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Frankentheory, Your Time is Now_Final Case Study

Welcome, my dear readers, to my final case study, known as Frankentheory.  Shall we begin?

You don't have to answer that question.

You don’t have to answer that.

And Away We Roll

As I have discussed in my previous case studies, World of Warcraft (WoW) is a massive, complex, global network composed of nodes functioning on different levels inside and outside of the gamespace. Attention to this Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) game has been directed towards its ability to offer teachers and students a virtual environment in which to learn, while other studies have looked at MMOs in terms of what observers see as the game’s ability to fulfill player needs (social needs) and side effects (like addiction and escapism). But what are other aspects of the game and gamespace that would be of interest to someone in the field of English Studies? It is with this question that guilds and what is happening amongst their members become of interest. Since WoW’s guilds and their activities have been my focus this semester, I have been looking for a theory that would allow me to better explore guilds and their members’ positions within and outside of (though still related to) the gamespace. However, for each of the theories I have applied so far, they usually do not focus both on what is occurring in the gamespace at large as a network and what nuances are occurring on the local level within the guilds. It tends to be one or the other, especially since the players are heavily dependent on game software and hardware and on communication technology to be part of and help shape the network in which they play. So, what do we do when our theories cannot completely cover our objects of study and have blind spots? Theoretical synthesis, which is better known among my peers as Frankentheory. But how will this Frankentheory help us decide how studying WoW can be useful to English Studies?

First, let’s list my theories on the field:

Lee Rainie and Barry Wellman’s Networked Individualism

Bruno Latour’s Actor-Network-Theory (ANT)

Bitzer’s Rhetorical Situation Theory and Vatz’s “Myth of the Rhetorical Situation”

Networked Individualism and MMOs, But What Could Be Missing?

To begin the rise of Frankentheory, I have to start with a strand: Networked Individualism. Rainie and Wellman’s theory looks at how the three revolutions of Social, Internet, and Mobile are reshaping the fabric of social groups, what they call the “social operating system” (6). It is now normal for people to exist outside of close-knit communities and instead primarily operate within a variety of more loosely connected groups, with different groups fulfilling specialized needs that often have nothing to do with proximity. These new social groups, generally mediated by advancing communication technologies, allow people to enter into a number of networks that are more connected and have greater access not only to information but also to virtual spaces in which they can create and share media of their own. People become the nodes of the network, constantly exchanging information with one another: “When people walk down the street texting on their phones, they are obviously communicating. Yet things are different now. In incorporating gadgets into their lives, people have changed the ways they interact with each other. They have become networked as individuals, rather than embedded in groups. In the world of networked individuals, it is the person who is the focus: not the family, not the work unit, not the neighborhood, and not the social group” (Rainie and Wellman 6). In the changing landscape of social relationships that Rainie and Wellman find is occurring as more people are turning towards their communication devices (cell phones, tablets, computers) to center their everyday communications, information gathering and producing, and their relationships within a group, online games have become part of the “new neighborhoods” that are popping up as the social operating system shifts gears towards networked individuals rather than physical communities of people (13).

People as nodes in the network. Image hosted on VectorStock.

For gamers, this reshaping of the social operating system allows them to craft social groups for themselves (inside and outside of the game) that fulfill needs prompted by their experiences within the gamespace and, more specifically, by being members of the same guild. There is no longer the need to play games with the people who are physically close (though that does still occur) as players can now log on to servers with others from around the country or around the world, creating communities of people who may only ever meet through text chat, in-game voice chat, discussion forums, Facebook, YouTube, and Skype. Here, we have groups of people whose main connection is their interest in a computer game, though they may have other interests, characteristics, and connections that could then bind them closer together during their interactions in the game, but this depends on how much information they are willing to provide and how closely they bond with their teammates. To be in an active member of the gamespace (as opposed to a casual gamer) and to be an active member of a guild, takes work and effort, just as it does to be part of any virtual group (Rainie and Wellman 9). There is no physical presence to say “I’m here,” so the player must renew his/her account, take time to level up, and take time to talk and quest with guild members. The gamespace and the guilds let these players from all different backgrounds come together for a few hours or so a day to engage in group raids or role-playing scenarios, to talk with others who share common interests that extend beyond their daily physical lives, and to play specialized roles in a group (which is another point Rainie and Wellman point out that is happening to networked individuals).

WoW Guild. Image hosted on PC Gamer.

PC Gamer’s WoW Guild. Image hosted on PC Gamer.

WoW brings together gamers from all walks of life and gives them common ground, with fan culture emerging. Image hosted on website Intense Gamers.

WoW brings together gamers from all walks of life around the world and gives them common ground, with fan culture emerging. Image hosted on website Intense Gamers.

Rainie and Wellman’s theory acknowledges that communication technologies and people’s desires to be continuously connected are reshaping the ways in which we interact with one another and how we (re)align with social groups. By looking at the form and function of this new social operating system, application of this theory takes a look at the fabric of guild members’ interactions with one another in-game and how they keep connected even when they are outside of the game. Questions can be raised about players’ empowerment within new social, virtual dynamics as they access a wide variety of resources: Since WoW players do have access to many more resources than those found within the gamespace (official and unofficial forums, guild websites, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, guild ranking websites, and Wiki pages for the game), how does this empower players as players in the gamespace but also as members in their guild? Players are, essentially, not alone in the challenges they face in raids, on quests, and within social guild dynamics the way they would be if communication technology was not as far along as it is, but how does a player harnessing the “information at his/her fingertips” change the dynamics of the group? If the players are nodes in various networks and WoW and their guilds are only a small part of the network that the players themselves have become, where and how do players gain their agency?

Within the scope of Networked Individualism, players gain agency by doing something with all of the information accessible through their devices and making the effort to be part of the groups they have joined. Just like within physically close-knit communities, players have to reach out and engage one another, because if they do not, they will eventually lose their places within the group, even more so than if they were dealing with their teammates in person. Let’s take an example, for a guild member, there can be several forms of the group within which to stay active and to have agency. By having an interest in WoW and signing up to play, the player is taking the first step and putting in the initial effort that will lead to guild membership. The player then has options: he/she can just play the game and either stumble upon or be recruited into a guild he/she comes into contact with over the course of gameplay, or the player can look through guild rankings, explore guild websites and forums, and talk to other players about guilds and potentially joining. There are options as to how a player chooses to operate within the gamespace network and how much agency he/she takes for him/herself. Once a player has joined a guild, a new set of social dynamics occurs that does not usually happen for a player going solo through the gamespace. Most guilds set up a mentor-mentee relationship among new and veteran players in order to ease the new players into the game, into how the guild works socially, and also to train them for the specialized they will take on during quests and raids. This new player again has options to how much agency he/she has within this guild. The player can research his/her role, profession, and class in order to better acquaint him/herself with his/her character’s potential but also to become a more effective teammate. A player who does not know how to do something like add-ons for battles has a steeper learning curve than someone who actively sought out the knowledge and used his/her place in the network to better understand the gamespace and his/her group. Information is out there, across a multitude of websites, discussion posts, and player-player interaction.

This sounds like a great theory for looking at guild members playing in World of Warcraft as we are looking at players not just as nodes, but as focal points of networks themselves. By being a node in many loosely connected networks, the players become networks in themselves and has agency in how he/she uses that connectivity. So what could be missing from this theory?

Add the Second Strand as ANT Comes Marching in

While Rainie and Wellman’s theory of Networked Individualism looks at the ways in which communication technologies are allowing people to reshape their social communities (branching away from solely functioning within local groups to take part in a variety of networks in which they often play specialized roles), Actor-Network-Theory fills in the gaps of Networked Individualism in that it allows the very non-human entities of hardware and software being used by people to have just as much agency as the people themselves. For my study, this applies to the hardware and software guild members use and interact with when playing 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 the actors? 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 other 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. In Networked Individualism, the emphasis is on people using these technologies, but with ANT, the technologies are just as important as mediators as other people. By linking ANT to Networked Individualism, we are broadening out the scope of who/what should be studied when looking at WoW. So, 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 in a way that Networked Individualism Theory cannot. 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 if the designers do not actively work to maintain their game and add new content, players will have no incentive to spend their money and continue populating the gamespace. A great deal of effort needs to be expended on both sides if this gamespace network is to remain active and be successful.

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 aligns with Rainie and Wellman’s discussion of the effort it takes to keep in touch with the various networks people engage in), 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.

What Ant can do that Networked Individualism cannot is allow me to follow the threads (or trace the associations) of players’ activities through the technology they are using and with one another to define what a guild is within and outside of the gamespace. What do players do with the technology of the game, their own hardware, and other communication devices, as well as resources found on the internet, to maintain the guild as a group? This complements Networked Individualism because it is adding in and granting agency to the non-human entities that help networked people to network. Actor Network Theory and Networked Individualism are similar in that they are looking at society with technology in mind: ANT as humans and non-human actants working together to create the boundaries and maintain the group (guild, in this case), and Networked Individualism as people (gamers) using technology to create diverse and yet loosely collected social groups that fulfill needs that traditional social groups (those once limited more so by proximity) cannot. For both of these theories, technology and the social are focal points in the sense that they are looking at how actors (human and non-human, though the agency is emphasized differently between the theories) are working together.

But what does Networked Individualism do/offer for ANT in regards to WoW and guilds? If the two strands are going to come together, they must each offer something to the other. Actor Network Theory takes a pretty broad view of human and non-human actors working together to define what is social (and, in this case, what is a guild). Networked Individualism narrows this focus to the needs being met for or sought by the humans within these social networks, and how these humans are using communication technology that is in turn reshaping how they interact with one another. ANT brings technology as an actant into the discourse, while Networked Individualism provides a framework for what people are doing within social groups and how they are defining the groups of which they are members. For my case study on WoW, these two theories combined will give me a macro and micro view of technology at play alongside humans, ensuring that the communication technology and game software are receiving as much attention and agency in developing and maintaining the networks within which the humans (physically, in some senses, and through their avatars) are operating.

Friends until the technological end: ANT & Networked Individualism. Image hosted on We Know Memes.

Friends until the technological end: ANT & Networked Individualism. Image hosted on We Know Memes.

Final Strand, or What is Moving through the Network

If ANT can give us a macrolevel view of how groups (in this case, guilds) are expending effort to define and redefine their boundaries in order to remain a group, and Networked Individualism is looking at how people are changing their relationships with one another by using communication technologies to have membership in different guilds that are not usually defined by physical proximity, we are still missing something.What is moving between these nodes (both human and non-human)? Rhetorical Situation Theory adds to the discourse between ANT and Networked Individualism because rhetoric is moving through the networks being defined by the human and non-human actors and shaping the kinds of experiences being had by the guild members using the technology. In a gamespace, codes in the forms of zeroes and ones are the not the only things moving within a network. In a guild, code helps to relay the rhetoric moving between players during situations (both formal, such as raid planning, and informal, such as conversations between players about the dividing up of loot). By threading Rhetorical Situation Theory in with ANT and Networked Individualism, we can explore how players in the guild are using rhetoric to define the boundaries of the group, while at the same time, the hardware, software, and players are working together simultaneously within a network defined by the relay of code and commands.

