Faculty Biography

Fern Johnson

Fern Johnson

Professor Emerita and Research Professor

Department of English
Clark University
Worcester, MA 01610-1477

phone: 508-793-7151
email: fjohnson@clarku.edu



B.A. University of Minnesota, 1968
M.A. Northwestern University, 1969
Ph.D. University of Minnesota, 1974

Brief Biography

Interracial AdoptionDr. Johnson specializes in the study of race, ethnicity, and gender in discourse. She’s interested in how language and culture are interrelated, language and cultural codes in advertising, and language policy in multilingual societies. Her current co-authored book, Let’s Talk Race: A Guide for White People, focuses on why white people struggle to talk about race and offers guidance for improving conversations to achieve better racial understanding as a foundation for meaningful action. Her most recent book, The Interracial Adoption Option: Creating a Family Across Race, provides insight into the many issues and situations white parents face when they embark on the journey of creating a multiracial family through adoption. Before that she authored, Imaging in Advertising: Verbal and Visual Codes of Commerce, which focuses on discourse codes in advertising as these relate to ideology and cultural practice. In 2000, she published Speaking Culturally: Language Diversity in the United States, which examines the cultural foundations of language diversity in the U.S. Her current project focuses on language policy and multilingualism in the European Union and the United States. She is on the editorial board of The Howard Journal of Communications. She teaches courses on language and culture in the U.S., language policy issues, and gender and discourse. Professor Johnson is also affiliated with Clark's interdisciplinary Communication and Culture Program.

Current Research and Teaching

Imaging in AdvertisingAs a scholar specializing in the study of race, ethnicity, and gender in discourse, I pay attention to many aspects of language in everyday life. Conversations, public speeches, advertising, television programs, and news reports all contain complex cultural discourse codes.  I am especially interested in the role of discourse in shaping ideology and notions of "reality." Everyday discourse--drawn from sources such as conversation, ads from magazines and the Internet, billboards, television programs, political speeches, and news stories--find their way into both my scholarship and my teaching. Teaching and my interaction with students play key roles in developing projects that I pursue. I build many ideas with students, probe new directions while developing course materials, and enjoy exploring ideas with students engaged in projects and theses. The core ideas in Imaging in Advertising, began with class lectures and discussion and then progressed as I worked with students to develop their projects. Teaching is for me inseparable from scholarship, and students--undergraduate and graduate alike--constitute a significant part of my intellectual community.

Speaking CulturallyI teach a range of courses that explore issues of language, identity, and culture. At the first-year level, I offer "American Talk" (Eng 114). My signature undergraduate course is "Language and Culture in the U.S." (Eng 215), which is a tour of the complexity of ancestry, languages, and cultural hybridity. I teach mid-level seminars on "Cultural Discourses of Advertising" (Eng 252), which uses various types of sociolinguistic analysis to understand the role of advertising in circulating cultural codes of meaning; and "Language at Issue" (Eng 257/357), which looks at language policy debates. My advanced research seminar on "Gender and Discourse" (Eng 295/395) is devoted to exploring a range of theories and research methodologies that are brought to bear on questions related to the entanglements of gender and discourse in complex cultural contexts. Many of my offerings are cross-listed with the Communication and Culture Program, and I also participate in the Women's Studies Program.

Selected Publications

2013: The Interracial Adoption Option: Creating a Family Across Race. Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

2007: Imaging in Advertising: Verbal and Visual Codes of Commerce. New York: Routledge.

2006: Section Editor, SAGE Handbook of Gender and Communication, B. J. Dow & J. T. Wood (Eds.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. Introductory essay, "Culture as Con-text for Gender and Communication" (pp.371-378) for section focused on Gender and Communication in Intercultural and Global Contexts.

2006: "Transgressing gender in discourses across cultures." In B. J. Dow & J. T. Wood (Eds.), SAGE Handbook of Gender and Communication (pp.415-431). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

1999: Speaking Culturally: Language Diversity in the United States. Thousand Oakes, CA: Sage Publications.