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Southwest Popular/American Culture Association Conference Roundup

I’m returning from the Southwest Popular/American Culture Association (SWPACA) conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It’s my first time to this conference, the first time to New Mexico, and the first time to present a paper since my master’s degree days. I’m pleased to report that my paper presentation went well, although I think I excelled more as a panel chair than as a paper presenter. Never mind. I’m fortunate to have skill sets for both.

My paper, Boundary Crossings: (T)here Lies the Trickster, proposed the mythological trickster construct as a contemporary boundary object, synthesizing the boundary object definitions of Star and Griesemer (1989), Popham (2005), and Wilson & Herndl (2007). I used a class I proposed and taught called “Tracking Contemporary Trickster” as a case study demonstrating the benefit that using a trickster lens as boundary object has on the way students see the world.

In a sense this was a remarkably interdisciplinary paper. Although I presented it in one of the Myth and Fairy Tales panels, my topic connected to mythology only in that it used the trickster, a character that appears in many mythologies, as my object of study. My critical approach was application of professional and technical composition theory (the boundary object), while my case study involved pedagogy.

My experience suggests that this interdisciplinarity is the conference’s strength. The conference ethos is deeply accepting and encouraging, and represents, with few exceptions, an invitational rather than persuasive rhetoric. Presentations were not about presenting claims and theories as fact, but were instead aimed at capturing ideas and sharing them with others for consideration and feedback. Post-presentation comments were not about tearing down or critiquing arguments, but about praising areas of strength and offering suggestions for continued, further, or parallel research work. Interdisciplinarity appeared to be encouraged and appreciated, with a range of critical approaches and methods accepted and valued. More importantly, individual presenters were valued, an ethos handed down in large part, as I observed by the panel chairs.

That said, I didn’t actually find my research niche during the conference. I guess I wasn’t really looking for a niche, but I found several of my ODU colleagues gravitating toward areas of study and consecutive panels in the same areas. Game studies was a very popular strand throughout the conference, and the networking and collegiality of the group was obvious and warm, even inviting to non-games people who were willing to listen and observe. As I seek to further refine my research agenda, particularly in the realm of the intersection of technology and rhetoric, I found the games studies researchers and scholars the most akin to my imagined future work. Digital games are spaces where technology and rhetoric intersect deeply and successfully, as are, perhaps to a lesser extent, classrooms. The parallels between classroom and game are striking and intriguing; there’s potentially a case to be made (one that I think Megan McKittrick is working toward) that the classroom itself is game space, or can be conceived of as game space.

A brief chat with Marc Ouellette about indexical signs and algorithmic rhetoric was intriguing. Ouellette shared that he is interested in questions surrounding the practice, current and future, of indexical signs subsuming the human sign — of identity becoming indexed as data points rather than human or lived. We talked very briefly about the use of so-called small data in medical practices for diagnostic and health maintenance purposes, along with the use of health product purchasing data by pharmaceutical companies to target advertising toward those who are depressed or under stress, based on their buying habits. He was quite open to the idea of algorithmic rhetoric. And he offered two pieces of advice: talk to the librarians and follow the content. Librarians use algorithms regularly and are well aware of the impact that algorithms have in providing search results. The content I think is about what people are seeking for, although I’m not entirely sure what that means or how it relates. It likely has to do with the materials that pass through our bandwidth, characterizing and beginning to develop algorithmic modeling that can start predicting search results. Maybe. I’ll need to think and read around this topic.

I also met briefly Stephanie Vie and Dawn Armfield, both rhetoric or composition/rhetoric or digital rhetoric and communications scholars that I follow on either Facebook or Twitter. It’s delightful to connect faces to Twitter handles.

I’m already asking myself if I intend to return next year, and I can’t yet answer that. I find the ethos useful and supportive, inviting, even — but I’m not sure that’s going to be enough. I think it will depend on what I believe I can propose in terms of algorithmic rhetoric or technical literacy at the conference, and whether I can find the right group of people with whom to network. Right now games studies, somewhat to my surprise, feels relatively comfortable, even though I myself neither play the games nor think about or theorize their development. But given the way game studies theory addresses agency and rhetorical choices, along with the digital component and the advanced use of technology to code and play games, the intersection of rhetoric and technology appears, at the moment, to include games studies. Perhaps games studies is a boundary object that will enable me to pull together disparate disciplines in a pedagogically sound way that focuses on the technical writing, rhetorical agency, and user-designed interface.

