Category Archives: Reading Notes

Tech Comm Luminaries: Dobrin, Connors, and Katz

A provocateur, a historian,  a rhetorician, and a pragmatist walk into a bar. Who breaks Godwin’s Law first?

Readings for this week look at how one defines Technical Writing/Communication and how the field of Technical Communication has been derived and constructed.

The Historian

Connors, R. J. (1982). The rise of technical writing instruction in America. Journal of Technical Writing and Communication, 12(4), 329–52.
Connors lays out a history of Technical Communications as a discipline, beginning in 1895. As editor Gerald Nelms notes, Connors wrote this piece in a historical time of its own, and it reflects the values and even the conception of history constitutive of the period it first appeared in the early 1980s. Connors conceived of history as a “grand narrative” to be discovered and told, and Nelms points out that there are counter-narratives and other histories that are left out here. But the article is still an excellent overview of the field’s development, and its parallel construction with the field of composition studies beginning immediately following the Civil War with the rise in land grant and agricultural and mechanical schools as a result of the 1862 Morrill Act and the second Morrill Act of 1877 and continuing as a result of the Gilded Age’s rampant rise in technology through the Industrial Revolution. He chronicles the development of an engineering curricula and the early mismatch between expected writing skills for engineers and their abilities. He also traces the contentious relationship between humanists and humanities-based education and skills-based learning, as well as the exploitation of labor in the academy for those teaching and researching in the technical writing area. Since neither the engineering departments nor the English departments claimed the faculty or valued them, the courses were assigned to graduate students, NTT, and generally seen as “professional suicide” (10). Interestingly, Connors notes that composition teachers were seen as emasculated: feminized or deemed homosexuals: “it was said in the thirties that many English teachers ‘appear to their critics as not of a sufficiently masculine type or of enough experience in the world outside their books to command the respect of engineering students’ and they were called ‘effeminate’ … one student was quoted in 1938 as calling his teacher ‘a budding pinko’ (10)
Connors details key dates in the field such as the founding of the Society for the Promotion of Engineering Education  in 1894, and IEEE in . He also lays out a history of seminal textbooks published in the field, studies conducted, and figures within it. Early centers of technical writing included Tufts, University of Cincinnati, Princeton, MIT, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and University of Kansas. The first notable textbook of technical writing was T.A. Rickard’s A Guide to Technical Writing (1908), though Connors calls it a precursor to a true pedagogical book — more of a usage guide for practitioners. The first true textbook intended for college courses, according to Connors, was The Theory and Practice of Technical Writing (1911) by the “Father of Technical Writing Instruction”, Samuel Chandler Earle of Tufts College (6). This text used the “modes of discourse” (current-traditional composition) perspective, which has since fallen out of favor, Connors claims (though remains the predominant way FYC is taught in many cases, especially two-year schools). Connors claims the first “modern technical writing textbook” was in 1923 with Sada A. Harbarger’s (S.A. Harbarger, so her status as a woman was not revealed) English for Engineers, which was the first to be organized around “technical forms” or genres used by technical writers in the field, still the predominate method of organization for technical writing textbooks today. By 1938, Connors claims, corroborated by a comprehensive study by Alvin M. Fountain, that technical writing was a thriving industry.
By far the biggest rise in Technical Communication occurred in the years following WWII, and is again predicated on a rise in both technology, automation, an increase in the number of students attending college, and educational reforms to address both the apparent skills gaps they possessed and, in this case, a debate in education between a Dewey-inspired platform of social relationships and a practical techniques or occupations or industries approach (11). The Hammond Reports of 1940 and 1944 were instrumental in making reforms that lead to greater rise in technical communication. Connors notes that in 1954, with the publication of Gordon Mills and John Walter’s Technical Writing, the discipline began to take a rhetorical approach rather than a “types of reports” approach, and the ethos of “does it work” as the only good criterion for technical writing became established. Connors calls this the beginning of a user-based, “writer-reader relationship” approach to the field (13).
I definitely would like to have a visualization of this article so that I could see the timeline of events laid out next to each other and interact with them. Wish there was such a web interface. I tried searching for one, and found some unhelpful Rose Diagrams, as well as articles about the USE of visualizations in technical and scientific communication, but not a visualization of the field itself.

The Provocateur

Dobrin, D. N. (1983). What’s technical about technical writing? In P. V. Anderson, R. J. Brockman, & C. R. Miller (Eds.), New Essays in Technical and Scientific Communication: Theory and Practice (pp. 227–250). Farmingdale, NY: Baywood Publishing.

The Rhetorician

Katz, S. B. (1993). Aristotle’s Rhetoric, Hitler’s Program, and the Ideological Problem of Praxis, Power, and Professional Discourse. Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 7(1), 37–62. doi:10.1177/1050651993007001003

The Pragmatists

Longo, B., & Fountain, K. (2013). What can history teach us about technical communication? In J. Johnson-Eilola & S. A. Selber (Eds.), Solving Problems in Technical Communication. Chicago: University Of Chicago Press.

Toi Kairoi — Attuned to Ambience (as long as it’s not Bob Seger)

From the Hall(s) of Althusser, to the Shores of Rickert!

In many ways, this week’s readings have me shouting, “Preach!” from the amen choir seat, and punching the air with exclamations of agreement and “where have you been all semester?” I find echoes of my previous reading notes in Hall and Rickert. Places where I pushed back at previous theorists regarding translation of the message and the importance of the situational factors in communication. Marginalia where I called Bitzer and Vatz out on over-simplification and where I wrote about actors not playing prescribed roles in a network or agents taking up their given niche in an ecosystem. I wrote about the GAPS that had to be crossed, and how this was imperfect. And I wrote about how rhetors become complicit in the motives of the entity on whose behalf they are speaking. NO message is without motivation for action; communication is not merely to express, but to urge people to do. What you want them to do is always bound up in what is beneficial for the speaker or entity s/he speaks for. I have struggled with not being complicit with the Althusserian model of educational institutions as Ideological State Apparatuses, and instead embrace Deweyian and Freirean liberatory pedagogies to push back at this tendency to limit, enforce, and comply. So this week’s combination of Althusser, Hall and Rickert has me feeling validated in some of my seemingly cynical and jaded musings, derived in part from my own radical sensibilities and experience as one who designed/s communications (while I am no longer a corporate communicator producing professional/technical writing per se, as an academic and as a teacher I still produce and design communications — lectures, graphic organizers, syllabi, articles, presentations, prompts, etc.).

Stop repressing me! I never gave consent! Oh, but by participating in society, you did. You certainly did. Monty Python gets Althusser and Marx quite well:

Althusser’s MAIN IDEA: Ideology, not economic forces (Marx) is the ultimate power in a capitalistic society. Ideology creates subjects who submit to the state and the status quo. The state is a “machine” that represses through violence and ideology, maintaining the dominance of the ruling class. Ideology creates subjects through interpellation. Recognizing you as an individual identifies you as part of the repressive system; co-opts your identity and subjectivity. Ideology exists as a materiality.

