Katherine LaFond

Dean College junior, Katherine LaFond, Liberal Arts and Studies major, following the global studies track. She is particularly interested in Middle Eastern history and Islamic studies. Her research has recently been published for the second time in the Macksey Journal, which is a journal of proceedings of the Richard Macksey National Undergraduate Humanities Research Symposium at Johns Hopkins University. The Macksey Symposium provides students across all fields of the humanities the opportunity to come together and share their work. In addition to her Macksey Journal published works, Katherine is looking forward to presenting her new research on Islamic State propaganda at Lycoming College’s Undergraduate Humanities Research Conference in April.

Q:  In February 2024, your research article titled, “We Are ‘Strangers’ to Each Other: Shifts in Sociotemporal Order,” was published in Johns Hopkins’ Macksey Journal. Can you tell us what it was about?

A:  My research examined how the COVID pandemic, concurrent with the advancement of technology in the 21st century, altered sociotemporal patterns of everyday life. Sociotemporal order refers to the organization or arrangement of social activities, events, and processes within a specific timeframe or period. Sociotemporal order considers how time interacts with people’s social interactions, behaviors, and routines. Sociotemporal order theorizes around the socialKatherine LaFond aspects of temporality, often influenced by cultural norms, societal expectations, and historical contexts. The COVID pandemic was an extreme event which practically severed all forms of face-to-face socialization. I wondered if the disorientation of the passage of time during the pandemic was correlated to extended physical isolation. To make this topic accessible for a general audience, I used original poetry and photography to model the concept of sociotemporal order.

Q:  What inspired you to focus on sociotemporal order as the topic for your research?

A:  Well, for starters, my research concentration was quite different! I started this project before I switched my major track from sociology to global studies. At the time, I was very interested in studying neurodivergence, socialization patterns, the formation of social groups, and social exclusion from a sociological perspective. In a way, this project was a continuation of my first research project, “Free Solo,” that I completed the year prior. However, unlike “Free Solo,” which only combined poetry with qualitative research, in my sociotemporal order project I added the photography element. However, it was the photo itself that really gave me the idea. I took a photo of the Old South Meeting House in Boston shortly after COVID isolation restrictions were lifted, without much thought. Later, when I examined it closer, I noticed I had captured an advertisement posted by the city of Boston which read: “It’s time. We’ve been lost without you.” And, the rest is history!

Q:  What did you learn from completing this project?

A:  Through this project I learned how intimately time, people, and society are intertwined. Life after the COVID pandemic is fundamentally different than before. I believe that digital hypoconnectivity has diluted the classic 9 to 5 workday and blurred the lines between public and private time. Now more than ever, our lives are more online than offline. I discovered how valuable time is, not as a commodity, but as a philosophy. We exchange our time for money or wealth. We give up four years for college in hopes the time spent will yield monetary rewards. We call something that doesn’t give monetary or social rewards a “waste of time.” How we treat and/or experience time is completely different due to the pandemic.

Q: This is your second time being published in the Macksey Journal. Can you tell us a little about your first publication in 2022, entitled, “Free Solo?”

A:  I completed “Free Solo” during my freshmen year at Dean. My research focuses on exploring the intricate dynamics of social exclusion, particularly among intellectually gifted individuals (IGI), by examining how social norms and conformity within peer groups contribute to the marginalization experienced by those with neurological differences. Social exclusion is a universal phenomenon, but certain groups are more prone to experiencing this short and long-term. My poem, “Free Solo,” expresses the social exclusion of someone with a neurological difference, in a poetic form. In the afterword (a summary of the poem) alongside existing research on social norms, IGI, and social exclusion highlights the science and meaning behind the poem. Ample intelligence is not widely considered a form of neurodivergence, yet gifted learners readily perceive the world differently from the average person, fitting the primary definition of neurodivergence. Anyone who interprets the world atypically can experience significant social isolation.

Q: You were recently part of a student-led production team who developed a short film documentary titled, “The Life of Grace Sun,” for your Digital History (HIS 425) class. What was that about?

