The Underground Press Syndicate (UPS) was an organization operating from 1966 to 1973 that collected content - including text, cartoons, and photographs - from individual underground newspaper titles and disseminated that content nationally to be freely reprinted by other newspapers with syndicate membership. UPS also attempted to secure advertisements, especially from record companies, to help financially support members. Additionally, archival attempts were a part of the mission with microfilming submitted issues and creating directories for sale to libraries.
Robert Glessing, arguably the first to scholarly address the underground press in his seminal 1970 text The Underground Press in America, speaks to the idea that the UPS helped the movement grow. He writes, “[T]he significance of the new left press is that it is a movement. The string that ties the movement together has been the Underground Press Syndicate, the Liberation News Service, and other cooperative agencies” (79). David Armstrong reiterates, “With the birth of UPS, the underground press became a true network, growing synergistically instead of in fits and starts” (59). Then again in 2011, John McMillian summarizes, “Most of these papers were interconnected - whether through a loose confederation called the Underground Press Syndicate (UPS) or a radical news agency called Liberation News Service (LNS) - they also became the Movement’s primary means of internal communication. Absent such newspapers and organizations, the New Left could not have circulated its news, ideas, trends, opinions, and strategies” (6). Ken Wachsberger argues that the redistribution of newspapers through the UPS helped “to plug [one] radical community into radical communities around the country” (qtd. in McMillian 46). Unfortunately, others see this unification as having an overall negative effect on the underground press.
This criticism centers on the way in which news sharing services gave “the underground papers a collective identity” (Armstrong 59). The “consistency of vision” made possible by content sharing through the UPS was problematic (Kornbluth 96). Kornbluth explains, “Most of the papers are printing the same ritualized reports…and cater to an increasingly ingrown audience” (93). Ridgeway agrees that news sharing services like the UPS can “also have an unfortunate effect. The papers…imitate one another much as the daily papers repeat themselves in relying on wire services. There is little local reporting, one of the major reasons for beginning underground papers” (590-1). This homogenization of the underground is a negative consequence for some of the emergence of news sharing services.
Other scholars also note the role of the UPS in breaking media boundaries. The UPS is credited with initiating a conversation about copyright. Ridgeway explains that “members of UPS promise not to copyright articles. Copyright is a form of property and UPS members are opposed to it” (586-7). Glessing also argues for the importance of this mission, adding, “The first rule of UPS [all members agree to free exchange of materials] is perhaps its most significant and served to break down the concept of copyright among underground papers from the start” (70).
Accordingly, these views situate the UPS as a significant actant in the underground press movement with both positive and negative effects on its growth. However, understanding of the UPS as a network reveals significances not outlined by these writers.
Application of Network Theories:
What works from each theory? What parts of the theoretical lenses lets you look at something interesting?
There are four network theories that can be applied to the UPS to help bring about greater scholarly recognition for the work of the UPS and the underground movement in general: Charles Bazerman’s work with genres; Lloyd Bitzer’s description of the rhetorical situation; James Gibson’s explanation of affordances, with development by Don Norman and Gregory Bateson; and Cultural-Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) as undertaken by Paul Prior et al.
Genre Theory: Charles Bazerman argues in “Speech Acts, Genres, and Activity Systems” that all human activity is comprised of hierarchical, embedded categories. Human activity is comprised of genre systems, which are in turn made up of genre sets. These sets contain within them what we understand as genres. Genres contain speech acts, and speech acts hold within them the smallest, indivisible category, social facts. The relationship between these categories functions much in the same way as do the various elements in networks.
