Former UCSB Film & Media Studies Department Chair Awarded MacArthur Fellowship

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Hannah Maerowitz
Science & Tech Editor

A poet, an analytical chemist, a violinist, and a media scholar have all won the same award. This may sound like the lead-in for a one liner, but it is an accurate representation of the 2018 MacArthur Fellowship winners.

Lisa Parks, the former department chair of the Film and Media Studies program at UCSB and current head of the Global Media Technologies and Cultures Lab at MIT, was one of the trailblazing professionals selected for this award. The award recognizes people that demonstrate “exceptional creativity, as demonstrated through a track record of significant achievement, and manifest promises for important future advances.”

In addition to increasing the visibility of fellows’ work, the fellowship (commonly termed the “genius grant”) grants each fellow $625,000 quarterly over five years — with no strings attached.

Unrestricted grant money allows fellows to explore more creative or less traditional ways of using grant money because they do not have to justify every expenditure to the foundation or organization giving them the grant.

In an interview with The Bottom Line, Parks stated that in addition to using the grant money to further the work of the lab she currently runs, she plans to set aside time for a brainstorming retreat where she can think carefully about her life, career, and the changing field of media studies.

The unrestricted grant money allows her (and other fellows) the freedom to take time to reflect on and discuss how they want their work to evolve, as well as what philosophies they want to embody in their work before they jump into new projects or expand on current projects.

“I’m going to think about how I might experiment more and how I might pursue some new directions while also building on what I’ve done before, especially since media studies is shifting right now. I think there is a need to start thinking about technologies in a different way,” said Parks.

Ever since she was a graduate student, Parks focused on studying technologies and media in a creative way.

“I tend to focus on objects and things that may seem to be on the margins of media studies, like satellites or infrastructure studies or data centers, but in my work, I try to show how these things are crucial to the study of media,” said Parks.

Her interdisciplinary and thoughtful approach to research and problem-solving was enhanced by the 20 years Parks spent at UCSB.

“I had incredible support from the Film and Media department and colleagues across departments at UCSB,” said Parks. “There is an openness and experimental atmosphere there and the university really supports interdisciplinary research. Without my experiences as a professor there, I never would have had the opportunity to be considered for an award like this.”

During her tenure at UCSB, Parks also served as the Director of the Center for Information Technology and Society, which she cites as a valuable experience.

“The research I do at MIT grew out of things I was doing at UC Santa Barbara. As a director of a research center, I was able to collaborate with people in departments ranging from computer science to communication. Those experiences were formative in deciding what lab I wanted to put together” said Parks.

Parks plans to devote most of her “genius grant” to furthering projects she’s currently working on as the head of a media lab at MIT, especially international projects that allow students to do research in different parts of the world like Tanzania and Mongolia.

Some of her lab’s current projects include investigating the importance and value of satellites in global internet connectivity, understanding technological relations and impact from the perspective of historically marginalized low-income and rural communities, and analyzing the evolution and decisions of media conglomerates like Amazon.

The MacArthur Fellowship is a validation of the creativity of Parks’ approach to media studies and grants access to resources that allow that work to continue and contribute to an ever-evolving understanding of media and their impacts.