Jo Ellen Fair studies the interplay of media, popular culture, and social change. Fair is professor of journalism and mass communication at the University of Wisconsin. Her work is international, humanistic, and interdisciplinary. Thematically, it links journalism, media studies, visual cultures, popular culture, and social theory. Geographically, it centers on Africa but includes substantial studies based on sustained fieldwork in India and Uruguay as well.
Fair’s early work explored the racialization of African conflicts and catastrophes in U.S. news, photography, remotely sensed imagery, and film. Beginning in the late 1990s, while also serving in four consecutive leadership positions, Fair broke with the paradigms that had sustained her and began thinking, researching, and writing on a revised pair of concerns.
The first of these is the way in which images and ideas circulating through global media are taken up, co-opted, localized, and used to open new discourses and social practices for youth in urban centers of Africa, Latin America, and Asia. This work necessarily involves a firm engagement with various forms of popular culture, especially visual popular culture, and with social dynamics and social change. Fair’s second new thrust has been toward a consideration of the relation between media and politics in Africa and elsewhere, including how those who experienced authoritarian rule remember, express, and perform their political trauma and liberation and how media are constrained and empowered to tell these stories. She is currently working on a project in Liberia exploring post-conflict narratives and images about vulnerability.
Fair has facilitated journalism-training workshops in Zambia, Namibia, and Ghana, where she was invited to develop a training protocol for Ghanaian journalists preparing to report on the country's National Reconciliation Commission. She serves as a co-editor for two book series, "The Cultures and Practices of Violence" (Duke University) and "Communication, Society, and Change" (Rowan and Littlefield).
She teaches a range of courses on global culture studies, media ethnography, and writing.