Exigence(s) for the diss

The more I talk about the minor exam with folks in my program, the better I understand how it can lay important groundwork for the dissertation. Although the goal is to produce an annotated bib and publishable article by the end of the year (at the latest!), it’s clear that these can feed at least two chapters of the diss. Needless to say, and as I mentioned last week, this is an exciting and terrifying time, knowing the weight of these choices for future work and scholarly identity. The rub at the moment has to do with considering the exigence of my work. Why exactly would this dissertation matter? Or perhaps, how could it matter? I have a rich, multimodal site worth pursuing, but the exigence and questions for that study are a bit hazy. One faculty member advised me to reflect upon what bothers me about the field and start there. When I do, I think about a few things.

First, I think about the need to explore literacy and writing as an ongoing and complex process — as networked, multimodal, and difficult to predict. We have many theories and tools in place for these conceptions of literacy, but virtually no RAD writing studies of amateur writing cultures doing it. Moreover, like Jody Shipka, I’m bothered by the tendency in the field to equate “technology” with the digital. More explicitly, I wonder how “old media” and its meanings/uses get altered through a particular new media lens. How do codes and spatial templates, for example, constrict the possibilities of form? How do digital technologies assist — as well as limit — the circulation of writing? Again, zine communities, which embrace a variety of modes for production and distribution, provide an interesting space for learning the nuances of our writing tools.

Second, I wonder if we overdetermine our pedagogies; that is, in pursuit of our own relevance/professionalism, we place too much emphasis on curriculum, assessment, and instruction. As a ex-writing center director and continuing consultant and teacher I’ve been more attracted to true studio models of writing, where teachers/consultants create or restrict the conditions for various attempts at writing, but do not micromanage the interactions. How might a more responsive, ongoing syllabi, where readings are curated by students and occasions for writing/heuristics are co-constructed (to give a few examples), open up some of the possibilities for learning? My sense is that zine makers — as self-organizing communities — have a lot to teach us about the autodidactic functions of literacy.

Finally, for many years, when it comes to the way writing works more generally, I’ve been struck by ongoing tensions between structure and agency. That is, I wonder when or in what ways is writing the product of sociocultural forces and when is it the act of our own choosing. In what cases are those acts of our own choosing actually the product of structuring forces? Here I am drawn to the work of Marilyn Cooper, Deb Brandt, Berkenkotter and Huckin, and the theories of Pierre Bourdieu.

Taken together, I imagine a diss that studies the various spaces and moments of zine-making —  individual composers cutting and pasting in their rooms, writers and presses trading at zine fests, and interactions on online spaces like We Make Zines — to consider what a DIY praxis or self-sponsorship might teach us about multimodal composing and pedagogy. Two or the more compelling questions for me include: Why print and why now? What are the affordances of the medium in an era of Tumblr or Twitter? Secondly, how do self-sponsored zine-makers develop and learn multiple literacies? How can these be traced at the level of composition, production, and circulation?

The only problem with this approach is that I don’t quite trust it — yet. That is, depending on what I’m reading, or who I’m talking with, these problems/questions shift. At the same time, this might not be as much of a problem as it feels like at the moment and that these shifts are important for winnowing toward a more consistent prospectus. To come to terms with this, I’m planning to take the approach that another faculty member suggested: to write dissertation chapter maps every few days. That is, spend an hour or so summarizing what I imagine a chapter looking like and to try and generate as many of these as possible as I read through my exam bib. It’s difficult to know what a map might look like before the thing is written, but if I understand this properly, I need to be reading for potential ideas for setting up my study. I’ll start with Shipka’s Toward a Composition Made Whole. More soon…


Cintron’s Angels Town

This week in my advanced methods course we read the first 4 chapters from Angels Town: Chero Ways, Gang Life, and the Rhetorics of Everyday (1998) by Ralph Cintron. Though I hadn’t heard of Cintron before this semester, I’ve been anticipating this book since the syllabus was distributed in January because (1) we’re breaking it up over two weeks of the semester and (2) other members of the program have lauded it in passing. Obviously the book carries some weight. So what is that weight?

