Category Archives: Research

Preview Recent Grad’s New Book


Dr. Emma Vossen successfully defended her PhD in English at UWaterloo in July; now you can preview her co-edited book, Feminism in Play, part of the Palgrave Games in Context Series. She also contributed a chapter, “The Magic Circle and Consent in Gaming Practices.” From the press:

Feminism in Play focuses on women as they are depicted in video games, as participants in games culture, and as contributors to the games industry. This volume showcases women’s resistance to the norms of games culture, as well as women’s play and creative practices both in and around the games industry. Contributors analyze the interconnections between games and the broader societal and structural issues impeding the successful inclusion of women in games and games culture. In offering this framework, this volume provides a platform to the silenced and marginalized, offering counter-narratives to the post-racial and post-gendered fantasies that so often obscure the violent context of production and consumption of games culture.

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Read all about it!

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Head on over to UWaterloo English to read our 2018 newsletter, featuring a letter from our new chair, Dr. Shelley Hulan, and updates on faculty and student achievements.

New faculty book on Eugenics, Race, and Immigration

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Congratulations to Dr. Jay Dolmage, whose new book Disabled Upon Arrival Eugenics, Immigration, and the Construction of Race and Disability has just been published by Ohio State Press. As many know, he is the Founding Editor of the Canadian Journal of Disability Studies, housed at University of Waterloo.  Reviews have described the books as “Beautifully written, sometimes almost poetic, and yet strongly argumentative. This is by far the best work on the subject of eugenics and immigration” (Susan Schweik, author of The Ugly Laws: Disability in Public). A description follows:

In North America, immigration has never been about immigration. That was true in the early twentieth century when anti-immigrant rhetoric led to draconian crackdowns on the movement of bodies, and it is true today as new measures seek to construct migrants as dangerous and undesirable. This premise forms the crux of Jay Timothy Dolmage’s new book Disabled Upon Arrival: Eugenics, Immigration, and the Construction of Race and Disability, a compelling examination of the spaces, technologies, and discourses of immigration restriction during the peak period of North American immigration in the early twentieth century.

Through careful archival research and consideration of the larger ideologies of racialization and xenophobia, Disabled Upon Arrival links anti-immigration rhetoric to eugenics—the flawed “science” of controlling human population based on racist and ableist ideas about bodily values. Dolmage casts an enlightening perspective on immigration restriction, showing how eugenic ideas about the value of bodies have never really gone away and revealing how such ideas and attitudes continue to cast groups and individuals as disabled upon arrival.

Speculative Fiction & Identity

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Congratulations to UWaterloo English’s Dr. Victoria Lamont and PhD candidate Meghan Riley, who have together received a Learning Innovation and Teaching Enhancement (LITE) Grant for the project “Changing Bodies, Changing Minds: Utilizing Speculative Fiction to Teach Intersectional and Postcolonial Theories.” The project, which runs from fall 2018 through August 2019, will “investigate innovative approaches to enhancing teaching and learning” by examining students’ awareness of the interrelated aspects of identity based on race, sex, class, and gender, as well as how discrimination is often based on multiple intersecting identity markers, through science fiction, fantasy, horror, and alternate history. The intent is to “foster deep student learning” through engaging students in a consideration of how shapeshifters – human characters who can change form and assume different races and sexes – are indicative of race and gender as social constructions. Moreover, it will pair speculative fiction literature with popular speculative fiction television, appealing to students’ interests across media and increasing the likelihood that students will use course concepts to analyze speculative fiction TV.

Image credit: Deviant Art

 

English PhD student joins GRADtalks

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Join English PhD candidate Evelyn DeShane, who will be participating in GRADtalks, an initiative of UWaterloo’s Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs. The topic is social networks, and Evelyn will be joined by Robert Gauthier, PhD Candidate, Public Health and Health Systems Faculty of Applied Health Sciences. Robert investigates how online communities are supporting sensitive topics such as addiction recovery; Evelyn studies how trans people take back narrative control through stories, films, apps, and other social networks. Evelyn’s writing has appeared in The Atlantic’s Tech Channel, Plenitude Magazine, Bitch Magazine, Briarpatch Magazine, Vitality Magazine, and The LGBTQ Policy Journal, and elsewhere. Details are below.

