Archive | February, 2014

What is Snapchat?

What is Snapchat? Snapchat is a photo messaging application that can be downloaded on to a smartphone in order to share photos and recorded videos. The users can add text and/or drawings to photos and videos before sending them to friends. The user has the ability to set a time limit (ranging from 1 to […]

Reading Notes #6: Hypertext

Prior to this week’s readings, I had always thought of hypertext as tools or links to other text. They were simply a way to reference and connect to other text. The readings definitely complicated my reading of hypertext and confirm my unconscious obsession with agency and the relation between the reader/audience and writer/speaker. Michael Joyce’s […]

Reading Notes Feb. 24

The library as a search engine. The image is from a website devoted to library displays. http://www.flickriver.com/groups/school_library_displays/pool/interesting/

The library as a search engine. The image is from a website devoted to library displays.

Joyce, Michael. Othermindedness : The Emergence Of Network Culture / Michael Joyce. n.p.: Ann Arbor : University of Michigan Press, c2000., 2000. Old Dominion University’s Catalog. Web. 25 Feb. 2014.

Fourth Chapter: The Lingering Errantness of Place, or, Library as Library”

The fourth chapter of Michael Joyce’s Othermindedness is an interesting look at the place or nature of the library in the digital age. In the digital age, it seems that the place of the library and the digital library or archive are at odds, but Joyce argues that the two types of libraries are complementary. he says, he physical collection must lead us into the electronic collection and the electronic collection must lead us to the physical” (78). he characterizes the rise of electric archives as a “caesura,” a gap, that both allows us to reflect on where we are and exposes a moment of change that seems to offer no solid path to follow. In this gap, Joyce argues, a new mind emerges. He argues that error and wander in navigating the library and archive in the gap provide evidence to the linking the old library to the new library, of the old mind to the new. What is collectable is no longer clear, as hypertextuality offers constant change of text and exposes the way in which some texts in the library are privileged as worthy of being saved. Mistakes or errors in understanding and navigating the collection “tells us something of who we are and who others expect us to be” (73). “Gritty searches” which are quick and numerous, replace more cautious searches, and suggest that we are losing clarity of thought or mind, but in fact they signal “that the particularity of an evolving planet and its creatures are gritty” (74). Megatores are evidence of the way in way in which the collection needs both the local and the digital to be an effective collection for the new mind. Though it is appealing, the concrete megastore cannot be everything to everyone. It is limited in it’s content and does not contain enough local contextualized knowledge. Digital archives can include more content than the megastore, and local libraries often contain localized content. In the digital age, the library must move out into the world, while the library must take the world in (78).

The Librarian and The Digital Archive

I did a quick search to find a tutorial walking researchers through the use of digital archives. I found this video that is an introduction to searching Alaska’s digital archives. What struck me about the video is that at first the librarian seems to be primarily a tour guide giving an overview of the landscape of the database. I did a quick search to find a tutorial walking researchers through the use of digital archives. I found this video that is an introduction to searching Alaska’s digital archives. What struck me about the video is that at first the librarian seems to be primarily a tour guide giving an overview of the landscape of the database. That’s a nice human touch, but what else is the librarian doing here? Librarians had to compile this data, and in so doing, the decided what was important to include in a database containing artifacts from Alaskan history. In so doing, the librarian decides who Alaskans are and what Alaska is. Omissions from the database reveal something about the librarian and his or her values and understanding of Alaska. When do omissions become omissions? Joyce suggests that “our mistaking tells us something of who we are and who others expect us to be” (73). I gather from this that an omission becomes an omission when it is identified as such by a user.

Fifth Chapter: “Beyond Next Before You Once Again: Repossessing and Renewing Electronic Culture”

The fifth chapter of the text focuses on the nature of digital writing and intertextuality. The text is a very literary exercise in intersexuality that incorporates a number of voices reflecting on the nature of digital text. The central themes seems to be the conflict between those who privilege the printed text and those who believe the digital text to be part of our mental evolution and passing into the future of human knowledge and community. Joyce suggests that what digital text offers us is intertexuality, and therefore  a networked learning that brings about othermindedness (83), harkening back to that new mind brought about by the caesura that Joyce mentions in the fourth chapter. Invoking the body an natural elements like wood, air, water, and light, Joyce weaves a text that celebrates intertexulity. He explains that those who privilege printed paper texts distrust community and the future, and even the eye, and claim that hypertext is not natural. By invoking natural elements to explore the weaving in of of hyertext, and the creation of communities, Joyce crafts a very effective counter-argument against the idea that hypertext is the opposite of natural. In fact, the chapter seem to suggest that hypertext may be even more natural that an unevolving printed text.

Question: Why does the digital archive or collection need the human element of the librarian? What does the librarian bring that the digital collection cannot do without?

I was fascinated by the idea that the library or archive needs the complementary node of the librarian in the archival network. Joyce says that, “The mind of the electronic age must move out into the world,” and that “The new librarian, the sacred reader, takes the world into a real place that is neither a mythic universal library, nor, for that matter, merely a digital one” (78). Reflecting back on Spinuzzi’s theory of genre tracing, it seems that perhaps what the librarian can bring to the collection is a user-centered focus and understanding; however, recognizing the ways in which user-centered often ignores the need of the user, I started thinking about whether the collection-librarian-researcher dynamic is truly user-centered or whether the user attempts to be a hero. It seems to me, though, that the librarian, as Joyce describes, is a helper in a search rather than one who knows the answers. This is made evident when Joyce suggests that there are no answers to librarians questions about the archive except for “the successive choices, the errors and losses, of our own human community” (72). The focus on error and wander stands in stark contrast to user-centered design’s heroic self-imaging. The recognition that “meanings are not so much published as placed, continually embodied in human community” (75) suggests that the network of knowledge-archive-archivist-researcher cannot operate without any of the network nodes, particularly the researcher, who is the member who interprets the meaning of the collection and ultimately decided the success of error of the search. When is an omission an omission? It seems that Joyce would say that an omission becomes an omission when an expectation of the included item is revealed by the user of the archive. Joyce says, “our mistaking tells us something of who we are and who others expect us to be” (73).

Joyce, Michael. “Hypertext and Hypermedia.”
Of Two Minds : Hypertext Pedagogy And Poetics. n.p.: Ann Arbor : University of Michigan Press, c1995., 1995. Old Dominion University’s Catalog. Web. 25 Feb. 2014.

This text is a very helpful overview of the nature of hypertext and hypermedia, the history of the definitions and the history of visions of hypertexts, an overview of controversies with hypertexts, and the current uses and the future of hypertext.Joyce says that hypertext operates as a series of nodes and links with nodes that contain content (such as text and sound) and links that connect the nodes (19). Joyce says that hypertext blurs the line between reader and writer, as the decisions that the writer makes shapes the form of the text.In this way, it seems that the reader has much more agency in the creation of meaning in the hypertext. The reader can access content in any order. Hypertext has been conceived as the human mind operating by association, as augmentation to the human mind, as interwingled “docuverse,” and as way to write the mind (22-23). Joyce also described the various ways that hypertexts has been envisioned by technological pioneers. Joyce also traces controversies in hypertext and the future of hypertext.

Johnson-Eilola, Johndan. Nostalgic angels: Rearticulating hypertext writing. Greenwood Publishing Group, 1997.