A final note, about being a panel chair. The Myth and Fairy Tales area chair was originally the panel chair for each of the three Myth and Fairy Tale sessions. However, she fell ill and asked each panel if one member would take on the role of chair for the session. I agreed to do so, which explains how I found myself both chairing and presenting in the same panel. I appreciated the opportunity to chair; as a result, I intend to volunteer to chair additional panels in the future, as appropriate and capable, both as valuable experience and as an opportunity to include the experience on my CV.

Southwest Popular/American Culture Association Conference Roundup

I’m returning from the Southwest Popular/American Culture Association (SWPACA) conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It’s my first time to this conference, the first time to New Mexico, and the first time to present a paper since my master’s degree days. I’m pleased to report that my paper presentation went well, although I think I excelled more as a panel chair than as a paper presenter. Never mind. I’m fortunate to have skill sets for both.

My paper, Boundary Crossings: (T)here Lies the Trickster, proposed the mythological trickster construct as a contemporary boundary object, synthesizing the boundary object definitions of Star and Griesemer (1989), Popham (2005), and Wilson & Herndl (2007). I used a class I proposed and taught called “Tracking Contemporary Trickster” as a case study demonstrating the benefit that using a trickster lens as boundary object has on the way students see the world.

In a sense this was a remarkably interdisciplinary paper. Although I presented it in one of the Myth and Fairy Tales panels, my topic connected to mythology only in that it used the trickster, a character that appears in many mythologies, as my object of study. My critical approach was application of professional and technical composition theory (the boundary object), while my case study involved pedagogy.

My experience suggests that this interdisciplinarity is the conference’s strength. The conference ethos is deeply accepting and encouraging, and represents, with few exceptions, an invitational rather than persuasive rhetoric. Presentations were not about presenting claims and theories as fact, but were instead aimed at capturing ideas and sharing them with others for consideration and feedback. Post-presentation comments were not about tearing down or critiquing arguments, but about praising areas of strength and offering suggestions for continued, further, or parallel research work. Interdisciplinarity appeared to be encouraged and appreciated, with a range of critical approaches and methods accepted and valued. More importantly, individual presenters were valued, an ethos handed down in large part, as I observed, by the panel chairs.

That said, I didn’t actually find my research niche during the conference. I guess I wasn’t really looking for a niche, but I found several of my ODU colleagues gravitating toward areas of study and consecutive panels in the same areas. Game studies was a very popular strand throughout the conference, and the networking and collegiality of the group was obvious and warm, even inviting to non-games people who were willing to listen and observe. As I seek to further refine my research agenda, particularly in the realm of the intersection of technology and rhetoric, I found the games studies researchers and scholars the most akin to my imagined future work. Digital games are spaces where technology and rhetoric intersect deeply and successfully, as are, perhaps to a lesser extent, classrooms. The parallels between classroom and game are striking and intriguing; there’s a strong case to be made (by Maury Brown or Megan McKittrick and other ODU games scholars, I think) that the classroom itself is game space, or can be conceived of as game space.

A brief chat with Marc Ouellette about indexical signs and algorithmic rhetoric was intriguing. Ouellette shared that he is interested in questions surrounding the practice, current and future, of indexical signs subsuming the human sign — of identity becoming indexed as data points rather than human or lived. We talked very briefly about the use of so-called small data in medical practices for diagnostic and health maintenance purposes, along with the use of health product purchasing data by pharmaceutical companies to target advertising toward those who are depressed or under stress, based on their buying habits. He was quite open to the idea of algorithmic rhetoric. And he offered two pieces of advice: talk to the librarians and follow the content. Librarians use algorithms regularly and are well aware of the impact that algorithms have in providing search results. The content I think is about what people are seeking for, although I’m not entirely sure what that means or how it relates. It likely has to do with the materials that pass through our bandwidth, characterizing and beginning to develop algorithmic modeling that can start predicting search results. Maybe. I’ll need to think and read around this topic.

I also met briefly Stephanie Vie and Dawn Armfield, both rhetoric or composition/rhetoric or digital rhetoric and communications scholars that I follow on either Facebook or Twitter. It’s delightful to connect faces to Twitter handles.

