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Mindmap #5: Operationalizing Theories

In this week’s mindmap, I started thinking about big-picture issues, like operationalization and agency.

Mindmap visualization

Mindmap #5: Added Genre Tracing, Locus of Agency, and Operationalization (Popplet)

Theorized vs. Operationalized

In terms of operationalization, I added nodes for Theorized and Operationalized, relating to each of the theories we’ve discussed to date. I found Hardware/Network descriptions matched Genre Tracing as operationalized, while the other theories were, as the name implies, largely theorized. Assessment Theory from my reading of Crow in DWAE made the cut as both operationalized and theorized, too. Foucault I labeled purely theorized, while Rhetorical Theories and Genre Theories offered traces of operationalization, if not quite to the extent of Spinuzzi’s Genre Tracing. Hardware and Network descriptions give us very little of the theorized; they are all about the operationalized.

Locus of Agency

Regarding agency, I add Spinuzzi’s genre tracing as a theory and visualized it, in part, in terms of locus of agency. Centripetal impulses for change have as their locus of agency central authorities, while centrifugal impulses for change have as their locus of agency individual workers (p. 20). Central authority originates and controls the official activity system, so I termed the locus of agency the Activity/Creator Node; local workers originate unofficial workarounds at the operations level, so I terms this locus of agency the Operations/Worker Node. I started the process of applying locus of agency to Crow’s assessment theory, where I proposed that the composition to be assessed falls squarely in the operations/worker node of an assessment network, with the assessment itself (and the surveillant assemblage of assessed assignments) managed and controlled at the activity/creator mode. I’d like to spend a little more time thinking about how locus of agency might be more broadly applicable to these various theorists we’re reading, so I anticipate reworking the mindmap design with this in mind as part of my next update.

Trust in a System

Speaking of the next update, in my last post, Mindmap #4: Drawing Some Genre Lines, I concluded by suggesting I might include trust in the mindmap. I considered how and where to incorporate trust, but I think I found locus of agency a more complex way of addressing issues of trust. Nodes in a network system — or perhaps more accurately an activity system, according to Spinuzzi — can be placed on a continuum between centripetal and centrifugal impulses. Nodes more closely aligned to centripetal impulses are likely to trust centralized agency, while nodes more closely aligned to centrifugal impulses are likely to trust localized agency. In an assessment system, for example, students are likely to align more closely with aspects of the system that offer localized agency, like the freedom to define or envision audience, mode, and other aspects of the rhetorical situation. Administrators are likely to align more closely with aspects of the system that offer centralized agency, like developing consistent rubrics for use in assessments across the system or incorporating a single interface for posting assignments. Teachers are going to be found somewhere in the middle, advocating for localized treatments of rhetorical situation while implementing (or adapting) centralized assessment tools. Students will more likely trust teachers who adapt centralized assessment tools to their localized rhetorical situations; students will less likely trust teachers who implement centralized assessment tools without localized workarounds. Administrators will more likely trust teachers who implement centralized assessment tools without localized workarounds; administrators will less likely trust teachers who adapt centralized assessment tools to their localized rhetorical situations.

Trust becomes the result of a differentiated relationship between impulse and locus of agency. When impulse (on a continuum from centripetal to centrifugal) leans toward centralization, systemic locus of agency is more trusted. When impulse leans toward localization, operational locus of agency is more trusted. I hope to work through this emerging understanding of trust and agency as I continue developing the visualization.

[Killbot Assembly Line: Creative Commons licensed image from Flickr user pasukaru76]

Mindmap #4: Drawing Some Genre Lines

Mindmap visualization

Mindmap update #4: Popplet screen capture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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