Rhetorical Situation Theory may seem to be the odd theory as it looks mainly at humans and human activity, but rhetoric is something being passed within a Networked Society (such as when networked individuals create content on the internet, read news articles, or communicate with friends and family) and may be part of the associations that ANT researchers trace through actors as defining and maintaining a group (such as the activities taking place within a labor union). All three of these theories are about the social (however each defines it) and about what happens within that social (to different degrees and outlooks). WoW may be an online game, but what is occurring between people, especially guild members, is what is happening among other networked societies. People still have to deal with one another, even if it is at a distance through technology with avatars in the place of human faces. By adding Rhetorical Situation Theory into the mixture, we are filling in the microlevel relay that is happening between the various nodes across the different servers that compose the WoW gamespace.

ANT diverges away from theories like Rhetorical Situation Theory because it complicates how we see interactions in a network, which is something we need now that people are producing rhetorical discourse in non-traditional spaces between people who are, often, only loosely connected to each other about social dynamics that are happening even during gameplay. So, 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). We are looking to ANT to understand how guild members are using the technology but also how the technology is taking an active role in transforming actors who come into contact with the code (through visual representations) and through the rhetorical discourse that is being relayed through the code. So, let’s talk Rhetorical Situations (myth or otherwise) and the discourse initiated in those moments by guild members acting as rhetors.

Within WoW, 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. So, through Networked Individualism, if players gain agency by accessing information and creating media in order to make their presence known in the networked social groups they have joined, rhetorical discourse is what those players are creating and using the technology (ANT) to relay.

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). Biesecker mentions that, for Bitzer and his Rhetorical Situation, rhetoric is the name given to “those utterances which serve as instruments for adjusting thè environment in accordance to thè interests of its inhabitants,” which occur in response to some event that “invites utterance” (113). Agency is taken by those who are willing to take charge and produce rhetorical discourse as a situation arises, and then agency is taken by others who hear this rhetorical discourse and do something with it, whether it is to add to what they have heard or in resistance to it as new situations arise and call for rhetorical discourse. 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. And, by thinking about rhetoric as a way for speakers and potential mediators of change to adjust their environments to better align with their interests, this would (ideally) allow guild leaders to work within rhetorical situations (such as raid strategizing, conflicts between players over loot, other leadership roles) as they emerge to strengthen the group’s cohesiveness. Members who are active within the group’s activities are the mediators of change who will take what the guild leader says and apply it to the communal experiences within the game. If a guild leader is not successful at managing the rhetorical discourse happening within the group, then members of the group tend to splinter off to create new guilds in the hopes that someone else as guild leader may provide better group environments. The guild leader is not alone in managing the quality of the group’s interactions (as this is based on voluntary membership), but the guild leader is the rhetor in the group, one whose opinions hold the most weight in taking charge and offering solutions to problems. A guild leader who cannot successfully navigate situations that call for rhetorical discourse cause players to lose faith and find or found a new group.

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.

Vatz complicates Bitzer’s idea of agency for rhetors, putting more responsibility on the speaker and the moments in which the speaker decides to speak. The speaker, essentially, privileges the moments and subjects within, and chooses to discard or ignore others: “This very choice of what facts or events are relevant is a matter of pure arbitration. Once the choice is communicated, the event is imbued with salience, or what Haim Perelman calls ‘presence,’ when describing this phenomenon from the framework of argumentation” (Vatz 157). For Vatz, it is not solely that situations call for rhetoric, but that rhetoric can shape and define the character of a situation when the speaker chooses to give meaning to that situation and the rhetorical discourse happening within it. This is where the author/speaker of the rhetor gains agency, by being the person who takes the information selected for the situation and gives it meaning, especially since audience members only see an event as “meaningful only through their linguistic depictions” (Vatz 157). In this theory, agency is granted to the guild leader when he or she chooses moments in which he or she deems suitable or necessary for rhetorical discourse. This would be a guild leader finding “the right moment” to address something like player-player conflicts so as to manage the problem before it gets out of control, rather than just waiting for problems to arise and then speaking about it. There are dangers to this for the guild leader who is not at least semi-conscious about what he or she is privileging, what moments are deemed best (or better timed) and what rhetorical discourse is produced (what information is given meaning). This sense of agency for the guild leader allows him or her to establish the level of quality of the team’s work and play during raids and just as a cohesive (or otherwise) group.

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. Rhetorical discourse is necessary for the networked individuals to stay together as a group, but they are the ones who must harness the technology and that which it affords them and actively work to maintain their boundaries. Rhetorical Situation Theory and the discourse that happens within those moments also draw attention to the networked individuals and their places within groups, drawing attention to the changes in the social landscape (social operating system) because players are aware that are meeting in non-traditional spaces and forming groups with people they would never have interacted with had the game not provided such a social space. For gamers, though, this rhetorical discourse also (often) acknowledges the technology that they are using, makings its agency and effect upon them part of their discourse.

So, why is studying World of Warcraft useful to English Studies?

Outside of pedagogy and player habits, MMOs like World of Warcraft are useful to the field of English Studies because it is, as Rainie and Wellman would say, a “new neighborhood” in the social operating system that is emerging through advancements in communication technologies and people’s reliance and implementation of those technologies. Within the gamespace and outside of it, guild members are employing rhetorical discourse to define their roles within their groups but also to define the boundaries of those groups. By studying WoW and games like it, and by studying how gamers are using the space and interactions with one another to fulfill social needs that had been filled (and are still being filled) by traditional groups, we can understand how the reshaping of our society around our virtual presences is granting us new avenues to gain agency. We are not just members of groups now, but nodes in a variety of networks, and we rely on technology to make ourselves present within those groups, reach out to new groups, and how to access and create media that engage us in the world at large. By crafting a Frankentheory from Actor-Network-Theory, Networked Individualism, and Rhetorical Situation Theory, we can start to understand how online gamespaces afford their players with spaces in which a microcosm of social dynamics can play out, but can be more inclusive in the study by understanding how technology acts upon us and changes our discourse as much as we act upon it and can change its code. For these networked societies and as networked individuals, we need the technology in order to have agency in the new landscape, and English Studies can benefit from taking the time to explore how rhetoric and interactions among people are adapting to the needs and demands being placed upon us by one another as start to navigate a more virtual society.

So long and thanks for all the network. Image hosted on tumblr, #whatshouldwecallgradschool

So long and thanks for all the networks. Image hosted on the tumblr #whatshouldwecallgradschool

References

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

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

Raine, Lee and Barry Wellman. Networked: The New Social Operating System. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2012. PDF.

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

And Now I Bow Out

Bowing out or sinking down? Dean from Supernatural does it best.

Bowing out or sinking down? Dean from Supernatural does it best.

 


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I am limiting my analysis of Google Analytics as an object of study by focusing on its activities and its data model as reported in terms of dimensions and metrics.

  • Google defines Analytics activity as collection, collation, processing, and reporting.
  • Google describes its data model as consisting of user, session, and interaction.
  • Google collects and reports data in terms of dimensions (“descriptive attribute or characteristic of an object”) and metrics (“Individual elements of a dimension that can be measured as a sum or ratio”) (Google, 2014).

These limits and terms are described in detail in my earlier Re/Proposed Object of Study: Google Analytics blog post.

I chose GA as my object of study because it’s a tool with which I work on a daily basis. I proposed GA as my object of study to my boss, the director of our school’s marketing and communications team, before formally proposing it in class because I wanted approval to use our school’s GA account in my study. I also expected my study to contribute to my understanding and use of GA in web development and management. A deeper understanding of GA as a network has provided both a tool for theoretical exploration and practical application.

Here’s an example of how applied this theoretical study has become. On April 16, with little fanfare, Google announced that it was replacing the term “visit” with the term “session” in its reports. I missed the announcement entirely, so I was surprised while measuring the result of online advertising efforts in our campus newspapers to discover that the “unique visits” metric that I had been using was no longer available; instead, it had been replaced by the “sessions” metric, without the “unique” modifier. I was also surprised to discover that the “unique visits” metric I had been using did not match the “sessions” metric when I re-ran prior reports to test data accuracy reports; “sessions” reported higher numbers than “unique visits” had reported. As we reached the first of May, when I normally complete April reports, I realized the full extent of the terminology change: “unique visits” were no longer being measured. Two plus years of reporting data were potentially compromised as inaccurate, since we report data for month on month and year on year comparisons (e.g. does April 2014 look better than April 2013 in terms of overall unique web visits, and does the calendar year-to-date period of January-April 2014 look better than the previous January-April 2013 period?).

As a result of my study of the structure and function of Google Analytics, I had learned how GA counts session data. Critical inquiries had questioned whether GA’s reporting of unique visits could be accurate given the browsing patterns of today’s web visitors. Visits (now sessions) are defined as individual browsing sessions on a given website on a given browser and platform. A visitor (now user) who visits the same website using two different browsers (Chrome and Firefox, for instance) would be calculated as two unique visits (when unique visits were provided) because the session is browser specific. Furthermore, a visitor who visits the same website on a desktop platform browser, then revisits the same website on a mobile device, would be calculated as two unique visits, because the session is platform specific. In short, “unique visit” is really a calculation of “individual session” without a distinction of uniqueness of the visitor. Using the term “unique visit” suggested (and my marketing team and I took it to mean) visits by unique users, a measurement we considered superior because it suggested the actual number of visitors. What we should have been measuring, however, was visits, regardless of their “uniqueness,” because there was no unique quality to the visit in terms of the visitor. The end result is that I will need to re-record our historical data in terms of sessions rather than unique visits, potentially revealing visit patterns we had not before seen or understood.

Without this study of GA as a network, I would not have understood why reporting data did not match, and I would have struggled to find documentation of the issue. There remains little documentation from Google itself about the disappearance of unique visit as a reported metric as of this date. In short, the application of my theoretical exploration directly benefited my and my team, and ultimately our school and our understanding of our data within the framework of industry benchmarks.

Theories of Networks and Google Analytics

I’m using two theories — Castells’ network society and Deleuze & Guattari’s rhizome — to flesh out my understanding of Google Analytics and sketch out my Frankentheory of a network.

First, here’s a review of some familiar territory: My application of Castells’ network society to GA from Case Study #2. I’ve brought this in as a piece rather than linking to it because I’d like to make departures from specific aspects of this application in discussing Deleuze & Guattari and in sketching out a Frankentheory.

Defining Google Analytics

Castells (2010) considers technology to be society (p. 5). As a result, GA can be considered social. As an information technology, GA creates active connections between websites (data collection), Google data centers (data configuring and processing) including aggregated tables (processing), and GA administrator accounts (configuring and reporting). These active connections collect, mediate (configure and process), and report on the three aspects of the GA data model consisting of users, sessions, and interactions. These connections represent social actions. So Castells (2010) might define GA as a global informational network (p. 77) that collects data from and reports data to local nodes (websites). Google servers where data are configured and processed might be considered mega-nodes (xxxviii) that, through the iterative process of increasing user visits and interaction by improving website design and content based on GA reported results, impose global logic on the local (xxxix).

Nodes in Google Analytics

Screen Shot 2014-04-12 at 9.33.26 PM

Google Data Center Locations: Image from Google Data Centers.

Individual websites, GA account administrators, and website visitors are local nodes in the global informational network. Google data center servers are mega-nodes in the network. Google employees who program GA and maintain Google servers and centers are localized nodes in the global network. Google’s data centers are located in a variety of locations that include North America, South America, Europe, and Asia. Several are found in Castells’ (2010) “milieux of innovation” (p. 419) including Taiwan, Singapore, and Chile. Others are found in what appear to be unlikely global spaces, including Council Bluffs, Iowa, and Mayes County, Oklahoma. These locations reiterate Castells’ insistence that local and global are not mutually exclusive polar opposites; rather, the new industrial system is neither global or local, but a new way of constructing local and global dynamics (p. 423). Websites, administrators, visitors, servers, and employees are simultaneously localized nodes (even the the mega-nodes are situated in space and time) in the global informational network.

