2017 Fisher Award Winners
Friday, March 10, 2017
Posted by: Christina Yoshimura
By Sharon Downey, Immediate Past Editor of the Western Journal of Communication
Each year, the Western States Communication Association honors the outstanding article published the previous year in its journal, the Western Journal of Communication. For 2016, the B. Aubrey Fisher Award Committee was composed of qualitative, quantitative, and critical experts in communication theory, rhetorical theory, and intercultural communication and, believe it or not, they arrived at a consensus about one special article.
The committee identified two features of this essay that stood out as especially praiseworthy. First, the authors’ data collection was a “powerful, in-depth methodological undertaking.” They trained for an average of 48 hours each in the target organization, attended staff and volunteer meetings, scheduled long interview sessions, and engaged in participant-observation of staff and a “very at-risk and sensitive population” of clients for the full 3 ½ years they spent as volunteers. Second, the authors applied Leslie Baxter’s Relational Dialectics Theory to make sense out of the head-turning contradictions, paradoxes, and tensions permeating the organization’s discourse. If you try to imagine how clients become independent and empowered by being dependent, or how an organization’s efficiency is increased if staff help clients create stories that aren’t always true—sort of like the Trump administration’s “alternative facts”—then you can appreciate the magnitude of the authors’ challenge to explain recurrent communication patterns that are intrinsically contradictory and paradoxical.
In the end, this article contributes to theory-building, but perhaps more importantly for the value of communication research, their findings included practical recommendations that could be applied immediately in the organization to improve its service to victims.
On behalf of the Fisher Award Committee, I am delighted to present this year’s award for the article entitled, “Survivor: Women’s Stories of Navigation and Tensions in a Domestic Violence Shelter,” by co-authors Adrianne Kunkel from the University of Kansas, and Jennifer A. Guthrie, from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.