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The OoS Matrix: FrankenTheorizing Composition MOOCs

Composition MOOCs: Theorizing Pedagogy, Space, and Learning. Why Here? Why Now? As argued in earlier case studies, the Composition MOOC is one of many different types of course offerings in an emerging trend (some would call it a fad) of … Continue reading

Case Study Synthesis: Outline of a Frankentheory

Frankentheory Outline

 

Which 2 – 4 theories are you choosing and why?

Ecology

  • Allows me to look at the OoS’s role within the larger network (EKU) (ecosystem and biospheres)
  • Explains how the network grows, evolves, dissolves (population diversity)
  • Explains the interrelatedness of groups and environment

Distributed Cognition

  • Acknowledges the importance of the environment for human action
  • Distinguishes between affordances and perceived affordances

CHAT

  • Acknowledges the complexity of rhetorical activity (multiple layers)
  • Considers the ideological foundations and results of rhetorical activity
  • Whereas ecology posits succession, CHAT allows that activity is intentional and rhetorical rather than natural

Actor Network Theory

  • Considers the specific connections at the individual level
  • Allows for non-human agency

How are they similar enough that you can justify getting them to work together? How do they fill each other’s gaps?

Similarities

  • They all acknowledge the difficulty in defining boundaries
  • All consider multiple influences in shaping the network

Gaps

  • Ecology, distributed cognition, and CHAT (activity theory) all center on organisms as actors. Actor Network Theory allows for the agency of non-living actors. It seems that ANT, then, fills in the gap of connecting distributed cognition and CHAT. If non-living objects can serve as mediators rather than simple tools of action, then rhetorical action is transformed by human and non-human interaction.
  • ANT’s focus on the individual makes it difficult to understand any network that is larger than the individual. By combining it with ecology and CHAT, we are able to get a more holistic understanding of the OoS while also acknowledging the importance of the individual’s network. For example, we can look at how the OoS’s approach to improving writing (CHAT) is juxtaposed with an individual’s relationship to writing (ANT).
  • Distributed cognition (what we read of it, anyway) has a very narrow focus—human interactions with the environment that focus on the environment as tools for human action. CHAT and ecology broaden that perspective to understand how those interactions operate within a larger context and their implications.

How do these theories align with how you position yourself as a scholar?

WPA scholar

 

  • Ecology: aligns with my belief that it is important to acknowledge that writing programs operate within the larger network of a university and explains the importance of having diverse groups invested in the program. It also reaffirms that changes to a program are long-lasting and, potentially, irreversible
  • CHAT: recognizes the importance of understanding how ideologies and foundational beliefs (laminated chronotopes) impact the visible structures and literate activity within a program
  • ANT: Focus on the individual’s connections aligns with the idea of writing as a process that is both personal and collaborative. Writing is shaped by the individual’s experiences, which are influenced by other individuals

Digital Media Scholar

  • CHAT: Recognizes that the traditional rhetorical canons are insufficient for mapping digital rhetorical activity (Prior et al. say that they’re insufficient—and always have been—for all rhetorical activity, but the gap seems to be revealed by digital composing)
  • ANT: Acknowledging the agency of non-human actors aligns with digital media scholarship. Changes in available media allow for remediation, influencing and shaping the design choices that people make
  • Distributed cognition: Specifically, affordances and perceived affordances help explain both the designer’s choices AND the user’s uses.

How do these theories align with your own biases and background (the reason you came to this project in the first place)?

  • My background in writing centers and teaching English has taught me to see the writing process as both a personal and a collaborative endeavor. The methods that we use to teach writing are based on a history of praxis that has evolved.
  • I took Louise’s WPA course as part of SDI last summer. While I’ve always perceived that writing programs operate within the larger system of a university, the interconnectedness of seemingly disparate offices, departments, and programs was a big focus of the class. As a result, I chose this OoS partly as a way to better understand that interconnectedness.
  • As the first multiliteracy center of its kind, the Noel Studio presents an interesting case study for examining the numerous external and internal influences on communication processes. As the Coordinator of Writing (the first one, responsible for shaping the position), I feel the pressure of trying to recognize, understand, and account for all of these influences when it comes to training consultants and dealing with student composers.
  • I’ve seen first-hand how non-useful it is to disregard the agency of communication technology when working with students on their communication projects. As Jenny Rice has explained, understanding the affordances of different media impact the invention process and disregarding those affordances limits the potential effectiveness of a text.
  • In terms of design, thinking about how others can perceive and use the affordances of a text is just as important for a student composing a digital text as it is for a student using the technology to compose.
  • I recognize that the Noel Studio is the result of the ideologies, epistemologies, and politics of diverse groups, both institutionally and disciplinary. I also believe that understanding how the Noel Studio operates in terms of networks will inform not only my work but also the work of others at EKU and others in writing, communication, and multiliteracy centers.
  • I acknowledge that each theory has become another thread/connection in my own development as a WPA and Digital Media scholar and that each connection influences my daily approach to working in the Noel Studio.
  • As a doctoral student with an emphasis in Technology and New Media studies, I’ve been examining arguments for a digital rhetorical theory to expand or replace the traditional rhetorical canons. As such, I agree with Prior et al. that the traditional canons are insufficient for mapping rhetorical activity

 

Synthesis…I hope

Theories Which 2 – 4 theories are you choosing and why? Rhetorical Situation Theory: Bitzer, Vatz, and Biesecker provided different approaches to the rhetorical situation, which allow me to consider exigence (problem that invites a response), the rhetor, and the site of communication, respectively. If I utilize my re-proposed Oos, in which I expanded the […]

MindMap #8: Latour

Latour has been added to the list of people I plan to avoid forever (along with Foucault). I did not enjoy reading about ANT. I have read about and used ANT before in digital humanities; however, I did not read Latour. I cannot remember who I read, but I remember enjoying it. This was not […]

The Ecology of the Mindmap Gets Another Update

Mindmap: http://popplet.com/app/#/1589875

Mindmap update_March 23

Mindmap update_March 23

Ah, ecologies, cybernetic epistemologies, differences, affordances, and perceived affordances. What to add this week to my reframed mindmap?

For the mindmap, I stuck to Bateson and Gibson as a way to continually try to contain the behemoth that has become m brainstorming of connections tool. Needless to say, even color-coding the nodes may not help if the mindmap is too big to be read (at least this is slightly better than the original). This time, though, I took a slightly different route. Instead of connecting quotes to other quotes, I decided to focus on which theories I thought best connected to Ecology Theory. This took me a while because a lot of our theories have had to do with technology and ideas, whereas ecology always seems linked to the natural world (which, I learned, from reading these two authors, need not be separated from our technological bubble). My answer for the theories: Foucault and ANT.

