Humanities Research Center
I recently completed a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship in the Humanities Research Center at Rice University, where I organized the John E. Sawyer Seminar on “Platforms of Knowledge in a Wide Web of Worlds” and Rice Seminar on Chronotopic Imaginaries. I received my PhD from the Department of Political Science at the University of Hawaii at Manoa in May 2015. My research examines institutional treatments of taboo language (bad spelling, obscenity, profanity, and racial slurs) as a form of American nation-building in the United States. Lately, my work has focused on how digital platforms and technology companies mediate power and shape the political thought of users.
I’ve been busy working on a book manuscript titled Words without Reason: Taboo Language and the Rise of Algorithmic Governance. I am also preparing to present some of my work on Noah Webster’s spelling reform movement and new psychiatric theories of digital mental illness at the upcoming Western Political Science Association conference on March 31, 2018 and International Studies Association convention on April 4, 2018 in San Francisco.
Words Without Reason
Taboo Language and the Rise of Algorithmic Goverance
This project provides a critical map of the larger historical shift in the U.S. away from the prohibition and censorship of taboo language– from bad spelling and grammar, to obscenity, and racial slurs – towards technical methods of language control or discursive steering. For example, I show how Google SafeSearch’s algorithmic filtering processes are built upon earlier projects to “purify” American English like Noah Webster’s American Dictionary. I found that Webster, like a 19th-century spider bot crawling the Web, copied the content of copyrighted texts into his Dictionary and organized them into a searchable database.
Other examples include Webster making obscenity explicit by changing benign words into obscenities like “whoremonger” (fish seller) into “lewd women” in his censored version of The Holy Bible, judges imagining “community standards” to justify institutional regulations over George Carlin’s broadcast obscenities, and psychiatrists controlling the language of individuals with Tourette’s syndrome by treating patients’ brains as a type of rewritable media. As discourse becomes increasingly mediated by electronic devices and corporate platforms, predictive keyboards and autocomplete algorithms are now controlling expressions before they can be made. I argue that these “pre-speech” digital regulators are fundamentally altering how we decide which expressions count as legitimate political discourse and who counts as a politically eligible member of the American nation.
in The Future Internet: Alternative Visions, eds., Jenifer Winter and Ryota Ono. Springer (2015).
East-West Affairs 1, no. 4: 93-107
Journal of Futures Studies 17, no. 3 (March 2013): 145-146
(with C. Nigg) Hawai‘i Journal of Medicine & Public Health 72.3 (March 2013): 92-98.
(with H. Frey & S. Yim) Hawai’i State Office of Planning (2011).
My primary teaching objective is that students leave my class understanding how power relations organize everything from the trash getting picked up to states going to war. I accomplish this objective by combining political science methods for analyzing power with the tools students find useful for becoming engaged in their world.
The complete student evaluation surveys of my courses are publicly available on the eCafe website. In 2015, I received the Frances Davis Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, the highest teaching honor bestowed by the University of Hawaii system.