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Mind Map: Class Meeting 3/4/14

Suzanne's Mind Map

(Additions this week in green)

The first node addition this week was Latour's idea of text as a laboratory. I am highly interested in the idea of text as living and capable of constantly producing new experiments, results, and analyses. Rather than a fixed object, a text continues to do work in society. I connected this node to several nodes: hypertext, civic web sites, books, and genre. The implication is that each of these textual products can be rethought as a point of experimentation. It forces us to ask how are these types of texts producing results? How do these results change over time? For different audiences? Are the assumptions and hypotheses correct? The use of the scientific vocabulary brings interesting questions to the forefront and provides fertile ground for thinking of literary objects.

The second node is Latour's definition of social not as a frame for viewing objects but as a collection of associations. I see this as relating to Foucault's expression of meaning in the relational rather than the nodes. I connected this new node to a previous node referencing this Foucauldian idea of connectivity. I also connected it to the Rohan node from CHAT. Rohan explains how the vent writings were connected multiple writers into a community. It supports Latour's claim because each of these writers worked in isolation, it was not a social activity in the traditional sense of many people coming together in shared space - either real or digital. Although they were working in isolation, the collection of their utterances is what gives the activity a social quality. It is not about the people, but their statements left in the shared space relating to other statements and information (like the weather or rhythm of the semester).

The third node relates to the Spinuzzi reading that expressed the view that mediational objects change people. I connected this to the area of the map dealing with delivery started by the CHAT authors. I also connected this to Bitzer's node about how discourse can mediate a situation. It highlights how mediation is the tool we use to effect change in discourse, but that discourse changes the situation by changing people. This seems to be something Bitzer does not emphasize. He argues more that the audience if persuaded will take steps to change the situation either legally or in some other tangible way. Yet the Spinuzzi discussion suggests change is a more subtle process of using objects to change people psychologically, to change perceptions and then behavior.

Lastly, I added a node for Latour's actants. This concept incorporates all those who interact with discourse. It is connected to Vatz's rhetor node and Bitzer's audience node because it suggests a new way of thinking about this binary. Rather than the Vatz and Bitzer argument privileging one over the other, Spinuzzi equates the two - writer and reader - as equal partners, as actants, working together to create and mediate meaning. This seems to me to be a more realistic understanding of how audience and rhetorician are related.


Reading Notes: Class Meeting 3/4/14

The Living Text

Latour's student and professor dialogue was a welcome play with form, but also an interesting exchange dealing with the very-well understood student frustrations when working with abstraction. My favorite exchange there had to do with the nature of text. Latour's professor offers, "The text...[is] the functional equivalent of a laboratory. It's a place for trials, experiments, and simulations" (149).

This speaks to me on several levels. First, it suggests that texts are not static, chiseled in stone, received wisdom from the author. Rather, if texts are laboratories, then they are inherently experimental, mutable as new data emerges, and can be places of productive action. The underground press movement is an interesting application of this idea; the texts in the movement were certainly places of trials and experiments. Ideas were placed on trial, perhaps not the scientific meaning of the word in the metaphor above but still valid. When voices are not represented in the media, the disenfranchised can either be silent or organize. The underground press movement writers chose to organize and use their texts to give full a full vetting of the social issues like equality, the environment, and war. Their texts, once received, could be interpreted; just as scientists interpret the data of an experiment, the readers were able to form hypotheses and determine results.

Example of text as "laboratory": Image from the Emerson Unitarian Universalist Church. Their Living Text program seeks to engage with multiple religious texts. The church believes,"While we are changed by the narratives we encounter, we also shape them, and when we participate in creating a collective account of our church by sharing our own stories, we make a sort of wiki-church (a collaborative community, in which all members participate in shaping and adding to the church and its story)." Texts - even sacred ones - are laboratories for experimentation, interaction, and change. 

