Don’t read Manuel Castells’ The Rise of the Network Society if you’re looking for either a light read or a feel-good tome. You’ll leave with a sense of foreboding and outrage and wonderment at how he can identify such global turbulence and selfish decision-making and yet no policymaker seems to listen. I’m left wondering why he isn’t a Chief Advisor to the President, or the head of the Federal Reserve, or in some position where he can lay out the inter-relations of the various short-sighted decisions and help those with political blinders on see the big picture.
It was only a matter of time before someone exposed the dark side of networking, of how it serves neoliberal late capitalist goals, of how it is a tool to connect those with power and amplify their power, and, by the same means, disconnect, disempower and disenfranchise those who are programmed with the wrong protocol or lack the means to connect. Rather than one, happy, flattened, connected world of unprecedented opportunity and a lack of traditional hierarchy, Castells exposes an inequality of networks within networks: networks of places and networks of flows; networks of implementation and network of decision-making and innovation; cultural networks and information networks; as well as “landscapes of despair” (xxxvi), a term coined by Dear and Wolch, to indicate areas and people outside of the places of networked value creation.
Castells points out the economies of synergy, where “potential interaction with valuable partners creates the possibility of adding value as a result of the innovation generated by this interaction” (xxxvii) are what is most important in the global real-time network. Largely a recreation of the “Good Ole Boy Network” of the past, these face-to-face encounters are where the strategic plans are developed, plans are made, decisions cast, and communication systems created. What emerges from these synergistic economies are the “economies of scale” and “networks of implementation” — areas which are transformed by the “information and communication technologies” into “global assembly lines” (xxxvii). In other words, it’s still a matter of of a manufacturing economy, but the factory is a virtual one, assembled from around the world, and controlled by the panopticon of the overseer: the networked computer. As Castells points out, this virtual board room/corporate headquarters vs. branch offices and “worker bees” is merely an extension of the old model, but one, by virtue of the global connectedness that outstrips any national laws or regulations, that wields ever more power and controls both the means of production and the livelihood of the world’s workers. Indeed, though, all is not well for those who would control the network, because, as Castells points out, though we attempt to tame the technological forces unleashed by our own ingenuity, we struggle against “our collective submission to the automaton that escaped the control of its creators” (xliii).
Information technologies have replaced work that can be “encoded in a programmable sequence” and enhanced work that requires a human brain: “analysis, decision and reprogramming” in real time (258). These two main types of work can be further broken down into a hierarchy of value, innovation, task execution, and production, completed by the corresponding stratified workers:
- Commanders: strategic decision-making and planning
- Researchers: innovations in products and process
- Designers: adaptation, targeting of innovation
- Integrators: managing the relationships between the decision, innovation, design, and execution to achieve stated goals [this is where the communication function of an organization lies, I think]
- Operators: execution of tasks according to initiative and understanding
- Operated: execution of ancillary, preprogrammed tasks that are not automated. (259)
Furthermore, Castells delineates three fundamental groups within the networked system:
- Networkers: who set up connections
- Networked: who are part of the network but have no say about their position there
- Switched-off: not connected; perform specific tasks; one-way instructions; little to no input (260)
And at the top level of the organization, Castells creates a typology of the decision-making progress:
- Deciders: make the decision; final and ultimate call
- Participants: give input; are involved in decision-making
- Executants — implement decisions (but do not have say in what decision was made) (260)
These various groups become nodes in nested networks, not a flattened system, but a tree network (a tree of enunciative formation, I would argue, channeling Foucault) with a clear root and a clear structure of branching with gatekeepers at critical points. What flows across this network? Information. Information which must be communicated. Thus, the entire network is a rhetorical situation.
Castells states that “infrastructure of communication develops because there is something to communicate” (xxxvii). He calls it a “functional need” that calls into existence the infrastructure. Bitzer and Vatz would refer to this as an exigence, something that drives discourse. Networks of communication, which disseminate information according to the role one plays in the organization (see above) are dynamically created among the variable pathways that may exists. In some cases, a specific pathway or communication channel is used; in other cases, multiple channels; in still other cases, new channels and media may need to be created. The level of detail, causality, and interactivity within that communication is determined by the place on the network. Some information flows all the way through to the very end of the pathway; other information is stopped by a gatekeeper who determines “need to know” as programmed by the deciders, executors and integrators. In each case, the audience is taken into consideration, and though Castells does not directly look at this communications infrastructure as a rhetorical situation, he does talk about media as the mode of a global society.
Castells points out that the acceleration of time and exploitation made possible by the global network has annihilated our concept of time, and indeed our very humanity, causing us to live in the “ever-present world of our avatars” (xliii). We have lost a sense of past grounding and future obligation, living along the bandwidth as flickering images moving from place to place, doing the work of the machine that keeps us imprisoned. Simultaneously, we will rhetorically position ourselves as having found freedom from the constraints of our bodies and our physical limitations, not realizing that our cybernetic existence is one of less agency and greater self — and world — destruction. Castells calls this the “bipolar opposition between the Net and the self” (3). We are simultaneously created and destroyed by our interactions in the information age, which made me think about Spinuzzi’s centripetal and centrifugal forces in an organization.
I also channeled Spinuzzi with Castells’ three dimensions to define the new division of labor:
- First Dimension: actual tasks in a given work process. Also called Value-Making.
- Second dimension: Relationship between an organization and its environment, including other organizations. Also called Relation-Making.
- Third Dimension: Relationship between managers and employees in a given organization or network. Also called Decision-Making. (259)
These seem to correspond in interesting ways to Spinuzzi’s Microscopic, Mesoscopic, and Macroscopic levels of activity. Interestingly, I think, Spinuzzi’s levels seem to make sense in the way a telephoto lens works: focus closely on the workers’ tasks (microscopic), zoom out to the mesoscopic to look at relationships between workers and workers within a system or network or the organization; zoom out further to the macroscopic level of strategy and organization within an industry. However, Castells puts what would be Spinuzzi’s macroscopic level as his Second Dimension, and what would be Spinuzzi’s mesoscopic level as the third dimension. I’m wondering then, if these are to be seen in the same sort of stratified or wide-shot, mid-shot, close-shot way as Spinuzzi. It suggests that the OUTSIDE influence — the organization within the larger world — is an intermediary between the actual work done and the decisions made about that work. The paradigm of internal vs. external communications, as well as the flow from worker to organization to economy is disrupted, with more importance and relevance given to the competitive, connected, global environment rather than the immediate supervisor. Decisions made internally are connected through the external world. The model would look more like the managers and employees sending information up to the cell towers and satellites and then back down to the production line, informed by outside perspective, which is subsumed somehow into the organization.
