Student Profiles: AERA ☆

| September 18, 2013

Nick Sousanis is a doctoral candidate working at the intersection of comics and scholarship.  We sat down recently to talk about the work he presented at the AERA annual meeting.  In what became a wide-ranging conversation we talked about the place of aesthetics in research and culture, and much else.

Nick’s dissertation is titled “Unflattening: A Visual-Verbal Inquiry into Learning in Many Dimensions.” Prompted by Herbert Marcuse’s seminal text One Dimensional Man, Nick’s work puts a serious question to academic scholarship: why a one-dimensional dissertation?  Not one to ignore form to the privilege of content (or even accept such a form/content distinction), Nick eschews a text-only demonstration of this challenge.  Instead, the work itself models the kind of multidimensional and multimodal thinking and learning required to free our unnecessary and unjustified sense that critical scholarship must be exclusively textual.  Anyone for whom this text-only description of a work that challenges the dominance of text in academia does not suffice should seek to delve into the completed pages, available here [].

The varied reactions to Nick’s work are almost as interesting as the work itself.  Responses range from “How did you ever get this approved?” and “How did you get the idea to do this?” all the way to “How can aesthetics equal analysis?” among others.  This last question is important and one about which Nick continues to think and experiment.  As he puts it, “in my work aesthetic concerns and analysis equally inform one another, such that form and meaning are woven into an inextricable union. It is here, in this joining of form and meaning, of aesthetics and analysis, that I feel we can create spaces from which to generate new possibilities for understanding.”

Sketch-note & Visual facilitation.  When I said that I often take sketch-notes but that “I don’t draw anymore” Nick stopped me, because this was not the first time he’d heard such a comment demonstrating the extent of textual dominance.  “Nobody says ‘I don’t write anymore’.”