Research

My interdisciplinary research makes connections among writing studies, utopian studies, happiness studies, and the digital humanities.

My monograph, Pedagogies of Happiness studies the incredibly popular school of positive psychology and its pedagogical instantiation, positive education. Positive psychology, “the science of happiness,” attempts to cultivate individual well-being and then shape it into political, socio-economic, and educational policies. Grounded in positive psychology, positive education has a series of core concepts being deployed to shape learning outcomes in the military, in K-12, and in higher education. This project explores positive education’s version of the happy individual and good society, highlighting its potential impact not only in educating our students but also in the more ambiguous but arguably more consequential work of “educating desire,” to use Miguel Abensour’s term.

The book’s Introduction, Understanding Happiness: Why Well-Being Matters demonstrates the conceptual and rhetorical overlap between utopia and positive psychology, and how positive psychology exploits the rhetoric of utopia in order to present itself as radically transformative and in the interest of the public good, even it preserves the status quo. This section also introduces utopia as method, a structured and multi-layered approach of analysis. Chapter 1, Selling Happiness: Parsing the Promises and Problems of Self-Help analyzes the genre of self-help through its ideology, rhetoric, and pedagogy and performs a close reading of recent, popular self-help franchises and series. Chapter 2, Institutionalizing Happiness: Positive Psychology, Politics, and Policy familiarizes readers with the origins, global expansion, and applications of positive psychology and then examines its ideology and rhetoric, an important site of inquiry into the field’s “discursive and political labor.”[1] Chapter 3, Teaching Happiness: The Pedagogy of Positive Education[2] brings positive psychology research and practices to classrooms, schools, and other educational contexts. This section introduce ethical and political dimensions to contemporary debates about positive education by contrasting it with critical pedagogy, which allows for a fuller account of human flourishing, one attentive to inequality, social reform, and the material conditions of students’ existence. The role of writing within positive education is also discussed here. Chapter 4, Radicalizing Happiness: Humanization, Hope, and the Utopian Impulse examines the thematization and operationalization of “hope” (or optimism, future-mindedness, future orientation) within positive psychology’s character education framework in conversation with the use of radical hope in utopian studies. Chapter 5, “Drafting: Happiness: The Rhetoric of Resiliency in the United States Army presents a high stake, real-world positive education application with far-reaching political and social consequences: the U.S. Army’s initiatives to decrease Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and increase resiliency and well-being in soldiers and their families. A close reading of the pedagogy and rhetoric (especially via social media) of initiative follows. Chapter 6, Digitizing Happiness: Building the Good Life from Happy Data[3] explores “positive computing” (what I term “digital happiness”), which is uses technology to “disseminate flourishing massively.”[4] Subjecting qualitative phenomena to quantitative analysis, digital happiness initiatives track and triangulate individual internal emotional states, networked virtual data and connections, and real social relations and policies. I use the lens of critical data studies to investigate digital happiness aims and methods for creating both the happy individual and the good society in the image of (and from the) raw data of individuals’ emotions. The project’s Conclusion, Growing the “Happiness Archive”: Transformative Pedagogies of Possibility moves from leveling critiques to envisioning alternatives, in light of writing studies, critical pedagogy, and utopian studies.

[1] Yen, Jeffrey. 2010. “Authorizing Happiness: Rhetorical Demarcation of Science and Society in Historical Narratives of Positive Psychology.” Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology 30 (2): 67–78. 76.

[2] Sections of this chapter, on writing and well-being, are published in Composition Forum.

[3] Sections of this chapter, on “happiness apps” and the quantified self, are published in Digital Culture & Society. My work on “digital happiness” was also presented at the Digital Humanities Conference, and selected as a finalist for the Paul Fortier Prize.

[4] Seligman, Martin E. P. 2004. Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being. Free Press. 94.