tl;dr : A quick and dirty bio Executive summary for those in a hurry

I'm an associate professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism & Mass Communication at Arizona State University, where I'm currently teaching an online course in Social Media, open to all majors including ASUOnline students. I've also taught various courses in our Public Relations curriculum.

My research tends to take a big-picture view of communication: I'm interested in questions of identity and reputation--personal, professional, organizational--as well as trying to understand the emergence and spread of issues and crises. My overall worldview is strongly colored by complexity theory, and I favor a mixed-methods approach to research.

Complexity theory is the study of emergent order and self-organization, which I find especially fascinating as a lens for exploring aspects of public relations such as issues, crises, identity & reputation, and community. I also use this lens to look at communication systems as a whole, especially with regard to newer and social media. More details about my research interests can be found here...

I spent the bulk of my adult life, and pre-academic career, in Italy (Bologna, to be specific), where I developed a taste for excellent food, stylish clothes and shoes, and fast motorcycles. I've also always been a big fan of the arts, and love living in central Phoenix where I can walk or take the light rail to almost anywhere I need to go.

I say this every year, but once again I'm going to be making a concerted effort to update my blog a bit more regularly. You can also find me on Twitter. The latter is the best way to get in touch with me, but feel free to connect with me however you prefer (even Pinterest!).


Thought adventures Research to understand the ways in which connections, communications, and contingencies shape identities and produce change

I like to grapple with big, thorny questions that can't be easily answered. (I've been told I have a masochistic streak, academically.) That's why I'm so fond of complexity.

I first became aware of complexity theory in 2001, completely by accident. Reading about complex systems, in which the interactions of multitudes of actors produce dynamic, nonlinear results, resonated with me and my professional experience in crisis communication. Much of the field at that time was focused on control, and the idea that it was possible to predict outcomes with some certainty. What I appreciate about complexity theory is that it emphasizes uncertainty, but not complete randomness: all events are specific to their unique history, time, and place.

I have found that complexity is a great framework for thinking about not just crises, but issues, reputation, identity, social media, community... pretty much any communication context that involves a large number of actors.

These days I'm working on projects that address, for example, the privacy implications of a complex media environment; of identity construction in complex organizations that need to negotiate multiple identities and interact with numerous, sometimes conflicting stakeholder groups in interconnected online spaces; and using complexity as a theoretical framework for applying epidemiological concepts and methods to understand crisis situations. (See the Lit Review section for more about my current work in progress.)

I've become especially interested in examining politically polarizing lobby organizations and the complex systems in which they operate: the role of social media in building relationships, the particular dynamics of connections with constituents, and the importance of understanding the multiple narratives created by such organizations, their supporters, and the broader cultural context.

I try to keep my profile up to date, and enjoy connecting with fellow thought adventurers over there.


Select publications

Gilpin, D. R. & Murphy, P. (2008). Crisis Management in a Complex World. New York: Oxford University Press.

Gilpin, D. R. (2008). “Narrating the organizational self: Reframing the role of the news release.” Public Relations Review 34(1), 9-18.

Gilpin, D. R. (2010). “Organizational image construction in a fragmented online media environment.” Journal of Public Relations Research 22(3), 265-287 (special issue on social media, edited by K. Hallahan).

Gilpin, D. R., & Murphy, P. (2010). Implications of complexity for public relations: Beyond crisis. In R. L. Heath (Ed.), Handbook of Public Relations (2nd ed.) (pp. 71-83). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Gilpin, D. R. (2010). Working the Twittersphere: Microblogging as professional identity construction. In Z. Papacharissi (Ed.), The Networked Self: Identity, Community and Culture on Social Network Sites (pp. 232-250). New York: Routledge.

Gilpin, D. R., & Miller, N. K. (2013) “Exploring complex organizational communities: Identity as emergent perceptions, boundaries, and relationships.”Communication Theory 23(2), 148-169. doi: 10.1111/comt.12008.

Classroom ninja Creating a safe space to learn crucial skills of discovery, critical thinking, analysis and experimentation

My teaching philosophy is centered around the process of discovery. The only thing I can say for certain about the future -- in any field, but public relations and other media-related areas in particular -- is that we will all have to figure stuff out. That means having to identify which questions need answering, which ideas are worth pursuing, and which methods work best. Helping students develop the skills to do that is my primary mission in the classroom.

