Urban Communication Research Grant Awarded for 2019

Arlene Fernandez

The International Association for Media and Communication Research -IAMCR- and the Urban Communication Foundation are pleased to announce that the 2019 UCF/IAMCR Urban Communication Research Grant will be awarded to Arlene Fernandez, a doctoral student and Graduate Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School for Communication, for her project Meet Me at the Papi Store: Space, Place, and the ‘American Dream’ in Philadelphia Corner Stores. An honorary mention will be awarded to Erika Polson (University of Denver) for her project From the tag to the #hashtag: Street art, Instagram, and gentrification.

The prizes will be officially awarded during IAMCR 2019.

Meet Me at the Papi Store: Space, Place, and the ‘American Dream’ in Philadelphia Corner Stores

Project description:

In the current sociopolitical moment in the United States, xenophobic tropes about immigrants from Latin America have been reanimated and become particularly effective tools for the performance of political identity by simultaneously galvanizing supporters across the ideological spectrum. Arlene Fernández’s research project aims to conceptualize corner stores (and their many vernacular variants, such as bodegas, papi stores, and tienditas) as spatial embodiments of a version of Latinx immigrant identity and border-making. Corner stores are a mainstay of urban communities both in and outside the U.S. and, therefore, rich sites for learning about how identity, community, and technology come together in urban spaces and places that are often situated at the margins. This project builds on previous work analyzing the discourse in the wake of a tech start-up formerly known as Bodega, in which she argues that the ardent defense of immigrant corner store owners by journalists, writers, and social media users serves as a kind of performative politics that obscures the complexities of bodega histories and immigrant labor in urban communities, particularly in New York City.

Drawing on broader media narratives and counter-narratives that frame urban corner stores, including those in popular culture, this research engages those complexities by interrogating mythologies about the American dream; visible and invisible Latinx immigrant labor; the construction of borders through surveillance and technological obsolescence; and class, race, gender and (de)colonial politics in urban spaces. The focus shifts to corner stores in Philadelphia, known colloquially as ‘papi stores’, which are discursively and materially distinct from bodegas in New York City. This study serves as the preliminary phase of a multimodal, multi-sited, ethnographic project to be undertaken in and with Latinx immigrant-owned corner stores in Philadelphia. Through participant observation and interviews in a selection of corner stores in the city, the research addresses meaning-making tied to corner stores, the people who own and operate them, the people who frequent them, and what these often overlooked, and sometimes literal, corners of the city can reveal about communicative practices in urban spaces, particularly within competing paradigms of the digital divide and smart cities. With an eye towards multimodality as an alternative way of knowing and seeing, the early findings are presented in the form of a short ethnographic, documentary film.

Arlene C. Fernández is a doctoral student and Research Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania Annenberg School for Communication. Her research interests include diasporic cultures, discursive racial and class formations, decoloniality, and visual communication in urban space and place. She is currently exploring Latina/o/x racialization and ways that racialized experiences and related counter-hegemonic practices are informed by, manifested through, and discursively formed in media and digital spaces, particularly in the current sociopolitical moment. As a mediamaker, she is committed to the idea that multimodal approaches to research can serve as vehicles for public engagement and translation, and as spaces for cultural reimaginings that center those at the margins.


Funded by the Urban Communication Foundation, the annual $1,750 research grant supports communication and media research that advances our understanding of the growing complexity of the urban environment. It is predicated on the assumption that communication scholars have a valuable contribution to make to understanding the urban landscape. A 6-person committee consisting of four IAMCR members and two Urban Communication Foundation representatives judge the proposals. IAMCR representatives in the committee are Nico Carpentier (Chair), Cees Hamelink, Janet Wasko and Olesya Venger. Urban Communication Foundation representatives are Gary Gumpert and Susan Drucker.