The idea that a text is living and active appears elsewhere in Latour. He writes, "We have to lay continuous connections leading from one local interaction to the other places, times and agencies through which a local site is made to do something" (173). I am not sure I have this concept fully figured out yet, but here is my play so far:

First, what do we mean by "local interaction"? I thought of this as being a node in a network, a localized space in which interaction - exchange - occurs through "continuous connections". What I am fascinated by is the idea that these connections (in the form of "times and agencies") are the catalysts for doing something. 

By virtue of being connected, a node becomes activated and capable of performing work.

If a text is a local interaction, which it can be (if we think of Foucualt's argument that books are nodes in networks), then we can understand it as a connected object that can be "made to do something". Action is embedded in texts. This has strong implications for theory explaining the social (forgive me Latour for using this word as an adjective) functions of the underground press - a laboratory out which experimentation causes activity.

Latour and Foucault:

Speaking of Foucault... (and by the way, I took this quiz and got Foucault as my result. Coincidence or synchronicity?)

Latour describes two competing ways of understanding how "social" can be understood.

There is the more traditional and familiar idea that "there exists a social 'context' in which non-social activities take place; it is a specific domain of reality" (3-4). This conjures for me an image of a space in which people and objects commingle, and it is this addition of some human interaction that makes the space social. This reminds me of Foucault's field of discursive dispersion. The field then is is that inherently social space where objects and people come together. We can understand the field as a domain of sociability. The space is social. We understand things as social because they occur is this recognizable space that allows for interaction.

A bar: a space understood to be "social" because it allows for interaction between humans and objects. It creates social conditions and social connections. Image by Glenn Harper posted on Flickr

However, Latour rejects this idea. Instead of a social space, we should understand social as connectivity. He writes, "'Society', far from being the context 'in which' everything is framed, should rather be construed as one of the many connecting elements circulating inside tiny conduits" (4-5). Here, social-ness is not a lens through which to view actions (as having some social/human/interactive quality), but is a way human and objects connect. It is not the bar-space; it is perhaps the collection of activities that bring the people and objects into the space.

But is still has me begging the question...

What is Social?

Latour tells us that "social is not a place, a thing, a domain, or a kind of stuff but a provisional movement of new associations" (238). As above, social is not the space but rather the associations. Yet, this understanding is complicated by this statement:
"Things, quasi-objects, and attachments are the real center of the social world, not the agent, person, member, or participant" (238).
On one hand Latour tells us that social is not a thing, then later on the same page, he argues that things are at the center of the social world. What does this mean?

I suppose that how I choose to understand this is that Latour does not want us to confuse social as a tangible objects or cohesive space, yet he does want us to understand that objects and connections, while not themselves the definition of social, are at the heart of society. Consider the piazza below:

Piazza di Spagna image posted by Gaspa on Flickr

The piazza space is one in which people and objects - like a fountain and benches - intermingle. Like the bar, the piazza itself is not social. Rather, this fountain sits at the center of what we can understand to be social because in it/through it connections and associations are formed. Those connections/memories/exchanges between the people and the fountain and the piazza and the architecture are what we should think of as social. In this way the objects allow the social, and not the people. I think this turns social on its head. In the traditional definition, social is all about humans being sociable. This is not about human interaction, but about humans interacting with objects to make associations.

It's about connections, relations, and proximity. Very Foucault, I would say.

Rethinking the Macro and Micro:

Switching gears, there was an interesting connection between Latour and Spinuzzi in regard to macro and micro levels. Latour seems to refute some of the assumptions about these terms that Spinuzzi utilizes in his work.

Spinuzzi defines three levels: macroscopic, mesoscopic, and microscopic. He maintains the sense that the macro level is somehow "above" the other levels; the other levels are embedded within the macro, all-encompassing, big picture level. Conversely, the microscopic is minor, smaller, and myopic.

