Note: This section has fallen a bit behind my own most recent interests and ideas. I'll update it soon, but meanwhile most of the issues identified are still well worth looking into.
Each item below defines a broad area of research interest. It needs to be narrowed and specified in terms of research questions, context of investigation, and applicable methods to define a feasible study. I am actively interested in all these areas, but clearly cannot pursue them all comprehensively in my own research. I invite others to take them up, modify and adapt them, and keep me informed of the progress of their work. I am happy to offer advice regarding any of these areas of study. Refer to pages on my New Work, Work in Progress, and items in my bibliography for more discussion of some of these topics. For many of the topics there are also other pages, and some papers elsewhere on the website.
Computing, Communication, Hypertext, and Hypermedia
Semiotics and Discourse Analysis
Dynamics of Social Systems
Masculinsm, Gender, Sexuality, Pain, and Power
Science, Mathematics, and Education
What are the most significant differences in how humans interact and make meaning with printed texts, interactive computer media, and other humans in face-to-face encounters? Focus on the linguistic-semantic co-variates of differences in interactional and operational modes. Relevant for CMC and learning, CMC and education, and basic linguistic variation issues associated with mode of interaction. Note the role of visual cues, multimedia perception, physical interaction and interaction potential, bodily vulnerability, rate of information exchange. What are the most relevant factors for linguistic variation among texts produced in reading, writing, FTF dialogue, telephone conversation, chat room discussion, email, listgroup email, etc.? For what communicative and learning functions are the various interactional-communicative modes most and least effective? Consider informational, affective, and bodily dimensions of this issue.
Functional interfaces between users and computational systems present specific affordances for human-meaningful, i.e. semiotic interactions between user and system. Various semiotic resources, from verbal signs to visual patterns to meaning-laden actions by users and responses by the system (including apparent initiations by the system), are designed to mediate between human cultural systems and meaningful behavior patterns on the one hand and the underlying computational programs and hardware on the other. Such interfaces are a genre of multimedia, polysemiotic texts, not unlike films or videogames. As such, they embody the ideological dispositions of their creators, who, historically, have been far less culturally diverse than the human population as a whole. How do widely used interfaces today, their metaphors and cultural assumptions, reflect specifically masculinist, middle-class, eurocultural attitudes and assumptions? How do, or would, interfaces designed from other cultural, gender/sexuality, and class positions differ, and with what effects on the potential of computational systems to aid the full range of human projects and agendas?
Which combinations of the various modes of CMC are optimally supportive of learning for various kinds of people and various kinds of skills and knowledges (i.e. culturally recognized meaning-making practices and meaningful actions)? What are the relative learning and educational affordances of synchronous vs. asynchronous communication? of presentational vs. interactional modes? of densely interlinked hypertext vs. more linearly connected text? of nonverbal media in various forms of integration with verbal text? of static vs. animated images? of abstract vs. photorealistic images? of 2-dimensional vs. 3-dimensional forms? of fixed vs. mobile user apparent-viewpoint? of tactile force-feedback and full-presence virtual environments vs. passive-interactive and framed-view systems/experiences? What are the optimum combinations for various types of learners and mentors of face-to-face interaction, computer-mediated communication, and human-artifact-environment interaction without computational mediation? of passive-readable text, interactive text, peer communication, mentor communication, dyadic, and group social interaction?
How do verbal, visual, auditory, and tactile-interactional semiotic resources combine and integrate in multimedia productions, systems, and events? How are these resource system co-evolved to integrate with one another? What are the historical traditions in various cultures by which they are conventionally linked or integrated? What kinds of differences in meaning-making typically occur for resources of each type in the context of co-deployment of resources of the other modalities? What possible cross-multiplications of meaning-potential among these systems have not yet been realized by existing or historical systems in various cultures? How can those which have been realized be usefully hybridized for various contemporary projects and agendas?
How are various systems of semiotic resources (e.g. language, depiction, gesture) specialized for the construction of category-contrastive, or typological, meanings vs. continuous-variation, or topological meanings? How does each system provide resources for each broad type of meaning? How are the typological and topological resources integrated in the (idealized) use of a single system, and in the (actual) use of multiple, integrated semiotic resource systems? How historically have meanings of each of these broad types influenced meanings of the other kind, and how have semiotic resource systems more specialized toward one been typically integrated with those more specialized toward the other? How are topological meanings typically coded by signs and signifying actions? what alternatives are available to the contrastive valeur-principle for typological semiosis?
How is the relationship of mathematics to natural language most usefully characterized? How, historically, did mathematical registers of natural languages and mathematical symbolisms evolve and diverge from spoken and written verbal texts? What were the original functional specializations of mathematical registers and symbolic expressions? how were they integrated in use with verbal reasoning and exposition and with visual-graphical representations? What are the range of typical relations among these resources today, and what additional possibilities remain to be tried? What kinds of meanings are made better with mathematical registers and symbolic systems than with standard verbal language or graphical representations alone? What kinds of meanings and meaning dynamics are characteristic of the integrated combination of mathematics, verbal language, and graphical representations?
