Last week’s mindmap took into account most of what we’ve read from Castells, so I did not add any more to the Castells nodes. Preparing for end-of-term assignments, however, I started thinking about the network ecology I’ve created in the mindmap in order to identify some trends. So I pulled out what appear to be the most connected nodes in the mindmap network — Foucault, Ecology, and Network Society — and started thinking about characteristics that describe these most-connected nodes (aside, of course, from being the most connected).
My three characteristics that help explain why these nodes are so well connected are influential, applicable, and contemporary.
Influential: Throughout the semester, we’ve seen Foucault’s ideas about the ephemeral character of discourse reiterated by various theorists and theories. From Biesecker’s (1989) différance to Prior et al.’s (2007) CHAT to Latour’s (2005) ANT, and in several other theories in between, we’ve see Foucault’s influence. Several of us were chatting yesterday evening in Facebook about the theory tree assignment, and the phrase “Foucault is everywhere” kept repeating itself. I’ve drawn these connections in terms of the moment of discursive formation in a couple of my own blog posts, and others have focused on trace, on the archive, and on the monument in other blog posts. Foucault is clearly deeply influential on many of the theorists we’ve encountered this semester. In addition, we’ve seen ecological ideas appear relatively frequently, although less so that Foucault’s ideas. Where Foucault addresses the behavior of the individual rhetor in discourse, ecological perspectives address rhetors or actors as groups of like organisms working within a larger system. Both of these ideas are influential and, given our timeline of original publication, both Foucault and Bateson published in the same year (1972). They’ve had time to become influential.
Applicable: Here I’m focusing on the operationalizability (how’s that for a made-up word?) of the theory in real-world applications. Foucault remains entirely theoretical; on the other hand, ecology and network society find real-world applications as ways to specifically and concretely understand network activity occurring in lived experience. Ecology offers us specific ways to understand and affect the impact of actions on environment, to recognize the effects of ecological change on the biosphere, and to speculate on ways specific activities can improve ecological function. Network society offers us specific ways to understand social activity in the informational global economy, and it provides a rubric for recognizing how networks include and exclude populations. While other theories (like ANT and genre theory) also provide operationalized examples (especially Spinuzzi’s  genre tracing), I did see that characteristic on its own resulting in high levels of connectedness among other theorists.
Contemporary: I should probably term this “post-modern” to be more accurate, but I’ve chosen “contemporary” to more specifically reflect how these theorists/theories can relate to twenty-first-century lived experience. Foucault, ecology, and network society all provide broad perspectives for understanding the fragmentary, simultaneous, ephemeral experience of living in a networked age. Each in its own way resists pre-categorizing lived experiences: Foucault in terms of rhetoric, ecology in terms of biological determinism, and network society in terms of socio-econo-political realities. Each proposes to carefully study “all the things” within its domain before considering any type of categorical placement. I recognize that other theories also offer such tools for understanding; however, they did not result in the same level of connectedness in my mindmap.
And that’s the question to be addressed: What is it about these three theories that makes them more highly connected than others in my mindmap? I propose that one differentiator is the combination of these three characteristics. While other theories might demonstrate one of these characteristics, I think the combined characteristics help explain the level of connectivity. That said, I immediately recognize the need to problematize these categories as potentially hegemonic or biased toward utility. But in order to close this post, I won’t move past this point!
Bateson, G. (1987/1972). Steps to an ecology of mind: Collected essays in anthropology, psychiatry, evolution, and epistemology. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, Inc.
Biesecker, B. A. (1989). Rethinking the rhetorical situation from within the thematic of “différance.” Philosophy & Rhetoric, 22(2), 110-130.
Latour, B. (2005). Reassembling the social: An introduction to actor-network-theory. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. Clarendon Lectures in Management Studies
Prior, P., Solberg, J., Berry, P., Bellwoar, H., Chewning, B., Lunsford, K. J., Rohan, L., Roozen, K., Sheridan-Rabideau, M. P., Shipka, J., Van Ittersum, D., & Walker, J. R. (2007). Re-situating and re-mediating the Canons: A cultural-historical remapping of rhetorical activity [Multimodal composition]. Kairos, 11(3). Retrieved from http://kairos.technorhetoric.net/11.3/binder.html?topoi/prior-et-al/index.html
Spinuzzi, C. (2003). Tracing genres through organizations: a sociocultural approach to information design. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.