I’d like to complicate Castells’ view with two articles in the past two weeks that seem to challenge the prevailing opinion of a globalized society, asserting instead a return to hyper-localization and regionalization. I am wondering, since Castell’s theory in this book is now 15 or more years old, if the pendulum is swinging the other way, toward a renewed sense of group affiliation and identity (which may or may not be connected to a modern constructed idea of a “nation-state”). Robert D. Kaplan, in his Time Magazine March 31, 2014 cover story “Old World Order: How geopolitics fuel endless chaos and old-school conflicts in the 21st century” reminds us that although “the West has come to think about international relations in terms of laws and multinational agreements, most of the rest of the world still thinks in terms of deserts, mountain ranges, all-weather ports and tracts of land and water” (32). He goes on to show the instability of nation-states and the importance of actual physical spaces and resources to the world’s geopolitics and economy. While this seems to support Castells’ notions of space as well as flow, the concentration of resources and talent in particular cosmopolitan mega-nodes, it also underscores the importance of tribal, local, regional and national cultural pride and identity that cannot be merely summed up in the trade of ideas and the flow of goods across a global production system. What Kaplan continues to point out is that according to privileged Western philosophers, politicians, policymakers, and businesspeople (Kaplan calls them the “global elite”), “this isn’t what the 21st century was supposed to look like” (32). We were supposed to post-physical space, post-geography, post-political power grabs for physical resources. We were supposed to be an information economy and a global production system operating on trade among stable entities. Recent changes in Ukraine, and the Arab Spring remind us that what the mind can extrapolate and theorize often does not take into account visceral and physical loyalties that may operate beyond reason and individual or communal prosperity.
A week later, Rana Foroohar, in “Globalization in Reverse: What the global trade slowdown means for growth in the US — and abroad”, posits that many economists and trade experts are talking about “a new era of deglobalization, during which countries turn inward” (28). If this trend continues, then “markets, which had more or less converged for the past 30 years, will start diverging along national and sectoral lines” (28). While Castells discussed the convergence of the markets, there appears to be a counter movement, according to some, that would dismantle that synergy and supposed “free movement of goods, people and money across borders” (28). Personally, I do not believe that this means the end of the network society, only that the configuration of the network will change again, with a movement to more unique protocols for individual networks, attempting to communicate with a global mega-network. Rather than considering there to be a unified global economy or a “world-wide web”, there may indeed be more of a multiverse model, with pockets of independent development that coexist, and pathways must be set up to port between them.
Decision Tree. http://www.slidegeeks.com/pics/dgm/l/d/decision_tree_network_diagram_powerpoint_templates_1.jpg
Welcome to the Dark Side. http://crazyhyena.com/imagebank/g/5736914_700b.jpg
Literature Review: Google Analytics, My Beloved OoS
In general, researchers appear to use Google Analytics™ (GA) web analytics service as a tool for measuring web visits and, to an extent, visitor behavior. In discursive terms, GA collects and visualizes an archive of traces of user interactions with web pages. The discursive activity of visiting (and, presumably, reading) a web page is seldom referenced in research that uses GA for measurement; instead, the archival trace of the discursive activity gets captured, archived, and visualized.
Most research uses an enthymeme that reads something like this: GA data can help developers improve websites. For example, Kirk et al. (2012), in an article seeking to monitor user engagement in an Internet-delivered genetics education resource developed for nurses, report that GA “informs approaches to enhancing visibility of the website; provides an indicator of engagement with genetics-genomics both nationally and globally; [and] informs future expansion of the site as a global resource for health professional education” (p. 559). Similarly, Mc Guckin & Crowley (2012), in an article evaluating the impact of an online cyber-bullying training resource, the CyberTraining Project, report that GA data have “allowed for the project team to further understand how best to optimize the product (i.e., the Website and the eBook) for ease of access and navigation by unique and referred users” (p. 629). Focusing more specifically on GA reporting over time, Plaza (2009) notes that “GA tells the web owner how visitors found the site and how they interact with it. Users will be able to compare the behaviour of visitors who were referred from search engines and emails, from referring sites and direct visits, and thus gain insight into how to improve the site’s content and design” (p. 475). Missing from the enthymeme are assumptions that connect GA to improved websites, assumptions that can be phrased in questions about the relationship between GA, website visitors, and website developers: What data are provided by GA that can directly relate to specific improvements in website design? What user behaviors can and should be examined via GA to evaluate the success of the website? What benchmarks should developers set to measure success or failure? While these questions are not ignored in research that uses GA reporting, they are not directly or specifically addressed. As a result, readers miss out on key assumptions that researchers make about specific ways the data provided by GA reports can and will be used to make concrete changes to website design and structure.
Bruno Latour’s (2005) introduction to actor-network-theory (ANT) identifies transporters of meaning among connections as “mediators” or “intermediaries.” An intermediary “transports meaning or force without transformation” while mediators “transform, translate, distort, and modify the meaning or the elements they are supposed to carry” (p. 39). When researchers present GA as a means of measuring user interaction with websites, they generally describe GA as an intermediary. By describing GA as an intermediary, researchers ignore, potentially to their peril, the mediating potential of GA reports. For example, Dahmen & Sarraf (2009), reporting visitor analytics of an online art museum exhibition, claim that “through the use of Google Analytics, this research seeks to understand how the public used the Web representation of the special exhibition” (p. 2). Their report represents GA data as authoritative and unmediated; the GA interface that visualizes and reports visit data is accepted as accurate, without comment. Mc Guckin & Crowley (2012) take a step toward recognizing the potential mediating effects of GA reports by claiming to “ascertain the efficacy of GA as an effective resource for measuring the impact of the CyberTraining project” (p. 628), but they conclude, “Such information [provided by GA] proves valuable in the iterative development and dissemination of the project and has, directly, informed the planning of the new CT4P project” (p. 629). GA is considered a blackboxed intermediary for reporting web visits. In other words, current research offers little theoretical perspective on the potential mediating effects GA may have on the data it reports and visualizes. This blog post seeks to remedy that omission by applying both ANT and cultural-historical activity theory (CHAT) to Google Analytics and the data it provides on visitor interactions with the website of the University of Richmond School of Professional and Continuing Studies (SPCS).
An OoS on the LOoSe
One of the most interesting aspects of using GA as my object of study (OoS) is that it remains a product continually in production. Although Google does not address it explicitly, it’s become clear that Google is working to make GA a digital analytics platform that expands well beyond the measurement of interactions on websites. I’m working toward a certificate of completion for Google Analytics Platform Principles (2014) as a followup to a certificate of completion I received for Digital Analytics Fundamentals (2013), and both of these online learning modules address Google Analytics as a broad-based digital analytics platform that handles data from a wide array of sources, even non-Internet-connected applications and appliances. The result, as I’ve experienced it, is that the Google Analytics Platform (yes, that’s the proper noun) is expanding its reach and scope on a weekly, perhaps even daily, basis.
This makes applying activity theories like the cultural-historical remapping of rhetorical theory (CHAT) and actor-network-theory (ANT) quite comfortable. GA as OoS is itself in active flux, continually redefining (perhaps more accurately expanding) itself for a fast-changing connected world.
