To wrap up this week’s focus on CHAT, I created four new nodes and connected them outwards. Two of the nodes are lists of rhetorical activity canons, the first being that of the classical canon and the second being that of CHAT creators’ second remapping of that classical canon. I put both lists up here because the classical canon ties directly to the works of Bitzer, Vatz, and Biesecker, which are exactly what the CHAT creators seem to be working to revise. I also connected the remapping list to Spinuzzi’s three scopic levels of analysis as I am interested in seeing what comparisons can be made between his macrosopic, mesoscopic, and microscopic to CHAT’s laminated chronotopes, functional systems, and literate activity. They may have very little in common (or nothing), but I am curious as to how each is applied to different kinds of networks and how those setting up of systems are similar.
For the third node I added, I integrated a quote of what CHAT is and is not (essentially, what it rejects and wishes not to be associated with). I included this because it will help me to remember what the creators of CHAT were trying to accomplish and why, what they were working against and what theory they are using to accomplish their goals. This also helped me to understand how they saw the network they were proposing of rhetorical activity in a digital world. I tied this node to the overarching node of rhetorical activity that I had set up for Bitzer and Vatz, but then also linked it with Bitzer’s idea of the rhetorical situation that “rhetoric is situational.” I made this particular link because their definition, with its focus on activity that is both local and historical, seems to decouple and then reestablish how views of rhetorical situations that Bitzer had held as true since CHAT seems to give more agency to everything and everyone that would be involved in the emergence of a rhetorical situation (and, in a way, their definition reminded me of both Foucault and Spinuzzi in their discussion of the historical but also the local).
The last node I added had very similar links as the third node since it discusses why the classical canon needed to be (basically) stripped down, tossed out, and replaced with newer concepts that not only fit a digital age, but also helped to capture the entirety of classical rhetoric. The creators of CHAT declared in their “Core Text” that the five original canons were not even enough in terms of ancient Greece’s relationship with rhetoric, which I find interesting, though I wish I understood their perception of deficiency a bit more.
And So the Sunshine Returns:
Welcome to the next entry of my Reading Notes. I wish there could be slight moments of fanfare when your eyes drift over the words, but alas, technology has yet to match the madness of the mind. Ah, anyways, on to the real “reading out” performance: cultural-historical activity theory (code name:CHAT).
And so we begin…
Where to start? How to begin? What to describe? All things should begin with Wonderland: “‘Begin at the beginning,’ the King said gravely, ‘and go on till you come to the end: then stop.” This week’s readings centered on CHAT with the many authors (listed below in the Citations section) of the Webtext Core Text seeking to re-map rhetorical activity. The website they have designed is very much a network in and of itself, complete with a map of nodes that guide readers/viewers through a series of articles/webpages/audiofiles (they promise that there are times when the viewer gets to choose between three options with how the content will be delivered). This setup seems to perfectly mirror the very remapping the authors are proposing. And this call for a remapping begins with them listing the five canons associated with ancient rhetoric:
“Invention (inventio, heuresis)
Arrangement (dispositio, taxis)
Style (elocutio, lexis)
Memory (memoria, mneme)
Delivery (actio/pronuntiatio, hypokrisis)” (“Core Text” 1)
From there, the writers relate how canons like “delivery” and “memory” have since become obsolete with the rise of literacy and then again with the emerging dominance of the digital. They make the case that instead of constantly reforming these canons, especially ones that no longer apply, to fit evolving demands of rhetors and audiences, new concepts (“mediation,” “distribution,” “mediums”) should be created: “Given these multiple limits, we argue that it makes more sense to begin remapping rhetorical activity, to trace distribution and mediation, than to attempt to retrofit this ancient tool to do varieties of work it was never designed to address” (“Core Text” 8). In order to map out for their readers why they wish to remap rhetorical activity canons, the authors draw upon those who have reconfigured applications of those five canons and those who point out flaws in their continuance. The example that stuck out most to me was the idea of delivery and how delivery had been more in the way the orator had presented himself/herself in tone, appearance, and so on, but now has to include elements beyond a person’s physical body and include choices in regards to how someone is filmed (camera angles were a part of the example). In the digital age, delivery would have to include, font styles and size, images included in the document/video file/blog/tweet/Facebook Message, what website the text appears on and in what format. This goes far beyond what the Greeks had intended and the idea of mediation and distribution does seem like better choices (especially in light of Cloud computing and social media outlets in a technologically globalized world).
In the place of the original canons, they introduce two attempts at remapping rhetorical activity, though for the sake of space I will only include the second attempt:
This CHAT project is very cool and reminds me a lot of the other theorists we have read so far. The section explaining exactly what CHAT is (remember that it is the cultural-historical activity theory, emphasis on the theory, though the practical applications are there too) seems to resonate with Spinuzzi’s discussion of worker agency in his book Tracing Genres, as happens with their discussion of how they see human activity within the framework of CHAT: “CHAT rejects the notion that human action is governed by some neo-platonic realm of rules, whether the linguistic rules of English, the communicative norms of some discourse community, or cognitive scripts for acting in a particular situation. It argues that activity is situated in concrete interactions that are simultaneously improvised locally and mediated by historically provided tools and practices. Those tools and practices range from machines, made-objects, semiotic means (e.g., languages, genres, iconographies), and institutions to structured environments, domesticated animals and plants, and, indeed, people themselves” (“What is CHAT?”). Again, there is the pushing back against the platonic, and now it goes beyond the five canons mentioned above, but what interested me most was the idea that “activity is situated in concrete interactions that are simultaneously improvised locally and mediated by historically provided tools and practices.” This sounded rather like what Spinuzzi was calling for when he suggested that information designers take the solutions of workers and integrate them into a system that was not such a universal solution that the “solution” only became another system for workers to tweak or work around.
