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Reading Notes: L’hypertext et Latour d’ANT (part 1)

Finding common ground in this week’s disparate readings was difficult. More precisely, Latour’s introduction to actor-network-theory (ANT) had almost nothing to do with reading from Joyce and Johnson-Eilola, other than the fact that hypertext as object might be an instantiated mediator within a collective. More precisely, the hypertext itself may function as a trace of the collective, with actors including codewriters, narrative writers, software, hardware, network connections, and other elements required to read and interact with a hypertextual “document.”

With little common ground to try to synthesize, I’ll opt this week to omit summary and focus on key concepts, quotes, and course connections. Who knows, I might surprise myself by writing into something else, too!

What bothered my about readings by Joyce (1995, 2001) and Johnson-Eilola (1997) were how dated they felt. Hypertext theory interested me in the nascent moments of the World Wide Web (but never in its software-bound forms like Hypercard), and I admit to being among those who unproblematically accepted the coming glory of reader-as-author perusing a unique user-generated text with each browsing session. That said, I enjoyed the stroll down memory lane as a reminder of how far we’ve come — and, in some troubling ways, how little of hypertext’s socially active potential we’ve tapped. (I’m self-censoring based on reading Latour and concerned about using the word “social” ever again.)

Of Two Minds

In Joyce’s (1995) Of Two Minds I enjoyed this blast from my thesis past:

“At each stage of the developing consensus about these shifts [in conceptualizing hypertexts], new and sometimes contradictory definitions of hypertext have been advanced. Even so, a remarkably consistent line of thinking holds that hypertext in some sense represents the workings of the human mind…. [S]cholars continue to suggest forebearers of hypertext ranging from the Greeks to Sterne’s Tristram Shandy and beyond…” (p. 22)

book cover

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, by Laurence Sterne

I am indebted to those scholars who saw in Tristram Shandy a forebearer of hypertext. In my master’s thesis, I advocated Tristram Shandy as a non-linear prototype of hypertext that responded directly to Locke’s aversion to “association of ideas” (non-rational thinking) as presented in his Essay Concerning Human Understanding. In 1998 when I wrote my thesis, I was intrigued by the potential of hypertext as both a pedagogical tool and a representation of human thought. My thesis in fact addresses some of the aspects of reader-as-author of hypertext narrative, although only superficially. In my abstract, I present the claim this way:

“I review Tristram’s self-expression by focusing on techniques of non-linear narration and conclude by examining hypermedia as an alternative model for narrating consciousness that emphasizes the reader, comparing hypermedia’s reader to Tristram Shandy’s narrator.” (Hocutt 1998, n.p., emphasis added)

“Narrating consciousness” was surely a bit much, but I found useful parallels using Tristram Shandy’s narrator as my object of study in application of hypermedia theory.

I’m marveling at a recommendation Dr. Dan Richards made during last Friday’s “Curating Online Identity” workshop focused on LinkedIn and academia.edu. He recommended including older, even incomplete, lines of inquiry and scholarship among papers and presentations we uploaded to academia.edu because one never knows how a chance encounter in previous research may come back around through the social network of scholarly collaboration. And then on Friday night I read Joyce’s words above. Serendipity. Or the instantiation of an ANT collective that included actors Dr. Richards, Tristram Shandy and Tristram Shandy, a dead Laurence Sterne, members of the RSODU attending the workshop, Webex, and the computer terminals and network hardware and software than enabled my presence from a distance. Either way, I’m sold. The thesis gets a place in my academia.edu profile.

In the same chapter of Of Two Minds, I recognized what I termed “an interestingly prescient moment” in my professional life. Joyce writes of early warnings posted about the potential for hypertext to be co-opted by commercial interests if scholars did not problematize its exaggerated claim to renegotiate the definition of author:

“While not rejecting this promise [of hypertext as destroyer of the objective either/or paradigm], Stuart Moulthrop, in a prolific series of essays… has argued that hypertext could be pre-empted by the “military infotainment establishment” or offered as a diversion to a dissatisfied society in lieu of real access or power.” (p. 26)

I wrote this note to myself after reading that statement: “An interesting prescient moment? My professional role [as Web Manager] is to convert what was once considered an egalitarian tool for social change into a diversion provided by the infotainment industry. Well, maybe not that bad, but it’s an uncomfortable parallel.” It is uncomfortable. One important result of reading this week on a tool with which I am intimately familiar is to make me uncomfortable with unproblematically making one hypermediated page after another in a fairly large, fairly comprehensive website. What agencies do I too readily take for myself that should be left to the visitor? More to the point, what visitor agencies do my creative efforts omit or deem meaningless or powerless as I design information architectures and implement wayfinding options? What political boundaries and/or economic realities am I activating or exacerbating, for better or for worse, in my professional role? These are questions that I’m beginning to ask of myself, my tools, and my job.

Nostalgic Angels

dust jacket image

Trickster in Contemporary Film by Helena Bassil-Morozow

In Johnson-Eilola’s (1997) Nostalgic Angels I found interesting connections to another scholarly interest, the trickster in culture. One aspect of what Helena Basil-Morozov (2012) calls the “trickster principle” is its occupation of border areas, or liminal spaces. Trickster inhabits liminal space, breaking through boundaries established by culture and ritual in order to activate or introduce change and creation. “The activity of questioning and remaking borders in relation to real cultural conditions” (Johnson-Eilola, 1997. p. 16) sounds a good deal like trickster work, and hypertext has most assuredly served a trickster function of breaking through boundaries and ushering in change. Johnson-Eilola’s descriptions of boundary crossing, while quite tricksterish, also resonates with Bazerman’s (2004) activity systems and Popham’s (2005) boundary genre:

“What a hypertextual structure and process can bring to this discussion is the ability to cross discursive boundaries in an attempt to articulate the discrete, largely isolated and invisible activities of using a functional document to learn a system with the intersubjective activities of discussion and group critique.” (Johnson-Eilola, 1997, p. 227)

Crossing discursive boundaries requires genre tracing (a la Spinuzzi, 2003) through an activity system and understanding the unique aspects of boundary genres that enable understanding of disparate discourses. Hypertextual structure (by which I’d suggest Johnson-Eilola was defining what is now known as a group-sourced wiki) encompasses these several theoretical models as a boundary genre.

Othermindedness

I found Joyce’s (2001) Othermindedness a little, well, otherminded. The text lacked a certain scholarly tone, but the result was accessible, if dated and difficult to resolve with the author of Of Two Minds. However, I found this prescient nugget in which Joyce predicts what we now know to be true: that the ability to navigate search in the digital age is far more important than the ability to recall facts and data.

“The value of what we collect [knowledge] is not as much embodied in what it is as in how we found it and why we keep it.” (Joyce, 2001, p. 73, emphasis added)

When I make the decision to use Google as my search engine of choice, what mediating choices have I made about what’s available to me and how? When I add a citation to my research collection using Zotero, what information have I included about how and why I conducted the search and why the source is important in the context of that search? These have become questions that are more important to me, especially in the early stages of research, than what the source actually says. Being able to recreate the search is vital to scholars and to those who follow our research; documenting the terms and scope of the search (and the political and social mediating decisions made along the way) are becoming of utmost importance to me as a digital scholar.

Reassembling the Social

Latour (2005) owes a debt of gratitude to Foucault, among others, whose ideas are clearly represented in ANT. “Trace” is one of the main Foucaultian concepts that Latour repeats regularly, and I believe he uses trace in the same way as Foucault to represent what’s left from a discursive formation. Here, Latour refers to group formation leaving traces, although I’d suggest these group formations have many similarities to Foucault’s discursive formations:

“Group formations leave many more traces in their wake than already established connections which, by definition, might remain mute and invisible.” (Latour, 2005, p. 31)

These group formations must be active to leave traces, and such activity matches Foucault’s insistence that discursive formations be systems of division or dispersion among statements (Foucault, 2010/1972, p. 38).

Another similarity to Foucault is Latour’s unwillingness to allow social science a “real” or typical society (to which all others are considered inferior or unreal).

“[E]verything happens as if social scientists had to claim that there exists “out there” one type that is real, whereas the other sets are all really inauthentic, obsolete, irrelevant, or artificial.” (Latour, 2005, p. 28)

In this statement I recognize Foucault’s unwillingness to allow the history of ideas to consider either some original ideal from which all ideas are descended or some ultimate idea to which all ideas ascend. Both Foucault and Latour engage in relativistic understandings of ideas and societies, in which meaning is found in differentiated relationships among statements (Foucault) or among groups (Latour). 

References

Bazerman, C. (2004). Speech acts, genres, and activity systems: How texts organize activities and people. In Bazerman & Prior (Eds.), What writing does and how it does it: An introduction to analyzing texts and textual practices (pp. 309-340). New York, NY: Routledge.

Foucault, M. (2010). The archaeology of knowledge and the discourse on language. (A. M. Sheridan Smith, Trans.). New York, NY: Vintage Books. (Original work published in 1972)

Hocutt, D. (1998). “A tolerable straight line”: Non-linear narrative in Tristram Shandy [Unpublished master’s thesis]. Richmond, VA: University of Richmond.