Bateson’s idea of the ecology of the mind, the cybernetic epistemology in which the larger Mind plays a role, reminded me a lot of the archives Foucault mentions in The Archaeology of Knowledge: “the very meaning of ‘survival’ becomes different when we stop talking about the survival of something bounded by the skin and start to think of the survival of the system of ideas in circuit. The contents of the skin are randomized at death and the pathways within the skin are randomized. But the ideas, under further transformation, may go on out in the world in books or works of art. Socrates as a bioenergetic individual is dead. But much of him still lives as a component in the contemporary ecology of ideas” (Bateson 467). This quote also makes me think of Shakespeare’s promise in one of his sonnets that the subject of the poem will live on longer after the death of the body (which then also reminds me of the promise made to Achilles, but that is for a different day and a different thought pattern). There may not be an over-arching narrative of history, but there are the ideas in circulation, slipping beneath our view and then being dragged back out again when they make more sense. This, then, also reminds me of the second quote I added to the mindmap by Bateson: “an economics of information, of entropy, negentropy, etc…informational or entropic ecology deals with the budgeting of pathways and of probability. The resulting budgets are fractioning (not subtractive). The boundaries must enclose, not cut, the relevant pathways” (466-467). I found it interesting that there were two different definitions for ecology, and that one deals with “an economics of information.” It helps to bridge the Cartesian divide we normally have set up between mind and body, and in this case, Mind and Nature.

It is, in part, this second quote along with Bateson’s whole article, that reminded me a great deal of Actor-Network-Theory, as it is the natural world that is also a network (though we call it an ecology),  and a lot of our technological network seems to play out the kinds of networks we see among animals, plants, and plants-animals. Of course, since we are also animals, we are simply mapping onto the virtual environment that which is familiar. Actors are actors regardless of the space.

The last node I put up was a definition for Affordance, cobbling pieces of my understanding together with fragmented quotes by Gibson. “is part of the relationship between the environment and animal that can be found through ‘the terrain, shelters, water, fire, objects, tools, other animals, and human displays,” but  it “must be measured relative to the animal’ as it is what the environment ‘offers the animal, what it provides, or furnishes, either for good or ill’” (Gibson, “Theory of Affordances” 127). While I couldn’t think, yet, of how to connect this to other nodes in my mindmap, I wanted to make sure that it was in there. I think the affordances, or perceived affordances mentioned by Don Norman, are the mediators and intermediaries of ANT. They are the non-human elements that help to transform or relay information to an organism, which in turn affects the ecological network.


In Which ANT Meets Rhetorical Theory, And Even Objects Have Agency_Case Study #2 WoW

WoW Guild. Image hosted on Think Tutorial.

WoW Guild. Image hosted on Think Tutorial.

For this second case study, I am approaching guilds in World of Warcraft from Rhetorical Situation Theory (Lloyd Bitzer and Richard Vatz) and Actor-Network-Theory (Bruno Latour). While Rhetorical Situation is focused on humans as rhetors and the functions and effects of rhetorical discourse on and within audiences,  ANT looks at non-human as well as human actors as they are constantly defining and redefining groups and what is, ultimately, the social. Both of the theories look at those who are acting within a group, with one being more inclusive as to who/what can be an actant, and effects of the actors’ movements rippling through the network rather than looking at the network from the outside in.

Literature Review

The research that surrounds computer and video games is usually limited in terms of what is being analyzed. The major scholarly tracks seem to be violence, effects on children, Hzuinga’s “magical circle,” how games can be used for learning, gamer-avatar identity, and addiction (with this last one being a major component of research done on WoW). The international popularity of WoW (and some other MMORPGS, though WoW tends to have the most active subscriptions) is reflected in the scholarship surrounding it, as researchers from around the world turn their attention to the game and the effects it has, or can have, on its players. Scholars like Shelia Murphy as well as Nicholas Hoult and Douglas Klieber attempt to understand how computer games and video (console) games provide spaces for players that draw them in to identify with their characters (as well as how that gamer-avatar identification can be disrupted) in a way that television and movies do not, drawing upon the psychological needs being fulfilled. Like Murphy, Alex Golub also explores the visual elements of computer games, with WoW as his primary object of study, but ultimately concludes that the players’ experiences in virtual worlds are not based on enhanced sensorial realism, but on downplaying that realism because, “Rather than describe people who turn databases into worlds, I will describe a community which has taken a virtual world and turned it back into a database” (19). Golub finds that players use what the game provides them to strip away the levels of realism to work more closely with the code, the language of ones and zeroes, to enhance their experience of the game and their activities within guilds, and such activities take place not only in the game through verbal and textual communication between players and actions of avatars, but also through out-of-game spaces like websites and forums, email, phone calls, and through software like Skype and Google Hangout. Work like that of Chien-Hsun Chen, Chuen-Tsai Sun, and Jilung Hiesh is an outlier to the usual research being done on computer and video games as they use quantitative analysis to track the constant evolution and dissolution of WoW guilds in Taiwanese servers, finding that there are patterns to the creations, maintenance, and disbanding of guilds, based on players’ movement between guilds based on level ranking and quality of guild management.

Rhetorical Situations in a Game?

For the first part of this case study, I am going to be working with Rhetorical Situation Theory (focusing on the works of Bitzer and Vatz), looking at moments of rhetorical situation and the boundaries within which rhetors produce discourse in the gamespace of WoW.  But, are there moments of rhetoric in an MMORPG? If, as Bitzer says, “rhetorical discourse comes into existence as a response to a situation,” what kinds of situations in-game would create moments of rhetorical discourse (5)? It’s just a game, isn’t it?

Well, yes, it is a game, but it is also an environment, one that is heavily grounded in social interaction. Rhetoric is everywhere as players move as network nodes between interactions, joining and leaving guilds as well as joining and leaving raiding parties. Within guilds, players must convince one another of battle strategies as raids can often be difficult undertakings, requiring hours of planning and hours of execution, sometimes with little success; in player-player conflicts, with some players defending themselves and their potential virtual property against other players; when player-player conflicts cannot be resolved, there are ruptures within guilds, leading to the creation of separate guilds; and within the creation of new guilds, the recruitment of players into the guilds, especially when the gamer is new to the server or has been relatively isolated prior to creating a guild charter.

Guild social dynamics are essentially playing out in a microcosm of social and political** (usually within the guild, not in the gamespace at large) tensions, mediated through character avatars over Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and textual messages. But rhetorical situations do not only occur in-game for guilds, but also outside of games: in forums (official and unofficial), on guild websites, through YouTube videos, and in personal communications. Much of this discourse is written by guild members for guild members, creating a circular audience, though gamers outside of the guild and even non-players (depending on the medium) can have access to out-of-game texts about in-game activities.

VoIP. Image hosted on official WoW site, Battle.net.

VoIP. Image hosted on official WoW site, Battle.net.

Unofficial World of Warcraft website for the guild Frostwolves.

Unofficial World of Warcraft website for the guild Frostwolves.

With this theory, rhetorical discourse always has a human agent, what Bitzer calls “mediators of change”: “Rhetorical  discourse produces changes by influencing the decision and action of persons who function as mediators of change” (7). This raises the questions of who would constitute the rhetors, the mediators of change, and the audience of those moments of discourse? The answer to these questions will always be guild members, but there are different kinds of guild members. There are differences between guild officers, raid leaders, guild leader, power players versus non-power players, and veteran players versus rookie players. The differences in-game are not based on outside elements like age, profession, race, financial status, or social class, but are based on experience and skill in-game. While the ideal is that every member of the group be given fair and equal treatment within the guild, there are often moments where players’ agency depends on their perceived level of commitment to the group and what level of guild hierarchy they have reached. It all depends on the rules established by the guild for how the guild operates in gameplay.

