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Scaffolding Synthesis: The Cypher as Network

Scaffolding Synthesis: The Cypher as Network Rhetorical Situation Theory, Genre Theory, and CHAT Theories Which 2 – 4 theories are you choosing and why? For the Synthesis project, my object of study is the hip hop cypher. This project will address the question “Why is studying my OoS useful to English Studies?” To do this, […]

Mind Map: Week 11


In my mind map this week, I added a primary node of Ecology with smaller nodes linking out to Spellman and Syverston (since my book didn’t come until Tuesday, I only read summaries and, thus, I need to read him before I try to add him). As a result of our discussions in class this week, I created a connecting contrast node between Spellman and Latour. I actually had a date with a biologist on Saturday who studies freshwater streams and lakes, so this was a topic of our conversation. It was interesting for me to try to explain my perception (based on our readings and discussions) that ecology focuses on groups and classification. He didn’t see it until I explained how Latour’s theory of tracing all of the messy connections to an individual helps to define that individual’s network–the result of which would not be generalizable to other individuals. For instance, a species of fish serves a role in an ecosystem–its niche–and the role could be filled by any other of the fish in that species. However, while human individuals also serve a role in their network, all of an individual’s roles within his or her own specialized network cannot be fulfilled by another individual, because we have such a high level of agency and the importance we place on social systems.

I also added a primary node for Syverston and connected her concept of emergence to Bazerman, as I see a direct connection with the concept of speech acts and genres. This is a connection I plan to explore more as part of my own research.

Revisiting the Proposal: March 30

Donna Haraway has been credited as one of the first to use the term “cyborg” to describe our relationship with the Digital, as we become “hybrids of machine and organism” (151). The field of English Studies, and in particular Composition … Continue reading

This is your brain. This is your brain on drugs. Your brain is not yours. You just *think* it is.

JJ Gibson’s “Theory of Affordances” set off waves of thought for me in terms of my object of study, Live-Action Role-Playing games. In 1977, Gibson revolutionized the field of evolutionary psychology and systems theory by making up the word “affordance” to explain what something (an object, an environment) offers to an individual. (127). It is a theory that situates itself not in the physical properties of an object, but in the perception of it.  Affordances are measured in relationship to the subject doing the perception. The more complex the object and the subject, the more complex the set of affordances, which, Gibson notes, are perceived primarily through optical and sensory information (128). Gibson further defines a niche as a set of such affordances, and he problematizes the subjective-objective dichotomy of thought prevalent in the social sciences vs. the sciences. Affordances, he states, cut across this constructed border and demonstrate its limitations. Affordances exist in the relationship between the object and the user doing the perceiving.

This then relates to Bateson, whose theory is about the reality of perception, and how what one perceives becomes what is true, real, possible.  This, in turn, leads to Norman, who states that Gibson’s affordance really is a “perceived affordance”; if a user perceives something is possible, then it is possible, if s/he perceives it is not possible, then it is not possible. This is regardless to whether it actually is possible with the object at hand. An affordance isn’t an affordance unless it is perceived by the would-be user.

When reading Gibson, I had some ideas about the dangers of perceiving objects solely in terms of WIIFM, “what can be done with it, what it is good for, its utility” (129). This narrow perception can lead to a Benthamite fetishization of utility, and a late-capitalist concern about commodification.

Bateson says that what we perceive is difference (differance?), patterns and ways one thing is not like another. To me that means that our perception creates discourse; discourse is created as a result of perceived difference, of some sort of chasm to cross or something to bridge via language. Perception then, creates the exigence for the rhetorical situation. A rhetor perceives, and interprets, and as Bateson notes, his perception is real and personal, and not absolute. As Gibson notes, what the rhetor perceives are affordances, ways to obtain something from the object or situation, which speaks to Bitzer’s goal-oriented communication, and even to Bazerman’s genres. This perception of “Certain facts” distilled from an object (Bateson 459) is what Bateson calls the extrapolation of information. A rhetorical situation then, affords information. What information is extrapolated and acted upon, then depends on what the rhetor perceives.  The discourse that is created then travels along pathways and is “energized at every step by the metabolic energy latent in the protoplasm which receives the difference, recreates or transforms it, and passes it on” (Bateson 459). This relates to the rhetorical situation in that we are measuring the effect on the audience. Furthermore, the perceiver/rhetor, in Bateson’s analogy, adds energy to the object and recreates it into the map of it, into something other than its physical properties. In this way, it resembles the idea of a mediator (rather than an intermediary) from Actor Network Theory.

