Cat5e Cable

One of your classmates (Daniel?) posted the following in the ticket out about the splicing & weaving:

When Spinuzzi discussed weaving and splicing, I took it to mean a telecom cable concept. Weaving meaning the way individual wires in an ethernet cable are woven in patterns, splicing meaning the junction boxes that enable wire splicing to occur (like a phone interchange, a networking router, a network connection, etc.). There are specific weaving patterns for CAT5e cables; all wires in the wired network have to use the same pattern, or connections don’t occur. If that’s the metaphor, I’d love to learn a little more about that.

Notes about Hypertext

Please read our notes about hypertext!

Making Things; Making Scholarship

Good to know the Romrigo is ahead of the academic curve!

The Power of Networks

Another share from Amy.

Example of Latour

Amy found this article as an example of Latour.

Conference

MediaCommons, RSODU, and EGO invite you to participate in a conference on the digital humanities at Old Dominion called “Humanities Unbound: Re/mediating Digital Spaces.” They are accepting proposals for 5-7 minute roundtable discussions now through March 3rd.

The conference will be held on Thursday, April 10th. In addition to roundtable discussions, Dr. Dan Richards and Sarah Spangler will lead a workshop on managing one’s digital identity.

Details on the conference are HERE.

What our theorists say...

[W]hat we are dealing with is a modification in the principle of exclusion and the principle of possibility of choices; a modification that is due to an insertion in a new discursive constellation.

Foucault, Archaeology of Knowledge, p. 67

All the treasure of bygone days was crammed into the old citadel of this history; it was thought to be secure; it was sacralized; it was made the last resting-place of anthropological thought; it was even thought that its most inveterate enemies could be captured and turned into vigilant guardians. But the historians had long ago deserted the old fortress and gone to work elsewhere; it was realized that neither Marx nor Nietzsche were carrying out the guard duties that had been entrusted to them. They could not be depended on to preserve privilege; nor to affirm once and for all – and God knows it is needed in the distress of today – that history, at least, is living and continuous, that it is, for the subject in question, a place of rest, certainty, reconciliation, a place for tranquilized sleep.

Foucault, Archaeology of Knowledge (p. 14)

Presence of mind in an electronic age requires persistence. I would like to suggest that the role we might dare to take up as we become publishers of our own pageants is the persistent one of the sacred reader or the adult self. Whether Prospero or Eve, the sacred reader persists in what she reads of the play of self and space, encompassing childhood and adolescence in transcendent performance.

Joyce, Othermindedness, (p.77)

Status Update

See that break in activity between December 2015 and June 2018? That represents my transition from one-course-per-semester coursework to candidacy exam, prospectus writing and defense, and dissertation work. I’m not a consistent blogger. Most of the posts to this blog came from requirements or expectations of graduate coursework.

Why the burst of activity? It’s about the job market. I’m building a professional site that reflects who I am as an academic researcher, scholar, and teacher. I want to put my best persona forward, but I’ll admit, consistent blogging is hard for me. Doesn’t make it less important, just a reflection on the challenge it presents.

It’s not that I don’t write. Doctoral candidates don’t “not write.” We write emails, we write feedback on papers, we write grant applications, we write dissertations, we write positions, and we write publications. I’m writing all those things. I’ve posted drafts of my nascent teaching philosophy and research statement to represent that writing work, but so much writing is done behind the scenes, out of the public’s sight.

I’m struggling through the labor of writing my dissertation, and it turns out that a blog post is a useful distraction from that labor. But it’s also true that I’m working on finishing touches on the initial draft of my first chapter, that I’m about halfway through my review of literature, that I’ve written up one set of methods and results my pilot study, that I have completed most of my data analysis for my final results. I’ll be writing six total chapters, one more than a “standard” dissertation (whatever that means), that includes two result chapters: one addressing the results of my methods, and one addressing the issues with my methods.

We’ll see if “I’m back” to the blogging thing, if I ever was really “there” in the first place. I’ll keep writing, and I’ll try to do more of that writing that’s visible to the public here.

 

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Research Statement: A Draft in Progress

As a technical communication scholar and professional, my research interests reside at the intersection of the human and technological, focused specifically on the way rhetorical agency emerges at these interstices. As technical communication scholarship and practice extends into user experience (UX), UX design, experience architecture, and usability testing, my research offers insights into changing understandings of what we mean by the term “user.” This user identity is less likely to be a human persona and more likely to be a collectivity of human activity and technological influence, including machine learning, artificial intelligence, and algorithm-mediated daily experience. We have entered the realm of the posthuman, and our technical communication theory, pedagogy, and practice must adapt to posthuman UX in order to understand and design the systems, communications, and experiences that account for the technological activity intertwined in posthuman agency.

Prior Research

My research focus on the emerging topic of posthuman usability in technical communication is the combination of two primary strands of professional and pedagogical experience.

Web Development

I am a self-taught professional web developer. My only formal instruction in web development came in the form of a free HTML class I took in 1996 while a public secondary English teacher. We coded HTML using a text editor and previewed our code using the Mosaic web browser — which reveals something about my age, but also represents the strong influence Internet technology has had on my professional experience. I worked over a decade as a freelance web developer and have worked as a web manager on a higher education marketing team, either part-time or full-time, for the past 18 years. I now immerse myself in the very algorithms I study and analyze as a scholar, developing and managing search and social media marketing campaigns while improving search engine optimization (SEO) through content creation and marketing. Experience in web development reveals starkly the pervasive influence that networks, hardware, software, and algorithmic procedures have on daily life. As my research into posthuman agency has accelerated, I’ve theorized that SEO represents algorithmic usability, where human-generated content is manipulated for ease and simplicity of use by algorithmic processes that generate top-level search results. I’ve presented and published research from my experience as a technical communicator in the Proceedings of the 34th and 35th ACM International Conference on the Design of Communication.

Composition Pedagogy

Since training to become a secondary English teacher, I have taught students about writing and trained them to become better writers. Deeply influenced by the social turn in composition studies, I have focused my pedagogy on the collaborative social aspects of composing. Given the deeply mediated activity of writing through and with digital technologies, my research and teaching have focused on the collaborative affordances that composing platforms like Google’s G-Suite for Education and cloud-computing platforms like Box, Dropbox, and Google Drive provide for practicing collaborative composing. I’ve collaborated with a colleague at Old Dominion University to publish works on using Google Drive for collaborative composing in the Journal of Usability Studies, in the Proceedings of the Annual Computers and Writing Conference: Vol. 1. 2016-2017 (edited by Cheryl Ball, Chen Chen, Kristopher Purzycki, and Lydia Wilkes), and in collections published by IGI Global (edited by Binod Gurung and Marohang Limbu) and Utah State University Press (edited by Rich Rice and Kirk St.Amant).

Current Research

Beginning with a “Theories of Networks” class I took with Shelley Rodrigo and Julia Romberger at ODU, my dissertation topic and research has shifted from a focus on literature and cultural studies (albeit with a technological overlay; my 1998 master’s thesis concluded with a comparison of non-linear narrative strategy in The Life and Times of Tristram Shandy with hypertext theory) toward a focus on networked agency in composing. I refined this focus with a class on theories of Technical and Professional Writing taught by Dan Richards, where I discovered the field of technical communication and realized that I had been working as a technical communicator for years without knowing it. I have honed my research to focus attention on tracing rhetorical agency as its emerges during online research practices. My dissertation seeks to trace, describe, and visualize the emergence of assemblage agency during online research as posthuman user experience. My object of study is a student conducting research using an academic library’s “one search” search interface, and my methods combine ethnographic observation with usability testing combined with mining network activity data from browser HTTP Archive (HAR) files. I’ve published my initial theoretical approach and visualization attempts in a special issue of Present Tense on platform rhetorics (edited by Dustin Edwards and Bridget Gelms) and presented these approaches at recent conferences including the International Critical Media Literacy Conference (Southern Georgia University), the Symposium on Communicating Complex Information (East Carolina University), and the annual Computers and Writing conference (George Mason University).

Research Agenda

I seek to pursue posthuman UX in future research. Assemblage agency consisting of human and nonhuman entities is relatively straightforward to theorize through work by such disparate scholars as Bruno Latour, Jane Bennett, Rosi Braidotti, N. Katherine Hayles, James Brown, Levi Bryant, Ian Bogost, and others. Assemblage agency is devilishly difficult to trace and reveal, and the methods for doing so are clumsy and untheorized. I intend to adapt existing and explore new methods that technical communication scholars can use to uncover the black box of algorithmic and procedural rhetorical influence. The result of this work, which I intend to introduce in my dissertation, is to provide accessible heuristics and pedagogies that can help scholars and students alike recognize, reveal, and understand the shared agency that emerges in algorithm-mediated daily life. While algorithmic literacy is a term that Cathy Davidson and Ted Striphas have introduced to describe this awareness, my long-term research goal is to develop posthuman UX studies as a practical approach to designing products, systems, and experiences that both recognize assemblage agency and make explicit the shared nature of agency that emerges when humans use algorithm-mediated networked products.

Since I started working as a web developer at the University of Richmond School of Professional & Continuing Studies in 1999, I’ve engaged in designing online experiences for human and, increasingly, algorithmic audiences. The opportunity to study and theorize the very activities I’ve engaged in daily for the past two decades excites and engages me. I’m extending a long history of pedagogy and professional experience into the realm of knowledge making, and I’m eager to keep advancing.

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Teaching Philosophy: A Work in Progress

My philosophy of teaching opens with the premise that I teach students, not professional or academic communication. Students enter the classroom with years of writing and communication experience, and among the first goals of any course I teach is to guide students to recognize their existing practices as experiences on which to build. This approach helps me better understand the strengths and challenges each student brings into the classroom, and develops an ethos of care and understanding by valuing the composing activities in which students already engage. When students report they regularly compose social media posts and text messages, we’re immediately able to examine the generic expectations emerging around different kinds of posts and messages and to identity the audience, purpose, content, and style of message genres. This rhetorical approach to communication practices both values students as writers and demonstrates the rhetorical approach to composing that I bring to any composition-intensive course.

My teaching philosophy is refined by demonstrating that I join students in a community of learners. I seek to facilitate the advancement of students’ composing practices through instruction, practice, feedback, and iteration. While I represent the class subject matter expert on composing theory and practices, I willingly share my own learning experiences, including my writing challenges and successes, to demonstrate my approach to composing as continually working toward, but not quite achieving, mastery. Rather than focusing on lecture as a primary instructional strategy, I seek to engage students in Socratic dialogues on composing strategies writ broadly. Dialogue content ranges widely, but I encourage students to make claims, recognize warrants, provide evidence, and generate counter claims about specific strategies like document design, the ethics of data visualizations, and using un-gendered language and imagery. Facilitating such dialogues provides opportunities for students to engage in community learning experiences all — students and teachers — work and learn together.

Nurturing a community of learners reflects my approach to composing as a collaborative activity, practiced in social contexts. As a result, my classroom is not only orally collaborative through Socratic dialogue, but also textually and technologically collaborative through hardware and software. I prefer to teach composition-intensive classes in a computer lab, where the technologically mediated experience of composing is obvious and clearly displayed. I require students to compose in collaborative settings through group composing activities, collaborative synchronous composing using Google Docs, and peer review sessions using Google Docs. I understand teaching as a collaboration among students and teachers, and I tend to use the classroom environment, packed with technological affordances for collaboration, to model this understanding. Like my students, I also engage in collaboration through reviewing drafts in Google Docs and providing feedback that can be seen not only by the writer, but also by the student’s composing partners. I do this not to shame students, but to demonstrate that composing happens in social environments and to provide feedback that other students may be able to apply to their own work.

I focus attention on the collaborative, social context of composing because I seek to prepare students to compose in workplace contexts where collaboration is the norm, not the exception. Nearly two decades of experience working in higher education marketing and communication inform this collaborative approach. Workplace composing necessarily happens in social contexts, often imbued with undertones of workplace politics, power differentials, and personality conflicts. Workplace contexts regularly require joint authorship and the sharing of rhetorical agency while navigating these undertones. I seek to create a classroom environment where collaboration among weaker and stronger composers, among native and non-native English speakers, and among speakers of multiple Englishes, is practiced, valued, and honed. I trust such activities prepare students to compose in workplace environments, even when their composition assignments are academic in nature.