A: It is a short local history film about Grace Sun, who attended Dean Academy from 1916-1918. She was the youngest daughter of Sun Yat-Sen, the leader of the Chinese Revolution of 1911 and the first president of the modern Chinese republic. Letters she had written to her close friend throughout her life were discovered in the Dean archive recently. They give a detailed view of her life and the historical events she wrote about, such as the second Sino-Japanese War and World War II. And, through even more in-depth research and use of translation tools, I was able to find relevant information to include in our film that was not available in any U.S. databases. The film will soon be published to the New England Journal of History’s “History in Your Backyard” series. In addition, I will collaborate with my professor, Dr. David Dennis, to co-author an article analyzing all of the information I have uncovered regarding Grace Sun’s life. Stay tuned for more details on that project as well!

Q: As part of the Research Experience (HIS 386) course you completed last year, you began a project titled, “Smashing the Borders of the Tawaghit: Islamic State (IS) Utilization of Apocalyptic Narratives to Subvert the Modern Nation-State.” I understand that this paper-based project has been accepted for presentation at the Lycoming College Humanities Research Conference in April 2024. Can you tell us what your research and analysis revealed?

A: The Islamic State (IS) is a Salafi-Jihadist militant organization seeking to establish an Islamic caliphate in Iraq and Syria and to create a global Salafi-Jihadist movement. The Islamic State categorizes the modern nation-state as ‘haram’ or forbidden to justify the establishment of an Islamic caliphate. Apocalyptic narratives in Islamic State propaganda emphasize the religious morality of Islamic State actions and ideology to increase organization assets such as human capital and financial support. Few studies specifically analyze how Islamic State uses apocalyptic narratives to undermine the modern nation-state. My research analyzes a selection of Islamic State propaganda published, edited, and translated in 2020 by Haroro J. Ingram, Craig Whiteside, and Charlie Winter. My paper argues Islamic State’s apocalyptic narratives serve a multifaceted role in advancing a broader sociopolitical agenda. In addition to radicalization and recruitment, apocalyptic narratives play a major role in justifying the destruction of the modern nation-state to install an Islamic caliphate.

Q: You certainly have a gift for research and analysis. Why do you find this academic field so fascinating and rewarding?

A: The academic field of research, particularly interdisciplinary research that I predominantly conduct, demands unwavering curiosity and divergent thinking. My mind thrives in abstraction, and I love to analyze topics from many disciplinary lenses. In my opinion, the mark of a good scholar is someone who seeks to understand every angle of a subject – religious, secular, liberal, conservative, etc. – and everything else in-between. Research is, or should be, a continuous intellectual endeavor that challenges our personal convictions and worldview. I’ve always been attracted to understanding complicated topics such as terrorism, abortion, and the existence of God. I find intellectually challenging topics fascinating and rewarding to study. Frankly, it is hard for me to “turn off” academic thinking and relax because my brain easily gets bored and restless. Research fulfills my innate intellectual drive to understand how the world functions and why people believe what they believe. The reward for me is producing quality research that challenges how we (as a society) understand the world. This is why I love to do research and hopefully I will be able to continue my research in graduate school.

Q: Have you thought about what you want to pursue after you graduate from Dean in May 2025?

A: I have thought about what I want to pursue after college quite a bit. I’ve known since freshmen year that I’m going to pursue graduate school, but where and for what remains undecided. I think subject wise, I’d eventually like to pursue a PhD in either Middle Eastern history, Islamic studies, linguistics (English and Arabic), or international relations. Or perhaps a combination of all four? I definitely want to continue terrorism research in graduate school in some capacity. In terms of careers, I’m interested in becoming an open-source research analyst or maybe a professor. I’m open to international affairs, public policy, and counterterrorism careers as well. I’ll see where life takes me!

Q: What do you love most about being a student at Dean College?

A: Engaging with faculty! Many faculty members have sacrificed a substantial amount of their time and resources to mentor me. Without their support, I wouldn’t have accomplished half of what I have done thus far. I look forward to going to class and seeing my professors. I truly appreciate everything faculty members do for us students!