What’s striking right from the preface is Cintron’s reflexivity. Cintron combines critical ethnography with rhetorical theory to provide a thick portrait of a Latino/a neighborhood in Chicago and extends that portrait to a larger commentary on the relationship between representation, power and language in everyday life (note to self: read de Certeau). As he notes early in the preface, “one of the book’s controlling questions is How does one create respect under conditions of little or no respect?” (x). He admits the problem in answering this question, reducing the method of fieldwork to “the difficulty of finding the truth inside the lie, the lie inside the truth” (xiii).

Cintron spends the first chapter examining this problems of ethnography and representation by recalling his own background as the son of a Texas farmer, defining the true field site as the text that is constructed by the ethnographer, analyzing the power of the researcher through the interplay of ethos and logos, etc. But what struck me most about the intro is its inductive approach. When Cintron narrates his data-collecting process — 300 pages of notes, 91 tapes, 100+ documents in one round and then a slew more in yet another round years later — and then we see how he arranges that data by navigating specific moments with Don Angel, Valerio, and others alongside his own interpretations, I get the sense of how messy and chaotic this project must have been. Although Cintron isn’t always explicit in connecting his dots, the reader certainly benefits from what must have been a rigorous revision process.

A couple of questions for me as I read through these chapters:

  • Last week as we read and discussed an anthropology of writing (AOW), we heard perspectives about how an AOW studies so-called mundane sites like the workplace; this is different from ethnographers of the early and mid 20th century who studied othered, exotic sites and cultures. In chapter 2 of Angel Town, Cintron take up the question of romanticizing the subject: “For those who read and write ethnographies, the fieldsite is an ethnographic trope that generates both the spell of the exotic (romance) and resistance (science) to that spell” (16). Cintron tries to address this contradiction by studying a mundane map of Angeltown that “deflates the exotic and, in so doing, amplifies it” (16). As a researcher interested in studying a site that has shaped my own identity (self-publishing) I worry that I might fall prey to the romance Cintron evokes in this chapter. When we study material and subjects near and dear to us, then, how do we balance the romantic with the scientific? Does Cintron succeed in chapter 2 and throughout Angels Town?
  • A CCC review of Angels Town called my attention to Cintron’s move to construct metaphors from his data. This made sense to me given the inductiveness of his project. But is his reading of data too figurative? That is, does he ever make too much of certain details (his reading of Valerio’s obsession of cars, for instance)? Is his rhetorical reading of certain instances of everyday life in Angeltown paradoxically too sweeping?
  • Finally, given that Cintron’s fieldwork is now 20-25 years old, how might our privilege of distance help us assess the significance of this work in terms of cultural anthropology and writing studies? What do we need to take from this for our own work, and what needs to be left alone?

Ethics and Ethnography


This week I’ve been knee-deep in ethnographic studies, compiling a bibliography on zines and self-sponsored writing. Depending on how you define ethnography, I’ve been hard-pressed to find any other method at work except historical analysis. Granted, some of these studies are more empirical than others, but pretty much every one of them has used a combination of textual analysis, interview, and observation (with some more emic in their perspective than others). Interestingly, in the intro to one of the least transparent studies (yet unarguably the most influential), Notes From Underground (1997), Stephen Duncombe illustrates “the anxiety of authority” that Patricia Sullivan identifies in “Ethnography and the Problem of the ‘Other'”:

Still others will be disappointed that I’ve written a book on zines at all. Isn’t this just another exploitation of zines, “selling out” the underground to the above-ground world? Perhaps. But alternative culture has already been discovered — the more important question is who will represent it and how. The ways in which I explore and explain the world of zines certainly bear the mark of my theoretical interests and political concerns, but I’m of the world I write and my concern for the underground runs deeper than its status as this (or last) season’s cultural exotica. More important, I’m a conscientious observer and a careful listener. And I believe that what zinesters have to say and what zines represent are too important to stay sequestered within the walls of a subcultural ghetto. (20)

Duncombe justifies his ethics by adopting the emic perspective of charitable participant-observer. And yet at the end of Notes he argues that as long as zines cling to a negative identity — an identity always at odds with but also attached to a dominant consumer culture — they will be politically ineffective. In fact, in a new afterward for the 2nd edition (2008) he accuses print zines of being little more than “an exercise in nostalgia,” characterizing zines as a bohemic ghetto (212). Of course Duncombe also lauds zines throughout Notes, but readers are left wondering how zinesters themselves — especially the thousands who still practice zine-ing — feel about this characterization of them.

