Rex Troumbley

Humanities Research Center
Rice University

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About Me…

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.

Most Recently…

I’ve been busy working on a book manuscript titled Words without Reason: Taboo Language and the Rise of Algorithmic Governance. I also presented my latest work on the aesthetics of obscene comedy at the American Political Science Association conference in Philadelphia, and my work on viral mental illnesses at the Association of Internet Research conference in Berlin and Association for Political Theory conference in Columbus, Ohio.

Research

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.

Publications

Teaching

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. 

Course Syllabi

Student Evaluations

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.

Curriculum Vitae

  • 2015-2017  Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow, Humanities Research Center, Rice University

  • Ph.D.          Political Science, University of Hawaii at Manoa, May 2015

    Dissertation: Taboo Language and the Politics of American Cultural Governance

    Committee: Debora Halbert (Chair), Michael J. Shapiro, James Allen Dator, Manfred Henningsen, Jenifer Winter

     

    M.A.          Political Science, University of Hawaii at Manoa, May 2011

    B.A.           Government, Eastern Washington University, June 2008

  • Peer Reviewed Journal Articles

    2014

    Colonization.com—Empire Building for a New Digital Age. East-West Affairs 1, no. 4: 93-107

    2013

    Bad Language: Emerging Issues in Electronic Discourse. Journal of Futures Studies 17, no. 3: 145-146

    2013

    Recent Trends in Adolescent Alcohol Use in Hawai‘i: 2005-2011. Hawai‘i Journal of Medicine & Public Health 72.3: 92-98. (with Claudio Nigg)

    Chapters in Edited Volumes

    2015

    Coercive Cyberspaces and Governing Internet Futures in The Future Internet: Alternative Visions, eds., Jenifer Winter and Ryota Ono. Springer.

    2013

    Flying Past Filters and Firewalls, in Internet Monitor 2013: Reflections on the Digital World, Urs Gasser and Robert Faris et al., eds., Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University.  *Featured in Slate Magazine’s Future Tense  http://perma.cc/W4LS-7YS3

    Other Publications

    2012

    Poverty 2039: Exercises in Pro-Poor Foresight. Rockefeller Foundation and Institute for Alternative Futures Pro-Poor Initiative. (with Heather Frey) http://perma.cc/MF7D-SBDR

    2011

    Hawaii 2060: Visioning Hawaii’s Adaptation to Climate Change. Hawaii State Office of Planning. (with Scott Yim and Heather Frey) http://perma.cc/E3K8-8AS5

  • 2015-2017

    Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow, Humanities Research Center, Rice University

    2015

    Frances Davis Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, UHM

    2014-2015

    Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship, Research Corporation of the University of Hawaii

    2014-2015

    Graduate Fellowship, Scholars Strategy Network

    2011-2015

    Graduate Teaching Assistantship, Department of Political Science, UHM

    2014

    Harry Friedman Award for the Best Paper in Political Science, UHM

    2013

    Jorge Fernandes Memorial Award for Outstanding Research, UHM

    2012

    Glendon & James  Schubert Political Science Endowed Scholarship, UHM

    2011

    Pro-Poor Economic Foresight Award, Rockefeller Foundation

    2011

    Graduate Research Fellowship, Department of Public Health Sciences, UHM

    2011

    Graduate Division Achievement Scholarship, UHM (declined)

    2009-2010

    Graduate Division Achievement Scholarship, UHM

  • 2015

    Dai Ho Chun Fund for Graduate Research Award, UHM

    2015

    College of Social Sciences Award for Professional Development in Research, UHM

    2015

    International Studies Association Conference Travel Grant

    2014

    American Political Science Association Conference Travel Grant

    2014

    Department of Political Science Graduate Student Research Grant, UHM

    2014

    International Studies Association Conference Travel Grant

    2013

    College of Social Sciences Award for Professional Development in Research, UHM

    2013

    Law & Society Association Graduate Student Workshop Travel Grant

    2013

    Department of Political Science Graduate Student Conference Travel Grant, UHM

    2012

    Department of Political Science Graduate Student Conference Travel Grant, UHM

    2011

    Graduate Student Organization Travel Grant, UHM

  • 2015

    Predictable Animals: Coercive Ergonomics and the Manufacture of Homo Digitalis. UNESCO & Romanian Executive Agency for Higher Education, Research, Development and Innovation Mutual Learning Workshop, Bucharest, Romania, August 26.

    2015

    Dirty Digital Language. Humanities Research Center, Rice University, February 3.

    2014

    Digital Politics: Stratagematic Stupidity, Adversarial Design, and Post-Internet Futures. UNESCO & Romanian Executive Agency for Higher Education, Research, Development and Innovation Mutual Learning Workshop, Bucharest, Romania, June 24.

    2013

    Strings Behaving Badly, or the Digitization of Taboo Language Control. The Berkman Center for Internet and Society, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, July 30.

    2012

    Growing Digital Korea. Samsung Journalist Futures Project, Honolulu, HI, May 21.

    2011

    Hawaii in 2050: Transformative Scenarios. Hawaii State Office of Planning Climate Change Workshop, Honolulu, HI, June 12.