ChOoSing a Definition
CHAT might describe GA as a representation of practices within a laminated chronotope. As a tool that measures interactions between visitors and web pages, GA collects the results of “mediated activity:… action and cognition [that] are distributed over time and space among people, artifacts, and environments and thus also laminated, as multiple frames or fields co-exist in any situated act” (Prior et al., 2007, emphasis original). The action that gets represented as a visit in GA is loading a specific web page. Cognition gets represented in the action of following a link on a specific page to load a new page or resource. This activity is collected over time in a session, defined in GA as the time within 30 minutes a single visitor, identified by an anonymous, unique identifier and saved in a first-party cookie (“Platform Principles,” 2014) remains engaged within a surveilled website before leaving that domain or expiring the session time. GA represents all of the activity within that session in an aggregated visualization. Session data are collected over time and are the result of laminated activity among people, artifacts (like web pages) and environments (like browsers, computers, mobile devices and the like).
ANT might describe GA as traces of connections among networked actants. Actants captured in a web session might include the visitor, the technological interface (computer/mouse/monitor or mobile device), the web page content and links, the writer of the web content, the host server, the network gateways and cables, and many more too numerous to detail. ANT would likely chafe under the need to define the collecting mechanism itself, however, and suggest that GA might be an artificial data assemblage that needs to be reassembled. Specifically, since GA is a data framework that collects only preselected data points (“Tracking Code Overview,” 2012), GA might be accused of “filtering out” and “disciplining” the data collection: “Recording not filtering out, describing not disciplining, these are the Laws and the Prophets” (Latour 2005, p. 55, emphasis original). More useful might be the preprocessed data collected by Google Analytics servers; processing organizes the web session into a predefined framework, precisely the activity ANT seeks to avoid in its practice.
LOoSe the Nodes
ANT defines nodes as actors, and there are myriad actors (more precisely, actor-networks) at work in GA. From the programmed codes written and interpreted to the software and hardware mediating and displaying web pages to the visitors and writers and programmers to the network providers and databases—ANT accepts any and all of these actants as nodes with the potential of agency. Latour (2005) refers to these objects as “the non-social means mobilized to expand them [the basic social skills] a bit longer” (p. 67) and confesses that ANT will “accept as full-blown actors entities that were explicitly excluded from collective existence by more than one hundred years of social explanation” (p. 69). The implication is that all the technological hardware and software — the GA code, the wired and wireless networks (cables, routers, and servers), and the Google Analytics processes server — work together to enable the web visitor to interact with this creation of the web writer, developer, coder, and marketer. This collective is incorporated at the moment of loading a web page, and its momentary connectivity is both enabled and expanded by agency of the object actors.
Where ROoSt the Nodes?
CHAT locates nodes in hierarchical relationships with one another in the network. Prior et al. (2007) conceive of literate activity producing socialized interaction within the functional system as part of the laminated chronotope of activity in space and time (Take 2: A Cultural-Historical Remapping of Theoretical Activity). In this hierarchy, web visitors are outside the system except during literate activity, defined as interacting with the multimodal text(s) within the site. Web writers, developers, and marketers are members of the functional system where literate activity (defined as creating and instantiating the multimodal text) occurs. The website itself is the functional system; the School gives the system chronological and spatial existence while the University gives the system technological existence. GA collects traces of literate activity among nodes within the functional system of the website, visualized and reported as interactions in space (between pages) and time (within sessions).
ANT flattens the network entirely. Latour’s (2005) conception of ANT works to keep the social flat (pp. 165-172), connecting all of the actor-networks (nodes) within the activity network in a single, non-hierarchical surface. Within GA, this flatness is largely retained within the report. All actor-networks have mediated, translated experiences of web content — there are no intermediary experiences, whether visitor or writer, software or hardware. GA reports a visualization of mediated network activity in a flattened data table. The flattened data table in GA treats the visitor’s web browser or operating system as equally significant to the actor-network represented by the visitor or web writer. Relationships between actors are largely un-disciplined; they are simply reported, regardless of the inherent logic (or lack thereof) in the relationship uncovered.
CHAT stresses an ecological relationship among nodes, limiting that ecology to the natural and material world (Prior et al., 2007). Visitors enter into the functional system of the website and navigate through it. Web writers, developers, and marketers engender the navigation links through the system, giving visitors pathways for narrative production. The website functions as the system, enabling web visits in time and space. The School provides content for the system, while the University provides the localized instantiation of the content in the website. GA records the traces of interactions within the functional system, visualizing them in laminated chronotopes in time and space. GA does not clearly identify the human actors in the network, preferring to aggregate identities. However, GA enables web writers, developers, and marketers to examine the traces of aggregated literate activity by visitors and revise website content and structure accordingly. This provides the opportunity for dialogue among human actors.
ANT stresses incoming connections among interconnected nodes. Latour (2005) frames this according to what it means to be a “whole”: “to be a realistic whole is not an undisputed starting point but the provisional achievement of a composite assemblage” (p. 208). Nodes that have more incoming connections than others are considered more settled and blackboxed, meaning they shift from being merely actors to becoming conduits for the flow of mediators: “an actor-network is what is made to act by a large star-shaped web of mediators flowing in and out of it” (p. 217). Such a star-shaped web of mediators is immediately visible in GA reports: the page in a website that receives the most visits or page views is the most connected page. This page is generally the website’s home page, and its purpose is not to provide content but to allow mediators to flow through it — to allow visitors to find what they’re seeking and connect to it.
WhOoShing through the Network
In GA, visit data — encrypted bits and bytes, assemblages of sequenced zeros and ones — moves from the visitor’s device to the GA server for processing and reporting. The collection process leading up to this movement differs between browsers (mobile and non-mobile) and mobile apps: browsers send data collections with every page load, but mobile apps bundle visit data and send it in timed intervals to protect mobile device battery life. This too simply describes a very complex ecology of network and computer hardware and software that transmits data from web content creators to web visitors to GA servers, but I’m limiting this discussion of movement to data from visitor’s device to GA servers. See the Google Analytics (2014) Academy “Data Collection Overview” video presentation (below) for additional details.
CHAT might describe this movement as distribution in the literate activity of viewing a web page or using a mobile app. Prior et al. (2007) define distribution as “the way particular media, technologies, and social practices disseminate a text and what a particular network signifies” (Mapping Literate Activity). In this case, two distributions occur: the distribution leading to reception (by the web page visitor) and distribution leading to the assemblage of visit data collected for interpretation on GA servers.
ANT might describe this movement as the social. The assemblage of connections from hundreds of thousands of SPCS visitor pageviews flowing into the GA server could be what Latour (2005) calls “the social — at least that part that is calibrated, stabilized, and standardized — [that] is made to circulate inside tiny conduits that can expand only through more instruments, spending, and channels” (p. 241). In this case, the conduits are standardized in the GA’s preselected data points (“Tracking Code Overview,” 2012). When and if GA adds new data points for collection, these tiny conduits would be expanded. This definition also suggests that many other connections remain unsurveyed, Latour’s “plasma.” The assemblage of all connections would be the social fabric of the network.
Meaning Released from the HOoSegow?