Here are some of the courses I've developed and/or taught at ASU:

  • Principles of Public Relations: The basic course in the PR sequence. An introduction to the profession and to strategic communication planning, as the building blocks for more advanced coursework.
  • Public Relations Research: Qualitative and quantitative research techniques used in public relations. This fall, I'm planning to have students work in teams with nonprofit organizations, conducting surveys and performing content analysis to gain practical experience while giving clients useful data for future decision making. (Changes are afoot, but meanwhile you can check out the syllabus from last spring.)
  • Public Relations Campaigns: The former capstone course in our PR sequence (which has since been replaced by Practicum or our award-winning Public Relations Lab, directed by my colleague Dr. Fran Matera. Students honed their strategic planning, research, and presentation skills, working closely with client organizations to plan and pitch a communication campaign. The public presentations held at the end of the semester were always a highlight.
  • Web 2.0: Social Media: This course is open to all majors, and covers both how to use various social media platforms but also--and more importantly--examines the cultural, legal, economic, and privacy implications of our social media practices. Now offered online most semesters, in an intensive, 7-week module.

I also helped develop the Social Media module for our compulsory Online Media class, and have conducted seminars and workshops on a variety of topics for Cronkite and affiliated programs. To name a few:

  • Basic Social Media for Journalists: Presentations and workshops on this topic have ranged from one hour to multiple sessions over the space of a few days, and have been held on behalf of the Carnegie-Knight News 21 program, international Humphrey Fellows hosted at Cronkite, and students in the Village Voice Digital Media Fellowship program.
  • Social Media for Nonprofits: Nonprofit organizations face special challenges when it comes to reputation and relationship management, so understanding how to take best advantage of social media platforms (and which ones are most useful for a given organization) can be crucial.
  • New Media Academy: My contribution to this occasional Cronkite program covers the basic principles of social media, and helps bring attendees up to speed on both text-based and visual social media platforms. Open to novices as well as those experienced in online interactivity.

Lit review A peek at projects I'm working on these days

Not counting my ever growing "ideas file," scraps and snippets of projects I've stopped pursuing for various reasons, and work that's too much in the early stages to be ready even for this not-quite-prime-time slot, here are some projects that are nearing completion:

  • Context collapse and complex organizational identities: Most of my energies at the moment are being directed at a study of how a prominent lobby organization--one that represents an unusually diverse set of stakeholders and is embedded in an extremely polarized political issue. I presented an initial discussion of my work in progress at the last meeting of the Association of Internet Researchers in Denver, and am currently deep in the discourse analysis. This organization uses an exceptionally vast number of social media accounts to manage its multiple identities in ways that I believe will help cast some light on new forms of identity construction and stakeholder relations in the current media environment.
  • Complexity and privacy: This paper began as a thought experiment. Since complex social systems are made up of numerous densely interconnected actors, whose relationships produce emergent nonlinear patterns, what are the implications of such a system for privacy? That question led me down the path of exploring issues of identity and self-representation, in particular the different kinds of strategies people choose to adopt in a complex system for managing their multiple privacies. I presented an early draft of this project at the conference of the Association of Internet Researchers in Seattle, where I had some great discussions and got some excellent feedback. I've since come across some additional case studies and research that have led me down some fascinating new paths, so the paper is being reworked for submission.
  • Crisis Epidemiology: This is a theoretical project I've been working on for a while now. It involves developing a model of crisis epidemiology, which studies the emergence and diffusion of crises and crisis positions. This model pairs epidemiological concepts and methods with the broader theoretical framework of complexity. Both fields prioritize the historical evolution of the system; the contextual factors of the system at a specific moment in time, such as a crisis; and the patterns of relationships that emerge among actors in the system. They also both acknowledge the myriad identities, roles, and causal factors that interact to produce a crisis situation and influence its contagion patterns.


Exploration & ApplicationI learn a lot by getting my hands dirty

I'm always on the lookout for collaboration opportunities. Interaction with day-to-day organizational life ensures that both my research and teaching are up to date, and I enjoy giving presentations, seminars, and workshops relevant to my areas of expertise. I also teach some skills classes that benefit from working directly with clients, and can always use guest speakers to help drive home some key points.

So, here are a few ways we can work together, if your're interested. You can contact me via email to discuss any of these, or your own ideas. Learning is a collaborative undertaking at any level, so feel free to get in touch.

  1. Workshops, seminars, or presentations on social media, crisis communication, or strategic communication planning
  2. Helping your organization develop a more effective crisis or general communication strategy, social media plan, or community building process
  3. Working with my students as a client organization, for public relations research projects or PR campaigns (depending on my teaching schedule)
  4. Speaking to my students on a range of topics, especially involving public relations research
  5. Your ideas! I'm always open to suggestions.