How do ideational, world-representational (Presentational); social-interactional, attitudinal (Orientational); and cohesive, structural (Organizational) meaning dimensions of signs-in-use integrate with and mutual contextualize one another? How does this occur (ideally) within a single semiotic resources system (e.g. language, gesture, depiction) and (actually) among multiple co-deployed semiotic systems? What are the genre conventions in different situated-use activities for such relations?
How are the actions that are conventional and meaningful in various typical activity contexts organized as a semiotic resource system? How do they make typological meaning by paradigmatic contrast? by syntagmatic catenation? How do they make topological meaning by their pacing, intensity, and other dimensions of gradable degree of performance? What principles are shared by the linguistic, depictional, gestural, and actional semiotic resources systems and their typical deployment practices and products?
How do the dynamics of ecosystems including human semiotic artifacts and practices differ systematically in their dynamic potential from simpler ecosystems lacking (or with only much simpler) semiotic bases for couplings among system-constitutive processes? How does the role of semiotic artifacts and semiotic-material practices in such systems break the separability of scales typical of dynamical systems without semiotic mediation? What are the general consequences of interpenetration and overlapping (i.e. dynamical interdependence) of processes at very different temporal and spatial scales for the analysis of human meaning systems, specific events, and the time-development and evolution of ecosocial systems and system-types?
How does the medium of hypertext, including both its forms and the practices, artifacts, and technologies which comprise it, dispose towards principles of organization and sequencing of information and meaning, in the medium itself as object-text, and in the traversal practices of the user, as meaning-text? What are the currently typical organizations of meaning and their interpretations by users? What are alternative strategies for meaning-development, both in authoring and in using hypertexts? How do existing and potential meaning organizations differ from those of more linear text media? How do the principles of intertextuality and co-text contextualization translate in the hypertext medium? What are the analogues of multivariate structural organization and co-variate textual-cohesive organization? How are text units constructed so as to facilitate construal of semantic ties between linked units?
Applications of multimedia semiotics to the generalized questions in hypermedia analogous to those posed for hypertext semantics.
Pleasure and pain exist on a perceptual continuum, or more properly are meaning/feeling interpretations of neurological stimuli which form such a continuum. The general sensitivity of the body to pleasure/pain is continuous with forms of sexuality that cultivate and re-align pleasure/pain relations (e.g. from touch to massage to erotic contact to sadomasochistic practices). How can we theorize and understand the relations between bodily sensitivity/sensuality/sexuality and personal and cultural mediations of neurological stimuli that interpret these as forms of pleasure and/or pain? How does the vulnerability of the body to pleasure/pain play a role in primary socialization, sociality, and general social control and power relations? What are the relations between meaning and feeling in these contexts?
How has the traditional domination of aggressive heterosexual males in the formation of cultural models, practices, and ideals introduced a systematic bias and distortion into all cultural forms, especially gender stereotyping and the norms of academic discourse?
How do the socialization disjunction systems of gender/sexuality, social class, age, and cultural tradition get integrated in modern hegemonic masculinist, patriarchal, hetero-normalizing, middle-class, eurocultural societies? How are the ideals of masculinity and femininity systematically different for middle- vs. working- class? for various emic age cohorts? for gays vs. straights? and in various local and global cultural traditions? Why is the hegemonic ideal of femininity the middle-class ideal, but the hegemonic ideal of masculinity the working-class ideal? Why is gender differentiation most radical for particular age-groups, and almost non-existent for the youngest and oldest age-groups? How many genders are there, including the age- , class-, and sexual orientation subcategorizations? How can we understand the role of transsexuals, bisexuals, and intersexuals in the total system and its internal contradictions? How are gender and biological sexuality conflated in ideologically functional ways?
What are the functions of the normalization of gender stereotypes and the creation and sanctioning of 'deviances' from these in the total social system? How many different dimensions of deviance are there? how are these systematically related to one another? What percentage of the population is zero-deviant across all these dimensions? How is the illusion of a 'normal' or non-deviant majority created if in fact the actual numerical majority is 'queer' on one or more of the ideologically constructed dimensions of deviancy? Which social caste groups are always included in the normal pseudo-majority however it is defined, and which are most regularly excluded? What are the effects of these strategies on social power relations and social control? What forms of exploitation and advantage do they enable?
What pervasive and foundational features of academic-intellectual discourse reflect the masculinist bias of their history? Assume that this bias is typical of only one of the masculine castes, the politically hegemonic one, with a larger penumbra effect on others who can partially affiliate with it. To what extent are adversarial argumentation, two-value truth-logic (excluded middle, non-dialectical), and traditional rhetorics of evidence and rationality the distorted products of the masculinist hegemony? What are the most useful alternatives or generalizations that break free of the imposed limitations and biases of these features? What are the implications for disciplines such as philosophy, logic, mathematics, and natural science of their subjection to these limitations and biases in their history? What alternative models in these fields become available after a critique of masculinist influences and an analysis of the specific restrictions of the hegemonic models and their social-political functions?
See discussions of these issues in Lemke, Meta-Media Literacy