Dissertation ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS & Dedication

Straight from my dissertation, here are the acknowledgement and dedication pages. Thank you to everyone who’s been on this journey with me and been rooting for me.


I’d like to thank UTA’s Office of Graduate Studies and the College of Liberal Arts for the Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship that allowed me the dedicated time to finish my dissertation this summer. A particular thanks to Dr. Raymond L. Jackson for his help and encouragement.

There are so many people who’ve made my time with UTA’s English Department truly wonderful. I’ve grown so much as a teacher, scholar, and person because of the department we have and the opportunities it’s given me. I want to start by saying thank you to Dr. Peggy Kulesz not only for her incredible mentorship as Director of First Year Writing, but also for her support, generosity, and friendship. I was also lucky enough to get to work with Dr. Justin Lerberg as he stepped into the Directorship and am so grateful I had the opportunity to learn from him as well. Thank you to Drs. Amy Tigner, Neill Matheson, and Kathryn Warren for their work on our behalf as graduate advisors. Thank you as well to Yael Sasley and Margie Jackymack who are the reasons things get done around here and who’ve helped me countless times with things from organizing an EGSA trip to opening classrooms. Dr. Kevin Porter has also been an integral part of my growth as a scholar; his classes during coursework pushed me to think in ways I hadn’t before and I continue to wrestle with what “meaning” means.

There are so many graduate students to thank. The original CARH 409 whirlwind, where I shared my first office with three other fantastic people: Stephanie Peebles Tavera, Rod Sachs, and Sean Farrell. My original cohort: Joul Smith, Miriam Rowntree, and Stephanie. I’ve gone through each step of the process with this group and can’t thank them enough for their time, support, encouragement, and friendship. My current officemate and twin, the ever magical Rachael Mariboho who knows. She and the always wonderful Sean Farrell have been so generous with their support and encouragement as I went through all the things. Thank you to Jason Hogue and Jeffrey Marchand for many a good conversation and much laughter. To Vince Sosko, Hope McCarthy, Laruen Phelps, Christina Montgomery, and Connor Stratman for your support and inspiration. And to Bethany Shaffer for her optimism, dance moves down the hall, and just general awesomeness.

Thank you to Miriam Rowntree for the texts, the anthems, the unwavering belief and optimism, the trips, the dreamings and talking-out-louds. We’ve come a long way from Porter’s class that first semester. We might never know what meaning means, but your friendship throughout this journey has meant more than I can say.

Thank you to my committee for all their work with me on this project. Thank you to Dr. Tim Morris for serving on my Comprehensive Exams committee. To Dr. Estee Beck for serving on the Dissertation Committee and for pushing me to include other voices and fields. To Dr. Stacy Alaimo who started me on this posthumanist path with her wonderful class on Posthumanism and Science Fiction in the Anthropocene. The texts, both theory and fiction, from that class altered my scholarly trajectory, and her suggestion of reading Lenz Taguchi when I told her about my project led me back to Barad which helped me find my voice and a way to articulate what I wanted to say about education.

Finally, but never least, none of this would have been possible without Dr. Penelope Ingram. From her advice when I sat on her couch when she was our graduate adviser and I was deciding to apply to the program, to her teaching and her fantastic classes on postcolonialism and feminism, to her taking on the EGSA, to agreeing to be my Chair and helping me navigate this process, to making the call at the end of June that changed everything and made me dig deep in a way I didn’t know I could.  She is a model of the kind of invested, passionate, and resolute (in all the right ways) scholar, teacher, mentor, feminist, and person I aspire to be. Thank you, Penny, for believing I could do this, for holding me accountable to my own potential, and for always having my back.


This dissertation is dedicated to my family who, in a million ways that mattered, made this document possible. I can’t begin to thank them or to fully explain what their love and support meant and did for me on this journey.



Mom and Dad

Kate and Codi

Eleanor and Shepard

Neville and Theadora

I wouldn’t have “got ‘er done” without y’all.




Curating from my American Lit class archive (pedagogical documentation) to do a larger “diffraction” or calibration. Open to whatever we create together here; hoping to get some insight on the “success” of changes made for Spring 2018 after the last class (Reuse. Remix. Rewrite, Fall 2016). The goal is a continual calibration of praxis to posthumanism.

7/19/18 ~ Home Office ~”Real time”: 1 hr. 45 min.