Johnson-Eilola, J. (1997). Nostalgic angels: Rearticulating hypertext writing. Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing Corporation, 3-28; 135-242. New Directions in Computers and Composition Studies

Joyce, M. T. (1995). Of two minds: Hypertext pedagogy and poetics. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 20-29. Studies in Literature and Science

Joyce, M. T. (2001). Othermindedness: The emergence of network culture. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 67-106. Studies in Literature and Science

Latour, B. (2005). Reassembling the social: An introduction to actor-network-theory. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. Clarendon Lectures in Management Studies

Bassil-Morozow, H. (2012). The trickster in contemporary film. East Sussex, UK: Routledge.

Popham, S. L. (2005). Forms as boundary genres in medicine, science, and business. Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 19(3), 279-303. doi:10.1177/1050651905275624

Spinuzzi, C. (2003). Tracing genres through organizations: a sociocultural approach to information design. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

[Image, top of page. Leaf Cutter Ants, Butterfly World, Chiswell Green, Near St Albans, Herts. Image from Flickr user Stuart Spicer. Ants (and rope and leaves) are the actors in this ANT visualization.]

Reading Notes: L’hypertext et Latour d’ANT (part 1)

Finding common ground in this week’s disparate readings was difficult. More precisely, Latour’s introduction to actor-network-theory (ANT) had almost nothing to do with reading from Joyce and Johnson-Eilola, other than the fact that hypertext as object might be an instantiated mediator within a collective. More precisely, the hypertext itself may function as a trace of the collective, with actors including codewriters, narrative writers, software, hardware, network connections, and other elements required to read and interact with a hypertextual “document.”

With little common ground to try to synthesize, I’ll opt this week to omit summary and focus on key concepts, quotes, and course connections. Who knows, I might surprise myself by writing into something else, too!

What bothered my about readings by Joyce (1995, 2001) and Johnson-Eilola (1997) were how dated they felt. Hypertext theory interested me in the nascent moments of the World Wide Web (but never in its software-bound forms like Hypercard), and I admit to being among those who unproblematically accepted the coming glory of reader-as-author perusing a unique user-generated text with each browsing session. That said, I enjoyed the stroll down memory lane as a reminder of how far we’ve come — and, in some troubling ways, how little of hypertext’s socially active potential we’ve tapped. (I’m self-censoring based on reading Latour and concerned about using the word “social” ever again.)

Of Two Minds

In Joyce’s (1995) Of Two Minds I enjoyed this blast from my thesis past:

“At each stage of the developing consensus about these shifts [in conceptualizing hypertexts], new and sometimes contradictory definitions of hypertext have been advanced. Even so, a remarkably consistent line of thinking holds that hypertext in some sense represents the workings of the human mind…. [S]cholars continue to suggest forebearers of hypertext ranging from the Greeks to Sterne’s Tristram Shandy and beyond…” (p. 22)

book cover

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, by Laurence Sterne

I am indebted to those scholars who saw in Tristram Shandy a forebearer of hypertext. In my master’s thesis, I advocated Tristram Shandy as a non-linear prototype of hypertext that responded directly to Locke’s aversion to “association of ideas” (non-rational thinking) as presented in his Essay Concerning Human Understanding. In 1998 when I wrote my thesis, I was intrigued by the potential of hypertext as both a pedagogical tool and a representation of human thought. My thesis in fact addresses some of the aspects of reader-as-author of hypertext narrative, although only superficially. In my abstract, I present the claim this way:

“I review Tristram’s self-expression by focusing on techniques of non-linear narration and conclude by examining hypermedia as an alternative model for narrating consciousness that emphasizes the reader, comparing hypermedia’s reader to Tristram Shandy’s narrator.” (Hocutt 1998, n.p., emphasis added)

“Narrating consciousness” was surely a bit much, but I found useful parallels using Tristram Shandy’s narrator as my object of study in application of hypermedia theory.

I’m marveling at a recommendation Dr. Dan Richards made during last Friday’s “Curating Online Identity” workshop focused on LinkedIn and academia.edu. He recommended including older, even incomplete, lines of inquiry and scholarship among papers and presentations we uploaded to academia.edu because one never knows how a chance encounter in previous research may come back around through the social network of scholarly collaboration. And then on Friday night I read Joyce’s words above. Serendipity. Or the instantiation of an ANT collective that included actors Dr. Richards, Tristram Shandy and Tristram Shandy, a dead Laurence Sterne, members of the RSODU attending the workshop, Webex, and the computer terminals and network hardware and software than enabled my presence from a distance. Either way, I’m sold. The thesis gets a place in my academia.edu profile.

In the same chapter of Of Two Minds, I recognized what I termed “an interestingly prescient moment” in my professional life. Joyce writes of early warnings posted about the potential for hypertext to be co-opted by commercial interests if scholars did not problematize its exaggerated claim to renegotiate the definition of author:

“While not rejecting this promise [of hypertext as destroyer of the objective either/or paradigm], Stuart Moulthrop, in a prolific series of essays… has argued that hypertext could be pre-empted by the “military infotainment establishment” or offered as a diversion to a dissatisfied society in lieu of real access or power.” (p. 26)

I wrote this note to myself after reading that statement: “An interesting prescient moment? My professional role [as Web Manager] is to convert what was once considered an egalitarian tool for social change into a diversion provided by the infotainment industry. Well, maybe not that bad, but it’s an uncomfortable parallel.” It is uncomfortable. One important result of reading this week on a tool with which I am intimately familiar is to make me uncomfortable with unproblematically making one hypermediated page after another in a fairly large, fairly comprehensive website. What agencies do I too readily take for myself that should be left to the visitor? More to the point, what visitor agencies do my creative efforts omit or deem meaningless or powerless as I design information architectures and implement wayfinding options? What political boundaries and/or economic realities am I activating or exacerbating, for better or for worse, in my professional role? These are questions that I’m beginning to ask of myself, my tools, and my job.

Nostalgic Angels

dust jacket image

Trickster in Contemporary Film by Helena Bassil-Morozow

In Johnson-Eilola’s (1997) Nostalgic Angels I found interesting connections to another scholarly interest, the trickster in culture. One aspect of what Helena Basil-Morozov (2012) calls the “trickster principle” is its occupation of border areas, or liminal spaces. Trickster inhabits liminal space, breaking through boundaries established by culture and ritual in order to activate or introduce change and creation. “The activity of questioning and remaking borders in relation to real cultural conditions” (Johnson-Eilola, 1997. p. 16) sounds a good deal like trickster work, and hypertext has most assuredly served a trickster function of breaking through boundaries and ushering in change. Johnson-Eilola’s descriptions of boundary crossing, while quite tricksterish, also resonates with Bazerman’s (2004) activity systems and Popham’s (2005) boundary genre:

“What a hypertextual structure and process can bring to this discussion is the ability to cross discursive boundaries in an attempt to articulate the discrete, largely isolated and invisible activities of using a functional document to learn a system with the intersubjective activities of discussion and group critique.” (Johnson-Eilola, 1997, p. 227)

Crossing discursive boundaries requires genre tracing (a la Spinuzzi, 2003) through an activity system and understanding the unique aspects of boundary genres that enable understanding of disparate discourses. Hypertextual structure (by which I’d suggest Johnson-Eilola was defining what is now known as a group-sourced wiki) encompasses these several theoretical models as a boundary genre.

Othermindedness

I found Joyce’s (2001) Othermindedness a little, well, otherminded. The text lacked a certain scholarly tone, but the result was accessible, if dated and difficult to resolve with the author of Of Two Minds. However, I found this prescient nugget in which Joyce predicts what we now know to be true: that the ability to navigate search in the digital age is far more important than the ability to recall facts and data.

“The value of what we collect [knowledge] is not as much embodied in what it is as in how we found it and why we keep it.” (Joyce, 2001, p. 73, emphasis added)

When I make the decision to use Google as my search engine of choice, what mediating choices have I made about what’s available to me and how? When I add a citation to my research collection using Zotero, what information have I included about how and why I conducted the search and why the source is important in the context of that search? These have become questions that are more important to me, especially in the early stages of research, than what the source actually says. Being able to recreate the search is vital to scholars and to those who follow our research; documenting the terms and scope of the search (and the political and social mediating decisions made along the way) are becoming of utmost importance to me as a digital scholar.

Reassembling the Social

Latour (2005) owes a debt of gratitude to Foucault, among others, whose ideas are clearly represented in ANT. “Trace” is one of the main Foucaultian concepts that Latour repeats regularly, and I believe he uses trace in the same way as Foucault to represent what’s left from a discursive formation. Here, Latour refers to group formation leaving traces, although I’d suggest these group formations have many similarities to Foucault’s discursive formations:

“Group formations leave many more traces in their wake than already established connections which, by definition, might remain mute and invisible.” (Latour, 2005, p. 31)

These group formations must be active to leave traces, and such activity matches Foucault’s insistence that discursive formations be systems of division or dispersion among statements (Foucault, 2010/1972, p. 38).

Another similarity to Foucault is Latour’s unwillingness to allow social science a “real” or typical society (to which all others are considered inferior or unreal).

“[E]verything happens as if social scientists had to claim that there exists “out there” one type that is real, whereas the other sets are all really inauthentic, obsolete, irrelevant, or artificial.” (Latour, 2005, p. 28)

In this statement I recognize Foucault’s unwillingness to allow the history of ideas to consider either some original ideal from which all ideas are descended or some ultimate idea to which all ideas ascend. Both Foucault and Latour engage in relativistic understandings of ideas and societies, in which meaning is found in differentiated relationships among statements (Foucault) or among groups (Latour). 

