September 2, 2022

USM professor collaborates on project to examine “cancel culture”

Darkhorse Press

Photo: The University of Southern Mississippi

By Van Arnold
The University of Southern Mississippi

Dr. Katie Howie, Assistant Professor of Marketing at The University of Southern Mississippi, is collaborating with two international scholars to study ramifications of the growing phenomenon known as “cancel culture.”

Howie and her research colleagues – Dr. Jessica Vredenburg (Auckland University of Technology), New Zealand and Dr. Rhiannon Mesler (University of Lethbridge, Canada) have been awarded a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council grant by the Canadian government to research the hot-button issue.

The trio met when Howie and Mesler served as assistant professors at the University of Lethbridge, while Vrendenburg was a visiting scholar on sabbatical. The group’s research interests aligned in a way that made cancel culture highly fascinating to them.

“We all study factors related to morally driven behavior and how consumers respond to socio-political actions,” said Howie. “Cancel culture is a new phenomenon made possible by social media, wherein the public now has an open platform to unite and vocalize their opinions.”

“Cancellations” are typically aimed at public figures or organizations who have violated some type of moral or social standard. Examples can be found in a broad range of society. Some notable examples include NASCAR driver Kyle Larson; politician Liz Cheney; actor Chris Noth, and rap artist Doja Cat. Corporations such as Netflix and Oatly have also been victims of cancel culture.

Howie notes that the primary purpose of cancellations is to generally remove power and status while publicly shaming the individual for his/her supposed infraction.

“The team found cancel culture so intriguing because of the devastating outcomes that often result from cancellations such as ruining people’s careers or companies experience major revenue losses,” said Howie. “When we began our research, we discovered that academic research on the topic was basically non-existent. Notably, understanding cancel culture is extremely important as it has consequences for how our society engages in civil discourse or views people with differing views from their own.”

A March 2021 poll by the Harvard Center for American Political Studies and the Harris Poll found that 64 percent of respondents viewed “a growing cancel culture” as a threat to their freedom, while the other 36 percent did not. Meanwhile 36 percent of respondents said that cancel culture is a big problem, 32 percent called it a moderate problem, 20 percent called it a small problem, and 13 percent viewed it as not a problem. Of those polled, 54 percent said they were concerned that if they expressed their opinions online, they would be banned or fired, while the other 46 percent said they were not concerned.

Howie points out that those who engage in cancel culture are rarely concerned with educating people on important topics or giving “offenders” room to learn and grow.

“Ultimately, many people will be afraid to talk about sensitive topics for fear of being publicly shamed or ostracized,” she said. “This will likely stifle our society and create further political polarization.”

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