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Mind Map: Ecologies Part II (March 30th)

Link: Last week’s activities asked us to apply our network questions to the Ecology readings of Syverson, Spellman, the Cary Institute, and fill in the gaps with Guattari, resulting in new connections for my mind map. And even though … Continue reading

I’ll Just Spinuzzi My Way On Through_Mindmap




This week I focused on Clay Spinuzzi’s book, Tracing Genres, when adding nodes to my mindmap. For this round, I added four new nodes with connections out from three of them. The node I left relatively unconnected for now contained definitions for the three levels of analysis that Spinuzzi sets up: macroscopic, mesoscopic, and microscopic. The reason I left it unconnected here is that I want to create a separate Popplet that has major nodes with each of those levels and connections to examples and quotes that embody each level. I thought about doing that connection here, but my mindmap is getting more than a little complex.

One of the first quotes I chose is in regards what genes are and, in a way, what they are not: ”Genres are not simply text types;  they are culturally and historically grounded ways of ‘seeing and conceptualizing reality’… Genres are not discrete artifacts, but traditions of producing, using, and interpreting artifacts, traditions that make their way into the artifact as a ‘form-shaping ideology’” (Spinuzzi 41). This quote reminded me a lot of Bitzer’s consideration of rhetoric as a “mode of altering reality…by the creation of discourse which changes reality through the mediation of thought and action” (3). I thought this was really interesting because I had never really thought of genres as “culturally and historically grounded” and, when I did, it was only in passing and only as related to the Greeks with their apologies. It makes sense that as cultures change, rhetoric will take on different forms that are reshaped around people’s needs. It seems like genres are a way for us to impose order on the chaos of discourse, a way for us to see reality within boundaries or to define what we see as reality. Again, I am reminded of the medical forms analyzed by Popham. Those forms are not necessary to human survival in any way, but we give them meaning by imposing societal value on them; they become a discourse between us, our doctors, our insurance companies, and any others who are part of the process. As we are filling out the forms, we define ourselves as patients and allow others to see us as the same as well as bits of data. The political discourse around elections also seems to be its own kind of genre. As candidates go for whatever position, they and their supporters produce commercials, pamphlets, signs, and advertisements as a to define themselves as a political and public figure, reshaping themselves to fit images they believe would be most beneficial in gaining votes. Ballots also function as artifacts in the political genre and, when we vote, we are defining ourselves as voters and as citizens, but also allow us to see us as statistics (part of a majority or a minority), supporters or opponents, and so on. We don’t need politicians and politics for our basic survival, but we agree, more or less as a collective, that society would not function without such frameworks in place.

Um, haha, now that my tangent is over. The second quote I chose is one of my favorites: “Mirel argues that no matter how fine the grain, ‘knowing and learning take place in a dynamic system of people, practices, artifacts, communities, and institutional structures,’ and that such dynamic systems always coconstitute even the finest grain of human activity” (Spinuzzi 29). I like this because knowledge is communal and continual. Human activity is what creates history, literature, mathematics, music, visual arts, and other subjects, and then that knowledge moves forward (and sometimes gets left behind) to be presented to  younger generations who will imitate, react against, or build upon with other activities. I liked this quote with two quotes by Vatz – ”To the audience, events become meaningful only through their linguistic depiction” (157) and ”If…you view meaning as a consequence of rhetorical creation, your paramount concern will be how and by whom symbols create the reality to which people react” (158). I chose these two quotes because the idea of symbols and linguistic depictions are learned and emerge out of the collective knowledge. Meaning for us with events and rhetoric comes out of what we know and can identify. Hmm that sounded to abstract. What I mean is that I can recognize the meaning of something or learn the meaning of something by identifying it based on what I already know. For example, with the politicians I mentioned in the paragraph above. I can recognize and make meaning from their rhetorical choices because I know enough about the political system of the U.S. for their promises, their accusations against other candidates or the current system, and their proposals to make sense. These politicians and my understanding of them do not exist in a vacuum.

For the last quote I connected outwards, I chose two and combined them in a single node: “We can talk about genres mingling, merging, splitting, disintegrating, and being repurposed. Genre provides a way of lending dimension to the genetic aspects of given artifacts–to make connections among discrete artifacts that, on the surface, may bear little resemblance to each other” and “The genre embodies a galaxy of assumptions, strategies, and ideological orientations that the individual speaker may not recognize. It represents others’ ‘thinking out’ of problems whose dialogue has been preserved in genre” (Spinuzzi 42 and 43). I linked these two quotes to ones from Bitzer, Vatz, and Foucault, though I need to go back and link it to Popham as well. I could discuss why I chose Bitzer and Vatz, but I am instead going to use this space to talk about the quote I linked it to from Foucault, his enunciative level of formation in relation to the statement and the sentence. I’m paying more attention to this particular link because I am not sure if the connection is correct and wanted to unpack my own thinking. Foucault describes statements as “linked rather to a ‘referential’ that is made up…of laws of possibility, rules of existence for the objects that are named, designated, or described within it, and for the relations that are affirmed or denied in it. The referential of the statement forms the place, the condition, the field of emergence, the authority to differentiate between individuals or objects, states of things and relations that are brought into play by the statement itself; it defines the possibilities of appearance and delimitation of that which gives meaning to the sentence, a value of truth to the proposition” (91).  I feel like these statements are what composes “others’ ‘thinking out’” in the genre galaxy that Spinuzzi mentions and is that genres lend dimension to as they mingle and merge and split and disintegrate and even as they are repurposed. When a person constructs a statement, they may not recognize the possibilities, rules, and relations that are embedded within the referential of the statement, and this same thing seems to happen when a person puts forth a text (like a novel) and cannot completely see all of the different genre types that may be associated with his/her work.

