Yellow book cover featuring tornado siren

In Case of Emergency: How Technologies Mediate Crisis and Normalize Inequality (NYU Press, 2022), examines how media systems define what emergencies are–and aren’t–with profound consequences regarding race, disability, and gender.

By interweaving in-depth interviews with emergency-operation and app-development experts, archival materials, and discursive and technological readings of hardware and infrastructures, Ellcessor demonstrates that emergency media are powerful components of American life that are rarely, if ever, neutral.

“Resonant, timely, and compassionate…. Rigorously explains how our understandings of emergencies have life and death stakes”

Shoshana Magnet

“Sirens blare. Maps blaze in alarming colors…. Emergency media inform how ‘normality’ is defined, and whose norms become the standard. It thus has the capacity, as Ellcessor shows us, to cultivate a new norm that’s more inclusive, just, and compassionate”

Shannon Mattern
Discount code for nyupress.org: ELLCESSOR30

Book Talks & Appearances

  • April 18, 2022 – Book talk at the Miller Center, University of Virginia
  • July 18, 2022 – Keynote, “Emergency Access” at Digital IDEAS Symposium, University of Michigan
  • September 13, 2022 – Q&A at Bradley University
  • September 29, 2022 – “Call if You Can” as part of Temple University’s Klein College Graduate Speaker Series
  • October 17, 2022 – “Call if You Can” at Georgetown University

Books talks for In Case of Emergency may target different audiences and require a different focus. Below are descriptions for talks focused on disability, health and policy, and a talk focused on digital technology, media theory, and campus communities.

“Call if You Can”

The COVID-19 pandemic and looming future of long-COVID as a mass debilitating event require us to rethink assumptions about health, disability, and emergency.

The focus of this talk is a critical investigation of the relationship between marginalization and technologies of emergency notification. Examples include 20th century LifeAlert systems, governmental emergency alerts, text-to-911, and COVID maps and tracking apps. In each case, emergency media are based around deviations from “normal” life experiences. With such foundations, emergency media can fail to recognize pressing needs and lead to failures of outreach and response.

This talk concludes with consideration of the normalization of “long COVID.” Dr. Ellcessor argues that emergency media are a point of connection between people and varied forms of intervention. As such, we can reconsider how that connection operates and move towards more equitable and responsive forms of intervention, mutual aid, and mediation that go beyond the call-and-response of existing emergency media to prioritize ongoing commitments of care.

“Where is your emergency?”

From the questions asked by 9-1-1 professionals to standalone safety apps, safety features in Uber and other services, and the geographic representations of pandemic risks, location is increasingly tied to our knowledge of what is – and is not – an emergency. Understanding the linkages between emergency and location helps us to see how emergency, and its many mediations, is anything but neutral.

This talk focuses on safety on college and university campuses as a microcosm of shifting technologies of location and emergency. Dr. Ellcessor demonstrates that physical infrastructure and its representations envisioned certain students (largely women) as ideal victims and others (non-students, men of color) as likely assailants. These discrepancies are remediated and largely unchallenged in the high-tech, multiplatform “campus safety solutions” increasingly implemented since 2007. What is new in these technologies is the real-time awareness of others’ locations and the growing association of surveillance with safety and technological privacy with risk. Dr. Ellcessor demonstrates that safety and emergency depend on one another and, fundamentally, on a vision of normalcy that must be challenged to begin to address the experiences and crises of diverse campus and local communities.

Publicity Kit

Headshot of a white woman with brown hair, wearing glasses.

Dr. Ellcessor uses she/her pronouns.

Ellcessor (ELL-sess-er) is pronounced to roughly rhyme with “professor,” with a heavier emphasis on the first syllable.

Headshot is available for use. Please credit to University of Virginia Communications.

Short bio:
Elizabeth Ellcessor is an associate professor of media studies at the University of Virginia, and a senior faculty fellow at the Miller Center for Public Affairs. Her research focuses on media access as a variable and uneven phenomenon that advantages some and marginalizes others. She is the author of In Case of Emergency: How Technologies Mediate Crisis and Normalize Inequality and Restricted Access: Media, Disability, and the Politics of Participation. Beginning in 2023, she will be the co-editor in chief of JCMS: Journal of Cinema and Media Studies.

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