Oftentimes, a guild’s success at continuing to exist is based on the quality of guild management and how much agency each member (as a node in the network) has in the relationships formed through rhetorical discourse. The conversations that arise during the whole process of raids (from the pre-planning, the decisions as to who will play what role, the instructions and conversations that crop up as the raid is taking place, and the distribution of loot after the raid has been successfully completed) reflect the quality of leadership and companionship of the guild to its members, even if to no one else. If there is a break down in communication, if the leader (or rhetor) has no responsibility placed upon him/her for the rhetorical situation he/she has decided to take advantage of or ignore, the group may become fragmented as the members (who are more than “mere hearers and readers”) become mediators of change in a way that can ultimately dissolve the guild. Players may leave the guild (alone or with others) if they feel they are being treated unfairly (such as them feeling cheated if they are not allowed loot they have requested, if they feel the loot is being hoarded by guild officers, and so on), if they feel they have outgrown what the guild can offer their character, or if the guild is not operating efficiently enough (too many members missing raid meeting times). If the rhetorical discourse require for a situation is ineffective or absent when most needed, the guild as a whole may be left at a severe disadvantage if the best players leave. Even a player who feels he/she has no agency in the group, still has enough agency to leave the group and find a new guild.

From the angle of rhetorical discourse, what is moving through the network are the rules and guidelines that the members are continually establishing and putting into effect (or neglecting) for the experience they are seeking as a collective. Vatz states, “To the audience, events become meaningful only through their linguistic depiction” (157). Guild members could play the game alone (whether that gameplay would be successful or not would be another story), but it is the rhetorical exchange that underlies the guild activities that gives the events meaning for the players. A raid would be just hack-and-slash and magic-casting except that the players are using language to persuade themselves and each other that this raid, this dungeon, this boss fight means something for all of them. The raid leader may need to persuade others that a certain strategy is the correct one, but that explanation and the resulting discourse makes it a lived experience. Even a breakdown in communication or a consistent lack of quality guild management is a rhetorical discourse that can lead players to become mediators of change through guild dissolution.

**Side note: There are also times when political rhetoric crosses into a gamespace as players adapt the web of interconnectivity that a popular game can provide. An example of this is an in-game political rally for Ron Paul supporters that was established by players. These players carved a non-traditional space (non-traditional for a game, at least)for themselves within WoW by collecting supporters for an out-of-game cause.  Can the video below be considered a rhetorical text? Can these players be considered mediators of change as both rhetors and audience members?

Enter the ANT

While Rhetorical Situation Theory is very much about the human and the rhetorical discourse, ANT allows the very non-human entities of hardware and software as having just as much agency as the gamers themselves in a study on WoW. The programming code that makes everything work is not pushed off to the side; it is allowed into the discourse, becoming a major (and acknowledged) part of the network. With ANT, the actors are the nodes, but who are out actors? So yes, gamers, of course, are on the list of actors, but so are representations of the code through non-playable characters (NPCs), loot from raids, quests logs, monsters, characters’ pets, parts of the environment, and objects that can be handled in the game. But our list is still incomplete. We have to step outside of the game and look at what allows gamers to actually play: keyboards, CPUs with monitors or laptops, mouse, and headphones, as well as additional technologies that can now be used to access the game (thank you add-ons from Blizzard) like cellphones. Is this a more complete list? Sort of. Guild activities do not only take place in the gamespace, but outside of it as well in forums, through software like Google Hangouts and Skype, through social media like Facebook, and through unofficial game websites. There could be other actors involved, especially if the guild members know each other in person, but this will be okay for now as our list is more robust than simply just listing humans. This is what a WoW ANT network for a guild would like.

Normally, when a guild is mentioned, people imagine this:

WoW guild, anyone? Image hosted on the C Trust Network.

WoW guild, anyone? Image hosted on the C Trust Network.

When really, with our newly constructed list in mind, the mental image should include these two:

Example of what a screen for what a player sees during a raid. Image hosted on C Trust Network.

Example of what a screen for what a player sees during a raid. Image hosted on C Trust Network.

Guild playing at a tournament. Image hosted on website SK-Gaming.

Guild playing at a tournament. Image hosted on website SK-Gaming.

Now that we have our larger (if not totally exhaustive list) and our handy-dandy new mental image, we must deal with a new way of conceiving how the nodes in our guild network have agency and are situated within the network. Why would I choose to list these actors? According to Latour, “If we stick to our decision to start from the controversies about actors and agencies, then any thing that does modify a state of affairs by making a difference is an actor– or, if it has no figuration yet, an actant. Thus, the questions to ask about any agent are simply the following: Does it make a difference in the course of some other agent’s action or not? Is there some trial that allows someone to detect this difference?” (71). Let’s see if we can tease out how this works within an MMORPG. What do all of these actors even do for the network? The gamers, their hardware, and the game’s software have one major collective goal. They are all working towards the creation and maintenance of the gameworld in which the guild exists. Sounds odd that gamers are part of this, doesn’t it? But, that’s how games work. The developers design the code that then puts the gameworld into existence on the chosen platform(s) players will then access through their chosen hardware. If the gamers choose not to play, eventually the designers will have to shut the game down or the game remains in its plastic casing on a shelf. In order for the gameworld to be activated and maintained, it needs someone to be playing.

But, we need to narrow this down further. Our target network is not the game as a whole, but individual guilds. What gamers, the software, and the hardware do for the game at large works the same way for the guild on a more microscopic level. The guild’s boundaries must be defined and redefined constantly, which Latour mentions when discussing the creation and maintenance of groups: “all need some people defining who they are, what they should be, what they have been. These are constantly at work, justifying the group’s existence, invoking rules and precedents and, as we shall see, measuring up one definition against all others. Groups are not silent things, but rather the provisional product of a constant uproar made by the millions of contradictory voices about what is a group and who pertains to what” (31). In this sense, the guild is a network node inside a much larger, far more extensive network. And, the gamers, who would have been just one node among (literally) millions of other player nodes, and those are just talking about the human elements of the game. What being part of a guild does then is offer players greater agency in their own gameplay experience of WoW by making them a node in a network that is comprised of a more manageable (usually) number of human players.

However, if those guild members stop redefining the boundaries of their group, against the world, other guilds, and against players with no guilds at all, the guild itself will dissolve. The code and gamers’ hardware is not enough to maintain a guild. The guild may have an archive of some kind as having once existed, but the players are the core nodes who meet and interact in a way that makes a guild what it is. That being said, the guild would not exist without the code that is always underlining the game. There would be no reason for a guild unless the environment of the gamespace provided dungeons to conquer, raids to take on, a world to explore, cities to visit, and servers where players can face off against one another or players (PvP) face off against the environment (PvE). And, without the hardware of the computer and the headphones, players would not have access to the gamespace and to each other. All of the actors are necessary, especially with digital games.

