Dr. Robin M. Boylorn is the inaugural Holle Endowed Chair of Communication Arts and Founding Director of the Holle Center for Communication Arts in the College of Communication and Information Sciences at The University of Alabama. She is also Professor of Interpersonal and Intercultural Communication in the Department of Communication Studies. She teaches and writes about issues of social identity and justice, focusing primarily on characterizations of black women in the US American South. Her interdisciplinary interests and public intellectual work lies at the intersection of communication, critical/cultural studies, creativity and possibility.
As a critical autoethnographer and cultural critic she studies culture through the lens and context of lived experience. Her current research focuses on the relationship between storytelling and identity politics. She coined the terms "ratchet respectability," "blackgirl (one word/no space)" and "blackgirlism" to critically engage relational and representational theories of black womanhood. She uses ratchet respectability to discuss the oxymoronic and problematic class characterizations of black women on reality TV, and theorizes blackgirlism as a way of understanding the indivisiblility of race and gender in the marginalized lives and experiences of black women and/as girls.
As a scholar/activist, methodologist, speaker, and thinker she is committed to a life and work (life's work) that is rooted in love and intentionality, prioritizes social justice, models self-care and accountability, and makes home with honesty and humility.
She describes herself poetically, as follows:
<self-portrait> by R. Boylorn
crunk, creative, courageous, generous, ambitious
a poet, a professor, a visionary, a realist
a sports fan(atic) who is sometimes superstitious
spiritual (but not religious)
a storyteller, a wordsmith, a fantasist, a floacist
an Alice Walker womanist (or black feminist)
a cultural critic, a christian, a co-conspirator, a contradiction
a fashionista, a loner, a meridional misfit and magician
a writer, a hustler, a survivor, a keeper
a fully recovered former people-pleaser
charming, discerning, quick-witted and a reticent dreamer
a North Carolinian living in Alabama by way of Florida
who embodies the proverb "still waters run deep"
and loves herself fiercely
if only skin-deep
She is also: loyal, liberal, honest, human, ethical, focused, independent, sentimental, a Virgo (self-explanatory), a dog lover & "sensitive about her shit." (Badu)
Boylorn's work concentrates on ways of documenting and translating marginalized and muted experiences and encouraging empathy and vulnerability through storytelling and sensemaking. In particular, she is invested in amplifying the significance of everyday lived experience and the usefulness of narrative as a mechanism for talking about and across difference (in its many manifestations).
Her first book, Sweetwater: Black Women and Narratives of Resilience (Peter Lang, 2017/2013), which is currently available in a Revised Edition, received the inaugural H.L. "Bud" Goodall, Jr. and Nicholas Lee Trujillo "It's A Way of Life" Award in Narrative Ethnography in 2013, the 2013 Book of the Year Award from the National Communication Association's Ethnography Division, and the 2014 Outstanding Qualitative Book Award by the International Congress of Qualitative Inquiry. The book offers a semi-auto/ethnographic narrative that includes the intergenerational experiences of black women growing up in a small rural community in North Carolina.
She is co-writer and co-editor (with Brittney C. Cooper and Susana M. Morris) of The Crunk Feminist Collection (The Feminist Press, 2017), and co-editor of Critical Autoethnography: Intersecting Cultural Identities in Everyday Life (Second Edition published in 2020) and Advances in Autoethnography and Narrative Inquiry: Reflections on the Legacy of Carolyn Ellis and Arthur Bochner (Routledge, 2021).
She is a former Primary Scholar for the Kentuck Art Center's 2021 Exhibition Season, a 2021 inductee into the XXXI Society at The University of Alabama, and a recipient of the 2022 Mid-Career Award from the Ethnography Division of the National Communication Association. Her public writing and cultural commentary is available at Slate, Ebony, The Guardian, Salon, Gawker, and The Crunk Feminist Collective.
She is currently Editor of Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies, a top journal of the National Communication Association.