Introduction to Lauren Brentnell


As a queer academic and a trauma survivor, digital spaces have often been my go-to areas for support, recovery, and community. My process of “coming out” as both queer and a survivor was largely supported through Tumblr, while I also turned to Twitter for conversations about what those identities might mean as a researcher and where to find support while navigating academia. Because of this experience, I want to use my time in the Digital Rhetoric Collaborative to continue these conversations, considering what a digital community can do as well as what forms and possibilities it offers. I’m particularly interested in how we can both recognize the queer possibilities of digital space alongside considerations of how a trauma-informed approach to technology can suggest ethical, caring ways of interacting.

I approach technology and digital rhetoric through the lens of being a queer survivor. This means viewing technological collaboration as a search for a supportive community, sustainable means of personal recovery, and critiques of abusive institutions and power structures. A queer survivor approach to digital rhetoric looks for “the multiple layerings of text, image, and technology as sites from which to perform/write/read the self” (Rhodes and Alexander), particularly the self that resists incorporation into heteronormative directives. To me, this approach is a call to consider how all selves, and especially those selves in recovery, are de/re/un/composed through community and through technology.

As part of this process, I am particularly drawn to the ways that storytelling through digital mediums can occur, and what communities we invite and create through these mediums. Aurora Levins Morales argues that trauma recovery happens through the telling of stories, stories that reinscribe the humanity that abuse stripped away. Maurice Stevens asserts that “trauma does not just describe, trauma makes” (“Trauma Is As Trauma Does,” p. 20). I would add that trauma not only makes, but un- and re-makes; it unmakes orientations and selves, remaking them into new relationships and constellations. In this way, both trauma and queerness are acts of disorientation. Therefore, a queer survivor approach to digital rhetoric asks questions such as: how are selves un/re/written through particular mediums and platforms and spaces? How are we building space for emotional and personal connection within our platforms, while also recognizing the political implications of the tools we use? How can digital community support a public culture made up of those of us who “fall out of institutionalized or stable forms of identity” (Cvetkovich, An Archive of Feelings, p. 17)?

While I am a DRC fellow, I hope to consider these ideas and continue these conversations wherever needed. To connect with me, tweet me at @RhetoricNSpice or email me at

About Author

Lauren Brentnell

Lauren is a doctoral student in the Department of Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures at Michigan State University. Her research is within trauma studies, particularly in how trauma survivors use nonlinear, multimodal, and digital forms of composing during recovery.

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