I operationalize my philosophy of teaching by assigning compositions that seek to address a specific problem in society. In a classroom focused on academic composing, assignments focus on solving a public problem. In a classroom focused on business and professional communication, assignments focus on professional and workplace problems that need to be solved. In both contexts, I seek to create assignments that students have agency to shape to problems and situations in their field, major, discipline, profession, or area of interest. I also encourage open conversations about social and political issues, providing opportunities for students to make and support their own claims about contemporary issues and policies and to challenge claims made around these issues by others, either in our beyond the classroom walls. These conversations are planned around assignments toward scaffolding composing experiences from the conceptual to the practical. I facilitate classroom and online conversations; given my preference for technology-mediated classrooms, I include online discussion expectations in classroom-based, in-class/online hybrid, and online learning environments.

 I seek to improve instruction with every class I teach. Beyond formal course evaluations, I provide time and space for students to share what worked and didn’t work in each class I teach. While power differentials between teacher and students necessarily color feedback, I am pleasantly and regularly pleased that students willingly provide honest critical feedback when asked. I trust and believe this comes as a result of facilitating a community of learners in which all voices, including dissenting opinions, are not hushed, but heard and valued. I reflect on feedback I receive and combine it with personal reflections on students’ progress to adjust learning activities, instructional design, assessment rubrics, teaching style and mode, and the syllabus to ensure improvement. I seek improved pedagogies with each passing semester, and I actively seek them out when they are not immediately forthcoming from feedback or reflection. I seek out teachable moments, whether they come from campus lectures or events, blog posts or news items, emerging scholarship, conferences sessions, colleagues and students themselves, and look to incorporate them into classroom discussions, readings, and assignments when possible. I seek to adapt to student needs, to adapt to the teaching environment, and to adapt to the contexts in which instruction occurs — political, economic, social, emotional, and intellectual — in each class I teach.

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For Researchers, Risk Is a Vanishing Luxury

The Chronicle of Higher Education — For Researchers, Risk Is a Vanishing Luxury: In her latest book, Roberta Ness, vice president for innovation at the University of Texas School of Public Health, says a basic mission of the American research university is eroding, with predictability prized over boldness at almost every level.

Universities increasingly judge faculty members on not just their research or teaching, but also their ability to pull in dollars. They hire scientists who pay their entire salaries through grants, an employment deal that breeds incrementalism. They use metrics biased toward short-term productivity. To guide their hiring, they use peer evaluations, which, research has shown, are naturally hostile to radical ideas.

“The lack of risk taking and associated conservatism is one of the most dispiriting aspects of modern university life,” said Andrew F. Read, a professor and director of the Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics at Pennsylvania State University. “I don’t see too many people in leadership roles worrying about it.”

Something that algorithms offer, or promise to offer, is predictability. One way algorithms may be influencing humans in perceptible, concrete ways is in valuing too highly algorithmic, computational, safely predictive thinking over abstract, associational, riskily speculative thinking.

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For Researchers, Risk Is a Vanishing Luxury

The Chronicle of Higher Education — For Researchers, Risk Is a Vanishing Luxury: In her latest book, Roberta Ness, vice president for innovation at the University of Texas School of Public Health, says a basic mission of the American research university is eroding, with predictability prized over boldness at almost every level.

Universities increasingly judge faculty members on not just their research or teaching, but also their ability to pull in dollars. They hire scientists who pay their entire salaries through grants, an employment deal that breeds incrementalism. They use metrics biased toward short-term productivity. To guide their hiring, they use peer evaluations, which, research has shown, are naturally hostile to radical ideas.

“The lack of risk taking and associated conservatism is one of the most dispiriting aspects of modern university life,” said Andrew F. Read, a professor and director of the Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics at Pennsylvania State University. “I don’t see too many people in leadership roles worrying about it.”

Something that algorithms offer, or promise to offer, is predictability. One way algorithms may be influencing humans in perceptible, concrete ways is in valuing too highly algorithmic, computational, safely predictive thinking over abstract, associational, riskily speculative thinking.

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Refusing to Be Evaluated by a Formula

Insider Higher Education — Refusing to Be Evaluated by a Formula: Rutgers faculty members, citing philosophical concerns and errors, are pushing back against the use of Academic Analytics to evaluate their productivity.

Martínez-San Miguel [professor of Latino and Hispanic Caribbean studies at Rutgers] gave the company the benefit of the doubt, guessing that at least some of the errors in her profile were the result a working algorithm that doesn’t value many of the interdisciplinary and Spanish-language journals she’s published in, as opposed to pure inaccuracy. Still, she asked, “How is this going to affect the next generation? Will they only publish in journals that are ranked, and does that preclude taking intellectual risks?”

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Refusing to Be Evaluated by a Formula

Insider Higher Education — Refusing to Be Evaluated by a Formula: Rutgers faculty members, citing philosophical concerns and errors, are pushing back against the use of Academic Analytics to evaluate their productivity.

Martínez-San Miguel [professor of Latino and Hispanic Caribbean studies at Rutgers] gave the company the benefit of the doubt, guessing that at least some of the errors in her profile were the result a working algorithm that doesn’t value many of the interdisciplinary and Spanish-language journals she’s published in, as opposed to pure inaccuracy. Still, she asked, “How is this going to affect the next generation? Will they only publish in journals that are ranked, and does that preclude taking intellectual risks?”

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When Your Boss Is an Uber Algorithm

MIT Technology Review – When Your Boss Is an Uber Algorithm: How Uber controls its drivers despite its claims to be a neutral platform

She [Carnegie Mellon University researcher Min Kyung Lee] found that much of the time they were happy with the “algorithmic management” that assigned fares and raised rates during busy periods. But drivers also complained that they were sometimes pushed to do things that seemed unreasonable, such as make pickups that weren’t nearby.

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When Your Boss Is an Uber Algorithm

MIT Technology Review – When Your Boss Is an Uber Algorithm: How Uber controls its drivers despite its claims to be a neutral platform

She [Carnegie Mellon University researcher Min Kyung Lee] found that much of the time they were happy with the “algorithmic management” that assigned fares and raised rates during busy periods. But drivers also complained that they were sometimes pushed to do things that seemed unreasonable, such as make pickups that weren’t nearby.

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Curating a MediaCommons Collection on Algorithms

screen capture

MediaCommons website screen capture: November 24, 2015

I was flattered a few months ago to be asked to develop a MediaCommons Field Guide survey on the general topic of algorithms. In consultation with (and following the sage advice of) the MediaCommons editorial team, I formulated the following question to be addressed by respondents:

What opportunities are available to influence the way algorithms are programmed, written, executed, and trusted?

This survey question seeks to explore ways that digital humanities pedagogy and praxis might influence, produce, direct, or capitalize on the automated activities of algorithms. As algorithms seek to more intelligently predict what we might like using profile data mined from our archived and ongoing online activities, how might our access to ideas and experiences may be limited or expanded by the predictive power of self-learning algorithm-based decisions? Will our access to and ability to explore the vast range of opportunities available to us be enhanced, or will the predictive authority of algorithms reshape the landscape and horizons of our existence? Might the predictions algorithms make prove so accurate that we have little need to see or experience beyond the horizons shaped by algorithms? Contrastingly, are there positive implications for the ways in which algorithms shape our various digital experiences? The question encompasses composing or running an algorithm along with the results of algorithmic activity.

Responses may explore any aspect of the question; some possible approaches include:

  • The role(s) of algorithms in the digital humanities
  • Ways algorithms are involved in communication
  • (Dis)connections between artificial and human intelligences
  • Coding ethical algorithms
  • Influences of algorithms on humanistic pursuits
  • Computer games as algorithmic praxis
  • “Hidden” and/or “visible” algorithms that influence human activity
  • Algorithms, surveillance, and privacy
  • Government and corporate interest/investment in algorithms
  • Big data, data analysis, algorithms and humanities research

I reached out to a wide range of colleagues, friends, acquaintances, and heroes of scholarship I’ve encountered in my doctoral studies and asked for 600± word responses to this question.

The response and results are exceeding my wildest expectations. Responses to my email requests for contributions were greeted with warmth and encouragement. Those who were unable to contribute made their apologies with grace and recommended other scholars I might consider contacting to request contributions. I followed up with those scholars, too, who turned out to be as warm and receptive as the first round of respondents; several of them, in turn, contributed to the project. The experience of requesting contributions has been pleasant, as has the process of collecting those contributions and getting them posted.

I’m currently in the process of curating the collection of contributions, encouraging conversations and engaging other scholars in the dialogue that’s emerging around these posts. You can join the conversation at MediaCommons. I’m taking this opportunity to share with you what’s out there and to encourage you to join the conversation. More posts are coming after the Thanksgiving holiday, when I’ll add a post to include them.

  1. Curator’s Introduction: Organisms in a World of Algorithms — Daniel Hocutt, University of Richmond & Old Dominion University
  2. Algorithms and Rhetorical Agency — Chris Ingraham, North Carolina State University
  3. The Essential Context: Theorizing the Coming Out Narrative as a Set of (Big) Data — Marc Ouellette, Old Dominion University
  4. Algorithmic Discrimination in Online Spaces — Estee Beck, UT-Arlington
  5. Toward Ambient Algorithms — Sean Contrey, Syracuse University
  6. How Will Near Future Writing Technologies Influence Teaching and Learning in Writing? — Bill Hart-Davidson, Michigan State University
  7. algorithms at the seam: machines reading humans +/- — Carl Whithaus, UC Davis
  8. How Are We Tracked Once We Press Play? Algorithmic Data Mining in Casual Video Games — Stephanie Vie, University of Central Florida
  9. Crowdsourcing Out the Sophistic Algorithms: An Ancient View — Walt Stevenson, University of Richmond

If you’re interested in the way algorithms are being used across a variety of fields, disciplines, industries, and situations, you will find something interesting among the posts in this collection. These contributions are intended to generate conversation — I hope you’ll read one or more and join the conversation. I can attest that the scholars whose contributions you’ll be reading are approachable and more than willing to enter into dialogue.

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Curating a MediaCommons Collection on Algorithms

screen capture

MediaCommons website screen capture: November 24, 2015

I was flattered a few months ago to be asked to develop a MediaCommons Field Guide survey on the general topic of algorithms. In consultation with (and following the sage advice of) the MediaCommons editorial team, I formulated the following question to be addressed by respondents:

What opportunities are available to influence the way algorithms are programmed, written, executed, and trusted?

This survey question seeks to explore ways that digital humanities pedagogy and praxis might influence, produce, direct, or capitalize on the automated activities of algorithms. As algorithms seek to more intelligently predict what we might like using profile data mined from our archived and ongoing online activities, how might our access to ideas and experiences may be limited or expanded by the predictive power of self-learning algorithm-based decisions? Will our access to and ability to explore the vast range of opportunities available to us be enhanced, or will the predictive authority of algorithms reshape the landscape and horizons of our existence? Might the predictions algorithms make prove so accurate that we have little need to see or experience beyond the horizons shaped by algorithms? Contrastingly, are there positive implications for the ways in which algorithms shape our various digital experiences? The question encompasses composing or running an algorithm along with the results of algorithmic activity.

Responses may explore any aspect of the question; some possible approaches include:

  • The role(s) of algorithms in the digital humanities
  • Ways algorithms are involved in communication
  • (Dis)connections between artificial and human intelligences
  • Coding ethical algorithms
  • Influences of algorithms on humanistic pursuits
  • Computer games as algorithmic praxis
  • “Hidden” and/or “visible” algorithms that influence human activity
  • Algorithms, surveillance, and privacy
  • Government and corporate interest/investment in algorithms
  • Big data, data analysis, algorithms and humanities research

I reached out to a wide range of colleagues, friends, acquaintances, and heroes of scholarship I’ve encountered in my doctoral studies and asked for 600± word responses to this question.

The response and results are exceeding my wildest expectations. Responses to my email requests for contributions were greeted with warmth and encouragement. Those who were unable to contribute made their apologies with grace and recommended other scholars I might consider contacting to request contributions. I followed up with those scholars, too, who turned out to be as warm and receptive as the first round of respondents; several of them, in turn, contributed to the project. The experience of requesting contributions has been pleasant, as has the process of collecting those contributions and getting them posted.

I’m currently in the process of curating the collection of contributions, encouraging conversations and engaging other scholars in the dialogue that’s emerging around these posts. You can join the conversation at MediaCommons. I’m taking this opportunity to share with you what’s out there and to encourage you to join the conversation. More posts are coming after the Thanksgiving holiday, when I’ll add a post to include them.