Bateson quotes Jung, who says that “as a difference is transformed and propagated along its pathway, the embodiment of the difference before the step is a “territory” of which the embodiment after the step is a “map.” The map-territory relation obtains at every step” (461). To me, this is demonstrating the iterative nature of the interpretation; as the information is mediated along the pathway from physical object to perceived object, it ceases to be the object itself, but a representation of it, colored by the available information and perceived affordances of the person doing the perceiving. Remembering the object then is an image of the represented image, and further removed from the original object. Any “phenomena” is “appearance”, Bateson says. In other words, all of the world is rhetorically constructed by the seer, who perceives it.

 little-thor Bateson’s comments about “immanence and transcendence” (467) are making me think about whether they can be used to express the classic_thor_by_lostonwallace-d4xn712[1]dual consciousness of the player-character during a role-playing game. The player is, simultaneously, him/herself, and the character. The player is the immanence, physically in the world with the other players and symbolic objects, but the player becomes transcendence by being more thanThor_Avengers2

themselves, by entering the imaginative space of the game. If I am Thor, I am myself playing Thor, the character Thor, all Thors before me – representations that are both there and not there, here and beyond, all working together to recreate, remediate and present “Thor.” When Bateson discusses the “false reifications of the ‘self’ Thor-female-13and separations between the ‘self’ and experience’ I am transported to the notion that live-action role-playing is unmediated space; that the self and the experience are one. The play exists in a co-created imaginative space that is experienced through the body; the mind/body split is reconstituted as player.

Bateson says:

“it is the attempt to separate intellect from emotion that is monstrous, and I suggest that it is equally monstrous – and dangerous—to attempt to separate the external mind from the internal. Or to separate the mind from body” (470).

This fetishization of “pure mind” is the idealistic focus of Enlightenment thinking and cybernetic theory, commonly embodied in the person of a digital avatar. Yet in larp, which is face-to-face interaction unmediated by technology, people are liberated by the concept of imagination – of the alibi of portraying a character — that lets them have emotional and embodied experiences in interaction with others in a shared relational ecosystem. There is not difference in perception between character and player in these scenarios. If it is happening to the character, it is happening to the player, whose body is at risk, and whose bodily reactions perceive no intellectual distance between the constructed character and the player portraying. We constitute the reality of the game by “information processing, i.e. by thought” (Bateson 471). As Gibson says, what we perceive is an “ambient optic array” that “at any fixed point of observation some parts of the environment are revealed and the remaining parts are concealed” (136). A larp is only constructed by the person playing it, and one person’s diegesis will be unlike another’s. No one, not even the Game Master or Story Teller ever has all of the information; thus all reality is based on what the player perceives and interprets. Information may exist, a secret may lie latent, but it does not “mean” or “matter” or “exist” in the sense of being perceived as something that can be acted upon until it is seen or heard, and thus brought into the mind of the player and the diegesis of the game.

Gibson’s use of the biological term proprioception is fruitful in looking at larp. The notion that “to perceive the world is to coperceive oneself” is a theory of how interactive role play and world building happens, dynamically in the larp. The character is iteratively constructed in relation to his/her environment and to other characters. Gibson goes on to say something that I think can be very useful in studying larps: “Only when a child perceives the values of things for others as well as for herself does she begin to be socialized” (139). This seems to refer to a kind of shared empathy, that is fundamental to the kind of collaborative interactive play that is a larp. Call it the “empathy bump” or “alteric escalation”, if you will. When you realize, as a player, that your experience will be all the richer if you play in such a way as to enrich the experiences of others, then you have a social realm. A network is created by this sort of social contract that recognizes (perceives) the self in relation to others and the affordances of the game as being collaborative and shared. The game exists as a set of affordances in the relationship of the players to the environment and the information.  A kind of discursive community, a rhetorical triangle (player – environment – information) is created, and through the act of speaking, the reality is created and perceived.

