A summary of research illustrating how the popular definition of the term “marriage” has shifted over the last decade has earned a Cazenovia College professor the Article of the Year Award from the Eastern Communication Association (ECA).

Heather Maloney-Stassen, Ph.D., an associate professor at Cazenovia and director of the College’s Communication Studies program, received the organization’s prestigious award for 2021. The organization presents the honor annually to recognize the most outstanding journal article published during the prior calendar year in the communication journals Communication Quarterly, Communication Research Reports, or Qualitative Research Reports in Communication.

Dr. Maloney-Stassen’s article, “Renewing Vows: A Diachronic Analysis of an Ideograph,” written with Dr. Benjamin R. Bates, was published in Qualitative Research Reports in Communication in 2020. The article depicts a transition in how the concept of “marriage” is understood at two different points in time a decade apart. The first study collected data in 2008 and was published in 2010 at the height of the same-sex marriage debate. That article, “Constructing Marriage: Exploring Marriage as an Ideograph,” appeared in Qualitative Research Reports in Communication.

The second assessment analyzes qualitative data collected 10 years later from the same type of demographic sampling and five years after the U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the right of same-sex couples to marry. It points out a decided shift in how the term “marriage” is regarded. While it “retains contractual and love characteristics as defining components, references to the same-sex marriage debate largely disappeared, but there remains an ideological difference in new conflicting themes of marriage as a legal construction and marriage as tradition,” the article reports.

Dr. Maloney-Stassen said she believes the article drew recognition because it illustrates not only a striking shift in orientation and attitude toward the concept of marriage, but because it examines attitudes across a10-year span and by producing succinct, understandable, accessible data. “For us, looking at the shift over time was really important, not just in the topic area but in terms of the methodology used. The idea of studying ideographs as a longitudinal study was new. Others have done it, but they have not looked at their question in terms of comparisons from two different eras that are 10 years apart,” the professor said.

As a communication researcher, Dr. Maloney-Stassen looks at what rhetoric reveals about public culture and how communication used by people shapes cultural thought. “I see language or communication as a manifestation of social culture, so if you can measure what people are saying, you can get to what they believe. Communication is often understood as just how people talk to one another, but it also reveals what underlies the communication and what that represents,” she said.

While doing research advances her own understanding and practice, it also brings topics to life in her classes, the professor said. “I’m enthusiastic about research, and if I’m really engaged and really enthused, my students are, too. When you conduct research, you’re also reading a lot of other research and your work informs you and how you teach. It also sets a good example that research can be done, that academic research isn’t so far-fetched from reality, and that it encourages inquiry, interest, and dabbling in data. I try to bring that to my students, and I also ask them what they think about the process and what they would do differently.”

The Eastern Communication Association was initially established in 1910 and continues as the oldest professional communication association in the United States. The ECA award is particularly meaningful, said Dr. Maloney-Stassen, because “It puts me in some really good company with excellent scholars and people I really look up to. It is heartening when an article is recognized in that way, because you know people not only read it, but they liked it and it meant something to them.”

Dr. Bates, the Barbara Geralds Schoonover professor of health communication at Ohio University’s School of Communications and the article’s co-author, is scheduled as next fall’s Washburn Distinguished Lecture speaker. He is renowned in the field of health communication, a specialty that has experienced a surge of interest in 2020 and 2021 due to COVID-19 communication practices.