It is here where ANT really diverges away from theories like Rhetorical Situation Theory, complicating how we see interactions in a network. What exactly can be moving through a guild network when we must take into account the software and hardware? How does it move among the different nodes? One of the major things moving through the network is code, zeroes and ones that render the visuals, relay information  about characters’ statuses, allow for environmental sounds and pre-established soundtrack selections, and initiate reactions from the environment, NPCs, and monsters in which the guild members interact. There are also the zeroes and ones that allow players to have their avatars do physical gestures towards one another and allow relay their textual conversations. But, that’s not all. The hardware players may opt to use like headphones and mics allow for verbal communications. Rhetorical discourse may be part of what is being conveyed, but, in this more inclusive list of network nodes, the code is central to all transmissions.

Who/what are the mediators and what are the intermediaries making all of this possible? “Every time a connection has to be established, a new conduit has to be laid down and some new type of entity has to be transported through it. What circulates, so to speak, ‘inside’ the conduits are the very acts of giving something a dimension. Whenever a locus wishes to act on another locus, it has to go through some medium, transporting something all the way; to go on acting, it has to maintain some sort of more or less durable connection. Conversely, every locus is now the target of many such activities, the crossroads of many such tracks, the provisional repository of many such vehicles. Sites, now transformed into actor-networks for good, are moved to the background; connectors, vehicles, and attachments are brought into the foreground” (Latour 220).

**This quote always reminds me of Tron: Legacy.

In ANT, there are mediators (those that cause other actors to do something) and there are intermediaries (objects that relay information without causing change), though intermediaries can become mediators. How to picture this, though, when zeroes and ones are at the heart of everything in-game and players must continually be mediators while they are immersed in the gameworld? The hardware seem most likely to be continually be mediators so long as gamers are playing, in much the same way as Latour’s example of telephone wires being persistent mediators for the British Empire. It took me a while to puzzle this one out, but the best example I could think of for an intermediary in relation to a guild in WoW would be NPCs and monsters populating the world. As guild members move through the gamespace, signing off and returning to the world of the game when the guild and the meatspace demand, NPCs and the other creatures of the gamespace continue to exist, but what are they doing? In a sense, they are code-in-waiting. They are physically representing the zeroes and ones that program an NPC or a monster to be in a particular location, but they are not really causing change in the network of the guild until a player (or the group of players) interacts with them. These digital entities are always ready, either standing in the same physical space or roaming predetermined pathways, waiting for something to trigger them (through conversation or battle). Once activated, the NPC or monster then becomes a mediator by either giving players details for a particular quest or transporting them for the former, or attacking them for the latter. The players may then be sent in a new direction (to find an item, location, or just to run away), or find themselves needing to defend and attack.

Example of an NPC. Image hosted on the WoW Insider on Joystiq.

Example of an NPC. Image hosted on the WoW Insider on Joystiq.

Conclusion

When applying ANT to guild activities in WoW, there is as much need to define and redefine the boundaries of the network for the researcher as the actors when they are defining and redefining the groups within which they find themselves working. The code of the game may play a major role in what the guild can do in the gamespace, but it does not limit itself to that. The code is always working throughout the game, across the different servers in the different countries where people are playing. When talking about this angle in my case study, I always get the sense that I am stepping away from my object of study as the boundaries blur. The zeroes and ones are hidden from the more casual player under layers of what they render, though the games allows players the option of stripping away the visual elements in order to have greater access to the code underneath. This makes tracing the associations in ANT a little more difficult. Game developers make the world as seamless as possible so that players can immerse themselves, and hardware and software are only truly noticed when they malfunction. In comparison, Rhetorical Situation Theory seems easier to implement, primarily because it is not as inclusive and, therefore, more manageable. By only focusing on humans dealing with other humans, the extra variables made visible in ANT are left out.

References

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

Chen, Chien-Hsun, Chuen-Tsai Sun, Jilung Hsieh. “Player Guild Dynamics and Evolution is Massively Multiplayer Online Games.” CyberPsychology & Behavior 11.3 (2008): 293-301. Academic Search Complete. Web. 18 March 2014.

Golub, Alex. “Being in the World (of Warcraft): Raiding, Realism, and Knowledge Production in a Massively Multiplayer Online Game.” Anthropological Quarterly 83.1 (2010): 17-45. JSTOR. Web. 26 Jan 2014.

Holt, Nicholas A. and Douglas A. Kleiber. “The Sirens’ Song of Multiplayer Online Games.” Children, Youth and Environments 19.1 (2009): 223-244. JSTOR. Web. 26 Jan 2014.

Latour, Bruno. Reassembling the SocialAn Introduction to the Actor-Network-Theory. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005. Print.

Murphy, Sheila C. “‘Live in Your World, Play in Ours’: The Spaces of Video Game Identity.” Journal of Visual Culture 3.2 (2004): 223-238. Sage. Web. 17 March 2014.

Vatz, Richard E. “The Myth of the Rhetorical Situation.” Philosophy & Rhetoric 6.3 (1973): 154-161. PDF.

Sunday Begins and Ends with Music


Case Study #2: Apply CHAT and ANT – CH[A(N)T] – to Google Analytics

Literature Review: Google Analytics, My Beloved OoS 

In general, researchers appear to use Google Analytics™ (GA) web analytics service as a tool for  measuring web visits and, to an extent, visitor behavior. In discursive terms, GA collects and visualizes an archive of traces of user interactions with web pages. The discursive activity of visiting (and, presumably, reading) a web page is seldom referenced in research that uses GA for measurement; instead, the archival trace of the discursive activity gets captured, archived, and visualized.

Most research uses an enthymeme that reads something like this: GA data can help developers improve websites. For example, Kirk et al. (2012), in an article seeking to monitor user engagement in an Internet-delivered genetics education resource developed for nurses, report that GA “informs approaches to enhancing visibility of the website; provides an indicator of engagement with genetics-genomics both nationally and globally; [and] informs future expansion of the site as a global resource for health professional education” (p. 559). Similarly, Mc Guckin & Crowley (2012), in an article evaluating the impact of an online cyber-bullying training resource, the CyberTraining Project, report that GA data have “allowed for the project team to further understand how best to optimize the product (i.e., the Website and the eBook) for ease of access and navigation by unique and referred users” (p. 629). Focusing more specifically on GA reporting over time, Plaza (2009) notes that “GA tells the web owner how visitors found the site and how they interact with it. Users will be able to compare the behaviour of visitors who were referred from search engines and emails, from referring sites and direct visits, and thus gain insight into how to improve the site’s content and design” (p. 475). Missing from the enthymeme are assumptions that connect GA to improved websites, assumptions that can be phrased in questions about the relationship between GA, website visitors, and website developers: What data are provided by GA that can directly relate to specific improvements in website design? What user behaviors can and should be examined via GA to evaluate the success of the website? What benchmarks should developers set to measure success or failure? While these questions are not ignored in research that uses GA reporting, they are not directly or specifically addressed. As a result, readers miss out on key assumptions that researchers make about specific ways the data provided by GA reports can and will be used to make concrete changes to website design and structure.