There was another quote I especially liked from the “What is CHAT?” section: “Distributed activity inevitably crosses social and historical boundaries so that activity, people, and artifacts are always heterogeneous. In activity, people are socialized (brought into alignment with others) as they appropriate cultural resources, but also individuated as their particular appropriations historically accumulate to form a particular individual. Socialization (learning) simultaneously makes people and societies because what is appropriated and individuated is also externalized in activity and, thus, alters the social.” This quote reminded me of both Popham (boundary crossing) and Foucault (socialization and individuation occurring simultaneously and altering each other in a cycle of human activity). I am intrigued by the image of a person being brought into alignment with social norms and knowledge, and yet becoming a “particular individual” in how they receive, adapt, merge, react again, and eventually absorb the experiences they have with society and culture. I may have been born within the same set of circumstances as my younger brother, but our experiences, personalities, and external factors have made us very different people; how we see the world, how we see human activity, how we interact with society, how we accept and discard parts of our two cultural heritages are not the same. It’s a very Wrinkle in Time kind of moment.
On a side note: I definitely had a fangirl moment when I read Van Ittersum’s node on the Digital-Palace as it reminded me of the BBC’s new version of Sherlock with the great detective’s “mind palace.” While Sherlock does sport a mind palace much like I imagine ancient Greeks to have constructed within their own minds, this technique of Sherlock’s makes him more computer-like that ancient rhetorician. If we met someone whose memory functioned like the ancient Greeks, would we also consider them more cyborgian since our memories now seem to be intricately linked to the Google search bar on our smart phones?
For one of the sections I chose to supplement the main body of this week’s readings, I chose JodyShipka and Bill Chewning “Live Composition: Four Variations of a Telling.” At first, I was a little disconcerted by the formatting of the presentation (not quite the right term, but it will do for now, I guess), but after I settled into reading and viewing the “live composition” Shipka’s student, Ben, as he worked towards Music Day, I found that I was really impressed with what the researchers and this student had done. The act of composing live changes the shape of rhetoric by combining elements of oratory (they do include audio files, but there is also the sense of composing in “real-time,” which is a term I pull from video games, because there was no time to refine the texts) as well as the semi-permanency of written compositions (the text may be in real-time, but it still has an archive of what occurred, what was written and said). The whole project was multimodal (images, sounds, words on a digital platform as well as having been written/drawn with pen-and-paper/pencil), becoming a networked project between the composer and the researchers. I want to spend a bit more time looking over the project before I apply any theories beyond the hardware theory, though I am leaning towards a desire to apply boundary genres.
Kairos and Community Building
The other reading I chose was “Kairos and Community Building: Implications for Literacy Researchers” by Mary P. Sheridan-Rabideau. I chose this particular section mainly because of the community building in relation to literacy researchers as I wanted to see how a researcher would approach the restructuring of a community’s foundation when literacy and remapping rhetorical activities become something to sort of “take back” (not take back so much as adapt in the wake of a digital era that seems to enable our tendencies towards isolation, even when we are standing together in a room). The section was not quite what I was expecting (though it made more sense after I looked up exactly what kairos meant). I like how Sheridan-Rabideau slowly built up the practical applications of the remapping of rhetorical canons using the example of the Artist Now’s billboard and the process with which it was established by the community (politicians fighting, despite both being potential candidates for helping the organization) and then placing that artifact within its cultural and historical framework. Nothing exists in a vacuum, especially not community projects. I am curious to see how well CHAT is/will be/has facilitated the growth of Artists Now in light of Sheridan’s closing comment: “Such an inquiry into the everyday reasoning of rhetors requires a mapping of both the broad cultural-historic factors that shape the production of institutions and people and of the ways these productions become enacted in local contexts.” Like the statements from the section “What is CHAT?” about activity being both local and culturally-historically placed, this section became for me a concrete example of how this notion can be drawn out from the theoretical realm and into activities being done by people who are (or wish to be) actively engaged within in their own communities.
Paul, Prior. “Remaking IO, Remaking Rhetoric: Semiotic Remediation as Situated Rhetorical Practice.” Re-situating and Re-mediating the Canons: A Cultural-Historical Remapping of Rhetorical Activity. Kairos, n. d. Web. 15 Feb. 2014.
Prior, Paul, Janine Solberg, Patrick Berry, Hannah Bellwoar, Bill Chewning, Karen J. Lunsford, Liz Rohan, Kevin Roozen, Mary P. Sheridan-Rabideau, Jody Shipka, Derek Van Ittersum, and Joyce Walker. “Webtext Core Text.” Re-situating and Re-mediating the Canons: A Cultural-Historical Remapping of Rhetorical Activity. Kairos, n. d. Web. 15 Feb. 2014.
Prior, Paul, Janine Solberg, Patrick Berry, Hannah Bellwoar, Bill Chewning, Karen J. Lunsford, Liz Rohan, Kevin Roozen, Mary P. Sheridan-Rabideau, Jody Shipka, Derek Van Ittersum, and Joyce Walker. “Introduction + Navigation.” Re-situating and Re-mediating the Canons: A Cultural-Historical Remapping of Rhetorical Activity. Kairos, n. d. Web. 15 Feb. 2014.
Prior, Paul, Janine Solberg, Patrick Berry, Hannah Bellwoar, Bill Chewning, Karen J. Lunsford, Liz Rohan, Kevin Roozen, Mary P. Sheridan-Rabideau, Jody Shipka, Derek Van Ittersum, and Joyce Walker. “What is CHAT?” Re-situating and Re-mediating the Canons: A Cultural-Historical Remapping of Rhetorical Activity. Kairos, n. d. Web. 15 Feb. 2014.
Sheridan-Rabideau, Mary P. “Kairos and Community Building: Implications for Literacy Researchers.” Re-situating and Re-mediating the Canons: A Cultural-Historical Remapping of Rhetorical Activity. Kairos, n. d. Web. 15 Feb. 2014.
Shipka, Jody and Bill Chewning. “Live Composition: Four Variations of a Telling.” Re-situating and Re-mediating the Canons: A Cultural-Historical Remapping of Rhetorical Activity. Kairos, n. d. Web. 15 Feb. 2014.