First Chapter: Border Times

In the first chapter of Nostalgic angels, Johnson-Eilola explores the way in which the borders of writing are challenged by hypertext. Jonshon-Eilola explains that composition has framed some types of hypertexts as being out of bounds, but are in fact constructed in the context of social situations and may be capable of bringing about social change (6). If we ignore types of hypertexts or place them in hierarchies, and we do not recognize hypertext tools as types of text, Johnson-Eilola warns, composition may become further marginalized. To understand and accept texts not traditionally accepted as the type of writing composition is concerned with requires a broadening of the concept of composition (7). Johnson-Eilola described hypertext as social technology that constructs hypertext through invisible means (7). Johnson-Eilola explains that experimental fiction hypertext and in online documentation are similar in their foundations, but they differ greatly in potentials, epistemological, and uses (12). Jonhson-Eilola says that hypertext makes us like “angles with no wings who cannot find heaven and who get dizzy from walking (13). To understand the borders and the ways in which they discriminate against one another, Jonson-Eilola says we should consider them “both real and contingent” (16). Jonson-Eilola points put that the reader is vital in the construction of the meaning of the text (16), and that texts are products of political structures and activities and are not neutral (17). Jonson-Eilola says that understanding writing “as a complex activity involving not only writers but also readers, texts, societies, politics, economies, and technologies” involves “Exploring-and constructing-relations between these elements” (18).

Fifth Chapter: X-Ray Vision and Perpetual Motion

This chapter examines hypertext through the lenses of postmodernism and deconstruction. Jonhson-Eilola says that hypertext accumulates in time and space and can cause contradictory positions to “collapse into each other,” creating a “forum for diseent and criticism” (137). He contrasts narration to hypertext and says that hypertext makes writing and reading “less clearly distinct, less polarized” (137). In the chapter, Jonson-Eilola uses geometry and geography as ways to explore postmodern space. He aligns geometry with place and with current-traditional, product-oriented pedagogy, and he aligns space with geography. He claims that mapping of texts is necessary. The chapter focuses on describing concepts central to an understanding of space and subject of hypertext: the blurring between reader and writer and the decentering of the subject. Jonson-Eilola says that the “dispersion of subject and text” allows “students to find voices (multiple) and participate in discussions of value” (148).

Chapter 6: Angels in Rehab

The sixth chapter of the text focuses on the way in which students and instructors of composition can begin to socialize discourse. Johnson-Eilola focuses on pedagogical issues, including helping students map local against global, work collaboratively around a socila or political goal to “examine, decontruct, and reconstruct relationships of authority and power.”

Xanadau Space: Is Hypertext in 3-D all It’s Cracked up to be?

In this video, Ted Nelson discusses Xanadau space, a hyperttext program that he claims escapes the paper-like qualities that most hypertext documents attempt to replicate. One aspect of the program is that documents that connects to the document being examined “sworph” (swoop + morph) into place. He claims that the program allows endless overlap and overlap and intertextuality. The program is capable of containing and any mix of audio, video, and text and allows for side-by-side comparison of the text containing information from another source to the origin source. He calls this “literature as it should always have been” and says that “anything less is a compromise”. He says that we could have movies that “branch and branch and branch forever”. I was skeptical, I admit, because I wasn’t certain that the technology takes into account the reader as writer, but at the very end of the video, he says that the technology is “representing each user as a simultaneous reader and writer, which is what we really are”. But does the program do this more effectively than more traditional versions of hypertext? It allows for marginal notation, which is something we can do with printed text, but actually writing on hypertext media is not allowed by many programs. (Though I would say that some programs like Zotero that allow for note-taking in a bibliographical entry that contains an uploaded pdf allows for some writing, it seems that in Xanadu Space one can actually create a text that can be placed side by side with another text and linked to that text.) The connections made on the pages seem very geometrical in nature.

Latour Terminology

Latour, Bruno. Reassembling The Social : An Introduction To Actor-Network-Theory / Bruno Latour. n.p.: Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, 2007., 2007. Old Dominion University’s Catalog. Web. 25 Feb. 2014.

Since I will respond fully to Latour next week, I decided to start compiling a list of terms this week.

social – “a type of connection between things that are not themselves social” (5).

tracing of associations – a new way to define sociology that views the social as not “a thing among other things” (5), but as “a type of connection between things that are not themselves social” (5)

critical sociology – doesn’t limit itself to the social but replaces object by another matter made of social relations; substitution is unbearable for social actors needing to believe there is more than social; considers that actors’ objections to their social explanations offer proof that explanations are correct (9).

intermediary – transports meaning or force without transformation (39).

mediators – transform, translate, distort, and modify meaning (39).


ANTs, Scatter at Will_Latour, Joyce, and Johnson-Eilola_Reading Notes

Calling All Actors! Image hosted on The Minority Eye.

Calling All Actors! Image hosted on The Minority Eye.

Actors, you say? Now what does that have to do with networks? Or hyptertextuality? Or even Foucault, for that matter? Are you mad? Obsessed with Hollywood? Ohohoho, my dears, your lives are about to get so much more interesting. Mine certainly has.

Cue evil laugh. Imaged hosted on Upnetwork Forums.

Cue evil laugh. Imaged hosted on Upnetwork Forums.

However, before we can continue, we must add just one more thing to our call for actors.

Travel Guides. You're going to need them. Image hosted on the website Visiting Bologna.

Travel Guides. You’re going to need them. Image hosted on the website Visiting Bologna.

Tada! Yes, a travel guide. May the squiggly river lines be ever in your favor. So this completes our necessary metaphors, or does it? haha You will just have to wait and see. Now, onwards and upwards. Theory waits for no individual! Which brings me to this guy…

Bruno Latour_Actor-Network-Theory. Image hosted on Vimeo.

Bruno Latour_Actor-Network-Theory. Image hosted on Vimeo.

Meet Bruno Latour, author of Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. Now, you may be thinking of actors like those in Hollywood ( Bollywood, Japanese, Korean, or Chinese dramas, all of which are amazing), but that would be a little too reductive in terms of Latour’s use of the word. While the image fits, they are not the only actors on this stage. You, gentle reader, are also an actor in this fine frenzy we find ourselves moving through. Now, to help us get adjusted as we move into Actor-Network-Theory (or, as Latour has dubbed it, ANT), I am going to give a list of some terms we will be needing for this adventure, though it is not entirely inclusive as this entry only deals with a part of Latour’s work (the second section will be for next week):

Actor-Network-Theory – is a sociology approach that centers on the “sociology of associations” (rather than “sociology of the social”). Its practitioners trace the actions of “actors,” following moments of controversies and uncertainties in relation to group formation, maintenance, and dissolution: “in situations where innovations proliferate, where group boundaries are uncertain, when the range of entities to be taken into account fluctuates, the sociology of the social is no longer able to trace actors’ new associations. At this point, the last thing to do would be to limit in advance the shape, size, heterogeneity, and combination of associations…it is no longer enough to limit actors to the role of informers offering cases of some well-known types. You have to grant them back the ability to make up their own theories of what the social is” (11).

“instead of taking a reasonable position and imposing some order beforehand, ANT claims to be able to find order much better after having let the actors deploy the full range of controversies in which they are immersed. It is as if we were saying to the actors: ‘We won’t try to discipline you, to make you fit into our categories; we will let you deploy your own worlds, and only later will we ask you to explain how you came about settling them.’ The task of defining and ordering the social should be lest to the actors themselves, not taken up by the analyst” (23).