I’m already asking myself if I intend to return next year, and I can’t yet answer that. I find the ethos useful and supportive, inviting, even — but I’m not sure that’s going to be enough. I think it will depend on what I believe I can propose in terms of algorithmic rhetoric or technical literacy at the conference, and whether I can find the right group of people with whom to network. Right now games studies, somewhat to my surprise, feels relatively comfortable, even though I myself neither play the games nor think about or theorize their development. But given the way game studies theory addresses agency and rhetorical choices, along with the digital component and the advanced use of technology to code and play games, the intersection of rhetoric and technology appears, at the moment, to include games studies. Perhaps games studies is a boundary object that will enable me to pull together disparate disciplines in a pedagogically sound way that focuses on the technical writing, rhetorical agency, and user-designed interface.

A final note, about being a panel chair. The Myth and Fairy Tales area chair was originally the panel chair for each of the three Myth and Fairy Tale sessions. However, she fell ill and asked each panel if one member would take on the role of chair for the session. I agreed to do so, which explains how I found myself both chairing and presenting in the same panel. I appreciated the opportunity to chair; as a result, I intend to volunteer to chair additional panels in the future, as appropriate and capable, both as valuable experience and as an opportunity to include the experience on my CV.

Southwest Popular/American Culture Association Conference Roundup

I’m returning from the Southwest Popular/American Culture Association (SWPACA) conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It’s my first time to this conference, the first time to New Mexico, and the first time to present a paper since my master’s degree days. I’m pleased to report that my paper presentation went well, although I think I excelled more as a panel chair than as a paper presenter. Never mind. I’m fortunate to have skill sets for both.

My paper, Boundary Crossings: (T)here Lies the Trickster, proposed the mythological trickster construct as a contemporary boundary object, synthesizing the boundary object definitions of Star and Griesemer (1989), Popham (2005), and Wilson & Herndl (2007). I used a class I proposed and taught called “Tracking Contemporary Trickster” as a case study demonstrating the benefit that using a trickster lens as boundary object has on the way students see the world.

In a sense this was a remarkably interdisciplinary paper. Although I presented it in one of the Myth and Fairy Tales panels, my topic connected to mythology only in that it used the trickster, a character that appears in many mythologies, as my object of study. My critical approach was application of professional and technical composition theory (the boundary object), while my case study involved pedagogy.

My experience suggests that this interdisciplinarity is the conference’s strength. The conference ethos is deeply accepting and encouraging, and represents, with few exceptions, an invitational rather than persuasive rhetoric. Presentations were not about presenting claims and theories as fact, but were instead aimed at capturing ideas and sharing them with others for consideration and feedback. Post-presentation comments were not about tearing down or critiquing arguments, but about praising areas of strength and offering suggestions for continued, further, or parallel research work. Interdisciplinarity appeared to be encouraged and appreciated, with a range of critical approaches and methods accepted and valued. More importantly, individual presenters were valued, an ethos handed down in large part, as I observed, by the panel chairs.

That said, I didn’t actually find my research niche during the conference. I guess I wasn’t really looking for a niche, but I found several of my ODU colleagues gravitating toward areas of study and consecutive panels in the same areas. Game studies was a very popular strand throughout the conference, and the networking and collegiality of the group was obvious and warm, even inviting to non-games people who were willing to listen and observe. As I seek to further refine my research agenda, particularly in the realm of the intersection of technology and rhetoric, I found the games studies researchers and scholars the most akin to my imagined future work. Digital games are spaces where technology and rhetoric intersect deeply and successfully, as are, perhaps to a lesser extent, classrooms. The parallels between classroom and game are striking and intriguing; there’s a strong case to be made (by Maury Brown or Megan McKittrick and other ODU games scholars, I think) that the classroom itself is game space, or can be conceived of as game space.

A brief chat with Marc Ouellette about indexical signs and algorithmic rhetoric was intriguing. Ouellette shared that he is interested in questions surrounding the practice, current and future, of indexical signs subsuming the human sign — of identity becoming indexed as data points rather than human or lived. We talked very briefly about the use of so-called small data in medical practices for diagnostic and health maintenance purposes, along with the use of health product purchasing data by pharmaceutical companies to target advertising toward those who are depressed or under stress, based on their buying habits. He was quite open to the idea of algorithmic rhetoric. And he offered two pieces of advice: talk to the librarians and follow the content. Librarians use algorithms regularly and are well aware of the impact that algorithms have in providing search results. The content I think is about what people are seeking for, although I’m not entirely sure what that means or how it relates. It likely has to do with the materials that pass through our bandwidth, characterizing and beginning to develop algorithmic modeling that can start predicting search results. Maybe. I’ll need to think and read around this topic.