Agency among Google Analytics Nodes

GA account administrators and website visitors have the greatest level of agency in the network, while Google employees exert limited agency within the confines of their labor relationships and conditions. Account administrators would likely be considered among Castells’ (2010) “managerial elites” (p. 445), while Google employees who maintain and program the servers might be part of Castells’ disposable labor force (p. 295). Account administrators have the authority to configure GA data, including the ability to filter out results, narrow data collection according to metrics and dimensions, and even integrate external digital metrics in GA. This authority is not, of course, the authority of Google’s corporate structure and hierarchy, but within the boundaries of GA data model and activities, account administrators exude authority. Website visitors may choose to visit, or not visit, any given website, once or more than once (meaning a single session or multiple sessions). This agency includes the power to intentionally separate themselves from the network, meaning that, for users, they only enter into the network as a node when they visit the tracked website. Interestingly, only the GA administrator has authority to eliminate users from the network; account configurations may filter out visitors along several dimensions.

Nodal Situation and Relation

Nodes are locally situated. While simultaneously part of the global informational economy, all of the nodes in the GA network are situated in a space and time. This simultaneous here/there compression of space and time is the origin of Castells’ (2010) “space of flows” (p. 408) and “timeless time” (p. 460). Websites are simultaneously hosted on physical servers around the world and locally viewed on specific platforms and media. Users are simultaneously accessing global data in territorial space on hardware. GA administrators are situated while configuring accounts and loading reports from the cloud. Google data centers are situated in specific locations, but they collect and process global data from local spaces and times. Google employees are culturally and territorially situated in the global Google labor pool.

Data rarely travels along parallel paths in the GA data model or GA activities. Website visit data are collected in the data modeluser, session, and interaction data — and sent to Google data centers for processing and configuration. Other than writing unique user identification data onto cookies on users’ browsers or apps, little data travels from GA to users. Website content is indirectly affected by GA reports configured and read by GA administrators, but within the GA activity network, websites are unaffected by GA activity on the data model. Beyond the boundaries of the OoS, of course, Google serves plenty of data, in the form of ads, back to users. But that’s now beyond the scope of this study.

Movement in the Network

Framework for Movement: Wires in The Dalles, Oregon, Google Data Center. Photo from the Google Data Center Gallery.

Data moves in GA. More specifically, data in the GA data model moves in GA. Data are initiated by users visiting tracked websites. Specific frameworks must be in place for connections to occur and data in the data model to be collected. Namely, websites must contain GA tracking code, embedded in the website code through the agency of the GA administrator. The embedded GA tracking code enables, and the web browser and hardware afford (Norman, n.d.), the user to initiate a tracking pixel (gif) and generate data to be collected in the GA data model. Once collected, the data are configured (by the account administrator and by the GA algorithms), processed (in a largely opaque manner) and collated in aggregated data tables, and reported in visual and tabular representations. In Castells’ (2010) terms, data represent flow in the GA network (p. 442). That data is both spatial and temporal (it comes from and is attached to a specific territory and represents a specific, chronological activity), but it is also entirely global and digital.

Content in the Network

Data are collected and packaged — literally, in a gif image pixel — in parameters relating to user, session, and interaction. The GA tracking code encodes data and sends it to Google data centers where the data are decoded, configured based on administrator preferences, processed and repackaged in aggregated data tables, and made available to the account administrators. The reporting function remediates the data in visual and tabular formats for ease of reading and use. While the data reported are considered authoritative and authentic, the actual processing function remains largely proprietary, with only end results available to extrapolate what processing actually occurs. This black boxed processing function seems unlikely to represent Latour’s (2005) intermediary; as Fomitchev (2010) claims, there are probably processing functions that result in highly mediated, possibly even inaccurate, results. Castells (2010) would likely measure GA performance based on “its connectedness, that is, its structural ability to facilitate noise-free communication between its components” (p. 187). I hope we will see increased academic scrutiny focused on this perceived intermediary function in GA, even as we scholars rely on its results.

Birth and Death of a Network

Killing the Network: Failed Google data hard drives to be destroyed at the St. Ghislain, Belgium, Google Data Center. Photo from the Google Data Center Gallery.

Castells (2010) indicates that global informational networks emerge within milieux of innovation. These main centers of innovation are generally the largest metropolitan areas of the industrial age (p. 66), able to “generate synergy on the basis of knowledge and information, directly related to industrial production and commercial applications” (p. 67), and combine the efforts of the state and entrepreneurs (p. 69). Nodes on the network get ignored (and therefore cease to be part of the network) when they are perceived, by either the network or by its managerial elites, to have little value to the network itself (p. 134). The GA network grows as more nodes are added, either as users or as web pages with tracking code. GA administrators have agency to kill network nodes by removing tracking code from pages, or by directing IT managers to remove poorly performing web pages. Users have agency to quit visiting a website, thereby removing its value to the person. While many other actions by agents outside the GA network may affect the growth or dissolution of the network, they are outside the boundaries of the GA activity and data model.

And Now, the Rhizome

First a note about using Deleuze & Guattari. I did not enjoy or particularly “get” this reading the first time around. I grasped the broad strokes of the argument, but this is a chapter that requires close, multiple readings. What I discovered as I re-read the chapter in light of this analysis was that it addresses a significant aspect of networks that Castells does not — namely, a rhizomatic approach to networks problematizes the very definition of GA I established during my Re/Proposal. In short, applying Castells profited from the boundaries I placed on the OoS; applying Deleuze & Guattari requires eliminating the boundaries, preferring instead a situated, chronological cross-section as a set of boundaries enabling analysis.

Second, a note about this cross-sectional approach. In my scaffolding outline, I referred to a “flattened, rhizomatic” approach to composing and networks. Placing these two concepts together elicited useful feedback and discussion during the following class, as a result of which I realized that rhizomes are not naturally flattened. While Deleuze & Guattari (1980/1987) refer to flattened multiplicities, they do so in the context of many dimensions: “All multiplicities are flat, in the sense that they fill or occupy all of their dimensions” (p. 9). In fact, rhizomes are unpredictably dimensional; connections can and must occur along all dimensions: “any point of a rhizome can be connected to anything other, and must be” (p. 7). Since the boundaries of such a “network” can’t really be established, one way to analyze the rhizome is to take a cross-sectional slice, situated in space and time, of the rhizome and examine the relationships among points in the rhizome in this “flattened” slice. The rhizome is a multidimensional assemblage, not a flattened network.

These two notes represent realizations that complicate and problematize the restrictive perspective I offered of GA as a network. Limiting the network to GA activities and data model resulted in limits to what I could discuss in my application of Castells. For example, in discussing the birth and death of the network, I cut short my analysis with this limiter: “While many other actions by agents outside the GA network may affect the growth or dissolution of the network, they are outside the boundaries of the GA activity and data model.” Similarly, when addressing nodal situation and relations, I wrote this limiting statement: “Beyond the boundaries of the OoS, of course, Google serves plenty of data, in the form of ads, back to users. But that’s now beyond the scope of this study.” These limits were real — the boundaries I established for describing GA as a network did, in fact, prevent addressing aspects of the network — but they do not reflect an accurate mapping of GA network activity. Deleuze & Guattari (1980/1987) point out that “the rhizome is altogether different, a map and not a tracing” (p. 12, emphasis original). Tracing is the role of centralized control, of perspectives limited by binaries and “tree logic”: “What distinguishes the map from the tracing is that it is entirely oriented toward an experimentation in contact with the real” (p. 12). A mapped understanding of GA must address its real complexity, its nodes and connections in terms of real experiences, not centrally-defined boundaries.

A mapped, cross-sectional perspective on GA as a network was, to my surprise, the goal of my first case study. In fact, the first visualization of the network I provided was a portion of a Popplet titled “Visualizing a Partial Google Analytics Data Set.”

Screen Shot 2014-05-06 at 8.03.11 PM

Figure 1: Visualizing a sample Google Analytics data set from Case Study #1Popplet

My original attempt to visualize and define GA as a network was more chaotically rhizomatic than any other depiction I’ve attempted since. In fact, for much of the rest of the semester, I’ve been struggling to trace my understanding of GA as a network, when in fact Deleuze & Guattari would have me do precisely the opposite: map the multiplicity of GA as assemblage, depicted as a cross-sectional portion of the network situated in time and space.

Mapping GA as rhizome means accepting that users, servers, computers, mobile devices, browsers, operating systems, marketers, developers, programmers, designers, GA account administrators, Google data centers, Google programmers and server maintenance personnel, homes, home offices, office buildings, network cables, routers, switches, weather conditions, satellites, trans-Atlantic communications cables, seawater, signal degradation, electrons, light energy, insulators, and theorists must be included as nodes in the GA rhizome. GA collects data on some of these dimensions; other dimensions, however, are embedded as affordances and constraints to the web technologies that enable GA to measure dimensions at all, so these affordances and constraints must also be depicted in a cross-section of GA as rhizome.

There’s a reason Deleuze & Guattari did not include a visualization of the rhizome on their chapter. It’s too complex, too multi-dimensional, to capture in a 2-dimension drawing. But I’m going to give it a shot.

Popplet mind map

Figure 2: Visualizing Google Analytics as a Rhizome—Popplet

Figure 2 depicts a rhizome cross-section of a single node, User, and the connections that exist among dimensions of the GA data model, website affordances and constraints, website creators, and Google personnel. What this depicts is that a User connects from and to most of the nodes, that the nodes connected to the User are connected to one another, and that relationships proliferate exponentially if extrapolated to the entire list of dimensions. And these dimensions are themselves necessarily limited (perhaps even cross-sectioned) by the visualization technology and my own time and patience. Were I to connect all of the non-technological aspects to the User—like location and weather conditions — the rhizome could go on forever. The point is that mapping the actual rhizome, rather than tracing the limits of the network, generates the rhizome itself. Or, as Deleuze & Guattari (1980/1987) propose, “The map does not reproduce an unconscious closed in upon itself; it constructs the unconscious. It fosters connections between fields, the removal of blockages on bodies without organs, the maximum opening of bodies without organs onto a place of consistency. It is itself a part of the rhizome” (p. 12).

Closing Gaps

Castells offers a remarkably cogent and highly matched means of analyzing GA as a network as defined by Google itself: in terms of GA activities and the GA data model. Castells addresses issues of localization and globalization in ways that make sense for GA defined as Google defines it. Here’s my conclusion from Case Study #2.

While Castells addresses the local, he tends to discuss localization in terms of groups rather than individuals. In this way, Castells more closely resembles ecological theories that apply to organism categories rather than to individual organisms. He regularly refers to groups of people and nodes: the managerial elites (rather than individual leaders), the technological revolution (rather than revolutionary technology pioneers), and the global and local economy (rather than the economic wellbeing of the individual small business owner). The result is that I can’t really address the individual user as a single agent in GA. Then again, this is hardly a hardship, in that GA aggregates data and anonymizes identities. GA, too, resembles an ecological theory rather than a rhetorical theory; it focuses on profiles of territorially localized users rather than individual users in a specific city. As a result, Castells and GA match rather nicely in defining the boundaries of the discussion. In fact, I’d argue that GA (and Google more broadly) represent precisely the network society Castells defined in his text. It’s interesting that he didn’t predict or recognize the rise of Google as I would have expected him to do in his 2010 preface. And Castells’ (2010) discussion of communication media clearly did not predict the popularity or ubiquity of Google’s YouTube on the network as a differentiated medium whose content is driven by user tastes and users-as-producers (p. 399).

