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Final Case Study: Synthesis

Noel Studio Greenhouse, Director's Office, and Artwork

Noel Studio Greenhouse, Director’s Office, and Artwork

Overview

Pedagogically based on writing center philosophies, the Noel Studio is a multiliteracy center with a unique physical space and academic/administrative structure. Occupying 10,000 sq. ft of EKU Libraries’ main building, Crabbe Library, the Noel Studio provides both public and private spaces for consultants, students, and faculty to work.

Comprised of a core administrative staff of five (director, writing coordinator, research coordinator, technology associate, and administrative assistant) and a student staff of approximately forty-five (graduate assistants, undergraduate consultants, desk consultants, and writing fellows), the Noel Studio was created to support the various communication and research projects happening both in and outside of the classroom. To support that mission, the physical space of the Noel Studio contains the Greenhouse (a large, open space with a variety of computers and touch-screen monitors), the Invention Space (equipped with wall-to-wall white boards, a CopyCam, and creative materials), Breakout Spaces and Practice Rooms (small, reserveable rooms with a computer work station, large screen monitors, and recording capabilities), and a communal space that currently serves as an office for technology support.

The Noel Studio is a network of space, people, activity, ideologies, and ideologies that cannot be separated from one another. It is a complex system that impacts and is impacted by larger institutional networks. While at first glance the network-icity of the Noel Studio might appear to exist primarily in its administrative structure the complexity of the Noel Studio is reflected in many different ways.

For example, even though the Noel Studio replaced the existing writing center, it did not simply overtake the writing center’s philosophies, space, or budget. Instead, it became an interdisciplinary space in the main library, an interdisciplinary department under University Programs (UP), and an amalgamation of budget lines from UP, the English Department (graduate assistantships), SGA, and, most recently, an endowment from the initial donors, Ron and Sherry Lou Noel. The collaborative efforts to make the space a reality are seen in the artwork commissioned through LexArt and paid for through the fundraising efforts of the Friends of the Library, the physical structures and features (small and large rooms, glass walls, brightly colored walls and glass), and the upgrades that have been made over the last 3.5 years (more and larger whiteboards, more mobile furniture).

Recognizing the importance of supporting students’ composing practices, some institutions are investing in multiliteracy centers. As the first large-scale multiliteracy center, the Noel Studio has already served as a model for other universities investing in communication initiatives and support services. While many people have visited the Noel Studio for ideas and advice, it’s an often-acknowledged fact that there is no “ideal” organization or plan that fits every writing center or writing program. Instead, each situation is unique and complex in its own right, subject to a multitude of factors. The Noel Studio is not replicable, but using the Noel Studio as an object of study allows us to understand the different options we have for examining the complexity of any given writing program, answering Jackie Grutch McKinney’s (2013) call for writing centers to look beyond the traditional narrative to see and articulate the work we actually do. If we can better see and articulate this work and how our centers and programs exist as nodes within institutional and (inter)disciplinary networks, we can not only help others understand our nodual value, but we can also focus on the connections that strengthen our work and loosen connections that don’t.

Brief Literature Review

In his seminal article, The idea of a writing center, S. North (1984) defined writing centers as far more than fix-it-shops (p. 435) where faculty send their students for remediation. He cited frequent examples of faculty misunderstanding and the frustrations of framing the writing center as a remedial service. Critical of those who misunderstand and misrepresent writing center work, North challenged the field to clarify their services and work towards educating students and faculty to the real role of the writing center: “the object is to make sure that writers, and not necessarily their texts, are what get changed by instruction” (p. 438).

Since then, writing center scholarship has taken up the charge and sought to define the writing center in terms of praxis by investigating the politics of place and space (Nelson & Everts, 2001), the role of administrators as WPAs (Murphy and Stay, 2006), and how writing centers adapt to changes (Carpenter & Lee, 2013; Pemberton, 2003). At the foreground, however, has been a focus of the work that happens in a writing center–the pedagogical approach to both working with student writers and training consultants to do so.

In her recent book, Peripheral Visions on Writing Centers, J. G. McKinney (2013) critiques the narrative of writing centers that has emerged from these examinations. Three themes, she argues, arise as the tropes of the narrative:

  1. Writing centers are cozy homes
  2. Writing centers are iconoclastic
  3. Writing centers tutor (all students)

These themes, she argues are reductive and neglect the complexity of the work that happens within writing center spaces. While Mckinnery begins to trace the complexities of writing center work, she only touches on a deeper investigation. This synthesis, then, examines the Noel Studio primarily in terms of Prior et al.’s Cultural Historical Activity Theory (CHAT), positing that the rhetorical work of writing centers occurs in a much more complex system of activity than traditional rhetorical theories acknowledge. CHAT’s approach identifies levels of rhetorical activity that can be more fully understood by also considering the Noel Studio as labor and ecosystems constituted by social networks.

The Noel Studio as a Center of Rhetorical Activity

As a multiliteracy center, the Noel Studio functions as a center for rhetorical activity. Designed to support all communication projects, the Noel Studio’s mission considered writing, research, and oral communication as the three cornerstones of its rhetorical work. In their chapter, Studio pedagogy: A model for collaboration, innovation, and space design, Carpenter, Valley, Napier, and Apostel (2012) identify six foundational criteria for the Noel Studio’s multiliteracy approach:

1)    Critical and Creative Thinking: Consultants encourage students to engage in convergent (critical) and divergent (creative) thinking regarding, audience, purpose, context, and mode.

2)    Information Fluency: Consultant encourage student to think divergently and convergently about the ways in which students gather, evaluate, interpret, and integrate information into their communication products and practices.

3)    Integrative collaboration: Consultants encourage students to see their communication from multiple perspectives through the feedback process while incorporating insights offered from interactions within the space.

4)    Interactive: Consultants encourage students to think about the dynamics in their collaborative groups and how communication is enhanced through this social process. Consultants promote interaction by allowing students to project ideas in high- and low-tech ways.

5)    Visual: Consultants encourage students to think visually, embracing a design approach that allows students to actively participate with manipulatives and interactive resources

6)    Dynamic: Consultations change with students’ needs and expectations. That is, consultants adapt their methods of consulting.

These criteria, developed by the founding administrators of the Noel Studio, reflect both disciplinary and institutional ideologies. These reflections serve as the foundation for what Prior et al. describe as an expanded theory of rhetorical activity. Laminated chronotopes reflect the underlying ideology of the Noel Studio, as they are embodied, represented, and embedded in its rhetorical activity.

Laminated Chronotopes

Writing Center Ideology: Writing center policies and practices reflect their grounding in process pedagogy. Valuing such ideals as “HoCs over LoCs” (higher order concerns over lower order concerns), “meeting the writer where he’s at,” “minimal marking,” and “making better writers not better writing,” writing centers reflect composition theories that prioritize student reflection, student ownership, and collaboration. Students become better writers through discursive processes (the one-on-one interactions—these are important to writing center peeps…include them and explain why).

Inherent in this belief is the ideal that writing centers do not offer remedial services—rather, they support the growth of all writers in employing rhetorical strategies to develop effective communication. In addition to pedagogical strategies, writing centers also focus on space design as an important component in engaging students, resulting in what McKinney identifies as one of the tropes—writing centers are cozy homes. While the Noel Studio is not designed to be a “cozy home,” the importance of space design for the critical and creative processes of composing is one of its most important elements.

Institutional Ideology: Eastern Kentucky University is a regional university that offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in general and liberal arts programs, pre-professional and professional training in education and various other fields. Established as Eastern Kentucky State Normal School in 1906, EKU began as a school for teachers and that legacy is still visible in the school’s self-described identity as an institution with three primary priorities: instruction, scholarship, and service, but the institution still claims the primary function is teaching (EKU, n.d.).

Like most institutions of higher education, EKU values grades as representations of academic success and predictors of future success. For the institution, success is often defined in terms of retention and graduation rates and programs that can demonstrate direct contributions to retention and graduation through quantitative assessments are more likely to receive funding.

Functional Systems and Literate Activity

From these laminated chronotopes emerge what Prior et al. identify as functional systems. According to Prior et al., “mediated activity means that action and cognition are distributed over time and space, and among people, artifacts, and environments” (pp. 17-18)–or functional systems. These functional systems are tied together by “some array of current objectives, conscious or not” (p.19). The primary objective tying these functional systems together in the Noel Studio is to help students become more effective communicators. Other stated and unstated objectives include creating opportunities for the students who work as consultants, creating an open and creative work atmosphere, and maintaining knowledge and practices to support EKUs evolving communication climate.

And from the functional systems emerge literate activities. According to Prior et al., the “terms of the map of literate activity . . . are not intended to evoke a series of steps, but to signal a multidimensional model” (pp. 19-20). This map of literate activity includes production, representation, distribution, reception, socialization, activity, and ecology. At this level, activity is concrete and visible, encompassing the enactment of rhetorical moves—the actions that enable the work of the Noel Studio to manifest in students creating visible representations of their ideas.

While Prior et al. identify functional systems as ecologies, people, communities, artifacts, and practices, they fail to explain how these functional systems emerge and contribute to the rhetorical activity of the larger network. The ambiguity of these functional systems (and thereby, the literate activities of the functional systems), however, can be better understood by looking at how other theorists have defined these various systems.

Even though the objective of the Noel Studio situates it as a system of rhetorical activity, we cannot ignore its multiple identities. It also functions as a labor system, an ecosystem , and a social network system that operates within the larger economic and social biosphere of EKU. Examining the Noel Studio in terms of its functional systems and literate activities in terms of these other network theories allows us to understand how meaning is made and transformed, how the network grows, evolves, or dissolves, and where operations and connections breakdown (or have the potential to breakdown).

Ecologies: Spellman defines ecology as “the science that deals with the specific interactions that exist between organisms and their living and nonliving environments” (p. 5). The Cary Institute expands on that definition, explaining ecology not just as interactions but as systems: “The scientific study of the processes influencing the distribution and abundance of organisms, the interactions, among organisms, and the interactions between organisms and the transformation and flux of energy.” In the case of the Noel Studio, the “transformation and flux of energy and matter” is actually the transformation of students’ ideas into the creation of texts. In this sense, the staff, students, and physical environment of the Noel Studio interact to create visible representations of ideas.

