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Assignment: Object of Study Week Five, Part 1 – Application

Genre Theory as Network

Genre Theory is a body of discourse that overlaps in many ways with the key concepts involved with networks, particularly nodes and connectivity. One way to understand the relationship between genre and network is through the lens of Charles Bazerman’s systems of human activity in which he has situated genre as discussed in “Speech Acts, Genres, and Activity Systems” (311). He argues that all human activity is comprised of hierarchical, embedded categories. Like a set of Russian nesting dolls, human activity can be opened to reveal genre systems, which are in turn made up of genre sets. These sets contain within them what we understand as genres. Genres contain speech acts, and speech acts hold within them the smallest, indivisible category, social facts.

Wikipedia Commons image of nesting dolls

The relationship between these categories functions much in the same way as do the various elements in networks. We can understand Bazerman’s “systems of human activity” to be a network. It consists of nodes, or categories, that relate and connect to one another, allowing the network to function. However, because each category itself can consist of many examples, it is also possible to think of each category as a kind of sub-network with its own nodes.  

This understanding of genre-as-network can be applied to an object of study to reveal its previously unexamined aspects and provide new avenues of scholarship. In this case, the object of study is the Underground Press Syndicate (UPS), the free content-sharing network of underground press publications operating between 1966 and 1973. 

Definition and Nodes
How does the theory define the object of study? What are network nodes? 
How are they situated in the network?

Genre theory would define the UPS network as a genre system. 
Consider the diagram below. (Click here for link)

Google Drawing depicting Bazerman's Hierarchy of Human Activity as a Network applied to the UPS

The diagram shows interconnected clusters of nodes correlating to Bazerman’s categories. Each cluster is like a sub-network because the nodes there are “intertextually linked” (Bazerman 79, “Systems”). These sub-networks build upon each other to ultimately form a network of human activity.

 All human activity begins with social facts, “those things that people believe to be true” (Bazerman 312, “Speech Acts”). In the late-1960s, the counterculture understood social facts revealing to them the truths of segregation, the draft, and President Nixon to name a few. These social facts elicited reactions, responses, and utterances that when compiled made up a network of speech acts; typically these speech acts expressed various concerns for equality, personal freedom, and political reform. Underground journalists articulated these speech acts in recognizable patterns, or genres, such as the editorial, satirical cartoon, or even a creative poem - each type of document a node in a network of genres. Writers and illustrators collected these generic examples, as genre sets, into publishable newspapers and magazines. Each title or set a network connecting people and content, but also a node in a genre system. The UPS and other organizations like Liberation News Service (LNS) and Alternative Press Syndicate (APS) collected these genre sets, as genre systems, in order to redistribute their content to members. These genre systems produced social actions including disseminating information, creating a connected and informed public, and inciting protest activity. These social actions exist as nodes of human action in the network of human activity.

Situated thus, the news-sharing network of the UPS is understood as a genre system. However, genre theory also revolves around the idea of discourse being classifiable according to “conventional forms”. We understand that these forms take their recognizable shapes because they “arise in situations with similar structures and elements and because rhetors respond in similar ways, having learned from precedent what is appropriate and what effects their actions are likely to have on other people” (Miller  152, "Genre as Social").

Consider how the UPS resembles another example of this type of network, the Associated Press (AP). Both organizations emerged from similar situations where information for print media sources was not readily available beyond the region in which the paper worked. This need was responded to by the journalists (or rhetors) who organized themselves as members of a collective to gather and distribute news to all involved. The UPS learned from the precedent set by the AP, and the AP based itself on the rapid information sharing system used by the Pony Express that came before it (“AP’s History”). Therefore, the theory would also define the UPS as an example of the forms belonging to the genre of information dissemination practices.

YouTube video from AP showing compiled and edited choices about 2013 news items

Lastly, the UPS is also a genre in the sense that it performed activity in the community, an essential aspect of genre for Miller, Bazerman, and Popham. Popham argues that genres are how “ideas get transmitted” in society (281-2). Blumer quoted in Miller also argues that “social action exists in the form of recurrent patterns [genres] of joint action [collaboration across a network]” (158, "Genre as Social"). The UPS certainly transmitted ideas, often the only way for communities to become informed about what was happening in another “radical community” (Wachsberger qtd. in McMillian 46). This sharing of ideas, narratives, satire, and news, following reoccurring patterns of the information dissemination genre, was essential to Blumer’s social actions that were necessary to the growth of the cultural revolution. Here again, the UPS slides easily into the definitions and social roles that the theorists argue are essential to genre. 