  1. Curator’s Introduction: Organisms in a World of Algorithms — Daniel Hocutt, University of Richmond & Old Dominion University
  2. Algorithms and Rhetorical Agency — Chris Ingraham, North Carolina State University
  3. The Essential Context: Theorizing the Coming Out Narrative as a Set of (Big) Data — Marc Ouellette, Old Dominion University
  4. Algorithmic Discrimination in Online Spaces — Estee Beck, UT-Arlington
  5. Toward Ambient Algorithms — Sean Contrey, Syracuse University
  6. How Will Near Future Writing Technologies Influence Teaching and Learning in Writing? — Bill Hart-Davidson, Michigan State University
  7. algorithms at the seam: machines reading humans +/- — Carl Whithaus, UC Davis
  8. How Are We Tracked Once We Press Play? Algorithmic Data Mining in Casual Video Games — Stephanie Vie, University of Central Florida
  9. Crowdsourcing Out the Sophistic Algorithms: An Ancient View — Walt Stevenson, University of Richmond

If you’re interested in the way algorithms are being used across a variety of fields, disciplines, industries, and situations, you will find something interesting among the posts in this collection. These contributions are intended to generate conversation — I hope you’ll read one or more and join the conversation. I can attest that the scholars whose contributions you’ll be reading are approachable and more than willing to enter into dialogue.

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Motherhood on Display: How Meaning is Made in the Production and Distribution Contexts of Breastfeeding Advocacy Campaigns

Introduction

In the past few years, images of women breastfeeding their children have gained a good deal of attention from the media, both negative and positive. In May, 2012 the circulation of images of two female members of the Unites Stated Air Force breastfeeding their children while in uniform caused a great deal of controversy. The images had been created to promote a breastfeeding support group within the local military community, but the images went viral. Many articles and blogs shared the images and accompanied the with contemplation, in some cases, and strongly expressed opinions, in other cases, about whether the images sent a positive message about the nature of motherhood or whether they were inappropriate and undermined the efforts of women to fit in with their male colleagues. In 2014 a pro-breastfeeding campaign sponsored by the Mexico City government and featuring female Mexican celebrities went viral. The campaign encouraged women to breastfed and implied that not doing so was to turn their backs on their children. The campaign was widely regarded as evidence of the sexualization of the maternal body and an institutional failure to understand the constraints and obstacles that inhibit mothers who wish to breastfeed. By contrast, another 2014 breastfeeding campaign featuring college-aged breastfeeding mothers breastfeeding awkwardly in stalls of public restrooms received a good deal of positive reaction. While all three campaigns attempted to raise some awareness of breastfeeding, they did so in different ways by presenting mothers differently within their physical and social environments. Each campaign constructs motherhood differently, and they attribute to mothers varying levels of maternal agency. Previous analyses of breastfeeding campaigns have claimed that such campaigns often serve to marginalize breastfeeding mothers rather than empower them (Hausman, 2007; Kukla, 2006). Others, such as Brett Lunceford (2012), view pro-breastfeeding featuring mothers breastfeeding their children as imagery as harmful rather beneficial to normalize breastfeeding. The aim of this project is to examine the way in which the contexts of both production and distribution, the construction of maternal agency, and the responses to the campaigns operate to create meaning. An additional aim of the project is to explore what the construction of the images and the received meanings reveal and conceal about present attitudes toward breastfeeding and embodied motherhood. By performing a visual rhetorical analysis of breastfeeding advocacy campaigns produced within these differing contexts–a peer-to-peer support group within a military community, a college campus, and a city health initiative–this research project will attempt to determine whether visual advocacy campaigns normalize breastfeeding through the examination of the production context, the construction of maternal agency within the images, and the distribution contexts.

Breastfeeding Advocacy

In Naked Politics: Nudity, Political Action, and the Rhetoric of the Body (2012), Brett Lunceford explores the body as a site of political action. In the third chapter, entitled “Weaponizing the Breast: Lactivism and Public Breastfeeding,” Lunceford argues that lactivism, which uses breastfeeding as a method of advocating for more widespread acceptance and normalization of breastfeeding, poses a challenge to the sexualization of the breast and makes an argument that breasts should be regarded for their functionality. Lactivism challenges the widespread conceptualization of the breast as a sexual object by emphasizing the functionality of the breast and using breastfeeding visibly in public places as a way to normalize breastfeeding. Lunceford perceived there to be a significant difference between lactivism that takes place on location in the public and lactivism through still images. He claims that “There is a function to public breastfeeding that is readily apparent—the child needs to be fed at that time and no amount of reasoning with the infant will stop the child’s insistent crying. At the moment when the photograph is posted, however, the urgency has passed” (Lunceford, 2012, p. 66). He claims that the staging of public nursing is counterproductive because it makes breastfeeding a spectacle, and because there is no urgency or immediate need to capture an image of a breastfeeding mother and child pair, advocacy through imagery is even more of a spectacle than a staged nurse-in. This, he claims, serves to “undermine their message that breastfeeding should be considered natural and unspectacular” (Lunceford, 2012, p. 67).

In Rhetorics of Display, Lawrence J. Prelli claims that our very reality (or realities) or “much of what appears or looks to us as reality is constituted rhetorically through multiple displays that surround us, compete for our attention, and make claims” (2006, p. 1). Display, he claims, is the primary form of rhetoric in contemporary western society (Prelli, 2006, p. 2). Displays play such a significant role in society because “the meanings they manifest before situated audiences result from selective processes and, thus, constitute partial perspectives with political, social, or cultural implications” (Prelli, 2006, p. 11). To examine displays, Prelli claims, we can analyze rhetorics of display by examining how they reveal partial perspectives by concealing other perspectives.

Prelli’s theory of displays as simultaneously revealing perspectives and concealing perspectives is reminiscent of Kenneth Burke’s concept of “terministic screens.” In A Grammar of Motives (1969), Burke says that, “Men seek for vocabularies that will be faithful reflections of reality. To this end, they must develop vocabularies that are selections of reality. And any selections of reality must, in certain circumstances, function as a deflection of reality. Insofar as the vocabulary meets the needs of reflection, we can say that it has the necessary scope. It its selectivity, it is a reduction” (1969, p. 59). Burke seems to be arguing that choices of vocabulary are a selection of particular perspectives of reality, and as they reflect particular perspectives of reality, they also function to deflect other perspectives of reality.

In his choice to name visual depictions of breastfeeding in attempts to advocate a wider acceptance of breastfeeding in public places, Lunceford is applying a terministic screen that views breastfeeding as something that should be protected from public view when and if possible. His argument suggests that efforts to challenge dominant notions about womanhood and motherhood have to be functional, else the existence of these images or displays serves no useful function. Lunceford’s view seems to coincide with what Bernice Hausman refers to as the androcentric view of breastfeeding. Hausman’s “Things (Not) to Do with Breasts in Public: Maternal Embodiment and the Biocultural Politics of Infant Feeding” (2007) is concerned with the way in which maternal embodiment of breastfeeding is deemphasized. Hausman carries out a biocultural analysis of representations of breastfeeding (representations that aim to present, promote, or analyze breastfeeding) to examine the social conflicts surrounding breastfeeding. She explains that most depictions of breastfeeding, even in materials meant to promote breastfeeding, attempt to suppress the embodied nature of the breastfeeding experiences and use technology (such as the pump) to mediate social anxiety surrounding public breastfeeding (Hausman, 2007, p. 481). She says, “Indeed, not being able to visualize or represent breastfeeding is related to a need to establish and maintain control over mothers, imagined themselves as irresponsible and unreliable, by managing their relation to their infants through technology” (Hausman, 2007, p. 481). Lunceford’s claim that images of breastfeeding undermine attempts to normalize it by drawing attention to it can be viewed as an attempt to control the spaces and places that breastfeeding can be perceived of as normal. The argument that breastfeeding is only an acceptable sight if it is seen in real-time and the site is unavoidable because of the infant’s need for nutrition actually seems an effort to reinforce breastfeeding as abnormal. Lunceford seems to adhere to the androcentric view that “mothers are persons on the condition that they act like male persons” (Hausman, 2007, p. 494); unless, of course, it is unavoidable for them to do so because the baby has a need to be fed. In “Breast is Best…But Not Everywhere: Ambivalent Sexism and Attitudes toward Private and Public Breastfeeding,” Michele Acker claims that those who feel that women’s bodies should be shield from view if possible are viewing women and their bodies through the lens of “benevolent sexism” (Acker, 2009, p. 479). Those benevolent sexists “believe in cherishing and protecting women, idealizing traditional women” (Acker, 2009, p. 479). Perhaps Lunceford’s argument that breastfeeding and representing breastfeeding in public spaces, particularly when there is no immediate need for mothers to be seen doing so, is based in part on a benevolent sexist attitude.

Rebecca Kukla’s “Ethics and Ideology in Breastfeeding Advocacy Campaigns” (2006) examines the way in which breastfeeding campaigns have inadvertently conveyed messages about breastfeeding that reveal perceptions of the nursing mother, the breast, and the appropriateness, or not, of the public breastfeeding. Utilizing social semiotics, Kukla conducted a visual rhetorical analysis of several American breastfeeding campaigns that attempt to intervene into the infant-feeding choices and behaviors of mothers. Modern health care, according to Kukla, views the mother as having the primary responsibility for the health of her child. Kukla points of that breastfeeding campaigns often present breastfeeding, which scientific studies have suggested is the healthiest method of infant-feeding, as a civic duty, an ethical practice, and a practical method of feeding. Before beginning the analysis of the images, Kukla reviews the rhetorical exigency for breastfeeding campaigns. Breastfeeding is widely viewed as the best method of breastfeeding for a number of reasons; however, breastfeeding rates in the United States fall below target rates. She explains that breastfeeding advocates were confused about why mothers choose not to breastfeed despite the fact that it is well known that breastfeeding is very beneficial and a pleasant experience. Breastfeeding advocates assumed that the reason that mothers were not breastfeeding was because they were not getting the message. Rather than examining the reasons that mothers were not breastfeeding, in 2004 the Department of Health and Human Services decided to hire the private advertising agency the Ad Council to design a slogan and breastfeeding promotional materials. By examining the advocacy campaign through the lens of semiotics and analysis of the ethics of the campaign, Kukla examines what the campaign reveals about the culturally situated nature of breastfeeding. Kukla explores the cultural factors that make breastfeeding difficult: sexualization of the breast, codes dictating appropriate public and private behaviors, barriers for working mothers. Kukla points out that many images of women breastfeeding show women wearing nightgowns or robes, suggesting that breastfeeding is a domestic act. The narrative about breastfeeding suggests that it is easy and joyful. Women who have difficulties with breastfeeding are seen as “deviant and unmotherly” (Kukla, 2006. p. 169). Mothers who have difficulty feel “unmotherly, shameful, incapable, defective, and morally inadequate” (Kukla, 2006, p. 170). Rather than helping mothers overcome these barriers, the DHHS campaign reinforces the notion that breastfeeding is private by including pictures of objects meant to represent breasts (ie. an ice cream sundae with two scopes each topped with a cherry). The text accompanying the images reminds mothers why choosing not to breastfeed may harm children, which was a change from past advocacy campaigns that promoted the benefits. Kukla argues that this campaign was harmful because it painted mothers who face barriers to breastfeeding as harmful to their children. Kukla claims that the DHHS campaign and similar campaigns are “unethical assaults” and campaigns that focus on risk in this way are normative (2006, p. 175).

Both Hausman and Kukla had found that many attempts at breastfeeding advocacy had actually served to marginalize breastfeeding mothers through their choices of visual imagery of pro-breastfeeding materials. Their examinations of these materials reveal that pro-breastfeeding campaigns often present an androcentric view of breastfeeding. Lunceford’s claim that pro-breastfeeding imagery depicting mothers nursing their children undermines attempts to normalize breastfeeding. While it certainly seems possible for breastfeeding campaigns to present a successful visual argument for breastfeeding that reveals rather than conceals the societal and material constraints placed on breastfeeding mother-child and does not undermine attempts to normalize breastfeeding, scholarship on breastfeeding advocacy campaigns has not yet compared unsuccessful attempts to normalize breastfeeding through visual advocacy to those visual campaigns that do seem to do so successfully. In order to make these comparisons, this research project will rely on social semiotics to explore the three campaigns in attempt to address the following questions:

  • How does the construction of these campaigns reveal and conceal perspectives on the nature of the female body, the nature of breastfeeding, the mother-child relationship, and the place of breastfeeding in society?
  • How have responses to these campaigns reveal/conceal perspectives on the nature of the female body, the nature of breastfeeding, the mother-child relationship, and the place of breastfeeding in society?
  • Have these campaigns reinforced or challenged the problems with campaigns Kukla analyzed in 2006? (The sexualization of the breast, codes dictating appropriate public and private behaviors, barriers for working mothers, and the image of breastfeeding as domestic and joyful?)

