Research Areas

Throughout its history, the DWRL has had a persistent commitment to accessibility. Following in the footsteps of former lab director John Slatin, who played a key role in making the Internet more accessible to people with disabilities, DWRL staffers in this research area work with a broad definition of “accessibility” as they investigate and experiment with technologies designed to make digital spaces more open, usable, and accessible.
Over the last few years, “big data” has become a big deal. From election predictions to controversial surveillance programs, and from forms of data visualization to research in rhetoric and the humanities, digital data is being tracked, gathered, and deployed in unprecedented ways. In addition to the “big data” trend, more focused and targeted approaches to data have also garnered attention. Staffers working in the Digital Data research area consider the rhetorical dimensions of data as they analyze and generate data-centric projects on a variety of scales.
Staffers working in the Devices research area focus on experimenting with discrete artifacts, exploring the affordances of these materials within the lab’s mission. These artifacts range from what are now considered mundane technologies (e.g., keyboards, smartphones, tablets) to 3D printers, microprocessors and microcomputers, virtual reality devices and software, and so on. The lab is committed to developing staffers’ expertise with both software and hardware. Toward that end, the Devices area pushes at the boundaries of staffers’ relationships with the material side of digital technologies.
Archival theories and practices have long been central to scholarship on rhetorical history. With the emergence of technologies in digital archiving, however, and as rhetorical scholars have become involved in the construction of digital archives and exhibits, we increasingly recognize archives themselves as rhetorical entities. Staff members working in the Digital Archiving research area explore the technological, pedagogical and theoretical implications of such “rhetorical archives.” They will pose a range of questions, including: How do archives make arguments? How can digital archives help make materials accessible for people with disabilities? What resources can digital archives provide to activist rhetorics? What is the relationship of the archive to ideas of futurity, and how does thinking about the future shape the structure and content of digital archives?
Digital games are always laden with values: they make assumptions about players’ bodies and beliefs as well as race, gender, class, sexuality, and ability. Games invite their players to identify with these assumptions in order to succeed. But players can also resist a game’s procedural rhetorics, sometimes learning more from the resulting friction than from winning. In the Games research area, staff members consider how these frictions may represent useful sites of research and pedagogy for digital rhetoricians. Researchers in this area not only look at and write about games, but also investigate and experiment with technologies that allow students and researchers to create games. In so doing, staff members in this area consider games as technologies of composition and investigate the uses of these technologies for undergraduate students, digital activists, teachers of rhetoric and writing, and advanced researchers in the field.
Locative media is spatial rhetoric’s digital turn—or, thinking spatially, the digital end of the spatial rhetorics spectrum. With the rise of location-aware technologies and media forms, online and geographic worlds have converged: our online worlds move with us through geographic space thanks to web-capable mobile devices, while ever-more fine-grained geographic data becomes an integral part of online texts and networks. Data is enriched by its association with place and space, and places are augmented with layers of information and sensory experience. Staffers working in the DWRL’s Locative Media research area track and analyze the rhetorical practices, effects, and potentials associated with locative media, continuing the DWRL’s long history of research in spatial rhetorics.
The Multimodal Writing research area is founded on the assumption that all writing is already multimodal—even traditional or analog writing. “Multimodal writing,” then, is not simply the practice of remediating text or supplementing it with additional media; rather, the DWRL sees “multimodality” as being at the core of writing itself—a potential site of interaction between analog and digital writing technologies and between human and nonhuman actors. In this research area, DWRL staffers explore the multiple “modes” of traditional composition and consider how these modes are shaping or could shape the practice and pedagogy of digital rhetorics. To this end, researchers in this area will ask, for example: “How can I use familiar modes of composing to familiarize (or, perhaps more interestingly, defamiliarize) digital composition practices? How can digital modes of composition help expose the essentially multimodal character of writing in general?”
In recent years, social media websites have become increasingly popular venues for rhetorical exchange as well as social and political engagement. They have also attracted the attention of teachers and researchers interested in writing in digital environments. While social media’s pedagogical and scholarly value remains an open question, its influence on students, politics, and networked relationships is undeniable; indeed, the state of and approaches to discourse around free speech, race, feminism, and digital spaces would not be what they are without social media. Staff members in the DWRL’s Social Media research area consider a wide range of social media platforms and uses from activist to avant garde, political to pedagogical, global to hyperlocal. They both look at and participate in social media, building tools for use in social media environments and developing novel approaches to those environments.