  • Panels Organized

    2015

    Digital Politics and the Networked Eye. International Studies Association Annual Convention, New Orleans, LA, February 18-21.

    Papers

    2015

    Digital Political Thought and the Rewritable User. Association of Internet Researchers Conference, Phoenix, AZ, October 21-24.

    2015

    American Cultural Governance and the Politics of Graphic Language. Western Political Science Association Conference, Las Vegas, Nevada, April 2-4.

    2015

    A Cognitive Life of Sorts: Filtered and Obscured Synoptic Visions of the Web. International Studies Association Annual Convention, New Orleans, LA, February 18-21.

    2015

    When Silent Cowboys Speak: The Post-Western’s Governance of Heteroglossic Communities and Taboo Language in Deadwood and Django Unchained. International Studies Association Annual Convention, New Orleans, LA, February 18-21.

    2014

    Keyword Culture: Transforming Words into Information and the Technical Control of Language. Western Political Science Association Conference, Seattle, WA, April 17-19

    2014

    Caught in Google’s Net: Privatizing Censorship and Colonizing the Internets. International Studies Association Annual Convention, Toronto, Canada, March 26-29.

    2014

    Laughing at Authority: the Politics of Obscenity in the Comedic Genre. International Studies Association Annual Convention, Toronto, Canada, March 26-29.

    2013

    Steering Through Spellcheck and the Googlization of Control. International Political Sociology Doctoral Workshop, Honolulu, HI, August 26.

    2013

    The Inoffensive Internet: Google’s SafeSearch and Interventions into Possible Speech. Law & Society Association Conference, Boston, MA, May 30-June 2.

    2013

    Pre-Speech and Free Speech: Digital Constraints on Expression and the First Amendment. Graduate Student Workshop of the Law & Society Association, Boston, MA, May 27-28

    2013

    Profanity Politics of the HBO’s Series Deadwood: Authenticity, Lawlessness and Living Outside Civil Society. Midwest Political Science Association Conference, Chicago, IL, April 11-14.

    2011

    The Future in Thirty Years, 1968-2011: Continuities, cycles, and novelties. Global Higher Education Forum & World Futures Studies Federation Conference, Penang, Malaysia, December 13-16.

    2011

    Higher Education in the Anthropocene Era. Global Higher Education Forum & World Futures Studies Federation Conference, Penang, Malaysia, December 13-16.

    2011

    Obscene Language: The Political Economies, Institutions, and Uses of Bad Language. Western Political Science Association Conference, San Antonio, TX, April 3-5.

    Discussant

    2015

    Crypto and the Academy. Association of Internet Researchers Conference, Phoenix, AZ, October 21-24.

    2015

    Data, Information, and Networks: Politicizing the Contemporary. Western Political Science Association Conference, Las Vegas, Nevada, April 2-4.

    2014

    Collecting and Analyzing On-line Research. Western Political Science Association Conference, Seattle, WA, April 17-19.

  • 2014

    Sophisticated Treatments for Cursing Brains: A Genealogy of Tourette’s Syndrome. Department of Political Science Colloquium, UHM, Honolulu, HI, February, 2.

    2012

    Subjectivity and Search: Emerging Issues in Internet Control. Emerging Scholars Symposium, Honolulu, HI, November 12.

  • Rice University, Undergraduate Level Sole Instructor

     

    Contagious Politics of Psychiatric Media (Spring 2017)

    Digital Power-Knowledge Seminar (Spring 2016)

    University of Hawaii at Manoa, Undergraduate Level Sole Instructor

     

    American Politics (Spring 2015)

     

    History of Political Thought (Fall 2014, Fall 2013)

     

    Introduction to Political Science (Spring 2014)

     

    Introduction to American Politics (Spring 2013)

     

    Media and Politics (Fall 2012)

    University of Hawaii at Manoa, Graduate Level

     

    Seminar in Political Thought (Spring 2014, Co-Taught with Michael J. Shapiro)

  • Summer 2014

    Research Assistant, Internet Governance Project, Berkman Center for Internet & Society, Harvard University

    Summer 2013

    Research Assistant, Freedom of Expression Project, Berkman Center for Internet & Society, Harvard University

    Spring 2013

    Research Assistant for Debora Halbert, Department of Political Science, UHM

    2011-2012

    Research Assistant for Claudio Nigg, Department of Public Health Sciences, UHM

  • 2014-2015

    Grants & Award Committee, Department of Political Science, UHM

    2012-2015      

    Teaching Liaison Committee, Department of Political Science, UHM

    2013-2014   

    Graduate Curriculum Committee, Department of Political Science, UHM

    2012-2013

    Graduate Student Organization Department Representative, Department of Political Science, UHM

    2012

    Co-Organizer, Emerging Scholars Symposium, UHM

    2011-2012

    Admissions Committee, Department of Political Science, UHM

    2010-2011

    Colloquium Committee, Department of Political Science, UHM

Connect

Mailing Address
Humanities Research Center, MS-620
Rice University
P.O. Box 1892
Houston, TX 77005