Faculty in Focus: Michelle Kelsey Kearl

Michelle Kelsey Kearl joined IPFW’s Department of Communication in 2012. Kearl studies rhetoric (the art of speaking or writing effectively) and social change in many contexts, including social movements, politics, cultural conflict, and popular culture. Her research focuses on “how people who seek social change frame their public arguments for equality or progress.” She is interested in understanding why certain arguments are more effective “as well as how those in power respond to demands for equality or progress to maintain their own power.”

Kearl’s interest in communication started with her high-school and collegiate debate experiences. According to Kearl, “Debate taught me to play with language and encouraged a lot of what I do now as a researcher,” and this love of language led her to major in communication. So while Kearl still plays with language, now she studies how “social movements play with arguments and test arguments in public.”

Kearl works with social movements and rhetorical methods using a feminist theory called intersectionality (the study of intersections between different types of oppression, like African-American feminism). In a recent article published in Communication Cultural Studies, "'Is Gay the New Black?': An Intersectional Perspectiveon Social Movement Rhetoric in California's Proposition 8 Debate," Kearl explores the intersectionality of gay marriage advocates and civil rights through the complicated history of LGBT and African American communities: “There is a fairly well-established criticism of the LGBT movement as being primarily white and primarily middle class and not very welcoming of diverse racial or class identities. And there is an equally well established criticism of the civil rights movement to being insensitive to women and in some cases to LGBT issues. The argument I make in that article is that LGBT arguments repurposed from civil rights movements are very complex and potentially problematic.” Her other research projects include an examination of anti-abortion groups who argue that abortion is a civil rights issue, and the complicated case of two Caucasian lesbians who were given the wrong donor sperm and sued the clinic because their baby was not Caucasian. To learn more about this research, watch the Faculty in Focus video.

Kearl is also heavily involved in promoting the new rhetoric and public advocacy concentration for communication majors. To learn more about Kearl’s research, her classes, or the rhetoric and public advocacy concentration, contact Kearl or the Department of Communication.