RESEARCH

past
present and
projected projects

Prospectus & Dissertation


ETA: Spring 2017

While still in its early stages, my dissertation—tentatively entitled The Medium is the Master Signifier: The Influence of Social Media on Subjective Discourse—aims to articulate the intersection of (post)structural psychoanalysis, social media ecology, and rhetorical criticism, putting into conversation the work of Lacan, McLuhan, and Davis, among a heck of a host of others. At the most basic level, my project is motivated by the question: What sort of rhetorical subjects have been called into being by this new digital media, and who has done the calling? In effect, I am interested in how the new limits of digital discourse have shifted the limits of our worlds, reformulating the rhetorical construction of subjectivity, and revaluing what counts within the symbolic of reality. Despite the many critical declarations of the death (or at least devaluing) of hegemonic social nodes, my claim is that media allowing for digital identification have taken on a mystifying importance, ideologically reasserting the importance of the subject’s place within social structure. In place of what was once the province of the Church or the State, platforms like Facebook seem to assert on contemporary culture a peculiar injunction to upload and update, confess and recite. Critical literature to date has not afforded this ideological process its due analysis, in part if not primarily because its rhetorical nature has been overlooked—a situation that my doctoral project seeks to remedy.

Digital Writing & Research Lab


As a member of the Digital Writing & Research Lab at the University of Texas-Austin, my work has explored the ways in which digital technologies have altered the production and consumption of texts—practically, pedagogically, and theoretically. Situated at the intersection of rhetoric, writing, and technology, the computer classrooms at the DWRL has allowed me to engage students’ imaginations using technology relevant to their day-to-day experience, deepening their literacy of those communication tools and the social forces surrounding them. Using my background in audio production at Berklee College of Music, I have contributed to the DWRL’s podcast, Zeugma; additionally, I have lead a group of fellow graduate students in creating the Excitable Media website, a multi-author online text that seeks to probes and pushes the rhetorical limits of social media platforms; most recently for the DWRL, I have designed an online writing tool that interrogates the archival praxis of digital composition by suppressing a computer's capacity to erase its own traces.

UT's DWRL

Zeugma | Excitable Media

Get in touch


School Office
Department of Rhetoric & Writing
The University of Texas at Austin
1 University Station, B5500
Austin, TX, 78712
P: 832.283.4329
Email
jake.cowan@utexas.edu
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