September 27, 2018
3:30 – talks, including question and answer
4:45 – wine and cheese
NH – Ira G. Needles Hall Room 3407 – Board and Senate Room

Registration is required.

Tips for an Academic Book Review

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It was my first week in an academic position and a colleague decided we should head to the bar for a celebratory drink. As we entered, he made an offhand remark about the scholarship of another new hire. I surprised myself by answering: “I’m tired of people slagging other people’s scholarship just because it doesn’t conform to their theoretical preoccupations.” We ordered drinks, and as my new acquaintance’s attention was claimed by undergraduates, I pondered my need to better self-edit—but also my complete lack of regret for what I had said.

Until that moment I’d never put that simmering frustration into words. But, as a principle, “don’t dismiss the work of others because it doesn’t reflect your interests” is something I’ve come to realize is fundamental to academics. It’s not just that we work in departments with those whose scholarship might be radically different from ours. Rather, as academics, we are rooted in the practices of constructively reading and reviewing the work of others, whether as supervisors, members of writing groups, peer reviewers for a journal or academic press, or book reviewers for academic journals.

After years as book review editor of an academic journal, I can attest that finding reviewers who will read books generously, thoughtfully, and with an understanding of the field can be challenging. Several editors I know have commented on the problem of the (disproportionately junior) reviewer who eviscerates a book as a means of showcasing their own critical acumen. Most often such a reviewer takes issue less with the work on its terms, than with how it doesn’t reproduce their own scholarly orientation. In the end, such a review tells you more about the reviewer than the book. In part, this is the failing of academics: we don’t always do a great job talking about producing academic book reviews. In that vein, if I had one piece of advice for new reviewers it would be: don’t dismiss the work of others because it doesn’t reflect your interests.

For those who are embarking on reviewing, think about what makes book reviews useful. At a basic level, we all want to know: what will I get from reading this book? What is it about? Following that, what is the argument, how is it constructed, what are its implications? Before picking apart a book for its weaknesses, first consider: what are the book’s strengths? I have bought books I suspected weren’t as solid, because they addressed matters or events I wanted to know more about. When you do contemplate a discussion of potential weaknesses, reflect: are they substantive or minor, and will devoting a significant portion of the review to them make you look petty?

Perversely, some people presume you have to say something explicitly negative in order for the positive things you say to be judged objective. I have a former colleague who believes this about letters of reference for undergraduate students as well as PhDs on the job market. Let me be clear: this is bad advice for writers of letters of reference and it is bad advice for writers of academic book reviews. If you think there is a glaring weakness that deserves to be addressed, do not go for the jugular or release your inner snark: depending on the concern, either state it clearly, or find a way to signal it to your reader. For instance, the statement “the author is less concerned with the scholarly revelations of the last twenty years, instead focusing on the close reading of variations between the first and second editions” can convey volumes in the right context.

For those embarking on their first academic book review—or even those squeezing in a review and needing to organize their ideas—here are a list of questions to consider. A good book review need not address all of these or even the majority; but the attentive reading required to produce a decent review does mean that the reviewer should have a handle on them. Remember: in the end, a good academic review in a scholarly journal doesn’t summarize, it considers; it doesn’t eviscerate, it responds. If you have doubts about your approach—even if you don’t—consult a few issues of the journal you are writing for, and ensure you are matching their goals.

  • What is the book about? Does it cover an area that has been neglected?
  • What is the author’s theoretical and/or methodological framework?
  • Does the author introduce a new framework or perspective?
  • How does the author engage previous scholarship? Is the book indebted to particular authors, works, or trends?
  • Is the research and approach suitable given the subject?
  • Does the author mine neglected or underutilized sources?
  • Is scholarship or insight produced by other disciplines utilized? If so, how, and is it successful?
  • Is the research current?
  • What does the book add to the existing scholarly conversation?
  • Is it successful? Does it do what it sets out to do?
  • Are there potentially controversial moves? Is it provocative?
  • Is this work timely in relation to the field and/or current events?
  • Does it lay the groundwork for future scholarship? How?
  • Is there something in the book that brought you joy? Or that you wanted to emulate in your own scholarship? Or made you see something differently?
  • Is the structure logical? Stylistically, does it flow? Is the language appropriate?
  • Are there useful appendices, images, or visual aids?
  • Who would be interested in the scholarship or find it useful? Disciplinary specialists? Armchair scholars? Local history societies? Literary groups? Fan communities?
  • Is it teachable? Are there portions that would be useful readings in courses? Would graduate students benefit from reading it?
  • Does it feel as if it will stand up?
  • Can you think of one thing that might have substantially strengthened the work?

