education is the key civil rights struggle of our time—a critical nexus of social, cultural, and educational issues. As a communication scholar, I research this lived history of education policy as it illuminates a deeper relationship between pedagogy and cultural politics and shapes contemporary cultural debates about public education. My arguments engage the interdisciplinary field of critical pedagogy studies, which theorizes pedagogy broadly conceived as a form of cultural and political production constituted in formal and informal teaching and learning that is profoundly connected to knowledge, subjectivities, and our social relations.

In Bringing Desegregation Home (Palgrave Macmillan 2009), I address the extent to which the everyday experiences of desegregation are entangled with broad scholarly concerns such as pedagogy, social and cultural capital, the economy, cultural memory, and racism. The book argues for a deeper understanding of how everyday memory performance works as a form of public pedagogy, shaping contemporary understandings of racial inequality and interracial communities, and inspiring or subverting ongoing attempts to bring about social change

My research explores how performances of personal and cultural memories shape identity and belonging, and are in turn shaped by discursive, political, and cultural forces. My scholarship understands the performance of cultural memory as dialogic in nature. In my fieldwork, the ethnographic interview works as a co-performance and listens for multivocalic nature of utterances—shaped by past performances and present exigencies. Through repeated in-depth interviews, my work forwards an ethnographic oral history method as an iterative, relational, dialogic process mediated through narrative performance. My contributions to method have been an effort to answer questions about how ethnographic oral history can help communities embrace and rethink their history, policy, and practice.

Community Based Teaching and Research

As part of my pedagogy, I have implemented numerous community research projects, including a multi-class long-term partnership with El Centro Humanitario. This partnership has resulted in: public events, a dialogic performance, fifteen qualitative research interviews, a panel with DU graduate students presented at the Western States Communication Association, and a paper that I coauthored with my doctoral advisee, "Unpacking the Process of Cultural Dialogue: A Conversation about Power and Privilege" in Cultural Studies <=>Critical Methodologies. My approach assumes that classrooms are not the only spaces where learning takes place, nor are books and articles the only means through which we can gain knowledge. At the same time, experience alone does not automatically encourage learning or increase wisdom. For this reason, these courses combine in-depth discussion based on careful reading, interactive workshops to develop necessary research methods, and community-engaged research. I am currently co-authoring a paper with another doctoral advisee, "An Embarrassment of Riches": Bridging Qualitative Communication Studies and Participant Action Research Towards An Innovative Social Justice Agenda." This piece focuses on Participant Action Research from a Communication Studies perspective and guides my approach to community-based teaching and research. The topics of classes I teach include: The Long Civil Rights Movement; Critical Pedagogy and Culture; Culture and Affect; Education and Social Change; Gender, Culture, and Communication; Between Memory and Imagination; and Food Culture: Foodies, Foragers, and Food Politics.