Research Statement

Informed by critical theory, intersectional and anti-colonial feminism, my research employs mixed methods, and interdisciplinary and multimodal art approaches to analyse the complexities of subjectivity, agency, interactivity and collaboration. Fundamental to this work is my identity as a former human rights and mental health services worker, and my ongoing pursuit of justice, equity and inclusivity in communication and media practices, tools and structures. I am dedicated to validating diverse forms of knowledge production, particularly among women and youth experiencing mental health issues, refugees, ageing adults, and community based education groups. I embed ethnographic lessons (from science and technology (STS) and feminist media studies) in co-design approaches that challenge power practices arising from objectivist, expert practices in academic, health and medical institutions, and replicated in our habits as individuals and members of social and organizational communities. 

Much of my research involves rigorous collaboration with interdisciplinary teams using multi-modal practice. This work has garnered over $3 million in funding and engaged me in managing large, trans-sectoral, interdisciplinary teams, while ensuring research excellence, student mentorship, and effective knowledge dissemination. My contributions in this area challenge existing research in Human Computer Interaction (HCI) and Human Machine Communication (HMC) while also developing user-centered, participatory and co-design research methods, informed by feminist and anti-oppression approaches. Following Sandoval’s “third world” feminist charge to make theory actionable, my collaborative methods confront problems in material, respectful and sustainable ways. This research statement is organized thematically to reflect the lineage of collaborative work that is crucial to my iterative research and collaborative production process. 

Critical Writing and Public Scholarship, 1996–present

My early career, text-based work deploys a feminist post-structuralist lens to understand mental illnesses as productive discourses, reified by popular media, that manifest in complex behaviours in women. In articles published in diverse journals (M/C 2000, IJCP 2002) and a special issue of Journal of Medical Humanities (2003), I argued that mental health technologies are not merely disciplinary, but, rather, mirror neocapitalist, neoliberal and gendered mandates that ask women to perform, paradoxically, as excessive and compliant consumer-subjects. This work fills gaps in media studies research, integrating semiotic analysis with intersectional feminist and visual discourse analysis.

This approach informed my interrogations of subject-machine interactions (CJC 2007, Ada 2013, Body and Society 2015), and methods for mobile analysis (e.g., Aether 2010) and building mobile publics (Mobile Nation 2008, Together Elsewhere 2010). I theorize mobility as a negotiation of multiple layers of data (device, movement and environment) and ask how aesthetics make possible and restrain mobile experiences. This work challenges reductive analyses within human machine scholarship of posthuman interactions, agency and subjectivity that interpret discrete variables and render restrained readings. Instead, I assess how contexts —experiences of surveillance, exploitation, familiarity and leisure time with technology—impact subjects’ relations with machines to produce diverse experiences. Informed by an intersectional, post-colonial approach and engaging feminist theories of situatedness (e.g., Suchman, Hayles), I complicate actor-network theories of interaction and embodiment. (Body and Society, 2013; HCI Proceedings). This approach informs my art-based interrogations of interaction and embodiment (Biomapping, Mindfulness Technologies) and co-design of assistive health tools and games (ACT App, ABLE Project), reflecting participants’ preferred technology practices and wellness objectives. Relatedly, a forthcoming, co-edited special issue of Catalyst: Feminism, Theory, Technoscience, ‘Probing the System’ (2021), offers written and arts-based analyses of the impacts of AI, automation and surveillance via platforms, including health assessment and delivery technologies, during the COVID pandemic.

I employ a feminist, post-colonial and trauma-informed framework in research on torture, immigration and the global refugee crisis. I was awarded funding to produce TV segments (1996–99) exploring mental illness and a grant (FSU 2004) to document survivors of torture and persecution (Survivors 2004–21), which became an oral history project. In both projects, trauma theory guided our team to serve as witnesses to survivors’ stories, validating their efforts to make sense of their ‘de-worlding’ experiences. A co-created symposium and special issue (Public 2003) explored the links between trauma and culture in 2 writing and art work, including my hybrid essay “I be in the show”. Subsequent work on these topics includes a (funded) Hypermigration game project created with refugee youth in Toronto (InTensions 2016) and an article on the media’s role in the global refugee crisis (CRP 2018).

