Culture, language, and technology in social movement communication
My research centers on the space between language use, technologies of communication, social organization, and political action. My dissertation, “Social movement communication: Language, technology, and social organization in an urban homeless movement,” addressed the need for research that specifies how participants use language as an organizing tool, mobilize digital communication resources in organizing processes, and build social organizations that can foster effective movement dynamics. I argued that issue discourses structure what political actions “mean” to participants, policymakers, and publics, and showed how issue contexts structured political affordances by comparing three campaigns that occurred simultaneously in the Seattle homeless movement. I combined a discourse analysis of language use within these issue contexts with a structural analysis of social organizations and material communication resources to outline the important role that formal social organizations played in producing and maintaining communication resources of crucial importance to mobilization activities. I drew on theoretical frameworks from communication, sociology, anthropology, political science, and new media studies, and employed multiple methods of analysis – discourse analysis, participant observation, qualitative interviewing, corpus linguistics, hyperlink network analysis, and semantic network analysis. Both interdisciplinary theorizing and multi-method approaches are characteristic of the ways that I have engaged with empirical research, and how I seek to build bridges across those disciplines involved in the study of language, culture, and power in media production processes.
Research Interests: discourse and language, political communication, technology and society, organizational communication, media studies, network studies, social movements, poverty and homelessness, immigration and human trafficking
I have worked to develop partnerships with area organizations in the Pacific Northwest in my teaching and research, particularly around issues of media justice and homelessness, including the Community Alliance for Global Justice, Brown Paper Tickets, KBCS, Nickelsville, the Northwest Community Radio Network, Real Change News, Reclaim the Media, SHARE/WHEEL, and the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance.
Selected Publications and Presentations
Toft, A. “The Linguistic affordances of campaign context: Using discourse analysis, corpus linguistics and network analysis to measure narrative cohesion and issue preference.” Paper presented at the SUNBELT conference for the International Network for Social Network Analysis, Saint Petersberg FL, February 18-22, 2014.
Toft, A. (2011). Contextualizing technology use: Communication practices in a local homeless movement. Information, Communication & Society, 14(5), 704-725. (personal copy)
Edgerly, L., Toft, A., & Veden, M. L. (2011). Social movements, political goals, and the May 1 marches: Communicating protest in polysemic media environments. International Journal of Press/Politics, 16(3), 314-334. (personal copy)
Foot, K. & Toft, A. “Leveraging computational social science by combining hyperlink and textual analyses: The case of online anti-human trafficking networks.” Poster presented at the Journal of Information, Technology and Politics conference “The future of computational social science,” Seattle Washington, May 16-17, 2011. *Recipient of best poster award.
Toft, A. “Homelessness as deviant subjectivity: Discursive resources in the dehumanization of homeless persons in the public sphere.” Paper presented at the American Association for Applied Linguistics annual conference, Chicago, IL, March 26-29, 2011.
Toft, A. (2010). Social movement communication: Language, technology, and social organization in an urban homeless movement. Dissertation, Department of Communication, University of Washington.
Bawarshi, A., Dillon, G. L., Kelly, M., Rai, C., Silberstein, S., Stygall, G., Toft, A., English, T., Thomas, B. (2008). Media analysis of homeless encampment “sweeps” Seattle, Washington: University of Washington.
Bennett, W. L., & Toft, A. (2008). Identity, technology and narratives: Transnational activism and social networks. In A. Chadwick & P. N. Howard (Eds.), Routledge Handbook of Internet Politics (pp. 246-260). London: Routledge.
Toft, A., Leuven, N. V., Bennett, W. L., Tomhave, J., Veden, M. L., Wells, C., Werbel, L. (2007). “Which way for the Northwest Social Forum?” Center for Communication and Civic Engagement white paper series, University of Washington. http://ccce.com.washington.edu/projects/assets/NWSFReport.pdf
Toft, A. (2006). Media and Movement: Is Democracy Now what Democracy Looks Like? MA Thesis, Department of Communication, University of Washington.
Public Data Archives
(2009). Lead archivist, The Peace and Justice Events Calendar for Seattle Archive, 1996-2009. Center for Communication and Civic Engagement. http://ccce.com.washington.edu/projects/peacejusticecalendar.html