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

For the journalists and illustrators creating content, agency was involved in determining which social facts are encountered and considered, what speech acts are formed, what genres are used for expression, what would be included in the publications, and what would be submitted to the UPS. The editors at UPS would determine what to include in the redistribution packets. The member newspapers would then have agency in selecting items from the packet to reprint in their publications. This suggests that agency is both restricted by selection and editing and available by those same processes.

In Genre Theory, this same limited and open agency exists. Bazerman explains that all speech acts have multiple intentions and interpretations (87, “Speech Acts”). Here genres have independence through multiplicity; it is up to the speaker/writer and the listener/reader to determine intent and comprehension. This is similar to the way members and editors can choose to include or exclude content that is deemed valuable or irrelevant.

Ron Cobb's cartoons collected in this book. Cobb's submissions were reprinted widely through UPS.
However, Bazerman also points out that there are rules and laws that govern how content is formed and organized (81, "Speech Acts"). These constraints allow an object to be recognized as belonging to a particular genre, but these precedents limit agency. For the UPS, the process of selection and editing also limited the choices that others in the network could make.

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

Nodes in Genre Theory are related to one another by way of repetition and overlap. As Miller explains above, genres are based on similar responses to similar situations following precedents (152, "Genre as Social"). The similarity and following of precedent suggest that genre are repeated and copied. Since UPS copied the precedent set by AP and was a similar to the LNS and APS responses to the marginalization of radical voices, the repetitious relationship between these nodes is seen.  

Another type of nodal relationship is overlapping, as expressed by Popham as “boundary objects”, which serve “the needs of multiple sites or multiple professions by being both flexible and stable” (284). Since the UPS distributed already published content for reprinting in different titles, we can understand the packets sent out to members as a type of boundary object that allowed multiple sites to use information adaptively. The UPS was a stable force that allowed for the flexible use of content.

Like creative commons images, boundary objects can be used by many users for many purposes. The UPS members submitted work for free use by others also like creative commons images.
Image from

Examining the diagram based on Bazerman’s work, the relationship between the node moves unilaterally toward human activity; however, it could be argued that the activity produced at the culmination of the network would then bring about new social facts. In that regard, the direction could be understood as cyclical.   

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

Genre Theory is focused on the action that it performs. Miller explains that genres help “communities do their work and carry out their purposes” (75, “Rhetorical”). As content traveled through the UPS, it produced action. As Wachsberger explained, the UPS allowed for otherwise disenfranchised communities to connect to and learn from other communities. This connection often led to a reinforcement of countercultural values. The inclusion of content from other newspapers could also lead to a professionalization of a title, increasing significance then circulation (Sink). When the underground press publications gained visibility and readership, the ideas expressed within the pages inspired and informed communities and became a platform for activism - the very effect of genre noted by the theorists.

Publication notifying and encouraging social action - a translation of genre (newspaper) into action (protest)
Image from personal collection

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

Genres and genre-based networks grow as a response to social facts as Bazerman explains. Spinuzzi argues that genres are oriented toward history, emphasizing the role of tradition in building genre (42). In this sense, genres are built through historical and traditional influences, moving in a stable direction based on past movement. Bazerman also suggests, through his ideas about multiple intentions and interpretations, that the network will emerge and move in new offshoots as nodes are utilized differently by different people. 

As genre forms become no longer relevant (like telegrams), then those areas of the network dissolve. As social facts change, what a person or group believes to be true changes, then new speech acts will revise previous utterances. This will then revise areas of a network or make them obsolete.

Telegraph equipment rendered obsolete in the communication network. Now housed in a museum.
Image by Porthcurno Telegraph Museum

The UPS grew and developed as a response to the genre sets and their need to reach wider audiences more rapidly so social action could be encouraged. It grew as a result of the available technology and emerged in new directions with each new member publication contributing and receiving material.

