haha Every time I look at my mindmap anymore, I am reminded of the skill system from Final Fantasy X.
The grid sphere system, especially upon first sight, sprawls out like some curled serpent moments from waking. The more I look at my mindmap, the more impressed I am by how large it has gotten in the last three months. For my own sanity, I keep a mindmap drawn on paper with the overarching theories drawn on it.
But, enough about that. Time to talk about what I have added, my three nodes and my little links between them. This week continued Ecology Theory, with Felix Guattari’s Three Ecologies, Frank Spellman’s Ecology for Nonecology, and Margaret Syverson’s Wealth of Reality. This week’s additions were a bit easier since I had already laid the ground work for Ecology nodes.
So, what did I add?
First things first. A definition of Guattari’s term ecosophy – “‘An ethico-political articulation…between the three ecological registers (the environment, social relations and human subjectivity)’ that Guattari believes could help the ‘ecological disequilibrium’ that has been generated by the ‘period of intense techno-scientific transformations’ we are facing (19-20).” I wanted to make sure I had this in my mindmap because it gives me an idea of what ecology theorists may want to do with their theories. Why link ecology to computer systems and politics, why have so many texts that try to make sure people know just how inextricably connected we are to all the ecosystems we don’t think about? Guattari’s text may be short, but it gave me a lot to think about.
What, then, could follow Guattari? Spellman’s discussion of an organism’s environment:
“The organism’s environment can be divided into four parts:
1) Habitat and distribution – its place to live
2) Other organisms – whether friendly or hostile
4) Weather – light, moisture, temperature, soil, etc
There are four major subdivisions of ecology:
Population ecology (autecology)
Community ecology (synecology)
Ecosystem” (Spellman 5)
This was another thing I wanted to be sure to add as it dealt with concepts I had read about in the prior week with Gibson and Bateson, drawing in information played out in the video on the Cary Institute’s website. Here, there were habitats, affordances, and neighboring ecosystems, but also the subdivisons that make up an environment with the different kinds of ecologies. I linked this node to a node I had made for Gibson’s “Theories of Affordances,” which I think linked to a node about CHAT’s creators defining what CHAT is supposed to be: “As objects and environments are formed and transformed through human activity, they come to embody the goals and social organization of that activity in the form of affordances for use.” The Ecology Theories we have been reading give me more perspective on what “affordances” meant (something I wasn’t totally sure about before), but also gave me the understanding that this definition of CHAT is looking at the modification that Bateson and Gibson had been discussing. This was hindsight leading me down new rabbit holes.
For my last node of the week, I pulled from Syverson’s text: “In a complex system, a network of independent agents–people atoms, neurons, or molecules, for instance–act and interact in parallel with each other, simultaneously reacting to and co-constructing their own environment” (3). This quote reminded me a lot of Foucault’s discussion of the physician and the role the physician plays being dependent upon everything going on in the field around him or her. The complex system that Syverson is discussing is more organic than the constant restructuring of the medical field with advancements in technology and anatomical understanding, but it was the idea of “simultaneously reacting to and co-constructing their own environment” that seemed to underlie the constant cycle and layering of discursive statements that populate history. Is this what was meant by Bateson’s cybernetic epistemology and ecology of the mind?
Add This to the Ecosystem of Sounds Filling the Room:
I plowed through all of these readings in a single sitting, which did not help much with comprehension, but which did affect my experience reading. I’m a composition teacher who prefers to grade all assignments in a single sitting, an web manager who prefers to make changes that affect multiple parts of the navigation structure in a single work session, and a reader who, honestly, prefers to read at least an entire “piece” of writing in a single reading session. What I discovered as I read these in a single sitting is that the works built off one another in interesting ways. I’ll admit to being puzzled by Guattari; it’s always troubling when the translators’ introduction is clearer than the text itself! But I found that, once I started writing myself into a summary, I began to better understand what I had read (no surprise there, of course). More significantly, I found elements of Guattari’s (2012/1989) focus on the interrelationships and interplay among mental, social, and environmental ecologies informative in understanding the relationship of abiotic processes and elements in a natural or agroecology (Spellman, 2007). And Guattari’s insistence that we humans must be engaged in addressing and recovering our environmental ecological equilibrium offered a useful insight into ecological homeostatasis. Finally, Guattari, Spellman, Bateson (1987/1972), and Gibson (1986/1979) were important background readings that made Syverson (1999) accessible and understandable.