I also met briefly Stephanie Vie and Dawn Armfield, both rhetoric or composition/rhetoric or digital rhetoric and communications scholars that I follow on either Facebook or Twitter. It’s delightful to connect faces to Twitter handles.

I’m already asking myself if I intend to return next year, and I can’t yet answer that. I find the ethos useful and supportive, inviting, even — but I’m not sure that’s going to be enough. I think it will depend on what I believe I can propose in terms of algorithmic rhetoric or technical literacy at the conference, and whether I can find the right group of people with whom to network. Right now games studies, somewhat to my surprise, feels relatively comfortable, even though I myself neither play the games nor think about or theorize their development. But given the way game studies theory addresses agency and rhetorical choices, along with the digital component and the advanced use of technology to code and play games, the intersection of rhetoric and technology appears, at the moment, to include games studies. Perhaps games studies is a boundary object that will enable me to pull together disparate disciplines in a pedagogically sound way that focuses on the technical writing, rhetorical agency, and user-designed interface.

A final note, about being a panel chair. The Myth and Fairy Tales area chair was originally the panel chair for each of the three Myth and Fairy Tale sessions. However, she fell ill and asked each panel if one member would take on the role of chair for the session. I agreed to do so, which explains how I found myself both chairing and presenting in the same panel. I appreciated the opportunity to chair; as a result, I intend to volunteer to chair additional panels in the future, as appropriate and capable, both as valuable experience and as an opportunity to include the experience on my CV.

Reading Notes: L’hypertext et Latour d’ANT (part 1)

Finding common ground in this week’s disparate readings was difficult. More precisely, Latour’s introduction to actor-network-theory (ANT) had almost nothing to do with reading from Joyce and Johnson-Eilola, other than the fact that hypertext as object might be an instantiated mediator within a collective. More precisely, the hypertext itself may function as a trace of the collective, with actors including codewriters, narrative writers, software, hardware, network connections, and other elements required to read and interact with a hypertextual “document.”

With little common ground to try to synthesize, I’ll opt this week to omit summary and focus on key concepts, quotes, and course connections. Who knows, I might surprise myself by writing into something else, too!

What bothered my about readings by Joyce (1995, 2001) and Johnson-Eilola (1997) were how dated they felt. Hypertext theory interested me in the nascent moments of the World Wide Web (but never in its software-bound forms like Hypercard), and I admit to being among those who unproblematically accepted the coming glory of reader-as-author perusing a unique user-generated text with each browsing session. That said, I enjoyed the stroll down memory lane as a reminder of how far we’ve come — and, in some troubling ways, how little of hypertext’s socially active potential we’ve tapped. (I’m self-censoring based on reading Latour and concerned about using the word “social” ever again.)

Of Two Minds

In Joyce’s (1995) Of Two Minds I enjoyed this blast from my thesis past:

“At each stage of the developing consensus about these shifts [in conceptualizing hypertexts], new and sometimes contradictory definitions of hypertext have been advanced. Even so, a remarkably consistent line of thinking holds that hypertext in some sense represents the workings of the human mind…. [S]cholars continue to suggest forebearers of hypertext ranging from the Greeks to Sterne’s Tristram Shandy and beyond…” (p. 22)

book cover

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, by Laurence Sterne

I am indebted to those scholars who saw in Tristram Shandy a forebearer of hypertext. In my master’s thesis, I advocated Tristram Shandy as a non-linear prototype of hypertext that responded directly to Locke’s aversion to “association of ideas” (non-rational thinking) as presented in his Essay Concerning Human Understanding. In 1998 when I wrote my thesis, I was intrigued by the potential of hypertext as both a pedagogical tool and a representation of human thought. My thesis in fact addresses some of the aspects of reader-as-author of hypertext narrative, although only superficially. In my abstract, I present the claim this way:

“I review Tristram’s self-expression by focusing on techniques of non-linear narration and conclude by examining hypermedia as an alternative model for narrating consciousness that emphasizes the reader, comparing hypermedia’s reader to Tristram Shandy’s narrator.” (Hocutt 1998, n.p., emphasis added)

“Narrating consciousness” was surely a bit much, but I found useful parallels using Tristram Shandy’s narrator as my object of study in application of hypermedia theory.