Bruno Latour’s (2005) introduction to actor-network-theory (ANT) identifies transporters of meaning among connections as “mediators” or “intermediaries.” An intermediary “transports meaning or force without transformation” while mediators “transform, translate, distort, and modify the meaning or the elements they are supposed to carry” (p. 39). When researchers present GA as a means of measuring user interaction with websites, they generally describe GA as an intermediary. By describing GA as an intermediary, researchers ignore, potentially to their peril, the mediating potential of GA reports. For example, Dahmen & Sarraf (2009), reporting visitor analytics of an online art museum exhibition, claim that “through the use of Google Analytics, this research seeks to understand how the public used the Web representation of the special exhibition” (p. 2). Their report represents GA data as authoritative and unmediated; the GA interface that visualizes and reports visit data is accepted as accurate, without comment. Mc Guckin & Crowley (2012) take a step toward recognizing the potential mediating effects of GA reports by claiming to “ascertain the efficacy of GA as an effective resource for measuring the impact of the CyberTraining project” (p. 628), but they conclude, “Such information [provided by GA] proves valuable in the iterative development and dissemination of the project and has, directly, informed the planning of the new CT4P project” (p. 629). GA is considered a blackboxed intermediary for reporting web visits. In other words, current research offers little theoretical perspective on the potential mediating effects GA may have on the data it reports and visualizes. This blog post seeks to remedy that omission by applying both ANT and cultural-historical activity theory (CHAT) to Google Analytics and the data it provides on visitor interactions with the website of the University of Richmond School of Professional and Continuing Studies (SPCS).

An OoS on the LOoSe

One of the most interesting aspects of using GA as my object of study (OoS) is that it remains a product continually in production. Although Google does not address it explicitly, it’s become clear that Google is working to make GA a digital analytics platform that expands well beyond the measurement of interactions on websites. I’m working toward a certificate of completion for Google Analytics Platform Principles (2014) as a followup to a certificate of completion I received for Digital Analytics Fundamentals (2013), and both of these online learning modules address Google Analytics as a broad-based digital analytics platform that handles data from a wide array of sources, even non-Internet-connected applications and appliances. The result, as I’ve experienced it, is that the Google Analytics Platform (yes, that’s the proper noun) is expanding its reach and scope on a weekly, perhaps even daily, basis.

This makes applying activity theories like the cultural-historical remapping of rhetorical theory (CHAT) and actor-network-theory (ANT) quite comfortable. GA as OoS is itself in active flux, continually redefining (perhaps more accurately expanding) itself for a fast-changing connected world.

ChOoSing a Definition

Screen capture of Google Analytics data model

Visualization of the laminated chronotope in Google Analytics. In this overview of the Google Analytics data model, the user (a CHAT node) engages with web content in space (interaction) and time (session).

CHAT might describe GA as a representation of practices within a laminated chronotope. As a tool that measures interactions between visitors and web pages, GA collects the results of “mediated activity:… action and cognition [that] are distributed over time and space among people, artifacts, and environments and thus also laminated, as multiple frames or fields co-exist in any situated act” (Prior et al., 2007, emphasis original). The action that gets represented as a visit in GA is loading a specific web page. Cognition gets represented in the action of following a link on a specific page to load a new page or resource. This activity is collected over time in a session, defined in GA as the time within 30 minutes a single visitor, identified by an anonymous, unique identifier and saved in a first-party cookie (“Platform Principles,” 2014) remains engaged within a surveilled website before leaving that domain or expiring the session time. GA represents all of the activity within that session in an aggregated visualization. Session data are collected over time and are the result of laminated activity among people, artifacts (like web pages) and environments (like browsers, computers, mobile devices and the like).

ANT might describe GA as traces of connections among networked actants. Actants captured in a web session might include the visitor, the technological interface (computer/mouse/monitor or mobile device), the web page content and links, the writer of the web content, the host server, the network gateways and cables, and many more too numerous to detail. ANT would likely chafe under the need to define the collecting mechanism itself, however, and suggest that GA might be an artificial data assemblage that needs to be reassembled. Specifically, since GA is a data framework that collects only preselected data points (“Tracking Code Overview,” 2012), GA might be accused of “filtering out” and “disciplining” the data collection: “Recording not filtering out, describing not disciplining, these are the Laws and the Prophets” (Latour 2005, p. 55, emphasis original). More useful might be the preprocessed data collected by Google Analytics servers; processing organizes the web session into a predefined framework, precisely the activity ANT seeks to avoid in its practice.

LOoSe the Nodes

CHAT might define nodes as literate activity “among people, artifacts, and environments” (Prior et al., 2007). Using this definition, GA includes such human nodes as website visitors, web writers (including CSS, XHTML, JavaScript, and other programmers), website designers and developers, and marketers who determine the content of the web pages and websites. In the case of the SPCS GA account, institutional nodes would include the University of Richmond and the School of Professional and Continuing Studies, each of which contributes in a meaningful way to the visual and textual rhetoric of the site. Working together as an ecology in the functional system of the website, these nodes would all be aspects of CHAT’s literate activity. Visitors might be ascribed limited agency for their roles in reading content and authoring linked narratives. Web writers, marketers, and developers would have full agency as content creators. The website itself is ascribed no agency; it’s not considered part of the natural ecology of the network. Institutional entities (UR and SPCS) have minimal agency as regulators of environment and work.

ANT defines nodes as actors, and there are myriad actors (more precisely, actor-networks) at work in GA. From the programmed codes written and interpreted to the software and hardware mediating and displaying web pages to the visitors and writers and programmers to the network providers and databases—ANT accepts any and all of these actants as nodes with the potential of agency. Latour (2005) refers to these objects as “the non-social means mobilized to expand them [the basic social skills] a bit longer” (p. 67) and confesses that ANT will “accept as full-blown actors entities that were explicitly excluded from collective existence by more than one hundred years of social explanation” (p. 69). The implication is that all the technological hardware and software — the GA code, the wired and wireless networks (cables, routers, and servers), and the Google Analytics processes server — work together to enable the web visitor to interact with this creation of the web writer, developer, coder, and marketer. This collective is incorporated at the moment of loading a web page, and its momentary connectivity is both enabled and expanded by agency of the object actors.

Where ROoSt the Nodes?

CHAT locates nodes in hierarchical relationships with one another in the network. Prior et al. (2007) conceive of literate activity producing socialized interaction within the functional system as part of the laminated chronotope of activity in space and time (Take 2: A Cultural-Historical Remapping of Theoretical Activity). In this hierarchy, web visitors are outside the system except during literate activity, defined as interacting with the multimodal text(s) within the site. Web writers, developers, and marketers are members of the functional system where literate activity (defined as creating and instantiating the multimodal text) occurs. The website itself is the functional system; the School gives the system chronological and spatial existence while the University gives the system technological existence. GA collects traces of literate activity among nodes within the functional system of the website, visualized and reported as interactions in space (between pages) and time (within sessions).

ANT flattens the network entirely. Latour’s (2005) conception of ANT works to keep the social flat (pp. 165-172), connecting all of the actor-networks (nodes) within the activity network in a single, non-hierarchical surface. Within GA, this flatness is largely retained within the report. All actor-networks have mediated, translated experiences of web content — there are no intermediary experiences, whether visitor or writer, software or hardware. GA reports a visualization of mediated network activity in a flattened data table. The flattened data table in GA treats the visitor’s web browser or operating system as equally significant to the actor-network represented by the visitor or web writer. Relationships between actors are largely un-disciplined; they are simply reported, regardless of the inherent logic (or lack thereof) in the relationship uncovered.

