Terence McDonnell

Associate Professor; Concurrent faculty, Keough School of Global Affairs

Research Interests

Objects and Materiality, Meaning, Media, Art, Health, Methods


Cultural Sociology, Gender and Family, Qualitative Methods, Social Movements, Sociology of Development, Theory


I study the role of objects, symbols, and media in everyday life. My research explains why some cultural objects have the power to shape belief and behavior, while others fail to have their intended effect. To do this, I trace the production, circulation, and reception of objects over time. People put objects to work intending them to do specific tasks. Not all objects work equally well, so why do some objects hold sway over us, while others fail to motivate? I answer this question by theorizing cultural power and failure through mechanisms of resonance, materiality, entropy, and cultural form. My current research examines what I call "empathy objects." Empathy objects are designed to simulate the embodied experience of another person’s condition or situation. Does empathy need people? Or can objects, and the lived experiences they permit, stand in for people? I'm interested in how organizations design and mobilize these objects to persuade people to change their belief and behavior. How people make sense of these experiences, and do these empathy objects ultimately change the how they see the world?

Email: tmcdonn2@nd.edu
Phone: (574) 631-7599
Office: 4049 Jenkins Nanovic
Office Hours: Mondays 8:30a-10:30a by appointment