Madison Middle visits the Noel Studio to work on their Google Sites for the Madison County Historical Society

Madison Middle visits the Noel Studio to work on their Google Sites for the Madison County Historical Society

This representation, or the transformation as the Cary Institute described it, is reliant on not only the affordances (Gibson) of the physical environment but also what Norman identifies as perceived affordances. The more the student and consultant are able to take advantage of the affordances of the environment, the more effective their visual representation.

For example, when a student comes in to work with a consultant, the consultant typically first chooses a spot in the Greenhouse. With no stationary technology in the Greenhouse, the student and consultant can engage in conversation with little distraction from technology. For this example, we’ll say that the student has not yet started to write the paper—she has the prompt and an idea for a topic, but she doesn’t know how to narrow it down or start to organize it. Once the student has explained this, the consultant will ask to see the prompt, the construction of which affords the direction for the student’s paper.

After coming to an agreement about what the student is supposed to do in the paper and that the consultation will focus on brainstorming, the consultant will take the student to the Invention Space. As the consultant is already familiar with the spaces and technologies, she recognizes that the Invention Space affords brainstorming activities. The large whiteboards, CopyCam, and multicolored dry erase markers allow both the student and the consultant to contribute and organize ideas as they become represented through words and images on the dry erase boards. Additionally, revision of ideas is afforded as the representations are easily erased or modified if/when they no longer signify the evolving ideas. Once the student is happy with the representation of her ideas, she and the consultant could use an outline to create an outline—a visible representation of the logical structure of the student’s intended communication. The CopyCam then affords saving, as the student can print a copy of the work, save it as a file on a jump drive, or upload it to the Noel Studio’s CopyCam website.

If time, or in follow-up consultations, the student and consultant would use other spaces and technology in the Noel Studio to proceed through the drafting and revision processes (many times students do so in the spaces without a consultant, too). Together, they might use the Media Wall to conduct research, draft, review, and revise. If it’s a presentation, the student might also use a Practice Room to rehearse the presentation, then move to another space to work through the writing process again.

In each situation, the interactions between the student, consultant, and the tools of the environment transform the student’s ideas as they become represented in the various texts she composes throughout the process. Her (and the consultant’a) ability to perceive the various affordances of the technology that she uses shapes what the final text will look like. Similarly, the constraints of the technology also force her to make decisions, shaping the final project. For instances, if the student’s project is a video that she will share with the class, her construction of the video is reliant not only on her technical skill but also on her ability to perceive what she can and cannot do with the video editing software that she chooses. She knows that she wants to lay down a music track over the images in the video—a rhetorical choice that Movie Maker, iMovie, and most other video-editing software afford—but if she can’t perceive the function of the software, she will have to revise her plan and make new rhetorical choices with the functions she can perceive.

Communities: In this ecosystem of rhetorical activity, growth and balance depend on the population diversity (Spellman) and the abundance of resources, both human and environmental. Considering different groups of students and faculty as the different populations or communities, the ecosystem of the Noel Studio only grows when there is representation from the diverse disciplines, social groups, and demographic groups that make up EKU. Before the Noel Studio opened in 2010, the EKU Writing Center operated in the basement of Case Annex—an old dorm that has been converted to office and classroom space. Isolated to one department (the English Department) in terms of staffing, funding, and use, the Writing Center did not grow. When the Writing Center Director reached out to a new population (EKU Libraries) to discuss a potential collaboration, the idea of the Noel Studio emerged. Discussions between the Writing Center Director and the then-Dean of Libraries prompted further outreach to representatives of other populations, including the Department of Communication, Information Technology, Institutional Effectiveness, and the Office of the Provost. As ideas for what the space could be expanded, these representatives realized the increasing diversity of populations and their interests would require a new physical space.

The increased diversity also increased access to resources, as the English Department would no longer be solely responsible for the full funding (it still contributes to staffing through graduate assistant lines). Working with EKU Libraries Advancement, this newly-formed group was able to secure funding from donors, EKU Libraries, the Provost’s Office, University Programs, and a state grant. Since opening in September 2010, the Noel Studio has continued to increase the population diversity, expanding the Noel Studio Advisory Committee to include representatives from additional communities, including the Office of Undergraduate Research and the Teaching and Learning Center. Additionally, there has been an increase in population diversity among student use and faculty collaborations as we now see every college, social group, and demographic group that constitute EKU represented in the Noel Studio.

The distribution of population diversity, however, is still imbalanced as many communities are under-represented. While the ecosystem does include representatives from the college of Justice and Safety, for example, they are few and far between. If we cannot increase the Justice and Safety community’s interactions with the Noel Studio, that connection may die off as students graduate. As those connections die off, the system becomes less dynamic and resources less distributed as potential sources of funding decrease. If this trend of losing involved communities grew, the Noel Studio as a system would not be able to revert to its previous system of the Writing Center, as the resources and space have already been reallocated within the English Department. As such, the continued existence of the Noel Studio is dependent on increasing and maintaining connections with EKU’s diverse communities.

People: In addition to systems of community, the Noel Studio contains multiple systems of people as well. The primary network of people is the personnel: the administrative staff (director, coordinators, administrative assistant, and technology associate), the consultants (consultants, desk consultants, writing fellows, and graduate assistants), and the students (undergraduate, graduate, and online). Institutional ideology is most predominantly reflected in this component of the functional system, as the personnel structure is hierarchical. The consultants are responsible for the work that most explicitly addresses the objective of the Noel Studio, while the coordinators are responsible for guiding and supervising that work, the AA and technology associate troubleshoot and problem-solve resources necessary for that work, and the director makes programmatic decisions that situates the work within the larger system of EKU.

A social group comprised of undergraduate consultants, research consultants, a desk consultant, and a writing fellow

A social group comprised of undergraduate consultants, research consultants, a desk consultant, and a writing fellow

Within the labor network of people, there are social networks that are formed at and between various levels. As Scott explains, “A social group . . . exists in a field: a social ‘space’ that comprises the group together with its surrounding environment” (p. 11). This surrounding environment is not necessarily the physical space of the ecosystem—rather the space of the social group is constructed by the paths between people and their attitudes. With a full staff of approximately 50 people, interpersonal relationships and social balance is important for establishing a positive working environment. It’s unreasonable to expect that all 50 members of the Noel Studio will have what Scott identifies as “positive” relationships with all other 49 members. As he explains, social subgroups tend to form among people who have aligned ways of thinking and objectives. These subgroupings are evident within the Noel Studio as consultants tend to converge into cliques along their identified roles (their niches): desk consultants, graduate assistances, research consultants, undergraduate consultants, and writing fellows. However, as Scott explains, each person has multiple relations outside of these networks.

Understanding the social networks of the Noel Studio allows us to understand how interpersonal conflicts arise and, potentially, can be resolved with and ever-increasing staff. Thus far, the Noel Studio has had little trouble with conflict which is potentially due to the aligned objectives created by pedagogical and institutional ideologies.

Artifacts:  The artifacts of the Noel Studio are the documents and tools used the employees use to assist in the daily work. The documents and tools used by the Noel Studio employees to assist in the daily work. These include the Records of Consultation, time sheets, handouts and resources, client reports, WCOnline, Google Docs, Outlook, and Facebook.

Spinuzzi explains that relationships, activity, and destabilization that occur can only be identified by examining the relationships of activity and genres (the tools of the work) at three different levels: the macroscopic, mesoscopic, and microscopic levels.  At the macroscopic level is the entire the activity system–the Noel Studio and its makeup (director, coordinators, consultants, desk consultants, etc) and the artifacts it use (Records of Consultation, WCOnline, the furniture, the technology) to achieve the goal of improving students’ communication skills. The mesoscopic level, reveals the actions each of the workers perform in order to achieve the goal and how the instruments mediate those actions. And microscopic level actions are operationalized behaviors.

The distribution of labor within the network is visible through the tools or artifacts that we use and create. For example, a student’s consultation is not only the labor of the consultant who works with him or her. In scheduling the appointment, either the student or a desk consultant uses WCOnline to mediate the scheduling process. When the student arrives, the desk consultant again uses WCOnline to fill out the heading on the RoC (the Record of Consultation) and then mediates the introduction to the consultant with whom the student will be working. At this point, the consultant uses the training that he or she received from the administrative staff (prior labor) to engage with the student. In working towards the goal of the improving student’s communication skills, the consultant and student exchange the labor load throughout the consultation, using both the RoC and the student’s communication product to mediate the exchange. After the consultation, the consultant returns the RoC to the desk consultant who again uses WCOnline to create a digital record of the consultation (the client report). Finally, the desk consultant passes along the RoC to the appropriate coordinator who reviews it and uses it to discuss the consultant’s success within the consultation.

Networks grow and emerge as workers create and modify genres and they dissolve as contradictions, discoordinations, and breakdowns go unnoticed or unaddressed. In the previous example, for instance, we might see a breakdown as the consultant distributes the copies of the RoC. If the consultant forgets to give the student the original, then the behavior is not operationalized and the Noel Studio will be inconsistent (and perhaps perceived as unreliable) in its processes. In response, if a coordinator or consultant notices this breakdown, he or she might develop fix–a new genre–that increases and strengthens the network.

Practices: Spellman emphasizes that each organism in an ecosystem has a specific role, or a niche, to fill. As such, “in order for the ecosystem to exist, a dynamic balance must be maintained among all biotic and abiotic factors—a concept known as homeostasis” (p. 15).The concept of balance is important for all ecosystems and the Noel Studio is no different. However, it is in the functional system of practices that the tension between writing center and institutional ideologies start to emerge. Because of writing center values of process pedagogy, forming “better writers not better papers,” and collaboration and authorship, writing centers (and the Noel Studio) have developed practices that prioritize global concerns over proofreading and editing, discussion over “correction,” and minimal marking. In contrast, because institutions value grades and assessment reporting, there is often institutional pressure to transform writing center practices to focus on product, local concerns, and editing.

These tensions are evident in every aspect of the consultation. From setting goals with students, to filling out the RoC, to having meaningful conversation to meeting faculty’s expectations, consultants try to balance the values they learn in training (and by which they are evaluated in terms of job performance) with the expectations of students, faculty, and higher administration. Despite valuing process and recognizing that students likely need to visit the Noel Studio multiple times for significant improvement in skills, consultants feel obligated to help every student move their project from whatever “grade” it is at to an “A” (as subjectively defined by every instructor at the institution). As consultants face pressure from students, coordinators face criticism from faculty whose ideas of what a writing center should do have, unfortunately, evolved little since North’s 1984 article.