Latour, calling upon a comment made by another, declared,  ”the acronym A.N.T. was perfectly fit for a blind, myopic, workaholic, trail-sniffing, and collective traveler. An ant writing for other ants, this fits my project very well!” (9)

Actor – While Latour seems to give no clear cut definition of what he considers an “actor” (or, if he does, I totally missed it), he does give out statements that serve to function as boundaries for what an actor does, such as the idea that actors should not be limited to the role of informers. Actors are active agents in the assembling, disassembling, and reassembling of what composes the social, such as when they “incessantly engage in the most abtruse metaphysical constructions by redefining all the elements of the world” (51). Actors are individuals moving fluidly between groups (sometimes inhabiting multiple groups at one time), helping to define what those groups are and what they are not, and being the focal point of “social” activity that sociologists are (in the boundaries of “sociology of associations”) supposed to be tracing (rather than defining and limiting).

Tracing of Associations – “In this meaning of the adjective, social does not designate a thing among other things, like a black sheep among other white sheep, but a type of connection between things that are not themselves social” (5)

Sociology of the Social - Latour, very openly, decries the pathways and objectives of this brand of sociology as he finds their methods too engaged with political aims than with the original goals of social sciences (“the political agenda of many social theorists has taken over their libido sciendi” (49)). He describes them as, essentially, what not to do with sociology, as they are too limiting and not looking from the right angles. For example, “When sociologists of the social pronounce the words ‘society,’ ‘power,’ ‘structure,’ and ‘context,’ they often just straight ahead to connect vast arrays of life and history, to mobilize gigantic forces, to detect dramatic patterns emerging out of confusing interactions, to see everywhere in the cases at hand yet more examples of well-known types, to reveal behind the scenes some dark powers pulling the strings” (22).

Sociology of Associations – On the other side of this sociological divide are the sociologists of association. These practitioners seem to be in the relatively good graces of Latour (I’m not even kidding when I say that he will openly bash whoever and whatever he thinks is frolicking in the wrong social sciences’ direction), as they focus on the associations within which the social emerges and dissolves: “[Sociologists of associations'] duty is not to stabilize–whether at the beginning for clarity, or to look for reasonable–the list of groupings making up the social. Quite the opposite: their starting point begins precisely with the controversies about which grouping one pertains to including of course the controversies among social scientists about what the social world is made of” (29).

Intermediary – “is what transports meaning or force without transformation: defining its inputs is enough to define its outputs…No matter how complicated an intermediary is, it may, for all practical purposes, count for just one–or for even nothing at all because it can be easily forgotten” (39).

Mediators – “cannot be counted as just one; they might count for one, for nothing, for several, or for infinity. Their input is never a good predictor of their output; their specificity has to be taken into account every time. Mediators transform, translate, distort, and modify the meaning or the elements they are supposed to carry…No matter how apparently simple a mediator may look, it may become complex; it may lead in multiple directions which will modify all the contradictory accounts attributed to its role” (39)

Meta-language - is “a language used to talk about language” (Merriam-Webster Online). Latour states that actors have their “own elaborate and fully reflexive meta-language” upon which sociologists should not encroach (30)

Infra-language – language that “remains strictly meaningless except for allowing displacement from one frame of reference to the next” (30).

Now that we have a lexicon with which to approach Latour’s work, let’s get moving into our roles as ants reading about an ant writing for other ants.

We are all just ANTs in Actor-Network-Theory. Image hosted on the website Families.

We are all just ANTs in Actor-Network-Theory. Image hosted on the website Families.

I really enjoyed reading the first part of Latour’s book,  with his snarky comments, brutal honesty about how he sees the direction of his field, circular thinking, and just the language he employs to promoting this “sociology of associations.” There were so many moments where a paragraph of his would give me an aha! moment about the still muddy waters of Foucault. Latour’s emphasis on the controversies and uncertainties of social sciences, group formations, actors being active agents, and the roles of sociologists helped me to put into perspective the fluctuating history, enunciative formations, and discursive statements that are the heart of Archaeology of Knowledge. I think what gave me some clarity was how thoroughly he seeks to completely shred the idea of permanency that seems so inherent in society and social groups. When we discuss civilization and civilized lives, it is in opposition to the wild, ever-changing face of nature, and yet, there our civilizations are just as fluid (maybe even more so) as nature. As Latour mentions, “For ANT, if you stop making and remaking groups, you stop having groups. No reservoir of forces flowing from ‘social forces’ will help you….Whereas, for the sociologists of the social, the great virtue of appeals to society is that they offer this long lasting stability on a plate and for free, our school views stability as exactly what has to be explained by appealing to costly and demanding means” (35). Here again, Foucault seems to resonate. Controversies, uncertainties, ruptures, suspicions over stability. By looking towards a sociology where activities, actors, analysis are in constant motion, not just layering one on top of the other, but with movement like atoms in motion.

It took a few moments for me to wrap my mind around the idea that a group dissolves once effort has stopped being placed in the sustaining of a group. What about all of those historical groups that still influence our modes of thinking, our current choices, and the ways we see how we want the future to unfold? But, then I realized that by continuing to draw upon, adapt, enhance, and introduce to others groups of the past, effort and means are still being funneled into that group. Take, for example, a university (it was the example that popped into my head while I was reading). What composes a university? A university, with its various departments, potentially looks stable from an outsider’s perspective. It is an institution set in place to deliver knowledge onto maturing generations, helping to guide them towards the next stage of their life while also populating the ranks of the colleges, departments, and disciplines. Places like Harvard, Oxford, and Yale have been around for a very long time and can be seen as rooted within their communities and our nation at large. But, universities are a group, composed of smaller groups and connected to a group of other universities, associations, businesses, and so on. And, it takes a lot of work to keep them running, smoothly or otherwise. There are accreditation boards, alumni, sponsors, funding committees, political interest groups, recruiters, sports associations, student organizations, departments, faculty groups, staff groups, unions, public media outlets. All of these different groups are constantly in motion, defining and redefining the boundaries of what a university is, how it should be run, what it is doing wrong, what departments and subjects are being considered outdated and not worth funding, the point of higher education, the place of the university in conjunction with the community surrounding it. This activity defines the institution of a university and keeps it in existence. If all of these people suddenly walked away from Harvard, that university would no longer exist. An institution is not the buildings or the lab equipment or the computers; it is the people who ascribe to being a part of that institution that give it life and meaning. The same goes for a civilization, or even a species.  A group must be composed of something, even if they are  fragments of what had been continually being called into existence by the memories and dialogues of others.

Megamind. Image hosted on the website Comic Mix.

Megamind. Image hosted on the website Comic Mix.