Image credit: Ten Academic Books that Changed the World

Welcoming Dr. Heather Love to English

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Welcoming yet another new colleague makes me feel as if UWaterloo English is basking in an embarrassment of riches. Except–and I looked this up, because I am in English after all–the phrase “embarrassment of riches” also implies that we have more than we know what to do with, and nothing can be further from the truth. We are excited to welcome Dr. Heather Love precisely because we can’t wait to draw on her exciting scholarship, breadth of experience, and far-reaching knowledge, and have already anticipated any number of ways her presence will enrich our program. Read the Words in Place interview with Dr. Love below to find out more.

JLH: Welcome to UWaterloo. This will be a return to Canada for you–what are you most looking forward to?
HL: I am absolutely delighted to be back in Canada! As for the things I’m looking forward to, a whole bucket list comes to mind: from universal health care to being able to look into my wallet and tell my bills apart at a glance, and from the 12- (rather than 15-) week semesters to the fact that I won’t face blank stares from students when I pronounce words like “advertisement” and “process” the Canadian way. After three years on the wind-swept plains of South Dakota—which certainly have a beauty all their own—it’s been great to start exploring canoeing, hiking, and camping available around Waterloo. And I’m very excited to be part of a department that boasts such a diverse range of approaches to English through its three “streams” of study and its co-op opportunities.

I confess that I am also happy to be back in the land of hockey – I’ve played in recreational leagues since I was 12, and coached kids’ teams for the past 10 years or so, and while I was fortunate to find some really wonderful communities at the small hockey programs that were available in South Dakota and Indiana, it was certainly not the “#1 sport” in those areas that it is in Canada. As a Vancouver Canucks fan, I expect to be in the minority here; however, after a decade of standing out in my maple leaf gear in rooms full of die-hard “stars and stripes” fans during various world championship and Olympics match-ups, I think I can handle the heckling.

JLH: You were hired for a position in Science, Culture, and Literature. Can you tell us about your research in this area?
HL: Certainly. My research is grounded in the analysis of experimental early twentieth-century modernist literature, and I like to bring that literature into dialogue with ideas from fields like science and technology studies. My current book, for instance, works across these disciplinary lines by inviting readers to consider a network of concerns about and approaches to information that developed during the first half of the twentieth century. As the project has come together, I’ve been charting a variety of ways in which modernist authors became part of a broader historical phenomenon: the emergence of what I label “cybernetic thinking,” which was taking shape in the decades leading up to World War II.

During these years, an influx of media across multiple platforms—print culture, sound reproduction and transmission, cinema, and more—in tandem with a quickly evolving field of communication-technology capabilities made it necessary for people to confront and devise tactics for navigating larger quantities of information than ever before; they were required, we can say in retrospect, to think cybernetically. The field of cybernetics is most often associated with mid-twentieth-century technologies that mobilize data for statistical prediction, and with folks like the MIT mathematician Norbert Wiener, Bell Laboratories engineer Claude Shannon, and psychiatrist W. Ross Ashby. I’m proposing that modernists like James Joyce, Sophie Treadwell, Ezra Pound, John Dos Passos, Gertrude Stein, and Virginia Woolf also engaged with and contributed to this emerging way of thinking—and that they did so through the experimental aesthetic strategies they developed in response to their increasingly data-saturated world.

With the completion of this book on the horizon, I have also started thinking about a new project that continues my interest in this interdisciplinary “triad,” but shifts slightly to focus on modernist literature’s engagements with twentieth-century medical technology. I am particularly interested in the ways that authors incorporate references to medical innovation in order to show how these scientific discourses are implicated in hierarchies of race, gender, and ability. Hopefully that offers a bit of a glimpse into the ways that I approach the intersecting, overlapping space of “Science, Culture, and Literature” as a researcher!