Discussion

This synthesis feels woefully incomplete. I’m not sure if my reasons for choosing my different theories are obvious, so I’ll try to make them explicit here.

I chose CHAT as the overall framework because it explains how activity emerges from rhetorical motivations that are situated in cultural and institutional ideologies. It explains how meaning is embedded in systems that then represent the meaning through the resulting activities. Additionally, it accounts for various types of representation and how context influences rhetorical activity.

Using Prior et al. as a framework, however, was problematic for a few reasons that I tried to address with the other theories. First, it didn’t offer any ways of establishing boundaries for analysis of rhetorical activity. Even though my OoS itself helped set boundaries, much of the action that impacts students’ communication skills occurs outside of the Noel Studio on an individual basis, but examining those influences wouldn’t help us understand the Noel Studio as a network better.

Using Spinuzzi, Scott, and Spellman to define the types of functional systems in terms of a labor network, a social network, and an ecosystem help set useful boundaries and address ways in which the system grows, evolves, and could, potentially dissolve. Finally, they helped explain how the literate activity manifests from the functional systems and laminated chronotopes and how individuals and groups both form complex networks. Additionally, while CHAT accounts for the impact of environment on the rhetorical activity, theories of distributed cognition (Gibson and Norman) explain how that impact happens. In short, each of the supplemental theories attempt to explain the how that Prior et al. neglect.

References

Carpenter, Valley, Apostel, & Napier. (2013). Studio Pedagogy: A Model for Collaboration, Innovation, and Space Design, (pp. 313-329) In Cases on higher education spaces: innovation, collaboration, and technology, (R. Carpenter, Ed.). Hershey, PA: IGI Global.

Carpenter, R. & Lee, S. (2013). Introduction: Navigating literacies in multimodal spaces. The Routlege reader on writing centers and new media, (xiv-xxvi). New York: Routlege.

Gibson, J. J. (1986). The theory of affordances. The ecological approach to visual perception. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

McKinney, J. G. (2103). Peripheral visions for writing centers. Boulder, CO: Utah State University P.

Murphy, C. & Stay, B.L. (2006). The writing center director’s resource guide. New York: Routlege.

Nelson, J. & Everts, K. (2001). The Politics of Writing Centers. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook-Heinemann.

Norman, D. (n.d.). Affordances and design, Retreived from https://docs.google.com/file/d/0BzIskzHsjKsRN0NRRktncjBGb1U/edit

North, S. (1984). The idea of a writing center. College English, 46(5), 433-436. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/377047

Pemberton, M. (2003). The center will hold. Logan, UT: Utah State University Press.

Prior et al. (). Re-situating and re-mediating the canons: A cultural-historical remapping of rhetorical activity. Kairos, 11(3). Retrieved from http://kairos.technorhetoric.net/11.3/topoi/prior-et-al/core/core.pdf

Spellman, F. R. (2008). Ecology for nonecologists. Lanham, MD: Government Institutes.

Spinuzzi, C. (2003). Tracing genres through organizations: A sociocultural approach to information design. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Retrieved from Kindle.

 

 

 

Scaffolding Synthesis: The Cypher as Network

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

MindMap: Week 15

mindmap

For my final mindmap, I had to abandon Popplet. I enlarged all of my nodes, printed the Popplet, and began color coding the lines. I think my biggest frustration was that I wanted color coded lines so that the connections were easier to trace (I also wanted to be able to multicolor the different nodes, but my mind cringed at the unsightly mess that would ensue).

Because last week I began organizing by distinguishing between human and nonhuman agency, that’s what I began with in revising my mindmap again. I removed the nodes that identified agency, though, so I didn’t really feel like I had a starting place, and so I just began drawing arbitrary lines between the many nodes that allowed for human or nonhuman agency.

The challenge of where to begin also plagued me as it came to my next two categories. By groupings and individuals, I meant “does the theory analyze based on groups or individuals”? I realized that the majority of the theories we’ve read this semester break analysis down according to groups rather than individuals. As Latour demonstrated, this is probably due to the challenges of trying to make any sort of statement based on one individual.

I also wanted to account for the theories that considered the potential multiple levels of networks (e.g. CHAT, Spinuzz), which I differentiate from theories that consider the multitude of aspects that form networks (e.g. Latour, Rickerts).

Next, I identified which theories considered systems as hierarchical and which considered them rhizomatic. I did identify starting places for these connections, namely with Deleuze and Guattari as the starting place for rhizomal structures and Althusser as the starting place for hierarchical structures. This is due to their explicit focus on these structures rather than their chronological appearance in either the class or the scholarship.

Finally, I drew connections between the approach used to analyze the networks: whether we begin externally and branch outwards or externally and dig in. I saw this as more than analyzing and individual or a group–instead, I saw the distinctions as a focus on analyzing activities or behaviors  vs. cultures and/or ideologies.

Basically, my revised mindmap is a collection of binaries, but the binaries are not necessarily consistent. There are parallels and oppositions for almost all of these theories. Revising the mindmap and seeing these connections and distinctions definitely helps me think through my Frankentheory a little more and how the ones I’ve chosen help fill in each other’s gaps.

Case Study Synthesis: Outline of a Frankentheory

Frankentheory Outline

 

Which 2 – 4 theories are you choosing and why?

Ecology

  • Allows me to look at the OoS’s role within the larger network (EKU) (ecosystem and biospheres)
  • Explains how the network grows, evolves, dissolves (population diversity)
  • Explains the interrelatedness of groups and environment

Distributed Cognition

  • Acknowledges the importance of the environment for human action
  • Distinguishes between affordances and perceived affordances

CHAT

  • Acknowledges the complexity of rhetorical activity (multiple layers)
  • Considers the ideological foundations and results of rhetorical activity
  • Whereas ecology posits succession, CHAT allows that activity is intentional and rhetorical rather than natural

Actor Network Theory

  • Considers the specific connections at the individual level
  • Allows for non-human agency

How are they similar enough that you can justify getting them to work together? How do they fill each other’s gaps?

Similarities

  • They all acknowledge the difficulty in defining boundaries
  • All consider multiple influences in shaping the network

Gaps

  • Ecology, distributed cognition, and CHAT (activity theory) all center on organisms as actors. Actor Network Theory allows for the agency of non-living actors. It seems that ANT, then, fills in the gap of connecting distributed cognition and CHAT. If non-living objects can serve as mediators rather than simple tools of action, then rhetorical action is transformed by human and non-human interaction.
  • ANT’s focus on the individual makes it difficult to understand any network that is larger than the individual. By combining it with ecology and CHAT, we are able to get a more holistic understanding of the OoS while also acknowledging the importance of the individual’s network. For example, we can look at how the OoS’s approach to improving writing (CHAT) is juxtaposed with an individual’s relationship to writing (ANT).
  • Distributed cognition (what we read of it, anyway) has a very narrow focus—human interactions with the environment that focus on the environment as tools for human action. CHAT and ecology broaden that perspective to understand how those interactions operate within a larger context and their implications.

How do these theories align with how you position yourself as a scholar?

WPA scholar

 

  • Ecology: aligns with my belief that it is important to acknowledge that writing programs operate within the larger network of a university and explains the importance of having diverse groups invested in the program. It also reaffirms that changes to a program are long-lasting and, potentially, irreversible
  • CHAT: recognizes the importance of understanding how ideologies and foundational beliefs (laminated chronotopes) impact the visible structures and literate activity within a program
  • ANT: Focus on the individual’s connections aligns with the idea of writing as a process that is both personal and collaborative. Writing is shaped by the individual’s experiences, which are influenced by other individuals

Digital Media Scholar

  • CHAT: Recognizes that the traditional rhetorical canons are insufficient for mapping digital rhetorical activity (Prior et al. say that they’re insufficient—and always have been—for all rhetorical activity, but the gap seems to be revealed by digital composing)
  • ANT: Acknowledging the agency of non-human actors aligns with digital media scholarship. Changes in available media allow for remediation, influencing and shaping the design choices that people make
  • Distributed cognition: Specifically, affordances and perceived affordances help explain both the designer’s choices AND the user’s uses.

How do these theories align with your own biases and background (the reason you came to this project in the first place)?

  • My background in writing centers and teaching English has taught me to see the writing process as both a personal and a collaborative endeavor. The methods that we use to teach writing are based on a history of praxis that has evolved.
  • I took Louise’s WPA course as part of SDI last summer. While I’ve always perceived that writing programs operate within the larger system of a university, the interconnectedness of seemingly disparate offices, departments, and programs was a big focus of the class. As a result, I chose this OoS partly as a way to better understand that interconnectedness.
  • As the first multiliteracy center of its kind, the Noel Studio presents an interesting case study for examining the numerous external and internal influences on communication processes. As the Coordinator of Writing (the first one, responsible for shaping the position), I feel the pressure of trying to recognize, understand, and account for all of these influences when it comes to training consultants and dealing with student composers.
  • I’ve seen first-hand how non-useful it is to disregard the agency of communication technology when working with students on their communication projects. As Jenny Rice has explained, understanding the affordances of different media impact the invention process and disregarding those affordances limits the potential effectiveness of a text.
  • In terms of design, thinking about how others can perceive and use the affordances of a text is just as important for a student composing a digital text as it is for a student using the technology to compose.
  • I recognize that the Noel Studio is the result of the ideologies, epistemologies, and politics of diverse groups, both institutionally and disciplinary. I also believe that understanding how the Noel Studio operates in terms of networks will inform not only my work but also the work of others at EKU and others in writing, communication, and multiliteracy centers.
  • I acknowledge that each theory has become another thread/connection in my own development as a WPA and Digital Media scholar and that each connection influences my daily approach to working in the Noel Studio.
  • As a doctoral student with an emphasis in Technology and New Media studies, I’ve been examining arguments for a digital rhetorical theory to expand or replace the traditional rhetorical canons. As such, I agree with Prior et al. that the traditional canons are insufficient for mapping rhetorical activity

 

Synthesis…I hope

Theories Which 2 – 4 theories are you choosing and why? Rhetorical Situation Theory: Bitzer, Vatz, and Biesecker provided different approaches to the rhetorical situation, which allow me to consider exigence (problem that invites a response), the rhetor, and the site of communication, respectively. If I utilize my re-proposed Oos, in which I expanded the […]

MindMap April 6: Neurology

Neurology MindMap April 6

Neurology MindMap April 6

For this week’s assignment, I decided to map the way in which neurological principles resemble a network (as we discussed in the class activity) and to link neurology to ecology.