I’m also tossing around this idea that the more divergent the thinking of the perceiver, the greater the number of affordances will be perceived. Thus, the boundaries of possibility – in short, the reality – of something who thinks divergently is much richer than that of someone who thinks convergently. This has implications for the discourse produced. In the case of larps, this affects the outcome of the game, which is only confined to what the player believes is possible for his character within the constraints of the game world and its mechanics.

Works Cited

Bateson, Gregory. “Form, Substance, and Difference” Steps to an Ecology of Mind: Collected Essays in Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution, and Epistemology. 454-471. Print.

Gibson, James J. “A Theory of Affordances. An Ecological Approach to Visual Perception. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. 1979. 127-139. Print.

Norman, Don. “Don Norman’s / Affordances and Design.” N. p., n.d. Web. 20 Mar. 2014.


Avengers 2 Thor.

Classic Cartoon Thor.

Female Thor.

Little Thor.

Responding to Case Study #2 Outlines

I read and responded to Amy’s ENGL894 Locklear Case Study 2 Outline and to Jenny’s Exploring the Flow of Information in LLL via Rhetorical Situation and Genre Theory. Each took a different approach to the application of theories to object of study from each other and from the one I took in my outline, and I found that difference instructive and reflective of the continued emphasis our theorists place on difference in discursive formation.

Both Amy and Jenny took a more formal approach to the outline than I did. Their outlines included the standard numbers and letters (mediated, I noticed, by Microsoft Word’s formatting expectations and defaults, a particular pet peeve of mine), while my outline consisted of a table that (I hope) functions as an operationalized comparison and contrast rubric for the case study (mediated, I admit, by the focus on “compare and contrast” and a desire to place my theoretical conversants in a concrete framework). I also noticed that Jenny and Amy carefully examined and summarized the theories they seek to apply, while I more generally mentioned my applied theories and focused more attention on addressing the questions of the final assignment. In some ways I feel I shortchanged my outline (and I’ll regret that in the days leading up to March 23); in other ways, however, I’m working to convince myself that I directly addressed the expectations of the final assignment, important in a 3,000 word response that includes a brief literature review.

I found Amy’s presentation of nodes and activity in MOOCs very different from what I expected. As I consider MOOCs, I gravitate toward the technology that makes MOOCs possible as network nodes and activity. It’s this focus on non-human members of the network that I especially appreciate about ANT. I found Amy’s focus on the pedagogical theory and human agents as nodes an interesting and useful boundary for her discussion. Ultimately, each of us seeks a boundary within which to develop a coherent theoretical application to our object of study. Amy’s boundary differs from the boundary I would choose, but that difference tells us something about our individual network and rhetorical experiences. It also makes class-sourced collaborative models of theoretical applications to networks more valuable, in my mind, to scholarship and to pedagogical outcomes. I have a sneaking suspicion that the two instructors are of the same mind in this conclusion.

la leche league logo

My La Leche League cake. Drawn in buttercreme: Creative Commons licensed image from Flickr user Sondra

Jenny’s focus on ordering nodes in her outline was also unexpected. Throughout this semester, probably starting with Vatz, I’ve gravitated away from applying frameworks to theories (my tabular outline an obvious contradiction, alas). I’ve willed myself to avoid imposing order on the theoretical chaos in my head. Jenny’s outline was a refreshing shift, but one important aspect I noticed was that each “ordering” of nodes was dependent on the individual theory. Instead of using a set of common criteria (like my use of the assignment questions) by which to compare and contrast theoretical stances, she developed individual criteria for comparison based on her summarized analysis of the theories themselves. Doing so likely required more effort than a standardized set of comparison criteria, but the result is that she likely has a much clearer handle on each of the theorists’ main ideas as they relate to her object of study.

In both cases, I learned from each interpretation of the assignment. My “meta” moment has less to do with the theories or their application to objects of study and more to do with each of our different executions of the assignment itself. From a pedagogical standpoint, multiple interpretations of an assignment are difficult to assess in a rubric, but they better reflect many of our theorists’ perspectives on the importance of difference in discursive formation. That’s an important lesson for my own pedagogy.