Althusser says that “you and I are always already subjects, and as such constantly practice the rituals of ideological recognition, which guarantee for us that we are indeed concrete, individual, distinguishable and (naturally) irreplaceable subjects.” ← in other words, we seek reminders of our own existence and ways to be recognized (like in The Odyssey); ← how does this relate to larp? when we roleplay; participate for this as a player? Althusser says this act of recognition as a self, as having subjectivity, then is co-opted and constructs you as a ‘subject’ as in subjected to the ideology, to the state to the system; CLAIMING to be outside ideology only demonstrates that one is within it (“you’re drinking what they’re selling” — Cake)  → claiming to objective demonstrates one’s subjectivity (and thus  complicity with ideology whereby a privileged fiction of ‘scientific method’ or objectivity is dominant)

  • “an ideology always exists in an apparatus, and its practice, or practices. This existence is material.” ← ideology is not intangible; it has form; this form is not merely a representation, but enacts power ← consider artifacts, consider traces

How does this relate to networks? I’m thinking about being part of the network, and how Castells says that you become elided with it; your identity is bound up in it. And how once you are recognized on it, then you are now serving it. Thinking of Facebook and Twitter and Google and all the other “service for profile” companies that exploit your activity and use it to market. Or the crowdsourcing that co-opts your labor. Or the “prosumer” idea, where you both produce and consume (yourself). Or the Selfie movement, whereby you are given a way to be interpellated, and this binds you to the system.

Indeed, it certainly relates to Hall’s “Encoding, Decoding” (1980). During says in the editor’s introduction to the chapter that Hall notes that “messages have a ‘complex structure of dominance’ because at each stage they are ‘imprinted’ by institutional power-relations”  and the communication circuit is also a circuit which reproduces a pattern of domination” (477). Thus ideologies are created via discourse, with a preferred or dominant or privileged method of interpreting that seems naturalized to those receiving the information, thus reinforcing the dominant ways of knowing, being, doing.  Hall posits that discourse is  message exchange that is a process of linked articulations in five distinct moments: production, circulation, distribution, consumption, reproduction (478). At any one of these moments, as the message crosses the border from one articulation to the next, there is the opportunity for miscommunication or misinterpretation. At these gaps, the message is decoded, transformed, mediated or interpellated, and what was encoded is not guaranteed to be decoded. As meaning crosses these gaps (synaptic spaces, I say), there is opportunity for intervention from an outside (or internalized) force that causes the encoded meaning to be changed or transmuted. Receivers of the information need the receptors to accept a particular message (to continue lightly with the neuronal network metaphor), and if they cannot accept the code or the meaning, then the message goes into the void or the receptors are filled with something else, which mimics the original message but changes the meaning.

Hall hearkens back to Johnson-Eilola and his maps, noting that the representation of the product is not the product itself, what is consumed is the idea or the language about the product; this is already mitigated through the rules of the symbolic in language. Hall also debunks the notion that what is produced is free from rhetorical choices (have to say that was a “duh” moment for me, having made such rhetorical choices as a media relations/corporate communications professional). To be fair, he acknowledges that is shared fiction of objectivity that is a result of the institutions having been naturalized in our thought or an unexamined portion of the communication circuit. Hall was channeling Althusser when he says that “natural recognitions” have the “ideological effect of concealing the practices of coding which are present” (481) noting that this sense of seamlessness or transparency is simply the “fundamental alignment and reciprocity — an achieved equivalence — between the encoding and decoding sides of an exchange of meanings” (481). Indeed when this alignment happens, the message simply “feels right” or “seems true” or “fits”. It activates something other than logic; a sense of intuitiveness that itself is constructed. It allows for Truthiness:

Slight aside: Hall speaks of the linguistic sign for cow, and the iconic sign for cow and how they are referents for the thing they represent. My mind went to the time when I was in Japan and came to a restaurant and was trying to decipher the kanji to determine what sort of restaurant. (I thought of kanji because the Chinese radical system is more pictorial than phonetic). The first symbol, according to my dictionary, was “flaming” or “on fire”.  The second symbol was “cow.” It took me an interpretive moment to realize that “flaming cow” meant it was a barbecue restaurant, of the Japanese or Korean style, with strips of beef cooked on a central grill on your table (not teppanyaki). There were multiple moments where meaning could get lost in this transaction, but I successfully decoded the intended meaning that had been coded, and I took action by eating at the restaurant.

Rickert’s concept of rhetoric as taking place within an environment that affects the what/when/who/how/why of what is said is a breath of fresh air. AND has huge implications for my theoretical work with larps.


Althusser, L. (1969). Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses. Retrieved April 22, 2014, from
Castells, M. (2010). The Rise of the Network Society (Second Edition., Vols. 1-3, Vol. 1). Oxford, England: Wiley-Blackwell.
Hall, S. (1993). Encoding, Decoding. In S. During (Ed.), The Cultural Studies Reader (3rd ed., pp. 477–487). London; New York: Routledge.
Rickert, T. (2013). Ambient Rhetoric: The Attunements of Rhetorical Being (1 edition.). Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.

It’s Rhizomatically Delicious!

Ah. Deleuze and Guattari. The undoers. Undoing theory trees and dichotomous binaries everyone. Tearing apart psychoanalysis, parental hegemony, and enlightenment ethos. Laughing in the face of neatly mapped neuronal networks. Scoffing at the idea of traces as containing anything more than a fleeting moment, tracing instead anything but “meaning”. What do they offer instead? The “bible of the American dentist”, Amsterdam, a fetish with canals, in-betweens, constant change, the Kerouackian elusive search for “it”, a disdain for copses and groves of all sorts, and a predilection for “grass” and “weed”, traveling rhizomatically all across this land. Here are our intrepid superheroes, opening minds and freeing us from binary fallacies and obfuscating certainties everywhere:

Using their Rhizomatic Stare to Confound Theory Everywhere

Using their Rhizomatic Stare to Confound Theory Everywhere

Rather than a neat, western Enlightenment flow chart of activity, D-Money and G-Spot offer an “acentered system” in which “communication runs from any neighbor to any another, the stems or channels do not preexist, and all individuals are interchangeable, defined only by their state at a given moment — such that the local operations are coordinated and the final, global result synchronized without a central agency” (17). Put that in your Organizational Management pipe and smoke it! Such a “machinic multiplicity, assemblage, or society rejects any centralizing or unifying automaton as an “asocial intrusion” (17), so take your hegemonic patriarchy with you when you leave this mythical place where it doesn’t exist. Dolce & Gabbana go on to quickly remind us that such an egalitarian ethos is certainly not Western and definitively not American, in love as we are with our phalluses, trees, and generals (a “schema of aborescence corresponding to preestablished, arborified, and rooted classes” 19). However, our intrepid theorists remind us quickly that despite such codified systems of hierarchy, bureaucracy and centralized control, even in America a rhizomatic structure exists as an undercurrent, flowing underground …. which, gets transformed and appropriated and taken up by the system to create a neocapitalism which … brings us to an impasse. Uh-oh. If we have set up a binary between roots and rhizomes, then we have joined the arborescent structures we purport to dismiss. Shoot. Time for an interlude by The Talking Heads (they get it, man)

See. Life happens. Not like how you planned. And the water flows underground. Same as it ever was. Same as it will be.

