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My research focuses on how digital technology is changing work, particularly in poor and working class urban communities. My research interests include the gig economy; digital inequality; urban ethnography; and, more broadly, the intersection of media and social justice issues.


My federally funded dissertation is entitled, “Liquid Labor, Precarious Lives: An Urban Ethnography of Online Work and Digital Inequality.” This ethnography follows the economic lives of working parents in Philadelphia’s KEYSPOT project, a network of digital access and skills programs funded by the U.S. Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP). As low-income parents faced impediments to locating good formal sector jobs (impediments such as lack of access to affordable childcare), some embraced informal sector work, promoting services like modeling or caricature drawing, or selling digital goods like e-books. I argue that the rise and frequency of these flexible, informalized arrangements signals a radically changing relationship between technology, labor, and care support in the United States.

Most broadly, my goal as a scholar is to produce critical academic research that can influence policy and also bring attention to social justice issues. ​

















Presentation of "Liquid Labor, Precarious Lives: An Urban Ethnography of Online Work and Digital Inequality"

Academic Publications 

Crowell, J.K. (2021). Broadband adoption and ethnographic approaches. In. K. Mossberger, E. Welch & Y. Wu, (Eds.), Transforming everything? Evaluating broadband’s impacts across policy areas. Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press.

Bach, A., Wolfson, T. & Crowell, J.K. (2018). Poverty, literacy, and social transformation: An interdisciplinary exploration of the digital divide. Journal of Media Literacy Education, 10(1), 22 - 41. Retrieved from

Wolfson, T., Crowell, J.K. & Reyes, C. & Bach, A. (2017). Emancipatory adoption: Towards a critical theory of broadband adoption and the digital divide. Communication, Culture & Critique.doi: 10.1111/cccr.12166


McCollough, K., Crowell, J.K. & Napoli, P.M. (2016). Portrait of the online local news audience. Digital Journalism. doi: 10.1080/21670811.2016.1152160



Sample Conference Papers

Crowell, J.K. (2016, November). Embracing or resisting the digital sublime: The Broadband Technology Opportunities Program in Philadelphia. Conference paper presented to the National Communication Association. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 


Crowell, J.K. (2015, May). Liquid labor: Women and informal work in the modern informational city.Conference paper presented to the International Communication Association. San Juan, Puerto Rico.​

Sample Policy and Impact Research

I have extensive policy and research grant experience and have collaborated with both government and nonprofit organizations. My most recent partnership is an article on using qualitative research to better understand news audiences sponsored by the Local News Lab at the Democracy Fund.

I previously produced a policy recommendation for the New Jersey Office of Information Technology on best practices for broadband training programs. An abstract of that document is available here.

I also collaborated with the Philadelphia Freedom Rings Partnership for two years via the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) collecting ethnographic data on broadband training programs. A link to the final report provided to BTOP and the National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA) is available here via the Urban Affairs Coalition

Sample Popular Press

I have also contributed some popular media articles on the intersection of media studies and critique. For example, you can find my New York Times piece critiquing "The Avengers" here.

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