"The liberation of human attention may be the defining moral and political struggle of our time. Its success is prerequisite for the success of virtually all other struggles. We therefore have an obligation to rewire this system of intelligent, adversarial persuasion before it rewires us. Doing so requires hacking together new ways of talking and thinking about the problem..." — James Williams
Scholarly version: I research forms of attention from a qualitative-humanistic perspective and seek to proliferate our attentional agencies at the site of their emergence and time of their encounter. My writings explicate the social construction of attentions as they develop through technology, culture, and rhetorical agency. Theories and case studies from across the disciplines help me trace out distinctive dynamics of attention formation and to construct new possibilities. I am writing a book establishing the idea of attention literacy, which conceives attention rhetorically, that is, as a capacity malleable to situations, goals, and strategies. Rhetorically conceived, attention functions as a hermeneutic and heuristic to human endeavors, telling us what's happening and how to proceed. Asking "what can attention be?" reapproaches the term's definitionally-conflicted history opportunistically as a para-technology for self-fashioning experiential directedness through changing environments and indeterminate phenomena (e.g., communication, aesthesis, audience effects).
Public version: How are attentional forms constructed? What agencies do we have with it? In what ways can we “do attention better”? My research pursues these questions via a new vocabulary and method for people to gain more control to shape their types of attention to fit any given situation (especially regarding communication). We are not so “attention deficient” when we have basic attention literacy to navigate our evolving and attentionally-challenging world.
Current Book Project: Attention Literacy
A transdisciplinary methodology for answering the question, "which kind of attention am I using and which should I be using?". Enables re-engineering types of attentions to suit goals and situations, including situations and attentions that don't yet exist.
Accompanies media literacy, information literacy, and cultural literacy in designating emerging knowledges for participating in contemporary phenomena
Addresses the United Nations' call for more research on "attention literacy," a key principle for “a more conscious and intentional attention economy” that “supports our ability to consciously advance the Sustainable Development Goals”
Progresses research from my PhD dissertation, which won The Harold A. Innis Award for Outstanding Dissertation in the Field of Media Ecology, Media Ecology Association, 2017
“Silent Protests in and for the AttentionSphere,” expected in the forthcoming Silence is Dissent: The Rhetoric of Silent Protest, Lexington Books (Rowman & Littlefield), Lexington Studies in Contemporary Rhetoric Series.
“Attention Literacy as Composition Pedagogy for Multilingual Multicultural Courses,” expected in the forthcoming Write Now: Teaching First-Year Writing in the Multilingual Classroom, with NYU Abu Dhabi for SUNY Press.
Kenneth Burke’s Theory of Attention: Homo Symbolicus’ Experiential Poetics. KB Journal: The Journal of the Kenneth Burke Society, vol. 16, no. 1, 2023.
Abstract: In light of cross-disciplinary interest in rethinking the conceptions of attention and attention economy, this paper conducts an archeology of Kenneth Burke’s concepts in order to construct a theory of attention implicit in his work. First, I overview key parts of rhetorical studies highlighting calls for reexamining and developing the idea of attention. Then, I read Burke’s concepts for their implicit attentional aspects and implications. These findings are collected, listed into a glossary, and extrapolated into an account of Burkean attention, which I reframe as “symbol-formed attention” to complement and round out the reigning empirical theories of attention often borrowed from the sciences. I conclude by formalizing a rhetorical idea of attention itself: a terministic screen adaptively re-configurable to situation and strategy. This project is useful for rhetorical analyses, creative engagement with communication, and reforming attention structures via symbols.
Marshall McLuhan’s Theory of Attention: How to Become a Psychonaut. Explorations in Media Ecology, vol. 19, no. 4, 2020.
Abstract: In light of surging cross-disciplinary interest in rethinking the conceptions of attention and attention economy, this article conducts an archeology of Marshall McLuhan’s concepts in order to construct a theory of attention implicit in his media paradigm. McLuhan’s most attentional concepts are explained (such as figure/ground and cliché/archetype) and synthesized into an integrated account of his idea of attention, which I call “eco-formed attention.” It contrasts with reigning individualist and collectivist theories of attention by being constitutive, modal, dialectical, environmental, and negative-inclusive. I argue that McLuhan’s fundamental problematic of attention—concepts mismatching percepts—is solved by using eco-formed attention to become a “media psychonaut.” Four procedures are explained to illustrate psychonautic interventions in eco-formed attention. This project is useful for media-ecological analyses, creative re-engagement with media, and reforming attention within future technological changes. The article concludes by linking to several agendas in media ecology and across the humanities.