Latour rejects this hierarchical conceptualization. Instead, he argues that these levels exists in a "flat landscape" in which all levels are equal. A macroscopic concept might have more connections in this two-dimensional space, but it not necessarily more significant. It might have more breadth, but not situated "above" the microscopic level. He writes that when we render the landscape flat, "what is now highlighted much more vividly than before are all the connections, the cables, the means of transportation, the vehicles linking places together" (176). Again, Latour emphasizes the role of connectivity and relationships rather than ant individual or object in a network.

Latour's flat levels and Spinuzzi's hierarchical/embedded levels

I am not sure yet what conclusions or implications I see from these differing understandings, but I feel that Latour's view is inherently more democratic. Giving equal standing to ideas or activity does not privilege or diminish anything. This shift in assigning value could be potentially useful in legitimizing the subaltern. Simply because alternative media, for example, is not as well-connected as the mainstream media, we should not think of it as somehow less-than or just a smaller piece of the larger media. With further exploration, this could be useful.

Spinuzzi and CHAT on Mediation:

As is my pattern, I become fixated on a particular concept and begin to see(k?) it in each new reading. Lately that concept is delivery. Perhaps because my OoS is a delivery system, I am more aware of how this concept has ramifications spreading through several course concepts: networks (delivering information to and between nodes), digital composition (delivery becomes a more dynamic consideration in digital spaces), and mediating the delivery (how the rhetorician exerts agency over content and form). The CHAT authors work with this last concept extensively - mediation as opposed to distribution.

Spinuzzi also explores mediation in his chapter. He states, "These external artifacts, Vygotsky emphasizes, do not simply help humans do things they would do anyway; the artifacts qualitatively transform the activity, often in ways that exceed the unmediated capacity of the human being" (69). We use artifacts to mediate activity in ways that we are incapable of doing on our own. In composition, we use artifacts - like hypertext - to mediate or change our content to produce meaning we would otherwise be unable to convey without that artifact/tool. The effect is that "in using mediational artifacts, Michael Cole argues, people themselves are psychologically transformed; they begin to think, act, and value differently" (69).

This highlights the importance of reconsidering delivery as the CHAT authors argue, reinserting this element more significantly in our understanding of how rhetoric is produced. Mediation extends human ability and profoundly transforms the audience.

OoS as Boundary Crossing and Actants:

My blog would not be complete if I did not write about action/activism/activity from theory, so here is this week's installment.

Latour argues:

  • "Instead of simply transporting effects without transforming them, each of the points in the text may become a bifurcation, an event, or the origin of a new translation. As soon as the actors are treated not as intermediaries but as mediators, they render the movement of the social visible to the reader" (128).
  • "The tools, relationships, social languages, and so forth may be very different; the linked activities need 'boundary crossers' who can mediate between them" (79).
  • "'Action is simply not a property of humans but an association of actants'...The more actants are brought into a composition, and the more tightly interconnected they are, the stronger it tends to be...allowing the assemblage of actants to cohere as a single actant" (90).
An assemblage of actants in cohesion. Image of crowd gathered for Martin Luther King Jr. posted by Washington Post
What does this all mean? Well, I take the first quote to mean that readers and writers can change the content as they receive and relay it (the premise of the Living Text project of the church above). Nodes are not just passive conduits; they are active interlocutors. It is not just that an individual can be changed by discourse, but that discourse is changed by the individual as well. It's a powerful understanding of our field. For my OoS, it suggests that the US was not simply transmitting information across its members, but it was mediating the movement as well.

Secondly, the UPS is a boundary crosser, mediating between the linked activities (making underground newspapers). These activities are linked in the sense that they are producing similar forms based on overlapping influences, yet the papers often existed in isolation using different tools and having different relationships. The UPS was able to cross these boundaries by (re)distributing newspapers across these isolated pockets of action.

Lastly, action is brought to fruition not by humans but by human associations - the connections allow the participants to be "made to do something". The last quote suggests that the stronger these associations, the stronger the resulting action. The closer the connections, the more unified the actants and by extension their work. The UPS allowed members of the movement to be more tightly unified, and by sharing content, the readers across the country had a more singular message to become a more singular movement. This understanding makes the work of the UPS more significant than just a mail service. 