A similar framework informs my public scholarship unpacking gender-based bias in internet, communication technology/media (ICT/M) spaces (OMDC Whitepaper 2016, Race/Gender 2019); and the EFECT (Experiments in Feminist Ethical Collaborative Technologies,) project, using anti-oppressive, feminist methods to create educational tools (2021). I confronted the patriarchal and colonial biases restraining access to leadership and publishing in the International Communication Association (ICA), informed by my position as President (2017–18) and my work supporting ICA conferences in Africa (2016–18). This research makes visible the different valences in collaboration labour that inculcate insecurity, precarity and retrench peripheralized positions. My work recommends how our research practices and institutional policies can recognize, address, and remunerate that labour. (Interventions 2018, Frontiers 2019, JoC 2018, CCC 2020). Finally, my team will employ these collaboration methods in recently won (2021) funding with YTB gallery (Toronto) to co-create a platform to support diverse, early career artists via professionalization, skill-building and networking training.

Multimodal Creation and Collaborative Innovation, 2008–present

My collaborative methods meld critical (feminist, race, anti-colonial, disability) approaches with user-centered and co-design approaches. I document these experiments in detailed presentations targeted to Human Machine Interaction conferences (HCI, Mobile HCI, TEI, Pervasive computing) in order to incite debate with engineers, computer scientist and designers. In my stakeholder-focused method, together we engage a conceptual idea, ideate a project, workshop it, and experiment to elicit creative solutions and new questions. This theory-practice approach contributes to and dialogues with scholarship in communication, digital humanities, HCI and STS. My publications in this area cover a range of topics: deploying a feminist, anti-oppression and ‘crip’ methodology to redress bias in recruiting, ideation, problem-solving and technology deployment in ageing research (HCI 2020, 2021); designing aesthetic games and art practices on digital platforms for therapeutic benefits (HCI and Mobile HCI 2014–21); and offering best practices for interdisciplinary technology innovation (Mobile Nation 2008).

My generously funded research (with Geoffrey Shea), produced ground-breaking locative media projects (Alter Audio, Scramble and Phone Noir 2007) and Portage (2009), all of which explored how emerging mobile phones could create innovative, artful experiences in public spaces (MediaCity 2008, Mobile Nation 2008, conferences/exhibitions 2009 Aether 2010). These mobile experiments exploited urban surveillance sensors for public art making and disrupted the digital divide. As well, we invented methods for collaboration among engineers, computer scientists and artist/designers using iterative design to correct disciplinary and sequential design habits. This method has been fruitfully merged with user-centered methods, in successful research with stakeholders (ACT app, ABLE.Family, EFECT project).

Confronting the Computable Self: The Biomapping project, funded by a SSHRC grant (2009), engaged user-centered design to confront the biomaterialist turn evident in consumer technologies and scholarship idealizing the computational self. With an intentionally ironic premise, the project exposed the impossibility of predicting cognitive state or mood via data from modular systems (Hayles) and revealed the faulty outcomes produced by consumer tools that visualize and interpret activity data. The project rendered an art exhibition (Proofofproofofconcept 2013) and conference presentations, demos, and published research (Body and Society 2015), arguing that subjects are not ‘duped’ by consumer grade (heart and brain) sensors, but, given time, will intra-actively (Barad) tangle with machinic visual renderings and probe reductive readings of their sensory and cognitive data.

Practice based work exploring human-machine interactivity. As a life-long dancer, my work has challenged theory (following Nakamura/Chow) claiming subjects are disembodied in networks, while also pursuing the limits of digital embodiment. This project creates sensory-responsive interfaces that engage dancers/movers in apperceptive (or unthought) interaction with digital interfaces. The Body Editing interface (Grand 2014) produced the iterations Dance your Data and Pas des Deux with (Algorithmic) Creature (4S 2015, HCI 2016) with generous funding from GRAND NCE and CIVDDD. This work explores how aesthetics and movement inform interactivity, and likens interactive experience to the complexity of cognition, where perceptions continually shift in response to sensory stimuli. We employed this interface in design movement-based (e.g., Pollinator, Emerge Exhibition 2016), and collaborative games set in galaxy and ecosystem environments (OCE Discovery 2015).