Cover of Kerouac's Golden Eternity

Cover of original publication of Jack Kerouac’s The Golden Eternity, 1960. The ostensible Japanese Sumi-e looks suspiciously like a rhizome.

Now, it’s time for a quiz! Which of the following is Catholic-Buddhist, East-West spanning Jack Kerouac, and which is D&G?:

“When you’ve understood this scripture, throw it away. If you cant understand this scripture, throw it away. I insist on your freedom.”

“The problem of writing: in order to designate something exactly, anexact expressions are utterly unavoidable. … Arrive at the magic formula we all seek — PLURALISM=MONISM — via all the dualism that are the enemy, an entirely necessary enemy, the furniture we are forever rearranging” (21).


A. “This world is the movie of what everything is, it is one movie, made of the same stuff throughout, belonging to nobody, which is what everything is.”

B. “there is no dualism, no ontological dualism between here and there, no axiological dualism between good and bad, no blend or American synthesis. There are knots of arborescence in rhizomes, and rhizomatic offshoots in roots” (20).

Shoot. Yes. Offshoot. Go with it. First thought, best thought. It’s jazz. Play it and the notes become zen, baby. Blow, man, blow! Follow it to your solo. I can dig it. You’re a hepcat, man.

Beyond the abstraction that is Deleuze & Guattari, Scott demonstrates how one can concretely and mathematically map such rhizomatic growth which epitomizes modern social networking. By flattening the hierarchical structures, as Latour, Castells, and Deleuze & Guattari note in various ways, there are  no longer single structures, or even a “root” for a binary decision tree. Networking becomes more about multiple entry and exit points, a system of redundancy, and a way of anticipating user behavior, while simultaneously recognizing (and expecting) a variety of “user modifications” that augment or thwart these expectations. I think what I like about Scott is that he recognizes that the patterns do not exist in some sort of pure form waiting to be discovered and then “understood” or replicated. This is what bothered me about activity theory and CHAT. It seemed to thwart the post-modern notion of the absence of an underlying “truth” and instead search for it, Bitzer-like. If it didn’t exist, they would create it through the flow chart of “ideal” behavior, and assume it could be replicated or made even better through the intervention of rhetor-designer. I chafed against this notion for several reasons: 1. because I’m not sure such a convergent solution is either real or even desired and 2. because I am cynical about the profiteering and exploitation that can be achieved through “optimization” and homogenization. I believe strongly in equifinality: more than one way to get to the solution. I think this is why I never applied activity theory to larping, as I found the fundamental idea of trying to map a constantly changing system to be difficult, if not ludicrous.

Scott’s methods do not assume an underlying “optimal” network shape or user behavior. They recognize, as do D&G, that these networks grow rhizomatically, and loop back on themselves, moving in fits and starts, with periods of growth and dormancy, with nubs that took off in one direction then abruptly stopped, only to start again in a tenuous new direction. The resultant map is not a pure demonstration of what could/should be done, when done “right” or “well” or “efficiently”, but simply what was done. It recognizes that the map itself is a past representation, and limits what generalizations can be done from looking at it.  Playing with Scott reminded me of playing with the logic problems from the old GRE and LSAT, which used to occupy me for hours LSAT logic(and still do, sometimes, especially as a teacher). It’s looking at areas of congregation and areas where there are gaps, which to social media marketers translates to customers: where they are, and where there is potential for new ones. What I love about the SM analysis is that it doesn’t assume that the way it is today (or more accurately, the way it was yesterday, as you are always mapping what is in the past, not what is the present), is the way it will continue to be. While digital games and computer code and network theory seek to create a closed system, real life works with constant disruptions which are not necessarily aberrations or “noise” to be diminished or destroyed. These places of convergence and divergence are popularity and innovation, and they cannot be predicted (only seen in the past).  Once seen, you can design for a repeat of that behavior, but there is no guarantee that the inputs will match the outputs. In fact, they likely won’t, given the fickleness of human behavior, and the propensity, driven, I think by the internet itself, to undermine patterns for the sake of distraction, irony, or a recognition of having been co-opted, and actively resisting.

Rainie and Wellman discuss the benefits of being a networked individual, freeing us from the claustrophobia of nuclear families and the constrictions of tight-knit social groups (much like Castells discusses being freed from the contiguity of space). The rise of social networking, the internet’s ability to empower individuals, and the continual connectivity of mobile devices has brought about this networked society.

Social Capital Meme

Works Cited

Deleuze, G., Guattari, F., & more, & 0. (1987). A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. (B. Massumi, Trans.) (1 edition.). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Rainie, L., & Wellman, B. (2012). Networked: The New Social Operating System. Cambridge, Mass: The MIT Press.
Scott, J. (2012). Social Network Analysis (Third Edition edition.). Los Angeles: SAGE Publications Ltd.

Building Castells in the Air

Castells points out the dark underbelly of global networks and franchises.

Castells points out the dark underbelly of global networks and franchises.

Don’t read Manuel Castells’ The Rise of the Network Society if you’re looking for either a light read or a feel-good tome. You’ll leave with a sense of foreboding and outrage and wonderment at how he can identify such global turbulence and selfish decision-making and yet no policymaker seems to listen. I’m left wondering why he isn’t a Chief Advisor to the President, or the head of the Federal Reserve, or in some position where he can lay out the inter-relations of the various short-sighted decisions and help those with political blinders on see the big picture.

It was only a matter of time before someone exposed the dark side of networking, of how it serves neoliberal late capitalist goals, of how it is a tool to connect those with power and amplify their power, and, by the same means, disconnect, disempower and disenfranchise those who are programmed with the wrong protocol or lack the means to connect. Rather than one, happy, flattened, connected world of unprecedented opportunity and a lack of traditional hierarchy, Castells exposes an inequality of networks within networks: networks of places and networks of flows; networks of implementation and network of decision-making and innovation; cultural networks and information networks; as well as “landscapes of despair” (xxxvi), a term coined by Dear and Wolch, to indicate areas and people outside of the places of networked value creation.

