In this week’s mindmap I found myself struggling to remember where things were to which I wanted to connect CHAT. I added a node for Prior et al. (representing the core text and the various operational representations included in the Kairos Remediating the Canons topic) and for CHAT, with its three basic areas of focus: literate activity occurring in functional systems within laminated chronotopes. I also connected CHAT to a theorized, but not especially effectively operationalized, theoretical construct.
At this point in the term, theoretical stances and their connections to one another are starting to blur in annoying, but also somewhat useful, ways. As time puts distance between my reading of theorists (like Bazerman and Foucault), I find that I’m able to pick up on general concepts within those theories rather than specific theoretical positions. I recognize the importance of recalling and applying specific theoretical positions, and I’m not suggesting I’ve lost the ability to do so (although it may take a little note reading to do it effectively). But in drawing connections among theorists and theories, I’ve found that having a general understanding of major concepts provides tools needed to more accurately draw connections.
For example, as I inserted CHAT into my mindmap, I immediately recognized that CHAT’s functional systems are roughly analogous to genre tracing’s activity system, so I drew a connecting line between those two aspects. CHAT sees the functional system as a social aspect of rhetoric in the same way genre tracing conceives of activity systems as consisting of social groups whose members are influenced by impulses toward centrifugal or centripetal change.
While I can’t always articulate the specific way(s) that theories match, understanding some of the major concepts provides a quick connectivity that can be tested and supported (or refuted) as needed. This has been useful to me, as I find myself too often sucked into trying to understand very specific aspects of theoretical stances (what is that historical a priori, after all, and does it relate in any way to the laminated chronotope?) rather than working to grasp a macro-view of the concepts as they work together to form the theory. I suppose I’m continually seeking to see theory operationalized or revealed in an OoS, and that only rarely happens (Spinuzzi being the delightful exception).
To date, I have found our theorists building upon one another.
- Bitzer and his respondents start working on the rhetorical situation.
- Foucault (see part 1 and part 2) examines in minute detail discursive formations to develop conceptions of statements, discourse, and archives of discourse.
- Bazerman, Miller, and Popham start examining the socially active aspects of rhetoric and start theorizing rhetorical systems.
- Rhetorical systems need to be assessed, so DWAE addresses some of the issues and questions surrounding our assessment of online networked discourse.
- Systems are the focus of Spinuzzi, who addresses the way genres work with and against one another within systems.
- And Prior et al. demonstrate that even our understanding of rhetorical systems needs to be questioned, problemetized, and expanded to address Bakhtinian time-space and its relationship to literate activities in those systems.
Each theory builds on the work of its predecessors in clear and specific ways, ways that are much easier to see as we travel farther away in time-space from Bitzer, Biesecker, and Vatz. I’m pretty sure hypertext theory is going to problematize this seemingly smooth (in hindsight) transition from theorist to theorist.
Problematizing theory is clearly the goal, both of this class and of scholars of rhetoric. It’s rather enjoyable, if sometimes wickedly selfish and self-immolative. Do we face the possibility that we’ll problematize ourselves out of defensible theories?