Ah, right. Sorry about that long-winded monologue (well, I guess this whole thing is a monologue, really). Anyways, it was in this stream of thought where I remember Latour criticizing the efforts of the sociologists of the social for distancing themselves from this beehive of activity and his acknowledgement of the sociologists of associations’ opposite approach: “For the sociologists of associations, any study of any group by any social scientist is part and parcel of what makes the group exist, last, decay, or disappear. In the developed world, there is no group that does not have at least some social science instrument attached to it. This is not some ‘inherent limitation’ of the discipline due to the fact that sociologists are also ‘social members’ and have difficulties in ‘extracting themselves’ out of the bonds of their own ‘social categories.’…Although in the first school [sociology of the social] actors and scholars are in two different boats, in the second school [associations] they remain in the same boat all along and play the same role” (33-34). As I am not a sociologist or a social scientist (literature is my flavor of academics), I cannot be sure how sociologists of the social feel about their role in society and the extent to which they perceive themselves to be part of the beehive of living. I love the idea of people, regardless of where they are living and how old they are and what background they are from, recognizing that we are all just little ants living in a particularly complex system because we have made it complex. People may claim that they are “sticking it to the man” or “going around the system,” but we are the system and we are the man. Society is based on collective agreement, even if that agreement is unconsciously indoctrinated from childhood all the way up until death. Civilization is really just a group of people, however loosely tied or tightly knit, functioning together, until that system is abandoned, dissolved, replaced.

haha I know, again with the rants? I’ll try to behave from here on out. Maybe…

So, as part of his goal, Latour outlines five “major uncertainties” that he explores in his book (for this week, we only read three of the five):

1) “the nature of groups: there exist many contradictory ways for actors to be given identity;”

2) “the nature of actions: in each course of action a great variety of agents seem to barge in and displace the original goals;”

3) “the nature of objects: the type of agencies participating in interaction seems to remain wide open;”

4) “the nature of facts: the links of natural sciences with the rest of society seems to be the source of continuous disputes;”

5) “and, finally, about the type of studies done under the label of a science of the social as it is never clear in which precise sense social sciences can be said to be empirical” (22).

I wanted to lay out this list to give myself a reminder as to how Latour saw his exploration playing out. Before I move on, there was one more moment of this first section of the book that I wanted to draw attention to: “empirical metaphysics.” What exactly does that entail you ask? Well, according to Latour, empirical metaphysics is “what the controversies over agencies lead to since they ceaselessly populate the world with new drives and, as ceaselessly, contest the existence of others” (51). Maybe my brain just died at the word metaphysics (physics was mind-boggling enough), but this is definitely a concept that I am going to have to tease out before I feel comfortable enough to invite it to tea.

Ah, but I did promise to move on. I feel like I will be giving short shrift to the other two authors, but how to compete with a man who so eloquently weaves a Foucauldian thought process and then can switch over, with startling speed, to declare, “Down with the Muses and other undocumented aliens!” side note: For those of you who just bristled upon reading the phrase undocumented aliens, he really had been talking about alien beings who people believe “pull the strings” of our society (more like alien gods than someone who came to the U.S. without documentation, though I guess an extraterrestrial might not be aware that documentation is necessary before landing a spacecraft on “American” soil). He also calls some other sociologists vampiric, so supernatural beings seem to be a motif in this work. No judgement.

Right. Still moving on. I should probably give the other two authors their own blog entry (or entries) to make up for how grand the academic love affair with ANT had been, whereas my relationship with these other texts pales in comparison, despite me also finding their writing refreshing. For Joyce and Johnson-Eilola, both of their works felt like case studies for what Latour was proposing. They seemed to each be actively engaging and struggling with attempts to permeate the boundaries of their disciplines (Joyce by simultaneously occupying the spaces of being a “professor of English and the Library,” and Johnson-Eilola by struggling with how hypertextuality could fit within the realm of composition.

Michael Joyce. Image hosted on the website for the organization FC2.

Michael Joyce. Image hosted on the website for the organization FC2.

Johndan Johnson-Eilola. Image hosted on the webiste for Clarkson University.

Johndan Johnson-Eilola. Image hosted on the Clarkson University wesbite.

I do want to wait and go into another blog looking at the texts of these men specifically, but before I wrap up this entry of reading notes, I wanted to include some of my favorite quotes from the early chapters of their works, especially since these quotes are going to be my link to the entry of them under the microscope of the ANT lens.

“This narrow focus [traditional five page papers] was helpful historically for composition in defining itself against a range of other disciplines and academic departments; today, however, we must expand our definitions to gain broader influence and relevance. The focus on redefining composition motivates the selection of hypertext as the topic of my study” (Johnson-Eilola, “Border Times” 7)

“We all hope to be one thing or another especially in strange company; however, as someone who was simultaneously a professor of English and the Library (though not a librarian) as well as a hypertext novelist and theorist, the question of whether I came to the library as a wolf in sheep’s clothing or a lion lying (in whatever sense one pleases to understand that term) among lambs was not clear at the time to me or to them [librarians]” (Joyce, “Lingering Errantness” 67)

“Writing has always been about borders, about the processes of mapping and remapping the lines of separation between things. Writing constructs implicit and explicit boundaries between not only product and process and said and unsaid, but author and reader, literacy and orality, technology and nature, self and other. Although we often build these borders in order to help us assert a disciplinary identity, these same borders also threaten to marginalize us” (Johnson-Eilola, “Border Times” 3)

“In ‘Coming to Writing,’ Helene Cixous says, ‘I didn’t seek. I was the search’ (1999). We could say that in the electronic age we don’t collect, we are the collection. The value of what we collect is not as much embodied in what it is as in how we found it and why we keep it” (Joyce, “Lingering Errantness” 73)

“I would note that I am not in the business of predicting change. In fact I am not only not in any business at all but I also resent the current fashion that urges us each to claim that we are in a business. Instead like most of us, librarians or humanists or whatever, I live in change, living not a business but a presence. As an artist and teacher and technologist I make change and am changed by what others make” (Joyce, “Lingering Errantness” 71)

For me, each of these quotes embodies the struggle of being an ant, while recognizing being part of ant-dom. Joyce and Johnson-Eilola are attempting to consciously take a system that seems inflexible and make it understand that it is inherently permeable. University departments are always in flux, shifting borders and boundaries as new sub-disciplines emerge and old ones fade. Newer technologies like hypertext also shift boundaries, becoming tools that are shaped by and shape in return the users. Joyce’s declaration of “I live in change” represents an actor who is aware that he is an actor, not just some outside observer. The activities of these two men and their texts are actions being taken by active actors, from vantage points that would suggest a bird’s eye view but instead are realized as nodes in a system that is constantly being made and remade by the people who compose it.

Citations

Johnson-Eilola, Johndan. “Chapter 1: Border Times: Written and Being Written in Hypertext.” Nostalgic Angels: Rearticulating Hypertext Writing (Advances in Discourse Processes). Norwood, NJ: Ablex Pub. Corp., 1997. Print.

Joyce, Michael Thomas. “Chapter 4: The Lingering Errantness of Place, or, Library as Library.” Othermindedness: The Emergence of Network Culture (Studies in Literature and Science). Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2001. Print.

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

Other Readings for This Week

Johnson-Eilola, Johndan. “Chapter 5: X-Ray Vision and Perpetual Motion: Hypertext as Postmodern Space.” Nostalgic Angels: Rearticulating Hypertext Writing (Advances in Discourse Processes). Norwood, NJ: Ablex Pub. Corp., 1997. Print.

Johnson-Eilola, Johndan. “Chapter 6: Angels in Rehab: Rearticulating Hypertext Writing.” Nostalgic Angels: Rearticulating Hypertext Writing (Advances in Discourse Processes). Norwood, NJ: Ablex Pub. Corp., 1997. Print.