With this understanding, it is possible to define the UPS as a genre system within the network of human activity. All human activity begins with social facts, “those things that people believe to be true” (Bazerman 312). In the late-1960s, some of the social facts appearing to the counterculture were the truths of segregation, the draft, and President Nixon. These elicited responses that when compiled made up a network of speech acts; typically these speech acts expressed various concerns for equality, personal freedom, and political reform. Underground journalists articulated these speech acts in recognizable patterns, or genres, such as the editorial, satirical cartoon, or even a creative poem - each type of document a node in a network of genres. Writers and illustrators collected these generic examples, as genre sets, into publishable newspapers and magazines. Each title, or set, a network connecting people and content, but also a node in a genre system. The UPS and other organizations like Liberation News Service (LNS) and Alternative Press Syndicate (APS) collected these genre sets, as genre systems, in order to redistribute their content to members or archive it. These genre systems produced social actions including disseminating information, creating a connected and informed public, and inciting protest activity. These social actions exist as nodes of human action in the network of human activity. This speaks well to the purpose in beginning an underground movement as responsorial in nature and ultimately producing social action.
|The UPS as situated in Bazerman's Theory of Human Activity|
Genre theory also allows for a discussion of social action. Miller explains that genres help “communities do their work and carry out their purposes” (“Rhetorical”). Blumer quoted in Miller also argues that “social action exists in the form of recurrent patterns [genres] of joint action [collaboration across a network]” (158 "Genre as Social"). When the underground press publications gained visibility and readership, the ideas expressed in recognizeable patterns (poem, editorial, news article) within the pages inspired and informed communities and became a platform for activism - the very effect of genre noted by the theorists.
Genre theory also allows for a discussion of collaboration. The relationship between the nodes is collaborative as they build unilaterally toward human activity; however, it could be argued that the activity produced at the culmination of the network would then bring about new social facts. In that regard, the direction of the relationships between nodes can also be understood as cyclical. This also plays out in the UPS as the co-constructed newspapers then created new social facts for the readers, perhaps encouraging them to also make utterances.
This theory also helps explain how the UPS grew and eventually failed. Genres and genre-based networks grow as a response to social facts as Bazerman explains, but he also suggests, through his ideas about multiple intentions and interpretations, that the network will emerge and move in new offshoots as nodes are utilized differently by different people. The UPS grew as a result of the available technology and emerged in new directions with each selection made by UPS editors or member papers in the exchange process. Bazerman also can be applied to explain how the network dissolved. As the social facts that once inspired responses changed—passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 for example—the kind of speech act responses also changed and no longer found the need for radical expression in underground publications.
Rhetorical Situation: Bitzer argues that there first exists a rhetorical situation, a “complex of persons, events, objects, and relations [constraints] presenting an actual or potential exigence” (6). The exigence invites a response from the rhetor in the form of discourse, which can mediate the situation if presented to an audience capable of enacting the change. He argues that “these three constituents—exigence, audience, constraints—comprise everything relevant in a rhetorical situation. When the orator, invited by the situation, enters it and creates and presents discourse, then both he and his speech are additional constituents” (8). These constituents are nodes in a network that produces discourse, but is one firmly centered on the rhetorical situation. The discourse is caused by the situation, and everything emanates from its existence.
Therefore, Bitzer helps explain why the UPS was formed, again as a response. The founding members were invited to respond to the exigence of the mainstream media’s failure to reflect counterculture values. There was also the problematic situation of an uncoordinated movement scattered across the country with many newspapers operating in locales more isolated from the broader radical community. This response is rhetorical because the audience, other underground press papers, were able to mediate the situation upon receiving the discourse UPS created. The UPS cannot be extracted from the counterculture movement, and this theory allows the network to be closely linked to a social context. The exigencies that Bitzer discusses speak to the urgency that many in the movement experienced, the sense that the situation could not be ignored.
|Bitzer's Network of Rhetorical Situation|
Bitzer argues that the audience is in a position to mediate the situation. This model would see the readers and member papers as having the most agency because they were in a position to engage in activism and political pursuits that could alter the problems being written about, which often occurred when a newspaper would advertise a protest or instructions on how to avoid the draft.