The UPS as a network of information dispersion, like the Pony Express, has also become a dissolved network. As the underground press publications flashed and went dark across the scene, the need to disseminate the information also faded. The counterculture was able to spread through mainstream media channels as the decade wore on and transitioned into the 1970s. As the social facts changed - Civil Rights Act of 1968, withdrawal of troops from Vietnam, the end of the draft in 1973, broader acceptance of the movement - the kind of speech act responses also changed and no longer found the need for radical expression in underground publications.  

Ultimately, this analysis reveals that contrary to the popular characterizations of the counterculture movement as chaotic and revolutionary, there are actually strong, recognizable traditional structures operating at the core of the UPS. It follows patterns set by history and tradition. The application of this theory to the UPS network focuses on alternative distribution more than alternative content because the node of UPS belongs to the genre system of information distribution (like AP), so content is not discussed readily. This is a very interesting and new way to think of the underground press, which is so closely associated with the content - the articles and cartoons, the style and the political action. However, genre theory allows a glimpse at the processes at work beneath the pages of the individual titles. We can see the UPS functioning as a piece of human activity, with roots in all human activities related to the sharing of information - a descendant of the Pony Express and a precursor to wireless communication. It allows for the UPS to be situated in the wider scope of human communication systems and the human desire to be connected. There are fruitful avenues for further study here as yet more legitimization of underground press scholarship as a significant cultural, human, and historical artifact. 

Works Cited

"AP's History." Associated Press. Web. 11 Feb. 2014.

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.
---. “Systems of Genres and the Enactment of Social Intentions”. Genre and the New Rhetoric. Eds. Aviva Freedman and Peter Medway. London: Taylor and Francis, 1994. 79-104. Print.

Miller, Carolyn R.. “Genre as Social Action”. Quarterly Journal of Speech 70 (1984): 151-167. Print.

---. “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.

Popham, Susan L.. “Forms as Boundary Genres in Medicine, Science, and Business”.Journal of Business and Technical Communication 19 (2005): 279-303. Print.

Sink, Suzanne. “Inquisition - Charlotte, NC”. Southern Underground Press. Web. 10 Feb. 2014.

Spinuzzi, Clay. Tracing Genres Through Organizations: A Sociocultural Approach to Information Design. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003. Print.

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

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.

Mind Map: Class Meeting 2/4/14

Additions this week in hot pink.

This week I have been eagerly digesting the ideas from Miller, Bazerman, Popham, and Zoetewey. Each of these authors speaks to some aspect of social action, which excited me to my core. I study activism, and have always held a fascination for and respect of the work that activists do. Then in more recent years, I have come to see how my own scholarly pursuits can be actionable. There is a growing emphasis on critical makingin digital humanities, on scholars not just thinking and writing but making and doing. I see myself situated in this discursive field with an emphasis on building a digital archive combined with social media functions (like BuddyPress). This critical making will bridge the gap between the theoretical and pragmatic, and this is exactly the kind of function that the writers this week argue about genres and civic web sites.

I started by creating a node labeled “Things that can be seen as networks” and connected out to genre (through Bazerman’s argument that genres exist in inter-textual systems), civic web sites, literature reviews (an idea explored in my Reading Notes) and the archive node from last week.

I then made a node labeled “Networks in action” and connected  that to genre, civic websites, and a node related to archives explaining that an archive allows for the action of diagnosis. I connected this node to Bitzer’s argument that through the actions of an audience, discourse can mediate or change the rhetorical situation.

Genres fulfill social functions; they effect change in a community. These ideas clearly appear in Miller’s and Popham’s articles. Discourse, in the form of a genre, can be understood by an audience and used to inform, persuade, or support them. This argument resonates with me as a way that English Studies, that objects belonging to that field, can be more and do more than just existing in the pages of obscure texts. Things under the purview of this discipline can be active and engaged in our communities.

Civic web sites also “do work” by creating a space for discourse about a community issue, often leading to action of the part of the informed public. In this way, they turn the public into producers of knowledge, a node that I connected to Bitzer’s idea that rhetorical situations (community problems) invite a response (creation of civic web sites) that can be used to effect change by the audience (public viewers of web site).
Another connection from genre is to Foucault’s argument that books are nodes in a network. Miller argues that the genre is an interlocution between the mind and society. It is a node in the network of social activity, a point through which ideas are transformed into action.