To Soothe One’s Mind, Add a Violin:

Genres, Boundaries, and Away We Go_Mindmap


For this week’s update of the mindmap, I added in two nodes, “Genre” and “Genre Boundaries,” and from there added in four quotes by Miller, Popham, and Bazerman. From these four quotes, I started finding connections between the quotes I had chosen in earlier readings. My first choice was from that of Carolyn Miller’s “Genre as Social Action” in regards to a kind of “principle of selection”:

“Because a classification sorts items on the basis of some set of similarities, the principle used for selecting similarities can tell us much about classification. A classification of discourse will be rhetorically sound if it contributes to an understanding of how discourse works—that is, if it reflects the rhetorical experience of the people who create and interpret the discourse. As Northrop Frye remarks, ‘The study of genres has to be founded on the study of convention.’ A useful principle of classification for discourse, then, should have some basis in the conventions of rhetorical practice, including the ways actual rhetors and audiences have of comprehending the discourse they use” (Miller, “Genre as Social Action” 152)

This idea of “selecting similarities” reminds me of Foucault’s “principle of exclusion” in that choices have to be made, but explores how are those objects, ideas, threads of  thoughts chosen? Why are certain objects privileged over others? The choices that we make tend to follow some degree of sameness, even if the criteria are unspoken or loosely conveyed. I also connected this quote to the contention between Bitzer and Vatz’s articles with the idea of when a rhetorical situation occurs and how much responsibility is placed on the rhetor for deciding which situation was important enough to become a rhetorical situation. As well, this quote from Miller and a quote Bazerman’s “Speech Acts”–“The analytical approach of this chapter [Speech Acts, Genres, and Activity Systems: How Texts Organize Activity and People”] relies on a series of concepts: social facts, speech acts, genres, genre systems, and activity systems. These concepts suggest how people using text create new realities of meaning, relation, and knowledge” (309)– had me connecting with Vatz’s comment: ”If…you view meaning as a consequence of rhetorical creation, your paramount concern will be how and by whom symbols create the reality to which people react” (158). The three quotes connect in how they take a nod towards actual people using rhetoric in different discourses, not just theoretical approaches.

As I connected those thoughts together, I began to think about how the readings we had done previously were forming a foundation for the readings about genre that we have started doing now. It was helpful that Miller especially seemed to build her argument off of Bitzer, so that I could see how later scholars were moving older arguments forward with them. One such instance is when Miller builds upon Bitzer’s discussion of how “comparable situations occur, prompting comparable responses” pointed in the direction of “genre studies” without using the word “genre”—“Thus, inaugurals, eulogies, courtroom speeches, and the like have conventional forms because they arise in situations with similar structures and elements and because rhetors respond in similar ways, having learned from precedent what is appropriate and what effects their actions are likely to have on other people” (Miller, “Genre as Social Action” 153). The conversation between Miller’s text and Popham’s went a long way in helping me to understand the idea of genres in regards to rhetorical situations, especially in revealing to me just how wide the variety of rhetorical genres there can be (like medical forms) and how fluid the boundaries between the genres can be.

What really interested me, and is something I want to explore further in my mindmap if I can, is Popham’s inclusion of Foucault observation of the relationships between disciplines: “As Foucault (1975/1979) pointed out, relationships between disciplines are frequently characterized by competition, tension, and hierarchies. Although we often think of disciplines as coresiding peacefully across campuses, in which disciplinary experts agreeably respect and support each other, such a utopian picture obviously cannot be widespread. Moreover, if we accept the theory that disciplines experience tension in their relationships with each other, tensions that can be better understood by looking at the disciplines involved, we may begin to explain why certain tensions exist within our society” (Popham 279). What I find fascinating is that each discipline uses rhetoric and rhetorical genres that both differ widely and overlap, and yet the disciplines still have greater tension among them. Popham’s example of the medical forms as a “boundary genre,” or a text that acts as a kind of boderlands among the rhetoric of the three disciplines of business, science, and medicine was great because it showed a concrete example of how rhetoric plays out on a mundane level, which served as a contrast to me over Vatz’s rhetorical situation and the example of Winston Churchill.

As we are currently reading Clay Spinuzzi’s book Tracing Genres, I think having the nodes “Genre” and “Genre Boundary” are going to be very useful in mapping out the way later works tackle the concepts of genre and the use of rhetoric.