CHAT: Like Bazerman’s situation of human activity as a collection of connected people and objects, CHAT theorizes that all human activity is “situated in concrete interactions.” The interactions “over time and space and among people, artifacts, and environments” create a kind of network that produces human activity (Prior et al “What is CHAT”). Some of these interactions can be termed literate activity. This activity is a network that “enables and constrains” other functions: production (how the text is formed by tools and practices), representation (textualization through style, arrangement, and semiotic media), distribution (how the text is disseminated), reception (how the audience makes meaning from the text), socialization (how the text constructs society), and activity (goal-oriented projects) (Prior et al “Mapping Literate”).
|CHAT Network of Literate Activity|
The production node of the UPS includes the “collective invention” of texts, which was facilitated by the UPS as member newspapers eventually became a collaborative artifact through reprinting. It also contains the historically provided tools like light boards, cutting knives, and mimeograph machines common in the arrangement and production of newsprint in the pre-digital era. The representation node encompasses genre; the UPS genre is information dissemination service. The node of distribution is particularly relevant to the UPS as its primary role was to actively collect and widely disseminate underground papers. Reception is a node often “shaped by writers and distributors”. The UPS as a distributor shaped meaning for the members, especially those located in communities otherwise disconnected from the movement. It brought the ideals, news, art, and culture of the counterculture to the disenfranchised, helping them to form their own identities, politics, and activism. In this way, the UPS also embodied the node of socialization, the creation of society with a unified purpose. Lastly, the node of activity involves “goal-oriented” projects that bring people together in cooperation. The UPS project had the goal of disseminating and preserving the underground press. The number of people needing to come together in cooperation to ensure this goal is impressive particularly for the sustained success the syndicate enjoyed in a time when the nature of action tended toward the ephemeral.
With a focus on delivery as distribution and mediation, CHAT lets the UPS be discussed in terms of its primary purpose: to collect and distribute newspapers for the free reprinting of shared content. On the other side of distribution though, reminiscent of Bazerman’s constraints, the staff at the UPS mediated content; decisions were made as to which elements of which papers would be included in the packets. The production node made up of the tools, containing the member papers that contributed the raw materials for building packets, could exert agency over whether or not they joined UPS, over what to submit, and over what to reprint in their collective texts. In the activity node, writers, artists, editors and UPS staff had agency over participation in the goal-oriented project. At its core, the UPS relied on individual contributions of time, creativity, and work (assembling packets, administrative tasks). Without drawing any salaries, these individuals controlled the UPS functions, and it was their conscious choices to take part that kept it going. The reception node allows for some audience agency; the UPS audience being member papers, content selection allows for some freedom of choice. This seems to be at the heart of how CHAT remaps the canon, with Prior et al explaining, “audiences are constantly active, co-producers of the configuration of footings and the discourse itself” (Prior et al “The Rhetorical Scene”). Member papers contributed, UPS editors selected and distributed, member papers reprinted. Building on that, this theory offers a new way perhaps to understand the effects of delivery, the kind of community building that occurred as a result, not just on one rhetorical product, but on an entire discourse community.
The various contributing papers as production nodes and the UPS editors in shaping the representation, distribution, and reception nodes work together in the activity node toward that goal-oriented project. In this way, the relationship between the nodes is collaborative. Therefore, this allows us to understand that the discourse of the counterculture movement was co-produced by the texts and the audiences and nodes are not positioned in a particular order or hierarchy. Here, the production tools can be as important as the audience and as important as the distribution methods. This allows for a discussion that elevates the UPS from a simple "appliance" or addendum to the "real" work of the underground, to something equal in its significance to the movement overall.
Like the two previous theories, CHAT also explains network growth as a response. This time to poor rhetoric. “A ‘good’ rhetoric neglected by the press obviously cannot be so ‘communicative’ as a poor rhetoric backed nation-wide by headlines” (Burke qtd. in Prior et al “The Rhetorical Scene”). This seems to speak to the movement's purpose for being. The power of the mainstream media to spread unreliable or unrepresentative rhetoric needed to counteracted by an alternative media that would focus on "good rhetoric".