Perhaps an even more problematic example is Fanzines (2010) by Teal Triggs, who has been accused of printing zine covers without the permission of the authors or barely dialoging with her research subjects at all, a problem that led her to get several facts wrong in her book. While Triggs employs a purely historical/textual analysis in Fanzines, if the accusations are true, this is not only a legal issue for the zine community, but an ethical one that puts folks like me — potential researchers of zine communities — on notice. At the very least, perception is reality and zinesters have good reason to doubt the intentions of academics who are interested in speaking for them. Luckily, as Janice Radway has recently argued, many zinesters are also academics and librarians (like Jerianne at Underground Press) so they’re not completely divided communities.

In any case, the ethics of ethnographers are taken up by several readings this week and I’d like to focus on two widely cited essays in particular from Ethics and Representation in Qualitative Studies of Literacy (1996): Tom Newkirk’s “Seduction and Betrayal in Qualitative Research” and Patricia Sullivan’s “Ethnography and the Problem of the ‘Other.'” Both advocate for a more critical understanding of ethnography, especially those that “study down” (e.g. examine the literate practices of those with less power), but represent slightly incompatible views of how to mitigate the ethical problems such qualitative work engenders.

For Newkirk, the problem is informed consent: how to make research subjects aware that the information they provide could render them negatively — as racist teachers, bourgeois professionals, or unethical citizens. For Sullivan, a research project should “ultimately aim to benefit those whose voices, texts, and circumstances make [our] understanding possible” (98). For Newkirk, ethnography should allow for (and probably require) some bad news; Sullivan, on the other hand, is less comfortable with those conclusions, seeking to not just inform subjects of their representation, but to include them in actively constructing it. For Sullivan, self-reflexivity — “the explicit rendering of one’s own theoretical and political assumptions and beliefs as well as one’s experiences and emotions in the process of fieldwork — isn’t enough. Power-sharing discourse should be present throughout the research process where, “[p]articipants are involved in framing research questions, collecting and interpreting data, commenting on, and sometimes in, the final text” (109).

This is perhaps where Sullivan and Newkirk are incompatible. While Newkirk argues for dialogue with participants within the process — especially with the consent agreement and “interpretation of problematical situations” during data gathering. Sullivan, though, would give participants more agency than this, involving them from the get-go when framing research questions and deciding which data is relevant data. I wonder, though, if Sullivan is painting too idealistic a picture of the research process. I wonder this partially because I can’t imagine wandering into a zine convention on onto an online zine community and asking them what questions should be asked. I’d receive empty looks or snide rebuttals. After all, if I don’t know what I’m looking for, then why am at that site.

One study I’ve encountered through my  bib that does emulate an ideal research practice is Katherine Schultz’s “Looking across Space and Time” from RTE in 2002. In that fairly influential study, Schultz uses multi-site ethnography to understand the literacy practices of high school students across contexts, in school and out. From her data analysis, Schultz find three themes from out-of-school writing: “(a) writing was largely a private practice they kept separate from their school lives, (b) writing was used to take a critical stance, c) writing was a bridge between their homes and school worlds” (368). One of the major and important conclusions to evolve from this last pattern is that once students graduated, they stopped writing out of school. Part of what I liked about this study was Schultz’s narration of how she triangulated data with her student participants even as she helped cart them back and forth from school to job in her car: “I showed the findings to the research participants to determine if the findings seemed valid from their perspectives” (367). And when she discusses the teachers in the study, she characterizes them as thoughtful and relevant. In fact, one implication of her findings is that school sponsorships of literacy have an indirect effects on self-sponsorships of literacy.

Even though I think this is an ethical study, it makes me wonder what kinds of decisions she had to make throughout the process. Did she show her work to the teachers, who more or less have a back seat in the study? I wonder what other example studies in the field are useful for discussing Newkirk, Sullivan, and others this week. Thoughts?