Music Performativity in the Album: Charles Mingus, Nietzschean Aesthetics, and Mental Theater. Liminalities: A Journal of Performance Studies, vol. 16, no. 3, 2020.
Abstract: This article analyzes a canonical jazz album through Nietzschean and performance studies concepts, illuminating the album as a case study of multiple performativities. I analyze Mingus’ Black Saint and the Sinner Lady as performing classical theater across the album’s images, texts, and music, and as a performance to be constructed in audiences’ minds as the sounds, texts, and visuals never simultaneously meet in the same space. Drawing upon Nietzschean aesthetics, I suggest how this performative space operates as “mental theater,” hybridizing diverse traditions and configuring distinct dynamics of aesthetic possibility. In this crossroads of jazz traditions, theater traditions, and the album format, Mingus exhibits an artistry between performing the album itself as imagined drama stage and between crafting this space’s Apollonian/Dionysian interplay in a performative understanding of aesthetics, sound, and embodiment. This case study progresses several agendas in performance studies involving music performativity, the concept of performance complex, the Dionysian, and the album as a site of performative space.
Needs and Policies: Dubai Classroom Narratives of Mobile Phones. Co-author Bradley Freeman. Global Media Journal, vol. 11, no. 2, 2019.
Abstract: This study questions the commonly assumed variables used for studying students’ rapidly changing relationships with smartphones, particularly in West Asia. To update how we think about and study cellphone use, a narrative analysis was conducted upon students’ reported cellphone experiences. Students report managing contradictions between issues of necessity, distraction, lack of control, and insufficient cultural coping, which together capture a historical moment in the tensions of culture, technology, and pedagogy that drive the dialectics of socio-cultural necessities and institutional policies. The conclusion suggests ways these findings can update the categories used to study cellphone use in classrooms.
Book’s impact: 700,000 copies sold across editions. Translated into 15 languages (2 more forthcoming). Amazon #1 Best Seller in Speech and Communications (June-August 2018-2019), 415th and 243rd for all Amazon book sales (July 2018 & 2019), and the 10th most assigned book at Harvard University.
“The Argument Lab”. Chapter co-authored with Jay Heinrichs in Thank You for Arguing. 2nd ed., New York, NY: Three Rivers Press (Penguin Random House), 2013. 42 pages. Translated into 15 languages.
Book’s impact: New York Times Education Best Seller (Summer 2015-2017) and Amazon #1 Best Seller in Speech Communications (June 2014-2017). Reviewed in Rhetoric Review, 26:4 (2007); Contemporary Argumentation & Debate, 28:1 (2007); Rhetoric Review, 28:1 (2009); Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition, and Culture, 12:3 (2012); Forensic, 100:2 (2015). Book taught in 3,500 college courses including Harvard Kennedy School of Government & Harvard Writing Program, Columbia University, New York University, and 100+ AP Language courses.
Works In Progress
The Dialog Laboratory: a Student-Centered Experiential Method for Any Discipline (expected submission to International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education)
Abstract: This essay presents a classroom innovation that creates experiential process-learning adaptable across disciplines and contexts. What I call a “dialog laboratory” revives abandoned interpersonal communication methods and adapts them to contemporary pedagogical needs. Dialog laboratories offer principles for designing student activities that 1) necessitate that individuals create knowledge rather transmit pre-constituted information, 2) foreground the reflexive dimension to inquiry, 3) collectivize the process of thinking through dialogic interactions, and 4) change students’ habitual patterns of thinking. The main source of this method comes from Gerard Egan’s Face to Face. A case study of this method is presented, which was taught 5 times by the author as two different courses at an American R1 university. The last section discusses 6 example ways that dialog laboratories can be adapted to different disciplines.
Gaming Google, Playing Its Spiders: Practicing Rhetoric Within Search Engines’ Evolving Information Ecologies.
The “Roots” of Philosophy: Metaphysical Implications of Arabic’s and English’s Grammar and Semantics. Co-author Summer Loomis.
Aristotle’s Theory of Attention in the Rhetoric: A Plurality of Means.