Lastly, this theory positions the UPS as a significant source of human transformation. The CHAT authors explain this phenomenon as psychagogia. They explain, “Plato (1989) defined (true) rhetoric as a psychagogia—the leading or formation of people's souls through discourse (public and private)” (Prior et al “Society and Socialization”). However successful or unsuccessful the paper might have been, the genuine desire to effect positive change as suggested by the quote was always there. The participants in the movement often risked harassment by local authorities or other negative consequences, yet the belief in the cause was strong enough to overcome those drawbacks. It was a sincere hope that readers and communities would be altered by the contents, that social and political change would occur as the souls of people were touched and shaped.
Affordances: Affordances are the allowable actions for a given object (Gibson). The term implies a relationship between object and actor (person, animal, other object) based on the properties of one and the needs and abilities of the other. Affordances, actors, and objects comprise a network within the larger environment. Additionally, the affordances that are not perceived are still part of the network. In that case, there are nodes of affordances that may be connected to an object without the conduit of the actor.
|Theory of Affordances Network|
In this theory, the UPS is the environment in which the actors engage with objects based on their perceived affordances. The object nodes would be the newspapers, content packets, microfilm, collective advertisements, and membership directories. The actor nodes would be the writers, illustrators, photographers, and editors at the member papers (content-producers). Other actor nodes would include the UPS staff members who compiled and mailed the packets, maintained the membership roles, obtained revenue by securing advertisements, created the microfilm, and wrote and distributed the library directories. The affordance nodes would be based on two things: the affordances perceived by the actors and the affordances possible but not perceived. Some of the more significant affordances for the main object nodes are reading, spreading alternative news and culture, cutting (to facilitate the reprinting of only selected content), reprinting, generating income through sales, offering an outlet for expression, and inspiring activism and social change.
Most interestingly, this theory allows for the UPS to be analyzed in the present. Some of the affordances possible, like the microfilm and directories of the UPS facilitating future research, are likely not affordances that were seen at the time by many, yet it is now one of the lasting and most significant contributions. For some papers, being listed in a directory is the only evidence available to the researcher that the title ever existed. This extends then network beyond the participants from the past. I myself can be included in the network because I have perceived affordances of the objects therein.
Because the nodes are situated in the network without hierarchy like Chat, there is strong undercurrent of interdependence that suits the UPS. Bateson sees the actors’ minds, responsible for perceiving affordances, as itself belonging to “the total interconnected social system and planetary ecology” (467). This is the concept of immanence; all things are connected and dependent upon one another for survival. With immanence in mind, the nodes in the UPS network are dispersed equally but dependently. The newspapers need the actors to produce and distribute them, but the actors need the newspapers as well for their affordances of self-expression and community building. The objects are no more or less important than the people, which elevates the role of the UPS “machinery” to something as important as the text.
This egalitarian positioning between the nodes in especially applicable to the UPS. When content was collected and distributed, there was an attempt to be inclusive regardless of the paper’s circulation. Smaller papers could be included alongside the larger papers (like a Twitter feed - before the latest updates - where all tweets are seen, none hidden or given priority, regardless of the number of followers for that tweeter). This application brings the value of equality and significance of every voice, that was so much a part of the movement, to the forefront.
Another interesting point is made by Don Norman, which is that affordances are constrained by cultural conventions. Norman argues, “Cultural constraints are learned conventions that are shared by a cultural group,” and these constraints can influence the affordances one attaches to a particular object. Consider how the UPS resembles the Associated Press (AP). Both organizations emerged from similar situations where information for print media sources was not readily available beyond the region in which the paper worked. The UPS learned from the precedent set by the AP, and the AP based itself on the rapid information sharing system used by the Pony Express that came before it (“AP’s History”). Therefore, the theory would also define the UPS as an example of the convention of information dissemination practices.