FootlOoSe Nodes

CHAT stresses an ecological relationship among nodes, limiting that ecology to the natural and material world (Prior et al., 2007). Visitors enter into the functional system of the website and navigate through it. Web writers, developers, and marketers engender the navigation links through the system, giving visitors pathways for narrative production. The website functions as the system, enabling web visits in time and space. The School provides content for the system, while the University provides the localized instantiation of the content in the website. GA records the traces of interactions within the functional system, visualizing them in laminated chronotopes in time and space. GA does not clearly identify the human actors in the network, preferring to aggregate identities. However, GA enables web writers, developers, and marketers to examine the traces of aggregated literate activity by visitors and revise website content and structure accordingly. This provides the opportunity for dialogue among human actors.

ANT stresses incoming connections among interconnected nodes. Latour (2005) frames this according to what it means to be a “whole”: “to be a realistic whole is not an undisputed starting point but the provisional achievement of a composite assemblage” (p. 208). Nodes that have more incoming connections than others are considered more settled and blackboxed, meaning they shift from being merely actors to becoming conduits for the flow of mediators: “an actor-network is what is made to act by a large star-shaped web of mediators flowing in and out of it” (p. 217). Such a star-shaped web of mediators is immediately visible in GA reports: the page in a website that receives the most visits or page views is the most connected page. This page is generally the website’s home page, and its purpose is not to provide content but to allow mediators to flow through it — to allow visitors to find what they’re seeking and connect to it.

WhOoShing through the Network

In GA, visit data — encrypted bits and bytes, assemblages of sequenced zeros and ones — moves from the visitor’s device to the GA server for processing and reporting. The collection process leading up to this movement differs between browsers (mobile and non-mobile) and mobile apps: browsers send data collections with every page load, but mobile apps bundle visit data and send it in timed intervals to protect mobile device battery life. This too simply describes a very complex ecology of network and computer hardware and software that transmits data from web content creators to web visitors to GA servers, but I’m limiting this discussion of movement to data from visitor’s device to GA servers. See the Google Analytics (2014) Academy “Data Collection Overview” video presentation (below) for additional details.

CHAT might describe this movement as distribution in the literate activity of viewing a web page or using a mobile app. Prior et al. (2007) define distribution as “the way particular media, technologies, and social practices disseminate a text and what a particular network signifies” (Mapping Literate Activity). In this case, two distributions occur: the distribution leading to reception (by the web page visitor) and distribution leading to the assemblage of visit data collected for interpretation on GA servers.

Screen capture from YouTube video

Visualization of Google Analytics data points. The tracking code packages visit (hit) data in an image request that looks like this. Screen capture from Google Analytics Platform Principles – Lesson 2.1 Data collection overview

ANT might describe this movement as the social. The assemblage of connections from hundreds of thousands of SPCS visitor pageviews flowing into the GA server could be what Latour (2005) calls “the social — at least that part that is calibrated, stabilized, and standardized — [that] is made to circulate inside tiny conduits that can expand only through more instruments, spending, and channels” (p. 241). In this case, the conduits are standardized in the GA’s preselected data points (“Tracking Code Overview,” 2012). When and if GA adds new data points for collection, these tiny conduits would be expanded. This definition also suggests that many other connections remain unsurveyed, Latour’s “plasma.” The assemblage of all connections would be the social fabric of the network.

Meaning Released from the HOoSegow?

CHAT might describe meaning as the result of literate activity in the functional system. Prior et al. (2007) map literate activity as a multidimensional process that can include production, representation, distribution, reception, socialization, activity, and ecology (Mapping Literate Activity). The results of this literate activity are recorded and transmitted from visitor’s devices to GA servers. The meaning of these data points are processed (interpreted) and reported as visualizations. That meaning becomes the basis of analysis; analysis leads to conclusions about visitor behavior, which in turn result in changes to the web content leading to new literate activities.

ANT, on the other hand, ascribes no meaning to the results of CHAT’s literate activity. Latour (2005) remains adamant into the conclusion of Reassembling the Social that the social is dynamic and active, not a substance: “the social is… detected through the surprising movements from one association to the next” (p. 246). As a result, what GA does in processing and visualizing the results of activity in the SPCS website is not about ascribing meaning, but about tracing associations. And because those associations (connections) are mediated by the limited data points collected, the processing done by the GA servers, and the visualizations available, the reassembled social of GA is likely too limited to trace the plasmatic connectivity of the visitor’s web browsing experience.

Networks Emerge, Networks VamOoSe

CHAT and ANT will agree on this: actors initiate, grow, and dissolve networks. Prior et al. (2007) and Latour (2005) build their arguments on the social activities of actors. CHAT engages those actors in literate activity, while ANT engages those actors as connected actor-networks. Only activity on the part of actors can cause the network to emerge. For CHAT, only the activity of web content creators, web developers, database administrators, marketers, and web visitors can generate the first packet of data to flow across the network from visitor device to GA server. For ANT, the list of actors can extend much farther into non-human actants, but the principle remains the same: actors must initiate the network. Actors can grow the network through more visitor sessions — by many measurements, adding visitor sessions and growing session length is my primary professional objective as web manager — and actors can also dissolve the network by removing a web page (authors) or no longer visiting the website (visitors).

ClOoSing Thoughts

GA itself is a fairly limited network. Its boundaries could easily be drawn around the connection between the GA code on the web page or in the mobile app and the GA server. Any other activity that either leads up to the connection or follows the connection — namely writing and viewing a web page or viewing and interpreting GA visualized data — could be seen outside the network. Except that CHAT and ANT seek to problematize such limited perspectives of networks by addressing the activity that enlivens connectivity. So for these two theories, I found myself widening the focus to include the biological (CHAT and ANT) and non-biological (ANT) nodes in the network. This perspective turns into an ecology whose various members are only momentarily connected at the moment of accessing a web page or mobile app. But in that moment, myriad connections reveal actors and build a remarkably complex assemblage of networked components. As a result, I found few limits in CHAT or ANT to addressing GA as my OoS — other than the shortage of meaningful English words that contain the character string “-oos”.

References

Dahmen, N., & Sarraf, S. (2009). Edward Hopper Goes to the Net: Media Aesthetics and Visitor Analytics of an Online Art Museum Exhibition. Conference Papers — International Communication Association, 1-28.

