Unflattening: a dissertation in comics form reimagines inquiry

Speaker  Nick Sousanis

Host  Donald Brinkman

Affiliation  Teachers College

Duration  01:16:37

Date recorded  28 June 2013

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.

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