Mortensen’s “Analyzing Talk about Writing”

I was going to do a detailed summary of Bazerman’s “Theories of the Middle Range in Historical Studies” (Written Communication, 2008), the most fab read for CCR 635 this week, but hot damn if Tim didn’t knock this out of the park already. Instead, I’d like to focus on the piece Tim and my fellow bloggers didn’t address in their posts this week (being late to the game affords me such perspective): Peter Mortensen’s “Analyzing Talk About Writing,” one of five selections we read from Kirsch & Sullivan’s landmark 1992 book, Methods and Methodology in Composition Research. The piece is worth revisiting because (a) it’s a bit of messy read, and (2) its arguments have important outcomes for writing instruction (as opposed to curricula or assessment), including writing centers.

Mortensen’s chapter aims to provide an complicated exploration and critique of the methodologies of discourse analysis in composition studies. For Mortensen, talk about writing, or “conversation in which speakers attend to text or the processes of creating text” (105), is limited because any representation of such talk about writing in research “cannot begin to capture the texture of what people say when they discuss a piece of writing in progress” (106). Thus, inquiries into talk about writing fundamentally lead to a rhetoric about how talk about writing works within any given site. This sets up Mortensen’s own methodology — rhetorically analyzing various studies of discourse analysis to see which arguments are un/persuasive and why.

He begins by identifying three ways of analyzing talk: conversation, pragmatic, and functional analyses. With conversation analysis, researchers “attempt to make sense of talk from the perspective of its participants.” And yet those perspectives are complicated by something called “intersubjective understandings,” meanings negotiated between subjects that extend beyond the immediate talk observed by the researcher. In some cases the researcher knows the context; in some cases, not. But because of intersubjectivity, it is important for researchers to be explicit to readers about their level of familiarity with the subjects: the extent to which they knew why the subjects were speaking, their communicative goals, etc. Mortensen then analyzes a study 1987 by Freedman and Katz (from this edited collection) that looked at talk in writing conferences. From this study, Mortensen identifies two methodological problems with conversation analysis. First, conversational analyses have the burden of identifying who defines “normal” in a conversation — the participants? the researcher? If it is the participants, then the researcher should develop a method to triangulate findings. In the Freedman and Katz example, Mortensen suggests gathering the teacher and students’ interpretations of the conversation, which would have validated or challenged the researchers’ analysis. This would also insure that they “respect the agency of their subjects and not cast them as purely ‘resources'” an argument he makes later in the chapter.

A second problem Mortensen raises is that a strict structural analysis of turn-taking (looking at adjacency pairs, for example) isn’t valid without taking the conversation’s context into account. He cites Irene Wong’s examination of the negotiability of content per topic in a given conversation. (She found, for example, that in tech writing courses teachers were more willing to negotiate certain genres that were more alien to them, but asserted authority when they were more confident with content.) While Mortensen reasserts that “it impossible to render an accurate transcription of a conversational exchange” (111), detailed transcriptions of conversations, complete with nonverbal utterances, is essential to conversational analyses.

While conversational analyses examines how meaning is negotiated by participants through conversation, other methods of analyzing talking — pragmatic analysis and functional analysis — suggest a more taxonomic approach where conversational codes and rules are prescribed prior to conversation. Specifically, pragmatic analysis prescribes rules for “what normal conversation ought to be” (112) and is influenced by H.P. Grice’s “cooperative principle” which provides a rubric of sorts as to how conversation can be “maximally efficient, rational, and cooperative.” Although Grice’s principles prescribe behavior, pragmatic principles are useful for describing utterances (and apparently folks like Marilyn Cooper have used them with student papers). The difference between pragmatic analysis and conversational analysis is that the latter is “far more circumspect, and sensitive to local ethnological norms of talk, in their formulations” (Toolan qtd. in Mortensen 113).

But Mortensen doesn’t discount an approach that is “constitutive and prescriptive,” one that “assumes that conversations appear orderly and coherent because speakers are predisposed to agree on the rules that govern what units can be combined to make well-formed utterances” (113). Functional approaches ignore negotiation and assume an ideal conversational experience where participants share the rules for discourse to the extent that they “strike simultaneously the same mental chord in their listeners’ mind and their own (114). While Mortensen’s definitions aren’t very clear to me, his example of Gere and Abbott’s study of high school conversation groups is illustrative of functional analyses’ methods. In their study they use a taxonomy of utterances based on function that allow them to quantify talk. While “meaning is not openly negotiated,” with a functional analysis, context needs to be accounted for in exchanges.