Castells points out the economies of synergy, where “potential interaction with valuable partners creates the possibility of adding value as a result of the innovation generated by this interaction” (xxxvii) are what is most important in the global real-time network. Largely a recreation of the “Good Ole Boy Network” of the past, these face-to-face encounters are where the strategic plans are developed, plans are made, decisions cast, and communication systems created. What emerges from these synergistic economies are the “economies of scale” and “networks of implementation” — areas which are transformed by the “information and communication technologies” into “global assembly lines” (xxxvii). In other words, it’s still a matter of of a manufacturing economy, but the factory is a virtual one, assembled from around the world, and controlled by the panopticon of the overseer: the networked computer.  As Castells points out, this virtual board room/corporate headquarters vs. branch offices and “worker bees” is merely an extension of the old model, but one, by virtue of the global connectedness that outstrips any national laws or regulations, that wields ever more power and controls both the means of production and the livelihood of the world’s workers. Indeed, though, all is not well for those who would control the network, because, as Castells points out, though we attempt to tame the technological forces unleashed by our own ingenuity, we struggle against “our collective submission to the automaton that escaped the control of its creators” (xliii).

Information technologies have replaced work that can be “encoded in a programmable sequence” and enhanced work that requires a human brain:  “analysis, decision and reprogramming” in real time (258).  These two main types of work can be further broken down into a hierarchy of  value, innovation, task execution, and production, completed by the corresponding stratified workers:

  • Commanders: strategic decision-making and planning
  • Researchers: innovations in products and process
  • Designers: adaptation, targeting of innovation
  • Integrators: managing the relationships between the decision, innovation, design, and execution to achieve stated goals [this is where the communication function of an organization lies, I think]
  • Operators: execution of tasks according to initiative and understanding
  • Operated: execution of ancillary, preprogrammed tasks that are not automated. (259)

Furthermore, Castells delineates three fundamental groups within the networked system:

  • Networkers: who set up connections
  • Networked: who are part of the network but have no say about their position there
  • Switched-off: not connected; perform specific tasks; one-way instructions; little to no input (260)

And at the top level of the organization, Castells creates a typology of the decision-making progress:

  • Deciders: make the decision; final and ultimate call
  • Participants: give input; are involved in decision-making
  • Executants — implement decisions (but do not have say in what decision was made) (260)

These various groups become nodes in nested networks, not a flattened system, but a tree network (a tree of enunciative formation, I would argue, channeling Foucault) with a clear root and a clear structure of branching with gatekeepers at critical points. What flows across this network? Information. Information which must be communicated. Thus, the entire network is a rhetorical situation.

Decision Tree Template

This PowerPoint slide placeholder graphic is designed to enable communicators and integrators to fill in the text specific to their organization’s hierarchy. It implies a basic replicable structure that can be templated.

Castells states that “infrastructure of communication develops because there is something to communicate” (xxxvii). He calls it a “functional need” that calls into existence the infrastructure. Bitzer and Vatz would refer to this as an exigence, something that drives discourse. Networks of communication, which disseminate information according to the role one plays in the organization (see above) are dynamically created among the variable pathways that may exists. In some cases, a specific pathway or communication channel is used; in other cases, multiple channels; in still other cases, new channels and media may need to be created. The level of detail, causality, and interactivity within that communication is determined by the place on the network. Some information flows all the way through to the very end of the pathway; other information is stopped by a gatekeeper who determines “need to know” as programmed by the deciders, executors and integrators. In each case, the audience is taken into consideration, and though Castells does not directly look at this communications infrastructure as a rhetorical situation, he does talk about media as the mode of a global society.

Castells points out that the acceleration of time and exploitation made possible by the global network has annihilated our concept of time, and indeed our very humanity, causing us to live in the “ever-present world of our avatars” (xliii). We have lost a sense of past grounding and future obligation, living along the bandwidth as flickering images moving from place to place, doing the work of the machine that keeps us imprisoned. Simultaneously, we will rhetorically position ourselves as having found freedom from the constraints of our bodies and our physical limitations, not realizing that our cybernetic existence is one of less agency and greater self — and world — destruction. Castells calls this the “bipolar opposition between the Net and the self” (3). We are simultaneously created and destroyed by our interactions in the information age, which made me think about Spinuzzi’s centripetal and centrifugal forces in an organization.

I also channeled Spinuzzi with Castells’ three dimensions to define the new division of labor:

  1. First Dimension:  actual tasks in a given work process. Also called Value-Making.
  2. Second dimension: Relationship between an organization and its environment, including other organizations. Also called Relation-Making.
  3. Third Dimension: Relationship between managers and employees in a given organization or network. Also called Decision-Making. (259)

These seem to correspond in interesting ways to Spinuzzi’s Microscopic, Mesoscopic, and Macroscopic levels of activity. Interestingly, I think, Spinuzzi’s levels seem to make sense in the way a telephoto lens works: focus closely on the workers’ tasks (microscopic), zoom out to the mesoscopic to look at relationships between workers and workers within a system or network or the organization; zoom out further to the macroscopic level of strategy and organization within an industry. However, Castells puts what would be Spinuzzi’s macroscopic level as his Second Dimension, and what would be Spinuzzi’s mesoscopic level as the third dimension. I’m wondering then, if these are to be seen in the same sort of stratified or wide-shot, mid-shot, close-shot way as Spinuzzi. It suggests that the OUTSIDE influence — the organization within the larger world — is an intermediary between the actual work done and the decisions made about that work. The paradigm of internal vs. external communications, as well as the flow from worker to organization to economy is disrupted, with more importance and relevance given to the competitive, connected, global environment rather than the immediate supervisor. Decisions made internally are connected through the external world. The model would look more like the managers and employees sending information up to the cell towers and satellites and then back down to the production line, informed by outside perspective, which is subsumed somehow into the organization.

I’d like to complicate Castells’ view with two articles in the past two weeks that seem to challenge the prevailing opinion of a globalized society, asserting instead a return to hyper-localization and regionalization. I am wondering, since Castell’s theory in this book is now 15 or more years old, if the pendulum is swinging the other way, toward a renewed sense of group affiliation and identity (which may or may not be connected to a modern constructed idea of a “nation-state”).  Robert D. Kaplan, in his Time Magazine March 31, 2014 cover story “Old World Order: How geopolitics fuel endless chaos and old-school conflicts in the 21st century” reminds us that although “the West has come to think about international relations in terms of laws and multinational agreements, most of the rest of the world still thinks in terms of deserts, mountain ranges, all-weather ports and tracts of land and water” (32). He goes on to show the instability of nation-states and the importance of actual physical spaces and resources to the world’s geopolitics and economy. While this seems to support Castells’ notions of space as well as flow, the concentration of resources and talent in particular cosmopolitan mega-nodes, it also underscores the importance of tribal, local, regional and national cultural pride and identity that cannot be merely summed up in the trade of ideas and the flow of goods across a global production system. What Kaplan continues to point out is that according to privileged Western philosophers, politicians, policymakers, and businesspeople (Kaplan calls them the “global elite”), “this isn’t what the 21st century was supposed to look like” (32). We were supposed to post-physical space, post-geography, post-political power grabs for physical resources. We were supposed to be an information economy and a global production system operating on trade among stable entities. Recent changes in Ukraine, and the Arab Spring remind us that what the mind can extrapolate and theorize often does not take into account visceral and physical loyalties that may operate beyond reason and individual or communal prosperity.