Van Ittersum, Derek. “Data-Palace: Modem Memory Work in Digital Environments.” Re-situating and Re-mediating the Canons: A Cultural-Historical Remapping of Rhetorical Activity. Kairos, n. d. Web. 15 Feb. 2014.
Introduction and CHAT Defined
The introduction to the text provides a clear overview of the argument that the author’s make in the core texts and provides a clear definition of CHAT (cultural-historical activity theory).
I think perhaps the most important thing to take away from the introduction is the central argument behind CHAT:
It argues that activity is situated in concrete interactions that are simultaneously improvised locally and mediated by historically provided tools and practices.
Another key statement is the construction of mediated activity:
Mediated activity involves externalization (speech, writing, the manipulation and construction of objects and devices) and co-action (with other people, artifacts, and elements of the social-material environment) as well as internalization (perception, learning).
Add to this the idea that:
Mediated activity also means that action and cognition are distributed over time and space among people, artifacts, and environments.
Webtext Core Text
The Webtext Core Text begins by examining the five classical canons of rhetoric (invention, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery) and explained that recent approaches to rhetoric have focused primarily on invention, arrangement, and style. The authors claim that there is a need for a new mapping of rhetorical activity because the five canons are not sufficient to examine all of the complex elements that make up rhetorical activity, and they claim that even ancient rhetoric could have not been fully examined with the five rhetorical canons because they ignored elements such as reception. The authors strategically examine the classical canons and explain how the canons are not useful in investigating rhetorical activities, particularly digital new media works. The re-imagine memory as being mediated by tools like writing and that delivery should be viewed as a mediation and distribution (6-7) rather than orality (4-5). The authors also explain that the canons are not linear in the way that the classical canons have been interpreted, and that the canon focused primarily on the author or production rather than the complexities of the interaction with the audience (10-11). Because of these issues, they claim that it is best to re-map rhetorical activity than to try to “retrofit this ancient tool to do varieties of work it was never designed to address” (8).
In effort to remap the canon, the author’s first explore a map that revises delivery to include mediation and distribution and to add reception to the the canon. At first this seems to be a sensible solution, but then the author’s explain that this re-mapped canon does not necessarily allow us to examine complex networks (12). The classical canon and the initial re-mapped canon overlooked the role that socialization plays in rhetorical activity. The “cultural-historical activity theory” argues that “Mediated activity involves externalization (speech, writing, the manipulation and construction of objects and devices) and co-action (with other people, artifacts, and elements of the social-material environment) as well as internalization (perception, learning)” (17). The primary issue that CHAT explores is “how people, institutions, and artifacts are made in history” (18).
In their remapping of the rhetorical activity, the authors include three levels of mapping:
They define chronotopes as: “embodied activity-in-the-world, representational worlds, and chronotopes embedded in material and semiotic artifacts” (19). The authors claim that the map of literate activity is closest to the canon and best for rhetorical practice and rhetorical instruction (19). The authors give a thorough description of each of these literate activities. The CHAT is much more effective because whereas “the classical canons mapped the situational, productive acts of a rhetor, this CHAT map points to a complex set of interlocking systems within which rhetors are formed, act, and navigate” (22). This map is much more effective for analyzing new media projects because it “argues for attending to the full range of multimodality and to material ecologies throughout the process” (23). It also allows us to understand the role socialization plays in rhetorical activity in that it “opens up consideration of how rhetors and audiences are socialized, how means are made and black-boxed, and how situations are built and altered” (24)
Prior, Paul. “Remaking IO, remaking rhetoric: Semiotic remediation as situated rhetorical practice.” Paul Prior, et al.“Re-situating and Re-mediating the Canons: A Cultural-historical Remapping of Rhetorical Activity, A Collaborative Webtext.” Kairos 11.3 (2007).
In “Remaking IO,” Paul Prior examines the way in which a digital art project was revised after new advances in software made it possible to make the art project more interactive. The text provides an example of the way in which mediation through tools of production impacts representation, distribution, and receptions (Core Text 27). Prior argues that a focus on the computer as the sole tool of mediation ignores the way in “which IO was drawn, talked, and gestured into existence” (Prior). Prior explains the complex process of revising the project. Several people with differing expertise participated, and their negotiations and discussions had a significant impact on the finished product. Prior says focusing on the process of creating new media is important because it has received little attention, and it also provides an example of the way in which new media projects “display a chronotopic lamination” in which “multiple times and places [are] uniting in the present”.
Van Ittersum, Derek. “Distributing Memory: Rhetorical Work in Digital Environments.” Derek Van Ittersum, et al. “Re-situating and Re-mediating the Canons: A Cultural-historical Remapping of Rhetorical Activity, A Collaborative Webtext.” Kairos 11.3 (2007).
Derek Can Ittersum’s contribution to this collaborative project focuses on CHAT’s re-imagined vision of memory and it’s place in the map of rhetorical activity. Van Ittersum says that CHAT “provides a more complete picture, directing our attention to the interplay between artifacts, practices, and people within specific instances of literate activity” and that it provides “more robust ways of understanding the digital tools, practices, and products of modern memory work.” In the text, Van Ittersum explores the way in which writers use software focused on memory. The specifioc examples he uses of the way in which student writers used search functions in software and note-taking. Van Ittersum says that memory work is involved in other elements of the production of texts. Using software that facilitates memory allowed students to develop writing practices while constructing memory. He says that memory “is more than memorization and recall, and that it may be understood as a dynamic process of storing, accessing, and mobilizing information within complex systems of tools, environments, situations, and people.”
Berry, Patrick. “Critical Remediation: Locating Eliza.” Patrick Berry, et al. “Re-situating and Re-mediating the Canons: A Cultural-historical Remapping of Rhetorical Activity, A Collaborative Webtext.” Kairos 11.3 (2007).