CHAT might describe meaning as the result of literate activity in the functional system. Prior et al. (2007) map literate activity as a multidimensional process that can include production, representation, distribution, reception, socialization, activity, and ecology (Mapping Literate Activity). The results of this literate activity are recorded and transmitted from visitor’s devices to GA servers. The meaning of these data points are processed (interpreted) and reported as visualizations. That meaning becomes the basis of analysis; analysis leads to conclusions about visitor behavior, which in turn result in changes to the web content leading to new literate activities.
ANT, on the other hand, ascribes no meaning to the results of CHAT’s literate activity. Latour (2005) remains adamant into the conclusion of Reassembling the Social that the social is dynamic and active, not a substance: “the social is… detected through the surprising movements from one association to the next” (p. 246). As a result, what GA does in processing and visualizing the results of activity in the SPCS website is not about ascribing meaning, but about tracing associations. And because those associations (connections) are mediated by the limited data points collected, the processing done by the GA servers, and the visualizations available, the reassembled social of GA is likely too limited to trace the plasmatic connectivity of the visitor’s web browsing experience.
Networks Emerge, Networks VamOoSe
CHAT and ANT will agree on this: actors initiate, grow, and dissolve networks. Prior et al. (2007) and Latour (2005) build their arguments on the social activities of actors. CHAT engages those actors in literate activity, while ANT engages those actors as connected actor-networks. Only activity on the part of actors can cause the network to emerge. For CHAT, only the activity of web content creators, web developers, database administrators, marketers, and web visitors can generate the first packet of data to flow across the network from visitor device to GA server. For ANT, the list of actors can extend much farther into non-human actants, but the principle remains the same: actors must initiate the network. Actors can grow the network through more visitor sessions — by many measurements, adding visitor sessions and growing session length is my primary professional objective as web manager — and actors can also dissolve the network by removing a web page (authors) or no longer visiting the website (visitors).
GA itself is a fairly limited network. Its boundaries could easily be drawn around the connection between the GA code on the web page or in the mobile app and the GA server. Any other activity that either leads up to the connection or follows the connection — namely writing and viewing a web page or viewing and interpreting GA visualized data — could be seen outside the network. Except that CHAT and ANT seek to problematize such limited perspectives of networks by addressing the activity that enlivens connectivity. So for these two theories, I found myself widening the focus to include the biological (CHAT and ANT) and non-biological (ANT) nodes in the network. This perspective turns into an ecology whose various members are only momentarily connected at the moment of accessing a web page or mobile app. But in that moment, myriad connections reveal actors and build a remarkably complex assemblage of networked components. As a result, I found few limits in CHAT or ANT to addressing GA as my OoS — other than the shortage of meaningful English words that contain the character string “-oos”.
Dahmen, N., & Sarraf, S. (2009). Edward Hopper Goes to the Net: Media Aesthetics and Visitor Analytics of an Online Art Museum Exhibition. Conference Papers — International Communication Association, 1-28.
Digital analytics fundamentals [Online course]. (2013, October). Retrieved from Google Analytics Academy https://analyticsacademy.withgoogle.com/explorer
Google Analytics platform principles [Online course]. (2014, March). Retrieved from Google Analytics Academy https://analyticsacademy.withgoogle.com/explorer
Kirk, M., Morgan, R., Tonkin, E., McDonald, K., & Skirton, H. (2012). An objective approach to evaluating an internet-delivered genetics education resource developed for nurses: Using Google Analytics™ to monitor global visitor engagement. Journal of Research in Nursing, 17(6), 557–579. doi:10.1177/1744987112458669
Latour, B. (2005). Reassembling the social: An introduction to actor-network-theory. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. Clarendon Lectures in Management Studies
Mc Guckin, C., & Crowley, N., (2012). Using Google Analytics to evaluate the impact of the CyberTraining Project. CyberPsychology, Behavior & Social Networking, 15(11), 625-629. doi:10.1089/cyber.2011.0460
Platform principles: Website data collection [Video transcript]. (2014, March). Google Analytics Platform Principles. Retrieved from Google Analytics Academy https://analyticsacademy.withgoogle.com/course02/assets/html/GoogleAnalyticsAcademy-PlatformPrinciples-Lesson2.2-TextLesson.html
Plaza, B. (2009). Monitoring web traffic source effectiveness with Google Analytics: An experiment with time series. Aslib Proceedings, 61(5), 474-482. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/00012530910989625
Prior, P., Solberg, J., Berry, P., Bellwoar, H., Chewning, B., Lunsford, K. J., Rohan, L., Roozen, K., Sheridan-Rabideau, M. P., Shipka, J., Van Ittersum, D., & Walker, J. R. (2007). Re-situating and re-mediating the Canons: A cultural-historical remapping of rhetorical activity [Multimodal composition]. Kairos, 11(3). Retrieved from http://kairos.technorhetoric.net/11.3/binder.html?topoi/prior-et-al/index.html
Google Analytics. (2014, March 11). Google Analytics Platform Principles – Lesson 2.1 Data collection overview [Video file]. Retrieved from http://youtu.be/qQdPXouWeJE
Tracking code overview [Web page]. (2012, October 29). Google Analytics. Retrieved from Google Developers https://developers.google.com/analytics/resources/concepts/gaConceptsTrackingOverview#howAnalyticsGetsData
[Header image: I’m a Google Analytics Geek: Screen capture of the Google Analytics Academy]
My two case study outlines to read were Amy’s and Daniel’s, both of which proved to be extremely thorough and well thought-out.
For her case study, Amy plans to apply both genre theory and activity theory to MOOCs. While her outline is detailed, I’m concerned that she might be trying to do too much for the scope of this assignment. While I see the points of her conversation, I’m not sure how she is planning to discuss each point in relation to the different theories (but knowing Amy, I feel confident that’s something she already knows–it’s just not clear for me from the outline).
Daniel’s outline of applying both CHAT and ANT to Google Analytics is more similar to mine, which is potentially why it’s easier for me to follow. This seemed to be a thoroughly considered plan that conforms to the guidelines and questions of the assignment.
From their comments on their own outlines, I can see that Amy and Daniel were having the same difficulties I was–trying to consider how we’d outlined our rubrics for a case study against the questions. I feel like my outline is pretty bare bones compared to these two, but I was also trying to follow the instructions from Week 7 that said the outline should be an outline of applying theories, not what we would write about. I’m looking forward to reading the feedback my peers give me, but expect they will have had some of the same difficulties in providing feedback that I did.
For this week’s update to my mindmap, I created two new primary nodes–one for Latour and one for Spinuzzi. To Latour I added the primary features of actor-network theory (ANT): it’s an ontology, allows for multiplicity, and considers agency as distributed. To Latour, I added the primary features of activity theory (even though he offers a comparison of the two): distributed cognition, causality, and human agency.
It’s interesting to begin to consider the theories that we’ve read thus far in terms of activity theory and ANT. Even though it at first seems that we might find activity theory easier to understand in terms of analysis methods, I can see where much of what we have read can be seen through the lens of ANT. As Shelley explained, we can consider genre theories (especially Popham’s boundary objects) through ANT by considering how genres might act as actants. Additionally, even Bitzer seems take an ANT approach, positioning events as exigences.