A week later, Rana Foroohar, in “Globalization in Reverse: What the global trade slowdown means for growth in the US — and abroad”, posits that many economists and trade experts are talking about “a new era of deglobalization, during which countries turn inward” (28). If this trend continues, then “markets, which had more or less converged for the past 30 years, will start diverging along national and sectoral lines” (28). While Castells discussed the convergence of the markets, there appears to be a counter movement, according to some, that would dismantle that synergy and supposed “free movement of goods, people and money across borders” (28). Personally, I do not believe that this means the end of the network society, only that the configuration of the network will change again, with a movement to more unique protocols for individual networks, attempting to communicate with a global mega-network. Rather than considering there to be a unified global economy or a “world-wide web”, there may indeed be more of a multiverse model, with pockets of independent development that coexist, and pathways must be set up to port between them.

Works Cited

Castells, Manuel. The Rise of the Network Society. Second Edition. Vol. 1. Oxford, England: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010. Print. 3 vols. The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture.
Foroohar, Rana. “Globalization in Reverse | TIME.” Web. 8 Apr. 2014.
Kaplan, Robert D. “Geopolitics and the New World Order | TIME.” Web. 8 Apr. 2014.

Pictures used

Decision Tree.

Welcome to the Dark Side.

Crossing the Nodes of Ranvier

There were many things that struck me as I read through the Neurobiology textbook and related the physical and electrical structures and impulses of the brain to our other readings on computer networking, ecosystems, and the rhetorical situation. Most importantly, unlike a computer system, the brain is constantly adjusting according to a symbiotic feedback loop between the organism and its environment. It is far more complex than a computer system that uses binary logic to make decisions between inputs. In the brain, whose model is no longer thought of as a computer network or system of file drawers, the neuro-plasticity lasts a lifetime, and the experiences of the organism have a real physical impact on the network of neurons, which in turn governs memory, learning, thought, and systems. The movement of electrical impulses — action potentials — through the network physically changes the cell structures. The transmission itself actualizes the potential and creates the capacity for future transmission.

I was immediately struck by the language used by the researchers that mimics communication and rhetoric: neurons communicate constantly, they can listen and speak at the same time. In the computer networking materials I read at the beginning of the semester, this dual capacity was spoken of as something that evolved in networking: originally the cabling only allowed for taking turns — a node had to listen and receive before it could speak — but the development of fiber-optic cabling allowed for parallel pathways of outgoing and incoming information, what was described as listening and speaking. But the brain is different, and here I’m thinking of Latour’s concept of intermediary vs. mediator. In a computer network, the information is relayed without change, although it could be amplified by a particular node to have a larger reach. In the brain, the information is transformative as it moves along the network of neurons. In a computer network, packets of information are bundled and labeled for a particular recipient that takes a predetermined action. In the brain, the neurotransmitters mediate between the pre-synaptic and post-synaptic terminals, effecting change as a result of their interaction. This change is not merely for the current transmission, but it creates the possibility for future transmissions, strengthening and building a pattern. In this sense the movement itself creates the pathways, inscribing the network. The brain controls behavior and behavior makes the brain. They are in a co-creative loop that sets up the potentials for the next scenario encountered.

The relationship between the regulChiquita-DM2-minion-banana-1ation of potassium and sodium drives the movement of these electrical impulses, which were termed “action potential” down the neuron.  I began to wonder if my 9 p.m. salt cravings have to do with sustaining mental energy and concentration. Then I ate a big bowl of popcorn and figured I should get a banana.

As the scientists discussed the brain as being a link between the outside world and regulated internal behavior, I started thinking about the brain as a boundary object. I also started thinking about it as an ecosystem on the forage- eat- poop loop. The brain takes in information, processes it, then makes outputs. It is its own system, within the system of the body, in constant interface with external systems. I became consumed with the thought of the brain as a rhetor, and the action inside the brain as mimicking the movement in a rhetorical situation. The pre-synaptic terminals as the rhetor, the audience as the post-synaptic terminals, and the discourse or message traveling across the synapse via a medium — a selected and appropriate neurotransmitter. The magic happens in the exchange, where, based on the intensity of the message, the receptors can be “keyed up” or stimulated in such a way that they repeat or escalate the message, depending on how it is interpreted. One neuron firing — one instance of discourse — can cause a single other neuron to fire or thousands of them.

As the chapter discussed the movement of the electrical impulses along the Sheaths of Myelin covering the neurons, jumping tiny gaps called the Nodes of Ranvier, I was envisioning a Rider of Rohan galloping along, the ground lightingRohan Rider charging up under the horse’s feet,  jumping the ravines (synapses) to continue to relay the message. (Must have been the word “Ranvier” that put me into the fantasy realm of Dagohir or Isengard).

There is fruit to this notion of an impulse being an “action potential” in the network, and to the idea of vescicles holding a variety of (genre) neurotransmitters, waiting for a particular exigence that would allow them to be deployed. There is also fruit to the idea that the post-synaptic receptors are predisposed to accept particular neurotransmitters, but that this can be altered by changing the strength and type of the action potential signal. The imbalance of sodium and potassium creates “membrane potential” which cannot reach stasis — an inside/outside imbalance is necessary for the communication to take place. These ideas bring me back to discussions about the rhetorical situation, which is predicated on tension and creating an opening to receive the message.

I have not gotten as far as I should have in the Castells reading. It is fascinating! Castells notion of  simultaneous communication networks that are more than mere “horizontal” and “vertical” but a convergence of autonomous content creation that he terms “mass self-communication” (xxx) is amazing. This jives with the notion of the brain creating and reinforcing the pathways and potentialities. Castells says that communication (discourse?) is “self-generated in content, self-directed in emission, and self-selected in reception” (xxx) and distributed in a many-t0-many multimodal model. So individuals are the creators and they create the collective perception and reality that is a conglomerate of individual perceptions and affected by the messages they come in contact with.  The question is, how do people come together as communities? How do they find commonality among their individual experiences and interpretations? Is there a way for the network to unite the fragmented post-modern society?


Annenberg Learner. “Unit 10: Neurobiology.” Rediscovering Biology. 2014. Web. 31 March 2014.

Castells, Manuel. The Rise of the Network Society. Second Edition. Vol. 1. Oxford, England: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010. Print. 3 vols. The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture.


Minion Loves Bananas:

Rohan Rider:

They are not eclogues. They are ecologies.