In this text, Patrick Berry examines multiple remediations of Shaw’s character Eliza from Pygmalion in order to look at these remediations “as cultural narrative that relentlessly resurfaces across a range of media and contexts.” Berry examines the mediators that were present in Shaw’s play. Berry explores the tensions between two different definitions of remediation: “The act or process of correcting a fault or deficiency” and the way in which “one medium is seen by our culture as reforming or improving upon the other.” He suggests a third meaning: “the endless social and cultural shifts that happen in our everyday lives.” Berry says that the literacy narrative in Pygmalion is mirrored by many composition research narratives, as well as by digital literacies. Since “values about literate practice ‘can trsnacend the boundaries between print and electronic literacies’” Berry says, “our rhetorical canons also need to transcend boundaries, to examine broader networks of activity.” Berry says that Eliza’s performance and identity at the garden party is artificial. He suggets that the “authentic human” is a false notion, and that nonhuman actors mediate “our lives both rhetorically and materially.” CHAT’s approach to canon “locates meaning in action and focuses on the work of mediational means.”
Roozen, Kevin. “Math, the ‘Poetry Slam,’ and Mathemagicians: Tracing Trajectories of Practice and Person.” Kevin Roozen, et al. “Re-situating and Re-mediating the Canons: A Cultural-historical Remapping of Rhetorical Activity, A Collaborative Webtext.” Kairos 11.3 (2007).
Roozen opens this text with a discussion of the ways in which invention has been viewed as occurring only within a specific context bound by time, location, particular activity. In the text, Roozen challenges this notion with the case of a student who operates within a number of “rhetorical engagements” (in this case, math education, sketch comedy, and game development). Roozen found that Brian’s knowledge and experiences in these “rhetorical engagements” often informed how he operated within or related to his involvement in other engagements or activities (ie. advanced math played a large role in his sketch comedy). In creating a role-playing game, Brian created a system of magic based on mathematics (Mathemagic). Roozen says that “Brian’s math classes, sketch comedy, and gaming are so interwoven that it is impossible to talk about one activity without bringing up the others.” Brian is never only involved in one of these realms. Roozen claims that “we write who we are–literate selves forged from the full range of our literate activities.” Relating his study of Brian’s involvement in these varying activities, Roozen says that “CHAT points to the diachronic trajectories of remediations across diverse rhetorical contexts and a range of media, and thus profound heterogeneity of material-social worlds.” CHAT alerts writing teachers to the fact that we need to “attend to the rich experiences persons have with writing and reading in settings other than school and to how, whether, and to what extent the trajectories of those practices shape and are permitted to shape our students’ engagement in school literacy tasks.”
Questions and Reflections
What does it mean for chronotopes to be embodied, represented, or embedded?
While I feel I understood the way in which the varying levels of the CHAT map operated in a board sense, I had a bit more trouble envisioning what a specific chronotope would look like. The core text refers to them as “time-spaces” first described by Bakhtin (19). They are described as being “embodied activity-in-the-world, representational worlds, and chronotopes embedded in material and semiotic artifacts” (19). Functional systems exist within chronotopes. To understand this I looked again at the visual I added above that shows functional systems within laminated chronotopes and literate activity within functional systems. Since the chronotopes are “laminated” it seems that there are perhaps several functional systems tied or held together, but how so? According to the CHAT outline, this tying together of functional systems is made evident by being embodied, represented, or embedded.
Is an archive a chronotope?
I wonder if an archive (a library, a museum, even a display at a tourist attraction) might be a chronotope. I am not entirely certain that this is an analogy that works, but it seems to me a laminated chronotope is similar to such an archive. An museum might house a section over a photographs of Queen Victoria and Saints in the Middle Ages, two subjects that don’t seem to have a great deal in common except that they are historical in nature, but their inclusion in the Getty brings them together under one roof and makes a statement that the artifacts in these two exhibits are important aspects of history.
Problematizing Van Ittersum’s Cockpit Analogy
When reading Van Ittersum’s discussion of distributed cognition, I felt inclined to disagree with Van Ittersum’s analysis of navigation in the cockpit as a not showing evidence of “distribution of cognition not just among many tools and devices, but among people across time and space.” On the one hand, it may take only the pilot to physically operate an airplane, while a large naval ship is dependent upon many more people to keep it running, the aircraft operates within a vast network of air traffic control, and it may be further constrained by affiliations (ie. airline or military). Can we discuss the activity of piloting without a nod toward the vast network of other people involved that make decisions that help or hamper the goal of the activity? As an example of the way in which tools mediate memory, I think the example was very effective. The vast network of air traffic, though, requires mediation of airspace by air traffic control.
I must admit that I have a bit of a fascination with air traffic control recordings, particularly the recordings of the Eastern Air Defense Sector (EADS) on the morning of September 11, 2011. I’m interested in the recordings as evidence of the way that the system operates.
Naturally, the fighter jets that were scrambled that day were operated by individuals who had the cognitive ability and memory to operate the plans on their own, but the without the navigation provided by EADS, the pilots have no knowledge of where to fly unless they have a visual on the target. This short sound bite only shows one conversation between a commander and a major working at EADS informing the commander of the needs of the mission. Other nodes in the network, civilian air traffic controllers, commanders at other bases, others working at EADS, are evident in lengthier recordings.
Mediated activity – “involves externalization (speech, writing, the manipulation and construction of objects and devices) and co-action (with other people, artifacts, and elements of the social-material environment) as well as internalization (perception, learning)”.
writing – mediated memory systems; a revolutionary way to reorganize memory (4).
delivery – CHAT re-maps delivery as both mediation and distribution
invention – recursive process that occurs throughout the project (8).
speaker – CHAT re-envisions the speaker as author, principal, and animator (10).
listeners – CHAT re-envisions the listener as “addressed or unaddressed, ratified or unratified, with variable access to the speaker’s communication” (10).
black-boxing – “the process of producing established facts or unproblematic elements” (14).
ecology – “the biotic and natural world, which enables and constraints all the previous functions and which may be a domain of rhetorical action” (21).
activity – “more or less durable, goal-oriented, motivated projects that lead people to cooperation, indifference, and conflict” (21).