References

Bazerman, C. (2004). Speech acts, genres, and activity systems: How texts organize activities and people. In Bazerman & Prior (Eds.), What writing does and how it does it: An introduction to analyzing texts and textual practices (pp. 309-340). New York, NY: Routledge.

Foucault, M. (2010). The archaeology of knowledge and the discourse on language. (A. M. Sheridan Smith, Trans.). New York, NY: Vintage Books. (Original work published in 1972)

Hocutt, D. (1998). “A tolerable straight line”: Non-linear narrative in Tristram Shandy [Unpublished master’s thesis]. Richmond, VA: University of Richmond.

Johnson-Eilola, J. (1997). Nostalgic angels: Rearticulating hypertext writing. Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing Corporation, 3-28; 135-242. New Directions in Computers and Composition Studies

Joyce, M. T. (1995). Of two minds: Hypertext pedagogy and poetics. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 20-29. Studies in Literature and Science

Joyce, M. T. (2001). Othermindedness: The emergence of network culture. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 67-106. Studies in Literature and Science

Latour, B. (2005). Reassembling the social: An introduction to actor-network-theory. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. Clarendon Lectures in Management Studies

Bassil-Morozow, H. (2012). The trickster in contemporary film. East Sussex, UK: Routledge.

Popham, S. L. (2005). Forms as boundary genres in medicine, science, and business. Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 19(3), 279-303. doi:10.1177/1050651905275624

Spinuzzi, C. (2003). Tracing genres through organizations: a sociocultural approach to information design. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

[Image, top of page. Leaf Cutter Ants, Butterfly World, Chiswell Green, Near St Albans, Herts. Image from Flickr user Stuart Spicer. Ants (and rope and leaves) are the actors in this ANT visualization.]

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


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 […]

Reading Notes: A New Spinuzzi on Genre

Summary

This is a book about operationalizing understandings of genre. Spinuzzi is interested in practical, user-friendly applications of genre theory and activity theory in professional contexts. He introduces genre tracing as a methodology “for studying these ephemeral, invisible, ubiquitous innovations” (p. x) — workplace innovations, practical solutions to work-a-day problems that arise in an organization. He pits genre tracing methodology against what he calls “fieldwork-to-formalization methods” of information design: centralized, idealized methods he critiques for the way they pair “abstract work models” with “divergent local practices” to develop user-centered designs (p. 11). His goal is to develop organization-wide methods for information design that enable individual users to customize workflows and tasks in order to accomplish specific, localized objectives. Spinuzzi offers genre tracing as the methodology that can accomplish this goals, and three chapters of the text are devoted to an operationalized example of the methodology using traffic accident data recorded by the Iowa Department of Transportation. (Check out the current status of ALAS: SAVER - Safety, Analysis, Visualization and Exploration Resource & CMAT - Crash Mapping Analysis Tool.)

Scope and Context

Genre tracing is based on activity theory and genre theory. Its methods study “the dynamic tension of centripetal and centrifugal impulses” (p. 22) of workplace information design.

  • Centripetal impulses are centralized, generalized, official, and static methods and outcomes of information design, while centrifugal impulses are decentralized, localized, unofficial, and dynamic methods and outcomes of information design.
  • Centripetal forces generate official versions of information design that are expected to be followed in workflow development and management in localized offices, while centrifugal forces generate unofficial workarounds to generalized design that does not work effectively or efficiently in specific localized environments.

Spinuzzi claims that “genre tracing provides a way to highlight users’ experience with official and unofficial genres and to compare them across communities and workplaces” (p. 22). I visualized the relationship between centripetal and centrifugal impulses on a continuum, including Bakhtin’s (1981, 1986) ideas on centripetal impulses metaphorically drawing things inward and centrifugal impulses metaphorically flying away toward chaos.

Communication impulse visualization (diagram)

Google Drawing visualization of the communication continuum presented in Spinnuzi (2003, 20)

The central concern of Spinuzzi’s text and method is to avoid the pitfalls of “designer-as-rescuer” assumptions made in fieldwork-to-formalization user-centered design methods. Spinuzzi frames workers as innovators who develop genre- and hierarchy-crossing methods for solving problems of centralized information design. Spinuzzi develops an integrated research scope for examining localized workplace innovations in terms of three “layers”: activity, actions, and operations (p. 27). This integrated scope examines genre operations that coconstitute “cultural activities and goal-directed actions” (p. 27). This scope does not treat individual layers as a singular focus (a downfall he finds among most user-centered design methods, (p. 30)), but as “integrative perspectives” following concepts introduced by activity theorists Kari Kuutti and Liam Bannon (1991, 1993), among others (p. 29). Spinuzzi uses the terms macroscopic, microscopic, and mesoscopic to describe these three integrative layers that work together to coconstitute activity and actions (pp. 31-36). The macroscopic layer focuses on organizational activity systems (p. 31). The mesoscopic layer focuses on “the detailed tool-mediated structure of work” (p. 33), often related to how small groups and individuals execute routine tasks with specific tools. And the microscopic level focuses on operationalized actions, operations that “begin as conscious, goal-directed actions that are then operationalized or made automatic” (p. 34).

Spinuzzi’s theory builds on theories of genre as social, community action, as system and set, and as boundary and activity system presented by Bazerman (1994, 2004), Miller (1984, 1994), and Popham (2005) among others. He recognizes the important memory role genre plays in “traditions of producing, using, and interpreting artifacts, traditions that make their way into the artifact as ‘form-shaping ideology’” (Spinuzzi 2003, 41). Regarding the practical, active role genres play, Spinuzzi notes that “people develop genres so that they can accomplish activities. As those activities change, the genres also change” (p. 42). Bakhtin (1981, 1986) contributes much to the sense of genre as “remembering” the past; this concept of genre plays an important role in identifying significant issues that keep workers from accomplishing their goals using the tools provided by central authorities (Spinuzzi 2003, 42).

At each level, Spinuzzi addresses the tension between centripetal and centrifugal impulses by seeking system destablizations. At the macroscopic, or activity, level, Spinuzzi seeks contradictions between genre connections. At the mesoscopic, or action, level, he seeks discoordination within genres, groups, and/or tools. At the microscopic, or operation, level, he seeks breakdown in operationalized actions (p. 55). The rest of the text is an extended, detailed demonstration of the genre tracing methodology in action.

Analysis and Application

Spinuzzi’s genre tracing methodology is a time-consuming affair that requires a great deal of field research and data analysis. However, the results are remarkable in that they identify specific, microscopic breakdowns in workflow and operationalized action that need to be addressed by information design. The resulting analysis suggests specific ways in which user innovations that overcome breakdowns can be implemented at the macroscopic, mesoscopic, and microscopic levels. The analysis provides a remarkably cogent analysis of genre contradictions that occur between GIS-centered and database-centered information designs, one that capitalizes on Bakhtin and others’ understanding of genre as encoded memory and tradition in addition to methods and innovation. And the closing chapter’s recommendation of open system design seems positively prophetic in its prediction of designs that enable, even encourage, user innovation and alteration — I created a Google Map mashup a couple of days ago using Google Maps Engine, a relatively new tool that encourages localized (centrifugal) solutions built on the framework of the centralized (centripetal) system.

I found the reading enlightening and engaging, so engaging that I might recommend that members of my own team read and contemplate at least some of the chapters. The book offered remarkably cogent summaries of difficult concepts, like genre, activity theory, Bakhtin, and more. Page 41 starts a section on genre that’s positively enlightening. Bakhtin gets summarized in meaningful and highly useful ways in these pages and earlier (starting on page 20) too. Activity theory gets this tidy definition: “Activity theory posits that in every sphere of activity, collaborators use instruments to transform a particular object with a particular outcome in mind” (p. 37). There are traces of Miller and Bazerman in genre as activity and genre as system, along with traces of Popham in boundary genres. This text deserves a second read and more carefully taken notes that are searchable and scannable.

References

Bakhtin, M. M. (1981). The dialogic imagination: Four essays. Austin, Tex: University of Minnesota Press.

Bakhtin, M. M. (1986). Speech genres and other late essays. Austin, Tex: University of Minnesota Press.

Bazerman, C. (1994). Systems of genre and the enactment of social intentions. In Freedman, A., & Medway, P. (Eds.), Genre and the new rhetoric (pp. 79-104). London, UK: Taylor & Francis, Ltd.

Bazerman, C. (2004). Speech acts, genres, and activity systems: How texts organize activities and people. In Bazerman & Prior (Eds.), What writing does and how it does it: An introduction to analyzing texts and textual practices (pp. 309-340). New York, NY: Routledge.

Miller, C. R. (1984). Genre as social action. Quarterly Journal of Speech, 70(2), 151-67.

Miller, C. R. (1994). Rhetorical community: The cultural basis of genre. In Freedman, A., & Medway, P. (Eds.), Genre and the new rhetoric (pp. 67-78). London, UK: Taylor & Francis, Ltd.

