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Junior Michelle Vaisberg (Holland, Pa.) has realized that in the entertainment industry, image is everything. She is conducting an independent study to determine exactly how corporate and personal images are shaped.

A double major in government & law and anthropology & sociology, Vaisberg is working with David Shulman, assistant professor of anthropology and sociology, to examine image in the entertainment industry.

Shulman is coauthor of Talking Sociology, 5th edition (Allyn and Bacon) with Gary Alan Fine and is completing revisions on a second book-length manuscript, Clothing Naked Emperors: The Role of Deception in Workplace Culture. He has published his research in numerous academic journals and has articles forthcoming in The American Sociologist and Encyclopedia of Social Theory.

Vaisberg interned with the Program Content and Standards Department at NBC Studios last summer, reviewing scripts and song lyrics for Late Night with Conan O’Brien and Last Call with Carson Daly to ensure they were suitable for network television. During her internship, she observed that “individuals were forever engaging in social interaction and using it as a diagnostic tool.”

“I saw how important developing a good image is, whether for advancing a career or representing the network, and I was interested in studying how people construct those images,” says Vaisberg. “On one level, I’m studying how people develop and maintain an image for an entertainment product. I’m also researching the general importance of image in the entertainment industry, in everything from public relations to impression management in building careers.”

To reach this end, Vaisberg and Shulman are looking at sociological theories on how people and organizations construct images and manage impressions for an audience.

“Michelle is learning about different theories of impression management and conducting case studies on different aspects of the entertainment industry, from how people present themselves to get a job in the industry, to how public relations firms operate in representing their Hollywood clients,” says Shulman. “She is working on generating her own theories for how people manage image, which involves integrating existing ideas in sociological literature with her own experiences at NBC. This kind of creative synthesis is challenging work and forces students to think very creatively.”

Shulman is working with Vaisberg to determine how research and theory on image and contemporary cultural institutions apply to the entertainment industry.

“We meet to discuss regular readings, her research notes, and her continuing work on what will be a final paper.” says Shulman.

Vaisberg credits the academic environment at Lafayette, Shulman and other faculty members, and Career Services with providing her tremendous opportunities.

“Professor Shulman has helped me focus on the intellectual aspects of my independent study and has been very encouraging of my ideas,” she says. “For a project like mine, Lafayette has provided me with countless resources.”

“Michelle is a very directed, hard-working, ambitious, and smart student,” says Shulman. “She is very entrepreneurial and works hard to access great opportunities for her academic and career development. She then makes the most out of those opportunities. She has a bright future ahead of her.”

Vaisberg, who plans to pursue a career in entertainment law, will intern at NBC this spring. She is assistant membership chair of Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority.

Categorized in: Academic News