Category Archives: Research

Dr. McMurry and the Rhetoric of Climate Change Denial

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English’s Dr. Andrew McMurry’s research on climate change and denial is the subject of a Waterloo Stories profile. As Elizabeth Rogers writes:

It’s easy to spot traditional climate change denial. Just read the comments on social media or comments from public officials. Deniers say it’s a hoax, a cash grab or a natural process. They’re wrong.

Most data suggests that all but a handful of Canadians accept that human behaviour impacts the climate. But that doesn’t mean we’re past climate denial. According to University of Waterloo environmental humanities professor Andrew McMurry, we’re eager to accept that something bad is happening, but are in denial about what’s actually threatening us and that we need difficult transformative action to beat climate catastrophe.

“Our failure to act could be a rhetorical problem,” argues the author of Entertaining Futility: Despair and Hope in the Time of Climate Change. McMurry, who has a background in biology and a long-held interest in conservation, examines how language, narrative and cultural tradition shape our beliefs and understanding about the environment.

And it’s never been more crucial. Nearly everything we do — the food we eat, the goods and services we rely on — produces greenhouse gases. Trying to fix this problem requires a top-down reordering of how we live, especially how we produce and consume energy.

So why aren’t we doing it?

For more see: “Are we all a little guilty of denying climate change?”


New Book from Dr. Ken Hirschkop

Cover of Linguistic Turns
Congratulations to UWaterloo English’s Dr. Ken Hirschkop, whose book Linguistic Turns, 1890-1950 Writing on Language as Social Theory, has just been released by Oxford University Press. As the press writes:

Linguistic Turns rewrites the intellectual and cultural history of early twentieth-century Europe. In chapters that study the work of Saussure, Russell, Wittgenstein, Bakhtin, Benjamin, Cassirer, Shklovskii, the Russian Futurists, Ogden and Richards, Sorel, Gramsci, and others, it shows how European intellectuals came to invest ‘language’ with extraordinary force, at a time when the social and political order of the continent was itself in question. By examining linguistic turns in concert rather than in isolation, the volume changes the way we see them—no longer simply as moves in individual disciplines, but as elements of a larger constellation, held together by common concerns and anxieties. In a series of detailed readings, the volume reveals how each linguistic turn invested ‘language as such’ with powers that could redeem not just individual disciplines but Europe itself. It shows how, in the hands of different writers, language becomes a model of social and political order, a tool guaranteeing analytical precision, a vehicle of dynamic change, a storehouse of mythical collective energy, a template for civil society, and an image of justice itself. By detailing the force linguistic turns attribute to language, and the way in which they contrast ‘language as such’ with actual language, the volume dissects the investments made in words and sentences and the visions behind them. The constellation of linguistic turns is explored as an intellectual event in its own right and as the pursuit of social theory by other means.

An Award for Dr. Veronica Austen

Congratulations to Dr. Veronica Austen, who won a SSHRC Insight Development Grant (2018) for her project “Artful (Un)Belonging: Expressing Racialization through the Visual Arts in Contemporary Canadian Literature.”  As she writes in her proposal:

This project will examine how contemporary Canadian literature (CanLit) conceptualizes experiences of racialization and (un)belonging through reference to and the incorporation of the visual arts. By examining contemporary Canadian literary texts that either include the visual arts (paintings, drawings, photographs) or narrate the experience and/or creation of visual art, I place visual and verbal communication in relation to each other. In doing so, I will interpret representations of the visual arts as expressions of previously silenced histories; of loss, trauma, and the pursuit of healing; and of experiences of hypervisibility/invisibility. This project will thereby ask how visually artistic expression can be an alternative mode of communication that “speaks” what words cannot. In other words, I position literary texts that address or use the visual arts as creating a discourse of dissent that offers a particularly effective means of critiquing cultural codes. This is a form of literature that explores the efficacies of showing rather than just telling. By focussing on texts that confront experiences of racialization, this project will query constructions of (un)belonging and thereby contribute new insight regarding Canada’s multicultural/transnational metanarratives.

Image credit: Fireworks by Jinta Hirayama


New Book on Citizen Science from Faculty


Congratulations to English’s Dr. Ashley Rose Mehlenbacher on the publication of her book Science Communication Online: Engaging Experts and Publics on the Internet.