Ageing and Technology Research. This research has spurred my play and movement co-design research with older adults with frailty and dementia, including Body Editing Baycrest and ABLE Platform iterations (Able-Physical therapy, -Music and -Family versions), funded by MIRA, CABHI, Alzheimer Society and Service Canada. The research exploits the synergies of combining movement, interaction and aesthetics in game, art and dance experiences. We create games and apps aiming to restore family relations, reduce loneliness, and enhance physiological, mood and cognitive wellness, via inclusive and data secure platforms. Versions have been iterated over the past 14 years, culminating in a fully functional, intergenerational game for older adults with dementia (Ableplatform.ca 2021, Physiotherapy Canada 2020) that also contributes to human-machine design and literature (e.g. HCI 2018–21).

With collaborators, I have won significant funding as Co-PI (NSERC, MIRA, McMaster Strategic Alignment Fund, Service Canada, etc.), in trans-faculty, user-centered ageing technology research, contributing my expertise in collaboration and co-design. sMAP (Smart Mobility for Ageing Population Project 2020–21) is a novel, user-centred and interdisciplinary training platform designed for diverse graduate students. MacM3 (Map by Mobility Project 2020–21) is developing a comprehensive tool with older adults enabling them to self-monitor and -manage future mobility needs. sMAP and MacM3 share a commitment to user-centered design, data privacy and security, combatting digital ageism and positioning older adults as agent-designers of their wellness and futures. To date we have delivered (and offered) the sMAP certificate training program (Canadian Journal of Ageing 2021) and are on track to produce a functioning, MacM3 mobility tool by 2025. In this work, I seek to innovate inclusive technologies and to correct ageist, colonial practices in Canadian health and research by addressing implicit bias and diversifying Canadian health research participation and data archives. This interest informs our recent $2.4 million grant CIHR proposal (2021) to launch a pan-Canadian, critical-race informed, and stakeholder-centered academic training program in aging and mobility.

Games, Apps and Curriculum developed with peripheralized youth. A critical, play-based approach guided our collaborative app development with teens with major depression (ACT) and the Hypermigration game with refugee youth. A similar approach guided my research with FemTechNet.org, creating an novel online platform for collaborative, and community-accessible pedagogy, including the production of 4 video dialogues for the network (FemTechNet 2014–19). These methods also informed the EFECT project. In this project, community and academic researchers exchanged knowledges, and deployed feminist and anti-oppression techniques to create an open-access Digital Literacy Workbook (2021) for community-based youth education organizations, including training in digital safety, media literacy, and combatting rape culture; the Messy Spaces podcast series on university-community collaboration (2021); an extensive, searchable annotated bibliography resource; and the forthcoming “CARPSI,” tool for emergent, agile and consenting collaboration (EFECT.CA 2021).

In conclusion, my text- and practice-based work is linked by my investment in interdisciplinary, transfaculty and trans-sector work, and informed by rigorous collaboration and a commitment to hearing and amplifying the voices of those marginalized by social bias and structural oppression.

References

Barad, Karen. (2007). Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press.

Coleman, Beth. (2009). “Race as Technology.” Camera Obscura: Feminism, Culture and Media Studies, 24 (1(70)): 177–207.

Hayles, Katherine. (1999). How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Nakamura, Lisa and Peter Chow. (2012). Introduction-Race and Digital Technology: Code, the Color Line, and the Information Society. In Nakamura and Chow (Eds.), Race After the Internet (pp 1-19). NY: Routledge.

Suchman, Lucy. (1987). Plans and Situated Actions: The Problem of Human-Machine Communication. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.