Upon arriving at Auburn Montgomery, my research agenda focused on the use of digital writing/rhetoric in classrooms and communities. As I used technology in my composition classes the first year, however, I noticed a trend among my writing students: they enjoyed working with their hands as much as with screens. This observation made me more aware of material and physical tools that influence a writer. I also received several comments on student evaluations that expressed frustration at the multiple demands made on them to write in Tumblr, Blackboard, Twitter, and WordPress. Students seemed to confront an oversaturation with the digital that made them apathetic to its affordances.
My research still focuses occasionally on digital rhetoric, as my publications with Technoculture and Transformative Works and Cultures illustrate, but now I focus more frequently on material rhetoric(s) in classrooms, popular culture (see Journal of Multimodal Rhetorics), and communities. When I use the word material, I refer to physical tools and spaces that surround and contextualize our work on screens. In essence, I study the things writers use to create, write, and record their work both now and in past eras. I also challenge the idea of the “digital native” who is only interested in screens. Instead I study the moments in which students, teachers, and communities compose with analog technology.
One example I continually return to the audition scene in the film Pitch Perfect where Beca, the protagonist, beats a specific rhythm on the floor with a plastic cup. Her choice is significant because Beca is usually seen behind a laptop, mixing multiple layers of tracks on a digital platform. Once stripped of her usual technological equipment, she demonstrates her adaptability to a new circumstance (see Studies in Popular Culture). Students today need similar opportunities to prove their adaptability to both low and high tech environments.
In terms of rhetoric, I explore how such things act persuasively in different situations and how they might influence us. For example, I am interested in those moments when a leader chooses to write on a whiteboard rather than use a screen to communicate to large groups of people. I look closely at how artifacts like children’s drawings or handwritten medical records reveal the ideology of a particular moment in time (see articles in Present Tense and Journal of American Culture).
This study of tools, texts, and spaces means that I also build interdisciplinary connections frequently in my work. I enjoy finding links between the different branches of English studies: my article in Pedagogy on connections between the rhetoric of Judith Butler’s theory and the skills taught in the textbook They Say/I Say demonstrate this characteristic. Philosophy, sociology, and communication are also fields that influence my publications. Like Derek Owens suggests in Composition and Sustainability, I argue that we must dissolve boundaries among and across disciplines in order to solve some of the world’s most pressing problems.