Once we admit the possibility that GA is not just what Google says it is, but that GA represents a much wider and broader rhizome of connections, Castells no longer adequately describes the network. GA as rhizome requires additional theoretical application for understanding and visualizing.

Frankentheory

After a semester of theorizing, what’s my own theory of networks?

Rhizome illustration

What I think a rhizome looks like. “The Opte Project” by Barrett Lyon. Creative Commons licence CC BY-NC-SA. From The Accidental Technologist‘s post The Way of the Rhizome #h817open

Networks are local. They are also global. This is not dualism, but convergence. Local and global converge in time and space, and we must be prepared to engage in both simultaneously. The global remains rooted in the local; local conditions and environments affect and influence connections to the global. In our efforts to understand global network activity, we should not lose sight of the affordances and constraints of local conditions, including available access to the internet, proximity to other nodes, and the politics of nodal connectivity.

Networks enable nodes. A collection of nodes does not a network make. Networks enable nodal activity; this means that network frameworks must be in place for networks to exist and start collecting nods. This also means that the activity of collecting nodes in networked. The network can grow well beyond its framework in unexpected and unpredictable ways, and this should be expected, anticipated, and planned to the extent possible.

Networks are rhizomes. Or at least rhizomatic. They are unlikely to require or have inherent hierarchical structures; these will have to be applied to the network. Rhizomatic structure and growth suggest unpredictability of nodal connections. As I understand rhizomes, the importance of any node being able to connect to any other node — or to anything, for that matter — cannot be overstated. It is this aspect of rhizomatic connectivity that I would consider “flat.” There are neither more nor less important nodes; there are no inherent political relationships between and among nodes. Any political power attributed to the node will either be self-contained or bestowed from outside the rhizome; within the ecology of the rhizome, all nodes are equally capable of connecting to all other nodes and to anything outside the rhizome. In this sense, I would suggest that rhizomes are politically flat.

Networks can be analyzed in cross-section; they are very difficult to analyze in real time as they exist. They are both too large to examine as a whole and too complex to analyze as active connections are “firing.” Cross-sections can be taken of specific aspects of the network or of the network as a whole. Cross-sections are frozen in time and show little activity, merely traces that can be followed and explored. Networks contains a multiplicity of simultaneous connective activity; our abilities to analyze simultaneity is limited. Instead, we must follow specific threads of connectivity through time and space to analyze them. Such analysis is made possible through cross section.

Google Analytics’ Contributions to English Studies

First, GA can and should be critically examined as a rhetorical technology. GA activity includes reporting. These reports are discursive and rely on visual and written rhetoric to communicate meaning. The “meaning” of a GA report can be manipulated like any other statistical data. Its meanings depend on local environment and conditions, comfort with standard and local meanings of GA terminology (like “session” or “user,” for example), and familiarity with the GA data collection model. Its visualizations can be analyzed for clarity and transparency, for cultural or sociological bias (related to colors used, default views, and other determined factors), and for its connectedness to other discursive elements (like websites whose visitor traffic it measures). Critical rhetorical analysis of GA reports could easily be an object of study by itself.

Second, GA can and should be critically approached as a black-boxed network whose data manipulation and configuration are largely hidden, lacking transparency. Google’s business model depends on its proprietary search results algorithms. It protects that algorithm carefully; while GA reporting is not directly dependent on the search algorithm, website visit data contribute to search results. Full disclosure of its data configuration and processing activities would likely reveal much about Google’s search algorithm; as a result, these processes are only partially disclosed. Google’s own Analytics help files and tutorials explain the order, purpose, and general procedures of data configuration and processing, but these files and tutorials do not reveal in-depth specifics on how collected data are processed into aggregate tables, nor how those tables are then indexed for rapid, near-instant on-the-fly reporting. Google’s market share in web search and advertising result in the formation of what Althusser (1971) called a repressive state apparatus; I suggest that GA is an ideological expression of that apparatus, or an ideological state apparatus. While neither Google nor GA is a state in a political sense, its size and clout suggest an industrial state-like entity with resources and influence strong enough to manipulate or evoke responses from other political entities, as it has done recently in relations with the government of Russia (Khrennikov & Ustinova, 2014).

Third, GA results themselves can and should be critically examined. Far too many otherwise critically-written journal articles use GA results as instrumental rather than mediated. That is, GA report data are accepted as unqualified and accurate reflections of website traffic rather than mediated reports of visitor activity. Little care is given to providing GA-specific definitions of terminology like “session” and “user.” This acceptance can result in significant reporting issues — I’m experiencing a particular situation as I type in which Google has revised a reporting criterion from “visits” to “sessions.” While these two terms are being used synonymously, one implication is that GA has removed the dimension of “unique visit” from its reporting matrix. GA’s definition of session doesn’t differentiate between unique or repeat visits among sessions, as each session is considered a unique event regardless of the identity (which may not be accurately known) of the visitor. Several reports I provide my dean and marketing director were based on unique visit numbers; as a result, I’m forced to rework all of my reports to reflect sessions rather than unique visits. This has implications for perceptions of “progress” and “improvement” among senior leadership, a particularly uncomfortable reality brought to bear this week. (Google changed its reporting structure without fanfare on April 16, announced in a Google+ post.)

Finally, GA’s data collection method can and should be understood as discursive. Individual GIF calls that report data back to Google servers do so in text tags attached to tracking pixels generated through data collection. For example, every GA tag begins with “utm,” a prefix whose meaning is unclear. Many data points are collected in abbreviations whose symbolic meanings would be interesting to explore. Again, GA offers few clues for more obscure abbreviations, although Google does provide a list of many (but not all) dimensions collected via tracking pixel calls. Some of these symbols are explained in the Google Developers (2014) Tracking Code Overview. While parameter abbreviations are obscure, the values themselves are even less clear. Consider the parameter/value pair “utmul=pt-br”: the utmul parameter represents “browser language” while the pt-br value represents “Brazilian Portuguese.” This symbolic communication system is itself fodder for rhetorical analysis and interpretation.

References

Althusser, L. (1971). Ideology and ideological state apparatuses (Notes towards an investigation). In B. Brewster (transl.) & A. Blunden (trans.), Louis Althusser archive. Retrieved from https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/althusser/1970/ideology.htm (Original work published in Lenin philosophy and other essays)

Castells, M. (2010). The rise of the network society [2nd edition with a new preface]. Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.

Deleuze, G., & Guattari, F. (1987). A thousand plateaus: Capitalism and schizophrenia. (B. Massumi, Trans.) Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press. (Original work published 1980)

Google. (n.d.). Algorithms. Inside Search. Retrieved from 1 May 2014 from https://www.google.com/insidesearch/howsearchworks/algorithms.html

Google. (2014). Dimensions and metrics. Google Analytics Help. Retrieved from https://support.google.com/analytics/answer/1033861?hl=en

Google Analytics. (2014, April 16). Understanding user behavior in a multi-device world (Web post). Google+. Retrieved 1 May 2014 from https://plus.google.com/+GoogleAnalytics/posts/LCLgkyCn4Zi

Google Developers. (2014, April 16). Tracking code overview. Google Developers. Retrieved from https://developers.google.com/analytics/resources/concepts/gaConceptsTrackingOverview#gifParameters

Krennikov, I., & Ustinova, A. (2014, May 1). Putin’s next invasion? The Russian web. Bloomberg Businessweek. Retrieved from http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-05-01/russia-moves-toward-china-style-internet-censorship

[ Feature image: Today's latte, Google Analytics. CC licensed image from Flickr user Yuko Honda ]

Ambience and Rhetoric Go Walking Hand-in-Hand

Thomas Rickert, a Professor of English at Purdue University. Image hosetd on website for Purdue University.

Thomas Rickert, a Professor of English at Purdue University. Image hosted on website for Purdue University.

Welcome to the final section of reading notes for the Spring 2014 semester. The focus in on Thomas Rickert‘s book, Ambient Rhetoric.

So what exactly is ambient rhetoric? How is this different from classical rhetoric? Or the remapping of rhetoric done by the creators of CHAT? What does attunement have to do with theories of networks and networks of theories? Why does Rickert unleash this new theory about a very old subject? What does this have to do with the bandwagon of other theories trailing like Hansel and Gretel’s breadcrumbs in the Forest of Theories?

How my brain feels when looking back on all the theories my classmates and I have dipped our academic toes in. Image hosted on the website Mashable.

How my brain feels when looking back on all the theories my classmates and I have dipped our academic toes in. Image of Hansel and Gretel hosted on the website Mashable.

According to Rickert, “Computer and telecommunications technologies are not only converging but also permeating the carpentry of the world, doing so in networks and technological infrastructures, houses, and buildings, manufactured goods, various sorts of content, and more. Information is not just externalized; it vitalizes our built environs and the objects therein, making them ‘smart,’ capable of action…We are entering an age of ambience, one in which boundaries between subject and object, human and nonhuman, and information and matter dissolve” (1). If the communications technologies are reshaping the “carpentry of the world,” it seems only right that our understanding of and perspective on rhetoric change also. We even get to include strains of Actor-Network-Theory, Ecology, and Castells’ Social Network Theory as we move through it and as the boundaries begin to blur actors together.

But what is ambience? Isn’t that just a type of music? Or readying the room to create the mood for a date? Well, yes but also more than that. Much more, actually. Ambience “refers to what is lying around, surrounding, encircling, encompassing, or environing. Labeling an environment ambient, then, at the very least picks out its surrounding, encompassing characteristics…ambience can mean the arrangement of accessories to support the primary effect of a work…It begins to convey more elusive qualities about a work, practice, or place. Often these are keyed to mood or some other form of affect” (Rickert 6). The example Rickert gives is the cave paintings of Lascaux and how the locations of the paintings within the cave had auditory purposes as well as visual. I found it fascinating when Rickert talks about how the paintings had been discovered quite a long time ago, but the understanding of what the paintings were for and what they meant happened more recently. It makes me wonder what changed in the flows of human knowledge that we can now better understand the purposes of paintings created thousands of years ago instead of simply seeing them as just paintings.

 

So if ambience deals with the environment and affordances of

[all the stuff]

[and more here too]

A conversation with the author himself, just to add more insight.

And so ends Theories of Networks reading notes.

Slow clap from Joffrey Baratheon. Image hosted on tumblr Game of Thrones Gifs.

Clapping from Joffrey Baratheon. Image hosted on tumblr Game of Thrones Gifs.

References

Rickert, Thomas. Ambient Rhetoric: The Attunements of Rhetorical Being. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2013. Print.

It Has Been a Long Semester, So I Leave My Final Reading Notes with This:


Reading Notes: Ambient Rhetoric

Ambient Rhetoric rocked my world. It opened new paths of exploration and generally knocked me out of my growing comfort with network as a metaphor for rhetoric.

One idea in particular rocked me to my theoretical core, while a (what I thought to be) tenuous connection to trickster turned into some remarkable parallels between Rickert’s (2013) theory of rhetoric and what I’ll refer to as Hyde’s (1998/2010) trickster theory.

In chapter three, Rickert augments Mark C. Taylor’s description of the writer “caught in a network of complex, coadaptive threads that disrupt any sense of autonomy or boundary” with this mind-blowing claim: “a subject (rhetor, author, speaker, etc.) emerges as a node because of the network; the nodes do not exist prior to the network” (p. 104).

“The nodes do not exist prior to the network.”

