Communication Studies Professor Zhenyu Tian wins outstanding dissertation award

Zhenyu Tian, assistant professor of communication studies at The College of Wooster

Zhenyu Tian, assistant professor of communication studies at The College of Wooster, won the Cheris Kramarae Outstanding Dissertation Award presented by the Organization for the Study of Communication, Language, and Gender (OSCLG). The award, named for OSCLG founding member Cheris Kramarae, recognizes the outstanding dissertation concerned with communication, language, and gender. Tian received the award Oct. 1 at the organization’s annual conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

His award-winning 2021 dissertation, “Women Entrepreneurs in China: Dialectical Discourses, Situated Activities, and the (Re)production of Gender and Entrepreneurship,” helped address and showcase Chinese women’s agency in the context of making meaning of their gender and occupational identities. Through his research, Tian identified how Chinese women entrepreneurs find ways to deal with the gendered conflicts between being successful entrepreneurs and performing conventional gender roles, such as good mothers and obedient daughters.

“Our social norms are constantly telling us that entrepreneurs tend to be men and that entrepreneurial activities make more sense when male bodies are doing them,” said Tian, who joined the Wooster faculty in August 2021. “The idea that women of color and specifically Asian women are without agency and always subject to control is a myth. They have their own ways to enact or perform agency in their daily lives by doing small things that can lead to greater changes.”

In the nomination letter written by his advisor Patrice M. Buzzanell, distinguished university professor at the University of South Florida, Tian was recognized for his research focus, inclusive processes, and methodologies. “His dissertation brings together his long-standing interests in feminist communication, language, contradiction/paradox, Chinese values, and social change through gendered organizing and relational dialectics (RDT2) lens. “Tian’s dissertation was and remains an ambitious project because he uses theories from multiple communication contexts and because he interviewed prominent participants to which most people would not have had access,” Buzzanell continued. Tian used snowball sampling to connect with people he knew who then referred him to others. He also reached out to local entrepreneurial associations that would introduce his research projects to potential participants.

From the narratives provided by the 34 entrepreneurs he interviewed, Tian identified competing meaning systems, their experiences, and some of the choices they made in their lives. “The more conventional gender roles such as the Chinese way of understanding motherhood and being a wife would contradict choices of being entrepreneurs,” Tian said. Because they could not be around their children full time, they would feel internal conflicts about whether they were good mothers. However, he found that they often would find innovative ways to be mothers.

Some believed that being a good role model and offering career support were important benefits for their children. Others offered great opportunities for their children to attend conferences and presentations, where they could develop socialization skills that other children might not have the chance to learn. “A lot of them are able to successfully combine their mother roles and entrepreneurial identities,” he said.

For Tian, “Women Entrepreneurs in China” is not only a scholarly project, but it is also a personal project that relates to his mother’s influence on his life, work, and career. Although she considers herself a “bad” Chinese mother because of the cultural stigmas for women in leadership positions, Tian is proud of her achievements as a career woman.

Winning the OSCLG award is an important part of acknowledging his scholarship, he said. “These awards are always so competitive, so receiving the award is great. I think this achievement helps to build reputation and networks.” He is preparing articles for publication and is currently waiting to learn if his first article has been accepted for publication in Communication Monographs. He also has shared his research with some of the participants and hopes to present the findings in China in the future.

Photo: Paaige Turner, Dean of the College of Communication, Information and Media at Ball State University and past president of the OSCLG presents Tian with the Cheris Kramarae Outstanding Dissertation Award at the organization’s annual conference.

Posted in Faculty, News on October 4, 2022.