Cultural-historical activity theory (CHAT) opens wide the theory of composition to the laminated materiality, space, and time of rhetoric, elements missing from the classical rhetorical canon that focuses primarily on the rhetor. “CHAT offers a richer map of activity. Where the classical canons mapped the situational, productive acts of a rhetor, this CHAT map points to a complex set of interlocking systems within which rhetors are formed, act, and navigate” (Prior et al., 2007, Core Text, p. 22). Accepting the role these interlocking systems play in rhetoric offers a wide range of cultural and historical data points with which to map, examine, and articulate a discursive act, data points that are simply unavailable to us when describing a discursive act using the classical canon as a framework.
Not only does CHAT open wide composition theory, it also opens wide the eyes of those examining it for the first time, like me. CHAT is deceptively authentic in its understanding and depiction of rhetorical canon. There’s an element of the “duh” tucked within its pages of theory. It’s just so obvious once you start thinking about it. Rhetorical activity is not bound by classical canons; binding it so limits its vision, its breadth and scope. Rhetorical activity as it happens in public and private spaces combines a rich tapestry of histories, cultural memory and practice, semiotic systems, invoked and inscribed audiences, research processes, memory work, and rhetors. It’s an activity system that requires a far more nuanced and layered understanding of discursive formation than classical canons provide. While CHAT may not be the only theory that seeks to address rhetorical activity as actually practiced in real networks or systems, it’s certainly compelling and attractive.
The readings this week coalesced around the three aspects of the CHAT remapped rhetorical canon: literate activity in functional systems in laminated chronotypes (Prior et al, 2007, Core Text, p. 18). These three aspects represent levels working together heterogeneously in the creation, distribution, reception, and function of discourse. These levels are not hierarchical nor sequential; they function as cultural-historical aspects of the activity system that creates discourse. The CHAT rhetorical canon offers a nuanced, detailed, and localized framework for understanding and describing multimodal composition strategies, structures, activities, and assessments: “This perspective tunes our attention to multimodality, not as a question of which mode a message might be placed in, but as a question of how multiple modes operate together in a single rhetorical act and of how extended chains of modal transformations may be linked in a rhetorical trajectory” (p. 23). This concept of rhetorical trajectory embodies the activity of rhetoric in far more nuanced ways than Miller’s (1984) genre as social action or even Bazerman’s (1994) genre system or (2004) activity systems. “Trajectory” denotes a continuing path and connotes, to 20th century audiences, at any rate, the future embedded in space exploration as symbol of greater things to come. CHAT also recognizes the history embedded in genres, as Spinuzzi (2010) pointed out, by noting the rhetorical trajectories emerge from “extended [linked] chains of modal transformations” (Prior et al., 2007, Core Text, p. 23). This theory embodies the idea that discourse embeds within it both potential and actual activity; past, present, and future; rhetor and audience; purpose and symbolic system; context and meaning. And it places all of those aspects of discourse into cultural-historical time/space.
Prior: Remaking IO, Remaking Rhetoric: Semiotic Remediation as Situated Rhetorical Practice
Prior takes as his object of study the act of remediating an art object called IO, an interactive website with words and images. This web text illustrates the laminated process by which an interactive website received an update as a result of an update to Flash 5. Findings demonstrate the deeply-ingrained interaction among multiple media and levels of meaning. Prior calls for closer attention to “the situated and mediated practices of exploring new media” as a result of these findings, and calls upon CHAT as a “rich theoretical framework for exploring such situated, multiply mediated, semiotic and social practices.”
Engaging Quotation and Reaction
“This lamination of history can be seen, for example, in the way the site is organized around both PHP and Pythagoras, the way the web is remediating photography, the way Flash templates and PHP databases are negotiated through gesture (presumably one of our most ancient semiotic systems), and the way paper-and-pencil drawings guide the programming of screen dynamics.” (Prior, 2007)
As I read this piece, I found my daily life described in some accurate detail. I work with visualizations, gestures, orality, documents, databases, and new technologies to complete my daily tasks. In this sense I am multiply modal, but I think I am also historically laminated, perhaps in time and space. For example, I find myself working with the golden mean in mind (using the rule of thirds) when cropping digital images for use in online search advertising landing pages. I find myself relying on classical persuasive rhetoric to write landing page copy for these landing pages, copy that attracts prospective students and situates the potential learning to occur on the campus of the University of Richmond. There are many layers to my day-to-day tasks, and it dawns on me that I might consider them the subject of my doctoral study.
Van Ittersum: Data Palace: Modern Memory Work in Digital Environments
Van Ittersum studies the ways that writers use networked computers to accomplish rhetorical work through the lens of distributed cognition theory. Since knowledge work and memory work — as distributed cognitive processes — are mediated by tools, it’s important to understand ways that those tools influence and affect our memory systems and workflows. Van Ittersum’s project reveals that we need to incorporate these tools and their use in our understanding of memory work as members of the discursive system used to generate texts.
Engaging Quotation and Response
“Looking at memory work in terms of mediated activity expands the kinds of scenes that count as writing activity. For the writers I’ve interviewed, memory work is a central part of their writing, and construction and maintenance of their systems involves significant investments of time and effort.” (Van Ittersum, 2007)
Here’s my first reaction: “OK, so I’m getting a little paranoid now, because this describes so much of my initial and ongoing search for just the right tool for research. In these terms, I’m seeking just the right tools to add to my memory system for memory work as a component of the writing experience.”
Throughout last semester, and entering into this semester, I’ve been seeking just the right technology tool(s) to accomplish three tasks:
- be a space for drafting and keeping track of many drafts in many forms;
- be a space for tracking and recording my research process; and
- be a space for note taking in all forms (visual, aural, text).