Finally, I added a node for Popham’s idea of “reflexion”, that we use one discipline to create an image of another, which connects to Foucault’s idea that we come to know a discursive field by studying how one object/event informs another, their proximity, the connections, and the relations between them.

Suzanne's Mind Map

Reading Notes: Class Meeting 2/4/14

Thoughts on the Readings:

Literature Review as Network:

Carolyn Miller begins her article, "Genre as Social Action", with a literature review of previous scholarship on genres. I was struck by how a literature review can function as a network. Miller writes that Campbell and Jamieson's understanding of genre as having important "social and historical aspects" (151) "leans on" the Burkean terms "motive" and "situation" (152). Then she links their explanation to Bitzer's idea of exigence requiring response and even Aristotle's situation-based rhetoric (152). She argues that their work is indebted to, but differs from, the work of Frye and Black in their privileging form over situation (153). She traces Burke's influence on Fisher in terms of the idea of motive; then continues to credit Fisher with influencing Harrell and Linkugel (154). In this way, the literature review places nodes (authors) within a network (genre discourse). She describes the connections, proximity, and relationships between the nodes. 

Genre as Network:

I am struck by the similarity of genre in Miller's work to Foucault's discussion of fields of discursive events - a space into which events are dispersed and understood by their connections to one another. Miller seems to suggest this as well, asserting that "genre...becomes...a point of connection between intention and effect, an aspect of social action" (153). What is a node, if not a "point of connection"? Genre is a node in the discursive field of social action; it provides the meaningful "features that create a particular effect in a given situation" (153). Miller suggests that if we have an intention to create an action, we rely on our understanding of genre to create an appropriate product to achieve the desired effect. For example, I have the intention of completing a doctoral program of which this course is one requirement. My understanding of the situation as academic in nature and my understanding of certain genres like blog posts, journal articles, or conference papers is necessary if I want to translate the intention into result. Without the ability to navigate through and (re)produce these recognizable forms, I would not be able to complete the program - the desired effect.

Miller later offers this same idea of genre as a node where "intent" is replaced with the "mind" and "effect" can be replaced with "society". In essence, we need genres to translate what exists in our minds into tangible objects that potentially effect society. 

Miller's rethinking of genre from "Rhetorical Community: The Cultural Basis of Genre" (71)

Bazerman Organizes Genre:

Bazerman positions genre in a larger network of human activity in his chapter "Speech Acts, Genres, and Activity Systems". The triangle below is a visual representation of the hierarchy described in the text, placing social fact as the foundation of text-based action (311). It seems that social fact could be equated with exigence (Bitzer) or motive (Burke). It is the problem or awareness of an action needing to be taken. The response to these facts is a speech act, and there can be a collection of many speech acts into longer forms. These speech acts can take recognizable forms, genres, which can themselves belong to groups of similar forms or with similar producers, genre sets. These sets are connected in systems that facilitate the flow of communication between them, genre systems. Then ultimately, these genre systems can be understood as modes of participating in patterns of human activity.

Bazerman's hierarchy of text-based action (311)

Implications for Research:

This week, two ideas emerged that could be potentially helpful to my research.
  • Bazerman's method of conducting a genre investigation (326): This concept could be applicable in the sense of studying the underground press as a genre, which had not occurred to me before, and would be an interesting avenue for exploration. He gives three points when conducting genre investigation - framing the purpose, defining the corpus, and selecting and applying tools. It occurs to me that this method privileges the role of the investigator, forced to make edits and selections at every step of the process - reminds me of Vatz's emphasis on the role of the rhetor in constructing discourse for that very reason of the power of selection.
  • Miller brings the scholar Herbert Blumer into the discussion, author of the 1979 text "Symbolic Interaction". She explains his position that "social action exists in the form of recurrent patterns of joint action" (qtd. in Miller 158). This quote stopped me in my tracks as relevant to the underground press movement. The movement's goal was social action and it channeled this intention through the reoccurring pattern of the dissenting voices in self-published pamphlets or newspapers belonging to communal, or joint, action in its collaborative nature. I intend to find the Blumer article to explore more of this idea that communal actions follow historically repeating patterns to effect social action or change. It feels like the kind of theoretical underpinnings needed to ground my research in the discipline.

A Note on Process:

This is my brain tonight. Synapses firing. Memory centers lighting up like fireworks. Ideas flashing like lightening. This blog is an attempt to organize these tangents and connections into a coherent discussion.