Joyce, Michael Thomas. “Introduction” and “Hypertext and Hypermedia.” Of Two Minds: Hypertext Pedagogy and Poetics. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2002. Print.

Joyce, Michael Thomas. “Chapter 5: Beyond Next before You Once Again: Repossessing and Renewing Electronic Culture.” Othermindedness: The Emergence of Network Culture (Studies in Literature and Science). Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2001. Print.

Even Vampiric Sociologists Need Music:


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

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

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

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

Of Two Minds

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

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

book cover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nostalgic Angels

dust jacket image

Trickster in Contemporary Film by Helena Bassil-Morozow

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

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

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

Othermindedness

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

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

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

Reassembling the Social

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Of Two Minds

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

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

book cover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nostalgic Angels

dust jacket image

Trickster in Contemporary Film by Helena Bassil-Morozow

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

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

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

Othermindedness

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

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

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

Reassembling the Social

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Putting Humpty Together Again

Brought to you this week by the syllable “re”: — reconstitute, reassemble, repopulate, remember, repudiate, reintegrate, relive, remediate.

Pause for a nostalgic reconstitution of my childhood, remediated through YouTube, linked to a new node, in a network of thought co-created by me, Morgan Freeman, Jim Boyd, Luis Avalos, YouTube user NantoVision1, all the gaffers, grips, editors, directors, make-up artists and others on the original video, the servers, routers, switches, and proxies on the Internet, my MacBook, WordPress, your browser and device, Verizon’s towers, Comcast’s fiber-optic cables, and your own memory and imagination.

This week’s reading grouped together hypertext theory: Johndan Johnson-Eilola and Michael Joyce (with significant nods to Jon Lanestedt and George Landow, particularly their In Memoriam hypertext on Tennyson) and Bruno Latour’s introduction to Actor-Network Theory, Reassembling the Social. There’s also a healthy dose of post-Marxism and late capitalism punched with Freirean and Girouxian critical pedagogy, and, thanks to Latour, some significant snark.

Shouts of jubilation when reading in Johnson-Eilola that he had “moved through postmoderism and into cultural studies and critical pedagogy” (7) and that instead of a project of undoing and unraveling, we would instead be examining how “borders are constructed, to deconstruct those borders, and — perhaps most importantly — to rearticulate new positive mappings” (7).  It’s the way I teach writing and reading (which, as Johnson-Eilola and Joyce both note, are one and the same in the technology mediated world). First: we break something apart into small pieces to examine each one. This is analysis. Then we put the pieces back together again in new ways, using our understandings from looking at the parts (which we could not have seen while it was whole) to evaluate, criticize, and understand the whole again, parts of the whole. This is synthesis. They go together. We don’t take apart the gas grill or the computer or the car engine  just to do it. We do it to understand how it works, how the parts come together to produce something useful and meaningful. We may be looking to diagnose what is “wrong”, or we may be looking to replace a part that isn’t functioning optimally. Or we may simply be trying to learn how it all works together, the importance of each part, the  movement between them, the unity they then create. We do not tend to leave the parts deconstructed on the table: we disassemble to reassemble. Our theorists this week speak to this reassembly and reconstitution, noting that the item reassembled is never the same as the one disassembled, no matter if  you get all the parts back in the same place. The context, instantiation, memory, and other interacting factors will be different, and the item itself is only a single node or ‘actor’ or ‘object’ in a network of temporo-spatial contingencies (hmmmm…. a chronotope?) which will never occur precisely the same again. In fact, the notion of nostalgia is a longing for a time that never existed, as the past is remediated through our memory, a reconstitution of a moment selectively reconstructed, placing our present-day self there interpreting it, looking forward.

Johnson-Eilola takes pains to remind us that texts and technologies are political structures and activities, not “naturalized” or “easily demarcated” or “isolated objects” (17). Texts represent ideologies, which are “lived relations produced and reproduced in and through social structures” (43). Using Althusser and Hall’s articulation theory, Johnson-Eilola demonstrates that borders can be constantly remade, binaries undone and re-juxtaposed, and that “boundaries are not fixed, but always open to connection in more than one way (often at the same time)” (43). He posits that hypertext makes these postmodern principles manifest and visible. That the boundaries between writer/reader/society are fluid, that identity is dispersed, and, unlike postmodernists such as Lyotard, Baudrillard, Derrida, and Foucault, who delight in demonstrating that texts are ultimately disembodied signifiers and inchoate difference, there are instead moments where these signifiers “congeal” into real, oppositional forces that regulate and oppress. To deny this cohesion is to have agency and identity and dissent absorbed and countermanded. Instead of debates between product and process, subject and object, etc., we can accept “yes, and”, that there are both, simultaneously, that identity and agency and text are dispersed, but that they come together in patterns of geometry and geography which attempt to embody and explain, but fail to completely do so as they are artificial representations.

The most important quote/concept from hypertext theory seems to be this: Jamesonian concept that the totality of postmodern space is ungraspable, and cannot be mapped either geographically/narratively, nor geometrically/cartographically. Rather, a new “cognitive mapping” is the process of “interplay” between “real” and “imaginary”, mediated by texts and tools, as nodes in this network. Jameson says, and Johnson-Eilola and Joyce corroborate, that the challenge of navigating the postmodern is “how to situate the relatively dispersed self into an active, social matrix at the conjunction between geography and geometry” (171), between space and time, in the interplay, in the flux, in the interstices.

 ”Every node in a hypertext can function both as a presence and a productive absence, assuming meaning not by what it holds but by its relationship to other nodes in the text and to the larger cultural, linguistic text.” (Johnson-Eilola 234-5).

It is the subjectivity of the user/reader/writer/player that creates the temporal unity and meaning out of the contingent possibilities presented. Saussure’s concept of the “suture” makes sense here: the role of the human interpreter to “stitch together” a narrative, an individual and societal rhetorical meaning from the infoglut surrounding us. From this conflated existence, we read/write our world and navigate within and among the co-constructions of others, in a continual dance of fluid meanings. Joyce would call us “nomads”, using Deleuze and Guattari’s term of being “always between two points, but [in which] the in-between has taken on all the consistency and enjoys both an autonomy and a direction of its own” (D&G, qtd. in Joyce Othermindedness, Ch. 4, 67). Other metaphors might be, from Joyce, living in the intermezzo, or in the caesura (life as a pause between two phrases) or in the gap.

Mind-The-Gap-BankWe are neither on the platform, nor on the train. We are in this space of “doubt, perplexity, multivalency” or “aporetic multiplicity” that can be dangerous and paralyzing as “the paths are so multiple we cannot choose which way to go” (Joyce, Othermindedness, 69).  Yet we cannot stay in the gap, we cannot remain perched on the threshold between past and future, between what is lost and irretrievable and what is unknowable. We live in this continuous present where we are always stepping out, making choices on our path. The train whisks us away to the next stop, where we pause and assess and decide again.

Variable output decision tree

A variable output decision tree in computer programming.

Meanwhile, we decide, and branch off, and create our new paths, and randomly access memories and read/write from the hard-disk of our lives and those of the lives we encounter. We are post-human, or we are more human than ever before, just with new ways of expressing that which ever was.