I’ve developed a partnership among tools through which I’ve conscientiously developed a system for tracking and recording everything I do as a PhD student. If I read a PDF, I want that text (if possible) and my notes digitized and searchable. If I read a text, I want my notes to be digitized and searchable. If I take class notes, write an in-class response, or do anything else in writing, I want to have digital and searchable versions. (Here’s where I formulated my needs in September 2013: Seeking the Best Research and Writing Tool.)
These tools form a vital part of my memory and knowledge work, and I’ve tried hard to find just the right set. I’ve settled on/for a recipe of Scrivener, Zotero, and iAnnotate (with a soupçon of Evernote for good measure), but I don’t believe I’ve found the ideal set for my needs. One adapts one’s processes to one’s tools, which suggests, as Van Ittersum (2007) reiterates, that the tools themselves affect the knowledge work that I do.
Bellwoar: Digital Health and Feminist (Re)Visionings of Healing
Bellwoar uses the web text to depict the importance of bringing forth aspects, especially invisible aspects, of the health care experience that are not immediately recognized or appreciated. Her depiction of the difference between a healthcare professional’s report on an office visit and the patient’s personal narrative of the visit is striking and disconcerting. The ways in which doctors see patients, especially female patients seen by male doctors, is limited, even shaped, by medical records and forms.
The experience of visiting a doctor is one of being seen in a completely different way from the way one sees oneself. When this is the case, what can be said about the identity of the patient? Does the patient’s identity in the medical files remain clinical and entirely disembodied from the patient’s perceived self-identity? Bellwoar appears to believe that it does, as the mediated experience she narrates reveals very different perspectives on identity and knowledge between patient and physician.
Bellwoar used CHAT to compare the visual privilege of the physician’s experience with the visual privilege of the digital, and warns that seeing is not an objective phenomenon or experience. Seeing is mediated, and it’s important that we recognize and make visible those invisible aspects of seeing that exist in all envisionings.
Although Bellwoar’s web text embedded audio, it remained a largely visual experience, following the pattern of privileging the visual in the digital. As a result, it offered few “quotes” that could be pulled and discussed. However, the web text as a whole caught and kept my attention because it did what Bellwoar called the work of theory: “The work of theory is to make visible that which is invisible” (Bellwoar, 2007). What no one could have known was the affinity I have for her message. My wife is a two-time cancer cervical survivor. She more than understands the invisible character of medical practice. Among other issues she continues to handle almost 20 years after the last surgeries, my wife’s internal organs are, literally, invisible, even on X-ray, ultrasound, and CAT scan. They have migrated as a result of scar tissue and reconstruction. As a result, even when physicians (all but one male) review her films and “see” her organs, they literally have to ask her which organs are which. They can’t see. Only she can see and know. Without seeing the films, she can point out where her organs are in her torso. Her memory and experience are the key to unlocking the knowledge work that her team of physicians need to treat her.
Joyce R. Walker: Constructing a BIG Text: Developing a Multimodal Master Plan for Composition Instruction
Walker’s web text uses the somewhat unfortunate story of an advanced class in public writing at her institution as an instructional and cautionary tale on the importance of explaining CHAT-inspired composition strategies and theories to both first-year writers and to external audiences questioning the value of composition strategies that fall outside of the expectation for standard research writing. She encourages the use of many narratives to tell the story of composed texts, narratives that explain and represent the system-wide work required and completed to create the text, including research into materiality and appropriateness of mode to audience and purpose. The goal of the web text is to articulate a strategy to incorporate CHAT-oriented approaches into FYW classes. She defines the following five steps toward accomplishing that goal.
- FYW must attend to the materiality of texts. It is important to offer students the opportunity to make knowledgeable choices about software, hardware, structural organization, and to examine the rhetorical potentials of different visual, aural, and alphabetical compositions. It is also important for students to understand relationships between experimental compositions and those which can be identified as appropriate to various academic disciplines.
- Course assignments for a CHAT-based first-year writing program must encompass complex compositional processes and must encourage both active manipulation of these processes and reflection about the effects of different compositional choices. These activities must be visible to both course participants and outside audiences.
- CHAT-based writing courses must articulate a research-oriented perspective towards the available compositional choices — students must understand that effective choices can only be made through a rigorous research process.
- Students and instructors can use descriptive narratives to outline, analyze, and make explicit the possible “range of materialities” available for any given composition activity, highlighting not only the choices that composers make, but the robust nature of the research involved in these kinds of composition activities. Narratives also allow composers to include discussion of choices made by those who distribute or receive and make use of the texts in different ways.
- Students should be given the opportunity to test their writing in varius ways in public situations, and to incorporate into their work for the course observations about the life of the text as it moves into the world. (Walker, 2007)
Interesting Quotation and Reaction
“If this is indeed our need, then first-year writing courses must become more fertile, flexible, and associative places for learning, but they must also become locations for research, places where students are asked to interrogate both their writing and their literate practices.” (Walker, 2007)
My immediate reaction was “Yes!!! This is what I’ve realized about my writing class (to which I can’t give the time of day over the weekend because I’m writing my own work and reading my own assignments).” I really have been deeply affected by the research I’ve already done in the PhD program, all one-and-a-half classes in! I teach adult students returning to school, and I want them to come away from my ENGL 201U class with an understanding of writing that applies to all aspects of their lives—personal, professional, and academic. I want them to interrogate their own assumptions about writing and to be conscious of every decision they make about what they write, how they write it, and for whom. This is new for me; a year and a half ago, I wanted students to read texts and writing about them. Now I want them to read themselves as a text, then read the assignment as a text, then read an article as a text, and THEN write into a conversation about that text that takes into account all the readings they’ve done in the process of creating their final text—which could be a new media project. They’re resistant, but putting the process into practical, applicable terms outside academe has had the desired motivational effect.