In addition to providing sketches of these three approaches to discourse analysis, Mortensen outlines poststructural perspectives from Derrida, Phelps, and Susan Miller. Interrogating both the primacy of writing (over speech) and prior conceptions of subjectivity, “the writing subject demands that we attend not only to inscription, or to the moment of inscription, but also to the panorama of human activities that condition intention and interpretation” (118, emphasis mine). Mortensen argues that we can address such panoramas by viewing dialogues as intertextual and intersubjective. Intertextuality is the notion that “all texts are related through the references they make to one another, whether subtle or obvious” (118). Intersubjectivity seems to suggest that social worlds are co-created through communication, through language. As Mortensen puts it “the social structures that shape human relationships are held to be prior to the construction of individual minds” (in other words there is no “self” prior to others) (120).

Mortensen ends the the piece by highlighting some of the gaps in research in talk about writing, Namely:

  • Many studies of talk about writing have acknowledged intersubjectivity since negotiation in conversation is proof that we are endlessly working through social structures (Seinfeld immediately comes to mind). These studies have looked at how people talk about writing. However, fewer studies have looked at “the influence of talk on a particular piece of writing, and vice versa” (121, emphasis original). The few studies that have been done on this question, argues Mortensen, are interesting because they “yield unexpected findings” (note that “unexpected findings” seems to be the golden standard when it comes to research goals — see Bazerman this week).
  • Research on talk about writing have been limited to school settings — primarily secondary and post-secondary classrooms. Research at workplace sites or in other settings might yield interesting (unexpected?) findings.
  • Sociocultural factors like race, class, gender, etc. haven’t been satisfactorily accounted for in studies of talk. Marginalized subjects, in particular, will require new methods since researchers, according to Mortensen, obviously “identity with the dominant culture” (123) and will distort findings.

Mortensen concludes by arguing that any “research on talk about writing creates ‘fictions’ that relate the researcher’s experience of the phenomenon under study” (123). To make such fictions ethical, then, Mortensen argues that subjects should play an active role with respect to the research (hence his criticism that Freeman and Katz do not ask their subjects to weigh in on their conversational analysis). Although Mortensen doesn’t mention it, this perspective seems to be an illustration of the reflexive feminist research methods Sullivan, Schell and others have argued for (and Barton critiques). He leans on Haraway to legitimize the argument that “researchers must respect the agency of their subjects and not cast them as purely ‘resources’ from which to approximate knowledge for reproduction” (124).

Looking back more closely at Mortensen, seeing how he calls all studies fictions, I now wonder if he believes that empirical studies are even possible. He gives pragmatic and functional analyses praise, so I think he deems them worthy pursuits, yet his critique at the end of this piece makes me wonder how serious he would take empirical (more positivistic) studies.

He also doesn’t seem to address how a better understanding of talk about writing might affect pedagogy. For me, talk seems to be one of the most important — if not thee most important — means to improving writing instruction. And yet studies of talk about writing don’t seem to get taken up in CCC (I admit this is shaky assessment on my part). Have we adequately focused on instruction (as opposed to assessment or curriculum)? When we talked about writing pedagogy last semester in CCR 632, it seemed like we focused an awful lot on the “what” of the classroom and not so much the why or how. How do we structure our class discussions, for example, so that we break the initiate-respond-evaluate triplet Hugh Mehan found in 1979 and that still dominates our classrooms? What studies have we published on the affect of student-led discussion on their writing? I ask this because in WRT 205, I’ve long tried to use principles of academic writing to teach students how to write discussion questions. (See handout below.)

Writing discussion clusters

Perhaps this also interests me because in its rawest form, writing centers only have talk, they only have instruction to work on in their ongoing development. Consultants don’t design assignments, syllabi, or curricula and they certainly don’t assess writers. How does the writing center site affect talk about writing?

Intro to empirical research

We’re kicking off CCR 635 with articles and book sections that provide invigorating overviews of empirical research, the methods section, and a review of recent texts in comp/rhet that attempt to capture the field’s seminal research. They are:

Anson, Chris. “Review Essay: A Field at Sixty-Something.” College Composition and Communication. 62.1 (2010): 216-228. Print.