I’m marveling at a recommendation Dr. Dan Richards made during last Friday’s “Curating Online Identity” workshop focused on LinkedIn and academia.edu. He recommended including older, even incomplete, lines of inquiry and scholarship among papers and presentations we uploaded to academia.edu because one never knows how a chance encounter in previous research may come back around through the social network of scholarly collaboration. And then on Friday night I read Joyce’s words above. Serendipity. Or the instantiation of an ANT collective that included actors Dr. Richards, Tristram Shandy and Tristram Shandy, a dead Laurence Sterne, members of the RSODU attending the workshop, Webex, and the computer terminals and network hardware and software than enabled my presence from a distance. Either way, I’m sold. The thesis gets a place in my academia.edu profile.

In the same chapter of Of Two Minds, I recognized what I termed “an interestingly prescient moment” in my professional life. Joyce writes of early warnings posted about the potential for hypertext to be co-opted by commercial interests if scholars did not problematize its exaggerated claim to renegotiate the definition of author:

“While not rejecting this promise [of hypertext as destroyer of the objective either/or paradigm], Stuart Moulthrop, in a prolific series of essays… has argued that hypertext could be pre-empted by the “military infotainment establishment” or offered as a diversion to a dissatisfied society in lieu of real access or power.” (p. 26)

I wrote this note to myself after reading that statement: “An interesting prescient moment? My professional role [as Web Manager] is to convert what was once considered an egalitarian tool for social change into a diversion provided by the infotainment industry. Well, maybe not that bad, but it’s an uncomfortable parallel.” It is uncomfortable. One important result of reading this week on a tool with which I am intimately familiar is to make me uncomfortable with unproblematically making one hypermediated page after another in a fairly large, fairly comprehensive website. What agencies do I too readily take for myself that should be left to the visitor? More to the point, what visitor agencies do my creative efforts omit or deem meaningless or powerless as I design information architectures and implement wayfinding options? What political boundaries and/or economic realities am I activating or exacerbating, for better or for worse, in my professional role? These are questions that I’m beginning to ask of myself, my tools, and my job.

Nostalgic Angels

dust jacket image

Trickster in Contemporary Film by Helena Bassil-Morozow

In Johnson-Eilola’s (1997) Nostalgic Angels I found interesting connections to another scholarly interest, the trickster in culture. One aspect of what Helena Basil-Morozov (2012) calls the “trickster principle” is its occupation of border areas, or liminal spaces. Trickster inhabits liminal space, breaking through boundaries established by culture and ritual in order to activate or introduce change and creation. “The activity of questioning and remaking borders in relation to real cultural conditions” (Johnson-Eilola, 1997. p. 16) sounds a good deal like trickster work, and hypertext has most assuredly served a trickster function of breaking through boundaries and ushering in change. Johnson-Eilola’s descriptions of boundary crossing, while quite tricksterish, also resonates with Bazerman’s (2004) activity systems and Popham’s (2005) boundary genre:

“What a hypertextual structure and process can bring to this discussion is the ability to cross discursive boundaries in an attempt to articulate the discrete, largely isolated and invisible activities of using a functional document to learn a system with the intersubjective activities of discussion and group critique.” (Johnson-Eilola, 1997, p. 227)

Crossing discursive boundaries requires genre tracing (a la Spinuzzi, 2003) through an activity system and understanding the unique aspects of boundary genres that enable understanding of disparate discourses. Hypertextual structure (by which I’d suggest Johnson-Eilola was defining what is now known as a group-sourced wiki) encompasses these several theoretical models as a boundary genre.

Othermindedness

I found Joyce’s (2001) Othermindedness a little, well, otherminded. The text lacked a certain scholarly tone, but the result was accessible, if dated and difficult to resolve with the author of Of Two Minds. However, I found this prescient nugget in which Joyce predicts what we now know to be true: that the ability to navigate search in the digital age is far more important than the ability to recall facts and data.

“The value of what we collect [knowledge] is not as much embodied in what it is as in how we found it and why we keep it.” (Joyce, 2001, p. 73, emphasis added)

When I make the decision to use Google as my search engine of choice, what mediating choices have I made about what’s available to me and how? When I add a citation to my research collection using Zotero, what information have I included about how and why I conducted the search and why the source is important in the context of that search? These have become questions that are more important to me, especially in the early stages of research, than what the source actually says. Being able to recreate the search is vital to scholars and to those who follow our research; documenting the terms and scope of the search (and the political and social mediating decisions made along the way) are becoming of utmost importance to me as a digital scholar.

