Unflattening: a dissertation in comics form reimagines inquiry

To a great extent, the language we think in defines what we can know. Thus for all the strengths of words, there are aspects of understanding that remain outside their reach. Through a dissertation written and drawn entirely in the comic book medium, I put forth a challenge to the long-held tradition of verbal-linguistic dominance as the legitimate form of scholarship and seek to expand the forms that academic inquiry can take. By taking this “amphibious” approach, that is integrating visual alongside verbal, I confront the limitations inherent to any single mode and in the process explore new possibilities for understanding. The dissertation’s very form embodies its central premise that we make meaning in a range of ways beyond solely the verbal. Specifically, I attend to the importance of visual thinking in teaching and learning, and the work itself becomes a demonstration for how comics can be a powerful tool for thought and serious inquiry.

Comics hold the potential to present complex and difficult information with great clarity without simplifying or omitting concepts – if anything, the form’s inherent multiplicity allows for the inclusion of more layers of information than text alone. Through this work, I want not only to push on the boundaries of what is considered scholarly but also to extend the boundaries of who is included in the conversation and create something that is ultimately accessible to a wider public.

Speaker Details

Nick Sousanis cultivates his creative practice at the intersection of image and text. A doctoral candidate at Teachers College, Columbia University, he is writing and drawing his dissertation entirely in comic book form, believed to be the first of its kind. Before coming to NYC, he was immersed in Detroit’s thriving arts community, where he co-founded the arts and cultural web-magazine www.thedetroiter.com; served as the founding director of the University of Michigan’s Work:Detroit exhibition space; and became the biographer of legendary Detroit artist Charles McGee. In 2011, Sousanis co-organized the interdisciplinary conference Creativity, Play, and the Imagination at Teachers College in conjunction with Game Show NYC, an art exhibition of educational games. These joint gatherings sought not only to discuss creativity and play, but to bring participants together to actively engage in imagining and creating. (Info at http://www.gameshownyc.com & http://createplayimagine.wikispaces.com/.) Sousanis was a 2011-2012 Publicly Active Graduate Education (PAGE) Fellow with the Imagining America consortium, and a 2012 HASTAC Scholar. His comics have been infiltrating the academic realm through numerous publications and presentations, and he furthers his advocacy for the medium in the comics course he developed for educators at Teachers College. Website: www.spinweaveandcut.com. Contact nsousanis@gmail.com Tw: @nsousanis

Nick Sousanis
Teachers College
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