Smagorinsky, Peter. “The Method Section as Conceptual Epicenter in Constructing Social Science Research Reports.” Written Communication. 25.3 (2008): 389-411. 23 Jan. 2012.

Young, Richard E. “Reading Research Papers.” Reading Empirical Research Studies: The Rhetoric of Research. Ed. Richard E. Young et al. Routledge, 1992. 11-40. Print.

Anson reviews the following tomes that were published in the latter half of the aughts based on their “historical reach,” “(inter)disciplinary breadth,” “international research,” and their ability to “take stock” of the field through reflective practice/observation:

Handbook of Research on Writing: History, Society, School, Individual, Text
Charles Bazerman, editor New York: Lawrence Erlbaum, 2008. 652 pp.

Handbook of Writing Research
Charles A. MacArthur, Steve Graham, and Jill Fitzgerald, editors New York: Guilford, 2006. 468 pp.

The Norton Book of Composition Studies
Susan Miller, editor New York: W.W. Norton, 2009. 1,760 pp.

Research on Composition: Multiple Perspectives on Two Decades of Change
Peter Smagorinsky, editor New York: Teachers College Press, 2006. 308 pp.

I know this sounds sophomoric, but I can’t help it: as I skimmed Anson’s review I was impressed at both the sheer amount of reading/refreshing he had to do to write such a short review and the disciplinary knowledge required to begin.

But the more practical pieces we read this week were Hayes, et al’s introduction (“Reading Research Reports”) to the terms and taxonomies of empirical studies and Smagorinsky’s argument for a more careful consideration of the methods section. Hayes et al breaks up their chapter into four handy sections:

  1. the format for the research report (abstract, intro, methods, results, discussion),
  2. types of empirical studies: hypothesis-testing studies (correlational and experimental) v descriptive studies (case study analysis, participant observation, and protocol analysis)
  3. modes of thought and argument in empirical research (including “common sources of alternative interpretations” re: stability, bias, researcher/participant effects, confounding factors, and faulty inferences)
  4. commonly used empirical measures (central tendency, variability, and correlation).

Because this chapter is rigid and loaded with relational terms (a rarity in a a theoretical program!), I’d really like to sketch these ideas and terms visually with bubbl.us sometime this week and repost.

Smagorinsky’s article, a wonderfully accessible essay which I had been hearing about for quite some time from J Lew, argues that greater care should be put toward the Method section of social science research (especially w/r/t the fields of literacy, education and comp/rhet). It should be essential to not only the product of the scholarship (in the sense that it would be publishable, replicable, or persuasive to its peers) but also its production (the process of its making). Smagorinsky, as former editor of RTE and and reviewer for nearly 30 different journals, finds a “lack of alignment” throughout most papers submitted to him to review. That is, the paper’s major sections — theory/literature, results, discussion — don’t add up. The Method section is the best place to start when it comes to research writing, argues Smagorinsky, because it is “the vehicle through which alignment” can be “systematically attempted” (405). “In particular,” he argues, “the outline of the analytic approach — for me, usually the articulation of a coding system — sets the terms for what I need to talk about means elsewhere in the manuscript” (406).

Intro to digital humanities

Thanks to Labor Day, this past Monday was the first time my digital humanities (DH) class met having to read something from the field beforehand; as one might assume, these essays sought to define DH, articulate some of the core problems DHers address, provide a brief history, and pose several methods that make DH important to the humanities, the academy, and knowledge production more generally.

Considering that Matt Kirschenbaum argues that the term “digital humanities” (DH) came at least partially from the process involved in titling the Blackwell Companion to Digital Humanities (CDH), it’s fitting that we not only read his short piece from the ADE Bulletin last January (originally based on address from the summer of 2010), but also bits and pieces from Part I of the CDH (freely available online, thank god). So this blog post is an attempt to outline some of the arguments in those pieces and maybe (maybe?) make sense of them.

Kirschenbaum answers the questions in his piece, “What Is Digital Humanities and What’s It Doing in English Departments?,” rather directly if not generally. In response to the former, (What is DH?) Kirschenbaum (appropriately, says me) relies on Wikipedia’s definition, but also adds that DH “is more akin to a common methodological outlook than an investment in any one specific set of texts or even technologies,” embracing approaches to common humanities texts using powerful analytical tools and archiving processes.