Works Cited

  • “Binary Decision Diagram” from Binäres Entscheidungsdiagramm. Wikipedia Germany. Web. 24 February 2014. http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bin%C3%A4res_Entscheidungsdiagramm
  • “Denslow’s Humpty Dumpty” Licensed for reuse. http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e2/Denslow%27s_Humpty_Dumpty_pg_3.jpg. Web. 24 Feb. 2014.
  • Johnson-Eilola, Johndan. Nostalgic Angels: Rearticulating Hypertext Writing. Norwood, N.J.: Ablex Pub. Corp., 1997. Print.
  • Joyce, Michael. Of Two Minds: Hypertext Pedagogy and Poetics. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1995. Print.
  • Joyce, Michael. Othermindedness: The Emergence of Network Culture. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2000. Print.
  • Latour, Bruno. Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2005. Print.
  • “Mind the Gap” image from http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mind_the_gap. Licensed as usage. Web. 24 Feb. 2014.

Reading Notes: Class Meeting 2/25/14

The Entry of Questions

A Theme Continues:

I just can't seem to escape certain ideas this semester. They keep appearing either by professorial design (in which case proving Vatz's argument about the role of the rhetor's choices and selections in constructing meaning for the audience) or by virtue of the message's significance. Whatever the case, the idea that English Studies must merge with technology is inescapable.

I have written about it as a concept appearing in Spinuzzi, Zoetewey, and CHAT, so seeing it appear again in Johnson-Eilola's work is like proof to me that as a student in this discipline, it is up to me to carry this mantle forward. It is a task that ODU also seems to be preparing me for with the New Media emphasis, but it is also one that is fraught with complexity as institutions are slower to turn than a large ship. It is frustrating to hear the call to incorporate digital rhetoric into my work as a student and as a teacher, but not yet have the support systems in place to deliver that to my students. The traditional printed (okay, uploaded) essay is the preferred and required product. How do we break these traditions, especially when we are relegated to contingent faculty positions?

Image from thethingsIlearnedfrom.com

Johnson-Eilola writes that the "world is already moving beyond conventional, print-based textuality", and that the discipline will continue to be marginalized in institutions if we fail to adapt to new digital modes of communication. We must break down the borders and boundaries between what we consider to be English Studies texts and writing and the technical/digital texts and writing produced in other disciplines. Are these not all acts of composing, requiring consideration of the rhetorical canons like audience, delivery, and purpose?

He continues, "Those 'other' texts, the ones we allow to pass without critical attention because we think they are purely functional or lacking in imagination, may in fact be our ways of leveraging broad social changes" (6). There are two ideas embedded here: our discipline cannot diminish the significance of digital compositions in favor of printed, literary texts and these often disregarded forms of communication can provide means for social change.

What's that? Using the discipline to effect social change? You know I'm in.

Hypertext and "Revolutionary Potential":

Whether it's Zoetewey's civic web sites performing action in a community or Bazerman's and Miller's position that genre produces social action, I am drawn - like a moth to a flame - to scholarship that highlights how the discipline can do more than just think. I don't want to use my brain to just consider and observe; I want to be able to improve my community. That is why I was excited to read Johnson-Eilola argue that "our position should be one of social critique, resistance, and reconstructing..attempting to situate writing and reading as political and social responsibility" (17). Yes! I agree! I want to shout that from the rooftops and in the department meetings. Where is the daring? Where is the revolutionary and unconventional in the current academic landscape of budgets and quantitative measurements of learning outcomes? Where are the voices urging the radical rethinking of and experimentation in the discipline? How can our students use reading, thinking, and writing to critique, resist, and reconstruct? To be political and socially responsible?

Johnson-Eilola seems to suggest that at least in part this can be done through the "revolutionary potential" (13) and the "democratic possibilities" (23) of hypertext. Basically, as more people have fast and free access to information, the more difficult it becomes to exert dominance over them. More autonomy is created and desired. Hypertext removes the barriers of library or university walls and admissions, and that democratic access is a powerful tool needed in creating revolutionary thought and action.

Consider the argument by Google executives Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen in the clip below. Access equals liberation. Hypertext is the medium through which access is granted.



This clip and Johnson-Eilola's argument are certainly a utopian vision of how the digital realm can lead to revolution, but in the classroom we need to be wary of letting "acts of resistance" denigrate "into empty gestures" (188).

What this means to me is that it isn't enough to just assign digital composition that ask students to think about and speak to political or globally significant issues. We would run the risk of these assignments just being empty exercises. There needs to be authenticity behind the work, and perhaps the potential to continue to do work in the community outside the classroom. This is why I still like Zoetewey's work with civic web sites. these students create a digital product, which we can understand from Johnson-Eilola to have democratic, revolutionary potential, that will spread into a community and help shape discourse and action. How can we do more of this kind of work in the classroom in the context of the institutional pressure to meet measurable goals?

Foucault and Joyce:

In previous reading notes entries, I explored the Foucault assertion that meaning is constructed relationally. I was struck by the similarly expressed idea in Joyce's Of Two Minds.
"Electronic writing is both a visual and verbal description, not the writing of a place, but rather a writing with places, spatially related topics...an extension of a network of ideas in the mind itself" (Bolton qtd. in Joyce 23).
For Foucault, discourse and meaning are understood as ideas relate to one another, in thinking about the connections and boundaries between concepts or events. For Bolton and Joyce who agrees with him, electronic writing is also spatial. Hypertext allows for the writer/reader to move through space and thought, to bend boundaries and connect otherwise separate entities. Meaning is enhanced through connectivity and relationships.

It has me thinking. Is everything relational because the brain itself works this way? Bolton seems to argue that the mind works like hypertext. I see that thought does often occur in this way. Just lying in bed sometimes I find myself thinking of something completely random and try to trace backward to the initial thought that sent me down that particular path. We think of one things which reminds us of another that takes us to something else and so on. And these thoughts do not need to be chronological or limited to one area like work or school or family. We think in more than one dimension and make connections across and through and between things. Like a network. Like hypertext. Like Foucault.

Image by Pasieka on Science Photo Library
Can anything be understood without considering how it relates to something else? Is there meaning outside a network?

But Before it Gets Overwhelming...

I posed more questions this week than I answered, which can sometimes be unsettling for a concrete-minded gal like myself. However, I stumbled upon this little gem in Joyce's Othermindedness:

"In an age that privileges polyvocality, multiplicity, and constellated knowledge, a sustained attention span may be less useful than successive attendings" (74-5).

I found this sentiment buoying. I often get frustrated that despite working hard, the understanding may be fleeting or momentary, vague or unstable, or just beyond my reach. But Joyce suggests here that the approach may need to change in this spatially-related world. Perhaps it isn't the brute force of attention that will yield a clearer picture, but in the repeated approaches.

And this seems to be playing out in our class! In our repeated and different ways of accessing and thinking about our complex theories, the meaning becomes more stabilized. This idea decreases my anxiety in the sense that what may not be clear tonight may become clearer in subsequent "attendings."


Works Cited:

Latour, Bruno. Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. New York, Oxford UP, 2007. Print.

Johnson-Eilola, Johndan. Nostalgic Angels: Rearticulating Hypertext Writing. Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing Corporation, 1997. Print.

Joyce, Michael. Of Two Minds: Hypertext Pedagogy and Poetics. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1996. Print.

