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Charles Lesh

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Briefly describe your current research:

My current research investigates the rhetorical production, circulation, and reception of genres of graffiti writing here in Boston, Massachusetts.  Using critical-rhetorical ethnographic methods, I demonstrate that complex and spatially productive rhetorical processes are at work in sites of writing—both fixed and mobile—across the cityscape. I argue that graffiti writing disrupts particular spatial designs while simultaneously producing spaces in which more public and equitable forms of discursive action might emerge.  This research demonstrates that as contemporary urban spaces trend towards normativity to ensure frictionless motion for neoliberal notions of productivity, graffiti writing can function as something of a rhetorical break/brake, a rupture of urban-design similitude.

Why do the humanities matter?

When I was an undergraduate English major, I had a professor tell me that persuasive humanistic inquiry begins with a process of unknowing.  This version of the Socratic paradox has always struck me as an appropriate answer to a question I hear quite regularly: “Does what you do matter?” The production of knowledge on human experience through the slow and sometimes frustrating process of discovery seems to me to be a fundamental aspect of education, one that I value in both my teaching and research.  The humanities matter because they value that recursive state of unknowing, something that I think is vital in the struggle for a more equitable world.

What do you look forward to this year as a Humanities Center fellow?

I’m thrilled to be joining the Humanities Center as a graduate fellow.  My doctoral work has been interdisciplinary in nature, and I think of the Humanities Center as a natural continuation of that work.  As a fellow, I’m most looking forward to working closely and collaborating with other scholars similarly engaged in issues “On Design” and learning from their different disciplinary perspectives.  I believe my current project will benefit immensely from these conversations between and through different disciplines.


Charles Lesh is a PhD candidate in the Department of English.  In a broad sense, his research interests revolve around the spatiality of writing: how genres of writing produce, sustain, or contest particular spatial formations.  His dissertation is an ethnographic study of the spatial-rhetorical function of graffiti writing in Boston, Massachusetts.  In examining these unsanctioned moments of textual production, he outlines the conditions for rhetorical action in the contemporary, neoliberal city space, and collaborates with individuals engaged in an ideological struggle over the right to control urban design.  Before coming to Northeastern, Charlie received his bachelor’s degree in English literature from SUNY Buffalo.  He has taught a range of writing courses at Northeastern, served as the Assistant Director of the Writing Program, and is a 2015 – 2016 Northeastern Humanities Center Graduate Fellow.

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Published On: August 6, 2015