First, I added a new node called “Neurology.” From that node, I added nodes labeled “Nodes,” “Agency,” “Relationships,” and “State of the Network.”

From the “Nodes,” node, I added elements of the neurological process that seem to be nodes. From the “Agency,” node, I added postsynaptic (which only receives) and presynaptic (which only sends), and I added neurotransmitters.

These concepts are also linked to relationships, so I added connecting lines that connected to the words “receptor” and “transmitter,” which were branches from the “Relationship” node. I added another link between these two nodes to show that they are bound together by this relationship. I also added a node called “Movement,” from which I added nodes for the elements that actually move in the process.

From “The State of the Network,” I added nodes that explore those things that cause the network to grow or dissolve Neurogenesis and Neurodegenesis.

As I was reading about neurology, I thought a great deal about ecology, particularly the idea that the individual mind is a system within a system in ecology, so I linked the “Relationships” node in Neurology to the concept of the subsystem in the ecology section.

Because in ecology the relationships are bidirectional, I linked the unidirectionality of presynaptic and postsynaptic elements to the node in ecology discussing bidirectionality. I added a node in the middle of these lines to explore the links.

It seems to me that the unidirectionality in neurology is actually the result of looking at a subsystem within a larger system. If were were to examine the elements of the body that begin to trigger the process again, we would find that there are feedback loops that cause the neurological process to be triggered in the first place, but we only see this if we move out of the examination of the firing of neurons to look at the ecology of the body (biological processes) outside of this micro-level system.

As I was writing this, I realized that I could connect this to the laminated chronotropes in CHAT and to Spinuzzi’s multiple levels of scope in an activity system, so I drew new lines to connect neurology to them. It seems to me that neurology looks at the literal level in laminated chronotropes and it is the micro-level in the activity system.

 


Assignment: Object of Study Week 10, Application

Literature Review

A flurry of scholarship on the underground press emerged in the late 1960s and early 70s. This contemporary scholarship observed the meteoric rise of the underground press and often predicted the long-term impact of an alternative press movement. More recently written histories have synthesized earlier explorations without being influenced by the fervor of the era. Taken together, there essentially emerges two arguments for the role of the Underground Press Syndicate (UPS). [Click here for a more detailed explanation of the UPS] The first, and more dominant argument, is that UPS is significant for its role in bringing together the various newspapers and communities of the counterculture. However, the second argument is that the wide dissemination of materials led to a homogenization of the underground, a “mainstreaming”, that played a role in the eventual perceived irrelevance of the underground press. Some minor contributions ascribed to the UPS include its role in generating revenue for the underground press, archiving the member papers, undermining notions of copyright.

Robert Glessing, arguably the first to scholarly address the underground press in his seminal 1970 text The Underground Press in America, speaks directly to the first point, writing, “[T]he significance of the new left press is that it is a movement. The string that ties the movement together has been the Underground Press Syndicate, the Liberation News Service, and other cooperative agencies” (79). David Armstrong reiterates this point in the 1981 book A Trumpet to Arms, claiming, “With the birth of UPS, the underground press became a true network, growing synergistically instead of in fits and starts” (59). Then again in 2011's Smoking Typewriters, John McMillian summarizes, “Most of these papers were interconnected - whether through a loose confederation called the Underground Press Syndicate (UPS) or a radical news agency called Liberation News Service (LNS) - they also became the Movement’s primary means of internal communication. Absent such newspapers and organizations, the New Left could not have circulated its news, ideas, trends, opinions, and strategies” (6). These assertions clearly argue for a view of the UPS as playing an integral role in the community-building that led to a unified national counterculture movement.

Abe Peck, a founding member of the underground press movement, also lends credence to the idea that the UPS is primarily responsible for nurturing a sense of community among disconnected entities. He writes, “[The UPS] policy of free reuse of material gave readers a sense of a national movement and smaller papers enough material to fill their pages” (71). Ken Wachsberger argues that the redistribution of newspapers through the UPS helped “to plug [one] radical community into radical communities around the country” (qtd. in McMillian 46). James Ridgeway also sees UPS as integral to the growth of the underground, arguing that the “key to success of underground papers lies in their distribution system” (589). Furthermore, the efficiency of distribution allowed the papers to be successfully reflect the “interests of their communities, which means they have brought together…constituencies within the counterculture” (587). Unfortunately, others see this unification as having an overall negative effect on the underground press.

One vocal critic, Jesse Kornbluth, claims that by 1969 the underground movement had lost the initial revolutionary spirit and devolved into another institutional construct. He writes, “It’s difficult to say what destroyed this spirit…what happened, I think, is…an over extended medium became unwittingly professional…Soon most of the underground press read as one paper, and could easily be considered as such” (95). Kornbluth implies here that there are two significant concerns: the professionalization of the underground and the unification of thought.

The UPS did incorporate more structure than did most of the member underground newspapers, which added a professionalism otherwise absent. Tom Forcade, UPS leader, admits to the highly organized nature of the syndicate, claiming that it is an “appliance” that is “part of the plumbing which does things which somebody has to do, but nobody wants to. We are an administrative group, a research organization, a watch-dog agency, and an information bureau” (qtd. in Ridgeway 586). This appliance was also responsible in large part for generating revenue, another mainstream necessity often considered antithetical to the underground mission by those like Kornbluth. Glessing points out that “UPS is that it is not an news service but rather a combination of a library clearing house, a publishing company, and an advertising representative for the underground press” (73). Ridgeway asserts as well that “UPS created and runs an advertising service which provides a substantial amount of income to many underground papers” (586). These aspects of corporatization brought in by the UPS are seen by some within the movement to be responsible for the underground becoming “just another pillar of the society it claims to reject” (Kornbluth 92). The growth supported by the systematized UPS, in this view, makes it “less than ingenuous to accept ‘underground’ status (Kornbluth 94).

The second criticism centers on the way in which news sharing services gave “the underground papers a collective identity” (Armstrong 59). This “consistency of vision” made possible by content sharing through the UPS was problematic (Kornbluth 96). Kornbluth explains, “Most of the papers are printing the same ritualized reports…and cater to an increasingly ingrown audience” (93). Ridgeway agrees that news sharing services like the UPS can “also have an unfortunate effect. The papers…imitate one another much as the daily papers repeat themselves in relying on wire services. There is little local reporting, one of the major reasons for beginning underground papers” (590-1). This homogenization of the underground is a negative consequence for some of the emergence of news sharing services, contrary to the positive view taken by those like McMillian, Peck, and Glessing.

Regardless of whether scholars see the UPS as helping the movement flourish or being responsible for a dulling normalization, there seems to be agreement about the way the UPS served a socially important function as an archive and assault on oppressive copyright laws. The American Libraries Association noted in their bulletin that “Libraries can subscribe to all Underground Press papers (over 70 with an estimated 3 to 5 million in circulation)…For more information write to Underground Press Syndicate…If you don’t need the newspapers, you will certainly want their directory…Tell ‘em the Bulletin sent you” (“…of Note” 9). Ridgeway notes, “The association helps members by microfilming their back issues and selling an underground press library to libraries” (586). The libraries clearly saw the service as being “certainly” important for their work in compiling titles as documentation of the underground. Additionally, the UPS is credited with initiating a conversation about copyright. Ridgeway explains that “members of UPS promise not to copyright articles. Copyright is a form of property and UPS members are opposed to it” (586-7). Glessing also argues for the importance of this mission, adding, “The first rule of UPS [all members agree to free exchange of materials] is perhaps its most significant and served to break down the concept of copyright among underground papers from the start” (70).

Accordingly, these views situate the UPS as a significant actant in the underground press movement with both positive and negative effects on its growth.

Theory as Network

Introduction

The two theories to be applied to the UPS in this case study are Cultural-Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) and the Rhetorical Situation as explored by Richard Vatz and Lloyd Bitzer. First, it is necessary to understand how these theories can be understood as networks of interconnected nodes.

CHAT theorizes that all human activity is “situated in concrete interactions that are simultaneously improvised locally and mediated by historically provided tools and practices.” The interactions “over time and space and among people, artifacts, and environments” create a kind of network that produces human activity (Prior et al, “What is CHAT”). From this epistemological assumption, literate activity is then the result of the interactions in a particular network of tools and practices occurring among a particular network of people and institutions behaving in certain ways. The CHAT authors label these networks of people, institutions, and behaviors as functional systems. These functional systems are then found in chronotypes, or activity in the world, representational worlds, or in material and semiotic artifacts. Because the authors assert that literate activity is “closest in scale to the classical canons and closest to how we see our remapping being used for rhetorical practice,” it is the network on which this case study focuses (Prior et al, “Take 2”). Literate activity exists within ecology which “enables and constrains” other functions: production (how the text is formed by tools and practices), representation (textualization through style, arrangement, and semiotic media), distribution (how the text is disseminated), reception (how the audience makes meaning from the text), socialization (how the text constructs society), and activity (goal-oriented projects) (Prior et al, “Mapping Literate”). These functions are nodes within the network of literate activity, which the diagram below aims to visualize.



Literate activity network embedded in functional systems within chronotypes

Click here to view in Google Drawings 

Similar to CHAT’s literate activity, the rhetorical situation is also understood as a network comprised of interacting functions. Although, Bitzer and Vatz draw their theories of rhetoric production from the same functions, they disagree about which functions are most significant.

Bitzer argues that there first exists a rhetorical situation, a “complex of persons, events, objects, and relations [constraints] presenting an actual or potential exigence” (6). The exigence invites a response from the rhetor in the form of discourse, which can mediate the situation if presented to an audience capable of enacting the change. He argues that “these three constituents - exigence, audience, constraints - comprise everything relevant in a rhetorical situation. When the orator, invited by the situation, enters it and creates and presents discourse, then both he and his speech are additional constituents” (8). These constituents are nodes in a network that produces discourse, but is one firmly centered on the rhetorical situation. The discourse is caused by the situation, and everything emanates from its existence.