Popham, S. L. (2005). Forms as boundary genres in medicine, science, and business. Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 19(3), 279-303. doi:10.1177/1050651905275624

Spinuzzi, C. (2003). Tracing genres through organizations: a sociocultural approach to information design. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

[Tracing Apple Genres: Apple Evolution Product (updated 2009). Creative Commons image from Flickr user Oswaldo Rubio]

Genres, Boundaries, and Away We Go_Mindmap

Mindmap: http://popplet.com/app/#/1564732

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:


Mindmap #4: Drawing Some Genre Lines

Mindmap visualization

Mindmap update #4: Popplet screen capture

This week, like others in the class, I felt a need to add a little more structure to my mindmap. In response, I added a color key in the top left that codes each popple according its function in the map or relation to theorists. I identified two functions, marked in black and blue (without intentional reference to the intellectual bruising these theories are giving me…), to indicate “Networking” and “Descriptions, Questions & Commentary.”  Networking references the parts of a generalized network as I’ve encountered them: nodes, connections, hierarchies, and frameworks. Descriptions, Questions & Commentary refer to questions and comments I made as I struggled with particularly puzzling aspects of theorists’ ideas or network functions. I’ve found less need to interrogate theorists as I’ve moved ahead in the class, at least in part because our latest theorists write more clearly about their own objects of study than our earlier readings. I continue to connect these questions and comments to other parts of the map as I find additional or more nuanced ways to answer or address them.

Adding the color coding also encouraged me to more clearly articulate the relationship of ideas to theorists, so I ended up more closely aligning Foucault to “contradiction” and “historical a priori” and Bazerman, Miller, and Popham to “genre,” “genre system,” “boundary genre” and “activity system.” Interestingly, I discovered Miller discussed hierarchy in more detail that I had remembered, so I drew that connection. Miller (1984) identifies form as “metadata” for substance that offers instruction on how the symbolic representation is to be perceived; as a result, “form and substance thus bear a hierarchical relationship to one another” (p. 159). I connected Bazerman’s (2004) “activity system” to a network framework, as I understood the way Bazerman constructed the hierarchical relationship of genre set as part of a genre system, and a genre system as a part of an activity system; Bazerman claims analyses of the relationships among and between these systems provides “a focus on what people are doing and how texts help people do it, rather than on texts as ends themselves” (p. 319). Focusing on how texts help people do things is both active and framing, in that such focus offers a clearer understanding of text (and relations to people) within a framework of text (and related people) functions.

I also threw in a new theoretical position, that of assessment theory from Digital Writing Assessment and Evaluation; in this case, digital compositions are the object of assessment study, assignments that are often networked, sometimes physically (within computer or cloud-based networks) or through curricula or lesson planning (within class assignment sets). I focused on Crow’s (2013) concern with new media composition networks as surveillant assemblages and drew connections to network frameworks, genre systems, and activity systems. Of special interest to networks are the very practical issues related to shifting understandings of privacy and our disciplines’ responsibilities to protect the privacy interests of our students. As Crow (2013) notes:

“[I]n the midst of venues that facilitate social networks, and in the midst of increasing technology capabilities by corporations and nation states, conceptions of privacy are changing shape rapidly, and individuals draw on a range of sometimes unconscious rubrics to determine whether they will opt in to systems that require a degree of personal datasharing.” (Crow 2013)

These unconscious rubrics are likely themselves hierarchically networked, with diminishing levels of privacy concern along a continuum of the perceived importance of the data held in a network.

As a result, I added privacy as a node in my network and started connected it to other nodes. Given the many-dimensional character of data (a lá rabbit holes) in which one network serves as node in larger networks, lower privacy concerns at lower levels of the network might become greater concerns at higher levels of the network. For example, while a collection of course assignments in Google Drive are themselves of little privacy concern, information found in those documents, like student ID, name, school, email address, and more might find their way as members of a school’s Google Drive network into larger surveillant assemblage maintained by Google. Corporate “Google” might be able to connect those Google Drive documents with emails sent via Gmail, websites visited following Google search results, and ads clicked from Google-affiliated display advertising networks to generate a remarkably accurate, if aggregated, profile of the user. Trust becomes a real operative word in the relationship between the user and Google. As a result, I predict adding “trust” as a node in the next update of my mindmap.

In Google We Trust – Trailer from Journeyman Pictures on Vimeo.

References

Bazerman, C. (2004). Speech acts, genres, and activity systems: How texts organize activities and people. In Bazerman & Prior (Eds.), What writing does and how it does it: An introduction to analyzing texts and textual practices (pp. 309-340). New York, NY: Routledge.

Crow, A. (2013). Managing datacloud decisions and “big data”: Understanding privacy choices in terms of surveillant assemblages. In McKee, H. A., & DeVoss, D. N. (Eds.). Digital writing assessment & evaluation. Logan, UT: Computers and Composition Digital Press/Utah State University Press. Retrieved from http://ccdigitalpress.org/dwae.

Miller, C. R. (1984). Genre as social action. Quarterly Journal of Speech, 70(2), 151-67.

[Ropes draw patterns: Creative Commons licensed image from flickr user floriebassingbourn]

Mindmap #4: Genre Theory

This past week was a breath of fresh air because I was able to take a mental break from Foucault. I needed the step back from Foucault in order to see and understand the connections that are being made. As the course progresses, I am realizing that my internal network is trying to process too […]

Reading Notes #3: Genre

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7sucg8ZTomA&w=420&h=315] Brief Summary: For this week’s reading notes, I tried to focus on the things that naturally jumped out at me. In previous weeks, I was working hard instead of working smart. So, I followed the established connections within the articles. The author’s referenced one another’s works, so I followed these connections to make […]

Reading Notes Feb. 3

http://www.nigufpe.com.br/generos-2013/

Carolyn Miller and Charles Bazerman. Gêneros 2013.

Bazerman, Charles. “Systems of genres and the enactment of social intentions.” Genre and the new rhetoric (1994): 79-101.

Bazerman’s aim in this article is to examine the ways in which individuals operate within discursive fields to “create individual instances of meaning and value” (79). People act within systems by genre performance (79). Systems involve literate activity, and as we become more familiar with that activity, we are more able to advance our goals and understand how actions may be of value or impact the community (79). Bazerman refers to genres as levelers within a machine that allow us to create social action (79). To explain how genre systems work, Bazerman explores the patent. The patent is an interesting combination of first and third person (80). Required elements are very specific. The patent is part of a system, and the textual elements of the patent allow for the patent to operate within the system (81). Bazerman says a textual form that is not recognizable is of no value (81). Genres form when over time as “individuals perceive homologies in circumstances that encourage them to see these occasions for similar kinds of utterances” and genres “”identify the possible intentions one may have” (82). The constructed realm is navigated by patent applications that include “the intention, the recognition of the intention, the achievement of that intention with cooperation of others, and the further actions of others respecting that achievement” (82). Bazerman traces the history of patent development to show how the patent system was derived and how elements of the patent application and patent grant were formed and for what purpose they were formed (83-84). Bazerman compares the patent application and grant to speech acts which may have such contextual conditions as “timing of the utterance; authority of the utterer; relationship between speaker and hearer; psychological state of the speaker and hearer toward the act, the utterance, and each other; the speaker and hearer’s perception of the situation of utterance; the convention of language through which the utterance is enacted, and the kinds of particulars (propositions and predictions) included,” and together these conditions “guide the creation of successful utterance” (85). To be successful, scientific assertions these conditions must “be transformed into a set of constitutive, regulatory and advisory rules” (85). Unlike most speech acts, patents are a speech act that allow for procedures and institutions to match illocutionary force to perlocutionary effect” (85). Local knowledge of speech acts helps us to understand and interpret such acts, while formalization strips locally significant meanings (86). Speech acts can be interpreted in a variety of ways, as speech acts are “manifold and intermediate” (87). Formalization serves to “characterize a dominant appearance in a multiple act” (87). To “reduce a speech acts to a speech system removes the activity from the act and reduces complex, interpretive, intelligent, motivated human behavior to a static set of signs, no longer responsive to human needs and creativity” (88). Speech activity is easier to analyze when the speech being studied is part of a regulated system of agreed upon characters (88). Bazerman says that “we must look to the dynamics of the moment to understand what is happening” as the “dynamics of the moment grant new meaning and new life to the typifications” (88-89). Lengthy texts often contain multiplicity of action, but genre helps to limit the ways in which these texts can be interpreted (90). The system of the genre, “are interrelated genres that interact with each other in specific settings” (97). Only certain genres may follow each other in specific settings because succession is dependent upon actions at various ate each stage of the succession (98). Bazerman says that to be successful we much “identify the generic utterance appropriate for our needs at each point and successfully fulfill the conditions that will constitute the perfected act” (98). It is important to remember that the “genre set” represents only “one side of a multiple person interaction” (98). Bazerman says that “By considering the ways in which generic utterances open up pathways to certain consequent speech acts and close off other pathways, we give a new precision to the concept of kairos, or timeliness (99).

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 (2004): 309-339.