* The title refers to my misreading of the title of Guattari’s book multiple times on my bookshelf, so many times, in fact, that my brain has inscribed it as The Three Eclogues. He can sit next to Virgil on my shelf.  One meaning of eclogue is a “draft” or a “reckoning” so perhaps I’m not too far off, at least in terms of this post, or of a theory of composition.

So, I’m picking and choosing and synthesizing among this week’s reading about ecologies and ecosystems. Some of the texts are explained literally in terms of eating and pooping, and while that is interesting (as is the rate at which the speaker speaks in the video posted … wow. Can’t read a teleprompter that fast, can you? It must be accelerated in post-production … reminds me of my favorite YouTube channel, PBS’s IdeaChannel, but he also talks fast, so maybe this is a post-modern ethos and we really can listen and absorb that quickly, which makes me think about those speed-reading programs (like Spritz) that purport to elevate your reading speed to more than 500 words per minute by lining up the words, one at a time, at the optimal recognition point , which I would like to be able to use for this week’s reading, which seems excessive, but possibly I’m just jaded after finishing a case study and last week’s asynchronous work, as well as being tired after attending a conference and being behind on … well…. life**), I’m more interested in the metaphoric application of an ecosystem to my object of study, or to writing, as Peg Syverson does in her book, The Wealth of Reality.

**Did you read the parenthetical maroon textreally quickly, staccato-style, imagining quick edits and zooms? It was intended that way.

Anyway, Guattari, the Cary Institute and the Ecological Ecosystems Crash Course are all talking about webs of interdependencies of multi-variate organisms co-existing in nested complex systems that together, create an über-ecosystem we might call “life on earth.” Ecosystems are ways to explain things that are dynamic, in a state of flux, and whose outcomes/outputs cannot be fully predicted mechanically (or, I would add, computationally or logarithmically, even as our AI gets ever more complex and interwoven into the system). An ecosystem’s concern with distribution, flux, exchange, and transformation by invested adaptable members who are co-creating the system makes sense to view as a network, at least a very complex one, such as my object of study, larp. Computer networking and encoding seems to be to take as its object a replication of such natural world complexities and systems, in an effort to more closely map and mimic (and plan and influence) our quotidien life. Indeed, members of an ecosystem appear to continually assess its affordances and constraints, with their own survival and needs as paramount.

Excerpted takeaways from ecological ecosystems readings:

  • An ecosystem is composed of biotic and abiotic members (compare to actors/actants in ANT?)
  • An ecosystem has blurry boundaries (fuzzy gradients that bleed) and flexible dimensions, depending on what you are hoping to see (your research question, perhaps?)
  • The story of the source and transference of energy is the story of the ecosystem
  • Ecosystems can be measured in terms of their abundances and their efficiencies.
  • What began as a study in the hard sciences and is most commonly used in mass media to refer to environmental studies, has moved into nearly all disciplines, with analogies for “artificial” and “constructed” environments such as organizations (and games!)
  • Ecologies promote synthesis and integration, rather than fragmentation (Cary Institute); an ecologist is a “synthesis scientist” (Spellman). In fact, Spellman weaves in and among literature, poetry, art, parables, government statistics, and scientific inquiry to illuminate the concept of ecology; his chapters themselves are ecologies of texts.
  • Ecology [like rhetoric] has its roots in ancient Greek philosophy and the founding of the Western Tradition, fell out of fashion, and had a resurgence with the Enlightenment focus on scientific inquiry in the 18th century. The word “ecosystem” is more modern, coined in 1935 by Brit Arthur Tansley and adopted by Eugene Odum, the “father of modern ecosystem ecology” (Spellman 12-13).
  • Ecologies are fundamentally concerned with what is produced, consumed, and wasted. Another way of saying this is what is created, transformed, and dissolved.
  • Ecologies are fundamentally dynamic networks in that they exist only in the relationships, in the movement among the nodes, which operates according to protocols unique to each member, but translated into a working, mutually beneficial partnership.
  • Odum refers to an organism’s niche (which hearkens back to the affordances reading of Gibson) as its “profession” (Spellman 15) which has interesting rhetorical implications related to “job” and “work” and “membership” that might be fun to unpack later.

Clip from Spellman article re: homeostasis

  • Spellman says that homeostasis is a prerequisite for an ecosystem to exist, but Syverson problematizes this to a post-modern sense of stability as existing in a particular temporo-spatial reality and according to prevailing exigence (rather than as a stable “unity” without the system itself).
  • Ecosystems are comprised of nested levels of ever-more-complex members; here is one (though not all-compassing) explanation by Odum (as illustrated in Spellman): Screenshot 2014-03-25 14.36.00
  • Guattari defines three ecologies: the environment (or nature), social relations and human subjectivity (mental) and posits that they make up an ecosophy, or an interconnected network. Only by looking at all three, can we have any effect on the environment proper or enact a holistic methodology (24).

Guattari’s notion of combining levels of ecologies to include attitudes and beliefs and social dynamics, rather than mere material goods is very useful when looking at rhetoric, which seeks to change such beliefs in order to change behavior. I’m beginning to wonder if the three ecologies can comprise the rhetorical triangle, or a kind of three dimensional rhetorical situation, whereby action in one ecology crosses into another (the effect on the situation). Calling it an ecoSOPHY puts more emphasis on the knowing, and the wisdom, the “house-wisdom”, or the idea of, perhaps, the confluence of ontology and epistemology that becomes “common knowledge” or “conventional wisdom”, which can be the hardest to defeat in an argument.

The thought of an interconnected network of ecologies operating on the physical, mental, and social level … well, this larp walked into a bar …

 AND …. I now have my Case Study #3: an analysis of the affordances and constraints of the American Freeform Larp, Play With Intents techniques in creating the ecological ecosystem of its larp.

Can I just say how much I enjoyed Syverson? Want to read that whole book. When the Doctor picks me up in his Tardis and takes me to the future, that is.


“Definition of Ecology.” Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies. N. p., n.d. Web. 24 Mar. 2014.
Ecosystem Ecology: Links in the Chain – Crash Course Ecology #7. CrashCourse, 2012. Film.

Flower of Life 61 circles. Wikimedia Commons. Licensed Creative Commons Reuse.

Guattari, Félix. The three ecologies. London: Continuum, 2008. Print.
Spellman, Frank R. Ecology for Nonecologists. Lanham, Md.: Government Institutes, 2008. Print.
Syverson, Margaret A. The Wealth of Reality: An Ecology of Composition. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1999. Print.

Featured Image: A form of the “Flower of Life” hexagonal pattern (where the center of each circle is on the circumference of six surrounding circles of the same diameter) made up of 61 complete circles (making clear the way in which the pattern is constructed). Since only complete circles are used, the full pattern is only visible towards the center of the diagram.

This is your brain. This is your brain on drugs. Your brain is not yours. You just *think* it is.