Objects of Study

The three pro-breastfeeding campaigns that were chosen for this analysis were chosen because the approached their audiences and arguments in varying ways. They all differed in the way in which they construct motherhood. Each campaign took a different approach in the effort to normalize breastfeeding, and each campaign was aimed at a different segment of society.

Campaign #1: Mom2Mom Campaign

The first object of study is a set of images of two female members of the Air National Guard members who are nursing their children in what seems to be a public park. The images themselves are professional photographs that were taken as part of a larger project in which women who were part of the Mom2Mom Breastfeeding Support Group at Fairchild Air Force base were photographed nursing their children. Though the images were intended to be used for materials to be distributed locally to support the group, the images went viral in late May 2012 and were posted on many news websites and blogs. Some reactions were positive, while other reactions are negative. The choice to have the subjects pose in their uniforms seemed to be made to convey a message about the dual nature of military motherhood.

Image of mothers in uniform breastfeeding their children.

Mom2Mom Campaign Image 1.

m2m 1

Mom2Mom Campaign Image 2.


Campaign #2: Mexico City Campaign

The second set of images came from a pro-breastfeeding campaign sponsored by the government of Mexico City. The images were meant to be distributed throughout the city. They were aimed at convincing mothers that they should breastfeed their children, and that failure to do so was in essence turning their backs on their children and risking their children’s health. The images were distributed on a number of news websites in the United States, and reactions seem to have been primarily negative.

mexcio city campaign

Mexico City Breastfeeding Campaign. Image from Bitch Magazine.

Campaign #3: When Nature Calls Campaign

The third set of images are from a breastfeeding advocacy campaign produced as a class project by Kris Haro and Johnathan Wenske, students as University of North Texas. The campaign features images of three college-age mothers breastfeeding their babies while sitting on toilets in public restrooms. The goal of the campaign was to shed light on the societal constraints that breastfeeding mothers face. The image went viral on a number of media outlets. Reactions to the images were primarily positive.

what to expect

“When Nature Calls Campaign.” Image from What to Expect When You’re Expecting.

 

Analytic Approach and Methodology

To examine these three campaigns and address the research questions, this project relies on a three pronged approach to analysis. The philosophical lens that guides the analysis of the image is social constructivism. In order to discover how meaning is made in and with these images, this project will rely on David Weintraub’s (2009) framework of discourse analysis of visual images. This approach calls for an analysis of the image and the text, an analysis of the production and distribution contexts of these images, and the way in which the image and texts work together within the social context to create a version of reality. To understand how these campaigns construct reality in the social context, this project relies on Prelli’s theory of the rhetoric of displays as a way of exploring what is revealed and concealed in the images.

Philosophical Assumptions and Theoretical Lenses

This project is grounded in two types of philosophical assumptions (ontological and epistemological) as John Creswell describes them in Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design: Choosing among Five Approaches (2012). One philosophical pillar of this research project (the ontological lens) is the assumption that there can be multiple and competing versions of reality. The ontological and epistemological (what knowledge is and where it comes from) assumptions in this project are informed by social constructivism. Social constructivism, according to Creswell, espouses that individuals develop subjective meanings through their experiences, and that these “meanings are negotiated socially and historically. In other words, they are not simply imprinted on individuals but are formed through interaction with others (hence social construction) and through historical and cultural norms that operate in individual’s lives” (Creswell, 2012, p. 25).

            Burke’s concept of terministic screens and Prelli’s theory of displays are useful theoretical lenses that allow for application of social constructivism to the rhetorical analysis of visual images in order to understand the ways in which meaning is made with and from those images. Burke’s concept of terministic screens relies on the idea that when one version of reality is presented through choices regarding representation, another version of reality is deemphasized by omission. Prelli’s theory operates similarly. Displays reveal versions of reality, and because some possible reality is presented, other conceptions of reality are de-emphasized.

 

Discourse Analysis

The structure of the analysis of these three visual campaigns is based in the discourse analysis framework that David Weintraub described in “Everything You Wanted to Know, but Where Powerless to Ask” (2009). This text provides a discourse analysis framework for the study of images. Discourse analysis is based on the idea of intertextuality; therefore, the meaning conveyed by the combination of the image and the accompanying text is an important element of the analysis of an image in discourse analysis. Context is also very important in discourse analysis. Weintraub says that the meaning of images “resides not solely within themselves, but also within the context of how and why the images were produced and distributed” (Weintraub, 2009, p. 200). According to Weintraub, discourse analysis involves three core moves: describing the content of the image and the text, analyzing the context of the production and distribution of the image and the text, and explaining how the image and text work together to construct a version of reality (2009, p. 206). In the article, Weintraub provides a detailed description of the process of conducting discourse analysis. To describe content, one should examine the subjects, composition, camera position and angle, tonality and color, look and gesture, size relationships, headlines, captions, articles. To analyze the context, the researcher should analyze the production context, the distribution context, and the reception contexts. To analyze the construction, or the reality, the researcher needs to look at the public image of the subject, myths, and ideas and concepts that are prompted by the image (Weintraub, 2009, p. 210-214). To accomplish the analysis of the images and texts, this project relies in social semiotics of the visual as described by Jewitt and Oyama (2001). The approach to the analysis of the distribution and reception of the images are informed by Gillian Rose’s Visual Methodologies (2012) and Groarke and David S. Birdsell’s “Toward a Theory of Visual Argument” (1996).

 

Social Semiotic Approach to Visual Analysis

In “Visual Meaning: A Social Semiotic Approach,” (2001) authors Carey Jewitt and Rumiko Oyama claim that visuals are meant to carry out three metafunctions: they create representations, they create interactions between speaker/author and listener/reader, and they bring together parts of a representation and interaction to make a whole text (2001, p. 140). It is tempting to view an image as a representation of reality, but as Jewitt and Oyama explain, visual artifacts convey meaning in much more complex ways. According to Jewitt and Oyama, visuals represent meaning through narrative structures in which the visual is telling a story, or they can convey meaning through conceptual structures. The authors explain the elements of visuals that, according to social semiotics, convey meaning. Social semiotics analyzes the way in which visuals create interactive meaning between the image and the viewer through contact, distance, and point of view. It looks at how images convey compositional meaning through information value (placement of elements in a composition), framing, salience, and modality. Social semiotics, as Jewitt and Oyama describe it, is useful for analyzing the visual image itself. While it does not tell us retroactively what the audience feels about the visual, social semiotics is useful for gauging the ways in which the image may appeal to the research proposal project. Jewitt and Oyama’s explanation of the difference between a conceptual image and a narrative image is useful to this project because the campaign that are being analyzed are best understood as having a symbolic or analytic structure because in the symbolic structure the identity of a participant is defined by the presence, or the absence in the case of the Mexico City image, of another person in the picture (baby). The analytical structure would view the mother and child as two parts in one whole.

Analyzing Production and Distribution Contexts

Gillian Rose’s Visual Methodologies: An Introduction to Researching with Visual Materials (2012), which draws from a number of theories and methodologies of the visual culture theory, suggests that there are actually three sites for the production of meaning of images: the site of the production of the image, the image itself, and those sites where it is encountered by audiences (Rose, 2012, p. 19). She also claims that each of the three sites has three modalities: technological, compositional, and social, and that differing theories of visual interpretation have as their foundations differing views of which of sites and modalities are most important (Rose, 2012, p. 40). Like many others scholars discussing the use of methodologies, Rose emphasizes using the methodology that is most appropriate for addressing the research question based on the sites and modalities that are being examined in the project (2012, p. 40). She explains five possible ways of examining visual artifacts in a visual analysis project: examinations of the way images visualize social difference, how images are looked at, the embeddedness of images in culture, the ways in which the audience bring their own interpretations to images, and the agency of images themselves.

Like Rose, Leo Groarke and David S. Birdsell’s “Toward a Theory of Visual Argument” (1996)is focused on locations of interpretation; however, the refer to these sites as “contexts” rather than “sites.” They are concerned primarily with the visual context of the image, the verbal context of the image, and the cultural context of the images (Birdsell and Groarke, 1996, p. 316), all of which seem to fall under the umbrella of the site of interpretation, one of the three sites of interpretation of a visual image that Rose describes in Visual Methodologies. Groarke and Birdsell approach visual analysis from the field of rhetorical studies. They claim that visual analysis should analyze the visual image itself, look at the contexts of the image, examine the consistency of the interpretation of that visual, and record changes in the perspective of the image over time. Groarke and Birdsell suggest a method that encompasses more than simply an analysis of the way in which the image itself produces meaning. Their approach involves the study of several sites of production of meaning and can incorporate the study of differing modalities.

The idea that the immediate visual context must be accounted for in an analysis of a visual is very important to the analysis of these breastfeeding campaigns. In the images of these campaigns, even the “ambient environment” within the image itself and which the images are contained seemed to make a difference in the interpretation of the images. The Mexico City campaign moves women from any context, the Mom2Mom group places the women outside in an open environment, the campaign entitled “When Nature Calls” places the nursing pair in a dimly light restroom stall.

Heuristic for Visual Analysis

To facilitate the three levels of analysis of the images in this project, the visual analysis, the cultural analysis, and the rhetorical analysis, a heuristic was created. The first section of the heuristic contains a visual analysis section that relies social semiotics, as described in Jewitt an Oyama’s “Visual Meaning: A Social Semiotic Approach” to analyze how visuals create meaning in the interaction between the image and the viewer through contact, distance, and point of view. It looks at how images convey compositional meaning through information value (placement of elements in a composition), framing, salience, and modality. The second part of the heuristic analyzes the cultural context in order to explore the production and distribution contexts of the images and the way in which meaning is made from the images through those contexts. The final portion of the heuristic relies in the previous two analyses to examine the rhetoric of the messages and to look closely at what the images reveal and conceal about the subjects of the images, what the images reveal and conceal about the context of the image’s subjects, and what the reception of images reveals about societal attitudes toward embodied motherhood and breastfeeding. For the purposes of this in depth analysis, one representative image was chosen from each of the three campaigns. There are many commonalities between the images that make up each of the campaigns and only a few differences. Each campaign contained images based on very similar compositional elements; therefore, conclusions about the three campaigns based on in-depth analysis can be generally applied to the overall message of the campaign.

Results of Analysis

Campaign#1:  Mom2Mom Campaign (Follow Link for Completed Heuristic)

Image of mothers in uniform breastfeeding their children.

The image from the Mom2Mom breastfeeding group campaign shows two mothers in Air Force National Guard uniforms breastfeeding their children. The images were created for the purpose of promoting Mom2Mom breastfeeding support group at Fairchild Air Force Base. The photographs were taken as part of a larger photoshoot including a number of other women who were involved in the group, and the group’s founder and one of the mothers in the image, has claimed that the mothers were given permission to pose for the images. The images were distributed on the photographer’s website and was going to be placed on posters and other materials created as promotional materials. They are sitting outside in what seems to be a park while breastfeeding their children. One of the mothers is breastfeeding twins who are sitting up in her lap. She is smiling while looking at the camera. Lunceford might claim that this mother’s acknowledgement that she is posing for the camera makes the image a spectacle and undermines the normative effort of the campaign. The other mother is nursing female child who is laying across her lap. This mother is looking down into the face of her child. The choice to have these mothers pose in uniform seems to suggest that women in uniform may need a particular kind of support and that they may also be more convinced to attend a group meeting if there are women like them in the group.

The military uniform seems to suggest strength and a warrior ethos. At the same time, the image has a soft, maternal element. The image attempts to convey a message that military mothers occupy dual roles and that they do it with strength and confidence. The mothers seem to be comfortable with the level of agency that they have within their immediate environment and perhaps their social context as well. The choice to breastfeed in uniform for visual image campaign cannot be taken likely, and shows that the mothers are comfortable with doing so.

After the photographs of the women were made public, the images of the women in uniform received a great deal of attention in the media, on social networking sites, on blogs, and in discussion threads, especially those focused around the topics of either breastfeeding or the military. One headline from The Air Force Times posed the question “Is This OK—Or Unprofessional?”