Digital analytics fundamentals [Online course]. (2013, October). Retrieved from Google Analytics Academy https://analyticsacademy.withgoogle.com/explorer

Google Analytics platform principles [Online course]. (2014, March). Retrieved from Google Analytics Academy https://analyticsacademy.withgoogle.com/explorer

Kirk, M., Morgan, R., Tonkin, E., McDonald, K., & Skirton, H. (2012). An objective approach to evaluating an internet-delivered genetics education resource developed for nurses: Using Google Analytics™ to monitor global visitor engagement. Journal of Research in Nursing, 17(6), 557–579. doi:10.1177/1744987112458669

Latour, B. (2005). Reassembling the social: An introduction to actor-network-theory. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. Clarendon Lectures in Management Studies

Mc Guckin, C., & Crowley, N., (2012). Using Google Analytics to evaluate the impact of the CyberTraining Project. CyberPsychology, Behavior & Social Networking, 15(11), 625-629. doi:10.1089/cyber.2011.0460

Platform principles: Website data collection [Video transcript]. (2014, March). Google Analytics Platform Principles. Retrieved from Google Analytics Academy https://analyticsacademy.withgoogle.com/course02/assets/html/GoogleAnalyticsAcademy-PlatformPrinciples-Lesson2.2-TextLesson.html

Plaza, B. (2009). Monitoring web traffic source effectiveness with Google Analytics: An experiment with time series. Aslib Proceedings, 61(5), 474-482. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/00012530910989625

Prior, P., Solberg, J., Berry, P., Bellwoar, H., Chewning, B., Lunsford, K. J., Rohan, L., Roozen, K., Sheridan-Rabideau, M. P., Shipka, J., Van Ittersum, D., & Walker, J. R. (2007). Re-situating and re-mediating the Canons: A cultural-historical remapping of rhetorical activity [Multimodal composition]. Kairos, 11(3). Retrieved from http://kairos.technorhetoric.net/11.3/binder.html?topoi/prior-et-al/index.html

Google Analytics. (2014, March 11). Google Analytics Platform Principles – Lesson 2.1 Data collection overview [Video file]. Retrieved from http://youtu.be/qQdPXouWeJE

Tracking code overview [Web page]. (2012, October 29). Google Analytics. Retrieved from Google Developers https://developers.google.com/analytics/resources/concepts/gaConceptsTrackingOverview#howAnalyticsGetsData

[Header image: I’m a Google Analytics Geek: Screen capture of the Google Analytics Academy]

A Mind (Ecology) is a Terrible Thing to Waste (Affordances): Week of March 16th

“We can equate the place with geometry and space with geography. Geography or space is lived or practiced more than geometry of place … geometries are necessary ways of mapping relations among histories and constructing tactics of resistance that tie … Continue reading

A Mind (Ecology) is a Terrible Thing to Waste (Affordances): Week of March 16th

“We can equate the place with geometry and space with geography. Geography or space is lived or practiced more than geometry of place … geometries are necessary ways of mapping relations among histories and constructing tactics of resistance that tie … Continue reading

Mind Map #8: L8

This week’s mind map is, I believe, a week late. I really didn’t think about posting until I saw others post theirs, and it dawn on me that I should have added some nodes and connections in my map. So I did, but I didn’t try to add anything more specifically related to ANT. Instead, I found video visualizations that applied to the three theories we’ve most recently studied: CHAT, hypertext, and ANT.

Screen Shot 2014-03-16 at 9.29.25 PM

Mindmap #8: Adding Video Visualizations for CHAT, HT, and ANT

The ANT video demonstrates the need to reassemble the social that inspired Latour: a willingness and desire to discuss social as a “thing” that exists rather than as a networked relationship that leaves traces but only exists in the moment of connection.

The hypertext video demonstrates the hype of hypertext without exactly demonstrating how that hype actually, well, improves or changes the way we think about reading, writing, and texts.

And the CHAT video takes a very concrete approach of applying activity theory to a project aimed at developing custom user experiences for autistic students and their teachers and parents.

This time around, having spent a week of Spring Break taking a little break from the daily grind of class preparation, I just wanted a little bit of the concrete. The videos offered an opportunity to think more practically, or at least more visually, about topics that are swirling around my head in ever-more-complicated eddies and vortices.

[Feature Image: Visualization Wall – Molecular Data. CC licensed image from Flickr user Andrew Lenards

Ah, a Mindmap that Makes (a little) More Sense

Mindmap: http://popplet.com/app/#/1589875

Mindmap reframed_March 09.

Mindmap reframed_March 09.

For this week, I decided to remap my mindmap with colored nodes so as to make the distinct theories stand out more (as compared to the gigantic labyrinth of black nodes I had before). I definitely felt like Joseph Conrad’s Kurtz when I saw many nodes and links I was going to have to move over and color-code if the remapping was to be successful. How would I describe the experience of remapping two months worth of connections? Exhausting, just exhausting. But, it needed to be done, so it was, and hopefully that color scheme will hold out for the rest of the semester.

Anyways, now that I am done mourning the brains cells that have passed from existence while I was trying to follow the threads of past theory experiences, time to talk connections. Ah, but where to start?

First might be to talk about the oddity of one of this week’s addition: the Youtube video. While trying to work my way through the last half of Reassembling the Social, I looked up videos of people discussing ANT and Bruno Latour’s work to give myself a better grounding in the theory. What did I find? A woman talking about ANT but, as she claims, “in plain English.” I actually really enjoyed her video, with her cutout symbols that she would rearrange as she was discussing how ANT rearranges previous claims made by sociologists. Her video is a step towards a fuller understanding of the theory, and as I move through Case Study #2, I hope to put her explanation in discourse with Latour and others talking about  him.

Now, on to the nodes I made from Latour’s actual work:

1) “the question of the social emerges when the ties in which one is entangled begin to unravel, the social is further detected through the surprising movements from one association to the next; those movements can either be suspended or resumed; when they are prematurely suspended, the social as normally constructed is bound together with already accepted participants called ‘social actors’ who are members of a ‘society’; when the movement toward collection is resumed, it traces the social as associations through many non-social entities which might become participants later; if pursued systematically, this tracking may end up in a shared definition of a common world, what I have called a collective; but if there are no procedures to render it common, it may fail to be assembled; and, lastly, sociology is best defined as the discipline where participants explicitly engage in the reassembling of the collective” (Latour 247),

and 2) Construction: “Moreover, to say that science, too, was constructed gave the same thrill as with all other ‘makings of’: we went back stage, we learned about the skills of practitioners; we saw innovations come into being; we felt how risky it was; and we witnessed the puzzling merger of human activities and non-human entities. By watching the fabulous film that our colleagues the historians of science were shooting for us, we could attend, frame after frame, to the most incredible spectacle: truth being slowly achieved in breathtaking episodes without being sure of the result” (Latour 90).

I really liked both of these quotes as they helped to complete the image of social ties and construction, which then fanned out to help me gain a greater understanding of how Latour wanted ANT to be different from the methods Sociology had been using up to that point (and even after?). The idea that the participants or actors (human or non-human) have to be actively involved in order to define and redefine the groups that will then, on a much larger scale, define and redefine networks, businesses, cultural groups, societies, and civilizations reminds me a lot of Foucault’s work in the sense that history is not one fluid, continuous narrative, but series of narratives threaded together, looping back on one another, getting lost and reemerging, seemingly snapping off at their peak. This sense of how even the smallest action is driving towards creation, maintenance, or destruction of a group allows me to see how disruptions at a greater level actually operate, instead of being an abstract idea.

The one connection I was really excited to make this week was actually in regards to Foucault, who I find Latour to be very reminiscent. When Latour is discussing, how objects that people have stored away and seemingly forgotten are never completely out of reach: ”when objects have receded into the background for good, it is always possible–but more difficult–to bring them back to light by using archives, documents, memoirs, museum collections, etc., to artificially produce, through historians’ accounts, the state of crisis in which machines, devices, and implements were born…the history of technology should have forever subverted the ways in which social and cultural histories are narrated” (Latour 81). It made me think of Foucault’s statement that, ”I reject a uniform model of temporalization, in order to describe, for each discursive practice, its rules of accumulation, exclusion, reactivation, its own forms of derivation, and its specific modes of connexion over various successions” (Foucault 200). This “reactivation” he mentions for “each discursive practice,” and the archive that appears later in The Archaeology of Knowledge fit with this idea of technology as active agents in Latour’s account disrupting traditional methods of “the ways in which social and cultural histories are narrated.”