JJ Gibson’s “Theory of Affordances” set off waves of thought for me in terms of my object of study, Live-Action Role-Playing games. In 1977, Gibson revolutionized the field of evolutionary psychology and systems theory by making up the word “affordance” to explain what something (an object, an environment) offers to an individual. (127). It is a theory that situates itself not in the physical properties of an object, but in the perception of it.  Affordances are measured in relationship to the subject doing the perception. The more complex the object and the subject, the more complex the set of affordances, which, Gibson notes, are perceived primarily through optical and sensory information (128). Gibson further defines a niche as a set of such affordances, and he problematizes the subjective-objective dichotomy of thought prevalent in the social sciences vs. the sciences. Affordances, he states, cut across this constructed border and demonstrate its limitations. Affordances exist in the relationship between the object and the user doing the perceiving.

This then relates to Bateson, whose theory is about the reality of perception, and how what one perceives becomes what is true, real, possible.  This, in turn, leads to Norman, who states that Gibson’s affordance really is a “perceived affordance”; if a user perceives something is possible, then it is possible, if s/he perceives it is not possible, then it is not possible. This is regardless to whether it actually is possible with the object at hand. An affordance isn’t an affordance unless it is perceived by the would-be user.

When reading Gibson, I had some ideas about the dangers of perceiving objects solely in terms of WIIFM, “what can be done with it, what it is good for, its utility” (129). This narrow perception can lead to a Benthamite fetishization of utility, and a late-capitalist concern about commodification.

Bateson says that what we perceive is difference (differance?), patterns and ways one thing is not like another. To me that means that our perception creates discourse; discourse is created as a result of perceived difference, of some sort of chasm to cross or something to bridge via language. Perception then, creates the exigence for the rhetorical situation. A rhetor perceives, and interprets, and as Bateson notes, his perception is real and personal, and not absolute. As Gibson notes, what the rhetor perceives are affordances, ways to obtain something from the object or situation, which speaks to Bitzer’s goal-oriented communication, and even to Bazerman’s genres. This perception of “Certain facts” distilled from an object (Bateson 459) is what Bateson calls the extrapolation of information. A rhetorical situation then, affords information. What information is extrapolated and acted upon, then depends on what the rhetor perceives.  The discourse that is created then travels along pathways and is “energized at every step by the metabolic energy latent in the protoplasm which receives the difference, recreates or transforms it, and passes it on” (Bateson 459). This relates to the rhetorical situation in that we are measuring the effect on the audience. Furthermore, the perceiver/rhetor, in Bateson’s analogy, adds energy to the object and recreates it into the map of it, into something other than its physical properties. In this way, it resembles the idea of a mediator (rather than an intermediary) from Actor Network Theory.

Bateson quotes Jung, who says that “as a difference is transformed and propagated along its pathway, the embodiment of the difference before the step is a “territory” of which the embodiment after the step is a “map.” The map-territory relation obtains at every step” (461). To me, this is demonstrating the iterative nature of the interpretation; as the information is mediated along the pathway from physical object to perceived object, it ceases to be the object itself, but a representation of it, colored by the available information and perceived affordances of the person doing the perceiving. Remembering the object then is an image of the represented image, and further removed from the original object. Any “phenomena” is “appearance”, Bateson says. In other words, all of the world is rhetorically constructed by the seer, who perceives it.

 little-thor Bateson’s comments about “immanence and transcendence” (467) are making me think about whether they can be used to express the classic_thor_by_lostonwallace-d4xn712[1]dual consciousness of the player-character during a role-playing game. The player is, simultaneously, him/herself, and the character. The player is the immanence, physically in the world with the other players and symbolic objects, but the player becomes transcendence by being more thanThor_Avengers2

themselves, by entering the imaginative space of the game. If I am Thor, I am myself playing Thor, the character Thor, all Thors before me – representations that are both there and not there, here and beyond, all working together to recreate, remediate and present “Thor.” When Bateson discusses the “false reifications of the ‘self’ Thor-female-13and separations between the ‘self’ and experience’ I am transported to the notion that live-action role-playing is unmediated space; that the self and the experience are one. The play exists in a co-created imaginative space that is experienced through the body; the mind/body split is reconstituted as player.

Bateson says:

“it is the attempt to separate intellect from emotion that is monstrous, and I suggest that it is equally monstrous – and dangerous—to attempt to separate the external mind from the internal. Or to separate the mind from body” (470).

This fetishization of “pure mind” is the idealistic focus of Enlightenment thinking and cybernetic theory, commonly embodied in the person of a digital avatar. Yet in larp, which is face-to-face interaction unmediated by technology, people are liberated by the concept of imagination – of the alibi of portraying a character — that lets them have emotional and embodied experiences in interaction with others in a shared relational ecosystem. There is not difference in perception between character and player in these scenarios. If it is happening to the character, it is happening to the player, whose body is at risk, and whose bodily reactions perceive no intellectual distance between the constructed character and the player portraying. We constitute the reality of the game by “information processing, i.e. by thought” (Bateson 471). As Gibson says, what we perceive is an “ambient optic array” that “at any fixed point of observation some parts of the environment are revealed and the remaining parts are concealed” (136). A larp is only constructed by the person playing it, and one person’s diegesis will be unlike another’s. No one, not even the Game Master or Story Teller ever has all of the information; thus all reality is based on what the player perceives and interprets. Information may exist, a secret may lie latent, but it does not “mean” or “matter” or “exist” in the sense of being perceived as something that can be acted upon until it is seen or heard, and thus brought into the mind of the player and the diegesis of the game.

Gibson’s use of the biological term proprioception is fruitful in looking at larp. The notion that “to perceive the world is to coperceive oneself” is a theory of how interactive role play and world building happens, dynamically in the larp. The character is iteratively constructed in relation to his/her environment and to other characters. Gibson goes on to say something that I think can be very useful in studying larps: “Only when a child perceives the values of things for others as well as for herself does she begin to be socialized” (139). This seems to refer to a kind of shared empathy, that is fundamental to the kind of collaborative interactive play that is a larp. Call it the “empathy bump” or “alteric escalation”, if you will. When you realize, as a player, that your experience will be all the richer if you play in such a way as to enrich the experiences of others, then you have a social realm. A network is created by this sort of social contract that recognizes (perceives) the self in relation to others and the affordances of the game as being collaborative and shared. The game exists as a set of affordances in the relationship of the players to the environment and the information.  A kind of discursive community, a rhetorical triangle (player – environment – information) is created, and through the act of speaking, the reality is created and perceived.

I’m also tossing around this idea that the more divergent the thinking of the perceiver, the greater the number of affordances will be perceived. Thus, the boundaries of possibility – in short, the reality – of something who thinks divergently is much richer than that of someone who thinks convergently. This has implications for the discourse produced. In the case of larps, this affects the outcome of the game, which is only confined to what the player believes is possible for his character within the constraints of the game world and its mechanics.