Bitzer's argument that discourse networks emanate from a rhetorical situation

Click here to view in Google Drawing

Vatz on the other hand, takes an opposing view. He argues that “no situation can have a nature independent of the perception of its interpreter or independent of the rhetoric with which he chooses to characterize it” (154, emphasis added). The rhetor perceives facts, the urgencies of exigences, and other social facts through the filter of his or her constraints (beliefs, knowledge, ability). The rhetor exercises choice and applies an interpretation in order to create discourse, which creates a situation imbued with salience. He emphasizes that the rhetor does not perceive a situation, but rather through his or her choices and interpretations, the rhetor creates a salient situation for the audience. The rhetor brings the situation into being through discourse, and not the other way around as Bitzer argues. For Vatz, the production of rhetoric relies on anetwork centered on the rhetorician. The constituents may be the same as Bitzer, it is more a question of arrangement and importance.


Vatz's argument that discourse networks emanate from the rhetor

Click here to view in Google Drawing 

These two theories have some overlap in terms of the concepts they assign to the production of texts, but use different terminology.

CHAT
Rhetorical Situation
Literate Activity
Rhetoric, discourse, speech, text
People (Functional Systems)
Rhetor and Audience
Production (“contexts that shape the formation of text”)
Constraints, Exigence
Representation (“entextualization”)
Choice and Interpretation (Vatz)
Ecology (“enables and constrains” all functions)
Situation (Bitzer), Rhetor (Vatz)
Reception
Audience response
Socialization and Activity
Mediation of situation by discourse

Interestingly, the Rhetorical Situation theory does not directly address distribution as a significant function, which aligns with Prior et al’s assertion that the “current-traditional rhetoric effectively shrank the canons to arrangement and style” (Prior et al, “Delivery Problems”).

Another noticeable difference is in the direction of movement within the network. Bitzer and Vatz argue for a very definite hierarchy as rhetoric either stemming directly from the situation or the rhetorician. They are both hierarchical with movement in only one direction. One the other hand, the CHAT authors explain that “the terms of the map of literate activity (production, representation, distribution, reception, socialization, activity, and ecology) are not intended to evoke a series of steps, but to signal a multidimensional model” (Prior et al, “Mapping Literate”). The diagrams depict this fundamental difference in how these theories operate as networks.

Definition and Nodes
How does the theory define the object of study?

CHAT would define the UPS as a literate activity. Recall their argument that activity is “situated in concrete interactions that are simultaneously improvised locally and mediated by historically provided tools and practices” (Prior et al, “What is CHAT”). The concrete, interpreted as tangible, interactions of the UPS were in the receipt and exchange of member publications. There were also occasional UPS conferences where editors of the founding papers met to discuss the direction and purpose of the syndicate. These interactions were certainly improvised locally as individual papers would select the content they wished to contribute and reprint. Mediation, or alteration, occurred through historically provided tools like light boards, cutting knives, and mimeograph machines common in the arrangement and production of newsprint in the pre-digital era, but also by the UPS staff who would determine what content would be redistributed in the bi-monthly packets. UPS members also mediated their activity through the historical practice of information distribution from a clearinghouse, like the AP.

Bitzer would argue that the emergence of the UPS is a response to a rhetorical situation. The founding members were invited to respond to the exigence of the mainstream media’s failure to reflect counterculture values. There was also the problematic situation of an uncoordinated movement scattered across the country with many newspapers operating in locales more isolated from the broader radical community. This response is rhetorical because the audience, other underground press papers, were able to mediate the situation upon receiving the discourse UPS created.

Vatz would alter this argument to center not on the situation, but on the founders of the UPS’s perceptions of the world around them. Through their choices and interpretations, they created discourse in the form of a membership network and the actual content packets. These creations then gave salience to the idea that community needed to be built among underground press, to fortify their messages and fill the information gaps in the mainstream media. The audience of other underground papers were then in a position to perceive the situation the UPS created with its discourse.

What are network nodes? How are they situated in the network?

What defines the UPS more specifically as literate activity is based on the interpretation of nodes. In the CHAT-as-network theory, nodes are the elements that work together to produce literate activity: production, representation, distribution, reception, socialization, and activity. These nodes are situated within the node of ecology, the constraints of the natural world. The production node includes the “collective invention” of texts, which was facilitated by the UPS as member newspapers eventually became a collaborative artifact through reprinting. The representation node encompasses genre; the UPS genre is information dissemination service. The node of distribution is particularly relevant to the UPS as its primary role was to actively collect and widely disseminate underground papers. Reception is a node often “shaped by writers and distributors”. The UPS as a distributor shaped meaning for the members, especially those located in the kinds of communities Wachsberger spoke about. It brought the ideals, news, art, and culture of the counterculture to the disenfranchised, helping them to form their own identities, politics, and activism. In this way, the UPS also embodied the node of socialization, the creation of society. Glessing, Peck, and McMillian all made the argument that the UPS helped build a society of radical thinkers and was in large part responsible for the emergence of a unified movement. Lastly, the node of activity involves “goal-oriented” projects that bring people together in cooperation. The UPS project had the goal of disseminating and preserving the underground press. The number of people needing to come together in cooperation to ensure this goal is impressive particularly for the sustained success the syndicate enjoyed in a time when the nature of action tended toward the ephemeral.

Bitzer and Vatz utilize the same nodes, although they are situated differently. As stated previously, the nodes are positioned in a hierarchy with either situation or rhetor in the originating position. However situated, the important nodes are audience, rhetor, situation, discourse/response/speech, exigence, and constraints. The UPS audience was the member papers who received the packets and then their readers who benefited from the enhanced content. As the literature review noted, libraries were also an audience for the UPS papers or at least the directories. The node of rhetors, applying choice and interpretation, would have been occupied by the UPS editors compiling the packets, procuring advertising, and determining the rules for operation. The node of situation was a collection of social problems including injustice, war, conscription, and restricted personal freedom about which member papers were inspired to write (Bitzer) or that rhetors inspired audiences to care about (Vatz). The exigence node was comprised of the urgent changes needing to be effected stemming from the situations. These would have clearly included the absence of an underground community, the non-representation of subaltern voices in mainstream media, and the mediation of the inequities seen in society. The node of discourse is the produced texts - packets, new papers, and directories. The constraints node was anything that served to restrict or limit the production of discourse - whether they were social constraints like the harassment and legal obstacles many underground papers faced making it more difficult to publish or personal constraints like political beliefs that shaped the production or selection of content.

Both CHAT and Rhetorical Situation see the necessity of multiple types of nodes working together to construct the UPS network, whether that be discursively or linearly. CHAT seems to have a more democratic structure with all nodes working together, building toward something. Rhetorical Situation suggests privileging one node over another.

Assignment: Object of Study Week 10, Application

Literature Review

A flurry of scholarship on the underground press emerged in the late 1960s and early 70s. This contemporary scholarship observed the meteoric rise of the underground press and often predicted the long-term impact of an alternative press movement. More recently written histories have synthesized earlier explorations without being influenced by the fervor of the era. Taken together, there essentially emerges two arguments for the role of the Underground Press Syndicate (UPS). [Click here for a more detailed explanation of the UPS] The first, and more dominant argument, is that UPS is significant for its role in bringing together the various newspapers and communities of the counterculture. However, the second argument is that the wide dissemination of materials led to a homogenization of the underground, a “mainstreaming”, that played a role in the eventual perceived irrelevance of the underground press. Some minor contributions ascribed to the UPS include its role in generating revenue for the underground press, archiving the member papers, undermining notions of copyright.

Robert Glessing, arguably the first to scholarly address the underground press in his seminal 1970 text The Underground Press in America, speaks directly to the first point, writing, “[T]he significance of the new left press is that it is a movement. The string that ties the movement together has been the Underground Press Syndicate, the Liberation News Service, and other cooperative agencies” (79). David Armstrong reiterates this point in the 1981 book A Trumpet to Arms, claiming, “With the birth of UPS, the underground press became a true network, growing synergistically instead of in fits and starts” (59). Then again in 2011's Smoking Typewriters, John McMillian summarizes, “Most of these papers were interconnected - whether through a loose confederation called the Underground Press Syndicate (UPS) or a radical news agency called Liberation News Service (LNS) - they also became the Movement’s primary means of internal communication. Absent such newspapers and organizations, the New Left could not have circulated its news, ideas, trends, opinions, and strategies” (6). These assertions clearly argue for a view of the UPS as playing an integral role in the community-building that led to a unified national counterculture movement.

Abe Peck, a founding member of the underground press movement, also lends credence to the idea that the UPS is primarily responsible for nurturing a sense of community among disconnected entities. He writes, “[The UPS] policy of free reuse of material gave readers a sense of a national movement and smaller papers enough material to fill their pages” (71). Ken Wachsberger argues that the redistribution of newspapers through the UPS helped “to plug [one] radical community into radical communities around the country” (qtd. in McMillian 46). James Ridgeway also sees UPS as integral to the growth of the underground, arguing that the “key to success of underground papers lies in their distribution system” (589). Furthermore, the efficiency of distribution allowed the papers to be successfully reflect the “interests of their communities, which means they have brought together…constituencies within the counterculture” (587). Unfortunately, others see this unification as having an overall negative effect on the underground press.

One vocal critic, Jesse Kornbluth, claims that by 1969 the underground movement had lost the initial revolutionary spirit and devolved into another institutional construct. He writes, “It’s difficult to say what destroyed this spirit…what happened, I think, is…an over extended medium became unwittingly professional…Soon most of the underground press read as one paper, and could easily be considered as such” (95). Kornbluth implies here that there are two significant concerns: the professionalization of the underground and the unification of thought.

The UPS did incorporate more structure than did most of the member underground newspapers, which added a professionalism otherwise absent. Tom Forcade, UPS leader, admits to the highly organized nature of the syndicate, claiming that it is an “appliance” that is “part of the plumbing which does things which somebody has to do, but nobody wants to. We are an administrative group, a research organization, a watch-dog agency, and an information bureau” (qtd. in Ridgeway 586). This appliance was also responsible in large part for generating revenue, another mainstream necessity often considered antithetical to the underground mission by those like Kornbluth. Glessing points out that “UPS is that it is not an news service but rather a combination of a library clearing house, a publishing company, and an advertising representative for the underground press” (73). Ridgeway asserts as well that “UPS created and runs an advertising service which provides a substantial amount of income to many underground papers” (586). These aspects of corporatization brought in by the UPS are seen by some within the movement to be responsible for the underground becoming “just another pillar of the society it claims to reject” (Kornbluth 92). The growth supported by the systematized UPS, in this view, makes it “less than ingenuous to accept ‘underground’ status (Kornbluth 94).