Image posted on tumblr by Silicon Garden
I did something slightly different this week. In the past, I have printed the pdf files of assigned readings and dutifully underlined meaningful passages, took notes in the margins, and scrawled summaries at the end of chapters. But this week, I didn't print the articles since my printer won't print black and white documents until I replace the cyan cartridge.

Screen capture of comic strip from Oatmeal

But I digress. Instead of my usual method, I used the unlined printer paper that my printer refused to have anything to do with and took notes about the articles on the sheets. It was strangely beneficial. I wrote out interesting quotes by hand. I found myself drawing little pictures or diagrams. I drew lines and arrows between bullet points. I easily flipped between my pages to find places of connection that might otherwise have been missed if I had to navigate a complete pdf.

I just wanted to pause here to reflect on the process of reading this week that I used, and to credit this process with the more fluid thinking that accompanied the reading.

Scans of some of my notes liberated from lined paper and marginalia:

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.

---. “Systems of Genres and the Enactment of Social Intentions”. Genre and the New Rhetoric. Eds. Aviva Freedman and Peter Medway. London: Taylor and Francis, 1994. 79-104. Print.

Miller, Carolyn R.. “Genre as Social Action”. Quarterly Journal of Speech 70 (1984): 151-167. Print.

---. “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.

Popham, Susan L.. “Forms as Boundary Genres in Medicine, Science, and Business”. Journal of Business and Technical Communication 19 (2005): 279-303. Print.

Assignment: Annotated Bibliography Part 1 – Entry


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.


The primary concern explored in this chapter is the evaluation of student-produced civic web sites; these web sites are defined as "community-based digital spaces that can be used to enable public deliberation."

The authors explain that there is an inherent difficulty with assessing civic web sites in that usefulness - the ultimate goal of a civic web site - can only be determined after the public has had a chance to utilize the site. However, a student will need a grade at the end of a semester before the public has had that chance to interact with the final project students produce. If the site cannot be evaluated based on its usefulness to the public, then what criteria and methods can be employed to determine a fair evaluation?

The authors are clear to distinguish between "usefulness" and "usability." Usability is a site that is easy to use, makes efficient use of graphics and interfaces. Usefulness is the idea that a site helps users "do better work"; the site supports learning and knowledge-making.

Civic web sites can be difficult to assess because traditional rubrics favor usability when evaluating digital products; concepts like simplicity, scanable content, and efficiency are privileged. However, civic web sites have a different purpose, which is to provide users with deeper educational content, unfettered access to data, and communicates in specialized vocabularies specific to the field. These criteria are often incompatible with traditional usability rubrics, requiring an alternative method for evaluation.

The authors explain their concept of "productive usability" which accounts for these advanced needs and is based on the features that users of civic web sites have identified as being important to the work they wanted to do. Productive usability is based on three main criteria: consideration of alternative use, consideration of technical literacy, and consideration of interactivity.

Alternative use is the idea that site creators should consider the multiple ways in which the information may be of use to the public, and they should plan for the kinds of alternative uses that might occur that differ from the creators' intentions. For example, the creators may want a civic web site that provides information for policy makers, but the site may also be visited by citizens looking to become involved in a cause. The site should be evaluated based on whether the creators accounted for the multiplicity of purpose in visiting the site.

Technical literacy is the idea that the civic web site is educational at its core, and if people visiting the site are to be able to participate in the discourse, they must have the fluency in the specific jargon used therein. There must also be an inclusion of full-text reports and other data that can be read and interpreted by the user. Technical literacy is the term applied to the jargon and data, and it should be evident on the site in links to data or the inclusion of glossaries.

Interactivity is the idea that visitors to the site must be engaged in order to participate in the discourse surrounding the particular civic issue being highlighted online. Interactivity is the pathway to engagement by building emotional and psychological connections to the issue. The site should encourage various forms of interaction to build the sense of engagement and ultimately action. Evidence might take the form of photographs designed to induce an empathetic response or a place devoted to user uploaded narratives.

Finding indicators of the three criteria above should also be combined with evidence of the students' process in creating the site. Process-based evidence might include journal-style work logs, which track the groups' discussion and implementation of the three criteria.