Works Cited:

Latour, Bruno. Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. New York: Oxford UP, 2007. Print.

Spinuzzi, Clay. Network: Theorizing Knowledge Work in Telecommunications. New York: Cambridge UP, 2008. Print.

Mind Map: Class Meeting 2/18/14

Suzanne's Mind Map

(Additions this week are in black again since we have worked through each of the colors.)

The CHAT authors are interested in remapping the traditional canonical understanding of composition and rhetoric. From this discussion, I was struck most by the rethinking of delivery as a significant canon. I agree that the role of delivery was significantly diminished after English Studies developed as a written discipline as opposed to the oratorical goals of classical rhetoric. This may have resonated with me as I am working with a delivery system for my object of study, but it seems to build on a thread I have been working with. Last week, I added nodes to civic web sites to show the link between the evaluative criterion of usability and Spinuzzi's declaration of communication and information design becoming ever-more inextricable linked. I added the claim from CHAT authors to that set of nodes that spoke to the same overlap in English and the digital world.

To that growth, I added a node for "delivery" as the CHAT authors describe as being made up of "mediation" and "distribution", or choices we make about form and choices we make for getting that form to the audience respectively. I see a connection between mediation and the cluster of nodes dealing with how English Studies is linked to information technology. The growing use of digital media for rhetorical products requires mediation, choice of form, probably more than the traditional printed essay due to the highly variable environment that does not have a prescribed set of style guidelines like MLA. I thought about where else we have seen mediation as an important element. I thought of genre and Vatz's argument about the role of the rhetor. Genre mediates content by restricting it to a particular form. The rhetor chooses and edits content thus mediating the information an audience receives. I connected these nodes to the mediation node.

I added a node to genre to show the connection between it and what the CHAT authors call "affordances." I wrote about this in my reading notes and feel there may be some further exploration on that point - namely an idea I am kicking around about where action comes from. It seems genre theorists argue that actions stem from genres, but I think the CHAT authors are saying that actions collect into certain affordances that then make objects' use easier or more difficult. Are they coming at action from different angles? One with action as an effect of genre, the other with genre (affordances) as an effect of action?

Lastly, I added a node for "memory networks", the burgeoning archivist I like to see myself as. I connected this to Foucault's archives that I already suggested are a type of network. I connected a node for Solberg and Rohan, both CHAT authors dealing with memory, to that. Solberg suggests strong memories can impact the emotional environment in a positive way and Rohan argues that collective memory is built upon the reuse and repurposing of memory artifacts. I see both of these views as bearing on my object of study as effects of the seeing UPS as a memory network. I also connected that UPS node to "distribution" from the previous paragraph.

This is making me thinking about the relationship between memory and delivery. The classical canon suggests that to deliver a speech, we must have committed it to memory. The UPS is both a memory network, like Rohan's grates collecting thoughts and building a group memory, and a distributive system. I think this will be an interesting place to explore - and I'm glad the mind map was there to suggest it. I'm not sure I would have thought about it otherwise.

If the embed feature works, you will also see the current map here:

Reading Notes: Class Meeting 2/18/14

CHAT and Genre:

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.

However, in another sense the authors also seem to repurpose genre as affordances. They write, “As objects and environments are formed and transformed through human activity, they come to embody the goals and social organization of that activity in the form of affordances for use. Affordances do not determine how an artifact is used, but do make particular uses easier or harder” (Prior et al., “What is CHAT”). Affordances are the body of past uses that provide powerful precedents for how an object can be used; the authors are quick to point out that these affordances do not restrict new uses for an object, but they can make uses easier or harder depending on whether they align with past use or challenge it. Genres function in much the same way. When we create discourse according to a particular genre, that process may be easier or harder depending on whether that genre has been used in that way before or whether we are trying to stretch the genre to incorporate new functions.  

