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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.