The second criticism centers on the way in which news sharing services gave “the underground papers a collective identity” (Armstrong 59). This “consistency of vision” made possible by content sharing through the UPS was problematic (Kornbluth 96). Kornbluth explains, “Most of the papers are printing the same ritualized reports…and cater to an increasingly ingrown audience” (93). Ridgeway agrees that news sharing services like the UPS can “also have an unfortunate effect. The papers…imitate one another much as the daily papers repeat themselves in relying on wire services. There is little local reporting, one of the major reasons for beginning underground papers” (590-1). This homogenization of the underground is a negative consequence for some of the emergence of news sharing services, contrary to the positive view taken by those like McMillian, Peck, and Glessing.

Regardless of whether scholars see the UPS as helping the movement flourish or being responsible for a dulling normalization, there seems to be agreement about the way the UPS served a socially important function as an archive and assault on oppressive copyright laws. The American Libraries Association noted in their bulletin that “Libraries can subscribe to all Underground Press papers (over 70 with an estimated 3 to 5 million in circulation)…For more information write to Underground Press Syndicate…If you don’t need the newspapers, you will certainly want their directory…Tell ‘em the Bulletin sent you” (“…of Note” 9). Ridgeway notes, “The association helps members by microfilming their back issues and selling an underground press library to libraries” (586). The libraries clearly saw the service as being “certainly” important for their work in compiling titles as documentation of the underground. Additionally, the UPS is credited with initiating a conversation about copyright. Ridgeway explains that “members of UPS promise not to copyright articles. Copyright is a form of property and UPS members are opposed to it” (586-7). Glessing also argues for the importance of this mission, adding, “The first rule of UPS [all members agree to free exchange of materials] is perhaps its most significant and served to break down the concept of copyright among underground papers from the start” (70).

Accordingly, these views situate the UPS as a significant actant in the underground press movement with both positive and negative effects on its growth.

Theory as Network

Introduction
The two theories to be applied to the UPS in this case study are Cultural-Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) and the Rhetorical Situation as explored by Richard Vatz and Lloyd Bitzer. First, it is necessary to understand how these theories can be understood as networks of interconnected nodes.

CHAT theorizes that all human activity is “situated in concrete interactions that are simultaneously improvised locally and mediated by historically provided tools and practices.” The interactions “over time and space and among people, artifacts, and environments” create a kind of network that produces human activity (Prior et al, “What is CHAT”). From this epistemological assumption, literate activity is then the result of the interactions in a particular network of tools and practices occurring among a particular network of people and institutions behaving in certain ways. The CHAT authors label these networks of people, institutions, and behaviors as functional systems. These functional systems are then found in chronotypes, or activity in the world, representational worlds, or in material and semiotic artifacts. Because the authors assert that literate activity is “closest in scale to the classical canons and closest to how we see our remapping being used for rhetorical practice,” it is the network on which this case study focuses (Prior et al, “Take 2”). Literate activity exists within ecology which “enables and constrains” other functions: production (how the text is formed by tools and practices), representation (textualization through style, arrangement, and semiotic media), distribution (how the text is disseminated), reception (how the audience makes meaning from the text), socialization (how the text constructs society), and activity (goal-oriented projects) (Prior et al, “Mapping Literate”). These functions are nodes within the network of literate activity, which the diagram below aims to visualize.



Literate activity network embedded in functional systems within chronotypes

Click here to view in Google Drawings 
Similar to CHAT’s literate activity, the rhetorical situation is also understood as a network comprised of interacting functions. Although, Bitzer and Vatz draw their theories of rhetoric production from the same functions, they disagree about which functions are most significant.

Bitzer argues that there first exists a rhetorical situation, a “complex of persons, events, objects, and relations [constraints] presenting an actual or potential exigence” (6). The exigence invites a response from the rhetor in the form of discourse, which can mediate the situation if presented to an audience capable of enacting the change. He argues that “these three constituents - exigence, audience, constraints - comprise everything relevant in a rhetorical situation. When the orator, invited by the situation, enters it and creates and presents discourse, then both he and his speech are additional constituents” (8). These constituents are nodes in a network that produces discourse, but is one firmly centered on the rhetorical situation. The discourse is caused by the situation, and everything emanates from its existence.

Bitzer's argument that discourse networks emanate from a rhetorical situation

Click here to view in Google Drawing
Vatz on the other hand, takes an opposing view. He argues that “no situation can have a nature independent of the perception of its interpreter or independent of the rhetoric with which he chooses to characterize it” (154, emphasis added). The rhetor perceives facts, the urgencies of exigences, and other social facts through the filter of his or her constraints (beliefs, knowledge, ability). The rhetor exercises choice and applies an interpretation in order to create discourse, which creates a situation imbued with salience. He emphasizes that the rhetor does not perceive a situation, but rather through his or her choices and interpretations, the rhetor creates a salient situation for the audience. The rhetor brings the situation into being through discourse, and not the other way around as Bitzer argues. For Vatz, the production of rhetoric relies on anetwork centered on the rhetorician. The constituents may be the same as Bitzer, it is more a question of arrangement and importance.


Vatz's argument that discourse networks emanate from the rhetor

Click here to view in Google Drawing 
These two theories have some overlap in terms of the concepts they assign to the production of texts, but use different terminology.

CHAT
Rhetorical Situation
Literate Activity
Rhetoric, discourse, speech, text
People (Functional Systems)
Rhetor and Audience
Production (“contexts that shape the formation of text”)
Constraints, Exigence
Representation (“entextualization”)
Choice and Interpretation (Vatz)
Ecology (“enables and constrains” all functions)
Situation (Bitzer), Rhetor (Vatz)
Reception
Audience response
Socialization and Activity
Mediation of situation by discourse

Interestingly, the Rhetorical Situation theory does not directly address distribution as a significant function, which aligns with Prior et al’s assertion that the “current-traditional rhetoric effectively shrank the canons to arrangement and style” (Prior et al, “Delivery Problems”).

Another noticeable difference is in the direction of movement within the network. Bitzer and Vatz argue for a very definite hierarchy as rhetoric either stemming directly from the situation or the rhetorician. They are both hierarchical with movement in only one direction. One the other hand, the CHAT authors explain that “the terms of the map of literate activity (production, representation, distribution, reception, socialization, activity, and ecology) are not intended to evoke a series of steps, but to signal a multidimensional model” (Prior et al, “Mapping Literate”). The diagrams depict this fundamental difference in how these theories operate as networks.

Definition and Nodes
How does the theory define the object of study?

CHAT would define the UPS as a literate activity. Recall their argument that activity is “situated in concrete interactions that are simultaneously improvised locally and mediated by historically provided tools and practices” (Prior et al, “What is CHAT”). The concrete, interpreted as tangible, interactions of the UPS were in the receipt and exchange of member publications. There were also occasional UPS conferences where editors of the founding papers met to discuss the direction and purpose of the syndicate. These interactions were certainly improvised locally as individual papers would select the content they wished to contribute and reprint. Mediation, or alteration, occurred through historically provided tools like light boards, cutting knives, and mimeograph machines common in the arrangement and production of newsprint in the pre-digital era, but also by the UPS staff who would determine what content would be redistributed in the bi-monthly packets. UPS members also mediated their activity through the historical practice of information distribution from a clearinghouse, like the AP.

Bitzer would argue that the emergence of the UPS is a response to a rhetorical situation. The founding members were invited to respond to the exigence of the mainstream media’s failure to reflect counterculture values. There was also the problematic situation of an uncoordinated movement scattered across the country with many newspapers operating in locales more isolated from the broader radical community. This response is rhetorical because the audience, other underground press papers, were able to mediate the situation upon receiving the discourse UPS created.

Vatz would alter this argument to center not on the situation, but on the founders of the UPS’s perceptions of the world around them. Through their choices and interpretations, they created discourse in the form of a membership network and the actual content packets. These creations then gave salience to the idea that community needed to be built among underground press, to fortify their messages and fill the information gaps in the mainstream media. The audience of other underground papers were then in a position to perceive the situation the UPS created with its discourse.

What are network nodes? How are they situated in the network?

What defines the UPS more specifically as literate activity is based on the interpretation of nodes. In the CHAT-as-network theory, nodes are the elements that work together to produce literate activity: production, representation, distribution, reception, socialization, and activity. These nodes are situated within the node of ecology, the constraints of the natural world. The production node includes the “collective invention” of texts, which was facilitated by the UPS as member newspapers eventually became a collaborative artifact through reprinting. The representation node encompasses genre; the UPS genre is information dissemination service. The node of distribution is particularly relevant to the UPS as its primary role was to actively collect and widely disseminate underground papers. Reception is a node often “shaped by writers and distributors”. The UPS as a distributor shaped meaning for the members, especially those located in the kinds of communities Wachsberger spoke about. It brought the ideals, news, art, and culture of the counterculture to the disenfranchised, helping them to form their own identities, politics, and activism. In this way, the UPS also embodied the node of socialization, the creation of society. Glessing, Peck, and McMillian all made the argument that the UPS helped build a society of radical thinkers and was in large part responsible for the emergence of a unified movement. Lastly, the node of activity involves “goal-oriented” projects that bring people together in cooperation. The UPS project had the goal of disseminating and preserving the underground press. The number of people needing to come together in cooperation to ensure this goal is impressive particularly for the sustained success the syndicate enjoyed in a time when the nature of action tended toward the ephemeral.

Bitzer and Vatz utilize the same nodes, although they are situated differently. As stated previously, the nodes are positioned in a hierarchy with either situation or rhetor in the originating position. However situated, the important nodes are audience, rhetor, situation, discourse/response/speech, exigence, and constraints. The UPS audience was the member papers who received the packets and then their readers who benefited from the enhanced content. As the literature review noted, libraries were also an audience for the UPS papers or at least the directories. The node of rhetors, applying choice and interpretation, would have been occupied by the UPS editors compiling the packets, procuring advertising, and determining the rules for operation. The node of situation was a collection of social problems including injustice, war, conscription, and restricted personal freedom about which member papers were inspired to write (Bitzer) or that rhetors inspired audiences to care about (Vatz). The exigence node was comprised of the urgent changes needing to be effected stemming from the situations. These would have clearly included the absence of an underground community, the non-representation of subaltern voices in mainstream media, and the mediation of the inequities seen in society. The node of discourse is the produced texts - packets, new papers, and directories. The constraints node was anything that served to restrict or limit the production of discourse - whether they were social constraints like the harassment and legal obstacles many underground papers faced making it more difficult to publish or personal constraints like political beliefs that shaped the production or selection of content.