Throughout the semester, I’ve thought of a collection of nodes constituting, initiating, pre-existing their network. I’ve thought of nodes collecting connections to create the network. But I’ve been plagued by questions of origin. If nodes precede the network, how do connections get made?

router cables - photo

Network. CC licensed image from Flickr user ken fager.

When I envision a network model, I think of an intranet or LAN. I think of the wires, the infrastructure, the framework that has to precede the connections. But I couldn’t figure out the relationship of the framework — the wireframe of switches and cables, of routers and hotspots — to the connections. I knew the connections initiated the network, but in the system I imagined, in which nodes preceded network, I couldn’t figure out what the framework represented. Rickert responded to my problem with this statement: “We might reflect back from networks the insight that ‘actuality’ was already networked, and the ‘new’ logistics of complexity we are learning are not so much new as disclosed differently to us. Inhabitancy, or dwelling, has always been networked…” (p. 102).

Without the framework, connections can’t be made. Without the framework, nodes can’t exist. Nodes can only exist once the framework is in place. “The nodes do not exist prior to the network.” The framework is the network, and the nodes exist only in relationship to the network. Applying this statement to my object of study, Google Analytics, suggests that the user, visit, and session dimensions I measure with metrics via the Google Analytics data model through the activities of collection, collation, processing, and report are already always networked and existing, and that, further, aspects of these measurements are withdrawn from human understanding for future discovery as already existing network qualities. In short, Google Analytics as a network is simply the best understanding we have of user relationship with websites. We will push the boundaries, embrace the chaos of discovery, and learn more about these network qualities as time passes.

Blows my mind.

And then there’s the trickster. Hyde (1998/2010) uses coyote trickster as a model of trickster behavior and suggests trickster follows a “no way” way — without specific instinctive habits, trickster coyote learns all its “ways” of being through trial and error and mimicry (pp. 42-3). I found in Ambient Rhetoric an analogous recognition of a “third way” that helps break rhetoric out of constricting binaries. For example, Rickert (2013) writes that new media writing, or Ulmer’s electracy, “is choric in that it too is a third kind, following but neither process from nor a hybrid of orality and literacy” (p. 68, emphasis added). Later, Rickert describes Latour’s actants as hybrid entities, influenced by Heiddegar and Harman, “the jointure of the two [that] creates a new relationship and in so doing transforms person and gun into a singular actant with new capabilities, a ‘hybrid actor,’ and these capabilities in turn affect relations to others” (p. 205). The concept of a third way that is “neither process from nor a hybrid of” a binary opposition parallels Hyde’s (1998/2010) statements about coyote’s “no way”: “Whoever has no way but is a successful imitator will have, in the end, a repertoire of ways” and “Perhaps having no way also means that a creature can adapt itself to a changing world” (p. 43) and “Having no way, trickster can have many ways” (p. 45). Rickert frames ambient rhetoric like Hyde frames coyote trickster: as a way to escape restrictive binaries and forge a new way in the world.

As I read Hyde and understand trickster, Rickert’s ambient theory parallels trickster theory in its desire to reveal (and revel in) complexity. Trickster “disrupts the mundane and the conventional to reveal no higher law, no hidden truth, but rather the plenitude and complexity of this world” (Hyde, 1998/2010, p. 289). Ambient rhetoric seeks to move beyond the complexity of the network metaphor, to “proceed via ecological relations of tension, balance, and flow” (Rickert, 2010, p. 129) and make a “further addition, a complexification, centered on ambience” (p. 128) to the network metaphor. Both of these statement point not toward adding complexity, but to revealing existing complexity in the world.

And this connection, between trickster theory and network theory, I could never have imagined. It, too, is revealed by attunement to ambience.

References

Hyde, L. (2010). Trickster makes this world: Mischief, myth, and art. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. (Original work published 1998)

Rickert, T. (2013). Ambient rhetoric: The attunements of rhetorical being. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press. Pittsburgh Series in Composition, Literacy, and Culture

[ Feature image: Management of Complexity: Visualization. CC licensed image from Flickr user Michael Heiss ]

Coda: Rickert’s Wonderful World of Oz Meets Pocahontas

First, an aside: I couldn’t stop myself from thinking of this scene from The Wizard of Oz in an entirely new way. While it’s clearly made with the human worldview of home in mind, I began to think of the … Continue reading

Mindmap #14: Concept Groupings 2

Last week’s concept groupings focused on theories; this week’s focuses on theorists (although, to be honest, I’ve not been adding individual theorists for the last few theories). I also added and linked in Social Network, Ideological Determinism, and Ambience as the final three theories we’ve addressed in the class. I wanted to have the full picture of all theories/theorists before I finished concept groupings. And here are the results!

Mindmap visualization

The Entire Mindmap: Concept Groupings on the Left (Popplet)

End of Semester Conclusions

At long last, mapping is complete. What appears above is the final mindmap of theorists and theories as they exist in my head. Coming to the end of the experience, I’m reflecting on what I’ve learned about networks and network theories through this map.

Hierarchy vs. Rhizome: While a chronological mapping of theorists’ ideas might suggest primacy among certain theorists’ ideas — earlier theories are more influential than later theories, meaning later theories are built on the hierarchical foundation of earlier theories — the map reflects a far more rhizomatic relationship among theories. I’ve been as likely to connect theories based on chronological influence as conceptual influence, regardless of chronology. Foucault reflects certain ideas from Ambience as easily as Ambience reflects certain ideas from Foucault. The relationship among theories is conceptual, and concepts are eternal, always already existing (according to ambience theory).

Ambience, a Ring to Rule them All: Ambience is a fantastic closing theory because it sums up the direction theorists have taken throughout the semester. While ambience sometimes seems to present a certain level of mysticism, its focus a post-network ecological relationship among rhetors and rhetoric, audience and affect, environment and ideas acts as a contemporary summing up of all that we’ve read and reflected on all semester. And it also suggests an openness to what will come in network theory, a willingness to concede that we can’t possibly know, or even imagine, that which is withdrawn and hidden at this moment when it comes to network theories and understandings. I connected Ambience to every other theory in my mindmap.

RhetComp Got it Going On: We may be fractious and divided, but we rhetoric and composition teachers and scholars propose some cutting-edge theory (as English studies theories go, anyway). While we’ve not proposed string theory or chaos theory, we’ve willingly addressed the consequences and contributions of advanced scientific theories on rhetoric and composition. I drew as many lines to my Composition/Rhetoric node as to my other concepts; those lines represent theories that either directly or indirectly addressed rhetoric and/or composition, or theories that emerged from a rhetoric and composition background. We really do study all the things — and we like it that way!

The Order of Things: My minds races from idea to idea, drawing connections whenever possible. My internal dialog often seeks to organize the chaos. This has been reflected in my desire to tie things together in the mindmap in concrete shapes, especially columns and diamonds. Popplet affords such preferences when “snap to grid” is enabled — however, because I intended meaning to exist among placements in the map, I never opted to allow Popplet to put content in columns. I did that myself in several places. I struggled to keep the mindmap manageable; this last week, I struggled on my 24” monitor to see everything in the map in order to connect items on the outskirts. It’s time to let the mindmap rest.

Reflections: The Order of Things (above) is really about on-the-fly reflection and my unwillingness to allow ideas to remain chaotically (maybe rhizomatically) related for long. As a writer, I’m an editor on the fly. As a scholar, I’m a reflector in the fly. I seek to place concepts in relationship to one another as soon as possible. The danger, of course, is that by so quickly (and very un-ANT-like) categorizing theories, I overlook potential connections that I missed the first time around. This brings me to the value of the mindmap, sometimes hated though it was. A mindmap enables both node-level focus and network-level attention. I never quite escape the big picture. While I remain locally-focused when adding nodes, connecting nodes forces the shift to global view. This helps me tame the organizer in me.

A Final Thought: Like Dumbledore’s pensieve, the mindmap encourages objective reflection, a moment of god-like oversight. Truth be told, after our readings this semester, I’m beginning to believe that objectivity is false. In fact, I’m beginning to believe the subject/object binary is false and limiting. Which suggests that the mindmap might simply be my response to the already-always-existing relationships between already-always-existing theories. And my place is neither objective nor subjective, but ambient, connected to the mindmap and its ideas in an ecology of meaningful relations. I, too, have a place in the mindmap.

“Play Ball!” MindMap Reframed

http://popplet.com/app/#/1571354 So, I puzzled over how to reconceptualize a mindmap 15 weeks in the making using concepts, rather than components. I reviewed our class syllabus for footholds, pondered my case study foci, watched a little ESPN on a break, checked … Continue reading

In Which Encoding and Decoding Meet Ideological State Apparatuses

This week’s readings take a far different turn from Social Network Analysis and Networked Individualism and Rhizomes. I am familiar with two of the three (the ones I will be focusing on most here since the third is a book we’re dividing between this week and next week) from taking Cultural Studies last semester: Stuart Hall and Louis Althusser. Now, this feels like somewhat more familiar ground.

Stuart Hall, Cultural Studies Theorist. Image hosted on the blog, Book Forum.

Stuart Hall, Cultural Studies Theorist. Image hosted on the blog, Book Forum.

Louis Althusser. Image hosted on the blog, Maddalo.

Louis Althusser. Image hosted on the blog, Maddalo.

Meet Stuart Hall

While this video does not really touch the article my classmates and I read for this week, it helps me to ground myself in the work of Hall as a way to see how Cultural Studies can start to fit within the larger images of Theories of Networks and Networks of Theories.

Shall We Begin This Trip?

With Stuart Hall’s article, “Encoding, Decoding,” “it is also possible (and useful) to think of this process in terms of a structure produced and sustained through the articulation of linked but distinctive moments – production, circulation, distribution/consumption, reproduction. This would be to think of the process as a ‘complex structure in dominance’, sustained through the articulation of connected practices, each of which, however, retains its distinctiveness and has its own specific modality, its own forms and conditions of existence” (Hall 478). He was setting up this model as an alternative to the traditional model of “sender-message-receiver,” by proposing a process where the creation, distribution, and consumption is one a one-way street between producer and consumer (media stations and all of us), but a two-way avenue where the producers send out, the consumers (us) take in and then spit back out towards the producers.

Stuar Hall's Theory of Encoding and Decoding. Image hosted on a WikiSpace.

A figure of Stuart Hall’s Theory of Encoding and Decoding. Image hosted on a WikiSpace.

This moves away from the idea that the populace is composed of  passive media receptors, but are, instead, just as active in the discourse going on around them as those producing the media. According to Hall, what is moving through this continuous circuit of production, circulation, distribution/consumption, and reproduction “is meanings and messages in the form of sign-vehicles of a specific kind organized, like any form of communication or language, through the operation of codes within the syntagmatic chain of a discourse” (Hall 478). In order to better understand what “syntagmatic chain of a discourse” might be, I found a website, Semiotics for Beginners, that discusses syntagmatic analysis (sounds like fun stuff, right?). The author of this webpage, Daniel Chandler, mentions that, “The study of syntagmatic relations reveals the conventions or ‘rules of combination’ underlying the production and interpretation of texts (such as the grammar of a language). The use of one syntagmatic structure rather than another within a text influences meaning.” I have only touched on Semiotics briefly in some of my classes, so I will leave the diagram below as a way to remind myself of what components in a syntagmatic chain of a discourse may look like.

A diagram of Syntagmatic Levels. Image hosted on Aberystwyth University's Semiotics for Beginners.

A diagram of Syntagmatic Levels. Image hosted on Aberystwyth University‘s Semiotics for Beginners.