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."
Now the CHAT authors:
“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.

UAA's English Department features this Digital Composition Studio that functions much like a traditional writing center in providing tutoring for students composing in digital spaces, highlighting this growing move toward incorporating information technologies into the English discipline.

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. 
Rohan and Solberg on Memory:

Memory has factored significantly into my interests as an archivist. Rohan and Solberg both speak to memory as part of the rhetorical canon.

Rohan argues that the venting is "a system for memory keeping and memory making.” Each phrase added to the grate is an artifact. Artifacts can be reused by others to make new artifacts, so the constant reuse and recursive nature of artifacts maintains collective memory. 

Solberg describes how a secretary "needed to "remember" (for herself and her employer) in order to keep those around her happy and keep the office running smoothly. This memory work thus took the forms of emotional and organizational work."

These two ideas complicate my previous thinking of memory by adding such a strong emotional attachment to the concept. In terms of memory, it is obvious that old photographs or cherished childhood memories lend themselves to an overall contentment, but collective memory and the facilitation of a "happy" work place are new ideas.

How does memory work outside the individual? How does my memory contribute to a collective? How does the application of individual or collective memory create a happy environment?

I would like to see how these questions relate to other texts we read going forward, and how they might be answered by previous or future readings.

Works Cited:

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 ActivityKairos 11.3 (Summer 2007). Web. 17 Feb. 2014.

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

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

---. “What is CHAT." Re-situating and Re-mediating the Canons: A Cultural-Historical Remapping of Rhetorical ActivityKairos 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 ActivityKairos 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 ActivityKairos 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.

Mind Map: Class Meeting 2/11/14


Suzanne's Mind Map

(Additions this week in gray)

I started this week by thinking about Spinuzzi's opening to his book, and how he describes the frustration workers often feel when forced to use systems for work that do not meet their needs. This often results in more efficient workarounds to allow the worker to better complete tasks.

This reminded me of the first class meeting where I could not get connected. We resorted to using several workarounds when the Jabber technology was inaccessible. We connected using Skype, while I communicated with peers in Facebook chat, and spoke on the phone with tech support. I added the node of workaround to the original node of lacking connectivity. These workarounds, I realized, did for me what Spinuzzi calls asserting agency (3), which is empowering individuals to break out of the user-as-victim trope.

Before we were able to find these workarounds, though, I did feel victimized by the technology, which is a node I connected to isolation from Week 1. This powerlessness, or lacking agency, does quickly plunge one into the victim mind-set. Perhaps in the future this will serve as a reminder that seeking my own solutions to problems may not solve every glitch, but it is empowering and provides results that can be built upon.

I also added a node for mesoscopic level, the level of action, which I connected to last week's additions related to networks, genres, and civic web sites as actionable constructs.

Lastly, there is a connection between Spinuzzi's claim that communication and information design are ever more overlapping (5). I connected this to the role of "usability" in assessing civic web sites that Zoetewey describes. More and more, communicative products require the same criteria of effective rhetoric needed to make usable and useful digital products.

Reading Notes: Class Meeting 2/11/14

Thoughts on the Reading:

Melding English with Technology:

If the theme of last week for me was archive, then this week surely the theme has been critical making. Ever since reading the Zoetewey chapter of civic web sites, I have been thinking about the idea of scholars becoming increasingly engaged in the creation of technological products - a kind of "critical making", a term I encountered in a 2014 MLA conference CFW. I wrote about it here in my Mind Map and then again here in my discussion of my peers' annotations. Like I noted in the latter entry, it seems that the ideas with which we are most engaged are the ideas with which we see the most connections, so it is no surprise that my first connection this week is with critical making again.