I believe I follow the broad strokes of Latour’s (2005) argument in Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory pretty clearly, but I find the detail he provides in places extraneous and, to be honest, a bit pompous and flippant. Latour recognizes this about himself, and suggests it’s intentional: “I have completed what I promised to do at the beginning, namely to be one-sided enough so as to draw all the consequences from a fairly implausible starting point” (p. 262).
In its broadest strokes, Latour introduces actor-network-theory (ANT) as a means of reassembling what the term “social” means in “the social sciences.” The term “social” has come to mean two things that Latour finds incompatible: “first, a movement during a process of assembling; and second, a specific type of ingredient that is supposed to differ from other material” (p. 1). He is especially critical of “the project of providing a ‘social explanation’ of some other state of affairs” (p. 1). He differentiates between sociology of the social and sociology of association, seeking to replace the former with the latter as a means of moving forward in social scientific fieldwork and production. Given the rapid rate of change that technological innovation introduces, trying to place our existing groupings into already existing categories limits the perspective of social scientists in ways that negate the scientific aspects of the discipline. In a way, Latour is seeking to rehabilitate the social scientific discipline as it appears to become less and less relevant in describing and explaining real, lived experiences and groupings.
One of Latour’s critiques of the social sciences, or the sociology of the social, is the willingness to categorize activity using existing descriptions and categories of social ties without adequately investigating its connections. This resonated with me as I consider what’s happening right now in the Ukraine. Existing frameworks and tools simply do not explain the social, political, and economic situation in that region, especially the speed at which change is occurring. The social sciences address stabilized social situations; ANT seeks to address and examine, perhaps even explain, existing social situations in and through their changes. ANT sees stabilized groupings and collectives as the exception, not the norm. Groupings are always seeking to change, to redefine themselves, to envelope or subsume other groupings. The current mixed reactions to Russians entering Crimea represents this ANT principle — groupings that were considered stable are revealed to have been fomenting, preparing, and making way for change, but economists, sociologists, and politicians missed the signs, likely because they sought to find an existing set of frameworks by which to explain what was happening.
— andrew hosken (@Hoskea10) March 2, 2014
How might ANT reassemble the social in the situation in the Ukraine? First, by seeking groupings from their traces rather than by placing groups into categories. Latour theorizes five areas of uncertainty that can be followed by their traces to identify actor-networks.
- Only action can identify groupings, so the key is to identify specific activities of group formation. Group formation can be revealed in the following traces: an active spokesperson, a set of opposition groupings, frantic attempts to redefine groups on their part of their spokespersons, and the potential for spokespersons to be scientists of the social. Actions are likely to involve mediators, which affect the activity in unpredicted and unpredictable ways, rather than through intermediaries, which are standardized and predictable.
- Actors consist of a “moving target of a vast array of entities swarming toward it” (p. 46). Actors (in the theatrical sense) are always engaged with other entities when acting; the same is true in ANT, where the actor is really an actor-network, being made to act by many others objects and entities. Those objects and entities can includes hidden forces and impetuses that should neither be discounted nor highlighted, simply included among other forces. Neither “true” nor “false” agencies exist; there are simply agencies.
- Objects may have agency as actor-networks consist of all entities that swarm toward actors and make the actor act. The social is defined as the “momentary association which is characterized by the way it gathers together into new shapes” (p. 65). Social skills among actors seek to create connections; non-social means are used to extend these connections a little longer.
- Few matters of fact exist among connections; instead, matters of concern highlight connections. The aim of the sociology of associations: “there is no society, no social realm, and no social ties, but there exist translations between mediators that may generate traceable associations” (p. 108).
- Written accounts tracing the sociology of associations are risky and unlikely to successfully account for the myriad associations existing in an actor-network. However, it is the writing of the account that demonstrates ANT; the writing of the account following ANT principles is the practice of ANT.
Using these areas of uncertainty, we might discover that “Ukraine” is a construct of the sociology of science. What we consider “Ukraine” may not exist among tracings of connections; instead, what exists may be actor-networks engaged in unexpected mediated translations with Russian military leaders, the former Soviet fleet in Sevastepol, Crimean separatists, and Eastern Ukrainian loyalists (each of which is a grouping that needs to be reassembled of its connections, too). In short, written accounts that fall back upon existing sociology of the social groups simply cannot account for the rapidly-shifting transformational landscape of 21st century geopolitics, especially related to the former Soviet Union.
There are other aspects of ANT, of course, including the need to “flatten” the social to eliminate external expectations of scale and importance; the need to identify and redistribute the local among its many actual times and spaces; and the need to highlight “connections, vehicles, and attachments” (p. 220) rather than actor-networks in the social. Such moves applied to the situation in the Ukraine might offer insight into the relative insignificance of the individual actor-networks (political and social leaders, for example) compared to the connections of individual actors gaining multiple connections (mass protests, for example); into the vital importance of history in the Crimean peninsula and technological innovation and substantiation in the Soviet-era Black Sea fleet; and into the importance of unseen, untraced connections that are generating lived experience in real time.
As this brief and incomplete application reveals, ANT seeks a complete redefinition of the political, too, towards seeking a common world we can all access and understand. “What ANT has tried to do is make itself sensitive again to the sheer difficulty of assembling collectives made of so many new members once nature and society have simultaneously been put aside” (p. 259). More specifically, “ANT is simply a way of saying that the task of assembling a common world [a social] cannot be contemplated if the other task [describing the social] is not pursued well beyond the narrow limits fixed by the premature closure of the social sphere [by the sociology of the social]” (p. 260). The world in which we live changes and moves too quickly for a social sciences that is “supposed to be ‘behind’ political action” (p. 261) to effectively or meaningfully describe it.
The lived world is far more complex than the substance and categories traditional social sciences can contain; ANT seeks to provide new methods for understanding the actions of assemblages.
Spinuzzi’s (2008) chapter “How are Networks Theorized?” offers an interesting caveat to this application. While ANT offers an ontology that can explain why or how the Ukrainian situation is what it is, its application can offer little in the way of instruction or development. ANT precludes forward-looking praxis; it can be applied to present and past events, but the unpredictable character of its connections and mediators makes predicting network operations nearly impossible. Activity theory, on the other hand, offers a means for development and education. ANT deemphasizes “development, learning, and cognition” (p. 93). As a practical matter, this means that activity theory offers an epistemology to be applied as praxis, and the theory can be more instructionally operationalized.
Latour, B. (2005). Reassembling the social: An introduction to actor-network-theory. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. Clarendon Lectures in Management Studies
Spinuzzi, C. (2008). How are networks theorized? [Chapter]. In Network: Theorizing Knowledge Work in Telecommunications. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 62-94.