    Music: The Double Slit Test by Ketsa

Pedagogical Documentation



Separate pedagogical documentations for AL. Top picture from early in the semester shows my concern over the white space in the room; bottom picture from their Curation Project (major presentation) day at the end of the semester shows my realization that I wasn’t working with the desks but against them, indicating a tendency on my part to still try and plan first and fit that plan into the space second.



In this pedagogical documentation for AL, pictures of the students’ work for that day appear on the left of the top picture. I used the yellow legal pad paper to track student movement through space and use of texts—Composition Books (CB) and a copy of the novel Turtles All the Way Down—while they worked.

Flashback: Coursework

It’s kind of sad that a lot (for me, most) of coursework doesn’t really find a second home, whether because of the direction your scholarship goes or just the structure/nature of the original writing. I was searching for a word in the hopes of finding a file I’d obviously not named well-enough to find it again years later, and this paper popped up. A throwback to Science Fiction and Posthumanism in the Anthropocene–one of my favorite classes. I enjoyed reading it again four years later (yikes!). I sound quite important 😉

Sarah Shelton

ENG 6370

Dr. Alaimo

23 January 2014

The Dust Accuses: Anxieties of the Anthropocene

Read together, [the articles pictured below] highlight the very instability of the “meaning” of Anthropocene. Each article explains the concept from its own angle—ranging from the debated physical evidence traced in the Zalaswiewicz article, to the “metaphoric” designation in the Robbins article, to everything in between. Several descriptions point to a change—already made or hoped for—in human understanding of our relationship to nature, one that collapses the Nature/Human binary and situates us not outside of or above a “pure,” or “wild” nature, but inside an intimately connected and now-threatened biosphere. In fact, the most interesting takes on the concept focus on how the very existence of the Anthropocene idea signals “a ‘reframing’ of normative traditions towards human and non-human life,” offering new language with which to speak about and new viewpoints from which to view human responsibility for our species’ impact on the Earth and to other species who also call it home (Alberts 6).

Along with such instability comes anxiety. What do we make of a concept that can be interpreted and used in so many different ways? Is it already defunct because of our inability to agree on a productive way to use it or is the very debate it inspires the very point and what really matters? Zalaswiewicz et al. warn that the Anthropocene “has the capacity to become the most politicized unit, by far, of the Geologic Time Scale” (2231). Are we doomed, then, to lose the positive and generative power that such a reframing offers to the quagmire of politics as usual? Will we become stymied as Robbins and Moore claim scientists caught up in anthrophobia* or autophobia** are, unable to make progress toward our desired goals because of anxiety over what it means that humans have become “geological agents” as well as biological ones (Chakrabarty 206)? Or will we find a way to come to terms with what is (despite what we think should be) and (though it requires a “human collectivity” or “universal” that Chakrabarty says we can never understand) develop a “global approach to politics without the myth of a global identity” (222).

Though Rigby claims that writing “in the mode of prophetic witness” is one way to overcome such anxieties, such endless debates and fruitless back-and-forths, or what she calls “idle chatter,” her article exemplifies the Edenic language that gave me pause in several of the articles (174). For instance, in Proctor’s review of McKibben’s book, McKibben refers to the planet as “violently out of balance,” implying that a planet older than my brain can comfortably comprehend has a “natural” and defendable “balance” that our human science can pinpoint and prove (88). Rigby, in analyzing Wright’s “Dust” as an ecoprophetic poem, determines that “the cry, which the prophet apprehends and mediates, is an indication of something drastically wrong.” “The speaker of Wright’s poem,” Rigby says, “hears the earth sighing all night” (181). Such a reading—and Wright’s own language—strikes me as an anthropocentric view dependent entirely on assuming we had—at some point—a harmonious and “good” relationship with the Earth. That there was an Eden-state where Nature was pure and wild and outside of our interference. Something can only be drastically wrong, the earth can only be violently out of balance, if we consider the Earth’s Edenic baseline to be the biosphere in which humans can survive, if we consider the “very conditions, both biological and geological, on which the survival of human life as developed in the Holocene period depends” to be the natural state of the planet (Chakrabarty 213). Considering the relatively short duration of the Holocene as compared to the other periods of geologic time, I find the human assumption of our time as the Earth’s “true” state incredibly problematic. How do we begin to take responsibility for ourselves and fulfill any ethical obligation (if we have one, which I think we do) to the other inhabitants of the current biosphere if we can’t get our heads around the idea that there is no going back on an always-already altered planet that won’t miss a step in its own evolution—no matter if we can’t speculate on a “world without us”—once we’re gone?