Consider Spinuzzi's claim here:
"Lately, technical communicators have also sought to align their field more closely with informational design" (5).
In English Studies, we often are involved in communication; we deal with understanding and teaching rhetorical convention to aid in the communication of ideas and argument, traditionally in written forms. However, as the forms of communication are moving from paper to binary code, our discipline is having to incorporate knowledge from the informational design field.

An example of this is in our blog requirements for this course. We have format options that build upon the values of good information design. We take advantage of the digital space and add links, embedded images, and videos. We understand that information must be presented differently in these different spaces; people read and digest it differently. The form requires design elements that differ from the elements of form and style needed for successful academic essays. Our job as communicators of academic discourse must now envelope the tools of the information designer as we work and teach in digital space. Critical making requires the understanding of design as well as of content.

Implications of User vs. System Centered Design:

Spinuzzi explores the spectrum of design as it spans between user-centered and system-centered approaches. In the user-centered approach, the user is "empowered". The design is concerned with the needs of the users and their preferences for operation; however, these preferences may be at odds with the efficiency of the system or ease of production. A system-centered design would create a product without consideration of the users, leading to the their "dis-empowerment". He elaborates the idea with the notion of "democratic empowerment" and "functional empowerment" (13). The former being the power that comes from true user control over the design experience, the latter being only the limited powers given to the users from the system.

I saw in this description a resemblance to the emergence of the underground press movement. The media in the late 60s could be considered a form of system-centered design. The mainstream newspapers, radio, and television broadcasts held the control and the power over the content. Communities of users not finding in that content a reflection of their own values were disempowered and disenfranchised; they resorted to creating their own publications, a kind of "workaround" Spinuzzi discusses as user-created solutions to problems in their environment. The user-centered design of the UP movement publications provided democratic empowerment to the creators and readers where the functional empowerment of the mainstream media limited discourse and action to only that which it allowed. They were built on the idea that "knowledge [is] constructed through community created knowledge and action", the methodological foundation of user-centered design (Johnson qtd. in Spinuzzi 8).

Image posted on gadel.info


Interestingly, Spinuzzi continues to explore this dichotomy and explains that user-centered designs can tend toward the chaotic and unorganized while the system-centered designs tend to be inflexible (21). This is also applicable to the UP with many publications only lasting several weeks or months as different contributors' visions competed with one another. On the other hand, mainstream media publications now find themselves on the brink of bankruptcy as they are too large and inflexible to accommodate the users' shifting modes of information gathering.

The Mesoscopic Level and Bazerman

Spinuzzi defines three levels of genres: the macroscopic, mesoscopic, and microscopic. We are familiar with the "big-picture" and "small details" associated with the macro and micro levels, but the mesoscopic level is a new and unfamiliar idea. This mid-level is, for Spinuzzi, the level of activity. If the macro level is the abstract cultural ramifications of genre, and the micro level are the processes and operations employed by genres, then the mesoscopic level are "the tasks in which people are consciously engaged" (33). It is on the level that action takes places; it is the place where the user makes use of the microscopic level to engage in the activities needed to accumulate into the macroscopic level.

Spinuzzi also discusses Leont'ev's work in the context of the mesoscopic level. The importance of this level is grounded in the notion of small activities building toward significant human activities. Leont'ev explains, "Human activity does not exist except in the form of action of a chain of actions" (qtd. in Spinuzzi 33). All of human activity - no matter how revolutionary or impactful - is made up of many smaller actions. Is this a ground-breaking observation? Perhaps not, but it does remind us that large tasks (like earning a doctorate) can only be achieved through many small chains of action and individual activities (like writing a blog post).

But this idea also connects our thinking to Bazerman, who situates genres within a system of human activity as tools used to accomplish particular actions. I took the image I created on last week's blog post and added Spinuzzi's three levels, although there is room for debate over what we can consider as belonging to each level. Ultimately, I decided that social facts are the minute details that form the microscopic level, since Bazerman does not associate activity with the facts; they simply exist as truths. However, speech acts and the recognizable generic forms that they create are activities and do work in society thus making up the mesoscopic level. These actions can be viewed from above and organized into sets and systems as the macroscopic level.