Van Ittersum, D., & Ching, K. L. (2013). Composing text / Shaping process: How digital environments mediate writing activity [Webtext]. Computers and Composition: An International Journal. Retrieved from

Lock, A. (2014, March 3). ENGL894 Locklear case study 2 outline [Google doc, outline].

Moore, J. (2014, March 2). Exploring the flow of information in LLL via rhetorical situation and genre theory [Google doc, outline].

[Top Image: Mediated by Microsoft Word. Creative Commons licensed image from Flickr user Erik Eckel]

Mind Map: Week 6

My additions with CHAT this week were fairly simple–I made sure to include Prior et al.’s justification for remapping  rhetorical activity (traditional canons neglect the full scope and complexity of the activity) and the basics of their remapping (literate activity, functional systems, and laminated chronotopes).

As I began mapping them, I thought about how the remapped levels of activity in CHAT connect to Spinuzzi’s three levels of activity: macroscopic, mesoscopic, and microscopic. Although not identical (Spinuzzi’s is more focused on levels of consciousness within a system), a common theme between them and Foucault is the idea of tracing the historical and ideological contexts of the systems. All three theories seem to operate on the belief that there is an underlying abstract basis for networks.

Together the different theories are beginning to illuminate a more holistic understanding of human activity as a network. While they are, for the most part, focusing on communication and discourse, they individually focus on different aspects of it. Bitzer, Vatz, Biesecker, and Prior et al. all focus on the rhetorical nature and implications of interactivity. Miller, Bazerman, Popham, and Spinuzzi and their focus on genres illuminate how rhetorical activity is signified. Foucault helps us understand the complexity of the conditions necessary for the creation of signifiers.

Still having problems with the embed function, so here is a jpeg of my mindmap:

Week 6

Week 6

Theory Application Rubric

In creating my rubric, I tried to think what I as an instructor would be wanting a student to demonstrate. So, I ended up with three sections: Explanation, Application, and Reflection.

I applied my rubric to Suzanne’s application of genre theory to the Underground Press Syndicate. Overall, Suzanne did a great job in the explanation and application sections. She gave an overview of the theory, justified its application to the UPS, and thoroughly explained the UPS in terms of genres. If I were providing her with feedback with this rubric, I would encourage her to further develop the reflection section.

Theory Application Rubric

Theory Application Rubric

Surprisingly, the rubric worked really well with Suzanne’s application. Because we had used different questions to write the case study specifically in terms of networks, I actually expected the rubric to be much more problematic. The success of it, however, makes me realize how much both the structure of a theoretical application and rubrics themselves are genres. I know a couple of people in the class collaborated on a rubric and shared it with the rest of us–when I looked at theirs (in Maury’s subfolder in shared class Google Drive folder), I was again surprised to see how similar the rubrics were. This is telling of our expectations. Even though they only grouped their criteria into two sections, the components were the same–they just combined what I considered reflection with the application. Suzanne’s analysis so closely fit both mine and the collaborative rubric that its clear we all have the same conception of what was expected in applying a theory.

Additionally, the format of the rubric was similar. A table on the left hand side with room for comments on the right hand side. As teachers and students of writing, we all clearly value a place for discussion more than we value a checklist through which a writer accumulates points.

I know that my discussion is supposed to focus on what I would change about my rubric, but I like my rubric and its now made me realize what I didn’t do in my own case study. Of course, to do everything my rubric requires in 1000 words  might too difficult, so I guess if I were to tailor it to fit this assignment more closely, I’d try to decide which elements are most important for the student to demonstrate. Since we are summarizing and discussing the theories in other places in the course, I think I would place more value on the application and reflection for the sake of space in this assignment.

Mind Map: Class Meeting 2/18/14

Suzanne's Mind Map

(Additions this week are in black again since we have worked through each of the colors.)

