mary headshot I am a Senior Researcher at Microsoft Research and Fellow at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society. I maintain an appointment as Associate Professor of the Media School, with affiliations in American Studies, Anthropology, and Gender Studies at Indiana University. These days, I have two, larger ethnographic projects competing for my attention: I continue to study how young people negotiate and express lesbian, gay, bi, and transgender identities but with a specific focus on how mobile media and constrained access to it shape young people’s everyday lives. The rest of the time, I’m grappling to understand the social impact of digital labor through the case of “crowdwork—small tasks distributed and completed online, done in minutes for pennies a pop. Who are the people who make this work possible? What does labor mean when it is “taskified” and humans are embedded in a system of code and computation that asks them to remain invisible as part of the service they provide? I have a third passion/obsession: studying how ethics and the cyberinfrastructures of research compliance produce norms of vulnerability and risk in social scientific research involving human subjects. You can read more about it here.  

When I’m not in the middle of nowhere charting the absence of cell service or bugging my friends to tell me their Institutional Review Board war stories, I like to play with smaller projects that help me think through the ties that bind political action, technologies, and social meaning (whether than means studying Glee or the It Gets Better Campaign or bookmobiles in far away places).

My first book, In Your Face: Stories From the Lives of Queer Youth, Haworth Press, 1999, concentrated on contemporary gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans-identifying (LGBT) youth experiences in the United States. That led me to wonder: what’s life like for youth who don’t have easy access to queer communities and resources typically associated with cities through out the United States? Where, when, and how do youth in the rural United States acquire the language for their queer senses of self? And with the rapid but unequal incorporation of digital media into the lives of youth and their support agencies, what difference does the Internet’s increasing presence—and presumed ubiquity—make to these youth negotiating their sense of sexuality and gender ?

I spent 2001-2007 looking at how young people, living along Kentucky’s Appalachian borders, use media to negotiate identity and visibility in this rural region of United States. Specifically, I studied how rural LGBT youth and their advocates use local support agencies, peer networks, and the internet as sites and technologies of sexual and gender representation–what I refer to as queer identity work. My book, Out in the Country: Youth, Media, and Queer Visibility in Rural America (New York University Press, 2009) shares what I learned from rural queer youth and their adult allies and offers their lessons for political organizers and media activists everywhere.

Synopsis of Out in the Country