Repeated emphasis on the dynamic relationships within ecology was not lost on me. Guattari (2012/1989) refers to “the tangled paths of the three ecological vision” (p. 44) while the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies (2014) notes that ecology is about relationships, an “encompassing and synthetic” rather than “fragmented” view of nature. Spellman (2007) writes that “ecology is all about interrelationships, infraspecific and interspecific, and how important it is to maintain those relationships—to ensure our very survival” (p. 6). And Syverson (1999) draws on all these sources and more to define ecology as it relates to composition as “An ecology is a kind of meta-complex system composed of interrelated and interdependent complex systems and their environmental structures and processes” (p. 5).
These references reinforce my emerging understanding of networks as connected, interrelated, and active. I’m being drawn to articulate networks as requiring dynamic connections. Without active interrelations, the only aspect of the network that exists is a framework and/or a trace. But when the activity occurs — and the activity may take only a split second to occur — in that moment the network emerges. Ecologies are active networks. They don’t exist merely as frameworks or traces, although they may develop their own frameworks and hierarchies, like those described by Spellman (2007, quoting Odum 1983): “the best way to delimit modern ecology is to consider the concept of levels of organization” (p. 14). They can certainly be traced, as evidence my Spellman’s multiple examples of tracing ecosystems and populations within ecosystems.
I’ve thought a great deal this semester about the way I teach composition. I’ve radically altered my instruction this semester to reflect my nascent understanding of current composition theory. I’ve spent much of the semester convincing my students that composing is an experience that encompasses much more than the rhetorical triangle. Syverson offers a much clearer way to articulate what I think I’ve been hinting at all semester:
“I would argue that writers, readers, and texts form just such a complex system of self-organizing, adaptive, and dynamic interactions. But even beyond this level of complexity, they are actually situated in an ecology, a larger system that includes environmental structures [see the Ecology Map of My Classroom]… as well as other complex systems operating at various levels of scale…” (p. 5)
I’m encouraging my students to problematize their own understanding of the writing process as a class experience, as a social experience, and, I can now claim, as a complex activity system in an ecology. I believe doing so positions them to succeed in the real-world writing they will be asked to do beyond my classroom, academic, professional, and personal. And I also believe that doing any less robs them of an understanding of composing that makes too many assumptions about what writing is and is not.
Tricksters on the Edge
Once again I somewhat reluctantly admit trickster back into my understanding of Syverson specifically, and ecologies more generally. Syverson (1999) writes that “complex systems are dynamic, more unpredictable, spontaneous, and disorderly than a machine” (p. 4) and “the frontiers of knowledge are found… in the articulations between levels of organization of the real that correspond to different fields of knowledge whose techniques and discourses do not overlap” (p. 3). The dynamic tension that affords complex systems is precisely the dynamic tension of interstices and boundary spaces that trickster inhabits. Trickster inhabits liminal spaces and takes advantage of boundaries as crossing spaces and times. Boundaries are spaces in which connections can and do occur, the results of dynamic tensions at articulation points. And that is one way to describe the environment of tricksters and the affordance of ecology. If ecology is about interrelationships, then boundaries contain the connective tissues that afford ecologies. And where boundaries happen, tricksters emerge, sometimes releasing raw sewage into the stream, the immediate result of which is destruction, but the long-term result of which might ultimately be Spellman’s (2007) ecology succession, the method by which an ecosystem either forms or heals itself (p. 82). And sometimes the trickster creates something new from the dynamic interrelationships, like a genetically modified organism.
Trickster generally creates to destroy and destroys to create, unpredictably and selfishly. Sounds a little like a problem to which Guattari’s (2012/1989) focus in The Three Ecologies seeks a remedy.
Bateson, G. (1987/1972). Steps to an ecology of mind: Collected essays in anthropology, psychiatry, evolution, and epistemology. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, Inc.
Gibson, J. J. (1986/1979). The ecological approach to visual perception. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Guattari, F. (2012/1989). The three ecologies. Trans. Ian Pindar & Paul Sutton. London, UK: Continuum International Publishing Group.
Spellman, F. R. (2007). Ecology for nonecologists. Lanham, MD: Government Institutes, 3-23; 61-84.
Syverson, M. A. (1999). The wealth of reality: An ecology of composition. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1-27.