In this network, growth and dissolution are two sides of the same coin: diversity. Bateson argues that heterogeneity is necessary for survival: "The artificially homogenized populations...are scarcely fit for survival" (457). This is also true in application to the UPS. Growth was encouraged by the diversity of new papers becoming members; however, as sharing led to homogeneity, the underground began to lose relevance and papers rapidly collapsed, noted by Kornbluth. Importantly, affordances theory makes room for the theory that the underground was killed by sameness.
This theory also emphasizes that objects can have more than one affordance, or an affordance can be shared by more than one object. This allows for an analysis of network redundancies, like the multiple ways the UPS attempted archiving and income generation. We can then ask if this hindered efficiency or ensured it? Would centralizing the income generation efforts at the national level have freed up the creative efforts of those at the local level, or would this have caused bureaucratic bogging down of cash flows? These questions have ramifications for understanding the system’s ultimate collapse.
What are the problems with applying any one theory?
The UPS was a complex interaction of people, objects, society, and rhetoric. No single theory can adequately account for all the network participants and produced activity. Here is an accounting of the theory gaps:
Genre: Bazerman is most closely associated with a discussion of how action is produced and the relationships between different types of activities, collating them into sets and larger systems. The focus is less on what kinds of activities can occur and why one particular action does or does not lead to another. For example, why would the same social facts that existed in one community results in the collection of utterances into a newspaper where in other communities they would not? Also, why would some genres sets be more effective at producing activity than others? Bazerman does not seem to offer an explanation for how some papers increased in circulation and impact while others folded after only. This theory explains how the UPS belongs to the larger network of human activity, but cannot as readily address why that was the response over another.
Rhetorical Situation: Under Bitzer’s model, the rhetor has little agency because the exigence is so strong that it compels a response. Then that response is shaped by a set of constraints and audience considerations. The UPS and member papers then are simply responding to the exigencies rather than acting with internal motivation; it is just a byproduct of situations needing mediation. Yet the underground was full of passionate participants who mediated content and produced it. Is their role simply as a conduit for the discourse without any effect on the content? This model discounts the collaborative remediation that often occurs in the underground networks as information is shared, altered, subverted, emulated, shared again, debated, and compiled in a system that actively worked to eliminate leaders or concentrate powers.
Bitzer also has less dynamic explanations for content. After initially being shaped by the situation, exigencies, and/or constraints, the message moves unchanged through the audience. Content may be shaped by certain forces like constraints or interpretation, but these changes are controlled and limited and do not persist after the discourse is created. Again, this understanding is limited in its application to the UPS because its work was discursive. Many people created, shared, recreated, and reshared the information until there was a collaborative, unified invention.
Lastly, the rhetorical situation restricts discourse to specific nodes in a specific order. The process of making meaning is far less of a collaboration than it is a guided response. This approach does not allow for an explanation of the collaboration that was so integral to the UPS.
CHAT: CHAT seems limited in how it allows for growth and dissolution. We see growth as a response, but this speaks mainly to why content was produced as mediation of poor rhetoric. However, the UPS also grew as due to the simple celebrations of self-expression. This is also a problem for Bitzer and Bazerman. Some art is a spontaneous expression and not in direct response to a social fact or situation. I suppose one could argue that there is simply the situation of being human, but this is thin and does not account then for why some are compelled to create and others not. If we are simply reacting to powerful social facts, then why would we not all produce the same text? Some greater accounting for human individuality and agency is needed.
Affordances: Affordances is primarily a theory about human interaction with objects. Gibson does allow for affordances that arise from human to human interactions as well, but remarks that the theory does not apply as evenly there. However, there does not seem to be a recognition of how perceived abstract truths can also afford activity. The UPS produced as much invisible content as it did tangible objects. The UPS spread a sense of connectivity. This afforded greater feelings of inclusion, possibly the encouragement to continue publication, or even the shaping of personal values. The invisible concept of connection, without any perceptible surfaces, is not a part of this theory, but is certainly an integral part of what the UPS afforded.
