Research and creative work

Faculty in the Department of Communication Arts engage in research, creative work, and outreach with a wide range of collaborators both within and outside the university.  Below are just some of the questions and projects being explored by Faculty within the Department.

For recent publications and creative work by members of the department go to their personal profiles. Some publications will also be featured in the news section.

What is deliberative democracy?

Professor Robert Danisch’s recent research explores the idea of “rhetorical citizenship,” which is the search for, and practice of, methods of communication  capable of guiding public decision and judgment. The Occupy Wall Street movement is one example, among many, of the ways in which communication matters for democratic life. 

Professor Danisch has begun a research project that investigates the links between the kind of communication practices available to citizens and the social institutions and structures that make those communication practices possible. The goal of this research project is to critically assess how educational institutions, public spaces, free speech laws, communication technologies, and deliberative organizations have formed particular sociologies of rhetoric in Canadian and American public culture over the last century; to describe modes of rhetorical citizenship that have emerged within Canadian and American public culture as a product of the operative sociologies of rhetoric; to develop a test for evaluating the extent to which a public culture is democratic by virtue of the features of a sociology of rhetoric at play within that culture; and to articulate prescriptive recommendations for how to alter a public culture’s sociology of rhetoric so as to increase that public culture’s ability to engage in effective, inclusive, and innovative deliberation.

The hope of the Occupy Wall Street movement was that solidarity and alternative modes of communication would alter political life. That hope, although unrealized, provides insight into just how important communication is for democracy. 

What does it mean to perform history?

If history is written by the victors, it is spread by the artists. In a new adaptation of Shakespeare's Richard III, Professor Jennifer Roberts-Smith and Professor Toby Malone are asking what the history of the maligned English monarch can tell us about ourselves in contemporary, mediated society.

The recovery of the bones of King Richard III (1452-1485) under a Leicester parking lot in early 2013 ignited a firestorm of interest in the symbolically hunchbacked tyrant thought to be responsible for the deaths of many, including two youthful princes. Forensic evidence, however, suggests a different story, and shows just how far chroniclers Edward Halle (1497-1547), Raphael Holinshed (1529-1580), and playwrights including William Shakespeare (1564-1616) stretched to condemn a man who lived generations before they were born.

Scientists have proven that the misshapen spine of the historical Richard III was curved from scoliosis, rather than malevolence, yet Shakespeare and his contemporaries leave little doubt as to who the victors were who penned this history. For them, the internal deformity of a conquered king was visible on the outside of his body in the shape of a crooked back.

Is tyranny any more visible to us in the hypermediated age of the Internet than it was in Shakespeare's time? How can we know it when we see it? And when and how should we oppose it? 

To perform history -- in chronicles or on the stage -- is to create it anew: to reinterpret figures who once lived and talked through words they never actually spoke. In updating Shakespeare’s Richard III in the context of modern technological mediation, Professors Roberts-Smith and Malone add another layer to the process of retrofitting the historical figure of the "crooked back" to speak to our times.

More information for UWaterloo Drama's production of R3.