JLH: You have an interesting relationship with IEEE (Institute of Electric and Electronics Engineers). How did that come about?
HL: Yes – unusual as it may seem for a scholar of literature, I serve on the Board of Governors for the IEEE’s Society on Social Implications of Technology (SSIT), and I’ve volunteered with the organization for several years in various capacities that include producing a monthly newsletter for members, organizing and presenting at conferences, and editing special issues of the IEEE Technology and Society Magazine (T&S).

My affiliation with this group came about through a conference on “Norbert Wiener in the 21st Century” (21CW) back in June 2014, which the SSIT was hosting in Boston. The organizers decided to convene a group of academics and professionals for discussions, panels, and plenary talks focused on the various ways Wiener’s legacy continues in the present. I was working at the time on a chapter focused on Ezra Pound and cybernetic feedback loops, and part of the argument was that we might learn new ways of navigating our present-day world of information and data if we looked back at the cultural prehistory to Wiener’s cybernetics work. I didn’t know anything about the SSIT or the IEEE, but I thought, “why not apply?” The paper was accepted for inclusion in the conference program, so off I went to Boston.

At the event, I was delighted to meet a welcoming group of folks who hailed from a range of engineering programs and professional careers, or who had disciplinary homes in mathematics and the social sciences. They were excited to hear that a person from the humanities was interested in Wiener’s work and cybernetics’ ongoing cultural influence, and I was happy to see how much they were focused on the ethical and social dimensions of technological development. After the conference, I contacted the SSIT president to express an interest in future 21CW events, and was invited to join a team of guest editors to oversee a special issue of T&S based on the Boston presentations, and to help organize a 2016 follow-up conference on Wiener’s legacy. I’ve been involved with the organization ever since, and I look forward to mobilizing that connection to the engineering world in ways that can benefit my students here at U Waterloo.

JLH: What kinds of texts might students expect to study in your classes?
HL: The balance between different types of reading will vary, of course, depending on the focus of a particular class. In general, though, my commitment to interdisciplinarity filters into my courses through their mixture of (a) literary texts that draw from both canonical and lesser-known authors, and (b) texts that come from complementary disciplines (e.g. cybernetics theory by Norbert Wiener and Ross Ashby in a course on “Literature and Information Management”; explanations of narrative medicine by Rita Charon and New York Times articles on “Living with Cancer” by Susan Gubar in a course on “Literature and Medicine”). In addition, students in my graduate seminars can expect to encounter and work closely with a range of scholarly texts that include articles and monograph chapters; I find that these types of readings not only offer various interpretations of and approaches to the literature we’re studying, but also provide jumping-off points for discussions about models of academic writing that students can strive to emulate (or avoid at all costs!) as they cultivate their own voices within the critical conversations that are happening in their chosen fields of study.

JLH: Finally–because I often ask–what are you reading for fun?
HL: It’s been an interesting summer for me, in terms of reading. I’m usually a “one book at a time” kind of person, but during these past few months of moving and road tripping and settling into a new home, community, and job, I seem to perpetually have three or four books on the go on any given day…

For slightly work-related purposes, I’ve been making my way through several popular press books on the history of cybernetics, computers, and information culture – these include George Dyson’s extremely detailed account of the development of computer technology, Turing’s Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe (2012); Tessa Dunlop’s more anecdotal “collective memoir,” The Bletchley Girls: War, Secrecy, Love and Loss: The Women of Bletchley Park Tell their Story (2015); Pedro Domingos’s rather techno-utopic tour through various approaches to machine learning, The Master Algorithm: How the Quest for the Ultimate Learning Machine Will Remake Our World (2015), and Thomas Rid’s Rise of the Machines: The Lost History of Cybernetics (2016).

When I need a break from the non-fiction, I’ve been turning to Young Adult fantasy and speculative fiction. Most recently, I’ve picked up Ursula K. LeGuin’s Earthsea series, and earlier in the summer, in honour of my upcoming return to Canada, I read Cherie Dimaline’s The Marrow Thieves (a 2018 “Canada Reads” selection), which I highly recommend.

 

And finally, since I’ll be having a baby in about a month (!), I’ve been combing through various pregnancy and parenting books. I’m pretty sure that no amount of reading can fully prepare a person for this new kind of adventure, but I figure it can’t hurt either.