I am a tenure-track Assistant Professor of Digital Media and Rhetoric in the Department of English Language and Literature at the University of Waterloo, Canada, as well as a Core Researcher of the Critical Media Lab. The department blends literature with digital studies and communication/rhetorical design, and is well known for its rich international research network.

I also serve as an Associate Editor and the Director of Communications for electronic book review (est. 1995), one of the first online academic journals.

About Me

My research takes a critical and creative approach to media studies, literary studies, maker culture, and cultural studies. I develop innovative digital approaches and tools (including research-creation) towards a range of related research areas, including: narratives over various media and forms; media materiality and archaeology; environmental humanities; digital culture and user interaction; and the ethics/politics of technological infrastructures.

My research has been funded by several major grants and awards, including three Hong Kong grants in 2017 (two in research and one in digital pedagogy). In 2015, I was honoured to receive the international ADHO’s (Alliance of Digital Humanities Organizations) Lisa Lena Opas-Hänninen Young Scholar Prize.

In my spare time, I enjoy travelling, meeting new people, arts and crafts, and good food (but who doesn’t enjoy this last one?).

CONTACT: laitze [dot] fan [at] gmail [dot] com

Portfolio

Global Urban Wilds

Locative and Mobile Media, Digital Narratives, Sustainability, Environmental Change

From 2016 — 2017, I was the Postdoctoral Research Fellow for the SSHRC-funded Insight Grant, “Greening Narrative: Locative Media in Global Environments” ($387,500 CAD), housed in the Department of English at Concordia University, Montréal, Canada. Under the supervision of Principal Investigator Professor Jill Didur, this research creation project develops a locative media application called “Global Urban Wilds,” which investigates how narratives in locative media can defamiliarize user assumptions about the environment, preservation, and sustainability in urban spaces.

In addition to developing this app, I created and manage the project website and I helped to organize an international speaker series on locative media projects.

Computational Literary Studies

Critical and Creative Digital Humanities, Database Models, Narrativity, Text Analysis

This research approaches literary studies from the timely field of the digital humanities in order to promote greater humanistic and reflexive inquiry through the responsible development of digital tools. In relation to emergent reading practices such as distant reading and non-consumptive reading, I am developing innovative computational methods for literary engagement and text analysis. This research addresses tensions in representing elements of literary fiction—including figurative meaning and intermedial narration—through digital tools, including NoSQL databases and data visualization.

For the nascent stages of this research, I was honoured to receive the international ADHO’s (Alliance of Digital Humanities Organizations) 2015 Lisa Lena Opas-Hänninen Young Scholar Prize for a paper entitled “On the Value of Narratives in a Reflexive Digital Humanities.”

Open (Re)source

Media Materiality, Digital Infrastructure, Planned Obsolescence, the Open Source Movement

This project (in development) composes digital narratives to address three issues that are increasingly salient in media studies: media materiality, planned obsolescence, and the open source movement. I will investigate how interactive narratives can propel user awareness of the roles of materiality in digital infrastructure—including in the production, consumerism, and reception of digital devices.

As part of the project development, I am experimenting with interactive storytelling methods in different media platforms and forms, including video games and media art. I have developed a mini video game called “In your Phone, In their Air” that was inspired by a Washington Post article on graphite production and pollution in Northeastern China. This game provides an exploratory environment for a journalist to investigate further into graphite, which is a mineral necessary for lithium-ion batteries (used in many digital devices).

Breathing Games

Health Education and Sustainability, Interactive Games, Free/Libre Movement, Open Source Technologies

I was previously the Research Lead of Narrative Design and UX (user experience), as well as a Lead Grant Writer for the Breathing Games Commons (BG), an international non-profit initiative. BG builds open source tools and interactive digital games that foster healthy respiratory behaviours and treatments for diseases such as asthma and cystic fibrosis. Our major project included a series of a smart phone games that help children with asthma better manage and live with their illness.

BG’s goal is to make health technologies more available in homes, communities, and developing countries by making them locally and affordably reproducible, unlike solutions that are created in closed structures and protected by copyright. In addition, as BG’s tools collect data, they gather vital information for health policy and research.

As a Lead Grant Writer, I helped to secure numerous sources of research funding, including the Canadian Institutes of Health Research’s (CIHR) Patient-Oriented Research Collaboration Grant (22,530 CAD) and from the Hospital Federation of France (100,000 EURO).

For more information about the game prototypes (including Lung Launcher and Peak Leap) please see BG’s YouTube Page.

The Intermedial

Media History, Materiality, Contemporary Literature, Interfaces and Interaction

My doctoral research (defended 2016) was completed in the joint Communication and Culture graduate program at York University and Ryerson University (Toronto, Canada), and was supported by the prestigious York University Provost Disseratation Prize.

My dissertation, “Pre | Digital Liminalities: A Hermeneutics of the Intermedial and Materiality in the Print Intermedial Novel,” utilized the frameworks of media archaeologycomparative media, and the critical digital humanities. It proposed intermediality as an analytical framework for shifting relationships among content, form, and materiality in newer and older media (including print, photography, cinema, and digital media). I focused on how narratives prompt readers to compare medium-specific literacies, demonstrating the collaboration of older and newer media in today’s cultural imagination and practice.

Part of my research revealed the “interfaceless” interface experience described by Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin and offered by digital screens in HCI design (human-computer interaction). This effect of dematerializing devices, I argued, detracts from the costs, ethics, and politics of digital media. Since my PhD, I have sought to build on these lingering issues by examining issues of technological and gendered labour.

Unseen Hands

Media Archaeology, Gendered Labour, Literary History, Technoculture

This project traces an alternate literary history in which the material labour of women—the secretaries, muses, and wives of important literary figures—has been as invisible as the labour and production of material technologies. A renewed critical focus on materiality and material histories allows us to look backwards at the forgotten stories of people, places, and things that were never culturally significant, but that can be recovered by examining their material contexts, conditions, and politics.

Drawing upon Matthew Kirschenbaum’s (2016) description of the “unseen hands” of female typists throughout the 20th century, this project adopts a material histories framework towards literary culture and text production in order to analyze:
i) the invisibility of technological labour, focusing on literary production technologies that include the typewriter, word processor, and networked online computer;
ii) gendered labour in this production system through the objectification and invisibility of women’s bodies—a phenomenon that I argue is a historiocultural antecedent to the exploitation of invisible labourers within the contemporary global technocultural market;
iii) the necessity for comparative approaches to studying artifacts and texts that can account for both digital and analogue forms, as well as their methods and politics of production.

As of June 2018, this project has secured a research funding total of 330,000 HKD, as I develop it into my next monograph.