Moving along, I really liked that Hall’s exploration of the process, using the example of the creation, distribution, and consumption of a television programme, talks about how the production of media does not occur in a “closed system,” but, instead, the producers are drawing upon the different ideologies underlying the society within which the programme is being created. This conversation happens often with movies, where some people want to see the movie as existing within a vacuum, having no relevance to what is going on in the society at large. By looking at media as operating within an open system of ideas, beliefs, values, and ideologies (a cultural network, might be a way to visualize this), then we start to see that these media are loaded from the get-go: “[The producers] draw topics, treatments, agendas, events, personnel, images of the audience, ‘definitions of the situation’ from other sources and other discursive formations within the wider socio-cultural and political structure of which they are a differentiated part” (Hall 479). This comment reminds me of when I was watching the movie 300: Rise of an Empire.

While the movie is very loosely based on events that occurred in history that were rendered, with much blood spewing, in graphic novels that were then adapted to movie format, the movie itself can be seen as reflective of how Americans may see the United States right now. The film is very loud about the call for freedom, honor, self-sacrifice if the need calls for it, strength of certain women (but only if they are exceedingly obstinate in their wills, in a manly way, or just plain blood-thirsty…or into a necrophilia moment or two), and a certain degree of egocentrism (Greece is the best!). However, the film also draws upon the belief that we are a nation divided and that if a way to overcome these divisions is not found, we will collapse beneath the sandaled feet of foreign invaders. Another concept that rears its metaphorical head is the cost of war, not just for the soldiers but for the leaders who must “feel the weight” of their decisions in sending youths to their deaths, as Themistocles stares moodily out across the blood-laden waters and still decides to sail forth with his plans out of necessity but mainly pride. Yes, this is my movie tangent but also the way I process what Hall was saying about the model he was proposing and how the messages and meanings in each production of a media text changes through every step.

By looking at the changing of meaning in media, I am hoping to better understand how content moves within a network and  changes. So, taking Rise of an Empire as my example, how would the meanings and messages of the film change through each step?

The production part of creating the film Rise of an Empire is an authorship between screenwriter(s), director, producer, actors, CGI creators, craftsman, and everyone else involved in making the film. How they decided to film the movie, what scenes to keep and which to cut, what parts of the graphic novel to expand upon or downplay, what actors to use, what music for what moments are all decisions that filter into the messages being threaded into the film. It is where the film team (from the director on down) are making decisions influenced by the ideologies, values, and beliefs in the society and culture from which they are coming to which they are hoping to distribute to a financial gain. Even the studio’s decision about which movies get the go-ahead are influenced by this same open system as they make claims about which movies they think will sell and which ones they think will flop.

For the next step, circulation, this is the advertising part of the film’s pre-release (and, later, DVD/Blu-Ray release). The funny thing about trailers is that there is a second round of editing and decision-making that occurs, but is not always in the hands of the director and producer. There are some movies where the trailer and film do not match up, leaving audience members disappointed or heavily surprised. When a film is being advertised, the material that is chosen to be featured is weighted based on the value it is estimated to have in drawing in the audience. This estimation is based on ideas and beliefs about the target audience and what parts of the film will be intriguing enough to make viewers want to pay for movie theater tickets. Because Rise of an Empire is relying on the popularity of its predecessor 300, with its emphasis on burly Spartan men and their glory and gore as they face the legion of Persian armies, the filmmakers also recognize that this is a different film, one with more speeches and slightly less in-your-face action. Even the posters use the same dramatic visual flair while the words framing the image tell a different story, with the first one being a more aggressive take-no-shit-from-anyone versus a power struggle between a faltering Greece and an unquenchable desire for power.

Prepare for Glory Poster for the Movie 300. Image hosted on MoviePoster.com

Prepare for Glory Poster for the Movie 300. Image hosted on MoviePoster.com

Rise_Conquer Poster for the Film 300: Rise of an Empire. Image hosted on the website PakGames.

Rise_Conquer Poster for the Film 300: Rise of an Empire. Image hosted on the website PakGames.

But what about the viewers, with our consumption of the texts? If we are not the passive receptors previously assumed, how does the messages and meanings put forth by the author/directors/actors/film crew/advertising teams change when they reach and scramble about in our brains? This is the part that reminds me most about education and teaching students. We all come from different backgrounds, with different experiences and knowledge that help to shape our worldviews. Because of these differences, the messages that have been encoded in the texts are not always universally decoded in the same way. Where someone may see Rise of an Empire as a story of freedom at all costs, another person may see the movie as a story that shows how alike different groups of people can be in brutality. When I went to see the film with my cousin, we each came away with different parts of the movie we focused on. People consume meanings and messages and ideas and beliefs and values in line with and in reaction to that which they bring to the experience.

Which leads me to the reproduction part of how I was unscramblind (decoding?) Hall’s theory in relation to Rise of an Empire. I know that there are many people out there who do not like talking during movies (hell, they would prefer all reactions to the film’s content to be quiet affairs, best left in the brain or in the silent curling of fingers into the arms of the chair), but conversations about people’s interest, disinterest, and reactions to the movies and ideas and perceived meanings do happen. It’s hard to keep quiet when walking out of a movie theater about parts we hated, characters we loved or loved to despise, how well the music fit with the scenes, what were/are our favorite quotes, what scenes could have been left out (Transformers 3, anyone?). We talk, we rant, we swoon, all adding into a giant discourse that surrounds movie-going. Reviews happen, memes are created, Facebook pages go up, tumblrs appear. Fans are not silent, brainless entities. They shine their opinions loud and clear, and Hollywood (and its compatriots and rivals) hears what is going on (to an extent. They probably don’t look at everyone’s tumblrs).

Welcome to the network of communication and culture, which has sense broadened the grid as communication technologies reshape (Castells, Rainie, and Wellman would be so proud, or disturbed?) our societies.

It's not just this. Image hosted in the Telegraph article "3D television to burst into the living room."

It’s not just this. Image hosted in the Telegraph article “3D television to burst into the living room.”

It's also this. Discourse at the movies. Image hosted  on the website FilesNews.

It’s also this. Discourse at the movies. Image hosted on the website FilesNews.

Now We Turn Our Attention to Althusser

Within Althusser’s “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatus,” he discusses how the proletarians subordinate themselves by giving into distractions of popular culture and the ways in which various Ideological State Apparatuses (ISA) are used in order to ensure that the proletarians remain cooperative to the dominant class and the Repressive State Apparatuses (police, army, local, federal, and state laws, and so on) that effect a more direct line of trying to keep the proletarians in line. haha It’s funny to say the word proletarians because it is a societal group into which I was born raised, have worked, am still a part of, and am now (in a way) studying.

ISAs, though, interest me more and are the ones I want to talk about in this section of my post because they are so prevalent and interwoven into our daily lives that we don’t even see most of them as indoctrinating us towards certain beliefs and values. So what are the different types of ISAs? Let’s look at the list that Althusser provides in his article:

“the religious ISA (the system of the different churches),
the educational ISA (the system of the different public and private ‘schools’),
the family ISA,[8]
the legal ISA,[9]
the political ISA (the political system, including the different parties),
the trade-union ISA,
the communications ISA (press, radio and television, etc.),
the cultural ISA (literature, the arts, sports, etc.)”

No matter how far removed we think we are from being shaped or molded into subordination, every one of us is surrounded by and embedded within these ISAs. Lovingly taking him out of context, John Donne was right when he said, “No man is an island.” So, why would the dominant class want to have the proletarians’ ideologies, beliefs, values, and ideas shaped in such a manner? haha It’s all about the means of production and the “reproduction of the conditions of production” (Althusser) —> cheap labor. He wrote that culture has become monopolized, as mythologies have become very effective in winning the masses over and allow them to believe they have agency.

Morpheus, bringing down the mood. Image hosted on the Shen's Multimedia Rhetoric Blog.

Morpheus, bringing down the mood. Image hosted on the Shen’s Multimedia Rhetoric Blog.

In Althusser’s text, these ISAs are external forces that shape us, starting with the family and then branching out into the other ISAs as we get older and branch out into different societal groups: “Of course, many of these contrasting Virtues (modesty, resignation, submissiveness on the one hand, cynicism, contempt, arrogance, confidence, self-importance, even smooth talk and cunning on the other) are also taught in the Family, in the Church, in the Army, in Good Books, in films and even in the football stadium.”

However, Althusser believes the Eudcational ISA taking the place of religion, with most teachers working within and for the system by promoting the dominant ideology to millions of children and teenagers: “But no other Ideological State Apparatus has the obligatory (and not least, free) audience of the totality of the children in the capitalist social formation, eight hours a day for five or six days out of seven. But it is by an apprenticeship in a variety of know-how wrapped up in the massive inculcation of the ideology of the ruling class that the relations of production in a capitalist social formation, i.e. the relations of exploited to exploiters and exploiters to exploited, are largely reproduced. The mechanisms which produce this vital result for the capitalist regime are naturally covered up and concealed by a universally reigning ideology of the School, universally reigning because it is one of the essential forms of the ruling bourgeois ideology: an ideology which represents the School as a neutral environment purged of ideology (because it is …lay), where teachers respectful of the ‘conscience’ and ‘freedom’ of the children who are entrusted to them (in complete confidence) by their ‘parents’ (who are free, too, i.e. the owners of their children) open up for them the path to the freedom, morality and responsibility of adults by their own example, by knowledge, literature and their ‘liberating’ virtues.” This is a pretty sinister way of looking at the educational system, but think about how true that is.

When trying to wrap one's head around the thought of all those ISAs operating in our lives... Gif from the movie Silver Linings Playbook.

When trying to wrap one’s head around the thought of all those ISAs operating in our lives… Gif from the movie Silver Linings Playbook.

This seems like the time for an example, to prove that my nodding towards Althusser’s soul-crushing ideas of education indoctrinating young people to believe in “liberating virtues” while actually binding them within an ideology that will turn them into exploited workers. It’s at this point in the essay where I start to think about the college education inflation that is happening right now. Instead of promoting different avenues of training for young people (trade schools and the like as well as college), there is the constant societal hammering that if anyone wants to succeed in life, to be able to feed the families they will have, to achieve the shining providence promised in the American Dream (whatever that is now), people must attend college. Get those four year degrees and get to work at those fabulous Fortune 500 companies or be a doctor or a lawyer or own your own business! And yet, that’s not what is happening. Instead, there are too many people with undergraduate degrees with relatively little relevant work experience trying to find their places in an economy that is too saturated. A cycle is at play: you need an education to be a candidate for a job, but you are not a right fit for the job if you do not have experience in the field, and yet experience is now required for many, many entry level jobs because there are too many people with varying levels of education and experience applying for a limited number of jobs. Education is liberation, but there is always “and yet…” tied into the sentence. There are such drastic problems cracking the foundation of our nation’s educational system, but it’s ability to churn out legions of employees for lower level jobs is very efficient (that’s the best word for it). Education is supposed to be power, and yet (I meant it when I said that earlier) our educational system as an assembly line would make Ford proud.

Industrial Model for Our Educational System? Image hosted on the blog Funny Pictures.

Industrial Model for Our Educational System? Image hosted on the blog Funny Pictures

But, what does this have to do with the rest of my reading notes? How are these ISAs a network?