The CHAT authors are interested in remapping the traditional canonical understanding of composition and rhetoric. From this discussion, I was struck most by the rethinking of delivery as a significant canon. I agree that the role of delivery was significantly diminished after English Studies developed as a written discipline as opposed to the oratorical goals of classical rhetoric. This may have resonated with me as I am working with a delivery system for my object of study, but it seems to build on a thread I have been working with. Last week, I added nodes to civic web sites to show the link between the evaluative criterion of usability and Spinuzzi's declaration of communication and information design becoming ever-more inextricable linked. I added the claim from CHAT authors to that set of nodes that spoke to the same overlap in English and the digital world.

To that growth, I added a node for "delivery" as the CHAT authors describe as being made up of "mediation" and "distribution", or choices we make about form and choices we make for getting that form to the audience respectively. I see a connection between mediation and the cluster of nodes dealing with how English Studies is linked to information technology. The growing use of digital media for rhetorical products requires mediation, choice of form, probably more than the traditional printed essay due to the highly variable environment that does not have a prescribed set of style guidelines like MLA. I thought about where else we have seen mediation as an important element. I thought of genre and Vatz's argument about the role of the rhetor. Genre mediates content by restricting it to a particular form. The rhetor chooses and edits content thus mediating the information an audience receives. I connected these nodes to the mediation node.

I added a node to genre to show the connection between it and what the CHAT authors call "affordances." I wrote about this in my reading notes and feel there may be some further exploration on that point - namely an idea I am kicking around about where action comes from. It seems genre theorists argue that actions stem from genres, but I think the CHAT authors are saying that actions collect into certain affordances that then make objects' use easier or more difficult. Are they coming at action from different angles? One with action as an effect of genre, the other with genre (affordances) as an effect of action?

Lastly, I added a node for "memory networks", the burgeoning archivist I like to see myself as. I connected this to Foucault's archives that I already suggested are a type of network. I connected a node for Solberg and Rohan, both CHAT authors dealing with memory, to that. Solberg suggests strong memories can impact the emotional environment in a positive way and Rohan argues that collective memory is built upon the reuse and repurposing of memory artifacts. I see both of these views as bearing on my object of study as effects of the seeing UPS as a memory network. I also connected that UPS node to "distribution" from the previous paragraph.

This is making me thinking about the relationship between memory and delivery. The classical canon suggests that to deliver a speech, we must have committed it to memory. The UPS is both a memory network, like Rohan's grates collecting thoughts and building a group memory, and a distributive system. I think this will be an interesting place to explore - and I'm glad the mind map was there to suggest it. I'm not sure I would have thought about it otherwise.

If the embed feature works, you will also see the current map here:

Mind Map #5: Spinuzzi

This week’s MindMap update focused on Clay Spinuzzi’s Tracing Genres. I added three nodes and made about three connections. I can see more connections in the work; however, I wanted to think through the connection of Spinuzzi to Foucualt a bit more. The connection to Genre Theory was obvious because Spinuzzi built on the genre […]

Peer Reviews for Case Study #1

For the first Case Study peer review, I responded to Summer’s case study on World of Warcraft (WoW) and Suzanne’s case study on Underground Press Syndicate (UPS). Summer’s case study used Bazerman’s theory of speech acts and human activity to examine the Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) game World of Wordcraft (WoW). Summer’s study was interesting […]

Mind Map: Week 5

Adding Spinuzzi this week, I began to see overlaps rather than contradictions. Even though last week was one of the Mind Maps to drop for me, I also added in a node for Bazerman as I saw a connection between his the felicity conditions he described and Foucault’s historical a priori that I didn’t want to forget.

Although not exactly the same, I do think there are similarities between Spinuzzi’s genre ecology (system of genres) and Foucault’s concepts of archive (“the general system of the formation and transformation of statements”) and tree of enunciative derivation (“at its base are statements that put into operation rules of formation in their most extended form; at the summit, and after a number of branchings, are the statements that put into operation at the same regularity, but one more delicately articulated, more clearly delimited and localized in its extension”). While genre ecology and archive seem to both encompass the system as a whole, the tree seems to correlate with Spinuzzi’s three levels of activity within the system just as the tree describes levels within the archive.

