War, Trauma, and The Ultimate Skinner Box:
The Making of Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy

My current book project is a biography of a virtual reality system called Bravemind (formerly Virtual Iraq/Afghanistan). Using VR interfaces, Bravemind immerses patients’ senses in multimodal computer simulations of traumatic scenes from their deployment and is intended to aid therapists help war veterans re-experience their traumatic experiences in order to overcome them. While many authors have either lauded Bravemind as a benevolent use of video game technology or derided it as militarized therapy, both camps overlook a critical issue that my research reveals: that digital media helps fashion a new (highly-gendered) vision of therapy itself.

This research has been supported by the Andrew V. and Florence W. White Dissertation Scholarship through the University of California Humanities Research Institute.

Cybertherapies and the Future of Mental Health Care

Through new projects, I am exploring how digital technologies extend therapeutic care beyond the clinic, focusing on military-sponsored projects. What values and ideas about self and healing are embedded in their design? How do designers imagine they will be used and how does this compare to how both clinicians and patients use them? One new project investigates the history and current develop of online conversation agents (or “chatbots”) as psychological counseling for military mental health issues; another looks at comic-book creation as therapy for veterans; while a third very new project investigates therapists’ experiences with tele-therapy technology. The civilian world owes much of its technology to the military. Therefore, I see the future of therapy being designed in these projects.

As part of this work, I recently joined the  San Diego Veterans Administration Heathcare System as a Research Health Science Specialist.

Zapatista Corn: A Case Study in Biocultural Innovation

Supported by the UC Center for Global California Studies, I also worked with Schools for Chiapas, an NGO based in San Diego and Mexico to study the citizen science efforts of the indigenous organization, the Zapatistas, in resistance to transgenic maize. My article on this work, which shows how the group developed biocultural innovation practices to protect their autonomy from the perceived neoliberal threat presented by agricultural biotechnology, recently came out in Social Studies of Science.

Biomedicalization and the public sphere:
Newspaper coverage of health and medicine, 1960s-2000s

Building links between science studies, health communication, and journalism studies, I co-authored a content analysis with Daniel C. Hallin and Charles Briggs on the politicization of health news in the United States. We examined historical trends in the reporting of health and medicine in The New York Times and Chicago Tribune from the 1960s to the 2000s. We found that the reporting of controversy increased, and portrayals of biomedicine shifted from lopsidedly positive to more mixed. We use these data in pinpointing how media play a constitutive role in the process of “biomedicalization,” through which biomedicine has both extended its reach into and become entangled with other spheres of society and of knowledge production. This research was published in Social Science & Medicine.