Breastfeeing in Uniform Cover. Air Force Times

Some who wrote about the images applauded the mothers for navigating their dual roles successfully and showing the strength of motherhood. Other responses, including some from other women who serve in the military, suggested that women in uniform should not be seen nursing in public because this undermines the efforts of women in the military to be seen as equal to men. For them, seeing women in uniform nursing will cause their male counterparts to view them differently. It was not until approximately seven months later, in January of 2013, that the ban on women in combat roles was lifted. Those who wanted to see women allowed in combat may have had reservations about the display of maternal embodiment.

Terran McCabe, one of the mothers photographed nursing her children in uniform, claims that they were given permission to participate in the photo-shoot by superiors. The hope of those involved in the project was that the images would be encouraging to other women and that the images would be placed in clinical exam rooms (McCabe). According to McCabe, Air National Guard officials changed their minds about the photographs after the images gained attention, and they asked McCabe to refrain from speaking about the images and to remove the images from her Facebook profile. Acker might argue that this is evidence of a benevolent sexism, though the National Guard’s official position was that it is not acceptable to be photographed in uniform in support of an organization or campaign and their position was not because of the breastfeeding itself.

Those who read these images as spectacle, as Lunceford would, and claim that the images undermine attempts to normalize breastfeeding are also suggesting that there is an appropriate way for mothers to behave will breastfeeding. For those who take issue with where the mothers are looking suggests that that there should only be a focus on the baby and not the external world. This view of the image constructs breastfeeding as private and perhaps even an otherworldly experience that is in need of protection, and that breastfeeding mother-child couples cannot or should not have full interaction with the wider world.

The image conceals the obstacles that breastfeeding mothers in uniform face. The very reactions to the image make these obstacles evident. The lack of places to pump, long hours at work, and potential separation from their children is not addressed. Instead, the mothers seem to present a confident and happy maternal ethos despite the fact that they work within a masculine environment. This expression of happiness and fulfillment seemed to cause cognitive dissonance for those who view breastfeeding as appropriately and necessarily private and as military bodies as occupying appropriately masculine places.

Campaign #2: Mexico City Campaign (Follow Link for Completed Heuristic)

breastfeed27n-3-web

The second image is part of a “prolactina” campaign in Mexico City. It was meant to encourage women to breastfeed their children, and this particular image, one of a popular actress and singer with her adult son, makes an argument that the benefits of breastfeeding will last until adulthood. Maribel Guardia is accompanied by her approximately 20 year old son, Julián Figuero. Guardia is topless, and there is a banner covering her large breasts. The banner says, “No le des la espalda, dale pecho.” In essence, it presents this petition to mothers: Don’t turn your back on them, give them your breast.” In the upper right side of the image, the text reads: “amamantar es lo primero que puedes hacer para asegurar la salud de tu hijo.” Translated it reads: “Breastfeeding is the first (best) thing you can do to ensure the health of your child.” Citizens of Mexico would likely know the identity of these subjects, but those with little knowledge of Mexican celebrities who are not well known in the United States, the relationship between the subjects is not clear. The text that accompanies the images helps make the relationship clear.

The target audience was new mothers, and the goal was to encourage women to breastfeed their children for at least the first 3-6 months, but the image presents the maternal body in a very sexual way. Guardia is nude from the waist up, and her body is very toned and fit, particularly for a woman in her fifties. The images was picked up in various blogs and news outlets in Mexico, and then was published in blogs and news websites in English in the United States, including the Huffington Post. Most outlets took a negative view of the campaign. The controversy surrounding the image was focused on the fact that the campaign used famous actresses, most of whom were large breasted and model-thin, and seemed to sexualize motherhood. Various outlets claimed that the image was racist, classist, and sexist. Within a day of the launch of the campaign, one of the actress-models renounced her involvement.

The image of Guardia and her son underscores dominant notions of femininity and sexualizes motherhood, which suggests that the images have been created through an androcentric view if mothers and women. The images in the campaign were referred to as being racist, sexist, and classic because they depict motherhood through the use of wealthy women who are associated with strongly associated with sexuality and masculine desire, and those women are topless with a banner covering their breasts. The campaign is meant to advocate for breastfeeding, but the breasts (other than the curvature at the tops of the breasts and the cleavage) are concealed for the sake of modesty; however, the actress is otherwise exposed from the waist upward. Concealing the breasts while revealing much of the rest of the body conveys the notion that breastfeeding is being associated with sexuality, or at least with highly sexualized bodies. The image seems to underscore androcentric views of maternity and women. The following image is typical of the images that result from Google searches of “Maribel Guardia”:

Maribel Guardia Modeling for TV Notas

Maribel Guardia Modeling for TV Notas

In addition to sexualizing mothers, the campaign also positions mothers as objects with the function of raising children. The masculine son stands behind his mother with his hands on her shoulder and waist. This suggests possession. This seems to be a visual representation of an androcentric view of motherhood. The son is the actor, the mothers is being acted upon here. It could suggest that mothers have a responsibility to the nation to breastfeed so that they raise strong and healthy children (particularly sons). What would be the affect if the mother was clothed and was embracing her son?

The fact that the campaign focused on a wealthy actress seems a bit tone-deaf because many of the obstacles that prevent women from breastfeeding in Mexico are caused by socioeconomics and lack of support for breastfeeding mothers. The image does not confront the fact that, “A lack of good nutrition, adequate maternity leave and opportunities to pump milk at work keep many Mexican mothers from the practice” (“Mexico City’s Breastfeeding”).

Campaign #3: When Nature Calls Campaign (Follow Link for Completed Heuristic)

The third campaign is a set of images created by University of North Texas students Kris Haro and Johnathan Wenske created as a class project. Haro and Wenske claim that the images were created to support a proposed bill that would legalize breastfeeding in public places anywhere that a mother and her child are authorized to be and prohibits interference with the breastfeeding mother and child. The subject is a college-aged mother sitting on a public toilet nursing her child. The image is cropped so thit is focused in on the constricted space of the restroom stall. The lighting is dim. The mother is looking at the camera, and her expression is wary. She does not seem to be comfortable in the surroundings. Her child is looking up at her mother’s facing and playing with the neckline of her mother’s shirt while she nurses. While it is clearly a posed shot, the mother and child relationship is real, and the expression itself might even be the product of her true feelings about nursing her child on a toilet.

In support of the proposed bill, the image sends a message that mothers often feel they must (or are forced to) breastfeed discretely in undesirable places. The image is arguing that mothers should be allowed to breastfeed elsewhere. At the top of the image is the text “Table for two.” At the bottom of the image there is a banner that contains the phrase “Would you eat here?” There is also an explanation, in fine print, of the fact that breastfeeding in public is not legally protected from harassment or attempts to make them leave public spaces in the state of Texas. It petitions viewers to contact state and local lawmakers to support a proposed law for those protections. The image relies on the widespread understanding of restrooms as unsanitary and germ-riddled. It is not a desirable place to eat for adults, why should it be a place where children eat? Unlike the other two images, the target audience is not mothers themselves. The target audience are citizens of the state of Texas. The intent is to raise awareness of the general public in the state of Texas that breastfeeding should be a protected right. In this case, mothers are not the direct audience, but could be an audience in that they realize that others have had shared experiences and that perhaps changes could be made if awareness was raised. A number of media outlets wrote about the image, and most of these responses were positive and viewed the images a containing a positive message and showing the reality of the marginalized spaces that maternal bodies occupy.

The image shows that nursing mothers occupy a marginalized space in society. While many pro-breastfeeding campaigns target mothers and expectant mothers as their audience, suggesting that they have a moral or ethical imperative to breastfeed their children because of the health benefits, this campaign take on one of the major obstacles that breastfeeding mothers face. Kukla says that many breastfeeding campaigns do not address the obstacles, and this is one campaign that does.

The image reveals not the point of view of an organization petitioning women to breastfeed, nor does it focus on offering breastfeeding mothers support and attempting to convey the message that breastfeeding is easy and can be done. Instead, the image targets the reasons that mothers are in need of support, because the embodied nature of mothering through breastfeeding is largely misunderstood and misrepresented. Discomfort and sexualization of female bodies through benevolent sexism marginalizes breastfeeding mothers. This image shows the results of that sexism. Those who expect breastfeeding mother-child pairs to hide themselves away may not thought of the way in which the mothers are being pushed out of society and asked to retreat to undesirable places to nurse.

What may be concealed in the image is sense of confidence and agency. This mother seems to have little agency, and her agency should be increased. Some who do not understand the benefits of breastfeeding might see this mother’s discomfort as a reason that bottle-feeding might be preferable. Happiness with the mother-child breastfeeding relationship is not clearly evident, and this mother could be viewed who is feeding her child out of a sense of duty and not because she enjoys the embodied nature of mothering through breastfeeding.

Conclusion

An analysis of the Mexico City campaign confirms that some breastfeeding campaigns continue to marginalize mothers, just as past advocacy attempts analyzed by Kukla and Hausman have done. Like the DHHS campaign, the Mexico City campaign makes moral imperative out of breastfeeding while marginalizing mothers. On the other hand, the other two campaigns focus more on sending a message about the position of mothers within society. It seems that there are alternatives to advocacy campaigns that marginalize women and make breastfeeding a moral imperative. Both the “When Nature Calls” and the Mom2Mom campaign challenge androcentric and benevolent sexist codes of acceptable behavior, but the Mom2Mom campaign challenges benevolent sexism and androcentric views of the female body by presenting a direct challenge to resistance to public breastfeeding. The image almost conceals the marginalized position that breastfeeding mothers, especially those in uniform occupy. The reactions to the campaign show that American society is still not comfortable with the embodied nature of mothering through breastfeeding. In contrast, the “When Nature Calls” campaign received a much more positive reaction? Why is it that these images, showing mothers reluctantly adhering to the norms established by benevolent sexism, is the one that received the most positive reactions? Is it that the image shows the real embodied experience of mothers who operated within societal norms rather than challenging them, and in doing so it exposes the problems inherent in these marginalized positions? Nedra Reynolds says that “female knowers adapt to their marginalized position in a male-dominated culture by seeing differently—and learning different things” (1993, p. 330). The “When Nature Calls” campaign focuses on what is seen and experienced within the marginalized position, giving a glimpse into that different way of knowing that is the result of being marginalized. Perhaps the image is so powerful because it focuses not on what society sees, or should see, when they encounter a breastfeeding mother in public, but rather it reveals that which the public does not see when they do not.

Works Cited

Acker, M. (2009). Breast is best… but not everywhere: ambivalent sexism and attitudes toward private and public breastfeeding. Sex roles, 61(7-8), 476-490.

Birdsell, D. S., & Groarke, L. (1996). Toward a Theory of Visual Argument. Argumentation and advocacy, 33, 1.

Blum, L. M. (1993). Mothers, Babies, and Breastfeeding in Late Capitalist America: The Shifting Contexts of Feminist Theory. Feminist Studies, (2). 291.

Burke, K. (1969). A grammar of motives. University of California Press.

Creswell, J. W. (2012). Qualitative inquiry and research design: Choosing among five approaches. Sage.

Haro, K. & Wenske J. When Nature Calls. Retrieved from http://whennaturecalls.org

Hausman, B. L. (2007). Things (Not) to Do with Breasts in Public: Maternal Embodiment and the Biocultural Politics of Infant Feeding. New Literary History, (3), 479.

Jewitt, C., & Oyama, R. (2001). Visual meaning: a social semiotic approach. Chapter 7 of Handbook of Visual Analysis, ed. Theo van Leeuwen and Carey Jewitt.

Knoll, A. (2104). The Mexican Government Shows How NOT to Promote Breastfeeding. Bitch Magazine. Retrieved from http://bitchmagazine.org/post/the-mexican-government-show-how-not-to-promote-breastfeeding

Kukla, R. (2006). Ethics and ideology in breastfeeding advocacy campaigns. Hypatia, 21(1), 157-180.

Lunceford, B. (2012). Naked politics: Nudity, political action, and the rhetoric of the body. Lexington Books.

McCabe, T.  (2013). Terran McCabe: The Air Force Breastfeeding Mom Finally Speaks Out. I Am Not the Babysitter: Confessions of a Transracial Family. Web.

Prelli, L. J. (Ed.). (2006). Rhetorics of display. Univ of South Carolina Press.

Reynolds, N. (1993). Ethos as location: New sites for understanding discursive authority. Rhetoric Review, 11(2), 325-338.

Rose, G. (2011). Visual methodologies: An introduction to researching with visual materials. Sage.