Additionally, Foucault’s methodology of tracing seems closely related to Spinuzzi’s, although Spinuzzi identifies a more systematic approach. Both emphasize the importance of understanding the historical and cultural/disciplinary roots of discourse/genre (which also relates to Popham’s boundary objects).

Finally, I noted a connection between Foucault’s concept of discontinuity and Spinuzzi’s destablization. Again, both identify these as places of interruption–places that indicate the importance of understanding the various levels at play.

The embedded function doesn’t seem to be working for me tonight, so here is a link to the updated version: Popplet Mind Map

Reflections on Case Study #1: Responding to Chvonne and Summer

I enjoyed reading Chvonne’s blog about Snapchat and Summer’s blog about MMOs (specifically WoW).

For her case study, Chvonne applied mostly Bitzer’s theory of the rhetorical situation to Snapchat, focusing on how an event serves as the exigence for the Snapchat and how meaning is created primarily by the author of the Snapchat (interpretation of the event).

In her case study, Summer applied Bazerman’s theory of genres to World of Warcraft (WoW), focusing players’s conformity to guild social rules and norms as “social facts” and interactions as speech acts.

Considering these two analyses together makes me think about how meaning is created in different theories of networks. From Chvonne’s example of Snapchat and Bitzer’s theory, meaning seems to be created by the individual (I’d argue that it’s both the author of the Snapchat AND the audience-turned-author in response who create meaning in this application). Meaning is manipulated by individuals as they respond to the exigence. In contrast, Summer’s application of genre theory situates meaning as culturally-negotiated as party of the social system. Members of the network create the rhetorical situation and, thereby, the standards and norms of the network. Bazerman’s concepts of locutionary and illocutionary acts and perlocutionary effects account for the negotiations between the individuals that Bitzer’s theory neglects.

Summer’s application of genre theory stirred me to think about the next case study and how I might begin to apply Bazerman’s concepts to my own Object of Study. If we consider the field of writing centers as a (global) social system in which individual writing centers create their own (local) social systems, we can begin to consider how the social facts of the global system not only dictate the speech acts of but are also transformed by the local systems.

Assignment: Object of Study Week Five, Part 1 – Application

Genre Theory as Network

Genre Theory is a body of discourse that overlaps in many ways with the key concepts involved with networks, particularly nodes and connectivity. One way to understand the relationship between genre and network is through the lens of Charles Bazerman’s systems of human activity in which he has situated genre as discussed in “Speech Acts, Genres, and Activity Systems” (311). He argues that all human activity is comprised of hierarchical, embedded categories. Like a set of Russian nesting dolls, human activity can be opened to reveal 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.

Wikipedia Commons image of nesting dolls

The relationship between these categories functions much in the same way as do the various elements in networks. We can understand Bazerman’s “systems of human activity” to be a network. It consists of nodes, or categories, that relate and connect to one another, allowing the network to function. However, because each category itself can consist of many examples, it is also possible to think of each category as a kind of sub-network with its own nodes.  

This understanding of genre-as-network can be applied to an object of study to reveal its previously unexamined aspects and provide new avenues of scholarship. In this case, the object of study is the Underground Press Syndicate (UPS), the free content-sharing network of underground press publications operating between 1966 and 1973. 

Definition and Nodes
How does the theory define the object of study? What are network nodes? 
How are they situated in the network?

Genre theory would define the UPS network as a genre system. 
Consider the diagram below. (Click here for link)

Google Drawing depicting Bazerman's Hierarchy of Human Activity as a Network applied to the UPS

The diagram shows interconnected clusters of nodes correlating to Bazerman’s categories. Each cluster is like a sub-network because the nodes there are “intertextually linked” (Bazerman 79, “Systems”). These sub-networks build upon each other to ultimately form a network of human activity.

 All human activity begins with social facts, “those things that people believe to be true” (Bazerman 312, “Speech Acts”). In the late-1960s, the counterculture understood social facts revealing to them the truths of segregation, the draft, and President Nixon to name a few. These social facts elicited reactions, responses, and utterances 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. 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.

Situated thus, the news-sharing network of the UPS is understood as a genre system. However, genre theory also revolves around the idea of discourse being classifiable according to “conventional forms”. We understand that these forms take their recognizable shapes 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  152, "Genre as Social").