Latour loves the metaphor of the ant — small, seemingly insignificant, myopic. And he takes it as an apt description of his much confused and maligned “theoretical” approach: Actor-Network Theory. Latour says there is nothing wrong with the term except the word “actor” and “network” and “theory” and the hyphen in between. He proposes more of an anti-theory of work-nets traveled by actants — a redefinition of what is described and how it is described. He wishes not to be boxed or contextualized or constructed in terms of others, as that is against the project itself. But it must be called something, so the insignificant ant, which becomes significant through its interactions with other ants, is an appropriate metaphor he embraces. So Latour wouldn’t study the ants themselves, but the paths they travel, the connections they make, the traces they leave, the relationships they foster. But then, how is that different than activity theory, which does a similar project, mapping the movement to various levels of interaction?
Actor-Network Theory is Activity Theory gone meta, with a side of snark. Unlike Activity Theory, ANT does not propose to create a model or accept any fixed stabilities (an infiltration of other French philosophers — looking at you, Foucault and Derrida). Latour says, “ANT claims that it is possible to trace more sturdy relations and discover more revealing patterns by finding a way to register the links between unstable and shifting frames of reference rather than trying to keep one frame stable” (24). In other words, we can learn more by not trying to arbitrarily stop the motion that is “society” and to “solve” the controversies or “resolve” the tensions that create it. An analyst imposing such structures from the outside, or for some political agenda or “social engineering” necessarily changes those s/he is studying, in ways that can approach the kind of paternalistic “designer-as-hero” narrative that Spinuzzi rails against. ANT attempts to allow the actors to be free to “deploy the full incommensurability of their own world-making activities” (24) and for the analyst to never explain or theorize, but only to faithfully describe in ever greater detail. An accurate description requires no explanation, Latour says, and scholars become stymied at their sense of lost importance. If one doesn’t apply a theory, categorize a phenomenon, reason from the theoretical to the practical or from the case study to the generalizable, then what do we do? What importance can we have? How do we “make a difference?”
ANT attempts to make the invisible visible, as does activity theory, but a fundamental difference is in what each theory takes as its nodes/objects. In activity theory, there must be a “thing” — an artifact, an interface, an object, a person, a structure. And by observing the interactions of these structures, the analysts determine the “how” and the “why” and deduce patterns and opportunities for optimization. Spinuzzi says activity theory a theory of “distributed cognition” (which smacks to me as a fragmented unity, with the assumption that there is such a stable unity), while ANT is an “ontology — an account of existence” (62). Spinuzzi notes that both theories are intersecting in work organization, which is interesting, but not surprising as ANT accounts for the movements of “everyday life”, which work (a hierarchical organized system) has now become an inextricable part of. What interests me most about ANT is that it attempts to account for the truly invisible and intangible actors — beliefs and knowledge — that affect the interactions that produce activity, perception, and reality of the actors.
Latour says that the fundamental problem with other sociological theories is an assumption that there is “something else” behind observed interactions (they tautologically and reflexively call this the “social” or “society”), that the movement “from the local to the global and from the macro back to the micro” must be “the shadow image of some entirely different phenomenon” (171) that is theirs to unpack and reveal. I am struck here about how this may/may not play into Platonic thought (which Latour briefly addresses) as well as Jungian shadow theory. I don’t have time to ruminate about this now, but that is going to stick around for a bit. Can the two be reconciled or made to communicate? Anyway, Latour advocates removing this artificial notion of a third dimension called “the social” and flattening interaction to two dimensions. We should not seek to add a layer (a lamination??) to try to understand these phenomenon. Removing these “crinkles” in the 3D map and “ironing” it out on the table removes context and allows us to see what is happening. In addition, we have to give credit to the actors as being mediators and not intermediaries. They are not merely repeating or transporting knowledge and beliefs, but transforming them as they interact. Themselves. Too often, theorists add a “frame[work]” that, as Latour says, does not explain or add to the painting at all.
Money concept: there is no individual and society existing as separate entities, one within the other or ranking above/below the other. Individual/society are two sides of the same coin, two ways of explaining the same thing. They are actor-network, with the hyphen showing how they are one concept, together.
I’m curious about how ANT relates to rhetorical situation. It seems that the response created by the exigence of the situation — and even the interpretation that there is a situation — would be the sort of presumed panoptical megalomania that Latour attempts to break down, in favor of a more narrow oligoptical view that “pins down” reality to a flattened map of interactions. As Vatz noted, a situation is interpreted by the rhetor, who gives it context from previous similar situations, and responds with speech acts that meet
expectations and align with goals. ANT would not, I think, allow for the primacy of the “situation” as an exigence. ANT would map the interactions and expectations without trying to understand why choices were made, only that they were made by the particular actor-network of that moment. The choices made become the movements to study, and the rhetor holds no more importance than others in the interactions. Latour would definitely, I think, not allow Bitzer, because in ANT something such as a “situation” as existing to be discovered by the rhetor does not exist. What exists are webs of relations that dynamically and continuously co-create generate the social and natural world we inhabit.
I place the yin/yang symbol here because I think there may be a useful way to try to approach some of this discussion from a more Eastern (vs. Western) philosophical perspective. The Chinese symbol of yin/yang, imagined as a holistic entity divided into two halves that represent binaries — male/female, dark/light, good/bad, day/night, etc. However, the binaries are not strict–there is dark in the light and light in the dark. Nothing is all one or the other, and BOTH must exist simultaneously to have reality, balance, life, existence. The Cartesian mind/body split has further entrenched our notion of difference, that is recognized, but not divided in Eastern thought. A picture of yin/yang is never recognized to BE yin/yang, only something like a freeze-frame of a video. A capture of a specific moment in time, and the way the swirls were at moment. As soon as it was captured, it was lost, and if we were to build theories upon that observation at that moment, we would be incorrect. That seems to be part of what Latour is trying to say, although with considerably more pomposity and derision of those who disagree with him.
Cultural-historical activity theory (CHAT) opens wide the theory of composition to the laminated materiality, space, and time of rhetoric, elements missing from the classical rhetorical canon that focuses primarily on the rhetor. “CHAT offers a richer map of activity. Where the classical canons mapped the situational, productive acts of a rhetor, this CHAT map points to a complex set of interlocking systems within which rhetors are formed, act, and navigate” (Prior et al., 2007, Core Text, p. 22). Accepting the role these interlocking systems play in rhetoric offers a wide range of cultural and historical data points with which to map, examine, and articulate a discursive act, data points that are simply unavailable to us when describing a discursive act using the classical canon as a framework.
Not only does CHAT open wide composition theory, it also opens wide the eyes of those examining it for the first time, like me. CHAT is deceptively authentic in its understanding and depiction of rhetorical canon. There’s an element of the “duh” tucked within its pages of theory. It’s just so obvious once you start thinking about it. Rhetorical activity is not bound by classical canons; binding it so limits its vision, its breadth and scope. Rhetorical activity as it happens in public and private spaces combines a rich tapestry of histories, cultural memory and practice, semiotic systems, invoked and inscribed audiences, research processes, memory work, and rhetors. It’s an activity system that requires a far more nuanced and layered understanding of discursive formation than classical canons provide. While CHAT may not be the only theory that seeks to address rhetorical activity as actually practiced in real networks or systems, it’s certainly compelling and attractive.