Technological (Mediated) Issues
I believe one of the most troubling issues facing the use of digital technology in composition is the speed of technological obsolescence. I faced the issue of obsolescence related to technological standards at several turns in these readings. I faced the first challenge in the Prior web text with the very technology that forced the remediation — Flash. My tablet, where I generally read and annotate non-monograph-length texts, won’t run Flash, so I found the experience inconvenient and rooted to one of two technical spaces — my laptop or my desktop. On my desktop the day I tried to watch this text, I never did see any one of the embedded videos in full, because bandwidth issues (likely brought on by the fact that my wife and two daughters were all watching different video streams at the same time) restricted my ability to load the files completely. This made me very conscious of the software, hardware, and network mediating my experience as viewer/reader. These are real and serious considerations, and efforts should be made to develop and utilize platform-agnostic interfaces and programming tools to eliminate these restrictions.
I faced a second challenge in the Bellwoar web text with embedded audio files; as a result, my experience of her web text unintentionally privileged the visual (which she warned against in the content of the text) and affected my reading of the text in negative ways. Neither Chrome nor Safari would successfully play embedded audio files. Ultimately, Firefox was the only browser that appears to have mediate the experience accurately. This, too, made me aware of my mediated experience and led me to wonder about the technical skills of the author—perhaps she designed for a specific browser, failed to adhere to XHTML and CSS standards, or hasn’t updated (remediated) the experience with newer versions of Quicktime. She may even have tested the cross-platform compatibility of the project at the time of its release and found it worked in most major browsers, but changes and updates to browsers and standards may have resulted in the challenges I faced. Issues of obsolescence like this limit the experience for the end user in real and frustrating ways. Had I not been a savvy web user, I would not have even noticed that the project included embedded audio files.
And I faced a third challenge in the Walker piece. In this case, external links caused issues of obsolescence. In Walker’s notes, two external links resulted in errors. The first was a link to what was probably once a free online photo gallery of pictures of the original public writing works that were the subject of the public writing class project. The link pointed to http://good-times.webshots.com/album/547607245HsCYRw?action=&track_pagetag=/page/photo/goodtimes/college&track_action=/ViewActions/FullAlbum, but following this URL results in a fancy 404 error page (the standard “page not found” error code recognized by search engines and crawlers) for “Smile by Webshots.” I assume that Webshots (found in the domain of the original URL) was bought or otherwise acquired by Smile, and the original free gallery either expired or was otherwise removed from the original interface.
The second “dead” external link was to the “Western Herald online Archive” (screen 9 of the web text). In this case, following the URL (http://media.www.westernherald.com/media/storage/paper881/news/2006/02/14/News/English.Class.Explores.Experimental.Writing-2121873.shtml?sourcedomain=www.westernherald.com&MIIHost=media.collegepublisher.com) resulted in a truly dead link, not a 404 error. Based on the variables being passed in the URL, I assume that the Western Herald’s archive at the time of Walker’s writing was hosted by the collegepublisher.com domain. Westernherald.com appears to still be the correct domain for the newspaper, but I could find an archive of back issues or the article via search on the current website.
The apparent lack of publicly-accessible archives is a subset of the issue of obsolescence that will likely affect many external links as time goes on.
These issues make me question whether technology-mediated texts should be composed for long-term or archival consumption. In my opinion, this CHAT space is dated, both in design and technology, and should be remediated for 2014 and beyond. But I recognize that texts are created in space and time, and there are real and serious questions about whether they should be “updated” for futures.
Bazerman, C. (1994). Systems of genre and the enactment of social intentions. In Freedman, A., & Medway, P. (Eds.), Genre and the new rhetoric (pp. 79-104). London, UK: Taylor & Francis, Ltd.
Bazerman, C. (2004). Speech acts, genres, and activity systems: How texts organize activities and people. In Bazerman & Prior (Eds.), What writing does and how it does it: An introduction to analyzing texts and textual practices (pp. 309-340). New York, NY: Routledge.
Bellwoar, H. (2007). Digital health and feminist (Re)visionings of healing [Web text]. In P. Prior et al., Re-situating and re-mediating the Canons: A cultural-historical remapping of rhetorical activity [Multimodal composition]. Kairos, 11(3). Retrieved from http://kairos.technorhetoric.net/11.3/binder.html?topoi/prior-et-al/index.html
Miller, C. R. (1984). Genre as social action. Quarterly Journal of Speech, 70(2), 151-67.
Prior, P. (2007). Remaking IO, remaking rhetoric: Semiotic remediation as situated rhetorical practice [Web text]. In P. Prior et al., Re-situating and re-mediating the Canons: A cultural-historical remapping of rhetorical activity [Multimodal composition]. Kairos, 11(3). Retrieved from http://kairos.technorhetoric.net/11.3/binder.html?topoi/prior-et-al/index.html
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
Spinuzzi, C. (2003). Tracing genres through organizations: a sociocultural approach to information design. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
Van Ittersum, D. (2007). Data palace: Modern memory work in digital environments [Web text]. In P. Prior et al., Re-situating and re-mediating the Canons: A cultural-historical remapping of rhetorical activity [Multimodal composition]. Kairos, 11(3). Retrieved from http://kairos.technorhetoric.net/11.3/binder.html?topoi/prior-et-al/index.html
Walker, J. R. (2007). Constructing a BIG text: Developing a multimodal master plan for composition instruction [Web text]. In P. Prior et al., Re-situating and re-mediating the Canons: A cultural-historical remapping of rhetorical activity [Multimodal composition]. Kairos, 11(3). Retrieved from http://kairos.technorhetoric.net/11.3/binder.html?topoi/prior-et-al/index.html
The discussion of cultural-historical activity theory (CHAT) contradicts then repurposes ideas related to Genre Theory.