Consider how the UPS resembles another example of this type of network, 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. This need was responded to by the journalists (or rhetors) who organized themselves as members of a collective to gather and distribute news to all involved. 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 forms belonging to the genre of information dissemination practices.

YouTube video from AP showing compiled and edited choices about 2013 news items

Lastly, the UPS is also a genre in the sense that it performed activity in the community, an essential aspect of genre for Miller, Bazerman, and Popham. Popham argues that genres are how “ideas get transmitted” in society (281-2). 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"). The UPS certainly transmitted ideas, often the only way for communities to become informed about what was happening in another “radical community” (Wachsberger qtd. in McMillian 46). This sharing of ideas, narratives, satire, and news, following reoccurring patterns of the information dissemination genre, was essential to Blumer’s social actions that were necessary to the growth of the cultural revolution. Here again, the UPS slides easily into the definitions and social roles that the theorists argue are essential to genre. 

Node Agency
What types of agency are articulated for various types of nodes?

For the journalists and illustrators creating content, agency was involved in determining which social facts are encountered and considered, what speech acts are formed, what genres are used for expression, what would be included in the publications, and what would be submitted to the UPS. The editors at UPS would determine what to include in the redistribution packets. The member newspapers would then have agency in selecting items from the packet to reprint in their publications. This suggests that agency is both restricted by selection and editing and available by those same processes.

In Genre Theory, this same limited and open agency exists. Bazerman explains that all speech acts have multiple intentions and interpretations (87, “Speech Acts”). Here genres have independence through multiplicity; it is up to the speaker/writer and the listener/reader to determine intent and comprehension. This is similar to the way members and editors can choose to include or exclude content that is deemed valuable or irrelevant.

Ron Cobb's cartoons collected in this book. Cobb's submissions were reprinted widely through UPS.
However, Bazerman also points out that there are rules and laws that govern how content is formed and organized (81, "Speech Acts"). These constraints allow an object to be recognized as belonging to a particular genre, but these precedents limit agency. For the UPS, the process of selection and editing also limited the choices that others in the network could make.

 Node to Node
What are the types and directions of relationships between nodes?

Nodes in Genre Theory are related to one another by way of repetition and overlap. As Miller explains above, genres are based on similar responses to similar situations following precedents (152, "Genre as Social"). The similarity and following of precedent suggest that genre are repeated and copied. Since UPS copied the precedent set by AP and was a similar to the LNS and APS responses to the marginalization of radical voices, the repetitious relationship between these nodes is seen.  

Another type of nodal relationship is overlapping, as expressed by Popham as “boundary objects”, which serve “the needs of multiple sites or multiple professions by being both flexible and stable” (284). Since the UPS distributed already published content for reprinting in different titles, we can understand the packets sent out to members as a type of boundary object that allowed multiple sites to use information adaptively. The UPS was a stable force that allowed for the flexible use of content.

Like creative commons images, boundary objects can be used by many users for many purposes. The UPS members submitted work for free use by others also like creative commons images.
Image from

Examining the diagram based on Bazerman’s work, the relationship between the node moves 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 could be understood as cyclical.   

Network Content 
What happens to content or meaning as it travels through a network?

Genre Theory is focused on the action that it performs. Miller explains that genres help “communities do their work and carry out their purposes” (75, “Rhetorical”). As content traveled through the UPS, it produced action. As Wachsberger explained, the UPS allowed for otherwise disenfranchised communities to connect to and learn from other communities. This connection often led to a reinforcement of countercultural values. The inclusion of content from other newspapers could also lead to a professionalization of a title, increasing significance then circulation (Sink). When the underground press publications gained visibility and readership, the ideas expressed within the pages inspired and informed communities and became a platform for activism - the very effect of genre noted by the theorists.

Publication notifying and encouraging social action - a translation of genre (newspaper) into action (protest)
Image from personal collection

Network Growth
How do networks emerge, grow, and/or dissolve?

Genres and genre-based networks grow as a response to social facts as Bazerman explains. Spinuzzi argues that genres are oriented toward history, emphasizing the role of tradition in building genre (42). In this sense, genres are built through historical and traditional influences, moving in a stable direction based on past movement. Bazerman 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. 