Graphic depicting Bazerman's hierarchy of genre with Spinuzzi's genre levels 

Spinuzzi Aligns with Action-Focused Theories of Genre

Anyone reading this blog has probably noted an emphasis on and preference for aspects of English Studies that move beyond the boundaries of the ivory tower, so I enjoyed Spinuzzi's claims that genres function as social tools. He argues that genres are "traditions of producing, using, and interpreting artifacts" (41) and function "in a mediatory role" (40). This mediatory role is reminiscent of Miller's assertion that genres mediate  or translate action between the mind and society (Miller 71).

However, Spinuzzi also emphasizes tradition, an addition to the kind of action-genre vision of Bazerman and Miller. Spinuzzi claims, "Genres are doubly-oriented: they are oriented toward history and addressivity" (42). The addressivity is the same idea Bazerman and Miller propose, the idea that genres do work by addressing particular issues. However, history adds a nuanced idea. Spinuzzi's history is a kind of "social memory" that stabilizes the way genres are interpreted, formed, and changed (43). Bazerman and Miller also argue that genre is a social construct, but they do not place any emphasis on tradition. By their definition, genres can be constructed anew at any moment, but Spinuzzi seems to posit that historicity is inextricable from genre production.

There is also a connection to Popham's boundary objects. He writes, "Any given genre is used to mediate activities in one or more activity systems" (48). Spinuzzi's genre can be utilized by different authors/designers for different purposes, which also reminds me of the alternative use criterion associated with the Zoetewey chapter. Genre boundaries are fluid and mutable, like network nodes that can have multiple and disparate connections.

Genre-tracing and Implications for Research:

Spinuzzi explains a method for conducting genre-tracing by collecting data from each of the thee levels explained above (52-71). He argues that contradictions occur at the macroscopic level, which are caused by discoordinations at the mesoscopic level that lead to breakdowns at the microscopic level. This type of analysis can be a powerful approach to understanding genre-related activity and lead to important ramification for the design of future activities (56).

I started to think about how I could apply this kind approach to my own study of the underground press. There is frustratingly little scholarship about the movement; although, there is a wealth of primary documents and several good examples of reflections and histories. I feel the need to seek out the theoretical underpinnings of the movement as justification for the movement's inclusion in academic discourse as something beyond a "hippie" thing, so Spinuzzi's method intrigues me with possibilities.

For example, one of the contradictions is whether underground press publications are alternative news or artistic expressions. There is tension between the often blended purposes of the publications. This can be traced to the discoordination at the individual papers with some titles focused on politics and editorials with others more concerned with satire and graphic elements. These discoordinations often resulted in breakdowns of the genre, the splintering of papers attempting to "reperceive and remanage genres" (71).

The tools for the application of this approach also suit the work I can do and have done: retrospective interviews and document analysis for example (52). This, along with Bazerman's method of genre investigation, are potentially strong avenues for exploration in my dissertation. I am intrigued to see how seeing the underground press as a genre could strengthen the movement's position in the discipline.

I plan to apply genre theory to my OoS, so that could be a fruitful exercise as a prelude to this further exploration of genre.

Works Cited:

Bazerman, Charles. “Speech Acts, Genres, and Activity Systems: How Texts Organize Activity and People”. What Writing Does and How It Does It: An Introduction to Analyzing Texts and Textual Practices. Eds. Charles Bazerman and Paul Prior. Taylor and Francis e-library, 2008. 309-340. Print.

Miller, Carolyn. “Rhetorical Community: The Cultural Basis of Genre”. Genre and the New Rhetoric. Eds. Aviva Freedman and Peter Medway. London: Taylor and Francis, 1994. 23-42. Print.
Spinuzzi, Clay. Tracing Genres Through Organizations: A Sociocultural Approach to Information Design. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003. Print.

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.