Both CHAT and Rhetorical Situation see the necessity of multiple types of nodes working together to construct the UPS network, whether that be discursively or linearly. CHAT seems to have a more democratic structure with all nodes working together, building toward something. Rhetorical Situation suggests privileging one node over another.

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

CHAT discusses the role of delivery as both mediation and distribution. The choices involved in the distribution node seem to speak to agency. The staff at the UPS mediated content; decisions were made as to which elements of which papers would be included in the packets. The production node made up of the tools, would likely also contain the member papers that contributed the raw materials for building packets. They also could exert agency over whether or not they joined UPS, over what to submit, and over what to reprint in their collective texts. In the activity node, writers, artists, editors and UPS staff had agency over participation in the goal-oriented project. At its core, the UPS relied on individual contributions of time, creativity, and work (assembling packets, administrative tasks). Without drawing any salaries, these individuals controlled the UPS functions, and it was their conscious choices to take part that kept it going. The reception node allows for some audience agency, although reception is often shaped powerfully by the activity creators. The UPS audience being member papers, here again content selection allows for some freedom of choice; however, as Kornbluth and Ridgeway argue, certain content was popularized (like illustrations by Crumb and Cobb) leading to a homogenization that betrayed true choice. There seems to be less agency in the socialization node and the formation of a society could be established with very passive or casual association with the UPS. Simply being on listed on a directory would be enough to be incorporated in this node, but would not be enough to argue for any real control over the network. Even papers who ceased to participate in sending content, or even ceased publication, were often still included in the list of members.

Bitzer would likely argue that the situation is powerful in that it initiates the discourse creation, but the audience node maintained a high level of agency given that they have the power to exact change on a rhetorical situation whereas the situation merely exists and does not do. This model would see the readers and member papers as having the most agency because they were in a position to engage in activism and political pursuits that could alter the problems being written about. Vatz though gives the rhetor node more control as he or she makes choices and interpretations that create a sense of importance for a situation that the audience receives. Here the UPS editors making selections of content and the member papers' editors choosing content would exert the most agency in the network. Under Bitzer’s model, the rhetor seemingly has little agency because the exigence is so strong that it compels a response and that response will be controlled by a set of constraints and audience considerations. The UPS and member papers then are simply responding to the exigencies rather than acting with internal motivation. Conversely, Vatz would argue that the situation (war as injustice, for example) is a node without any autonomy. All of its properties are determined by the discourse that is constructed by the editors and writers, from whom all agency stems in Vatz’s network.

As it was with how the nodes are situated, node agency in the CHAT approach is more equally distributed. Some choice is possible within each node to varying degrees; however, Bitzer and Vatz present theories that strongly restrict agency, with many nodes only being acted upon without any autonomy.

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

The various contributing papers as production nodes and the UPS editors in shaping the representation, distribution, and reception nodes work together in the activity node toward that goal-oriented project. In this way, the relationship between the nodes is collaborative. This seems to be at the heart of how CHAT remaps the canon, with Prior et al explaining, “audiences are constantly active, co-producers of the configuration of footings and the discourse itself” (“The Rhetorical Scene”). Member papers contributed, UPS editors selected and distributed, member papers reprinted. The cyclical direction of these relationships was continuously repeated and evenly placed the burden of producing packets and papers on nodes occupied by both groups and their nodes. Therefore, the discourse of the counterculture movement was co-produced by the texts and the audiences.

For both Bitzer and Vatz, the relationship between nodes is authoritative and unilateral. It is authoritative because of the lack of agency in the network aside from the rhetor (Vatz) and the situation and audience (Bitzer). This also means that each writer has created a network in which the direction of the relationship emanates down from one node to the next in a series of steps. Nodes only interact with one another by receiving from one and then dictating to another sequentially. However, Bitzer suggests there is some element of the cyclical because after the audience is made aware of the situation, they can effect change on it. The UPS under this network is either a byproduct of situations needing mediation or the discourse created by meaning-makers to influence the audience to accept a situation exists and needs mediation. Neither of these approaches though seems an apt description because with much of the underground authority and sequential, orderly progressions were not the common approach to work. These models discount the often remediation that occurs in the underground networks as information is shared, altered, subverted, emulated, shared again, debated, and compiled in a system that actively worked to eliminate leaders or concentrate powers.

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

Content and meaning change the readers who are exposed to it as it moves through the network. The CHAT authors explain this phenomenon as psychagogia. They explain, “Plato (1989) defined (true) rhetoric as a psychagogia—the leading or formation of people's souls through discourse (public and private)” (Prior et al, “Society and Socialization”). When I've interviewed editors and writers of these publications, however successful or unsuccessful the paper might have been, the genuine desire to effect positive change as suggested by the quote was always there. The participants in the movement often risked harassment by local authorities or other negative consequences, yet the belief in the cause was strong enough to overcome those drawbacks. It was a sincere hope that readers and communities would be altered by the contents, that social and political change would occur as the souls of people were touched and shaped. As content moves through the UPS, it changes attitudes, beliefs, and values. What is moving is emotion and a sweeping change.

Vatz and Bitzer have less dynamic explanations for content. After initially being shaped by the either the situation, exigencies, rhetor and/or constraints, the message moves unchanged through the audience. Unlike CHAT's assertion that the audience co-produces the meaning, the rhetorical situation posits that the message in constructed singularly. Therefore, the message is moving through the network, but there is only passive reception of it. Content may be shaped by certain forces like constraints or interpretation, but these changes are controlled and limited and do not persist after the discourse is created. Again, this understanding is limited in its application to the UPS because its work was discursive. Many people created, shared, recreated, and reshared the information until there was a collaborative, unified invention. With discourse created and shaped in so many network nodes of the UPS, it is not feasible to think of content moving and changing as Bitzer and Vatz would see it.

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

“A ‘good’ rhetoric neglected by the press obviously cannot be so ‘communicative’ as a poor rhetoric backed nation-wide by headlines” (Burke qtd. in Prior et al, “The Rhetorical Scene”). This seems to speak to the movement's purpose for being. The contributors to the movement would argue that the mainstream media promoted "poor rhetoric", misleading stories about success in Vietnam for instance, while "good rhetoric" was being ignored and therefore not communicated. The power of the mainstream media to spread unreliable or unrepresentative rhetoric needed to counteracted by an alternative media that would focus on "good rhetoric". The network emerges as a response to the poor rhetoric, but will not easily grow due to mainstream neglect, political and community push back, and contributor unreliability. The UPS dissolves as the member newspapers, part of the production node, fold or their contributors move on to other projects. Also, the activity node that sees work as building toward a goal-oriented project easily becomes splintered as different members want to work toward different goals. This is especially true as Vietnam ended. That single unifying force divided into other areas of activism like women's liberation and the environment, and eroded the network growth as the projects of the activity node diverged.

Networks in the rhetorical situation grow as responses to situations or when a rhetor imbues salience in a situation. These are both reactions; growth is reactionary. This works well to understand the UPS as a network because its purpose was a response to perceived defects in mainstream media and a lack of community or support for underground papers outside large urban centers. The newspapers themselves were reactions to social problems. It also helps to understand how the network dissolved as a result of a lack of response. Many in the underground became disillusioned after change came slowly or not at all. As the movement realized that love was perhaps not all that was needed to sustain people, the idealism often expressed in the movement faded. Many people decided to retreat from the movement, favoring instead the building of personal utopias in the country rather than trying to bring those ideals to the masses. Without strong reactions to continue to develop discourse, the networks fade.  

Conclusion

The application of CHAT to the UPS allows for an equal consideration of each component node. What this means is that the remapping of canon taking place in CHAT tends to situate objects as equally important to the making of meaning in discourse. The production tools are as important as the audience and as important as the distribution methods. These nodes are not positioned in a particular order or hierarchy, rather they co-produce and exchange information throughout the process. This allows for a discussion that elevates the UPS from a simple "appliance", addendum to the "real" work of the underground, to something equal in its significance to the movement overall. 

The rhetorical situation restricts discourse to specific nodes in a specific order. The process of making meaning is far less of a collaboration than a guided response. It allows the thinking of the UPS in terms of where is meaning is shaped, by whom, and for whom. We can either understand the UPS as a response to social facts or as the discourse created by rhetors actively shaping a situation for the audience. These are helpful if we think of these processes not as exclusive, as Bitzer and Vatz claim, but as part of the process of constructing meaning. These approaches do not allow for the collaboration that was so integral to the UPS, but they do highlight the important role various players in those collaborations held. We cannot discount the role that the social situations provided, the impetus for creation. Nor can we discount the choices and interpretations of the editors and writers who often shaped the audiences' values and thinking, creating a combined reaction that was necessary to effect change. If we consider Bitzer and Vatz as not mutually exclusive processes but as enmeshed layers, then their ideas become far more useful in explaining the UPS.   

Works Cited


Armstrong, David. A Trumpet to Arms: Alternative Media in America. Los Angeles, Boston: J.P. Tarcher, 1981. Print.

Glessing, James. The Underground Press in America. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1984. Print.

Kornbluth, Jesse. “This Place of Entertainment Has No Fire Exit: The Underground Press and How it Went.” The Antioch Review 29.1 (Spring 1969). 91-99. Print.

McMillian, John. Smoking Typewriters: The Sixties Underground Press and the Rise of Alternative Media in America. New York: Oxford UP, 2011. Print.

“…of Note.” ALA Bulletin 63.1 (January 1969). 8-14. Print.

Peck, Abe. Uncovering the Sixties: The Life and Times of the Underground Press. New York: Citadel Press, 1991. Print.

Prior, Paul, et al. “Delivery Problems." Re-situating and Re-mediating the Canons: A Cultural-Historical Remapping of Rhetorical Activity. Kairos 11.3 (Summer 2007). Web. 17 Feb. 2014.

---. “Mapping Literate Activity.” Re-situating and Re-mediating the Canons: A Cultural-Historical Remapping of Rhetorical Activity. Kairos 11.3 (Summer 2007). Web. 17 Feb. 2014.