The aim of this chapter seems to be to explore how speech acts, genres, social facts, concepts, genre systems, and activity systems work together to help people “use texts to create new realities of meaning, relation, and knowledge” (309). Bazerman says that “each text is embedded within structured social activities and depends on previous texts that influence the social activity and organization” (311). Each successive text is a social act which are accomplished through language by speech acts (311). The patterns or forms in which these speech acts take place are called genres, which fit together as genre sets operating within genre systems (311). Bazerman says that understaning these concepts is important so that writers “fulfill the needs of the situation” and that we understand when things go wrong with our communication, and how to change systems through texts (311).
Basic Concepts/Terminology:
Social Facts – what people believe to be true which impacts how they define a situation (312).
Speech Acts – “As a result of a set of words said at the proper time in the proper circumstances by the proper persons, someone will be obligated to do something” (313). “Every statement does something” (313).
“Felicity” conditions – conditions that must be in order for a speech act to succeed (314).
Locutionary act – “literally what is said” (314).
Propositional act – claims or representations about states of affairs in the world (315).
Illocutionary act – the act that the speaker intends for the hearer to recognize (314).
Perlocutionary effect – “How people take up acts and determine the consequences of that act for future interaction” (314).
Three-leveled analysis of speech acts – the literal statement; the intended act; the actual effect (can also be written) (315).
Genres – “recognizable, self-reinforcing forms of communication” (316).
Typification – “The process of moving to stanadardized forms of utterances that are recognized as carrying out certain actions in certain circumstances and to standard understandings of situations” (316).
Psycho-social recognition phenomena – phenomena that “are parts of processes of socially organized activities” (317).
Social activity –
Genre set – “the collection of types of texts some in a particular role is likely to produce” (318).
Genre system – a system “comprised of the several genre sets of people working together in an organized way, plus patterned relations in production, flow, and use of these documents” (318).
System of genre –
Systems of activity – “framework which organizes their [people’s] work, attention, and accomplishments” (319).

Methodology:

Characteristics of Written Texts:
Written texts require complex analysis because they are lengthy, but there are “very few dominant actions that define its intent and purpose” (320). They also do not provide immediate evidence that the reader’s understanding and response to the text (320). The author has few opportunities to revise or make corrections (321). The written texts can travel easily to places where they may be used or interpreted in unexpected ways (321). Mutual understanding of texts is difficult, which is why genre studies are necessary because we don’t understand genres of unfamiliar fields (321). To approach the study of genres, methodologies include examining texts in a regular way, interviewing and observing readers and writers, and “ethnographically documenting how texts are used in organizations” (322).

Methodological Tools:
It seems easy to identity genres, but Bazerman points out that there are problems with identifying and analyzing genres based on possible reasons for easily spotted features of the genre (323): we only examine aspects of genre that we are already aware of; ignores the varying ways people see texts; and the collecting of features makes the features seem to be the end goal (an emphasis on form) rather than a function document; t6his ignores how genre is not stable and changes over time (323). Bazerman suggests that we 1) “go beyond those features we are already aware of,” 2) “consider variation in different situations and periods,” 3) characterize unfamiliar genres by gathering information about texts as well as information about how people understand those texts, 4) ethnographic research allows the researcher to “see the full range of implicit practice” ( 324-325). When you examine the genre set, you “see the range and variety of the writing work” (326). The genre system reveals “the practical, functional, and sequential interactions of documents” (326). The activity system “enables you to understand the total work accomplished by the system and how each piece of writing contributes to the total work” (326).

Bazerman outlines methodological guidelines for examining a “genre investigation”:
1. “Frame your purposes and questions to limit your focus.”
2. “Define your Corpus.” (Identify texts or collections you plan to examine)(326-327).
3. “Select and apply your analytic tools.”
If no pattern emerges, either, “”the collection doesn’t reflect practices of users” or flow of documents, or the “analytical focus may be misplaced” (327).
Bazerman closes with an applied example of genre analysis.

Miller, Carolyn R. “Genre as social action.” Quarterly journal of speech 70.2 (1984): 151-167.

In “Genre as Social Action,” author Carolyn R. Miller, explores the question “What constitutes a genre?” There have been a number of ways in which rhetorical genres have been defined (similarities in form or strategy, audience, modes of thinking, or rhetorical situation) (151). In the article, Miller constructs a theory of the genre by examining others’ approaches to genre theory and explaining how she agrees or disagrees with those theories. She also explains how genre impacts our relationship with texts.
Key Points/Terms:
• Genre theory should focus on the action that the genre is meant to accomplish rather than form or substance (151).
• “Genre is composed of a constellation of recognizable forms bound together by an internal dynamic” (Jamieson and Campbell 21, qtd. on 152). It includes “substantive, stylistic, and situational characteristics” (152).
• Reference to Bitzer: Bitzer’s theory is similar to Jamieson and Campbell’s theory of the relationship between situation and discourse: The rhetorical situation is a “‘complex of persons, events, objects, and relations’ presenting an ‘exigence” (152).
• Inductive and deductive approaches to genre are problematic because 1) they provide no clear classification and 2) they do not ground genre in rhetorical situation (154).
• Burke’s approach is promising because it is action based (154).
• Miller proposes that “genre” refer to a “classification based in rhetorical practice,” that is open to new members, and is “organized around situated actions” (155).
• The situational focus can be either on motive or exigence (155).
• Motive (Burke) implies action (155).
• Exigence (Bitzer) reaction (155).
• Materialist “relationship between rhetoric and situation that empowers external, objective elements” (156).
• Rhetorical situations must recur (156).
• “Situations” are “social constructs that are the result […] of ‘definition’” (156).
• Action is guided by meaning, by perception, not by material (156).
• Cycle of type formation: “the new is made familiar through the recognition of relevant similarities; those similarities become constituted as a type” (157).
• To communicate effectively, requires that “participants share common types” that are “socially created” (157).
• Exigence: exigence is social knowledge-“a mutual constructing of objects, events, interests, and purposes that not only links them but also makes them what they are: an objectified social need” (157).
• Exigence, which is a social motive for action, allows us an opportunity to make our feelings known (158).
• Rhetorical genres should be classified by recurrant situation (or exiogence), which is basing classification on “the typical joint rhetorical actions available at a given point in history and culture” (158).
• Because of the unstable nature of our culture, genre is a problematic classification (158).
• Genre members are complete discourses circumscribed by a shift in situation (159).
• The significance or meaningfulness of a genre is based on the fusions of substantive, stylistic, and situational elements (159).
• Form (“the ways in which substance is symbolized”) and substance (“aspects of common experience being symbolized”) have a hierarchical relationship (159).
• Speech-act theory (coined by John Searle): “meaning […] has two elements: an utterance or proposition and the action it is used to perform” (159).
• Context is the third element in the hierarchy of meaning (159).
• Form, substance, and context are relative, not absolute (159).
• “Form at one level becomes an aspect of substance at another level (this is what makes form “significant”) (160).
• “At the level of the genre, motive becomes a conventionalized social purpose, or exigence, within the recurrent situation” (162).
• When genre is defined by the relationship with rhetorical situation, the level of abstraction is made clear (162).
• Miller outlines the features of genre on page 163.
• Discourses may fail to be genres if: 1) there are not slow-level formal or substantive similarities; all elements of the rhetorical situation are not adequately considered; the genre does not encourage rhetorical social action (164).

Question: How can we compare Foucault’s enunciative function with Miller’s discussion of the hierarchy of rhetorical meaning? (see Miller 160)
Answer: Use the statements, formations in the PhD program, and draw comparisons.

Miller, Carolyn R. “Rhetorical community: The cultural basis of genre.” Genre and the new rhetoric (1994): 67-78.

Ten years after writing “Genre as Social Action,” Miller again visits the issue of genre. She says that in the intervening time, she noticed that the failure to understand genre has negatively impacted firs-year composition programs by “turning what should be a practical art of achieving social ends into a productive art of making texts that fit certain formal requirements” (67). She says that rethinking genre is necessary for two reasons: clarification of some issues unresolved in her first essay and the application of genre theory to community participation (68).

Key Points:

  • Genre as middle-level phenomenon between micro-level and macro-level: She calls this a “thrifty hypothesis” and says that she believes that micro-through middle-level hypothesis to be accurate, but further explores the macro-level, where “genres help constitute the substance of our cultural life” (68).
  • To address the relationship between culture and genres, Miller compares and contrasts the judicial discourse of ancient Athens and modern America, which are connected by “evolutionary heritage,” but the cultures are dissimilar expect for the social function served by discourse (69).
  • Genre as social construction: “New historical studies” says genre helps “reflexively” help construct their culture” (69).
  • Genre as “cultural artefact”: Views genre as anthropologist sees an artifact that has a function within a system of other artefacts (69). We make inferences about the culture based on these artifacts (70).
  • Genre set: “represents a system of actions and interactions that have specific social locations and functions as well as repeated or recurrent value or function” (70).  Relationship between material, individual generic acts, and systems of value and signification (70).
  • Relationship of observable particular action and abstract influence of culture, society, or institution (70). Representations: micro- vs. macro-sociological analysis, subject vs. society, action vs. institution, innovation vs. regularity, subjectivism vs. objectivism, private vs. public, cognitive vs. social (70).
  • Structuration theory (Giddeon): the structuring of social relations across time and space (70). Social relations rely on rules and resources. Rules are “constitutive and normative” and resources “are the means by which rules are actualized” (70). It explains the connection between individuals and collectivities (71).
  • Duality of structure: “phrase used to mean that structure is ‘both medium and outcome’ of social practices it recursively organizes” (70). Structure “is both means and end” (70).
  • Structure has a “virtual existence” but it must be made concrete in material existence, so actors create structure by relying on available structures (71).
  • Structure instantiated: structure made concrete is a reproduction of structure (71). Reproduction is stronger recurrence aided by the action of participants who “create recurrence in their actions by reproducing the structural aspects of institutions” (71).
  • How to View Genre: It is a “constituent of society,” central to communication, institutional power (71). It can be manifested in more than one situation as it has “reproducible speaker and addressee roles, social typifications of recurrent needs or exigencies, topical structures (or ‘moves’ and ‘steps’) and ways of indexing an event to material conditions, turning them into constraints or resources” (71).
  • “Genre becomes a detriment to rhetorical kairos—a means by which we define a situation in space-time and understand the opportunities it holds” (71).
  • Addressivity: “mechanism by which individual communicative action and social system structure each other and interact with each other” (72). The individual reproduces patterns of others in the pattern of society that allows such reproduction (72).
  • Actions is still primary and structure/form is a “constituent aspect of action” (72). Action is what matters.
  • Collectivity: “society, institution, culture, community” (72). Community is the most contested term (72). It makes it difficult to account for change (72).
  • Rhetorical community is a “virtual entity, discursive projection, rhetorical construct” (73). These “communities ‘exist’ in human memories and in their specific instantiations in words: they are not invented anew but persist as structuring aspects of all forms of socio-rhetorical action” (73).
  • Rhetorical communities operate rhetorically through genre and where centrifugal and centripetal forces meet (74).
  • The competing forces makes a community rhetorical because “rhetoric in essence requires both agreement and dissent” (74). The community includes the other (74).
  • Community is internal and constructed; heterogeneous and contentious (74).