Rose, L. M. (2012). Legally public but privately practiced: Segregating the lactating body. Health communication, 27(1), 49-57.

Weintraub, D. (2009). Everything you wanted to know but were powerless to ask. Visual communication research designs, 198-222.

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Motherhood on Display: How Meaning is Made in the Production and Distribution Contexts of Breastfeeding Advocacy Campaigns

Introduction

In the past few years, images of women breastfeeding their children have gained a good deal of attention from the media, both negative and positive. In May, 2012 the circulation of images of two female members of the Unites Stated Air Force breastfeeding their children while in uniform caused a great deal of controversy. The images had been created to promote a breastfeeding support group within the local military community, but the images went viral. Many articles and blogs shared the images and accompanied the with contemplation, in some cases, and strongly expressed opinions, in other cases, about whether the images sent a positive message about the nature of motherhood or whether they were inappropriate and undermined the efforts of women to fit in with their male colleagues. In 2014 a pro-breastfeeding campaign sponsored by the Mexico City government and featuring female Mexican celebrities went viral. The campaign encouraged women to breastfed and implied that not doing so was to turn their backs on their children. The campaign was widely regarded as evidence of the sexualization of the maternal body and an institutional failure to understand the constraints and obstacles that inhibit mothers who wish to breastfeed. By contrast, another 2014 breastfeeding campaign featuring college-aged breastfeeding mothers breastfeeding awkwardly in stalls of public restrooms received a good deal of positive reaction. While all three campaigns attempted to raise some awareness of breastfeeding, they did so in different ways by presenting mothers different within their physical and social environments. Each campaign constructs motherhood different, and they present varying levels of maternal agency. Previous analyses of breastfeeding campaigns have claimed they often serve to marginalize breastfeeding mothers rather than empower them (Hausman; Kukla). Others, such as Brett Lunceford, view pro-breastfeeding featuring mothers breastfeeding their children as imagery as harmful rather beneficial to normalize breastfeeding. The aim of this project is to examine the way in which the contexts of both production and distribution, the construction of maternal agency, and the responses to the campaigns operate to create meaning. An additional aim of the project is to explore what construction of the images and the received meanings reveal and conceal about present attitudes toward breastfeeding and embodied motherhood. By performing a visual rhetorical analysis of breastfeeding advocacy campaigns produced within these differing contexts–a peer-to-peer support group with a military community, a college campus, and a city health initiative–this research project will attempt to determine whether visual advocacy campaigns normalize breastfeeding through the examination of the production context, the construction of maternal agency within the images, and the distribution contexts.

 

Breastfeeding Advocacy

In Naked Politics: Nudity, Political Action, and the Rhetoric of the Body, Brett Lunceford explores the body as a site of political action. In the third chapter, entitled “Weaponizing the Breast: Lactivism and Public Breastfeeding,” Lunceford argues that lactivism, which uses breastfeeding as a method of advocating for more widespread acceptance and normalization of breastfeeding, poses a challenge to the sexualization of the breast and makes an argument that breasts should be regarded for their functionality. Lactivism challenges the widespread conceptualization of the breast as a sexual object by emphasizing the functionality of the breast and using breastfeeding visibly in public places as a way to normalize breastfeeding. Lunceford perceived there to be a significant difference between lactivism that takes place on location in the public and lactivism through still images. He claims that “There is a function to public breastfeeding that is readily apparent—the child needs to be fed at that time and no amount of reasoning with the infant will stop the child’s insistent crying. At the moment when the photograph is posted, however, the urgency has passed” (Lunceford 66). He claims that the staging of public nursing is counterproductive because it makes breastfeeding a spectacle, and because there is no urgency or immediate need to capture an image of a breastfeeding mother and child pair, advocacy through imagery is even more of a spectacle than a staged nurse-in. This, he claims, serves to “undermine their message that breastfeeding should be considered natural and unspectacular” (Lunceford 67).

In Rhetorics of Display, Lawrence J. Prelli claims that “much of what appears or looks to us as reality is constituted rhetorically through multiple displays that surround us, compete for our attention, and make claims” (1). Our very reality (or realities), he claims, are mediated by a variety of displays “that surround us, compete for our attention, and make claims on us” (1). Display, he claims, is the primary form of rhetoric in contemporary western society (Prelli 2). Displays play such a significant role in society because “the meanings they manifest before situated audiences result from selective processes and, thus, constitute partial perspectives with political, social, or cultural implications” (11). To examine displays, Prelli claims, we can analyze rhetorics of display by examining how they reveal partial perspectives by concealing other perspectives.

Prelli’s theory of displays as simultaneously revealing and concealing and concealing perspectives shares recalls Kenneth Burke’s concept of “terministic screens.” In A Grammar of Motives, Burke says that, “Men seek for vocabularies that will be faithful reflections of reality. To this end, they must develop vocabularies that are selections of reality. And any selections of reality must, in certain circumstances, function as a deflection of reality. Insofar as the vocabulary meets the needs of reflection, we can say that it has the necessary scope. It its selectivity, it is a reduction” (59). Burke seems to be arguing that choices of vocabulary are a selection of particular perspectives of reality, and as they reflect particular perspectives of reality, they also function to deflect other perspectives of reality.

In his choice to name visual depictions of breastfeeding in attempts to advocate a wider acceptance of breastfeeding in public places, Lunceford is applying a terministic screen that views breastfeeding as something that should be protected from public view when and if possible. His argument suggests that efforts to challenge dominant notions about womanhood and motherhood have to be functional, else the existence of these images or displays serves no useful function. Lunceford’s view seems to coincide with what Bernice Hausman refers to as the androcentric view of breastfeeding. Hausman’s “Things (Not) to Do with Breasts in Public: Maternal Embodiment and the Biocultural Politics of Infant Feeding” is concerned with the way in which maternal embodiment of breastfeeding is deemphasized. Hausman carries out a biocultural analysis of representations of breastfeeding (representations that aim to present, promote, or analyses breastfeeding) to examine the social conflicts surrounding breastfeeding. She explains that most depictions of breastfeeding, even in materials meant to promote breastfeeding, attempt to suppress the embodied nature of the breastfeeding experiences and use technology (such as the pump) to mediate social anxiety surrounding public breastfeeding (481). She says, “Indeed, not being able to visualize or represent breastfeeding is related to a need to establish and maintain control over mothers, imagined themselves as irresponsible and unreliable, by managing their relation to their infants through technology” (481). Lunceford’s claim that images of breastfeeding undermine attempts to normalize it by drawing attention to it can be viewed as an attempt to control the spaces and places that breastfeeding can be perceived of as normal. The argument that breastfeeding is only an acceptable sight if it is seen in real-time and the site is unavoidable because of the infant’s need for nutrition actually seems an effort to reinforce breastfeeding as abnormal. Lunceford seems to adhere to the androcentric view that “mothers are persons on the condition that they act like male persons” (Hausman 494); unless, of course, it is unavoidable for them to do so because the baby has a need to be fed. In “Breast is Best…But Not Everywhere: Ambivalent Sexism and Attitudes toward Private and Public Breastfeeding,” Michele Acker claims that those who feel that women’s bodies should be shield from view if possible are viewing women and their bodies through the lens of “benevolent sexism” (479). Those benevolent sexists “believe in cherishing and protecting women, idealizing traditional women” (479). Perhaps Lunceford’s argument that breastfeeding and representing breastfeeding in public spaces, particularly when there is no immediate need for mothers to be seen doing so, is based in part on a benevolent sexist attitude.

Rebecca Kukla’s “Ethics and Ideology in Breastfeeding Advocacy Campaigns” examines the way in which breastfeeding campaigns have inadvertently conveyed messages about breastfeeding that reveal perceptions of the nursing mother, the breast, and the appropriateness, or not, of the public breastfeeding. Utilizing social semiotics, Kukla conducted a visual rhetorical analysis of several American breastfeeding campaigns that attempt to intervene into the infant-feeding choices and behaviors of mothers. Modern health care, according to Kukla, views the mother as having the primary responsibility for the health of her child. Kukla points of that breastfeeding campaigns often present breastfeeding, which scientific studies have suggested is the healthiest method of infant-feeding, is a civic duty, and ethical practice, and a practical method of feeding. Before beginning the analysis of the images, Kukla reviews the rhetorical exigency for breastfeeding campaigns. Breastfeeding is widely viewed as the best method of breastfeeding for a number of reasons; however, breastfeeding rates in the United States fall below target rates. She explains that breastfeeding advocates were confused about why mothers choose not to breastfeed despite the fact that it is well known that breastfeeding is very beneficial and a pleasant experience. Breastfeeding advocates assumed that the reason that mothers were not breastfeeding was because they were not getting the messages. Rather than examining the reasons that mothers were not breastfeeding, in 2004 the Department of Health and Human Services decided to hire the private advertising agency the Ad Council to design a slogan and breastfeeding promotional materials. By examining the advocacy campaign through the lens of semiotics and analysis of the ethics of the campaign, Kukla examines what the campaign reveals about the culturally situated nature of breastfeeding. Kukla explores the cultural factors that make breastfeeding difficult: sexualization of the breast, codes dictating appropriate public and private behaviors, barriers for working mothers. Kukla points out that many images of women breastfeeding show women wearing nightgowns or robes, suggesting that breastfeeding is a domestic act. The narrative about breastfeeding suggests that it is easy and joyful. Women who have difficulties with breastfeeding are seen as “deviant and unmotherly” (169). Mothers who have difficulty feel “unmotherly, shameful, incapable, defective, and morally inadequate” (170). Rather than helping mothers overcome these barriers, the DHHS campaign reinforces the notion that breastfeeding is private by include pictures of objects mean to represent breast (ie. an ice cream sundae with two scopes each topped with a cherry). The text accompanying the images reminds mothers why choosing not to breastfeed may harm children, which was a change from past advocacy campaigns that promoted the benefits. Kukla argues that this campaign was harmful because it painted mothers who face barriers to breastfeeding as harmful to their children. Kukla claims that the DHHS campaign and similar campaigns are “unethical assaults” and campaigns that focus on risk in this way are normative (175).

Both Hausman and Kukla had found that many attempts at breastfeeding advocacy had actually served to marginalize breastfeeding mothers through their choices of visual imagery of pro-breastfeeding materials. Their examinations of these materials reveal that pro-breastfeeding campaigns often present an androcentric view of breastfeeding. Lunceford’s claim that pro-breastfeeding imagery depicting mothers nursing their children undermines attempts to normalize breastfeeding. While it certainly seems possible for breastfeeding campaigns to present a successful visual argument for breastfeeding that reveals rather than conceals the societal and material constraints placed on breastfeeding mother-child and does not undermine attempts to normalize breastfeeding, scholarship on breastfeeding advocacy campaigns has not yet compared unsuccessful attempts to normalize breastfeeding through visual advocacy to those visual campaigns that do seem to do so successfully. In order to make these comparisons, this research project will rely on social semiotics to explore the three campaigns in attempt to address the following questions:

  • How does the construction of these campaigns reveal and conceal perspectives on the nature of the female body, the nature of breastfeeding, the mother-child relationship, and the place of breastfeeding in society?
  • How have responses to these campaigns reveal/conceal perspectives on the nature of the female body, the nature of breastfeeding, the mother-child relationship, and the place of breastfeeding in society?
  • Have these campaigns reinforced or challenged the problems with campaigns Kukla analyzed in 2006? (The sexualization of the breast, codes dictating appropriate public and private behaviors, barriers for working mothers, and the image of breastfeeding as domestic and joyful?)

 

Objects of Study

The three pro-breastfeeding campaigns that were chosen for this analysis were chosen because the approached their audiences and arguments in varying ways. They all differed in the way in which they construct motherhood. Each campaign took a different approach in the effort to normalize breastfeeding, and each campaign was aimed at a different segment of society.

 

Campaign #1: Mom2Mom Campaign

The first object of study is a set of images of two female members of the Air National Guard who are nursing their children in what seems to be a public park. The images themselves are professional photographs that were taken as part of a larger project in which women who were part of the Mom2Mom Breastfeeding Support Group at Fairchild Air Force base were photographed nursing their children. Though the images were intended to be used for materials to be distributed locally to support the group, the images went viral in late May 2012 and were posted on many news websites and blogs. Some reactions were positive, while other reactions are negative. The choice to have the subjects pose in their uniforms seemed to be made to convey a message about the dual nature of military motherhood.