Reassembling the Social

Latour (2005) owes a debt of gratitude to Foucault, among others, whose ideas are clearly represented in ANT. “Trace” is one of the main Foucaultian concepts that Latour repeats regularly, and I believe he uses trace in the same way as Foucault to represent what’s left from a discursive formation. Here, Latour refers to group formation leaving traces, although I’d suggest these group formations have many similarities to Foucault’s discursive formations:

“Group formations leave many more traces in their wake than already established connections which, by definition, might remain mute and invisible.” (Latour, 2005, p. 31)

These group formations must be active to leave traces, and such activity matches Foucault’s insistence that discursive formations be systems of division or dispersion among statements (Foucault, 2010/1972, p. 38).

Another similarity to Foucault is Latour’s unwillingness to allow social science a “real” or typical society (to which all others are considered inferior or unreal).

“[E]verything happens as if social scientists had to claim that there exists “out there” one type that is real, whereas the other sets are all really inauthentic, obsolete, irrelevant, or artificial.” (Latour, 2005, p. 28)

In this statement I recognize Foucault’s unwillingness to allow the history of ideas to consider either some original ideal from which all ideas are descended or some ultimate idea to which all ideas ascend. Both Foucault and Latour engage in relativistic understandings of ideas and societies, in which meaning is found in differentiated relationships among statements (Foucault) or among groups (Latour). 

References

Bazerman, C. (2004). Speech acts, genres, and activity systems: How texts organize activities and people. In Bazerman & Prior (Eds.), What writing does and how it does it: An introduction to analyzing texts and textual practices (pp. 309-340). New York, NY: Routledge.

Foucault, M. (2010). The archaeology of knowledge and the discourse on language. (A. M. Sheridan Smith, Trans.). New York, NY: Vintage Books. (Original work published in 1972)

Hocutt, D. (1998). “A tolerable straight line”: Non-linear narrative in Tristram Shandy [Unpublished master’s thesis]. Richmond, VA: University of Richmond.

Johnson-Eilola, J. (1997). Nostalgic angels: Rearticulating hypertext writing. Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing Corporation, 3-28; 135-242. New Directions in Computers and Composition Studies

Joyce, M. T. (1995). Of two minds: Hypertext pedagogy and poetics. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 20-29. Studies in Literature and Science

Joyce, M. T. (2001). Othermindedness: The emergence of network culture. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 67-106. Studies in Literature and Science

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

Bassil-Morozow, H. (2012). The trickster in contemporary film. East Sussex, UK: Routledge.

Popham, S. L. (2005). Forms as boundary genres in medicine, science, and business. Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 19(3), 279-303. doi:10.1177/1050651905275624

Spinuzzi, C. (2003). Tracing genres through organizations: a sociocultural approach to information design. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

[Image, top of page. Leaf Cutter Ants, Butterfly World, Chiswell Green, Near St Albans, Herts. Image from Flickr user Stuart Spicer. Ants (and rope and leaves) are the actors in this ANT visualization.]

Reading Notes: L’hypertext et Latour d’ANT (part 1)

Finding common ground in this week’s disparate readings was difficult. More precisely, Latour’s introduction to actor-network-theory (ANT) had almost nothing to do with reading from Joyce and Johnson-Eilola, other than the fact that hypertext as object might be an instantiated mediator within a collective. More precisely, the hypertext itself may function as a trace of the collective, with actors including codewriters, narrative writers, software, hardware, network connections, and other elements required to read and interact with a hypertextual “document.”

With little common ground to try to synthesize, I’ll opt this week to omit summary and focus on key concepts, quotes, and course connections. Who knows, I might surprise myself by writing into something else, too!

What bothered my about readings by Joyce (1995, 2001) and Johnson-Eilola (1997) were how dated they felt. Hypertext theory interested me in the nascent moments of the World Wide Web (but never in its software-bound forms like Hypercard), and I admit to being among those who unproblematically accepted the coming glory of reader-as-author perusing a unique user-generated text with each browsing session. That said, I enjoyed the stroll down memory lane as a reminder of how far we’ve come — and, in some troubling ways, how little of hypertext’s socially active potential we’ve tapped. (I’m self-censoring based on reading Latour and concerned about using the word “social” ever again.)

