Research

My interdisciplinary research makes connections among utopian studies, happiness studies, education, pedagogy, the digital humanities, and writing studies. Below is a sample of some of my past and ongoing research interests.

Pedagogies of Happiness
My monograph (in-progress), Pedagogies of Happiness, studies well-being via the lens 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 through critical pedagogy, an approach that offers 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 and well-being interventions is also explored. 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. Included is a history of the initiative followed by a close reading of its pedagogy and rhetoric, especially as manifest in its social media presence. 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 and also shared pedagogical interventions for teaching and learning about well-being.

I have published on writing and well-being in Composition Forum (Why Well-Being, Why Now? Tracing an Alternate Genealogy of Emotions in Composition,” 2016) and on happiness apps and the quantified self in Digital Culture & Society (Unhappy? There’s an App for That: Tracking Well-Being through the Quantified Self, 2016). I am also working on an invited chapter on happiness, well-being, and utopia for an edited collection, The Handbook of Utopianism and Dystopian Literature.

Composing Resistance: Writing and Revision in Dystopian Texts
I’m also working on a study of writing in dystopian literature. Tentatively titled, Composing Resistance: Writing and Revision in Dystopian Texts, this study bridges writing studies, literary analysis, utopian studies, and social justice. Performing close reading in conversation with composition, rhetorical, and utopian theories, I demonstrate how protagonists in a variety of dystopian texts rebel rhetorically and narratively, and argue how their composing strategies are integral to developing individual consciousness-raising and social and structural change. Texts include classic dystopias such as Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We, George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, and Octavia Butler’s Parable series as well as more contemporary texts such as Lidia Yuknavitch’s recently-released Book of Joan, which uses the body as a canvas and skin grafting and burning as composition. Composing Resistance employs the concepts and methods of utopia to conceptualize and approach common composition and rhetoric concerns in new ways, and is also an essential intervention in utopian studies, which has yet to engage with writing studies in a critical, sustained way.

Utopian Studies
My research agenda includes a broader commitment to scholarship in utopian studies, as evidence by my published and in progress work. My published chapter, “Winston as ‘Sentimental Archaism’: The Role of Nostalgia in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four,” explores the roles of history, nostalgia, and memory in this dystopian novel, considering how critical engagement with the past can offer new possibilities for individual and collective resistance. My cultural studies publication, “More than Friendship: The Golden Girls as Intentional Community,” highlights the historical, social, and cultural contexts and impact of this important sitcom through the lenses of utopianism and intentional communities.

Writing Studies Tree
In addition to individual writing projects, I am a founding developer of the Writing Studies Tree (WST), a collaborative data-driven composition and rhetoric project. The WST (writingstudiestree.org) is a grant-funded, online, crowdsourced database of academic genealogies within writing studies, an interactive archive for recording and mapping scholarly relationships in composition and rhetoric and adjacent disciplines. Since its formal launch in a Featured Session at the 2012 CCCC, the tree continues to grow: there are currently over 4,500 relationships (connections) among 1,744 people and 495 institutions. With my collaborators (Benjamin Miller, Assistant Professor of English, University of Pittsburg and Amanda Licastro, Assistant Professor of Digital Rhetoric, Stevenson University) I have published a multimodal article in Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy (The Roots of an Academic Genealogy: Composing the Writing Studies Tree, 2016) that explains the motivations, design principles, uses, and research potential of the WST, and we also published on the project in REx (Research Exchange Quarterly). We are looking to cultivate the project and push it in new directions and with new collaborators, in order to redesign the WST’s interface, increase its usability, and collect and analyze additional data.

[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.