Extension’s Outreach and Engagement Director Honored

The International Visual Sociology Association recently recognized the research of Joanne Littlefield, Colorado State University Extension Outreach and Engagement Director, with the 2017 Prosser Award for her dissertation research, Visual Rhetoric of U.S. Agricultural Films.

Littlefield’s dissertation tracked the use of persuasive films to address the social issues facing the agricultural community in the United States, over a 100-year period of time, using theoretical frameworks combining auteur theory (who considers themself the author) and visual rhetoric. This combination has not before been explored in relation to U.S. agricultural films.

The project used a unique blend of qualitative methods–collective case study, ethnographic content analysis, in-depth interviews, and archival analysis – to get to the heart of how social and cultural issues rose to the top of American concern.

Littlefield received her Ph.D. in Public Communication and Technology from Colorado State University in 2016. The dissertation is part of a larger body of research inquiry she followed, which includes the current Colorado Social History Project, a multi-year, statewide project that seeks to learn from Colorado farmers and ranchers about their land use practices and formal and non-formal education.

The Prosser Awards committee said of Littlefield’s research:

  • Superbly focused and conceptualized study. Excellent use of multiple data sources and methods. Exceptional “vertical” scope in examining the production, distribution and content of an important filmic genre. Great attention to social and cultural dimensions of both local and national contexts.
  • Shows an innovative combination of qualitative methods. Her use of ethnographic content analysis and elements of video forensics were particularly compelling.

“Littlefield’s dissertation is one of most unique visual communication research projects that I have read,” said Peter B. Seel, Littlefield’s Graduate Committee Chair and Journalism Professor at Colorado State University. “Her qualitative research methods facilitated the deconstruction of the visual aesthetics in agricultural films that ranged from Pare Lorenz’ classic The Plow That Broke the Plains to contemporary video productions.”

“Littlefield placed their production in the required historical context in the evolution of American agricultural practices and the related evolution of motion media technology in the shift from the use of motion picture film to the widespread adoption of video recording,” Seel said. “I expect that the dissertation will be widely cited for its innovative use of multiple qualitative methods in triangulating the importance of the use of motion media to document American agricultural history.”

The Prosser Award was established in 2015 to recognize outstanding work by beginning scholars in visual methodologies. Because outstanding work in visual methodologies can emerge in a variety of disciplines and practices, Prosser Award nominations are encouraged not only from the social sciences, but also from the humanities, arts, education and other professions. Award nominations were considered from a field of global nominees.

“This award is for enthusiastic young scholars adopting a visual methodology,” said award founder Jon Prosser. “I am excited by the possibility of the Award being used by visual scholars who are passionate about a topic or field of inquiry.”

The IVSA was formed in the mid-1970s. It is a nonprofit, democratic, and academically -oriented professional organization devoted to the visual study of society, culture, and social relationships. Members represent a wide spectrum of disciplines, including sociology, anthropology, education, visual communication, photography, filmmaking, art, and journalism, from around the world.