Music to Make Me Smile:


OoS Outlines Reflection

My two case study outlines to read were Amy’s and Daniel’s, both of which proved to be extremely thorough and well thought-out.

For her case study, Amy plans to apply both genre theory and activity theory to MOOCs. While her outline is detailed, I’m concerned that she might be trying to do too much for the scope of this assignment. While I see the points of her conversation, I’m not sure how she is planning to discuss each point in relation to the different theories (but knowing Amy, I feel confident that’s something she already knows–it’s just not clear for me from the outline).

Daniel’s outline of applying both CHAT and ANT to Google Analytics is more similar to mine, which is potentially why it’s easier for me to follow. This seemed to be a thoroughly considered plan that conforms to the guidelines and questions of the assignment.

From their comments on their own outlines, I can see that Amy and Daniel were having the same difficulties I was–trying to consider how we’d outlined our rubrics for a case study against the questions. I feel like my outline is pretty bare bones compared to these two, but I was also trying to follow the instructions from Week 7 that said the outline should be an outline of applying theories, not what we would write about. I’m looking forward to reading the feedback my peers give me, but expect they will have had some of the same difficulties in providing feedback that I did.


Mind Map: Week 8

ENG  894 Mind Map8For this week’s update to my mindmap, I created two new primary nodes–one for Latour and one for Spinuzzi. To Latour I added the primary features of actor-network theory (ANT): it’s an ontology, allows for multiplicity, and considers agency as distributed. To Latour, I added the primary features of activity theory (even though he offers a comparison of the two): distributed cognition, causality, and human agency.

It’s interesting to begin to consider the theories that we’ve read thus far in terms of activity theory and ANT. Even though it at first seems that we might find activity theory easier to understand in terms of analysis methods, I can see where much of what we have read can be seen through the lens of ANT. As Shelley explained, we can consider genre theories (especially Popham’s boundary objects) through ANT by considering how genres might act as actants. Additionally, even Bitzer seems take an ANT approach, positioning events as exigences.


Reading Notes #7: ANTs go marching

  ————————————————————————————————————————————————- Works Cited Johnson-Eilola, Johndan. Nostalgic Angels: Rearticulating Hypertext Writing. Norwood, N.J.: Ablex Pub. Corp., 1997. Print. Joyce, Michael. Of Two Minds: Hypertext Pedagogy and Poetics. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1995. Print. Joyce, Michael. Othermindedness: The Emergence of Network Culture. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2000. Print.

Reading Notes: Week 8

Activity Theory vs. Actor-network Theory

Ah, welcome back, Spinuzzi! While I’ve enjoyed Latour’s snark and not-so-veiled disdain, I’m happy to admit that I’ve missed Spinuzzi’s straight-forward style and thoroughly understandable explanations.

In his chapter, Spinuzzi outlines the history, theories, and key points of both activity theory and actor-network theory (ANT).

Activity theory, Spinuzzi explains, is about distributed cognition and focuses issues of “labor, learning, and concept formation” (p. 62). As a result, its methodology relies on the foundations of dialectics, unity, and origin, taking an instance of a phenomenon, reducing it to a single abstract concept or principle, and using it to develop further variations (p. 64). In a nutshell, activity theory posits that “activity networks consist of a developing set of activities anchored toward a common object toward which people strive” (pp. 67-68). In this view, activity is mediated by physical and psychological tools, and, as a result of such mediation, the quality of the activity is improved and thinking is transformed.

The primary unit of analysis in activity theory is the activity system, the structure of which is represented here:

Activity System

Engestrom’s Activity System Diagram, from mymindbursts.com

Central to the dialectical account of development is contradictions, and Spinuzzi outlines the four forms these contradictions can take:

  1. exchange value vs. use value
  2. division of labor vs. advanced instruments
  3. culturally more advanced object or motive introduced into the dominant form of the central activity
  4. neighbor activities (pp. 72-73)

In addition to identifying two main types of activity systems (chained and overlapping), Spinuzzi identifies one of the most important features of activity theory: only humans have agency–nonhumans do not. In activity theory, artifacts serve as tools for activity that work toward the object.

In contrast to activity theory, actor-network theory (ANT) is an ontology that focuses on issues of power in science and politics, rhetoric, production of facts, agreements, and knowledge. Whereas activity theory relies on unity, ANT relies on multiplicity, associations, and relations (what Spinuzzi refers to as alliances). From the ANT perspective, “existence is achieved through accretion rather than development, associations rather than evolution” (p. 66). ANT assumes that interconnections are not necessarily organic, self-contained, or unified and rejects cause-and-effect relationships (pp. 80-81).

Primary beliefs of ANT include

  • relational interactions (unlike dialectical interactions) can always be reversed (p. 82)
  • symmetry-as-negotiation (p. 83)
  • one actant‘s point of view does not constitute the organizing principle for the entire network (p. 84)
  • actor-networks are unstable but are more stabilized through increased associations or alliances (p.87)
  • agency is distributed (everything mediates everything) (p. 87)
  • nonhuman objects can serve as mediators and thus have agency (p. 85)

Spinuzzi emphasizes the point that ANT is concerned not with how something is interpreted (as with activity theory) but rather how it is enacted into being. Emergence into being is mediated and this mediation “involves mutual transformation of the assemblage” (p. 87). Latour identifies four parts or moments of this transformation:

  1. Translation: power applied to change–allows us to trace through particular moments of negotiations
  2. Interessment: defining and splicing in the stakeholders who make themselves obligatory passage points
  3. Enrollment: wherein roles are defined
  4. Mobilization: wherein representation of the object is agreed upon

In short, ANT posits that all actors are networks and “actants are mobilized to commonly achieve a goal that accomplishes the accumulated goals of the various actants” (p. 90).

Activity Theory Resources

Interaction Design Foundation’s book on activity theory: http://www.interaction-design.org/encyclopedia/activity_theory.html

Martin Ryder, University of Colorado at Denver, bibliography of resources: http://carbon.ucdenver.edu/~mryder/itc/activity.html

Video Introduction to activity theory:

Actor-network Theory Resources

Daryl Cressman’s “A Brief Overview of Actor-Network Theory”: http://sonify.psych.gatech.edu/~ben/references/nardi_studying_context_a_comparison_of_activity_theory_situated_action_models_and_distributed_cognition.pdf

Actor-Network Theory in Plain English Video:

Other Comparisons

Bonnie Nardi’s “Studying Context”: http://sonify.psych.gatech.edu/~ben/references/nardi_studying_context_a_comparison_of_activity_theory_situated_action_models_and_distributed_cognition.pdf

Reijo Miettinen’s “The Riddle of Things”: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10749039909524725#preview

Reference

Spinuzzi, C. (2008). How are networks theorized? Network: Theorizing knowledge work in telecommunications (pp. 62-95).  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.