What holds communities together? Genre, metaphor, narrative (74).

Popham, Susan L. “Forms as boundary genres in medicine, science, and business.” Journal of Business and Technical Communication 19.3 (2005): 279-303.

Popham begins by discussing the existence of tension between disciplines. She explains that health care is a field that is full of tensions between multiple stakeholders. To explore the tensions in the field, she examines the “extradisciplinary hierarchies of the medical profession as revealed in its genres” (279). She examines interdisciplinarity “to understand the impact that other professions have on medicine” (280). She explains that the field of medicine itself in interdisciplinary (280). Medicine has been influenced greatly by the fields of both science and business (281). Popham poses the following questions: “To what extent are these two disciplines or professions represented in medical documents?” “Given Foucault’s theory that disciplines often compete for power against each other, how is that competition revealed or constructed in medical documents or genres?”  Popham says that genres “are regulated textual forms functioning in repeating situations” and they are both stable and improvisational (281). Popham reviews literature regarding genres and genre systems, including the function of genres, how genres relate to their discourse communities (282-283). Popham says that we can “understand medical genres as multidisciplinary or multiprofessional” by studying “genres as boundary objects,” which are intersectional and are “necessary for coherence of information across multiple scientific worlds” (283). She claims that “boundary genres” function as “boundary objects” that “may actively participate in interprofessional struggles about hierarchies, dominance, and values, helping to create, mediate, and store tensions” (283). Disciplines cross boundaries through “translation and reflexion” (284). There are some genres that cross boundaries “by incorporating the knowledge, or content, of a discipline into the generic forms of another discipline or vice versa the content, knowledge, of the second discipline may be incorporated into the generic forms of the original discipline” (284). Interpenetration also allows for boundary crossing through the process of “exporting and importing ideas” (285). Distillation is the strategy “in which a discipline takes key theories or ideas from another discipline and summarizes them into kernels of knowledge to use for its own purpose (285).

In examining the medical profession, Popham recognized that patient care genres are strongly impacted by business genres (285). The business genres translate and distill “the scientific and medical knowledge it has subsumed” (285). Through textual analysis, observation, and interviews, Popham found evidence that by tracing the genre system as boundary objects allows us to see the roles and influence of the various professions: how they constrain, limit, and expand one another” (286). The field of business had the most behind-the-scenes impact (287). Despite this, most business communicators did not know how to balance medical and business discourse (287).

Forms that are analyzed in this analysis are:

Patient Examination Form: This form is very scientific in nature, as it calls for data collection and observation (287). The patient is the role of data (288). Collected data is translated to medical knowledge (288).

Patient Visit Form: Also involves data collection. Collected data is scientific until it is translated for medical use (288). This data is also translated into business data to create bills (289). The doctor makes the visit static by recording it, so the doctor controls temporal representation (290). Translation allows for the crossing of boundaries of science and medicine for this form, and distillation saves scientific data in medical data  (290).

Diagnosis Form and Insurance Form: The diagnosis form is primarily business in nature, and the only medical information is the diagnosis (291). For the insurance form, the medical information is only used for billing (292). Both forms cross bounadries by translation (292).

Billing Claim: Hierarchical information is organized in a non-hierarchical way (293). Both the patient and the doctor are data (294).

For business purposes, medical information must be distilled into “a set of treatment and diagnostic codes” (294). Medical information plays a minor role on the business forms (294). Popham says, “The whole genre system of medical forms participates in reflexion (295). Reflexion “is the act of using a second discipline to create an image of the first discipline (295). Business genres surround and subsume the medical profession, and by affiliating itself with the medical profession, “gains a certain amount of dominance, control, and authority” (296). There is a commonality “of knowledge, vocabulary, and methodology across professions.

Reflection on Readings:

What does it mean that what makes a community rhetorical is the inclusion of sameness and difference “that it must include the other?”  How does genre hold communities together?

As I was thinking about this idea, that genre holds communities together. Miller says that rhetorical communities are heterogeneous and contentious. This make sense as there is no need for rhetoric to persuade if everyone shares the same ideas already. Recently I read a debate between rhetoricians over feminist rhetorical approaches to Aspasia. The debate centered around whether the attempt to recover Asapsia as the first female rhetor were good rhetorical practice or if they were simply feminist overreaching. The genre of the journal article mediates the debate and makes the community possible. It is through such debate, mediated by genres such as the journal article, that the values of the rhetorical are established, that methodologies are established and refined. The contentious debate in the community of rhetoric serves to refine and strengthen that community.

Question: How can we compare Foucault’s enunciative function with Miller’s discussion of the hierarchy of rhetorical meaning? (see Miller 160)

Miller says that “form, at one level becomes an aspect of substance at a higher level (this is what makes form ‘significant’), although it is still analyzable as a form at the lower level” (160). In my analysis of The ODU Ph.D. program utilizing Foucault’s theory of discursive formations, I realized that it is possible that objects or concepts that may be a formation at one level may be a statement at another level. For example, the Ph.D. program could be seen as a statement within the field of English Studies, while within the discursive formation of the Ph.D. Program, the individual  emphases within the program might be viewed as statements. It seems that this phenomenon of layered formations and statements could be examine through the lens of genre by comparing the form to the statement. If the most basic, low-level function of genre is the form, while the most basic element of Foucault’s discourse is the statement. I don’t think that this is necessarily a working analogy, because the form and substance are not strictly hierarchical, but the statement is truly nested within the discursive function. The similarity, though, is that in both genre and in Foucault’s theory of discourse, “A complex hierarchy of such relationship s is necessary for constructing meaning” (160).

Resources for Further Understanding

I found a terrific resource on You Tube in which Bazerman and Miller were interviewed at Universidade Federal de Pernambuco about genre theory in a 12 part video series called “Les Genres Textuels.” The captions and subtitles are all in Portuguese, but Miller and Bazerman answer questions in English.

In this video, Carolyn Miller and Charles Bazerman address the question “How do you define genre?”

In the video, Miller calls genre “A typified rhetorical action based in recurrent rhetorical situation.” Her focus is on production as action, but says that reception is also important.

Bazerman emphasizes that genre is “in the perception of the creator and the perception of the receiver” rather than genre existing as or within the object itself. He says it is a “psychological recognition category”. He also emphasizes that genres are “categories of utterances”.

In the second video of the series, Miller and Bazerman seem to be addressing a question regarding the kinds of objects to which genre theory can be applied.

Bazerman says that any “meaningful utterance” can be a genre. Both Bazerman and Miller say that genre is not simply textual. Miller says, “genre is a matter of social agreement”. Text, on the other hand, according to Miller, “is a particular way of materializing an utterance or a stretch of verbal discourse”.

I found the videos incredibly useful and enlightening because Miller and Bazerman are in conversation with one another, building on what each other states about the concepts being discussed. Reading separate articles can give the illusion that the authors may have different understandings of genre theory, but seeing Bazerman and Miller together in these videos makes it clear that genre theory is a unified theoretical approach to analysis of utterances. Miller and Bazerman may emphasize different elements of genre theory, but they’re dicussions are complementary rather than being at odds with one another.

These videos were also helpful because the answers are succinct and concise. They help me develop a better understanding of the basic elements of genre theory.


Genre, Speech Acts, and Interdisciplinary Community: Week 4 Reading Notes

Key Terms and Concepts

There are so many terms and concepts in this week’s readings that it seems necessary to begin by defining them.

Boundary Objects: A genre that is the product of a single community but can be “understood, used, or prescribed by another community” (Popham, 2005, pp. 282-283).

Distallation: The process by which “a discipline takes key theories or ideas from another discipline and summarizes them into kernels of knowledge to use for its own purposes” (Popham, 2005, p. 285).

“Felicity” Conditions: Conditions that “must be right in order for the speech act to succeed” (Bazerman, 2004, p. 314).