Image of mothers in uniform breastfeeding their children.m2m 1

 

Campaign #2: Mexico City Campaign

The second set of images came from a pro-breastfeeding campaign sponsored by the government of Mexico City. The images were meant to be distributed throughout the city. They were aimed at convincing mothers that they should breastfeed their children, and that failure to do so was in essence turning their backs on their children and risking their children’s health. The images were distributed on a number of news websites in the United States, and reactions seem to have been primarily negative.

mexcio city campaign

Mexico City Breastfeeding Campaign. Image from Bitch Magazine.

 

Campaign #3: When Nature Calls Campaign

The third set of images are from a breastfeeding advocacy campaign produced as a class project by Kris Haro and Johnathan Wenske, students as University of North Texas. The campaign features images of three college-age mother’s breastfeeding their babies while sitting on toilets in public restrooms. The goal of the campaign was to shed light on the societal constraints that breastfeeding mothers face. The image went viral on a number of media outlets. Reactions to the images were primarily positive.

what to expect

“When Nature Calls Campaign.” Image from What to Expect When You’re Expecting.

 

Analytic Approach and Methodology

To examine these three campaigns and address the research questions, this project relies on a three pronged approach to analysis. The philosophical lens that guides the analysis of the image is social constructivism. In order to discover how meaning is made in and with these images, this project will rely on David Weintraub’s framework of discourse analysis of visual images. This approach calls for an analysis of the image and the text, an analysis of the production and distribution contexts of these images, and the way in which the image and texts work together within the social context to create a version of reality. To understand how these campaigns construct reality in the social context, this project relies on Prelli’s theory of the rhetoric of displays as a way of exploring what is revealed and concealed in the images.

 

Philosophical Assumptions and Theoretical Lenses

This project is grounded in two types of philosophical assumptions (ontological and epistemological) as John Creswell describes them in Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design: Choosing among Five Approaches. One philosophical pillar of this research project (the ontological lens) is the assumption that there can be multiple and competing versions of reality. The ontological and epistemological (what knowledge is and where it comes from) assumptions in this project are informed by social constructivism. Social constructivism, according to Creswell, espouses that individuals develop subjective meanings through their experiences, and that these “meanings are negotiated socially and historically. In other words, they are not simply imprinted on individuals but are formed through interaction with others (hence social construction) and through historical and cultural norms that operate in individual’s lives” (Creswell 25).

            Burke’s concept of terministic screens and Prelli’s theory of displays are useful theoretical lenses that allow for application of the epistemological lens of social constructivism to the rhetorical analysis of visual images in order to understand the ways in which meaning is made with and from those images. Burke’s concept of terministic screens relies on the idea that when one version of reality is presented through choices regarding representation, another version of reality is deemphasized by omission. Prelli’s theory operates similarly. Displays reveal versions of reality, and because some possible reality is presented, other conceptions of reality are de-emphasized.

 

Discourse Analysis

The structure of the analysis of these three visual campaigns is based in the discourse analysis framework that David Weintraub described in “Everything You Wanted to Know, but Where Powerless to Ask.” This text provides a discourse analysis framework for the study of images. Discourse analysis is based on the idea of intertextuality; therefore, the meaning conveyed by the combination of the image and the accompanying text is an important element of the analysis of an image in discourse analysis. Context is also very important in discourse analysis. Weintraub says that the meaning of images “resides not solely within themselves, but also within the context of how and why the images were produced and distributed” (Weintraub 200). According to Weintraub, discourse analysis involves three core moves: describing the content of the image and the text, analyzing the context of the production and distribution of the image and the text, and explaining how the image and text work together to construct a version of reality (206). In the article, Weintraub provides a detailed description of the process of conducting discourse analysis. To describe content, one should examine the subjects, composition, camera position and angle, tonality and color, look and gesture, size relationships, headlines, captions, articles. To analyze the context, the researcher should analyze the production context, the distribution context, and the reception contexts. To analyze the construction, or the reality, the researcher needs to look at the public image of the subject, myths, and ideas and concepts that are prompted by the image (210-214). To accomplish the analysis of the images and texts, this project relies in social semiotics of the visual as described by Jewitt and Rumiko. The approach to the analysis of the distribution and reception of the images are informed by Gillian Rose’s Visual Methodologies and Groarke and David S. Birdsell’s “Toward a Theory of Visual Argument”

 

Social Semiotic Approach to Visual Analysis

In “Visual Meaning: A Social Semiotic Approach,” authors Carey Jewitt and Oyama Rumiko claim that visuals are meant to carry out three metafunctions: they create representations, they create interactions between speaker/author and listener/reader, and they bring together parts of a representation and interaction to make a whole text (140). It is tempting to view an image as a representation of reality, but as Jewitt and Rumiko explain, visual artifacts convey meaning in much more complex ways. According to Jewitt and Rumiko, visuals represent meaning through narrative structures in which the visual is telling a story, or they can convey meaning through conceptual structures. The authors explain the elements of visuals that, according to social semiotics, convey meaning. Social semiotics analyzes the way in which visuals create interactive meaning between the image and the viewer through contact, distance, and point of view. It looks at how images convey compositional meaning through information value (placement of elements in a composition), framing, salience, and modality. Social semiotics, as Jewitt and Oyama describe it, is useful for analyzing the visual image itself. While it doesn’t tell us retroactively what the audience feels about the visual, social semiotics is useful for gauging the ways in which the image may appeal to the research proposal project. Jewitt and Oyama’s explanation of the difference between a conceptual image and a narrative image is useful to this project because the campaign that are being analyzed are best understood as having a symbolic or analytic structure because in the symbolic structure the identity of a participant is defined by the presence, or the absence in the case of the Mexico City image, of another person in the picture (baby). The analytical structure would view the mother and child as two parts in one whole.

 

Analyzing Production and Distribution Contexts

Gillian Rose’s Visual Methodologies: An Introduction to Researching with Visual Materials, which draws from a number of theories and methodologies of the visual culture theory, suggests that there are actually three sites for the production of meaning of images: the site of the production of the image, the image itself, and those sites where it is encountered by audiences (Rose 19). She also claims that each of the three sites has three modalities: technological, compositional, and social, and that differing theories of visual interpretation have as their foundations differing views of which of sites and modalities are most important (Rose 40). Like many others scholars discussing the use of methodologies, Rose emphasizes using the methodology that is most appropriate for addressing the research question based on the sites and modalities that are being examined in the project (40). She explains five possible ways of examining visual artifacts in a visual analysis project: examinations of the way images visualize social difference, how images are looked at, the embeddedness of images in culture, the ways in which the audience bring their own interpretations to images, and the agency of images themselves.

Like Rose, Leo Groarke and David S. Birdsell’s “Toward a Theory of Visual Argument” is focused on locations of interpretation; however, the refer to these sites as “contexts” rather than “sites.” They are concerned primarily with the visual context of the image, the verbal context of the image, and the cultural context of the images (Birdsell and Groarke 316), all of which seem to fall under the umbrella of the site of interpretation, one of the three sites of interpretation of a visual image that Rose describes in Visual Methodologies. Groarke and Birdsell approach visual analysis from the field of rhetorical studies. They claim that visual analysis should analyze the visual image itself, look at the contexts of the image, examine the consistency of the interpretation of that visual, and record changes in the perspective of the image over time. Groarke and Birdsell suggest a method that encompasses more than simply an analysis of the way in which the image itself produces meaning. Their approach involves the study of several sites of production of meaning and can incorporate the study of differing modalities.

The idea that the immediate visual context must be accounted for in an analysis of a visual is very important to the analysis of these breastfeeding campaigns. In the images of these campaigns, even the “ambient environment” within the image itself and which the images are contained seemed to make a difference in the interpretation of the images. The Mexico City campaign moves women from any context, the Mom2Mom group places the women outside in an open environment, the campaign entitled “When Nature Calls” places the nursing pair in a dimly light restroom stall.

 

Heuristic for Visual Analysis

To facilitate the three levels of analysis of the images in this project, the visual analysis, the cultural analysis, and the rhetorical analysis, a heuristic was created. The first section of the heuristic contains a visual analysis section that relies social semiotics, as described in Jewitt and Rumiko’s “Visual Meaning: A Social Semiotic Approach” to analyze how visuals create meaning in the interaction between the image and the viewer through contact, distance, and point of view. It looks at how images convey compositional meaning through information value (placement of elements in a composition), framing, salience, and modality. The second part of the heuristic analyzes the cultural context in order to explore the production and distribution contexts of the images and the way in which meaning is made from the images through those contexts. The final portion of the heuristic relies in the previous two analyses to examine the rhetoric of the messages and to look closely at what the images reveal and conceal about the subjects of the images, what the images reveal and conceal about the context of the image’s subjects, and what the reception of images reveals about societal attitudes toward embodied motherhood and breastfeeding. For the purposes of this in depth analysis, one representative image was chosen from each of the three campaigns. There are many commonalities between the images that make up each of the campaigns and only a few differences. Each campaign contained images based on very similar compositional elements; therefore, conclusions about the three campaigns based on in-depth analysis can be generally applied to the overall message of the campaign.

 

Results of Analysis

Campaign#1:  Mom2Mom Campaign (Follow Link for Completed Heuristic)

Image of mothers in uniform breastfeeding their children.

The image from the Mom2Mom breastfeeding group campaign shows two mothers in Air Force National Guard uniforms breastfeeding their children. The images were created for the purpose of promoting Mom2Mom breastfeeding support group at Fairchild Air Force Base. The photographs were taken as part of a larger photoshoot including a number of other women who were involved in the group, and the group’s founder and one of the mothers in the image, has claimed that the mothers were given permission to pose for the images. The images were distributed on the photographer’s website and was going to be placed on posters and other materials created as promotional materials. They are sitting outside in what seems to be a park while breastfeeding their children. One of the mothers is breastfeeding twins who are sitting up in her lap. She is smiling while looking at the camera. Lunceford might claim that this mother’s acknowledgement that she is posing for the camera makes the image a spectacle and undermines the normative effort of the campaign. The other mother is nursing female child who is laying across her lap. This mother is looking down into the face of her child. The image attempting to promote the group in the local military community at Fairchild Air Force base. The choice to have these mothers pose in uniform seems to suggest that women in uniform may need a particular kind of support and that they may also be more convinced to attend a group meeting if there are women like them in the group.

The military uniform seems to suggest strength and a warrior ethos. At the same time, the image has a soft, maternal element. The image attempts to convey a message that military mothers occupy dual roles and that they do it with strength and confidence. The mothers seem to be comfortable with the level of agency that they have within their immediate environment and perhaps their social context as well. The choice to breastfeed in uniform for visual image campaign cannot be taken likely, and shows that the mothers are comfortable with doing so.

After the photographs of the women were made public, the images of the women in uniform received a great deal of attention in the media, on social networking sites, on blogs, and in discussion threads, especially those focused around the topics of either breastfeeding or the military. One headline from The Air Force Times posed the question “Is This OK—Or Unprofessional?”

Breastfeeing in Uniform Cover. Air Force Times

Some who write about the images applauded the mothers for navigating their dual roles successfully and showing the strength of motherhood. Other responses, including from other women who serve in the military, suggested that women in uniform should not be seen nursing in public because this undermines the efforts of women in the military to be seen as equal to men. For them, seeing women in uniform nursing will cause their male counterparts to view them differently. It was not until approximately seven months later, in January of 2013, that the ban on women in combat roles was lifted. Those who wanted to see women allowed in combat may have had reservations about the display of maternal embodiment.

Terran McCabe, one of the mothers photographed nursing her children in uniform, claims that they were given permission to participate in the photo-shoot by superiors. The hope of those involved in the project was that the images would be encouraging to other women and that the images would be placed in clinical exam rooms (McCabe). According to McCabe, Air National Guard officials changed their minds about the photographs after the images gained attention, and they asked McCabe to refrain from speaking about the images and to remove the images from her Facebook profile. Acker might argue that this is evidence of a benevolent sexism, though the National Guard’s official position was that it is not acceptable to be photographed in uniform in support of an organization or campaign and their position was not because of the breastfeeding itself.

Those who read these images as spectacle, as Lunceford would, and claim that the images undermine attempts to normalize breastfeeding are also suggesting that there is an appropriate way for mothers to behave will breastfeeding. For those who take issue with where the mothers are looking suggests that that there should only be a focus on the baby and not the external world. This view of the image constructs breastfeeding as private and perhaps even an otherworldly experience that is in need of protection, and that breastfeeding mother-child couples cannot or should not have full interaction with the wider world.

