Media and Communication Ph.D. Dissertations


Toward a Better Understanding of Social Enterprises: A Critical Ethnography of a TOMS Campus Club

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Media and Communication

First Advisor

Radhika Gajjala (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Barbara Bergstrom (Other)

Third Advisor

Alberto Gonzalez (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Kate Magsamen-Conrad (Committee Member)


This dissertation explores the lived experiences of Millennials organizing around a social enterprise. It details critical ethnographic methods that include 12 in-depth interviews, and participation and observation for nearly three years of a TOMS shoe company campus club in Northwest Ohio. Visual analysis, political economy, and audience engagement add to a cultural studies perspective that frames this study. Grounded theory principles inform analyses and reveal that the organizing efforts of these particular Millennials involve three processes: living precarity, living affect, and making a local place from a global space. The processes intersect continually yet are distinguishable by various themes that influence a Millennial organizing experience. Laboring as an entrepreneur, laboring in servant leadership, doing charity, and defining needy, work throughout and within club communication in ways that affect members’ meaning-making about the club and the TOMS corporation. This research helps define the Millennial experience with one social enterprise in an effort to better understand Millennials and social enterprises in general.