Works Cited

Bateson, Gregory. “Form, Substance, and Difference” Steps to an Ecology of Mind: Collected Essays in Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution, and Epistemology. 454-471. Print.

Gibson, James J. “A Theory of Affordances. An Ecological Approach to Visual Perception. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. 1979. 127-139. Print.

Norman, Don. “Don Norman’s / Affordances and Design.” N. p., n.d. Web. 20 Mar. 2014.


Avengers 2 Thor.

Classic Cartoon Thor.

Female Thor.

Little Thor.

Lalalala Tour d’ANT – Feat. Bruno L. and Clay S.

Latour loves the metaphor of the ant — small, seemingly insignificant, myopic. And he takes it as an apt description of his much confused and maligned “theoretical” approach: Actor-Network Theory. Latour says there is nothing wrong with the term except the word “actor” and “network” and “theory” and the hyphen in between. He proposes more of an anti-theory of work-nets traveled by actants — a redefinition of what is described and how it is described. He wishes not to be boxed or contextualized or constructed in terms of others, as that is against the project itself. But it must be called something, so the insignificant ant, which becomes significant through its interactions with other ants, is an appropriate metaphor he embraces. So Latour wouldn’t study the ants themselves, but the paths they travel, the connections they make, the traces they leave, the relationships they foster. But then, how is that different than activity theory, which does a similar project, mapping the movement to various levels of interaction?

Actor-Network Theory is Activity Theory gone meta, with a side of snark.  Unlike Activity Theory, ANT does not propose to create a  model or accept any fixed stabilities (an infiltration of other French philosophers — looking at you, Foucault and Derrida). Latour says, “ANT claims that it is possible to trace more sturdy relations and discover more revealing patterns by finding a way to register the links between unstable and shifting frames of reference rather than trying to keep one frame stable” (24). In other words, we can learn more by not trying to arbitrarily stop the motion that is “society” and to “solve” the controversies or “resolve” the tensions that create it. An analyst imposing such structures from the outside, or for some political agenda or “social engineering” necessarily changes those s/he is studying, in ways that can approach the kind of paternalistic “designer-as-hero” narrative that Spinuzzi rails against. ANT attempts to allow the actors to be free to “deploy the full incommensurability of their own world-making activities” (24) and for the analyst to never explain or theorize, but only to faithfully describe in ever greater detail. An accurate description requires no explanation, Latour says, and scholars become stymied at their sense of lost importance. If one doesn’t apply a theory, categorize a phenomenon, reason from the theoretical to the practical or from the case study to the generalizable, then what do we do? What importance can we have? How do we “make a difference?”

ANT attempts to make the invisible visible, as does activity theory, but a fundamental difference is in what each theory takes as its nodes/objects. In activity theory, there must be a “thing” — an artifact, an interface, an object, a person, a structure. And by observing the interactions of these structures, the analysts determine the “how” and the “why” and deduce patterns and opportunities for optimization. Spinuzzi says activity theory a theory of “distributed cognition” (which smacks to me as a fragmented unity, with the assumption that there is such a stable unity), while ANT is an “ontology — an account of existence” (62).  Spinuzzi notes that both theories are intersecting in work organization, which is interesting, but not surprising as ANT accounts for the movements of “everyday life”, which work (a hierarchical organized system) has now become an inextricable part of. What interests me most about ANT is that it attempts to account for the truly invisible and intangible actors — beliefs and knowledge — that affect the interactions that produce activity, perception, and reality of the actors.

Latour says that the fundamental problem with other sociological theories is an assumption that there is “something else” behind observed interactions (they tautologically and reflexively call this the “social” or “society”), that the movement “from the local to the global and from the macro back to the micro” must be “the shadow image of some entirely different phenomenon” (171) that is theirs to unpack and reveal. I am struck here about how this may/may not play into Platonic thought (which Latour briefly addresses) as well as Jungian shadow theory. I don’t have time to ruminate about this now, but that is going to stick around for a bit. Can the two be reconciled or made to communicate? Anyway, Latour advocates removing this artificial notion of a third dimension called “the social” and flattening interaction to two dimensions. We should not seek to add a layer (a lamination??) to try to understand these phenomenon. Removing these “crinkles” in the 3D map and “ironing” it out on the table removes context and allows us to see what is happening. In addition, we have to give credit to the actors as being mediators and not intermediaries. They are not merely repeating or transporting knowledge and beliefs, but transforming them as they interact. Themselves. Too often, theorists add a “frame[work]” that, as Latour says, does not explain or add to the painting at all.

Money concept: there is no individual and society existing as separate entities, one within the other or ranking above/below the other. Individual/society are two sides of the same coin, two ways of explaining the same thing. They are actor-network, with the hyphen showing how they are one concept, together.

I’m curious about how ANT relates to rhetorical situation. It seems that the response created by the exigence of the situation — and even the interpretation that there is a situation — would be the sort of presumed panoptical megalomania that Latour attempts to break down, in favor of a more narrow oligoptical view that “pins down” reality to a flattened map of interactions. As Vatz noted, a situation is interpreted by the rhetor, who gives it context from previous similar situations, and responds with speech acts that meet

Spinning yin yang symbol

A moving construction of society is represented by this spinning yin/yang symbol. It isn’t quite right, though, because the Eastern conception of yin/yang is more a swirl, with the black and the white in movement with each other, sometimes more of one, not a false equality like it is usually drawn.

expectations and align with goals. ANT would not, I think, allow for the primacy of the “situation” as an exigence. ANT would map the interactions and expectations without trying to understand why choices were made, only that they were made by the particular actor-network of that moment. The choices made become the movements to study, and the rhetor holds no more importance than others in the interactions.  Latour would definitely, I think, not allow Bitzer, because in ANT something such as a “situation” as existing to be discovered by the rhetor does not exist. What exists are webs of relations that dynamically and continuously co-create generate the social and natural world we inhabit.

I place the yin/yang symbol here because I think there may be a useful way to try to approach some of this discussion from a more Eastern (vs. Western) philosophical perspective. The Chinese symbol of yin/yang, imagined as a holistic entity divided into two halves that represent binaries — male/female, dark/light, good/bad, day/night, etc. However, the binaries are not strict–there is dark in the light and light in the dark. Nothing is all one or the other, and BOTH must exist simultaneously to have reality, balance, life, existence.  The Cartesian mind/body split has further entrenched our notion of difference, that is recognized, but not divided in Eastern thought. A picture of yin/yang is never recognized to BE yin/yang, only something like a freeze-frame of a video. A capture of a specific moment in time, and the way the swirls were at moment. As soon as it was captured, it was lost, and if we were to build theories upon that observation at that moment, we would be incorrect. That seems to be part of what Latour is trying to say, although with considerably more pomposity and derision of those who disagree with him.


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.
  • “Denslow’s Humpty Dumpty” Licensed for reuse. 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 Licensed as usage. Web. 24 Feb. 2014.