MACS Professor Rachel Kuo receives $150,000 NEH grant for research that explores how technology shapes society

Rachel KuoRachel Kuo, assistant professor of media and cinema studies and faculty researcher at the Institute of Communications Research, received a $150,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to support research on the circulation of misinformation among Asian and Asian American digital communication networks, including facilitating community oral history workshops.

The collaborative project between Kuo and co-director Mark Calaguas titled, “Transnational Disinformation Networks and Asian Diasporic Politics,” was awarded the grant under the Dangers and Opportunities of Technology program through NEH’s American Tapestry initiative. The DOT program aids research that examines technology and its relationship to society through the lens of the humanities, with a focus on the dangers and/or opportunities presented by technology, especially its role in shaping current social and cultural issues.

“The NEH grant supports work that focuses on community oral histories and workshops to understand how people’s personal histories—their trajectories of migration, what their media histories have been—how that really shapes political belief and engagement,” Kuo said. 

Kuo and Calaguas, who are part of a network called the Asian American Disinformation Table, applied for the NEH grant to support historical and humanistic approaches. Typically, resources for disinformation research tend to focus on computational methods and solutions. So, Kuo and Calaguas, board president of the Alliance of Filipinos for Immigrant Rights and Empowerment in Chicago, were excited the NEH grant would provide an opportunity to dig deep into intergenerational community-based oral history work. Calaguas is also co-founder of Tayo, a multimedia online platform for Filipino communities, and executive vice president of Filipino Young Leaders Program.

In addition to funding research for workshops designed to both foster community storytelling and train people to collect oral histories, the grant will support translation and interpretation work to distill information into usable formats for community members. 

Broadly speaking, Kuo said that while her project is framed with a focus on disinformation in Asian diasporic communities, it ultimately emphasizes “how we think about social movements and activism and what are the kinds of deep-rooted narratives that currently circulate, and how can we also interrupt those to reshape and build forms of political alignment and common sense about the world that we collectively want to have.”

Kuo’s research interests have always focused on societal impacts, mainly how race intersects with grassroots social movements and media technologies.  

“It’s really thinking about the ways that people make sense of uneven difference and how they make sense of this politically,” she said. “What are the kinds of frictions, tensions, and conflicts that emerge, the divisions that make it really difficult for people to come to a consensus?”

Rachel Kuo at Nobel Prize SummitThis summer, Kuo gave a brief talk on Fissures and Fractures: Tracing the Fault Lines of Misinformation at the 2023 Nobel Prize Summit. Her presentation focused on where technology intersects with politics and social movements, how people use narratives to maintain power, and historically, how to disrupt those patterns and formations. 

“What’s currently seen as problems of disinformation are not new just because of our digital platforms,” she said. “But if you look at these long histories of propaganda or how media systems have been used to justify stark inequalities, that begins to allow us a pathway to approach current issues of information and technology.”

Her current book manuscript, Movement Media: Racial Solidarities Across Platforms, focuses on cross-racial solidarities and media-making. Kuo has also authored several journal articles on anti-Asian violence, social media activism, and digital feminism.

Kuo is teaching MACS 351: The Social Aspects of Media and a graduate seminar called Transnational Politics of Race, Movements, and Media this fall. She also plans to map out a research timeline as the NEH grant funding begins January 1, 2024.

—Kelly Youngblood