The readings this week coalesced around the three aspects of the CHAT remapped rhetorical canon: literate activity in functional systems in laminated chronotypes (Prior et al, 2007, Core Text, p. 18). These three aspects represent levels working together heterogeneously in the creation, distribution, reception, and function of discourse. These levels are not hierarchical nor sequential; they function as cultural-historical aspects of the activity system that creates discourse. The CHAT rhetorical canon offers a nuanced, detailed, and localized framework for understanding and describing multimodal composition strategies, structures, activities, and assessments: “This perspective tunes our attention to multimodality, not as a question of which mode a message might be placed in, but as a question of how multiple modes operate together in a single rhetorical act and of how extended chains of modal transformations may be linked in a rhetorical trajectory” (p. 23). This concept of rhetorical trajectory embodies the activity of rhetoric in far more nuanced ways than Miller’s (1984) genre as social action or even Bazerman’s (1994) genre system or (2004) activity systems. “Trajectory” denotes a continuing path and connotes, to 20th century audiences, at any rate, the future embedded in space exploration as symbol of greater things to come. CHAT also recognizes the history embedded in genres, as Spinuzzi (2010) pointed out, by noting the rhetorical trajectories emerge from “extended [linked] chains of modal transformations” (Prior et al., 2007, Core Text, p. 23). This theory embodies the idea that discourse embeds within it both potential and actual activity; past, present, and future; rhetor and audience; purpose and symbolic system; context and meaning. And it places all of those aspects of discourse into cultural-historical time/space.
Prior: Remaking IO, Remaking Rhetoric: Semiotic Remediation as Situated Rhetorical Practice
Prior takes as his object of study the act of remediating an art object called IO, an interactive website with words and images. This web text illustrates the laminated process by which an interactive website received an update as a result of an update to Flash 5. Findings demonstrate the deeply-ingrained interaction among multiple media and levels of meaning. Prior calls for closer attention to “the situated and mediated practices of exploring new media” as a result of these findings, and calls upon CHAT as a “rich theoretical framework for exploring such situated, multiply mediated, semiotic and social practices.”
Engaging Quotation and Reaction
“This lamination of history can be seen, for example, in the way the site is organized around both PHP and Pythagoras, the way the web is remediating photography, the way Flash templates and PHP databases are negotiated through gesture (presumably one of our most ancient semiotic systems), and the way paper-and-pencil drawings guide the programming of screen dynamics.” (Prior, 2007)
As I read this piece, I found my daily life described in some accurate detail. I work with visualizations, gestures, orality, documents, databases, and new technologies to complete my daily tasks. In this sense I am multiply modal, but I think I am also historically laminated, perhaps in time and space. For example, I find myself working with the golden mean in mind (using the rule of thirds) when cropping digital images for use in online search advertising landing pages. I find myself relying on classical persuasive rhetoric to write landing page copy for these landing pages, copy that attracts prospective students and situates the potential learning to occur on the campus of the University of Richmond. There are many layers to my day-to-day tasks, and it dawns on me that I might consider them the subject of my doctoral study.
Van Ittersum: Data Palace: Modern Memory Work in Digital Environments
Van Ittersum studies the ways that writers use networked computers to accomplish rhetorical work through the lens of distributed cognition theory. Since knowledge work and memory work — as distributed cognitive processes — are mediated by tools, it’s important to understand ways that those tools influence and affect our memory systems and workflows. Van Ittersum’s project reveals that we need to incorporate these tools and their use in our understanding of memory work as members of the discursive system used to generate texts.
Engaging Quotation and Response
“Looking at memory work in terms of mediated activity expands the kinds of scenes that count as writing activity. For the writers I’ve interviewed, memory work is a central part of their writing, and construction and maintenance of their systems involves significant investments of time and effort.” (Van Ittersum, 2007)
Here’s my first reaction: “OK, so I’m getting a little paranoid now, because this describes so much of my initial and ongoing search for just the right tool for research. In these terms, I’m seeking just the right tools to add to my memory system for memory work as a component of the writing experience.”
Throughout last semester, and entering into this semester, I’ve been seeking just the right technology tool(s) to accomplish three tasks:
- be a space for drafting and keeping track of many drafts in many forms;
- be a space for tracking and recording my research process; and
- be a space for note taking in all forms (visual, aural, text).
I’ve developed a partnership among tools through which I’ve conscientiously developed a system for tracking and recording everything I do as a PhD student. If I read a PDF, I want that text (if possible) and my notes digitized and searchable. If I read a text, I want my notes to be digitized and searchable. If I take class notes, write an in-class response, or do anything else in writing, I want to have digital and searchable versions. (Here’s where I formulated my needs in September 2013: Seeking the Best Research and Writing Tool.)
These tools form a vital part of my memory and knowledge work, and I’ve tried hard to find just the right set. I’ve settled on/for a recipe of Scrivener, Zotero, and iAnnotate (with a soupçon of Evernote for good measure), but I don’t believe I’ve found the ideal set for my needs. One adapts one’s processes to one’s tools, which suggests, as Van Ittersum (2007) reiterates, that the tools themselves affect the knowledge work that I do.
Bellwoar: Digital Health and Feminist (Re)Visionings of Healing
Bellwoar uses the web text to depict the importance of bringing forth aspects, especially invisible aspects, of the health care experience that are not immediately recognized or appreciated. Her depiction of the difference between a healthcare professional’s report on an office visit and the patient’s personal narrative of the visit is striking and disconcerting. The ways in which doctors see patients, especially female patients seen by male doctors, is limited, even shaped, by medical records and forms.
The experience of visiting a doctor is one of being seen in a completely different way from the way one sees oneself. When this is the case, what can be said about the identity of the patient? Does the patient’s identity in the medical files remain clinical and entirely disembodied from the patient’s perceived self-identity? Bellwoar appears to believe that it does, as the mediated experience she narrates reveals very different perspectives on identity and knowledge between patient and physician.
Bellwoar used CHAT to compare the visual privilege of the physician’s experience with the visual privilege of the digital, and warns that seeing is not an objective phenomenon or experience. Seeing is mediated, and it’s important that we recognize and make visible those invisible aspects of seeing that exist in all envisionings.
Although Bellwoar’s web text embedded audio, it remained a largely visual experience, following the pattern of privileging the visual in the digital. As a result, it offered few “quotes” that could be pulled and discussed. However, the web text as a whole caught and kept my attention because it did what Bellwoar called the work of theory: “The work of theory is to make visible that which is invisible” (Bellwoar, 2007). What no one could have known was the affinity I have for her message. My wife is a two-time cancer cervical survivor. She more than understands the invisible character of medical practice. Among other issues she continues to handle almost 20 years after the last surgeries, my wife’s internal organs are, literally, invisible, even on X-ray, ultrasound, and CAT scan. They have migrated as a result of scar tissue and reconstruction. As a result, even when physicians (all but one male) review her films and “see” her organs, they literally have to ask her which organs are which. They can’t see. Only she can see and know. Without seeing the films, she can point out where her organs are in her torso. Her memory and experience are the key to unlocking the knowledge work that her team of physicians need to treat her.
