My research is focused on the impact of new communications technologies on cultural rhetorics and identity formation. Because so much of communicative media in the 21st century is steeped in emotional appeals, my work necessarily invokes affect theory to understand both the role of emotion within rhetoric and how emotions themselves are transferred, but also how affect and emotion can be understood as supporting and affecting our perception of identity. In the shift toward what Gregory L. Ulmer terms “electracy”—a type of digital literacy that works alongside traditional alphabetic literacy to make communication in a networked world possible—identity becomes an important touchstone for rhetorical appeals. My research is interested in studying the ways that identity, and its associated affects, acts as a filter for perception.
My work adheres to a model of “knowing, doing, making,” wherein research and writing leads to the creation of a digital artifact, which in turn leads to the teaching of that subject in a combination of theory and practice. I believe that, because my research is so heavily invested in current events and in the digital sphere, it is not enough for me to merely critique existing works and structures, but to build alternatives in their place. Several of my existing publications revolve around this idea, whether the artifact produced is a digital resource for teaching, a video game, or a video essay.
My commitment to a transdisciplinary model of research and publication can be seen clearly in my dissertation, which I am currently in the process of revising into a book, Affective Gaming: Rhetoric, Race, and Video Games. In the book, I use various sources to build a theory of identity that is attentive to affect. I begin with a consideration of affect, using the work of Gilles Deleuze, Brian Massumi, Sara Ahmed, among others, as a starting point for understanding how affects impact emotion, and how emotions might be transferred from person to person. I analyze existing video game structures to find ways that they too transfer affect to a player. To make this connection, I depend on studies of games’ motivational potential led by scholars such as Richard M. Ryan and Scott Rigby, and Miguel Sicart. Games provoke emotions in their players, and the book then turns toward a study of identity formation, using sources as diverse as Kenneth Burke, Gloria Anzaldua, and Sylvia Wynter, in order to understand the way that games impact our own processes of identity formation, as well as our perceptions of other people. The final step in the book is to take all of this and read it across game design. I rely on game designers such as Anna Anthropy, Jesse Schell, Brenda Romero, and Elizabeth LaPensée to build a theory of what I term “affective” game designed attuned to games’ ability to provoke emotion and so influence identities. The book (and dissertation) is accompanied by a game, Codex Switch, which is fully explored in the final chapter of the book. This game uses a story of my own upbringing and struggle to cope with a multiracial identity, told through Aztec and Chicano imagery. My goal in revising the book and expanding the game’s design is to send out book proposals to publishers by the end of the Fall 2019 semester, targeting first MIT Press and then University of Michigan Press, followed by others if necessary.
My interest in digital representations of race and whiteness also extends into the realm of public rhetorics. I have previously published two peer-reviewed articles on this topic, one examining the role of such representations in a democratic public sphere and the role of affect therein, and another that sought a pedagogical means to approach what is known now as “post-truth.” In the immediate future, once I have finished my current book project, I intend to continue down this line of inquiry, writing two articles on the issue of identity and whiteness. The first, “Everything Old is New: Situating Affect and New Rhetorics in a Post-truth Era,” will trace the role of Burkean Identification and Massumi’s idea of a field of affects to articulate the role of affective transfer in our current political public sphere. The second, “White Grievance: Modern Internet Manifestos as Technical Genre,” would examine the way that modern manifestos are written, particularly those posted to 8chan and other online sites, wherein lone actors carry out terror attacks and leave manifestos that serve as both inspiration and guidelines for other shooters. I intend to parley this research into my second book project that will trace the role of atemporality in current models of identity formation in online spaces, and the ways that the lack of a meta-narrative of history has led to more extremism as individuals must situate themselves within a fractured public sphere. The book will also argue for ways forward in light of this shift in apparatus and attempt to find better alternatives to the loss of meta-narratives Lyotard identifies as the post-modern condition, a loss we still grapple with today.