The image conceals the obstacles that breastfeeding mothers in uniform face. The very reactions to the image make these obstacles evident. The lack of places to pump, long hours at work, and potential separation from their children is not addressed. Instead, the mothers seem to present a confident and happy maternal ethos despite the fact that they work within a masculine environment. This expression of happiness and fulfillment seemed to cause cognitive dissonance for those who view breastfeeding as appropriately and necessarily private and as military bodies as occupying appropriately masculine places.

 

Campaign #2: Mexico City Campaign (Follow Link for Completed Heuristic)

 

breastfeed27n-3-web

The second image is part of a “prolactina” campaign in Mexico City. It was meant to encourage women to breastfeed their children, and this particular image, one of a popular actress and singer with her adult son, makes an argument that the benefits of breastfeeding will last until adulthood. Maribel Guardia is accompanied by her approximately 20 year old son, Julián Figuero. Guardia is topless, and there is a banner covering her large breasts. The banner says, “No le des la espalda, dale pecho.” In essence, it presents this petition to mothers: Don’t turn your back on them, give them your breast.” In the upper right side of the image, the text reads: “amamantar es lo primero que puedes hacer para asegurar la salud de tu hijo.” Translated it reads: “Breastfeeding is the first (best) thing you can do to ensure the health of your child.” Citizens of Mexico would likely know the identity of these subjects, but those with little knowledge of Mexican celebrities who are not well known in the United States, the relationship between the subjects is not clear. The text that accompanies the images helps make the relationship clear.

The target audience was new mothers, and the goal was to encourage women to breastfeed their children for at least the first 3-6 months. But the image presents the maternal body in a very sexual way. Guardia is nude from the waist up, and her body is very toned and fit, particularly for a woman in her fifties. The images was picked up in various blogs and news outlets in Mexico, and then was published in blogs and news websites in English in the United States, including the Huffington Post. Most outlets took a negative view of the campaign. The controversy surrounding the image was focused on the fact that the campaign used famous actresses, most of whom were large breasted and model-thin, and seemed to sexualize motherhood. Various outlets claimed that the image was racist, classist, and sexist. Within a day of the launch of the campaign, one of the actress-models renounced her involvement.

The image of Guardia and her son underscores dominant notions of femininity and sexualizes motherhood, which suggests that the images have been created through an androcentric view if mothers and women. The images in the campaign were referred to as being racist, sexist, and classic because they depict motherhood through the use of wealthy women who are associated with strongly associated with sexuality and masculine desire, and those women are topless with a banner covering their breasts. The campaign is meant to advocate for breastfeeding, but the breasts (other than the curvature at the tops of the breasts and the cleavage) are concealed for the sake of modesty; however, the actress is otherwise exposed from the waist upward. Concealing the breasts while revealing much of the rest of the body conveys the notion that breastfeeding is being associated with sexuality, or at least with highly sexualized bodies. The image seems to underscore androcentric views of maternity and women. The following image is typical of the images that result from Google searches of “Maribel Guardia”:

Maribel Guardia Modeling for TV Notas

Maribel Guardia Modeling for TV Notas

 

In addition to sexualizing mothers, the campaign also positions mothers as objects with the function of raising children. The masculine son stands behind his mother with his hands on her shoulder and waist. This suggests possession. This seems to be a visual representation of an androcentric view of motherhood. The son is the actor, the mothers is being acted upon here. It could suggest that mothers have a responsibility to the nation to breastfeed so that they raise strong and healthy children (particularly sons). What would be the affect if the mother was clothed and was embracing her son?

The fact that the campaign focused on a wealthy actress seems a bit tone-deaf because many of the obstacles that prevent women from breastfeeding in Mexico are caused by socioeconomics and lack of support for breastfeeding mothers. The image does not confront the fact that, “A lack of good nutrition, adequate maternity leave and opportunities to pump milk at work keep many Mexican mothers from the practice” (“Mexico City’s Breastfeeding”).

 

Campaign #3: When Nature Calls Campaign (Follow Link for Completed Heuristic)

The third campaign is a set of images created by University of North Texas students Kris Haro and Johnathan Wenske created as a class project. Haro and Wenske claim that the images were created to support a proposed bill that would legalize breastfeeding in public places anywhere that a mother and her child are authorized to be and prohibits interference with the breastfeeding mother and child. The subject is a college-aged mother sitting on a public toilet nursing her child. The image is cropped so that the image is focused in on the constricted space of the restroom stall. The lighting is dim. The mother is looking at the camera, and her expression is wary. She does not seem to be comfortable in the surroundings. Her child is looking up at her mother’s facing and playing with the neckline of her mother’s shirt while she nurses. While it is clearly a posed shot, the mother and child relationship is real, and the expression itself might even be the product of her true feelings about nursing her child on a toilet.

In support of the proposed bill, the image sends a message that mothers often feel they must (or are forced to) breastfeed discretely in undesirable places. The image is arguing that mothers should be allowed to breastfeed elsewhere. At the top of the image is the text “Table for two.” At the bottom of the image there is a banner that contains the phrase “Would you eat here?” There is also an explanation, in fine print, of the fact that breastfeeding in public is not legally protected from harassment or attempts to make them leave public spaces in the state of Texas. It petitions viewers to contact state and local lawmakers to support a proposed law for those protections. The image relies on the widespread understanding of restrooms as unsanitary and germ-riddled. It is not a desirable place to eat for adults, why should it be a place where children eat? Unlike the other two images, the target audience is not mothers themselves. The target audience are citizens of the state of Texas. The intent is to raise awareness of the general public in the state of Texas that breastfeeding should be a protected right. In this case, mothers are not the direct audience, but could be an audience in that they realize that others have had shared experiences and that perhaps changes could be made if awareness was raised. A number of media outlets wrote about the image, and most of these responses were positive and viewed the images a containing a positive message and showing the reality of the marginalized spaces that maternal bodies occupy.

The image shows that nursing mothers occupy a marginalized space in society. While many pro-breastfeeding campaigns target mothers and expectant mothers as their audience, suggesting that they have a moral or ethical imperative to breastfeed their children because of the health benefits, this campaign take on one of the major obstacles that breastfeeding mothers face. Kukla says that many breastfeeding campaigns do not address the obstacles, and this is one campaign that does.

The image reveals not the point of view of an organization petitioning women to breastfeed, nor does it focus on offering breastfeeding mothers support and attempting to convey the message that breastfeeding is easy and can be done. Instead, the image targets the reasons that mothers are in need of support, because the embodied nature of mothering through breastfeeding is largely misunderstood and misrepresented. Discomfort and sexualization of female bodies through benevolent sexism marginalizes breastfeeding mothers. This image shows the results of that sexism. Those who expect breastfeeding mother-child pairs to hide themselves away may not thought of the way in which the mothers are being pushed out of society and asked to retreat to undesirable places to nurse.

What may be concealed in the image is sense of confidence and agency. This mother seems to have little agency, and her agency should be increased. Some who do not understand the benefits of breastfeeding might see this mother’s discomfort as a reason that bottle-feeding might be preferable. Happiness with the mother-child breastfeeding relationship is not clearly evident, and this mother could be viewed who is feeding her child out of a sense of duty and not because she enjoys the embodied nature of mothering through breastfeeding.

 

Conclusion

An analysis of the Mexico City campaign confirms that some breastfeeding campaigns continue to marginalize mothers, just as past advocacy attempts analyzed by Kukla and Hausman have done. Like the DHHS campaign, the Mexico City campaign makes moral imperative out of breastfeeding while marginalizing mothers. On the other hand, the other two campaigns focus more on the position of mothers within society. Both challenge codes of acceptable behavior, but the Mom2Mom campaign challenges benevolent sexism and androcentric views of the female body. The reactions to the campaign show that American society is still not comfortable with the embodied nature of mothering through breastfeeding. Why is it that this image, one that shows a mother adhering to the norms established by benevolent sexism, is the one that received the most positive reactions? Is it that the image shows the real embodied experience of mothers who operated within societal norms rather than challenging them? Nedra Reynolds says that “female knowers adapt to their marginalized position in a male-dominated culture by seeing differently—and learning different things” (330). Perhaps the image is so powerful because it focuses not on what society sees, or should see, when they encounter a breastfeeding mother in public, but rather it reveals that which the public does not see when they do not.

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

Acker, M. (2009). Breast is best… but not everywhere: ambivalent sexism and attitudes toward private and public breastfeeding. Sex roles, 61(7-8), 476-490.

Birdsell, D. S., & Groarke, L. (1996). Toward a Theory of Visual Argument. Argumentation and advocacy, 33, 1.

Blum, L. M. (1993). Mothers, Babies, and Breastfeeding in Late Capitalist America: The Shifting Contexts of Feminist Theory. Feminist Studies, (2). 291.

Creswell, J. W. (2012). Qualitative inquiry and research design: Choosing among five approaches. Sage.

Hausman, B. L. (2007). Things (Not) to Do with Breasts in Public: Maternal Embodiment and the Biocultural Politics of Infant Feeding. New Literary History, (3), 479.

Kukla, R. (2006). Ethics and ideology in breastfeeding advocacy campaigns. Hypatia, 21(1), 157-180.

Lunceford, B. (2012). Naked politics: Nudity, political action, and the rhetoric of the body. Lexington Books.

Prelli, L. J. (Ed.). (2006). Rhetorics of display. Univ of South Carolina Press.

Rose, G. (2011). Visual methodologies: An introduction to researching with visual materials. Sage.

Rose, L. M. (2012). Legally public but privately practiced: Segregating the lactating body. Health communication, 27(1), 49-57.

Weintraub, D. (2009). Everything you wanted to know but were powerless to ask. Visual communication research designs, 198-222.


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Visual Rhetoric_Reflection

As the spring semester finally winds its way down, my professor asked each of us to to reflect on how the things we have learned can connect out to our own work in academia.

GIF hosted on Tumblr.

GIF hosted on Tumblr.

I’m not really sure that my understandings of visual rhetoric and document design have really changed since taking this class because of my experiences last year in the Networks course. The Networks course was so different from any kind of classroom environment and from any kind of work that I had been required to do in the past, that every week was me trying to overcome my reservations about how to submit my work, what I could include (strictly text vs. incorporating reactionary gifs), the kinds of content I would be studying (neurobiology still haunts me),  and how to present my understandings and connections between those kinds of content. I realized that as I was moving through that class, I attempted to use humor as a way to convey the material I was reviewing or synthesizing and as a way for me to understand it myself. With the blog, beyond my peers, I was never sure who was stumbling across my blog, so I always tried to keep in mind that I needed to try and present information in a way that anyone could understand, even the really science-y stuff that flustered me.

In terms of this class, though, I feel like I have been gaining a little more vocabulary about how to talk about the things I am doing when I produce content, but also in how I talk about games and the visual culture surrounding the gaming community and industry. I still have a little trouble talking about rhetoric (this is my first rhetoric-centered class) and rhetorical strategies/canons, so the project I am working on and the research I am doing for it are letting me explore how people talk about the use of visual rhetoric in advertisements. For me, seeing something in a practical application helps me understand concepts far better than just theory (which is probably why I suck so badly at math), so getting to read about how the advertising industry is doing certain things in order to lure in customers, to make certain brands appeal to different groups of people, and to see the kind of cultural rhetoric in play makes a lot more sense to me.

In regards to the invention process, I think that I have become a bit more visual because the projects I have been working on in the last two years have required me to map out connections and ideas and goals in a way that I am not used to. My internship has done a lot to pull me out of my comfort zone because video games are very visual things nowadays, with text often acting as a supplemental element. My internship director is a very visual person (he’s an artist), so my invention process was no longer strictly me working on my own things. He and I meet almost every week to discuss details and to work through issues with the content, and it helps to have visuals available to make sure that we are imagining things in (mostly) the same ways. When I am working, I am not very visually driven (I tried to avoid having to do anything but type words and find gifs) because I lack the skills to get what is in my head onto paper beyond rearranging words into sentences, so having to do mindmaps for class and my internship and learning how to blog have been really good in getting me to branch out in how I approached projects and how I maintained the visual components rather than scuttling back to my purely textual bubble.

A little Music to Help the Reflection Process

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Reflection Piece

My ways of thinking about visual have not changed much over the course. Prior to entering the course, I was a fan of using visuals in my classes, having students make visual arguments, and having discussions about the privileging of the texts over visuals.  A core part of my composition class is a visual analysis […]
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