Brewing Success

J Jackson-Beckham, assistant professor of communication studies, Randolph College

J Jackson-Beckham, assistant professor of communication studies

Communication studies professor pursues passion for food studies.

J. Jackson-Beckham has always been fascinated by food. But for this communication studies professor, sitting down to enjoy a perfectly grilled steak or a locally brewed beer is only half the fun. One of her passions is discovering where her food and beverages come from and what kinds of socioeconomic and political effects they have on the world.

Last year, much of Jackson- Beckham’s food studies research focused specifically on the “microbrew revolution”—the moment when high quality, small batch beers began to re-enter the American marketplace in mass quantities. Jackson-Beckham was particularly drawn to the microbrew revolution’s “origin stories” and tales of the “founding fathers” of the American microbrew revolution, like Jack McAuliffe, Ken Grossman, Fritz Maytag, and Jim Koch, among others.

“These rags-to-riches style stories of industrious men with passion, resourcefulness, and a ‘risky’ idea to make good American beer are widely told and retold, which is always something of interest to a communication studies scholar,” Jackson-Beckham said. “When stories—particularly origin stories— are retold with any degree of frequency, it’s usually a good sign that they are performing some sort of cultural work, beyond merely relaying information. Wanting to know what exactly these stories were ‘doing’ in the world was what inspired this vein of my research.”

Jackson-Beckham’s research received national attention in 2016, when she contributed a chapter to Untapped: Exploring the Cultural Dimensions of Craft Beer, from the West Virginia University Press. The collection of 12 previously unpublished essays analyze the rise of craft beer from social and cultural perspectives.

Jackson-Beckham contributed the volume’s fourth chapter, “Entrepreneurial Leisure and the Microbrew Revolution: The Neoliberal Origins of the Craft Beer Movement,” which was derived from her doctoral dissertation research, “Cultural Economy of the American Brewing Industry from Prohibition to Today,” which she conducted at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

In addition to being published in Untapped, Jackson-Beckham’s work was recently cited and profiled in multiple academic articles, and she was interviewed by radio stations and on podcasts. She also was invited to speak about her research at several higher education conferences and forums.

Entering just her third academic year at Randolph, Jackson-Beckham is highly involved on campus. She shares her home-brewing expertise with students as an advisor for the Zymology Club, and she is faculty liaison for the women’s basketball team. Kiana Scott ’20, a member of the team and one of Jackson-Beckham’s students, said Jackson-Beckham was both a valued mentor and the team’s number one fan during her first year.

“I love the fact that she is relatable,” Scott said. “What makes her a special member of the Randolph faculty is that she goes out of her way to help students.”

Another of Jackson-Beckham’s students, Taylyn Soult ’18, added that Jackson-Beckham made her feel especially welcome as a transfer student.

“Not only is Dr. Jackson-Beckham a wonderful professor and advisor, she could also be considered a good friend,” Soult said. “She does her best to reach out to the students in a friendly manner and is able to put complex perspectives into ones that college students can understand and relate to.”

For Jackson-Beckham, that sense of friendship and trust goes both ways.

“Every day I’m struck by how lucky I am that I get to teach students who are so generous,” Jackson-Beckham said. “My students tell me what they want or need from me or if they’re afraid or uncertain. They trust me, and that is such an act of generosity. It still kind of floors me that I have students who just come into my office, sit on my couch, and talk. That doesn’t happen in other places, and that’s one of the things that makes Randolph special.”

Jackson-Beckham’s next project is a book manuscript from her dissertation, tentatively titled The Value of a Pint: American Beer, Cultural Change, and the Stubborn Materiality of Contemporary Capitalism. She is also turning her focus to food studies research, including the examination of urban food deserts and dining services and programs at correctional facilities.