Of Two Minds

In Joyce’s (1995) Of Two Minds I enjoyed this blast from my thesis past:

“At each stage of the developing consensus about these shifts [in conceptualizing hypertexts], new and sometimes contradictory definitions of hypertext have been advanced. Even so, a remarkably consistent line of thinking holds that hypertext in some sense represents the workings of the human mind…. [S]cholars continue to suggest forebearers of hypertext ranging from the Greeks to Sterne’s Tristram Shandy and beyond…” (p. 22)

book cover

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, by Laurence Sterne

I am indebted to those scholars who saw in Tristram Shandy a forebearer of hypertext. In my master’s thesis, I advocated Tristram Shandy as a non-linear prototype of hypertext that responded directly to Locke’s aversion to “association of ideas” (non-rational thinking) as presented in his Essay Concerning Human Understanding. In 1998 when I wrote my thesis, I was intrigued by the potential of hypertext as both a pedagogical tool and a representation of human thought. My thesis in fact addresses some of the aspects of reader-as-author of hypertext narrative, although only superficially. In my abstract, I present the claim this way:

“I review Tristram’s self-expression by focusing on techniques of non-linear narration and conclude by examining hypermedia as an alternative model for narrating consciousness that emphasizes the reader, comparing hypermedia’s reader to Tristram Shandy’s narrator.” (Hocutt 1998, n.p., emphasis added)

“Narrating consciousness” was surely a bit much, but I found useful parallels using Tristram Shandy’s narrator as my object of study in application of hypermedia theory.

I’m marveling at a recommendation Dr. Dan Richards made during last Friday’s “Curating Online Identity” workshop focused on LinkedIn and academia.edu. He recommended including older, even incomplete, lines of inquiry and scholarship among papers and presentations we uploaded to academia.edu because one never knows how a chance encounter in previous research may come back around through the social network of scholarly collaboration. And then on Friday night I read Joyce’s words above. Serendipity. Or the instantiation of an ANT collective that included actors Dr. Richards, Tristram Shandy and Tristram Shandy, a dead Laurence Sterne, members of the RSODU attending the workshop, Webex, and the computer terminals and network hardware and software than enabled my presence from a distance. Either way, I’m sold. The thesis gets a place in my academia.edu profile.

In the same chapter of Of Two Minds, I recognized what I termed “an interestingly prescient moment” in my professional life. Joyce writes of early warnings posted about the potential for hypertext to be co-opted by commercial interests if scholars did not problematize its exaggerated claim to renegotiate the definition of author:

“While not rejecting this promise [of hypertext as destroyer of the objective either/or paradigm], Stuart Moulthrop, in a prolific series of essays… has argued that hypertext could be pre-empted by the “military infotainment establishment” or offered as a diversion to a dissatisfied society in lieu of real access or power.” (p. 26)

I wrote this note to myself after reading that statement: “An interesting prescient moment? My professional role [as Web Manager] is to convert what was once considered an egalitarian tool for social change into a diversion provided by the infotainment industry. Well, maybe not that bad, but it’s an uncomfortable parallel.” It is uncomfortable. One important result of reading this week on a tool with which I am intimately familiar is to make me uncomfortable with unproblematically making one hypermediated page after another in a fairly large, fairly comprehensive website. What agencies do I too readily take for myself that should be left to the visitor? More to the point, what visitor agencies do my creative efforts omit or deem meaningless or powerless as I design information architectures and implement wayfinding options? What political boundaries and/or economic realities am I activating or exacerbating, for better or for worse, in my professional role? These are questions that I’m beginning to ask of myself, my tools, and my job.

Nostalgic Angels

dust jacket image

Trickster in Contemporary Film by Helena Bassil-Morozow

In Johnson-Eilola’s (1997) Nostalgic Angels I found interesting connections to another scholarly interest, the trickster in culture. One aspect of what Helena Basil-Morozov (2012) calls the “trickster principle” is its occupation of border areas, or liminal spaces. Trickster inhabits liminal space, breaking through boundaries established by culture and ritual in order to activate or introduce change and creation. “The activity of questioning and remaking borders in relation to real cultural conditions” (Johnson-Eilola, 1997. p. 16) sounds a good deal like trickster work, and hypertext has most assuredly served a trickster function of breaking through boundaries and ushering in change. Johnson-Eilola’s descriptions of boundary crossing, while quite tricksterish, also resonates with Bazerman’s (2004) activity systems and Popham’s (2005) boundary genre:

“What a hypertextual structure and process can bring to this discussion is the ability to cross discursive boundaries in an attempt to articulate the discrete, largely isolated and invisible activities of using a functional document to learn a system with the intersubjective activities of discussion and group critique.” (Johnson-Eilola, 1997, p. 227)

Crossing discursive boundaries requires genre tracing (a la Spinuzzi, 2003) through an activity system and understanding the unique aspects of boundary genres that enable understanding of disparate discourses. Hypertextual structure (by which I’d suggest Johnson-Eilola was defining what is now known as a group-sourced wiki) encompasses these several theoretical models as a boundary genre.