This theory has an emphasis on action: what can be done, what is being produced between the actors, objects, and affordances. However, there is less on the content of the papers and the community building. Affordances theory does not seem to have a way to see one affordance of an object as more or less significant. Each affordance is just one more way to utilize the object, which may diminish some of the cultural work that UPS did as it focuses more on the processes of making and shaping the organization itself.
Theory Synthesis Rationale:
Why can these theories be made to work well with each other?
One main connecting thread through these theories is that of action. Genre theory and rhetorical situation both argue that the discourse produced by the network leads to mediation of the facts/situation. CHAT also speaks to this in the reception and socialization nodes where the audience constructs meaning and that meaning shapes society. CHAT’s production and distribution nodes, along with affordances, speak more to action on a mesoscopic level. These theories explain how the UPS was made, by what means and with what materials and tools.
Another connection is through the responsorial nature of action. Genre, rhetorical situation, and CHAT all have an explanation for how rhetoric is produced: as a response to social facts or problems. Affordances require the subject to perceive them, but we respond to objects based on what we need. We seek out the affordances that will help us successfully respond to a stimulus.
The first two theories are more conceptual and theoretical, dealing with why and how actions are produced in society. The latter two theories are more practical and concrete, dealing with what actions are produced. However different these approaches, it is clear that the four theories are all concerned with accomplishing something or purpose. In this way, the theories fill gaps the other presents. Where genre and rhetorical theory may not explain why some facts elicit responses while others do not, affordances can answer that we react to objects (or perhaps situations) with autonomous perception. What I perceive to be a meaningful affordance, will not necessarily be one for another. Where affordances may diminish the context out of which the underground grew, Bitzer and Bazerman emphasize the social constructs that catalyzed the movement. Where CHAT struggles to speak to growth and dissolution, the changing of social facts and situations can provide an answer.
Constraints are also at play in each theory. Genre constrains form through social convention. The discourse is shaped by the consideration of audience, to name just one of Bitzer’s constraints. CHAT has constraints dependent upon the available tools of production, and affordances has Norman’s cultural conventions that shape what we see as potential affordances.
Object of Study as English Scholarship:
How does it function in a way that is useful/meaningful to English scholars?
The UPS provides several opportunities for further meaningful examinations in the discipline.
It would also be interesting to view the object as seated in the intersection of delivery and memory. The work to archive the magazines and distribute these archives was a novel approach to publishing and for libraries. It would be useful to think of how dissemination and preservation are linked rhetorical activities. The UPS perhaps took this to a new level, seeing the role of distributing texts only part of the essential work of building a community. It was also necessary to document and archive the texts. Rhetoricians would find fertile ground in examining how these two functions are intertwined.
Cultural theorists could analyze the UPS as early crowd sourcing. This highlights its later efforts to obtain advertising that could be reprinted across its members raised funds to help sustain the literary work. But these efforts often distracted from other more creative endeavors, but ignoring the financial needs of operating, licensing, printing, and distributing the newspapers often forced smaller publications to fold. One question worth exploring is how economic networks support (or restrict) the production of literature?
New Historicists could examine the UPS as a historical artifact. The assembly of newspaper articles, political cartoons, poems, editorials, and photographs therein collectively capture the complex and often abstract counterculture movement of a particularly turbulent time in American history. The rhetorical discourse of that social and political movement is vividly preserved by the UPS.
Those interested in the transformative effects of literature could understand the UPS as a literary network responsible for social change by the sense of belonging it can create among participants, the support that can be channeled between the nodes, and the power of knowledge that it allows participants to access.
If we can understand the motivations, successes, connections, and weaknesses of the UPS network, perhaps we can understand the processes and contexts needed to engage in current and future activism for alternative social, cultural, and political views. We can begin to answer the questions this analysis poses: Why are we motivated to speak (Bitzer)? How does our speech make a difference (Bazerman)? How do we communicate our speech (CHAT)? How can our speech be used (Affordances)? And if those conclusions about action and activity can be useful, then the research has a practical and beneficial purpose.
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