As genre forms become no longer relevant (like telegrams), then those areas of the network dissolve. As social facts change, what a person or group believes to be true changes, then new speech acts will revise previous utterances. This will then revise areas of a network or make them obsolete.

Telegraph equipment rendered obsolete in the communication network. Now housed in a museum.
Image by Porthcurno Telegraph Museum

The UPS grew and developed as a response to the genre sets and their need to reach wider audiences more rapidly so social action could be encouraged. It grew as a result of the available technology and emerged in new directions with each new member publication contributing and receiving material.

The UPS as a network of information dispersion, like the Pony Express, has also become a dissolved network. As the underground press publications flashed and went dark across the scene, the need to disseminate the information also faded. The counterculture was able to spread through mainstream media channels as the decade wore on and transitioned into the 1970s. As the social facts changed - Civil Rights Act of 1968, withdrawal of troops from Vietnam, the end of the draft in 1973, broader acceptance of the movement - the kind of speech act responses also changed and no longer found the need for radical expression in underground publications.  

Ultimately, this analysis reveals that contrary to the popular characterizations of the counterculture movement as chaotic and revolutionary, there are actually strong, recognizable traditional structures operating at the core of the UPS. It follows patterns set by history and tradition. The application of this theory to the UPS network focuses on alternative distribution more than alternative content because the node of UPS belongs to the genre system of information distribution (like AP), so content is not discussed readily. This is a very interesting and new way to think of the underground press, which is so closely associated with the content - the articles and cartoons, the style and the political action. However, genre theory allows a glimpse at the processes at work beneath the pages of the individual titles. We can see the UPS functioning as a piece of human activity, with roots in all human activities related to the sharing of information - a descendant of the Pony Express and a precursor to wireless communication. It allows for the UPS to be situated in the wider scope of human communication systems and the human desire to be connected. There are fruitful avenues for further study here as yet more legitimization of underground press scholarship as a significant cultural, human, and historical artifact. 

Works Cited

"AP's History." Associated Press. Web. 11 Feb. 2014.

Bazerman, Charles. “Speech Acts, Genres, and Activity Systems: How Texts Organize Activity and People”. What Writing Does and How It Does It: An Introduction to Analyzing Texts and Textual Practices. Eds. Charles Bazerman and Paul Prior. Taylor and Francis e-library, 2008. 309-340. Print.
---. “Systems of Genres and the Enactment of Social Intentions”. Genre and the New Rhetoric. Eds. Aviva Freedman and Peter Medway. London: Taylor and Francis, 1994. 79-104. Print.

Miller, Carolyn R.. “Genre as Social Action”. Quarterly Journal of Speech 70 (1984): 151-167. Print.

---. “Rhetorical Community: The Cultural Basis of Genre”. Genre and the New Rhetoric. Eds. Aviva Freedman and Peter Medway. London: Taylor and Francis, 1994. 23-42. Print.

Popham, Susan L.. “Forms as Boundary Genres in Medicine, Science, and Business”.Journal of Business and Technical Communication 19 (2005): 279-303. Print.

Sink, Suzanne. “Inquisition - Charlotte, NC”. Southern Underground Press. Web. 10 Feb. 2014.

Spinuzzi, Clay. Tracing Genres Through Organizations: A Sociocultural Approach to Information Design. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003. Print.

Reading Notes #4: Spinuzzi and Information Design

Taking Genre for a Spinuzzi Quick Summary: Clay Spinuzzi’s text Tracing Genres through Organizations: A Sociocultral Approach to Information Design was surprisingly accessible. After readings on technology, Foucault, and genre systems, Spinuzzi was a breath of fresh air.  Spinuzzi’s aim in this text is to expand the user-centered approach to information design. Spinuzzi begins the […]

Reading Notes: Spinuzzi

Spinuzzi, Clay. Tracing Genres through Organizations: A Sociocultural Approach to Information Design. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2003. Spinuzzi’s work is a practical application of theory, and as such serves as a fulcrum of sorts on which many of our previous theorists … Continue reading