---. Othermindedness: The Emergence of Network Culture. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2001. Print.

Reading Notes: Class Meeting 2/25/14

Hypertext Theory & ANTS

“A structure is defined by what escapes it.”  Brian Massumi, as qtd. in Johnson-Eilola 175 A colleague of mine (a fellow composition instructor who has a fondness for old typewriters — as do I) posted the following video link to … Continue reading

Mind Map #6: CHAT

http://popplet.com/app/#/1626026 This week’s MindMap was the easiest of all thanks to Summer. We spent about 2 hours Friday creating a life size MindMap of the theories we’ve explored thus far. Through the mapping activity, we came to the conclusion that all roads lead to Foucault. Foucault’s Archaeology of Knowledge presents a history as network.  Each […]

CHAT MindMap Feb. 23

CHAT Mind Map croppedFor this week’s MindMap I attempted to map the core elements of the CHAT core texts. I started first by adding the node CHAT to my MindMap. From there, II branched off with a popplet labeled “Anti-Canon Argument” that included a brief statement of the claim that there is a need for a re-mapping of the canon. I used this node to map the CHAT authors’ argument against the canon by adding a popplets that explore key elements of the anti-canon argument: non-linearity of the canon, the canon’s too heavy focus on author/production, and the authors’ claims that memory and delivery need to be re-imagined.

The next node from the primary CHAT node was one through which I mapped the first vision of a re-imagine canon (take 1). The primary node was called “Solution 1: Revision of Canon.” From this node, I added a node on which I mapped the revised canon with nodes branching off for each element of the new canon: invention, style, memory, arrangement, mediation, distribution, reception. Another node from the “Solution 1″ node explored the reasons why this first solution is ineffective.

From the original CHAT node, I added a third node labeled “Solution Take 2″. From this one I added a node that says “Get rid of canon.” I added a second node labeled “3-Levels of Rhetorical Activity.” To this node I added the picture I created of the nesting levels of the CHAT solution. I also added a node for each solution on which I defined what is included in that solution.

This mind mapping activity is helpful to me because it helped me get at the core argument of the CHAT core texts. I didn’t map any of the additional readings because I felt that none of them were really effective models of the methodology described in the CHAT core text.


Mind Map: Week 6

My additions with CHAT this week were fairly simple–I made sure to include Prior et al.’s justification for remapping  rhetorical activity (traditional canons neglect the full scope and complexity of the activity) and the basics of their remapping (literate activity, functional systems, and laminated chronotopes).

As I began mapping them, I thought about how the remapped levels of activity in CHAT connect to Spinuzzi’s three levels of activity: macroscopic, mesoscopic, and microscopic. Although not identical (Spinuzzi’s is more focused on levels of consciousness within a system), a common theme between them and Foucault is the idea of tracing the historical and ideological contexts of the systems. All three theories seem to operate on the belief that there is an underlying abstract basis for networks.

Together the different theories are beginning to illuminate a more holistic understanding of human activity as a network. While they are, for the most part, focusing on communication and discourse, they individually focus on different aspects of it. Bitzer, Vatz, Biesecker, and Prior et al. all focus on the rhetorical nature and implications of interactivity. Miller, Bazerman, Popham, and Spinuzzi and their focus on genres illuminate how rhetorical activity is signified. Foucault helps us understand the complexity of the conditions necessary for the creation of signifiers.

Still having problems with the embed function, so here is a jpeg of my mindmap:

Week 6

Week 6


Theoretical Application Rubric –> Summer’s MMO Guilds

Ah, rubrics. Ah, humanity.

Discussion of Creating Rubric

Tasked with developing a rubric for an assignment that was already completed, and applying it to content created by collaborative colleagues, rather than developing a rubric prior to the assignment and using it for content created by students who are in a more hierarchical position, I first thought about what the tool should do. I decided that it should be a generic set of questions that advanced thinking about the theory and its application, and set up a framework for a true assessment, which, as authors in Digital Writing Assessment and Evaluation and elsewhere have noted, should be hyper-local to reflect the exigencies of a particular assignment, the culture of the institution in which it is situated, and the population being assessment.  Since the requirement was for it to be a rubric about applying a theory, and not a theory of networks per se, I did not feel that I could start at the logical place, with  the questions asked of us on the first case study, reflecting the parameters of the assignment:

  • How does the theory define your object of study (as a whole, broken into pieces)?
  • What and/or who is a network node?
  • What types of agency are articulated for various types of nodes?
  • How are different types of nodes situated within a network?
  • What are the types and directions of relationships between nodes?
  • What happens to content or meaning as it travels through a network?
  • How do networks emerge, grow, and/or dissolve?

While normally I would have turned to assignment objectives and guiding questions, such as those above, because so many of the questions were directly related to networks, and not application of a theory, I took the first question: “how does the theory define your object of study, as a whole and broken into pieces?” and used that as the basis, breaking that question down into component parts that I divided into two main categories: articulation of the theory and its context, and application of the theory to the object of study.

Daniel and I collaborated on a rubric as we thought it would make sense to both develop a rubric and apply a rubric developed by another (both of which are required in teaching).  I began with the categories and a draft of the questions; Daniel and I discussed and tweaked questions/attributes, and he added a third category regarding local instance of the OoS. I then added the Gold, Silver and Bronze categories below, as a way of rating each category, while he used them as the binary “Yes” or “No”.  We posted the link on our Facebook group, and Amy and Jenny also visited the rubric to offer some comments.

Blank Rubric:
Rating: (with figure skating analogies. I will not be the Russian or Ukrainian judge.)

Gold — Clear, sound, complete, cogent, says something new. You had the difficulty and landed the jumps.

Silver  – Mostly clear, some gaps or rough patches, tends to repeat what is known but may have surprising insights at places. Possible two-footed landings and moments of stumbling, but the crowd loves you and the overall impression is positive; took some risks to earn reward.

Bronze — More nascent view, larger gaps in explanations, reasons; ideas are sound but could be improved with more “fleshing out”; you’re at the games and at the right competitive level, you have the moves, but this particular performance doesn’t demonstrate your full potential.

Theory Clearly Articulated and Contextualized

Rating:

  • Whose theory is it? Who is the theorist?
  • What is the definition of the theory, its main premise?
  • What are the key attributes of the theory?
  • What are the limitations of the theory?
  • To what theories or theorists is the theory indebted or built upon?
  • Where does the theory fall in a spectrum or in relation to others?
  • What is the theory’s importance to the field?
  • Are there canonical or well-respected applications of the theory?

Theory Clearly Applied to Specific OoS and Explained

  • Is the OoS contextualized and explained?
  • Is there clear correspondence of theory attributes to OoS attributes?
  • Does the author explain which portion of the theory is used and which discarded and why?
  • How does the theory illuminate the OoS? What new aspects does it allow us to see?
  • How does the theory change our view of the OoS?
  • What are the limitations (blind spots) of this theory as applied to this OoS?
  • How does this theory application add to the body of knowledge re: this OoS or the discipline?
  • Are the conclusions drawn re: the theory logical and sound?
  • What is gained as a result of using this theory?