Well,  these ISAs compose a cultural/societal network. They have two levels of what is being moved through the network: the surface layer is composed of the messages being sent to the proletarians to which they submit themselves , and the underlying level that pushes forth the ideologies of the ruling class. This is not a network of computers (though Rainie and Wellman’s Networked Individualism and Castells’ Network Society start to become very suspicious in the idea of proletarians are just continuing the cycle of promoting all of the ideologies in which they are entrenched, but can now do so on a global level with the pressing of a few buttons). ISAs also make me think of the Rhetorical Situation Theories we have read in class because I start to wonder about all of the foundations upon which the rhetors are speaking and upon which the audience members are drawing upon as they form reactions to the rhetorical discourse. This then makes me think of Actor-Network-Theory because the dominant class is using state apparatuses (both repressive and ideological, but especially ideology) to keep in place boundaries and then the proletarians are propagating these ideologies in nearly everything they do. Althusser has proposed a cultural network, one that attempts to establish (and can be quite good at doing so) cheap labor forces so as to continue within the network of production processes.

Diagram of Base and Superstructure. Image hosted on the blog Mass Think.

Diagram of Base and Superstructure. Image hosted on the blog Mass Think.

References

Althusser, Louis. “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses.” Marxists.org. Marxists Internet Archive, 1970.  Web. 19 Apr 2014.

Hall, Stuart. “Encoding, Decoding.” The Cultural Studies Reader. 3rd ed. Ed. Simon During. New York: Routledge, 2007. [PDF].

Rickert, Thomas. Ambient Rhetoric: The Attunements of Rhetorical Being. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2013.

A Historical Drama Tribute With All the Good Graces


Stuart Hall and Louis Althusser Reading Notes, April 21

Hall, Stuart. “Encoding, Decoding.” Social Theory: Power and Identity in the Global Era (2010): 569.

Summary:

In the article, Stuart Hall describes how messages are produced, circulated, distributed, and reproduced in four stages that are “relatively autonomous” but also scaffolded. Encoding and decoding are determinant moments in the communicative exchange. The event must become a story before it can become a communicative event. The communicative process of television is described as follows: production (which is a complex negotiation of elements internal to the system constructing the message and elements external to the system) constructs the message (479) and discursive rules of language are used to circulate the message through the employment of a code (479). The symmetry of the encoded and decoded message depends upon the structural relations and differences between the encoder and the decoder. Distortions are caused by a lack of equivalence between the two sides of the communication exchange (480). Discursive knowledge depends upon the representation of the “articulation of language on real relations and conditions” (481). Widely distributed codes become naturalized within a particular society (480). The distinction between denotation and connotation is analytical rather than a binary of fixed meaning vs. fluid or conventionalized meaning (482). It is at the connotative level that “situational ideologies alter and transform signification” (482). Denotation and connotation allow us to look at “the different levels at which ideologies and discourses intersect” (482). Connotation contains “fragments of ideology,” while denotation fixes a sign by certain complex codes (483). When messages are decoded, or reproduced, there are three possible ways of perceiving the message (selective perception): the dominant hegemonic position, the negotiated code (which looks at both the dominant view and an alternative level), and the oppositional code, which decodes the opposite message from what the encoder intended.

 

Althusser, Louis. “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes Towards an Investigation).” The Anthropology of the State: A Reader (2006): 86-111.

Key Concepts

I decided to do list key concepts here because Althusser’s dense writing made it easier for me to pull nuggets from. Overall, Althusser is describing the way in which the state exerts control over people through both ideological and repressive apparatuses, which are interdependent upon one another.

  • Social formations arise from the dominant means of production.
  • the production process sets the existing relations within production to work
  • social formations must reproduce the conditions of production as they produce, so must reproduce the productive forces and the existing relations of production
  • it is necessary to reproduce the material conditions of production
  • the reproduction of labor power is the reproduction of the productive forces
  • the reproduction of labor power requires the reproduction of submission to the established order (submission to the ruling ideology or practice of the ideology)
  • Marxist typography advantage: base (economic base) and superstructure (politico-legal and ideology)edifice reveals questions of determination; obliges us to pose the theoretical problem of “derivatory” effective peculiar to the superstructure
  • disadvantage: it remains descriptive
  • State Apparatus defines the state as a force of repressive execution and intervention; it includes government, administration, military, security, courts, prisons
  • repressive state apparatus functions by violence
  • state power and state apparatus must be distinguished
  • class struggle concerns state power and consequently the use of state apparatus by the classes holding state power as a function of their class
  • the proletariat must seize state power in order to destroy the bourgeois state apparatus and replace it with a different proletarian state apparatus and then set in motion a radical process to destroy the state
  • proposes the ideological state apparatus separate from repressive state apparatus
  • ISA realities presenting themselves in the form of specialized institutions including religious ISA, educational, family, legal, political, trade-union, communications, and cultural
  • the difference between RSA and ISA is: there is 1 RSA, but many ISAs in a society; RSA is public, while ISA is public and private; RSA functions by violence; ISA functions by ideology
  • RSA is primarily repressive and secondarily ideological; ISA is primarily ideological and secondarily repressive
  • so, perhaps RSA and ISA can be woven together
  • ISAs function together under the ruling class that uses RSA
  • ISA may be a stake and a site of class struggle
  • so, all state apparatuses function by repression and ideology, but in different combinations
  • RSA is a centralized whole
  • multiple, distinct, relatively autonomous
  • RSA is secured by representatives of the classes in power, while ISAs secured by ruling ideology
  • ISAs reproduce the relations of production
  • each ISA contributes to a single result in the way proper to it
  • concert is dominated by a single score occasionally disturbed by contradictions
  • The school is the ISA with the most dominant role
  • ideology is a pure dream
  • ideology has no history
  • ideology represents the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence
  • ideology has a material existence

Question: What is the role of ideology in LLLI?

As I was reading Althusser, I considered how I could apply the concept of ISA to LLLI. ISAs apparently are primarily ideological and secondarily they are repressive, as opposed to RSA, that operate primarily by repression. LLLI originally formed in response to the ideology of the medical establishment, which had begun to view formula as potentially superior to breast milk. The pediatric medical establishment is an ISA, but I believe that the field of medicine is much more repressive than the ideology of LLLI, yet LLLI does contain some repressive elements. Medicine is governed by regulatory bodies like the American Academy of Pediatricians. The field is regulated within, and it is given much respect as an authority. As a top-down network, with physicians at the top of the authoritative chain and nursing mothers at the bottom; therefore, as an ISA, medicine has a significant amount of repressive element in it as well. Attachment parenting, an important concept in LLLI, and the peer-to-peer organization, give mothers much more autonomy and equality; however, there is still a repressive element, because LLLI asks women to behave in another way. The oppositional viewpoint applies an oppositional reading of the message that is encoded in the discourse of LLLI. The oppositional reading of LLLI is that it is anti-feminist, and it excludes the concerns of single mothers and those from lower on the socioeconomic scale. So the organization is racialized, classist, and anti-feminist in this view.

 

Hall's three positions of decoding:  dominant, negotiated, oppositional.

Hall’s three positions of decoding: dominant, negotiated, oppositional.

Question: How can we apply encoding and decoding, particularly the the three hypothetical positions from which decodings occur, to the history of the organization of LLLI?

Part of the framework of LLLI is the 10 core philosophies that focus primarily on the needs of the baby and the ideal mother-child relationship that will ensure that the baby’s physical and emotional needs are meet. The practices and relational dynamics that LLLI has emphasized in the Womanly Art of Breastfeeding (the LLLI manual) has been coded from the dominant-hegemonic position of the original founders in 1950s, that the women who would be involved in the organization and that would benefit from its advice would be white, middle-class, married stay-at home moms. The manual even included a chapter about the child’s relationship to the father and included a note in the introduction that the manual assumed that the mother would be married because that is the familial model that is most conducive to the support of breastfeeding. Until the 1980s, LLLI took a hard line on trying to attempt to convince mothers not to work. In the 1980s the LLLI newsletter for leaders began discussing working with employed mothers and suggesting techniques, but stated that making accommodations for working mothers was optional in meetings. Working mothers, single mothers, or others who did not meet the characteristics of the ideal mother according to LLLI had to negotiate the message they received from LLLI in order to understand how they could employ the practices that LLLI recommends from the positions in which the exist. These mothers had to “make a more negotiated application to ‘local positions’” (486).

Quote: “What are called ‘distortions’ or ‘misunderstandings’ arise precisely from the “lack of equivalence” between the two sides in the communication exchange” (Hall 480).

The discussion of symmetry here shows why the encoded message sent from LLLI and the decoded message received from LLLI may differ drastically so that while LLLI constructs itself as a feminist and inclusive organization, it can be perceived as exclusionary and anti-feminist. When women decoding the message are symmetrical with the ideal position of a mother, as LLLI frames her, then the message is easy for that woman to receive and to decode the dominant-hegemonic position that I discuss in the above answer to the question, but the negotiated and exclusionary decodings result from the lack of symmetry of the ideal mother and the real situation of the woman on the decoding end.

Quote Response: “If the ISAs ‘function’ massively and predominantly by ideology, what unifies their diversity is precisely this functioning, insofar as the ideology by which they function is always in fact, unified, despite its diversity and its contradictions, beneath the ruling ideology, which is the ideology of ‘the ruling class’. Given that the ruling class in principle holds State power (openly or more often by means of alliances between classes or class fractions, and therefore has at its disposal the (Repressive) State Apparatus, we can accept that this same ruling class is active in the Ideological State Apparatuses insofar as it is ultimately the ruling ideology which is realized in the Ideological State Apparatuses, precisely in its contradictions.”

I was reflecting on the interdependence of the ISA and the RSA, and the above video really helped me understand how blurry the lines are between the ISA and the RSA. It seems that they are very dependent upon one another. In the video of Ron Strickland discussing Althusser’s concept of ideology, he says that, “The effectiveness of ideological state apparatuses in maintaining control over society depends in part on the foundation of repressive state apparatuses which will be called in in cases of necessity. On the other hand, the repressive state apparatuses cannot function without the ideological state apparatuses. The policeman or the soldier or the prison guard has to be convinced that he is acting in the best interest of society as he carries out his duties.”   I was searching for an analogy to use, and the one that came to mind was the World of Warcraft, particularly the Pandaren race with their ISA constructed around ideas of harmony and balance. Pandarens value peace, creativity, harmony, spirituality, nature, and s strong relationship between the natural and the spiritual. So, a Pandaren needs to be convinced that whatever cause he is fighting against is a threat to his society, perhaps to the harmony of society, and then he/she is convinced to stop meditating and drinking Pandaren ale and use Pandaren military tactics, which are very much related to the ideas of harmony and balance, to fight the forces threatening their society. Certainly there are much more complex real world examples of this, but the simplicity of the game (which is rather complex but not nearly so much as the real world) made the relationship between ISA and RSA easier to examine.

Pandaren warrior meditating.

Pandaren Monk Zen Meditation, representing the ISAs of spirituality and associated harmony.

 

 

 

Pandaren warrior RSA.

Pandaren martial arts and military organization is the RSA that supports the Pandaren ISA of harmony, peace, balance, nature, etc… when it is threatened.