When Rigby claims that (in such contemporary places as sub-Saharan Africa) “the dust accuses,” she’s transferring to the planet human nostalgia for the past and human fears that we can’t or won’t adapt in time to the new world our actions have triggered. The desert doesn’t accuse us of anything. It doesn’t care what we’ve done. We care. We don’t want to be buried beneath elements we can’t survive. But the Earth itself doesn’t deal in human emotions. Personification here is certainly a powerful, persuasive tool when trying to convince others of “the catastrophic consequences of continuing on our current ecocidal path and…the possibility of another way of thinking and being” (Rigby 173-4). But to imply through figurative language that the Earth itself emotes in a way that any species could understand, to romanticize nature via the human construction of “natural,” seems too much like the human hubris/essentialism that brought us to this point in the first place.

Perhaps I have a touch of autophobia myself. I certainly don’t disagree with the arguments Rigby sets out; borders between human and non-human others must be breached if we’re going to live according to and move forward with an interspecies ethics that I can get behind. But I also see Earth’s agency as beyond any personified relationship with us. Suggesting the Earth is angry with us or seeking revenge seems too much a convention of a species only concerned with its own recorded history and not aware of its deep history. A species that needs to realize it is “dependent on other species for its own existence, a part of the general history of life,” not the origin of it (Chakrabarty 219, my emphasis).


* “a fearful response to … the negative normative influence of humans on the earth” (Robbins and Moore)

** “a fearful response to … the inherent influence of normative human values within one’s own science”  (Robbins and Moore)

This weekly paper response was created with Dr. Alaimo’s curation of texts as pictured below in our syllabus:


Presentation: SCMLA 2017

Agential Composition: Intra-Active Pedagogy and Writing as an Onto-Epistemological Act


Cited in the presentation:

Writing as a Way of Being: Writing Instruction, Nonduality, and the Crisis of Sustainability / Robert Yagelski

Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning / Karen Barad

Mentioned in the Q&A:

Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor / Lynda Barry

Intro and End Music:

Saturday Night / Ryan Anderson  88x31

Excerpt: Book Review Published in Fat Studies


Julie Murphy’s 2015 young adult (YA) novel, Dumplin’: Go Big or Go Home, stands out among YAfiction starring fat protagonists for an important reason: never, ever, not even for a moment in the course of the novel does the self-proclaimed fat girl go on a diet. The point, in other words, of the book is not for Willowdean Dickson to lose weight, but to struggle through being a teenager. Even more importantly—and realistically—though she begins the book believing she’s “always been happy in this skin” (124), Will discovers that her body-positivity and confidence aren’t as stable and solid as she originally thought. Willowdean spends the book trying to regain this confidence, to get back to what she sees as her true, fat-positive self. And while this constant seesawing back and forth between body confidence and shame might put off some readers who see Will as wishy-washy and unreliable, this tension is in fact the novel’s strength: a realistic portrayal (especially for a teenager) of the all-too-real struggle to stay fat-positive in a thin-centric world.


While I won’t spoil the pageant results for the future reader, I will say that the experience, the process of entering and going through the pageant, is successful in some way for each of the unlikely suspects. It becomes a road to something that they each needed to do or to discover about themselves. It is something to do now, not later when they become thin or able or any other form of different society might imply they need to become before deserving what “normal” people deserve by default. And because they chose to seize—in this case via participation in a pageant—what society might have implicated they shouldn’t or couldn’t seize, these unlikely suspects open their worlds and embrace the notion that either/or is an illusion. Willowdean states it best: “Sometimes figuring out who you are means understanding that we are a mosaic of experiences. I’m Dumplin’. And Will and Willowdean. I’m fat. I’m happy. I’m insecure. I’m bold” (366). Indeed, sometimes a story is positive because it dares to let the reader see, to experience, the negatives. Dumplin’ is that kind of story, making it a far more layered (and far more positive for it) YA tale than those that fat protagonists were allowed in literature, television, and film even a decade ago.