By evaluating a civic web site based on the indicators and process-based evidence of the three criteria of productive usability, instructors will be able to confidently assess student-produced digital spaces before the public has a chance to determine their usefulness outside the academic exercise.

Connections to Course Readings:

  • The article describes civic web sites as having "the potential to aid change in communities." This is reminiscent of Miller's work with genre. She explains that we can view genre as being able "to marshal linguistic resources for the sake of social action" (71 "Rhetorical Community"). She continues to argue that genres help "communities do their work and carry out their purposes" (75 "Rhetorical Community"). There are also connections to Popham's claim that "genres are the means by which things get done within a community, ideas get transmitted, and plans get made" (281-2). Both civic web sites and genres are significant because of the work they can perform with a community, for their ability to create action and change. 
  • This ability for the audience to perform social action is also linked to the claims by Bitzer. He argues that the "rhetor alters reality by bringing into existence a discourse of such a character that the audience, in thought and action, is so engaged that it becomes mediator of change” (4). Here, the rhetor can be understood as the makers of civic web sites. They bring the site into existence much like Bitzer's rhetorical discourse and the audience reached becomes engaged in the topic enough to foster change. The term engaged is significant especially since interactivity to increase engagement is on of the three criteria the article proposes to use for evaluation. Furthermore, the civic web site is evaluated based on usefulness - the concept that the user can "do better work". This doing of work by the audience is the same as Bitzer's argument that "rhetorical discourse produces change by influencing the decision and action of persons who function as mediators of change" (7). Civic web sites provide the tools and information needed for the audience to do work that will ultimately change a community.
  • The concept of alternative use is related to Popham's ideas about boundary objects. Popham states that "a boundary object serves the needs of multiple sites or multiple professions" (284). This is exactly what makers of civic web sites must take into consideration under the article's proposed evaluative criteria. The site should be agile enough to meet the needs of users that the site-creators may not have in mind as the initial audience; it should be a boundary object that can serve the needs of multiple users. There is also the Bazerman idea from the chapter "Systems of Genres and the Enactment of Social Intentions" embedded here that there is a "multiplicity of action" (90) in texts with multiple intentions and interpretations possible from the same speech-act (87). Alternative use suggests that civic web sites have multiplicity, the potential to be useful to the community in more than one way. 
  • We can also see connection to Foucault in the discussion. Consider the following quote from the article: "[The alternative use criterion] requires seeing the audience in context, considering how the information relates to a range of stakeholders, and positioning them as active participants, capable of exploring their own interests." In this sense, the civic web site becomes meaningful in terms of its relations. Foucault is interested in scholars' ability to "analyse the interplay of [concepts'] appearances and dispersion" (35). Creators of civic web sites are evaluated on how well they can analyze how information relates to various audiences, how the active participants will be positioned against the information provided, and where they will be dispersed throughout the field.
  • Foucault is also present in interactivity as the concept is grounded in the theory that there should be "no pre-set entry points or stopping points" (Mirel qtd. in Zoetewey). This is discussed in context of the notion that interactivity and engagement can be reached through user-guided explorations. The web site should be designed in such a way to support this free exploration without pre-set starts and stops. This is like Foucault's ideas about general history versus total description. He writes, "A total description draws all phenomena around a single center - a principle, a meaning, a spirit, a world-view, an overall shape; a general history, on the contrary, would deploy the space of dispersion" (10). By building in a principle of free exploration to enhance engagement, the civic web site is less structured or restrictive, much like the general history using the "space of dispersion". Users are allowed to move as they will through the dispersed space, leading himself or herself to the knowledge and connections important to them. 

Works Cited:

Bazerman, Charles. “Systems of Genres and the Enactment of Social Intentions”. Genre and the New Rhetoric. Eds. Aviva Freedman and Peter Medway. London: Taylor and Francis, 1994. 79-104. Print.

Bitzer, Lloyd F.. “The Rhetorical Situation”. Philosophy & Rhetoric 25 Selections from Volume 1 (1992): 1-14. Print.

Foucault, Michel. Archaeology of Knowledge. New York: Vintage Books, 2010. Print.

Miller, Carolyn R.. “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.

Popham, Susan L.. “Forms as Boundary Genres in Medicine, Science, and Business”. Journal of Business and Technical Communication 19 (2005): 279-303. 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.