Othermindedness

I found Joyce’s (2001) Othermindedness a little, well, otherminded. The text lacked a certain scholarly tone, but the result was accessible, if dated and difficult to resolve with the author of Of Two Minds. However, I found this prescient nugget in which Joyce predicts what we now know to be true: that the ability to navigate search in the digital age is far more important than the ability to recall facts and data.

“The value of what we collect [knowledge] is not as much embodied in what it is as in how we found it and why we keep it.” (Joyce, 2001, p. 73, emphasis added)

When I make the decision to use Google as my search engine of choice, what mediating choices have I made about what’s available to me and how? When I add a citation to my research collection using Zotero, what information have I included about how and why I conducted the search and why the source is important in the context of that search? These have become questions that are more important to me, especially in the early stages of research, than what the source actually says. Being able to recreate the search is vital to scholars and to those who follow our research; documenting the terms and scope of the search (and the political and social mediating decisions made along the way) are becoming of utmost importance to me as a digital scholar.

Reassembling the Social

Latour (2005) owes a debt of gratitude to Foucault, among others, whose ideas are clearly represented in ANT. “Trace” is one of the main Foucaultian concepts that Latour repeats regularly, and I believe he uses trace in the same way as Foucault to represent what’s left from a discursive formation. Here, Latour refers to group formation leaving traces, although I’d suggest these group formations have many similarities to Foucault’s discursive formations:

“Group formations leave many more traces in their wake than already established connections which, by definition, might remain mute and invisible.” (Latour, 2005, p. 31)

These group formations must be active to leave traces, and such activity matches Foucault’s insistence that discursive formations be systems of division or dispersion among statements (Foucault, 2010/1972, p. 38).

Another similarity to Foucault is Latour’s unwillingness to allow social science a “real” or typical society (to which all others are considered inferior or unreal).

“[E]verything happens as if social scientists had to claim that there exists “out there” one type that is real, whereas the other sets are all really inauthentic, obsolete, irrelevant, or artificial.” (Latour, 2005, p. 28)

In this statement I recognize Foucault’s unwillingness to allow the history of ideas to consider either some original ideal from which all ideas are descended or some ultimate idea to which all ideas ascend. Both Foucault and Latour engage in relativistic understandings of ideas and societies, in which meaning is found in differentiated relationships among statements (Foucault) or among groups (Latour). 

References

Bazerman, C. (2004). Speech acts, genres, and activity systems: How texts organize activities and people. In Bazerman & Prior (Eds.), What writing does and how it does it: An introduction to analyzing texts and textual practices (pp. 309-340). New York, NY: Routledge.

Foucault, M. (2010). The archaeology of knowledge and the discourse on language. (A. M. Sheridan Smith, Trans.). New York, NY: Vintage Books. (Original work published in 1972)

Hocutt, D. (1998). “A tolerable straight line”: Non-linear narrative in Tristram Shandy [Unpublished master’s thesis]. Richmond, VA: University of Richmond.

Johnson-Eilola, J. (1997). Nostalgic angels: Rearticulating hypertext writing. Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing Corporation, 3-28; 135-242. New Directions in Computers and Composition Studies

Joyce, M. T. (1995). Of two minds: Hypertext pedagogy and poetics. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 20-29. Studies in Literature and Science

Joyce, M. T. (2001). Othermindedness: The emergence of network culture. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 67-106. Studies in Literature and Science

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

Bassil-Morozow, H. (2012). The trickster in contemporary film. East Sussex, UK: Routledge.

Popham, S. L. (2005). Forms as boundary genres in medicine, science, and business. Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 19(3), 279-303. doi:10.1177/1050651905275624

Spinuzzi, C. (2003). Tracing genres through organizations: a sociocultural approach to information design. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

[Image, top of page. Leaf Cutter Ants, Butterfly World, Chiswell Green, Near St Albans, Herts. Image from Flickr user Stuart Spicer. Ants (and rope and leaves) are the actors in this ANT visualization.]