Theory Mapped to Local Context (Praxis)

  • Local context(s) to which theory can be mapped are identified
  • Specific person(s) responsible for activated mapping
  • Social and political boundaries defined by theory are identified
  • Aspects of theory mapped to specific lived experience
  • Anticipated social action to be achieved by mapping;
  • Assessment process of localized mapping defined

Rubric Applied to Summer’s Case Study of MMO Guilds

I felt a bit awkward using the rubric with a classmate’s work, as rubrics connote “assessment” rather than “feedback.” I don’t have a problem giving critical constructive feedback that may point out that the item is at the “silver” or “bronze” level, but giving it that label implies a grade that I don’t feel qualified to give, and I don’t want to risk a collegial relationship by appearing to be superior (the position from which assessment generally comes). Thus, I qualify that these are my impressions, and that the levels of Gold, Silver and Bronze are all “top finishers” who are on the podium, distinguishing themselves from the field. My attempts to identify areas of where further attention might be given may point out flaws with the reader and her understanding rather than the writer and hers.

Theory Clearly Articulated and Contextualized

Rating:

Discussion:
  • Whose theory is it? Who is the theorist?
  • What is the definition of the theory, its main premise?
  • What are the key attributes of the theory?
  • What are the limitations of the theory?
  • To what theories or theorists is the theory indebted or built upon?
  • Where does the theory fall in a spectrum or in relation to others?
  • What is the theory’s importance to the field?
  • Are there canonical or well-respected applications of the theory?
Bronze  Brief mention of the theory and a single quote. Mentions again at the end but most discussion is of the guilds themselves. Concepts such as felicity, genre, typification, or Bazerman’s overall take not explained or contextualized.  Thus, it is difficult to know what Bazerman is saying and how Summer is considering Bazerman’s premises (her interpretation of them).

Theory Clearly Applied to Specific OoS and Explained

  • Is the OoS contextualized and explained?
  • Is there clear correspondence of theory attributes to OoS attributes?
  • Does the author explain which portion of the theory is used and which discarded and why?
  • How does the theory illuminate the OoS? What new aspects does it allow us to see?
  • How does the theory change our view of the OoS?
  • What are the limitations (blind spots) of this theory as applied to this OoS?
  • How does this theory application add to the body of knowledge re: this OoS or the discipline?
  • Are the conclusions drawn re: the theory logical and sound?
  • What is gained as a result of using this theory?
Silver Summer does a great job explaining what guilds are, what they do, how they operate, and the difference between game-global and game-local (although I think that distinction is lost some in the discussion). I remain uncertain how the various parts of a guild, such as a perk, an application, the bank, the discourse, the mentors, correspond to parts of Bazerman’s theory and I am not sure how Bazerman helps me understand guilds in a different way.

Theory Mapped to Local Context (Praxis)

  • Local context(s) to which theory can be mapped are identified
  • Specific person(s) responsible for activated mapping
  • Social and political boundaries defined by theory are identified
  • Aspects of theory mapped to specific lived experience
  • Anticipated social action to be achieved by mapping;
  • Assessment process of localized mapping defined
Bronze

N/A

 This is part of our rubric, but not necessarily part of the assignment, so it is understandable if it would not appear. Summer hints at the idea of “game-local” in the beginning, so I hoped I would have Bazerman’s concepts illustrated with an actual instance of game-play in a guild, where I could see the concepts in action. In such a short case study, though, this is impossible, and thus would be something for continuation if this approach were expanded. Screen shots and embedded videos helped with demonstrating a local instantiation of the game and guild activity.

Discussion of Applying Rubric

I found it somewhat difficult to apply the rubric to the Case Study #1, since the assignment was not for a full application of a theory (which is the rubric I developed) and was more of a “sandbox” attempt at moving toward a full application of a theory. Thus, it doesn’t seem it *could* have scored Gold, since the writer wasn’t asked to do all that the rubric asked. However, applying the rubric did help me identify and quantify some gaps in Summer’s Case Study, which did a fantastic job explaining the Object of Study (which would have to be done in any article or research piece about it) but spent less time in the theoretical lens being applied, which was the object of the assignment. Summer did a great job using hypertext to extend her text without impinging on her word count parameters, so that guilds could be defined and examples of applications provided. She contributed to my understanding guilds and how they affect play in WoW, but I was unable to learn how these guilds are a genre system, and I left the case study still hoping for a discussion of this very interesting premise: “Bazerman’s theory of speech acts and systems of human activity can define the local level of MMO guilds through interactions between players and the cohesion and disruption felt once those interactions begin to collect into trends and movements“  (emphasis mine). What Summer has set up in this discussion is the clear proof that the WoW guilds are an object worthy of study, that they are a network of people articulated primarily by speech acts, and that this network influences game play and player affiliation. I still want to hear HOW. I hope she explores this further.

Conclusion

Lastly, I think the rubric that we developed is helpful in  thinking about the components required in applying a theory, and striking the balance between enough context and explanation of both the theory itself and the OoS, and spending enough time tying the two summarized and contextualized pieces (the theory and the OoS) together. It helped me clarify what I need to do with my own Case Studies.

Image from: http://booklovingfool.wordpress.com/2013/05/22/oh-bartleby-oh-humanity/

Theory Assessment Rubric

When I began developing this rubric, I contemplated whether I wanted to develop a rubric specifically for the case study assignment (which was limited to viewing OoS at networks and exploring them as such via a theory we have explored in class) or a rubric that would work for any application of theory to an OoS. I decided to go with the latter option, and here are the results (make sure to click the link for full pdf):blank rubricTo test the rubric that I developed, I decided to read and assess Summer Glassie’s first case study assignment. In applying the rubric to Summer’s case study, I discovered the difficulties involved in applying a generalized rubric to a specific assignment without tailoring the rubric to that assignment. Here’s my application of the rubric to Summer’s case study (make sure to click the link for the full three-page pdf):

Rubric Applied to Glassie CS croppedThere were some sections of the rubric that I would deem successful. It was easy to assess Summer’s discussion of her object of study with the sections that I developed that focused on the object of study. Summer’s case study thoroughly described the object of study.

The problem that I ran into when assessing the assignment had to do with the context of the assignment. In retrospect, I think that my rubric would be best suited to an assignment that was not quite as highly contextualized as a 1,000 word blog entry applying a theory discussed in class is used to examine the way in which an object of study operates as a network. My rubric assumes that the theory being used needs to be introduced thoroughly in a way that Summer didn’t necessarily need to do in her blog entry because of the context (class in which all students had just read about that theory). A case study that described the theory in the detail that my rubric expects might need to be much longer than 1,000 words.

Another way that the rubric and the case study did not really work together is that the expectation set out by the rubric is that the OoS would be mapped extensively in terms of the theory. Summer’s case study did use the theory to frame her exploration of the types of speech acts, communications, and the actors that are involved in WoW guilds, but whereas the rubric lays out an expectation for an extensive, explicit technical discussion of the theory embedded within the discussion of the OoS, Summer’s case study approached the discussion of the theory as a framework within which to explore the OoS, and in so doing the theory was made a bit more implicit and foundational to the OoS rather than analogical as my rubric is designed to assess. My rubric wasn’t designed to assess this approach, which is a valid one, effectively.

If I were to design a new assessment for case studies, I think that I would design one that is tailored much more to the specific context of the assignment rather than one meant to be used for any theoretical application. Attention to context would include changes made on the basis of: length of assignment, primary purpose of the assignment, and local context of the assignment.