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2019 Samuel L. Becker Memorial Conference

Black and white portrait of Samuel L Becker.


Listening for Justice in Public and Private Spaces


Saturday, October 26
10:00 a.m. - 4:45 p.m.; reception to follow (View full schedule)
Iowa City Public Library, Meeting Room A
Iowa City, Iowa

Join us for a one-day event with three renowned communication experts who will help us explore how to listen for opportunities to create more egalitarian possibilities within interpersonal, mediated, and public spaces.

This conference honors the life and work of Samuel L. Becker (1923–2012), noted communication scholar and Distinguished Professor Emeritus of the University of Iowa Department of Communication Studies. The department has assembled a day of speakers to address the conference theme “Listening for Justice in Public and Private Spaces” from a wide range of perspectives from the field of communication. This event is free and open to the public.


View the conference schedule. The 2019 Samuel L. Becker Memorial Conference is free; advance registration is required and available here.



  • Herman Gray

    Herman Gray, UC Santa Cruz

    Hearing What I am Seeing, Feeling What I am Thinking: From Tongues to Acts!

    Herman Gray is Emeritus Professor of Sociology at UC Santa Cruz and has published widely in the areas of black cultural politics and media. Gray’s books include: Watching Race (Minnesota), Cultural Moves (California).  Towards a Sociology of the Trace, (Minnesota) co-edited with Macarena Gomez Barriś, and The Sage Handbook of Television Studies co-edited with M. Alvarado, M. Buonanno and T. Miller (Sage).    Gray’s most recent book is Racism, Post Race,  (Duke 2019) co-edited with Roopali Mukherjee and Sarah Banet Weiser. Gray is a member of the Board of Jurors for the Peabody Awards. See abstract


    Hearing What I am Seeing, Feeling What I am Thinking: From Tongues to Acts!  

    Tongues Untied and Random Acts of Splendidness are the portals to my exploration of the politics of Black vision and sound in the Peak TV era. From its inception to the end of the network era we might think of television as a technology of race where strategic cultural politics for blacks and racialized communities were structured by politics of representation aimed at increased visibility, legibility and demographic parity.  Television content on broadcast television ebbed and flowed from invisibility to stereotype, from inclusion to role models. Since the advent of technologies enabling digital storage, access, and streaming the rapid transformation of television along with continuing struggles have produced the rapid and almost complete transformation of American broadcast television. So too, have struggles and movements for racial, sexual and gender justice. Television in the 21st century has increasingly become a technology of gender, sexuality and blackness.

    Inspired by Marlon Riggs on the 30th anniversary of Tongues Untied, I take up the provocative challenge by Racquel Gates and Michael Boyce Gillespie to imagine a 21st Century politics of representation and analysis of television as a technology of blackness.  With its critical yet imaginative reliance on televisual and sonic elements, its use of shifting poetic, affective and intellectual modes of engagement with black matters, and its distinct spatial, temporal, and aesthetic style I ponder the unruly tele visual world of Random Acts of Splendidness.  I look to it for pathways and clues for critically reimagining, perhaps even challenging, televisions’ strategies of representation, economies of visibility, politics of parity and illegibility of blackness, now.

  • Kent Ono, University of Utah

    “Witnessing” and “Pledging”: Activist Rhetorics Imagining Sanctuary

    Kent A. Ono, Professor, Department of Communication, University of Utah. Research: rhetoric and discourse, media and film, and race, ethnic, and cultural studies. Books: Contemporary Media Culture and the Remnants of a Colonial Past (Peter Lang, 2009); Asian Americans and the Media with Vincent Pham (Polity, 2009); Shifting Borders: Rhetoric, Immigration, and California's Proposition 187 with John Sloop (Temple University Press, 2002); Asian American Studies after Critical Mass (ed., Blackwell, 2005); A Companion to Asian American Studies (ed., Blackwell, 2005); Critical Rhetorics of Race with Michael Lacy (ed., New York University Press, 2011); Enterprise Zones: Critical Positions on Star Trek with Taylor Harrison, Sarah Projansky, and Elyce Helford (ed., Westview Press, 1996). Past book series co-editor: "Critical Cultural Communication" with Sarah Banet-Weiser, New York University Press. Past Editor: Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies. Past Journal Co-editor:Critical Studies in Media Communication with Ronald L. Jackson II. First Vice President, and will be President, of NCA January 2020. See abstract


    "Witnessing" and "Pledging": Activist Rhetorics Imagining Sanctuary

    After the election of Donald Trump, immigration activists across the United States mobilized and mobilized rhetoric in new ways. In part in response to Donald Trump’s presidential decree on sanctuary, “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States,” activists began providing “how-to manuals” and “tool kits” describing step-by-step processes for transforming churches into sanctuaries. This talk investigates these instruction manuals for building sanctuaries, paying particular attention to rhetorics of “witnessing” the oppression of immigrant people and “pledging” to prevent inhumane treatment of them—two resonant concepts within the contemporary sanctuary movement. Scholars of conscience have much to learn about the rhetoric of this current form of activist civil disobedience.

  • elizabeth parks

    Elizabeth Parks, Colorado State University

    Reciprocal Invitations: Dialogic Listening Across Difference

    Dr. Elizabeth S. Parks is an Assistant Professor of Communication Studies and Assistant Director of the Center for Public Deliberation at Colorado State University. Her scholarship blends social scientific and humanistic methods to better understand how we can improve ethical listening across difference. Parks strives to lean into paradoxical questions to better understand the values, attitudes, and skills that can make intercultural dialogue a challenging but constructive practice for everyone. In 2019, she published her first book: "The Ethics of Listening: Creating Space for Sustainable Dialogue.” See abstract


    Reciprocal Invitations: Dialogic Listening Across Difference

    As not just half of a communication process but a unique communication process in and of itself, listening is constitutive of our worlds and fundamental not only to the emergence of dialogue itself but also to the construction of the social identities of people shaping and being shaped by that discourse. Dialogic listening is one type of listening that promotes mutual understanding and openness in relational interaction. It focuses on meaning-making as joint-effort between conversation partners who actively hold space to co-create something new between them. In this lecture, I explore how we as listeners can create healthier dialogic spaces. I draw on discourse analysis of focus group discourses and online survey responses to briefly describe ten shared listening values that emerged across multiple communities of difference, bringing this analysis into dialogue with care ethicists and dialogic philosophers. From these ten shared values, I unpack two key listening orientations that are consistently embraced yet performatively diverge across communities of difference: communicative reciprocity and constitutive silence.