Genres: “Patterned, typical, and therefore intelligible textual forms” (Bazerman, 2004, p. 311).”Regulated, textual forms functioning in repeating situations” (Popham, 2005, p. 282).

Genre Sets: “Collection of texts someone in a particular role is likely to produce” (Bazerman, 2004, p. 318).

Genre Systems: “Comprised of the several genre sets of people working together in an organized way, plus the patterned relations in the production, flow, and use of these documents” (Bazerman, 2004, p. 318).

Illocutionary Act: The act intended for the hearer to recognize (Bazerman, 2004, p. 318).

Interpenetration: The process of exporting and importing ideas–closely related to reflexion (Popham, 2005, p. 285).

Locutionary Act: “Literally what is said” (Bazerman, 2004, p. 314).

Perlocutionary Effect: “How people take up the acts and determine the consequences of that act for future interaction” (Bazerman, 2004, p. 314).

Propositional Act: The proposition stated in the locutionary act (Bazerman, 2004, p. 314).

Reflexion: A strategy for tracing interpenetration by highlighting “a discipline’s ‘blind spots’ by emphasizing the constructedness of its identity” (Popham, 2005, p. 285).

Social Fact: “Those things people believe to be true, and therefore bear on how they define  a situation” (Bazerman, 2004, p. 312).

Speech Act: Acts that are “done by the words themselves” (Bazerman, 2004, p. 313). For example, marriage, war, promotions.

Systems of Genres: Part of the systems of activity; the institutional grouping of the genre systems that “identify a framework which organizes their work, attention, and accomplishment” (Bazerman, 2004, p. 319).

Three-leveled Analysis of Speech Acts: Proposed method for analysis: 1) what was stated (locutionary), 2) what was intended (illocutionary), and 3) actual effect (perlocutionary) (Bazerman, 2004, p. 315).

Translation: Conversion of vocabulary, theories, methodologies, or forms from one discipline to another (Popham, 2005, p. 284).

Discussion of Readings as a Network

If we start with Miller’s 1984 article, we can kind of place it at the center of our little network–Miller establishes the need for a systematic, categorized definition of genres, explaining why previous attempts to define were insufficient. From Miller, Bazerman expands the notion of genre and offers a method for analyzing their function in human systems of activity. Popham and Miller then, again, both expand the discussion of genres to include interdisciplinary and community functions. These connections are illustrated in the diagram:

Genres

Doctoral Students Helping Doctoral Students

Here is Renae Frey’s blog on genre. Frey is a doctoral student at the University of Miami, Oxford, Ohio. Her blog functions as both a resource for better understanding genre theory and as an object of analysis.

My “Uptake”

Considering genres as a rhetorical response to recurring situations (both cultural and disciplinary) makes me consider not only how I teach my freshmen but also how I train consultants to work with other composers. Instead of considering the rigid forms of certain texts, considering the functions they perform in response to situations will better help us understand how to work with students. For instance, a resume is now a well-recognized genre. There are cultural expectations that a genre will adhere to a certain format and length and include certain information. Thinking about the resume in terms of the illocutionary act (what is intended), the locutionary act (what is said), and the perlocutionary effect (the resulting action) will likely prove more beneficial. Understanding the audience and discipline and anticipating the effects the document might have on the audience is something that writing center consultants already do, but separating those concepts and foregrounding them for discussion could prove fruitful.

Popham’s article also sparked a lot of thoughts for me about the ways that we document our services in the writing center world, but especially in the Noel Studio. Thinking about medical documents as “boundary objects” made me realize how many different functions we intend certain documents to serve. If we were to trace the history of records of consultations, I’m not sure where we would find the origins. These documents serve as the record of what was discussed (for the writing center and the student), data assessment (for potentially department chairs or provosts), and as proof that the student visited (for the faculty member). While the record is different for each center, there are commonalities that classify it as a genre: most often there are data fields for the “proof” (student’s name, date, class), open spaces for comments of what was discussed (the consultant’s take on the consultation), and checkboxes for easy assessment (what was worked on, areas of focus, recommended follow-up). Surprisingly, the records for a writing center do not seem that different than medical records–they collect data and seemingly tell the “diagnosis” of the student’s writing.

Finally, after a discussion with Shelley last week about my dissertation, I’m seeing where I might be able to use genre theory to explore multimodal communication. Considering forms of digital writing as genres might make teaching and working with it less intimidating for teachers and consultants. I definitely need to reread each of these sources and start reading more about each, but I’m excited about this potential focus for my dissertation.


Reading Notes: Miller, Bazerman & Popham walk into this blog…

I appreciate the opportunity this week to reengage with Miller’s work on genre in “Genre as Social Action” and then to see those ideas carried forward into “Rhetorical Community: The Cultural Basis of Genre.” I encountered Miller last semester in an historical review of EDNA-based textbooks in composition studies. Miller’s ideas on the social aspects of genre—rather than the formal or structural aspects I’d learned as an undergraduate and graduate student—opened my eyes to modern composition theory.

Genre as Social Action (Miller)

In “Genre as Social Action” this time around, I found Miller’s ideas on hierarchical levels of discourse more interesting, likely because network hierarchy is in the forefront of my thoughts after last week’s mindmap exercise. Miller identifies form as “metadata” for substance that offers instruction on how the symbolic representation is to be perceived; as a result, “form and substance thus bear a hierarchical relationship to one another” (p. 159). Continuing the hierarchical structure of genre, Miller references Toulmin to argue that context, too, is hierarchical; the result is that “form, substance, and context [are] relative, not absolute; they occur at many levels on a hierarchy of meaning” (p. 159). But not only do these aspects of discourse operate in hierarchical relationship to one another; they also take on different functions at different hierarchical levels: “Thus, form at one level becomes as aspect of substance at a higher level level… although it is still analyzable as form at the lower level” (p. 160). Miller addresses the implications of these hierarchical relationships among “particular features of this understanding of genre” (p. 163): First, genre is fluid and active; it acquires meaning from situation and social context. Second, genre is interpreted using rules. Third, genre is distinct from form. Fourth, genre can serve as the substance of forms at higher levels in hierarchies. Fifth, genre is a rhetorical means for mediating private intent and social exigence (p. 163).

Application to Network

Whiteboard capture - XML

Jamming on XML: CC licensed image from flickr user Paul Downey

Miller’s closing implications relate directly to networks. The interplay among form, substance, and context in discourse enables genre to exist in fluid forms and in hierarchical relationships. If a work in a genre is a network node, its relationship with other works in the genre are governed by the interaction of form, substance, and context. The genre itself can be considered a network node in a network consisting of cultural life; the genre becomes substance to the form of cultural life. I see this similar to the analogy to which I continually return of the web page to the subdomain to the domain. Page, subdomain and domain each act as node and network as the context, form, and substance relate differently to one another.

Rhetorical Community: The Cultural Basis of Genre (Miller)

In “Rhetorical Community: The Cultural Basis of Genre,” Miller connects culture and community to genre in terms of “the general social function being served” (p. 69) by each. Miller claims that rhetorical communities are built on contradiction and contention, “inclusion of sameness and difference, of us and them, of centripetal and centrifugal impulses” (p. 74). As a result, rhetoric “requires both agreement and dissent, sharing understandings and novelty, enthymematic premises and contested claims, identification and division” (p. 74). To this potentially explosive community, Miller applies three forces that rhetorically “keep a virtual community from flying apart (or dissipating)” (p. 74). The first is genre, the second is analogy, and the third is narrative (pp. 74-75).

Application to Network

In this article I found the active nature of the network embedded in the contentious relationships that build virtual rhetorical communities. To these contentious relationships are applied frameworks that enable the networks to function within certain parameters: genre (to provide a contextual, localized structure for nodes), analogy (to provide language that explains difficult-to-explain relationships in more familiar metaphorical terms), and narrative (providing ways to tell the story of the relationships among nodes). These frameworks are flexible and fluid and enable organic growth and dynamic development.

Systems of Genre and the Enactment of Social Intentions (Bazerman)

Monocycle patent - drawing

Monocycle Patent: CC licensed image from flickr user Michael Neubert

Where Miller applies genre to rhetorical communities, Bazerman in “Systems of Genre and the Enactment of Social Intentions” goes a step further to create “a complex web of interrelated genres where each participant makes a recognizable act or move in some recognizable genre, which then may be followed by a certain range of appropriate generic responses by others” (p. 97). Using analysis of patent applications as his object of study, Bazerman introduces the concept of a system of genres—“interrelated genres that interact with each other in specific settings” (like a patent application).

Application to Network

If genres are networks, as suggested by Miller, then genre systems are networks of genres; put another way, genre systems turn genre networks into nodes. This conclusion is consistent with Miller’s conclusion that genres function as nodes in rhetorical communities. It’s also consistent with my understanding of the functions of websites within larger and smaller networks—the website functions itself as a network, but it also functions as a node in the larger network of the internet (or other higher level hierarchies). And there’s the return of that term “hierarchies”—networks appear to be inherently hierarchical depending on their contexts.