 

 


Reading Notes: Althusser and Hall, Tip-Toeing Toward Ambient Rhetoric

Several interesting take-aways from this week’s reading – although I will only focus on a few that really struck me as intriguing points of intersections. Indeed, I really seem to have more questions than connections this time around, and so … Continue reading

Case Study 3.5: Scaffolding Synthesis Project

Subject: Composition MOOCs: Theorizing Pedagogy, Space, and Learning. The Composition MOOC is one of many different types of course offerings in an emerging trend (some would call it a fad) of online higher education. This is a site of considerable … Continue reading

Mind Map 20 April: Social Networks & Math

This week’s MindMap: Social Networks. In anticipation of reconceptualizing my semester’s mindmap work, I opted this week to create a more synthesized set of nodes entitled “Rhizome Kinship Patterns.” I also opted not to connect this set to any others … Continue reading

Reading Notes: Althusser and Hall

What Althusser (1971) refers to as “the ideology of the ruling class” (emphasis mine), become the ruling ideology “by the installation of the ISAs [Ideological State Apparatuses]” is analogous to Hall’s (1973/2007) “dominant-hegemonic position” (emphasis mine) set in place by the metacode “which the professional broadcasters assume when encoding a message which has already been signified in a hegemonic manner” (p. 485, emphasis original). What Althusser abstracts as ISAs, Hall particularizes in the form of television broadcasters.

Althusser (1971) identifies school as the dominant ISA: “the Church has been replaced today in its role as the dominant Ideological State Apparatus by the School. It is coupled with the Family just as the Church was once coupled with the Family.” As dominant ISA, School functions by ideology, “the system of the ideas and representations which dominate the mind of a man or a social group.” This statement more clearly delineates the connection between Althusser’s ideology and Hall’s dominant-hegemonic position. Hall (1973/2007) notes that, in many cases, the television “viewer is operating inside the dominant code” (p. 485, emphasis original). In short, Hall’s viewer is dominated by the the ideas and representations (to pull directly from Althusser) of the metacode operating in acts of encoding by professional broadcasters.

Misunderstandings and Class Struggle

Hall (1973/2007) seeks to examine the origin of misunderstandings in mass, and especially television, communications. He theorizes that misunderstandings or distortions emerge from lack of equivalence between encoding and decoding processes. When certain frameworks of knowledge, relations of production, and technical infrastructure — Scott appears to refer to these as “ideological apparatus” — are used in encoding meaning in a television program, the frameworks of knowledge, relations of production, and technical infrastructure of the viewers decode the program’s meaningful discourse (see diagram, p. 480). If the “ideology” of the encoders is not equivalent to the “ideology” of the decoders, then misunderstandings occur. This seems to be Hall’s way of characterizing class struggle. In a similar way, Althusser describes class struggle within the framework of ideology. Ideology of the ruling class gets disseminated and enforced via ISAs.

Althusser (1971) concludes with an examination of the subject in/of ideology to mean both “a free subjectivity, a centre of initiatives, author of and responsible for its actions” and “a subjected being, who submits to a higher authority, and is therefore stripped of all freedom except that of freely accepting this submission.” The misunderstanding that necessarily occurs from this opposition is the unwillingness to recognize the “the reproduction of the relations of production and of the relations deriving from them.” Hall concludes similarly. Reproducing the relations of production — the ideological positions of television broadcasters — is necessary for Hall’s (1973/2007) “perfectly transparent communication” (p. 485), the equivalence of encoding and decoding. Because perfectly transparent communication does not exist — because the relations of production cannot be perfectly reproduced on both sides of Hall’s encoding/decoding diagram — misunderstanding occurs. We miss the vital importance of ideological positions in communication, just as Althusser suggests we miss the vital importance of ideological positions (beyond the State itself) in the struggle of the subject to be free of State ideology.

References

Althusser, L. (1971). Ideology and ideological state apparatuses (Notes towards an investigation). In B. Brewster (transl.) & A. Blunden (trans.), Louis Althusser archive. Retrieved from https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/althusser/1970/ideology.htm (Original work published in Lenin philosophy and other essays)

Hall, S. (2007). Encoding, decoding. In S. During (ed.), The cultural studies reader (3rd ed.). London, UK: Routledge. (Original work published 1973)

[ Feature image: The Control Room. CC licensed image from Flickr user Jonathan ]

Case Study: Scaffolding Outline

OoS: Google Analytics

  • Activities addressed in my OoS: Collection, Collation, Processing, Reporting
  • GA Data Model: User (Visitor), Session (Visit), Interaction (Hits)
  • Data Model Collections and Reports: Dimensions (“descriptive attribute or characteristic of an object”) and Metrics (“Individual elements of a dimension that can be measured as a sum or ratio”) (Google, 2014).

Theories & Selection Rationale

  • Ecosystem Ecology (Bateson, 1972/1987; Gibson, 1972/1986; Guattari, 1989/2012; Spellman, 2007)
    • Boundaries are difficult to define: Mirrors struggle to define GA boundaries
    • Inter-relatedness to neighboring ecosystems: GA connects and measures incoming & outgoing links
    • Limits analysis to groups of (rather than individual) living and/or nonliving things: GA only reports aggregated behaviors, even though it collects user data
  • Neurobiology (Annenberg Learner, 2013)
    • Demonstrates interconnectedness of various nodes and frameworks: GA data model reports metrics interconnected with dimensions to reflect user behaviors; GA also enables both SPCS account and UR roll-up account
    • Uses hippocampus as server metaphor: Google data center as input/output hub for GA data collation and processing
    • Affirms difference between input and output: GA collects data via data model (input) and reports results via aggregated data tables and visualizations (output)
  • Network Society  (Castells, 2010)
    • Limits analysis to groups rather than individuals: GA only reports aggregated behaviors, even though it collects user data (cf. Ecosystem Ecology, above)
    • Addresses movement of data through the network: GA focuses on movement of data from website server (collection) to Google data centers (collation & processing) to administrative accounts (reporting), although this movement is entirely serial rather than parallel
    • Provides hierarchy of nodes: GA endows administrators with creative, destructive, and manipulative authority in relation to data; other nodes have far less agency
  • Social Network (Deleuze & Guattari, 1980/1987; Scott, 2000; Rainie & Wellman, 2012)
    • Recognizes value of social capital in network growth: GA enables measurement of increased or decreased engagement and provides help to increase engagement (social capital)
    • Reveals rhizomatic (and unpredictable) character of network connections: GA visualizes network connectivity in myriad visualizations, tables, and downloadable files (which can also be visualized)
    • Values growth and sustenance of weaker ties: GA sets up goals that seek to measure and value increased engagement on less-engaging content

Similarities

  • Focus on flattened network
  • Emphasis on rhizomatic rather than hierarchical connections
  • Address difficulties of establishing boundaries
  • Recognize value of grouping in discussing large-scale network systems
  • Focus on nodal groupings rather that individual nodal identities
  • Define network as mediator rather than intermediate (Latour, 2005)

Minding the Gaps

  • Localization: Neurobiology and Network Society affirm the value and influence of local conditions on global networks that Ecosystem Ecology and Social Network either undervalue or do not address.
  • Activity and Flow: Ecosystem Ecology, Neurobiology, and Network Society address movement of data and value across or through the network that Social Network does not directly address.
  • Agency: Social Network and Neurobiology ascribe local agency to nodes that Ecosystem Ecology (focused on instinct) and Network Society (focused on hierarchical relationships among managerial elites) do not accept or address.

My Position as Scholar

These theories align with the following statements of my theories of scholarship and pedagogy:

  • I embrace the flattened, rhizomatic character of the 21st-century classroom as a (possibly the most) valid model for preparing students for the world of the 21st-century networked workplace.
  • I embrace composition as social and situated within a larger global context, and I embrace and value local and global aspects of the composing experience as preparation for both academic scholarship and professional management.
  • I embrace scholarship as collaborative and networked, and revel in the breakthroughs made more likely and/or possible through collaborative, rather than individual, scholarship.
  • I embrace pedagogy as joining with a group of students in a flattened community of learners in which, to the extent possible, hierarchical teacher-student relationships are replaced by flattened learner-learner relationships.
  • I embrace and seek connections between scholarship and utility, between theory and praxis, and between academic and alt-academic pursuits and theorizing.
  • I embrace Yagelski’s (2006) “troublemaking collectivity” as a mantra for the disruptive role of my own and my collaborative scholarship and pedagogy in institutions entrenched in antiquated, outdated theoretical paradigms.
  • I embrace as vital the role of network activity in learning activities.
Satellite image - night

U.S Atlantic Seaboard at Night: May 23, 2011. Original image from NASA Earth Observatory.

My Biases and Background

These theories align with my own biases and background in the following ways:

  • I am now, and have been since 2000, employed in an alt-academic role as a full-time marketing web manager and part-time adjunct professor of liberal arts and scholar of English studies. This role influences the value I place on connections between theory and praxis, between research and application.
  • As former director of a summer residential governor’s school for gifted and talented high school students, I value pedagogical theory and praxis that views standards-based education as little more than a starting point for true academic excellence. This experience influences my preference for network activity in learning activities, especially over standardized assessment tools and products.
  • As a professional writer and marketer, I use academic skills like research and collaborative composing in non-academic settings. This experience influences my preference for collaborative, team-based solutions to professional challenges, including audience research.
  • As a third culture kid who grew up outside of the U.S., I embrace the global nature of communications, commerce, development, employment, and growth. This experience influences my desire to place local activities and culture within global networks.
  • As a web developer, I value and prefer platform- and system-agnostic open-source software solutions over commercial, and especially proprietary, software solutions. This influences my desire to flatten hierarchical structures, especially of proprietary commercial interests, in favor of open-source and open-access models wherever feasible.
  • I am a social media marketer. As a result, I value social networks beyond their community-building application; I value them for monetization via targeted advertising. My role as a social media marketer influences my willingness to find value in globally-accessible (but not open-access or open-source) products like Google Analytics while pushing for greater openness and access to these social networking products (see the troublemaking collectivity statement, above).
  • I measure web visit data, and my job as web manager exists because I can demonstrate value through higher visit rates, greater visibility across networks, and ultimately higher admissions and enrollment figures. In a professional and continuing studies unit, the value of individual admissions and enrollments is taken very seriously. This experience forces me to work with Google Analytics, which directly influenced by choice of Google Analytics as my object of study. I enter this study with an eye towards providing my team and my administration critical theoretical approaches to data measurement that result in better, clearer communication with prospective and current students.

References

Annenberg Learner. (2013). Neurobiology. Rediscovering biology: Molecular to global perspectives [Online textbook]. Retrieved from http://www.learner.org/courses/biology/units/neuro/index.html

Bateson, G. (1987). Steps to an ecology of mind: Collected essays in anthropology, psychiatry, evolution, and epistemology. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, Inc. Originally published in 1972

Castells, M. (2010). The rise of the network society [2nd edition with a new preface]. Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.

Deleuze, G., & Guattari, F. (1987). A thousand plateaus: Capitalism and schizophrenia. (B. Massumi, Trans.) Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press. (Original work published 1980)

Gibson, J. J. (1986). The ecological approach to visual perception. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Originally published in 1979

Google. (2014). Dimensions and metrics. Google Analytics Help. Retrieved from https://support.google.com/analytics/answer/1033861?hl=en

Guattari, F. (2012). The three ecologies. Trans. Ian Pindar & Paul Sutton. London, UK: Continuum International Publishing Group. Originally published in 1989

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

Rainie, L., & Wellman, B. (2012). Networked: The new social operating system. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Scott, J. (2000). Social network analysis: A handbook (2nd ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Sage.

Spellman, F. R. (2007). Ecology for nonecologists. Lanham, MD: Government Institutes, 3-23; 61-84.

Yagelski, R. P. (2006). English education. In B. McComiskey (Ed.), English Studies: An Introduction to the Discipline(s) (pp. 275-319). Urbana, IL: NCTE.

[ Feature image: Bamboo Scaffolding, Cambodia. CC licensed image from Flickr user Lorna ]