© Taylor and Francis: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/21604851.2017.1286881

Excerpt: Article Published in Fat Studies Journal



For too long, scholars and critics not working from a fat studies perspective have celebrated novels that feature fat teens losing weight and finding happiness and self-worth only because of that weight loss. Indeed, in her article, “Voracious Appetites: The Construction of ‘Fatness’ in the Boy Hero in English Children’s Literature,” Jean Webb analyzes fat character’s “lives [as having] the potential to expand positively as their waistlines recede healthily” (119) (my emphasis). The “as” in Webb’s analysis is key to revealing the ableism and fat bias inherent in U.S. society in general and in Webb’s argument in particular. Fat studies, however, reveals that the “Bildungsroman of weight loss” that Webb valorizes is far from being the positive and pragmatic solution she characterizes it as. Instead, working from a fat studies perspective, I claim that when a quest structure melds with the cosmetic panopticon, we get what I call “the fat quest” (see Fig. 1), a culturally constructed set of steps a fat protagonist must take before he/she can be considered worthy. Recent novels like My Big Fat Manifesto or Eleanor & Park positively challenge the fat quest, breaking its pattern or excluding it altogether. But if we are to help youth find worth outside of a qualifying “as,” it is essential that scholars stop arguing from ableist perspectives and begin celebrating and empowering critique and literature that reads positively through a fat studies lens.


The Fat Quest

While a “Bildungsroman of weight loss” can exist—and be praised as positive—in ableist discourse, a body-positive, fat-acceptance discourse doesn’t accept or ascribe such a benign-bordering-on-positive name to such structures and strategies. They are better called and understood as a “fat quest,” a path—assigned by a thin-centric society to fat people—that characters must follow in order to illicit empathy, understanding, and to even be considered human. The fat quest is, then, a culturally constructed set of steps that must be taken before a fat protagonist can be considered human enough, thin enough, and worthy enough of dreams and quests that “normal” teen protagonists get to undertake. And though the fat quest promotes ableism by tying health and worth to weight via fat bias, understanding its structure, breaking it down, and reframing it as one version of instead of as the YA fat fiction genre itself opens up a space for authors, scholars, and readers to challenge ableism. Such is the power of genre—texts mix and mingle via uptake and help disparate readers enter the discourse through shared expectations while encouraging the questioning of ideology through reversals and gaps.

In the U.S., we love a good quest. It’s an old genre, but one that we readily recognize and understand. After all, the American Dream is a quest, a journey from nothing to something typified by our national mythology of the “self-made man.” The American Dream, in fact, demands willpower and scorns those too “lazy” to make their dreams come true. This quest structure, then, melds with the “cosmetic panopticon” (Giovanelli & Ostertag 2009:289), 4 a prison of our own making, powered by our media’s consistent and exclusive casting (e.g., in literature, movies, television, theater) of fat people in the roles of “the old, the ugly, or the comical” (Jester 2009: 249). Our teens must “[navigate] puberty’s mysterious turf” with the help of this media that celebrates an ideal that “can only be attained by the thinnest 5% of the population, thus, oddly consigning the majority to outsider status” (Glessner et al. 2006: 117). They quickly learn that their bodies are “the ultimate expression of the self” (Brumberg 1997: 97) and that “fatness in the United States ‘means’ excess of desire, of bodily urges not controlled, of immoral, lazy, sinful habits” (Farrell 2011: 10). Indeed “much more than a neutral description of a type of flesh, fatness carries with it such stigma that it propels [teens] to take drastic, extreme measures to remove it” (Farrell 2011:10). And, as The Biggest Loser, as diet ads, as One Fat Summer teaches teens, fat characters can be “good”—they can get the girl or boy, win the prize, stop the bullying, save their family, earn respect—if, as their extreme measure, they go on the fat quest. Unfortunately, such diet measures rarely work outside of marketing and fiction and readers are left wondering why they cannot achieve a similar “magical” transformation 5 and left believing that they are even more worthless than before (Bacon & Aphramor 2011).

As I’ve outlined in Fig. 1, Robert Lipsyte’s(1977) One Fat Summer is the quintessential fat quest tale, his protagonist, Bobby Marks, the negative baseline against which I measure the positivity of the portrayal of other fat protagonists. First published in 1977, One Fat Summer follows Bobby Marks’ summer fighting bullies and his own body only to come out the winner and, more importantly, thin. He is celebrated for this weight loss; it solves his problems. His journey, as Fig. 1 shows, consists of nine steps that become the defining structure of a pure fat quest tale, a structure which drives all character and plot development, a plot that teens easily recognize and can predict the outcome of—the character will live thinly ever after.

© Taylor and Francis: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/21604851.2016.1146117