Speech Acts, Genres, and Activity Systems (Bazerman)

Bazerman follows up his work on genre systems in “Speech Acts, Genres, and Activity Systems” by returning to a clearer understanding of social action, more specific than Miller’s articulation. Bazerman suggests that we can “reach a deeper understanding of genres if we understand them as psycho-social recognition phenomena that are parts of processes of socially organized activities…. They are social facts about the kinds of speech acts people can make and the ways they can make them.” (p. 317, emphasis original). Considered as ways people try to understand one another, genre becomes a means by which we construct our experiences. Bazerman theorizes genre sets as “the collection of types of texts someone in a particular role is likely to produce” (p. 318), texts that others in a similar role would likely produce and understand as well. Using this understanding of genre sets, Bazerman returns to genre system with this more nuanced definition: “a Genre System is comprised of the several genre sets of people working together in an organized way, plus the patterned relations in the production, flow, and use of these documents” (p. 318, emphasis original).

Application to Network

Bazerman concludes that a genre system is itself part of an activity system, and analyzing both a genre system and an activity system results in “a focus on what people are doing and how texts help people do it, rather than on texts as ends themselves” (p. 319). Activity systems include genre systems as nodes in its network; genre systems include genre sets as nodes in its network; genre sets include genres as nodes in its network; genres include texts as nodes in its network, and so on. Networks exist in hierarchies and change status, from network to node and back again, depending on hierarchical context.

Forms as Boundary Genres in Medicine, Science, and Business (Popham)

Medical form image

The Cancer Form: CC licensed image from flickr user Mike Krigsman

Susan L. Popham takes our understandings of genre and activity from Miller and Bazerman and applies them directly to a fascinating object of study: medical forms used in health care practices. She recognizes forms operating as genres in medical practices, but she theorizes the existence of boundary genres, “genres functioning as boundary objects… [that] actively participate in interprofessional struggles about hierarchies, dominance, and values, helping to create, mediate, and store tensions” (p. 283). The tension that Miller (1994) found in rhetorical community Popham finds in boundary genres; these boundary genres enable, even embody, tensions among professions and disciplines. The result of her study reveals the lack of agency that medicine and science have in the medical profession; both disciplines are distilled in the business genre forms that ultimately control the fiscal viability of the practice (p. 296).

Application to Network

Popham’s definition of boundary genres represents network-in-action, actively participating in hierarchical struggles among rhetorical texts, among genres, even among disciplines and professions. Here the genres are struggling among themselves for agency. This struggle gets presented in the OOS of medical practice forms, but the network implications to struggles among disciplines in the English studies supradiscipline are clear. A close analysis of our texts will help us identify our genres, determine our boundary objects, theorize boundary genres, and identify the specific activities that represent the struggles among genres—and therefore among the disciplines and professions they represent.

Conclusions

Once again, I find myself blown away by new ways of seeing discourse in terms of networks. The results are making me rethink, or think more carefully and intentionally, about grading texts, assigning texts, assessing portfolios, and writing my own texts. As I consider the course syllabus as genre, I recognize my tendency to allow the generic form to limit the activity of the text. As I require my students to collect and share portfolio objects in Google Drive, I recognize the lack of careful consideration I gave to the implications of surveillant assemblage. As I consider my textbook, Everything’s An Argument, I’m both drawn to the simplicity of the title and concerned about its willingness to place all texts into a single genre system. These are real issues that affect real students whose agency I should seek to protect. These real students have real abilities and dis-abilities, and I should seek to customize and differentiate instruction to their skills and needs. They are real texts that I should seek to read carefully and respond to with care and attention.

And Then There’s Reggie Watts

Reggie Watts bends boundaries and mixes music, speech, and comedic genres. I think Watts is a boundary genre embodiment.

References

Bazerman, C. (2004). Speech acts, genres, and activity systems: How texts organize activities and people. In Bazerman & Prior (Eds.), What writing does and how it does it: An introduction to analyzing texts and textual practices (pp. 309-340). New York, NY: Routledge.

Bazerman, C. (1994). Systems of genre and the enactment of social intentions. In Freedman, A., & Medway, P. (Eds.), Genre and the new rhetoric (pp. 79-104). London, UK: Taylor & Francis, Ltd.

Miller, C. R. (1984). Genre as social action. Quarterly Journal of Speech, 70(2), 151-67.

Miller, C. R. (1994). Rhetorical community: The cultural basis of genre. In Freedman, A., & Medway, P. (Eds.), Genre and the new rhetoric (pp. 67-78). London, UK: Taylor & Francis, Ltd.

Popham, S. L. (2005). Forms as boundary genres in medicine, science, and business. Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 19(3), 279-303. doi:10.1177/1050651905275624

[Plane-blog: CC licensed image from flickr user mutatdjellyfish]

Genre Readings & Applications: Miller, Bazerman, Popham, & Digital Assessment

The readings this week on Genre Theory (listed below in the Works Cited section) represented a bit of a paradigm shift from the more intense theoretical frameworks of Foucault and Biesecker. And yet… I found myself making both of them … Continue reading

Annotated Bibliography Entry: Bourelle et al.

Bourelle, Tiffany, Sherry Rankins-Robertson, Andrew Bourelle, and Duane Roen. “Assessing Learning in Redesigned Online First-Year Composition Courses.” Digital Writing Assessment and Evaluation.  Eds. Heidi A. McKee and Danielle Nicole DeVoss. Logan, UT: Computers and Composition Digital Press/Utah State University Press, … Continue reading

Annotated Bibliography Entry: Crow in DWAE

Crow, A. (2013). Managing datacloud decisions and “big data”: Understanding privacy choices in terms of surveillant assemblages. In McKee, H. A., & DeVoss, D. N. (Eds.). Digital writing assessment & evaluation. Logan, UT: Computers and Composition Digital Press/Utah State University Press. Retrieved from http://ccdigitalpress.org/dwae/02_crow.html

Crow addresses the ethics of assessment by defining online composition portfolios as surveillant assemblages, collections of electronic student data that may be used to create increasingly accurate aggregate student profiles. Composition studies seeks assessment techniques, strategies, and technologies that are effective and fair. As big data continues to proliferate, Crow argues that we need to understand and communicate specific ways that student data are used in surveillance. Our goal should be to move toward caring on a surveillance continuum between caring and control.

Google Drawing Visualization of Surveillance Continuum

Google Drawing Visualization of Surveillance Continuum

For-profit assessment platforms, from Google Apps to ePortfolio companies, have sharing and profiling policies that are troubling and may represent more controlling than caring policies. These controlling policies may remove agency from students, faculty, and composition or English departments and transfer agency to university IT departments, university governance, or even corporate entities. Crow concludes that the best option would be a discipline-specific and discipline-informed DIY assessment technology that would take into consideration these real concerns about surveillant assemblages.

The concept of a surveillant assemblage is a network concept. It’s a dynamic collection of student information grown ever larger by the addition of student files. Crow demonstrates that electronic portfolios used for assessment are networked collections of files, collected over time for assessments, that build a (potentially) dangerously accurate profile of the student in aggregate—a profile that can be used for extra-assessment purposes through data mining.

Contemporary networks make privacy a complicated issue, a moving target, one that requires decisions on the part of participants regarding levels of privacy expected.

“[I]n the midst of venues that facilitate social networks, and in the midst of increasing technology capabilities by corporations and nation states, conceptions of privacy are changing shape rapidly, and individuals draw on a range of sometimes unconscious rubrics to determine whether they will opt in to systems that require a degree of personal datasharing.” (Crow 2013)

Crow responds that English studies as a (supra)discipline has a responsibility to investigate the effects of surveillant assemblage collections and to maintain student, faculty, and departmental or disciplinary agency in technology and network selection and implementation.

Miller’s genre, Bazerman’s genre set, and Popham’s boundary genre all demonstrate the socially active nature of genre and genre collections. Crow makes similar observations about student files as surveillant data collections: they have and take on a social activity of their own that can’t necessarily be predicted or controlled. As networked action, genre can expand within its framework and, in the case of boundary genre, expand into interdisciplinary spaces. Tension and contradiction (a la Foucault) are continually present in such networks, including surveillant assemblages, and unexpected results—like the superimposition of business in medical practice seen in Popham’s analysis or the potential marketing of aggregated student data from assessment processes and results mentioned in Lundberg’s forward—can, perhaps likely will, occur, if disciplinary agency is not maintained.

I’ve been working on my Twitter identity this past week, and a Tweet from @google about its transparency efforts caught my eye in relationship to Crow’s article.

The tweet links to an entry in Google’s Official Blog, “Shedding some light on Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) requests,” dated Monday, February 3, 2014, and reports that Google is now legally able to share how many FISA requests they receive. The blog entry, in turn, links to Google’s Transparency Report, which “disclose[s] the number of requests we [Google] receive[s] from each government in six-month periods with certain limitations.”

What struck me about the Transparency Report, the blog post, and the Twitter post related to Crow’s article is the focus on the important role reporting has on my willingness to contribute to my own surveillant assemblage. I feel a little better knowing that Google reports on such requests in an open and relatively transparent way, even if I also know that Google uses my data to create a profile of me that feeds me advertising and other profile-specific messages. This is my own “sometimes unconscious rubric” to which I turn when making decisions about how much and whether to opt in. The question it raises is whether we give our students, faculty, staff, and prospects agency to make these opt-in decisions, consciously or unconsciously. As a Google Analytics and web metrics consumer, these are especially sensitive issues with which I deal on a daily basis.

[CC licensed image from flickr user Richard Smith]