Wednesday, March 29, 2023

The Department of Communication Studies was saddened to learn that one of our PhD alums, Christopher R. Smit, passed away earlier this year. He was a wonderful, warm, and passionate person who will be sorely missed. Associate Professor Joy Hayes has written a remembrance of Dr. Smit, her doctoral advisee, a pioneer in the world of media and disability studies. 

Chris became my doctoral student in the early 2000s and I remember him for many things, but two especially stand out: his open and generous spirit and the energy that he brought to the study of media and disability. Chris published his dissertation in 2004: Pictured in dialogue: A dialogical philosophy of the disabled body in photography. Drawing on the dialogical philosophy of Martin Buber, M.M. Bakhtin and Emmanuel Levinas, Chris’s dissertation provided a new approach to disability and media. To quote from the abstract, his dissertation “assumes that disabled subjects hold an active position in the creation of aesthetic knowledge; second, it argues that there is pictorial evidence of a mutuality between ablebodied photographers and disabled subjects; and third, it suggests that there are important cultural ramifications of the aesthetic lessons of dialogue. And so while the focus of the dissertation is the photographic representation of people with disabilities, its scope also involves a commentary on the philosophies of disability and nondisability which operate in culture more generally.” Chris also wrote on cinema and disability, disability and popular culture, Disney, and Michael Jackson. He was a humanist and an activist. He was a unique individual who also represented the best of what an Iowa Ph.D. in Communication Studies can bring to the world in terms of theory and practice. He will be greatly missed.