First, the authors argue that “CHAT rejects the notion that human action is governed by some neo-platonic realm of rules, whether the linguistic rules of English, the communicative norms of some discourse community, or cognitive scripts for acting in a particular situation” (Prior et al., “What is CHAT”). Genre Theory according to Miller and Bazerman argue quite the opposite. They suggest that human action is a response to a rhetorical situation or a series of social facts, and that the action takes the form of socially constructed and recognizable genres. Yet, the above quote that "communicative norms", or genres, are not at the heart of social activity; rather, they see action as a product of "concrete interactions" between artifacts, people, and tools. This is a departure from Genre Theory in the sense that action is separated from forms and relocated to interactivity.
Communication and Information Design:
As more communication is delivered digitally as opposed to on paper, the rhetorical concept of delivery has reemerged as significant to acts of communication. This connects clearly to a concept that has emerged in both Zoetewey and Spinuzzi.
Consider Spinuzzi's argument:
"Lately, technical communicators have also sought to align their field more closely with informational design" (5).Then the claims from Zoetewey:
"Web sites of all stripes are filled with interactivity, from basic, click-able links to write-able forms. Useful interactivity in civic web sites goes beyond basic engagement to help citizens explore, investigate, and solve problems that are of interest to them."
“In the last decade or so, another of the classical canons, delivery, has been reanimated as the field's attention has turned to electronic and digital media” (Prior et al, “Delivery Problems).Each quote speaks to the idea that rhetoric in the digital space requires different sensibilities than communication that exists on the printed page only. Spinuzzi reminds us that digital communication must overlap with information design to take into account the different ways we consume digital information. Zoetewey also highlights this in arguing that assessment of civic web sites must account for the criterion of interactivity - an allowance of digital communication not present in the same way in print form. Interactivity allows for greater engagement as the user can work through the material in a personal and self-directed way. Thus, civic web sites also require the rhetorician to make use of elements of information design. As the CHAT authors also indicate, the how we deliver content is now as important as what we deliver in the content. The form, once a static printed document, is now often a dynamic digital product. Making use of the enhanced functionality of digital composition is an ever-growing concern for English Studies and instruction of general composition courses at the college level.
CHAT and the Underground Press Syndicate:
Embedded in the discussion above is the question of how content is delivered, and the CHAT authors explain that this can be understood as taking two forms: "mediation and distribution” (Prior et al, “Re-mediating and Re-distributing Delivery”). While mediation seems to be concerned with the choices we make about what forms our composition will take (Power Point, video recording, or what font to use for example), distribution is concerned with how our products are handed over to the audience (does it go to an editor first or published online for immediate use?). These questions of distribution stimulated my thinking about the UPS.
Speaking more directly to distribution, the CHAT authors continue, “We may pursue rhetorical goals through a variety of genres, in different media, with different distributions across a series of events and texts” (Prior et al, “Re-mediating and Re-distributing Delivery”). Perhaps for a future case study application, this question of distribution is particularly interesting. With the "rhetorical goals" of building communities of radical and subaltern voices and spreading alternative news, the individual papers first distribute the content to their readerships locally, then send the papers to the UPS for redistribution and potential reprinting in different locales. The UPS then is a crucial element of the rhetorical canon of delivery.
CHAT and the Work of the Underground Press Movement:
This text also bore some interesting connections to my research with the underground press movement at large.
- “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".
- “For Goffman, audiences are constantly active, co-producers of the configuration of footings and the discourse itself” (Prior et al, “The Rhetorical Scene”). Readers of underground publications often participated in the movement by reflecting the values read within the pages out into their communities. The movement articulated in the pages of the newspapers relied on the actions of the readers and vice-versa - one reinforced the other. In this way, the discourse of the counterculture movement was co-produced by the texts and the audiences.
- “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.
- “Although alone physically in these stacks I knew I was not alone spiritually, if you will” (Rohan). Rohan's work with venting is particularly applicable to the underground press movement, as the produced discourse in both instances is about building a community even when created in isolation. The venters write alone, but the “participants’ [have] collective participation in a larger ecology” (Rohan). They “tell stories about what it’s like to live in a particular time and place, who might care and why” (Rohan). If someone in the South, relatively isolated from the radical communities of New York or Berkeley, was able to pick up an underground newspaper from another more active group, then he or she could participate in that larger ecology; they would know that although physically separated, they were not spiritually separated. The telling of stories was their subversive way of building a network to spread support and information.
- “Taken together, these texts created a remarkably effective information network, one supplemented by talks given to women’s clubs and interviews broadcast over the radio. This network thus capitalized on existing social, institutional, and media channels to circulate and cement the common (if sometimes contradictory) wisdom growing up around office work in the 1920s, ‘30s, and ‘40s” (Solberg). Much like the secretary manuals Solberg speaks of, the underground press functioned as part of a network supplemented by protests, meetings, sit-ins, concerts, and media broadcasts. The wisdom of the movement built upon existing channels (or genres like newspapers) in order to circulate.
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.
---. “Re-mediating and Re-distributing Delivery." 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.
---. “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.
Rohan, Liz. "Nobody Told Me That College Was This Hard!: 'Venting' in the Grad Stacks." Re-situating and Re-mediating the Canons: A Cultural-Historical Remapping of Rhetorical Activity. Kairos 11.3 (Summer 2007). Web. 17 Feb. 2014.
Solberg, Janine. "Re-membering Identity: Recovering Textual Networks Through a Remediated Canon." Re-situating and Re-mediating the Canons: A Cultural-Historical Remapping of Rhetorical Activity. Kairos 11.3 (Summer 2007). Web. 17 Feb. 2014.
Spinuzzi, Clay. Tracing Genres Through Organizations: A Sociocultural Approach to Information Design. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003. Print.
Zoetewey, Meredith W., W. Michele Simmons, Jeffrey T. Grabill. "Assessing Civic Engagement: Responding to Online Spaces for Public Deliberation." Digital Writing Assessment & Evaluation. Eds. Heidi A McKee and Danielle Nicole DeVoss. Logan, UT: Computers and Composition Digital Press/Utah State UP, 2013. Web. 3 Feb 2014.