For Every Boundary, There Must Be Music:

Reflections on the First Semester

The time lag between this post and the previous post is roughly proportional to my level of stress and busy-ness over that same period. As long as the time was between posts, so was I stressed and busy. The first semester of my PhD studies has drawn to a close—I submitted my two exam question responses last night—and the last meeting of the research process class I team teach starts in less than an hour. We’re simply returning final, graded papers to the students tonight. As a result, I have time to post and reflect on what the first semester has taught me.

First and foremost, I can do this! I am capable of doctoral level scholarship. That’s a relief. I doubted myself from time to time this semester (and I’m sure I will do so again in future semesters), but I pulled myself through my doubt and found ways to succeed. Now that the semester is finished, I’m wondering what I’m going to read next, and how I can keep up with scholarship over the Christmas break. I really enjoyed reading scholarship these past three months, and I don’t want to stop just because a class is finished. I think that’s probably a good thing for a scholar.

Second, I’ve discovered that scholarship is a way of life. After the first week or so of reading shock, I’ve enjoyed, even relished, the opportunity to read meaningful scholarship. To be honest, I had kind of quit on reading any literature, so I think I was seeking something more. Not that literature is “less”—I just wasn’t into it anymore. When it comes to recreational reading, I’m a binge and fast kind of reader. I’ll read several books in a row, quickly, voraciously, then fast from reading for months at a time. Reading scholarship, on the other hand, has been a challenge, but it’s also been “filling,” to extend the eating metaphor. What recreational reading had not been doing for me, scholarly reading has done. I’m eager to read journal articles (and I can’t believe I just wrote that sentence), and I’m not intimidated by ridiculous sounding titles that are written for keyword searches, not for creativity. I love literature and won’t stop reading recreationally—but I understand that, at this moment, I need and want to focus on reading a steady diet of scholarship. I’m probably still in the honeymoon stage with hundreds of thousands of pages to read in the future, but for now, I’m enjoying the sense that scholarship means something more than boredom and drudgery.

Third, I’ve learned more about teaching composition than at any other time in my teaching career. I’ve found reasons for my frustration with our research process class, and I’ve discovered why we’ve shifted out of an isolated research writing class in our new curriculum. I’ve learned to appreciate those texts with titles like Everything’s An Argument and They Say, I Say that teach writing from a genre and context/audience perspective rather than using EDNA or models of exposition. I’ve recognized that I’ve been trapped in outmoded theoretical positions, and I’ve found what those (not so new anymore) updated theories recommend about how writing should be taught. I’ve come to understand the value of multi-modal, multimedia composition and design as a way of extending the composition classroom into the professional world. And I’ve finally figured out the real goal of the composition class—to teach students to write in response to a composition assignment within a specific context to a particular audience using the proper medium, mode, or genre. I’ve been a decent writing teacher, but I believe I am going to become a stellar writing teacher if I can develop pedagogical strategies to complement my theoretical discoveries.

Fourth, I’ve discovered that the English department and discipline that I imagined was exactly that—imaginary. The real department is a mess, and the real discipline is in crisis. It’s taken me the second half of the semester to come to terms with those realities, but the end result for me is a sense of peace. I’m no longer mourning the loss of the English department and discipline of my dreams; it never really existed anywhere outside my head. English studies is in disarray as a perfectly natural function of the evolution of a 19th century discipline entering into the 21st century. What counts is my own perspective and place in this discipline; ironically, it’s the death of that imagined discipline that has freed me to start exploring a space outside literature and cultural studies. I believe that I will focus in technology and new media studies, and I think that I will have a secondary focus in rhetoric and composition studies. I will give up literature, literary studies, cultural studies, and critical theory in favor of technology and new media studies. I will base my study in a strong theoretical foundation, but I will ultimately develop a research project that connects my professional and academic interests. I’m not sure how to do that, but I confess that I could not see a way toward any such connection at the start of this term. I can now see ways to make this connection.

[Creative Commons licensed image by flickr user Peter Shanks]

The Discipline is Dead. Long Live the Discipline

English studies no longer exists. That’s the conclusion I’ve drawn after half a semester of PhD coursework. Too bad I’m getting a PhD in English.

An English department may exist as a political or organizational unit on some campuses, but it’s unclear to me that, at the graduate or higher level, there needs to be an English discipline. We discussed during last night’s class that cultural studies may be able to subsume what was once “English studies,” but the concept of an English studies program that focuses on literary analysis and criticism is dead.

We have need for rhetoric and composition studies to address undergraduate-level argumentation and academic discourse. We have need for cultural studies to push against hegemony and privileged positions, and to address and critique cultural artifacts and material production. We have need for English education, especially at the secondary and post-secondary level, to be sure high school and college graduates are taught to write from qualified instructors.

But beyond that – do we need critical theory as a separate discipline? Does literary criticism have any real place in the undergraduate or graduate classroom? I really don’t know anymore, and that’s a sad admission for me. I mourn the passing of English studies, but perhaps its death frees me to find a real focus for my studies.