Joyce R. Walker: Constructing a BIG Text: Developing a Multimodal Master Plan for Composition Instruction
Walker’s web text uses the somewhat unfortunate story of an advanced class in public writing at her institution as an instructional and cautionary tale on the importance of explaining CHAT-inspired composition strategies and theories to both first-year writers and to external audiences questioning the value of composition strategies that fall outside of the expectation for standard research writing. She encourages the use of many narratives to tell the story of composed texts, narratives that explain and represent the system-wide work required and completed to create the text, including research into materiality and appropriateness of mode to audience and purpose. The goal of the web text is to articulate a strategy to incorporate CHAT-oriented approaches into FYW classes. She defines the following five steps toward accomplishing that goal.
- FYW must attend to the materiality of texts. It is important to offer students the opportunity to make knowledgeable choices about software, hardware, structural organization, and to examine the rhetorical potentials of different visual, aural, and alphabetical compositions. It is also important for students to understand relationships between experimental compositions and those which can be identified as appropriate to various academic disciplines.
- Course assignments for a CHAT-based first-year writing program must encompass complex compositional processes and must encourage both active manipulation of these processes and reflection about the effects of different compositional choices. These activities must be visible to both course participants and outside audiences.
- CHAT-based writing courses must articulate a research-oriented perspective towards the available compositional choices — students must understand that effective choices can only be made through a rigorous research process.
- Students and instructors can use descriptive narratives to outline, analyze, and make explicit the possible “range of materialities” available for any given composition activity, highlighting not only the choices that composers make, but the robust nature of the research involved in these kinds of composition activities. Narratives also allow composers to include discussion of choices made by those who distribute or receive and make use of the texts in different ways.
- Students should be given the opportunity to test their writing in varius ways in public situations, and to incorporate into their work for the course observations about the life of the text as it moves into the world. (Walker, 2007)
Interesting Quotation and Reaction
“If this is indeed our need, then first-year writing courses must become more fertile, flexible, and associative places for learning, but they must also become locations for research, places where students are asked to interrogate both their writing and their literate practices.” (Walker, 2007)
My immediate reaction was “Yes!!! This is what I’ve realized about my writing class (to which I can’t give the time of day over the weekend because I’m writing my own work and reading my own assignments).” I really have been deeply affected by the research I’ve already done in the PhD program, all one-and-a-half classes in! I teach adult students returning to school, and I want them to come away from my ENGL 201U class with an understanding of writing that applies to all aspects of their lives—personal, professional, and academic. I want them to interrogate their own assumptions about writing and to be conscious of every decision they make about what they write, how they write it, and for whom. This is new for me; a year and a half ago, I wanted students to read texts and writing about them. Now I want them to read themselves as a text, then read the assignment as a text, then read an article as a text, and THEN write into a conversation about that text that takes into account all the readings they’ve done in the process of creating their final text—which could be a new media project. They’re resistant, but putting the process into practical, applicable terms outside academe has had the desired motivational effect.
Technological (Mediated) Issues
I believe one of the most troubling issues facing the use of digital technology in composition is the speed of technological obsolescence. I faced the issue of obsolescence related to technological standards at several turns in these readings. I faced the first challenge in the Prior web text with the very technology that forced the remediation — Flash. My tablet, where I generally read and annotate non-monograph-length texts, won’t run Flash, so I found the experience inconvenient and rooted to one of two technical spaces — my laptop or my desktop. On my desktop the day I tried to watch this text, I never did see any one of the embedded videos in full, because bandwidth issues (likely brought on by the fact that my wife and two daughters were all watching different video streams at the same time) restricted my ability to load the files completely. This made me very conscious of the software, hardware, and network mediating my experience as viewer/reader. These are real and serious considerations, and efforts should be made to develop and utilize platform-agnostic interfaces and programming tools to eliminate these restrictions.
I faced a second challenge in the Bellwoar web text with embedded audio files; as a result, my experience of her web text unintentionally privileged the visual (which she warned against in the content of the text) and affected my reading of the text in negative ways. Neither Chrome nor Safari would successfully play embedded audio files. Ultimately, Firefox was the only browser that appears to have mediate the experience accurately. This, too, made me aware of my mediated experience and led me to wonder about the technical skills of the author—perhaps she designed for a specific browser, failed to adhere to XHTML and CSS standards, or hasn’t updated (remediated) the experience with newer versions of Quicktime. She may even have tested the cross-platform compatibility of the project at the time of its release and found it worked in most major browsers, but changes and updates to browsers and standards may have resulted in the challenges I faced. Issues of obsolescence like this limit the experience for the end user in real and frustrating ways. Had I not been a savvy web user, I would not have even noticed that the project included embedded audio files.
And I faced a third challenge in the Walker piece. In this case, external links caused issues of obsolescence. In Walker’s notes, two external links resulted in errors. The first was a link to what was probably once a free online photo gallery of pictures of the original public writing works that were the subject of the public writing class project. The link pointed to http://good-times.webshots.com/album/547607245HsCYRw?action=&track_pagetag=/page/photo/goodtimes/college&track_action=/ViewActions/FullAlbum, but following this URL results in a fancy 404 error page (the standard “page not found” error code recognized by search engines and crawlers) for “Smile by Webshots.” I assume that Webshots (found in the domain of the original URL) was bought or otherwise acquired by Smile, and the original free gallery either expired or was otherwise removed from the original interface.
The second “dead” external link was to the “Western Herald online Archive” (screen 9 of the web text). In this case, following the URL (http://media.www.westernherald.com/media/storage/paper881/news/2006/02/14/News/English.Class.Explores.Experimental.Writing-2121873.shtml?sourcedomain=www.westernherald.com&MIIHost=media.collegepublisher.com) resulted in a truly dead link, not a 404 error. Based on the variables being passed in the URL, I assume that the Western Herald’s archive at the time of Walker’s writing was hosted by the collegepublisher.com domain. Westernherald.com appears to still be the correct domain for the newspaper, but I could find an archive of back issues or the article via search on the current website.
The apparent lack of publicly-accessible archives is a subset of the issue of obsolescence that will likely affect many external links as time goes on.
These issues make me question whether technology-mediated texts should be composed for long-term or archival consumption. In my opinion, this CHAT space is dated, both in design and technology, and should be remediated for 2014 and beyond. But I recognize that texts are created in space and time, and there are real and serious questions about whether they should be “updated” for futures.
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.
Bellwoar, H. (2007). Digital health and feminist (Re)visionings of healing [Web text]. In P. Prior et al., Re-situating and re-mediating the Canons: A cultural-historical remapping of rhetorical activity [Multimodal composition]. Kairos, 11(3). Retrieved from http://kairos.technorhetoric.net/11.3/binder.html?topoi/prior-et-al/index.html
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