---. “The Rhetorical Scene.” Re-situating and Re-mediating the Canons: A Cultural-Historical Remapping of Rhetorical Activity. Kairos 11.3 (Summer 2007). Web. 17 Feb. 2014.

---. “Take 2: A Cultural-Historical Remapping of Rhetorical Activity.” Re-situating and Re-mediating the Canons: A Cultural-Historical Remapping of Rhetorical Activity. Kairos 11.3 (Summer 2007). Web. 17 Feb. 2014.

---. “Society and Socialization,” Re-situating and Re-mediating the Canons: A Cultural-Historical Remapping of Rhetorical Activity. Kairos 11.3 (Summer 2007). Web. 17 Feb. 2014.

---. “What is CHAT." Re-situating and Re-mediating the Canons: A Cultural-Historical Remapping of Rhetorical Activity. Kairos 11.3 (Summer 2007). Web. 17 Feb. 2014.

Ridgeway, James. “The New Journalism.” American Libraries 2.6 (June 1971). 585-592. Print.

Case Study #2: Apply CHAT and ANT – CH[A(N)T] – to Google Analytics

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

Screen capture of Google Analytics data model

Visualization of the laminated chronotope in Google Analytics. In this overview of the Google Analytics data model, the user (a CHAT node) engages with web content in space (interaction) and time (session).

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

CHAT might define nodes as literate activity “among people, artifacts, and environments” (Prior et al., 2007). Using this definition, GA includes such human nodes as website visitors, web writers (including CSS, XHTML, JavaScript, and other programmers), website designers and developers, and marketers who determine the content of the web pages and websites. In the case of the SPCS GA account, institutional nodes would include the University of Richmond and the School of Professional and Continuing Studies, each of which contributes in a meaningful way to the visual and textual rhetoric of the site. Working together as an ecology in the functional system of the website, these nodes would all be aspects of CHAT’s literate activity. Visitors might be ascribed limited agency for their roles in reading content and authoring linked narratives. Web writers, marketers, and developers would have full agency as content creators. The website itself is ascribed no agency; it’s not considered part of the natural ecology of the network. Institutional entities (UR and SPCS) have minimal agency as regulators of environment and work.

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.

FootlOoSe Nodes

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.

Screen capture from YouTube video

Visualization of Google Analytics data points. The tracking code packages visit (hit) data in an image request that looks like this. Screen capture from Google Analytics Platform Principles – Lesson 2.1 Data collection overview

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).

ClOoSing Thoughts

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”.

References

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]

Mind Map #8: L8

This week’s mind map is, I believe, a week late. I really didn’t think about posting until I saw others post theirs, and it dawn on me that I should have added some nodes and connections in my map. So I did, but I didn’t try to add anything more specifically related to ANT. Instead, I found video visualizations that applied to the three theories we’ve most recently studied: CHAT, hypertext, and ANT.

Screen Shot 2014-03-16 at 9.29.25 PM

Mindmap #8: Adding Video Visualizations for CHAT, HT, and ANT

The ANT video demonstrates the need to reassemble the social that inspired Latour: a willingness and desire to discuss social as a “thing” that exists rather than as a networked relationship that leaves traces but only exists in the moment of connection.

The hypertext video demonstrates the hype of hypertext without exactly demonstrating how that hype actually, well, improves or changes the way we think about reading, writing, and texts.

And the CHAT video takes a very concrete approach of applying activity theory to a project aimed at developing custom user experiences for autistic students and their teachers and parents.

This time around, having spent a week of Spring Break taking a little break from the daily grind of class preparation, I just wanted a little bit of the concrete. The videos offered an opportunity to think more practically, or at least more visually, about topics that are swirling around my head in ever-more-complicated eddies and vortices.

[Feature Image: Visualization Wall – Molecular Data. CC licensed image from Flickr user Andrew Lenards

Response to Peers’ Outline for Case Study #2 Theories

As my peers and I work toward the second case studies of our Objects of Study, we had to do an outline of the two theories we will be applying. Not an outline of what we would be writing, but of the application of the theories. I peer reviewed Leslie’s and Chvonne’s outlines. This assignment was more of a challenge than I usually find for peer reviews as the task was centered on giving comments for theory application without anything really being applied (that part comes next).

I started with Leslie’s outline as she sets forth her plan for putting Spinuzzi’s Genre Tracing and Prior et. al’s CHAT into conversation with one another. It’s interesting because both theories have to do with people’s relationship with technology and local solutions. Seeing her outline makes me curious about how my own OoS will reveal technology as agents and the relationship they will have to people.

As for Chvonne’s outline, she also chose CHAT to be paired with Genre Theory. I really the picture she took of a whiteboard with her mapping of the two theories; it was a great tool for conveying how she was holistically seeing her second case study. I am looking forward to seeing how CHAT’s remapping of the rhetorical canon to make way for new activities and technologies merging with people’s intentions in  conveying/persuading/arguing, especially with the creators of CHAT not being completely in their definitions of some of their terms. I am also curious to see how Snapchat plays out with Genre Theory as Chvonne has labeled it a closed network, with the rhetorical community located outside of the app.

In Which I Reveal My Deep and Abiding Love for Korean Drama:

*Warning: melodrama and mushy scenes contained within*


OoS Outlines Reflection

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.


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


Le mew, Le purr, Le CHAT

Je pense en français ce semaine, après de visiter le pays. J’ai mangé trop, et je suis très fatigué, mais Paris est belle. Alor, je retourne à l’anglais maintenant. Merci pour me l’ecoute!

Mon Popplet est ici: http://popplet.com/app/#/1573054.

This week, I added information from Cultural-Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) and Prior et al’s remaking of the rhetorical canons into three levels of activity. I attempted to connect those three levels to Spinuzzi’s three levels: Microscopic, Mesoscopic and Macroscopic. I began to wonder if the would correspond, with acculturation and external motivations  corresponding (laminated chronotropes) corresponding to the level of strategy and the big picture of social action. I did not connect this to the social action node on my network, though, as I believe there are two definitions of social action at work throughout these texts: one that is complicit with the dominant discourse and one that is resistant.

I’m in the process of mediating and remediating my thinking via this mindmap. It is becoming a laminated chronotope of layers of my thinking, with various embodied constructs; an externalization of my internalized thoughts as I interact with the activity system created by this course. I am the subject, interacting with an object (CHAT theory) and the objective (to map my thinking), using artifacts (my computer, Popplet), guided by rules (of the assignment, of the encoded capabilities of Popplet), with a motive (understanding, good grade, esteem) and my labor is evidenced via this distributed knowledge that is the Popplet, which is part of my blog, which is part of the class blog, which includes my classmates’ blogs, which links to other content on the web. My cognitive processes are, then, mediated by this interaction.

I’m beginning to think of LARP mechanics, costumes, and utterances as “tools”, which are “embodied constructs” and maybe that is a way to think about the non-diagetic elements creeping across the game boundaries to influence play. If the tools/artifacts themselves contain these constructs, then the game is a lamination, a layering of them, brought into “play” through their use. Thus players are constantly mediated by their culture; but that would be out-of-game and in-game capital and situation.

 

 

Mindmap #6: Getting a Little CHATty

In this week’s mindmap I found myself struggling to remember where things were to which I wanted to connect CHAT. I added a node for Prior et al. (representing the core text and the various operational representations included in the Kairos Remediating the Canons topic) and for CHAT, with its three basic areas of focus: literate activity occurring in functional systems within laminated chronotopes. I also connected CHAT to a theorized, but not especially effectively operationalized, theoretical construct.

Mindmap visualization

Mindmap #5: Getting a Little CHATty (and very crowded) – Popplet

At this point in the term, theoretical stances and their connections to one another are starting to blur in annoying, but also somewhat useful, ways. As time puts distance between my reading of theorists (like Bazerman and Foucault), I find that I’m able to pick up on general concepts within those theories rather than specific theoretical positions. I recognize the importance of recalling and applying specific theoretical positions, and I’m not suggesting I’ve lost the ability to do so (although it may take a little note reading to do it effectively). But in drawing connections among theorists and theories, I’ve found that having a general understanding of major concepts provides tools needed to more accurately draw connections.

For example, as I inserted CHAT into my mindmap, I immediately recognized that CHAT’s functional systems are roughly analogous to genre tracing’s activity system, so I drew a connecting line between those two aspects. CHAT sees the functional system as a social aspect of rhetoric in the same way genre tracing conceives of activity systems as consisting of social groups whose members are influenced by impulses toward centrifugal or centripetal change.

While I can’t always articulate the specific way(s) that theories match, understanding some of the major concepts provides a quick connectivity that can be tested and supported (or refuted) as needed. This has been useful to me, as I find myself too often sucked into trying to understand very specific aspects of theoretical stances (what is that historical a priori, after all, and does it relate in any way to the laminated chronotope?) rather than working to grasp a macro-view of the concepts as they work together to form the theory. I suppose I’m continually seeking to see theory operationalized or revealed in an OoS, and that only rarely happens (Spinuzzi being the delightful exception).

To date, I have found our theorists building upon one another.

  1. Bitzer and his respondents start working on the rhetorical situation.
  2. Foucault (see part 1 and part 2) examines in minute detail discursive formations to develop conceptions of statements, discourse, and archives of discourse.
  3. Bazerman, Miller, and Popham start examining the socially active aspects of rhetoric and start theorizing rhetorical systems.
  4. Rhetorical systems need to be assessed, so DWAE addresses some of the issues and questions surrounding our assessment of online networked discourse.
  5. Systems are the focus of Spinuzzi, who addresses the way genres work with and against one another within systems.
  6. And Prior et al. demonstrate that even our understanding of rhetorical systems needs to be questioned, problemetized, and expanded to address Bakhtinian time-space and its relationship to literate activities in those systems.

Each theory builds on the work of its predecessors in clear and specific ways, ways that are much easier to see as we travel farther away in time-space from Bitzer, Biesecker, and Vatz. I’m pretty sure hypertext theory is going to problematize this seemingly smooth (in hindsight) transition from theorist to theorist.

Problematizing theory is clearly the goal, both of this class and of scholars of rhetoric. It’s rather enjoyable, if sometimes wickedly selfish and self-immolative. Do we face the possibility that we’ll problematize ourselves out of defensible theories?

sad cat picture - no more theory

And blog about that new theory, too!

[Rock Inclusions: Might these be laminated chronotopes, too? Creative Commons licensed image from Flickr user Travis]