Murder Networks: A Digito-Rhetorical Study of Violence in the 21st Century

My in-progress book project, Murder Networks: A Digito-Rhetorical Study of Violence in the 21st Century, makes the argument that inner-city violence and murder are distributed through multiple key non-human rhetorical agents before and leading up to the violent act itself and any meaningful intervention must first account for these agents. Using new theories of materiality (new materialist rhetoric), affect, and discourse analysis, I begin by arguing that murder happens across, and in part because of, the agency of social networks, where language, discourse, and affect intra-act and resonate contagiously. Through four particular case studies or "murder events," as I call them, my book explores this silenced assemblage of agents, arguing for a look at how non-human agents, like Facebook and Twitter, circulate discourse, act persuasively, and spread affects. I also look at how the gun is put into language and circulated both on and off line as a powerfully agential actor. Taken all together, these agents feed in and out of the act of murder in ways that cannot be ignored. The aim of my book project is to offer a counter-argument to individual agency in acts of murder and violence. Instead, I am arguing for a hesitant attitude toward assigning blame as a way to listen to other powerful rhetorical agents and their networks, which have thus far been excluded, as a new intervention into violence in the 21st century. 


Rhetorical Empathy Project | A Tactical Media Experiment

An on-going series of performative, digital experiments that try to evoke what I call "rhetorical empathy" (the ability to think with and feel with another) by attempting an imaginative leap through the strategic and pedagogical use of digital recording devices, digital archives, and digital editing software.



Dissertation | Public History & Social Archives: Toward A New Materialist Rhetoric of Murder

My work, research, and teaching try to constantly and insistenly bump up against the world, be entangled with the world, and move our worlds. Atwixt the theoretical and the practical, the rhetorical and the digital, I forge my research agenda.

My dissertation research hinges upon what Jessica Enoch and David Gold refer to as digital historiography in their article, "Seizing the Methodological Moment." As historian William Thomas further explains, digital historiography is an emergent "methodological approach framed by the hypertextual power of [digital] technologies to make, define, query, and annotate associations in the human record of the past" (D. Cohen 454). To this end, my research attempts to think through who or what gets archived? Who decides? What histories can digital technologies mine, compose, and make legible? What histories are still silent? These questions center on the practice of making and producing archives as a methodological inquiry and scholarly practice (archives like Jim Ridolfo's digitization of sacred Samaritan texts and Shannon Carter and Kelly Dent's multimodal historiographic production, Remixing Rural Texas).

My dissertation forges a new kind of digital historiography, living at the interdisciplinary intersections of digital humanities, new materialism, queer archives, rhetorical theory, affect, social media, and compose as active variant.

My dissertation, titled Public History and Social Archives: Toward a New Materialist Rhetoric of Murder, is an experimental creative-critical project in which I re-imagine the production of digital archives and digital historiography as radical sites of knowledge production, theoretical intervention, and aesthetic and affective impetus.  Particularly, I have produced a digital archive of the networks involved in murder, called The Murder Network, which contains a collection of over 100 (those I have permissions for) social networking pages left behind by those murdered and murdering in Pittsburgh. Through social networking remains, fragments, interviews, and digital documents, I re-imagine what an emergent digital archive can do and say about violence and murder. Put simply, my dissertation postpones blame to ask the more interesting, more useful, and more productive questions of murder, social networks, and social discourse.

Following Bruno Latour and theories of queer archives, I theorize a new kind of archive, called the social archive, which begins with the digital collection of the actor's traces in digital space and moves to use those traces productively in a new presentation, history, and articulation of the networks involved in murder. The archive collects a history from "down below" of the people and non human actors who are entangled in the everday practice of violence and murder. Along the way, I discuss the rhetoric, affect, trauma, history, and discourse of murder through particular case studies from the archive. I conclude by reimagining how this new mode of digital historiography can help write important and silent histories, but also serve as a space of reflection for the humans involved. Indeed, to have an archive is to have a history, to engage that history, counter it, reflect on it, and ultimately revise it. In this way, I re-think the archive--its ethos and potentiality.

Yet my project also has more practical and immediate uses. Murder, like the ones in the archive, are often grand-narrativized as gang or drug related, but the murder networks suggest that murder is deeply distributed through a number of actors, and the answer is not simply to get rid of gangs, but to instead, sift through the networks, to zoom out, postpone blame, and listen to precisely what has been excluded.  

My murder networks were voted Infocult's favorite digital humanities project of the year. Here is what they said,"our favorite project is all about murders. Trisha Campbell is tracking who killed whom in Pittsburgh, mapping out the resulting networks. The subject and the process lead Campbell down some interesting routes: 'This is not a search for answers, nor a sociological experiment; in fact, I don’t know quite what to call this quest, but it is part practice, part ethical, and part creative-critical work. I want to say: I am interested in understanding murder in a more robust way, but that’s not what I mean at all. Instead, with the intervention of murder, I want to begin re-making past matter, dead matter, or ruins, where the objects we make—that is, the digital work/art or analog work/art—conjure thought...'

Side project

josephine miles sketch  

I have been working on recovering Josephine Miles as a digital humanist before her time. I'm interested in recovering her word-counting method, but updating it now, for a new conception of the human and the human pace intertwined with computation.

The way I see it, her word-counting and enumeration, rendered as descriptive archives of the "stuff of life," and sought to move past an era of critique and move toward, instead, the patterns of change over time and how that can possibly help us open up future and futurity. In this way, I connect her to Bruno Latour's notions of Compositionism and Futures (futures imagined and composed differently from the Moderns).



how seductive you were in yr classes

(women said you favored the men)

how witty—and you believed that the university

was a deliberate refuge from the world, a community of scholars

even when the politicians took the initiative to invade with their tear gas and helicopters.

(O the 1960s!)

The eccentric beauty of your verse (little read now)

the way your terrifyingly frail body was carried into the classroom

(and gently set down in the chair)

your odd, word-counting scholarship (now the computer’s domain)

the fact that you were the only person ever to call Robert Duncan “Bob”

and a postcard you wrote when I told you a son had been born:

“Dear Sean Ezra,

give yr dad a hard