Bringing together genre studies and the rhetoric of science, Mehlenbacher examines a range of new forms of science communication that challenge traditional presumptions about experts and nonexperts—including Twitter and Reddit AMAs, crowdfunding proposals such as Kickstarter and, civic-minded databases such as Safecast, and the PLOS blogging network. Science Communication Online illustrates the unique features of these genres and connects them to their rhetorical functions and the larger context leading to their emergence and evolution—from the democratization of science, challenges to expertise and expert status, and new political economies. Science Communication Online captures the important moment we find ourselves in now—one not defined by science and society but science in society.

Science Communication Online is a novel and thoroughgoing exploration of trans-scientific genres. The analyses presented provide a critical snapshot of the emerging digital scientific communication landscape. I fully expect the book to serve as an important touchstone for future scholarship on trans-scientific genres.” —S. Scott Graham, University of Texas at Austin

“Mehlenbacher’s insights on trans-scientific genres—genres in-between the professional and popularizing genres of scientific communication, such as crowdfunding sites, open databases, and blogs—expand our understanding of both genre-ing activity (how genres coalesce, evolve, and work) and the emerging ways scientists communicate in online spaces.” —Jonathan Buehl

Science Communication Online: Engaging Experts and Publics on the Internet was published by The Ohio State University Press (, and is available from major retailers. An open access copy under a Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND license is also available from OSUP, and you can download a copy here:


Attention X-Men Fans! Or, why is Neil Gaiman tweeting a UW researcher?

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In case you missed it, last month beloved author Neil Gaiman tweeted about a UWaterloo research project by UWaterloo English faculty and PhD alumnus Dr. Andrew Deman. Gaiman shared a recent article in Salon (and picked up elsewhere) in which Andrew Deman discussed some of his recent research. Now Dr. Deman has received a SSHRC Insight Development grant to further that research. So what was Gaiman so excited to share?

Well, fans of comics will know that the record for the longest run as a single writer on an American comic book title is held by Chris Claremont, author of the Uncanny X-Men for sixteen years. Dr. Andrew Deman is studying just what this has meant. His research project is titled Counting Claremont: Sexuality, Subversion and Symbolic Capital in Comics’ Longest Single-Author Run. The project deliverables include two media articles, four conference presentations, a book proposal, and a website.

Currently there are four UWaterloo research assistants working on amassing data: Rebeccah Redden, Sabrina Wasserman, Tristan Chen, and Lauryn Watters. The project uses quantitative content analysis to build an expansive data set which tracks the progressive representations of female characters, the kind of long-continuity storylines that we now see in binge-worthy television, and character melodrama. The data will be made available to other scholars via a website that launches next month.

The Nature of the Experiment: A Workshop

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On Monday, April 8th, the UWaterloo English department is co-sponsoring an all-day conference on the nature of the experiment, examining what it means to experiment across a broad spectrum of fields. English faculty members Dr. Fraser Easton and Dr. John Savarese will be participating, along with cross-appointed faculty member Dr. Alice Kuzniar and English PhD candidate Jason Lajoie. The program is available online.


Mary Shelley’s famous invocation of human experimentation gone wrong is more than 200 years old, but remains as vibrant an analysis of the human implication of scientific insight as it did when it was first published; perhaps more so in an age on the verge of breakthroughs in both AI and bioengineering.  This conference will approach the intersections of intelligence, life, and the human from a unique perspective, through the concept and practice of the “experiment,” both today and in the past.

Since the incorporation of the Royal Society in the 1660s, the experiment has been a central locus of both knowledge creation and design in our cultures and societies.  Poets, engineers, scholars, entrepreneurs, and scientists all conduct experiments, and have done so for centuries.  Today, experiment embraces information and data in new ways to create a host of new devices and vehicles.  In this era of emerging AI, it is timely to ask practitioners in all these fields to reflect on what it means to “experiment.”

Sponsored by the Waterloo Centre for German Studies, Faculty of Arts, Department of Philosophy, and Department of English Language and Literature.

This is a free event and open to all, but we do ask that you RSVP.

Image by Katy Horan from Literary Witches.

Congratulations to Dr. Lai-Tze Fan!

Congratulations to Dr. Lai-Tze Fan, who has received a UW-SSHRC Explore Seed Grant for her research project Unseen Hands: A Material History of Women and Technoculture in 20th/21st C Writing Machines. The funding also facilitates the hiring of a UWaterloo research assistant.