Hugh Downs School of Human Communication welcomes new faculty member
Hanchey, who comes to ASU from the University of Nevada, Reno, specializes in decolonial intersections of rhetoric, African communication studies and critical development studies.
Here, she shares more about what she hopes to contribute to the Hugh Downs School, what she hopes to impart on her students and what gets her creative juices flowing.
Question: Why did you want to come to ASU and what do you hope to add to the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication (HDSHC)?
Answer: I’m thrilled to join the faculty at ASU for multiple reasons! For one, my previous program only had an MA program at the graduate level. While I loved the master’s students that I got to work with there, I’m really looking forward to the chance to work with doctoral students here at the HDSHC. The students here are doing cutting-edge interdisciplinary and intersectional work, and I’m excited to be able to support their projects. Their work is indicative of a second reason I’m glad to be at ASU: the opportunities for interdisciplinary research here. As a scholar who cross-cuts multiple fields both within and outside of the discipline, I’m looking forward to doing work that addresses pressing social problems without having to worry about containing them within a predetermined box.
In that vein, I’m hoping to add to emerging conversations around decoloniality and decolonization, African communication studies, fictocriticism, speculative writing and the liberatory imagination.
Q: Why did you become an educator?
A: I’ve always loved collaborating with others to better understand the world and wanted the chance to cultivate spaces where that can be done in meaningful ways. Honestly, the desire to be a teacher probably started in third grade when I got detention for the first time because I tried to help the person next to me with his spelling test. I didn’t realize that would be labeled “cheating” — I thought it was just helping him to understand!
That memory has stuck with me because it exemplifies how I think of knowledge: not as something that someone “masters” or “has,” like it can be owned, but something we can create together. In my classes, I try to provide a context where we can ask difficult questions about the world, reflect on our experiences and ways of knowing, and make decisions about what we want to keep or leave behind as we move forward.
Q: What led you to your field?
A: I initially started out in particle physics and became a high school physics teacher. But after teaching in Tanzania as a Peace Corps volunteer for over two years, I came back to the U.S. with a deep discomfort about what I’d just been a part of. Teaching in a school that otherwise wouldn’t have had a physics teacher? OK. Doing women’s empowerment work for Tanzanian high schoolers? Ummm … less OK. I decided to go to grad school for communication because I thought it could help me answer a burning question: What made me think as a young, white Western woman that I had something to teach about empowerment to people in a completely different cultural and environmental context?
One of the major parts of the answer, I discovered, was neocolonialism. Since then, I’ve investigated neocolonialism in aid and development initiatives in Africa, bringing together research in critical/cultural studies, rhetoric, organizational communication and intercultural communication.
Q: What is your current research focus?
A: I have two big projects on the table at the moment. The first is a book entitled “The Center Cannot Hold: Decolonial Potential in the Collapse of a Tanzanian NGO.” This book examines the relationships between Westerners and Tanzanians at a small, internationally funded NGO in rural Tanzania. In the book I make the argument that two “centers” often assumed to be worth maintaining — Western subjectivities and NGOs — need to be allowed to fall apart in order for decolonial potential to emerge. “The Center Cannot Hold” is forthcoming in fall 2023 from Duke University Press.
My second book project, which I’m currently working on, is tentatively titled “Africanfuturism: Beyond Development.” In it, I turn from critiquing how Western logics of development uphold neocolonial power relations to examining how Africans imagine their own futures beyond and against Western developmental logics. I analyze the vibrant and growing body of Africanfuturist fiction and film to demonstrate how African artists rethink aid, technology, time, environment and the human. I received an NEH Summer Stipend to develop the project in 2022.
Q: What do you want every student to learn?
A: How to be reflexive. Reflexivity is integral to living in ways that respect our relations to each other and the natural world, and to understanding the way power operates in our lives and those of others. Reflexivity is a continual praxis of understanding how we are conditioned by power, and how that affects the ways we understand and interact in the world. As there’s no getting out of power, reflexivity is never finished. Instead, we must continue to learn to ask difficult questions about our relations, be willing to face the answers we find, and use them to change our thoughts and actions. If I can teach students to think deeply about how they understand the world and act within it, and encourage them to continually make their relations with the world and others more just, I know that they will be prepared to deal with any number of communicative problems in thoughtful and coalitional ways.
Q: What do few people know about you?
A: In addition to being a professor, I’m an all-around creative. I write speculative fiction, narrate audiobooks, sing, act, paint, take photographs, make wrapped-copper jewelry and experiment with folded-book art. My published speculative fiction and some of my photographs can be found on my website (www.jennahanchey.com). If you’re lucky, you can catch me singing at karaoke, but my paintings stay within the bounds of my apartment!