In terms of history, Kirschenbaum argues that the the creation of the Office of Digital Humanities at NEH — and all the grants and visibility that came with it — was the “tipping point for the branding of DH.” He likens the creation of DH to the Birmingham School and discusses general ways that a ADE crowd might have encountered (or missed) DH visibility, such as through tweets at conferences or articles in the Chronicle/Inside Higher Ed. After connecting DH interests to the academy at large, he then makes a case for why DH belongs in English departments. He gives six reasons: text is the primary data, the “long association between computers and composition,” the editorial theory that lead to digital archiving (curation?), the excitement and following of hypertext and e-lit, the inclusion of cultural studies in those departments, and finally the growth of e-reading and associated hardware. He ends his piece with a call to scholarship and pedagogy that is both “collaborative and depend on networks of people and that live an active 24/7 life online.”

The intro to the Blackwell Companion to Digital Humanities by Schreibman, Siemens and Unsworth argues that the collection, which was published in 2005, marks the first time scholars of DH, representing several disciplines, came together to share their perspectives on the purpose, functions, methods and tools of DH. According the authors, DH uses “information technology to illuminate the human record” — distant reading practices, for example — “and bringing an understanding of the human record to bear on the development and use of information technology,” with things like usability technologies and geographic information systems (GIS).

Aside from Susan Hockey’s chapter on the general history of DH, Part I of the book provides as survey of the various disciplines’ engagement with and contributions to DH. Archaeologists/historical geographers use GISes to reconstruct key historical sites; literary studies engage various computer-assisted tools to quantitatively (and controversially) detect patterns is large bodies of text (a later chapter by Martha Nell Smith talks about how these methods have assisted scholars in putting major debates — like Dickenson’s use of the dash — to rest); performance studies use CAD software to construct sets in virtual 3-D; multimedia theorists consider what should be digitized, how those objects will represent the original, and how media manipulation alters meaning. Based on these readings, some of the common tools used in DH include:

  • GIS
  • CAD
  • databases and archiving code (TEI and XML for records, images, or corpora)
  • database mining (searching and sorting)
  • hypertext

Throughout all of this, though, as the introduction to CDH makes clear, representation — specifically how the digital environments alter artifacts’ meaning — is a fundamental concern for DHers. At the end of the introduction, Schreibman, Siemens and Unsworth puts it this way: “Ultimately, in computer-assisted analysis of large amounts of material that has been encoded and processed according to a rigorous, well thought-out system of knowledge representation, one is afforded opportunities for perceiving and analyzing patterns, conjunctions, connections, and absences that a human being, unaided by the computer, would not be likely to find.”

In order to do this, DHers must, as Hockey puts it in her history of humanities computing, “embrace the two cultures”: to use scientific and systemic analytical methods to reach new humanistic problems. As one might expect, a push away from hermeneutics and toward more objective, science and thus quantitative methods, received its fair or direct or indirect resistance.

A few questions came out of these readings in class. Questions, I’m sure, that don’t have definitive answers, but will become easier to approach as the semester goes on.

  • At the conclusion of the chapter on multimedia, Rockwell and Mactavish claim “There are two ways we can think through multimedia. The first is to think about multimedia through definitions, histories, examples, and theoretical problems. The second way is to use multimedia to think and to communicate thought.” This led us to ask if the same can be extended to DH approaches more generally. And so if that’s fair, how does comp/rhet as a discipline contribute or help define the activities of DH? What’s our place? What does a statement like this one from Hockey say about our influence outside of the classroom: “Gradually, certain application areas spun off from humanities computing and developed their own culture and dissemination routes.’Computers and writing‘ was one topic that disappeared fairly rapidly.” Say what?
  • Susan Hockey’s history goes back as early as 1949 to trace the evolution of “humanities computing” to the current moniker of “digital humanities.” Given the sales pitchiness of Kirschenbaum’s address (not necessarily a critique given his audience), I can’t help but wonder if there is an honest disciplinarity to DH or if it’s a buzzword. (Just previewing some of Wendell Piez’s piece in DHQ, part of our reading for next week, I’m led to believe I’m not the only one.)
  • Related: Can scholars arrive at a better understanding (or rhetoric, even) of the major tenets and purposes of the humanities via DH methods? That is, given some of the recent claims in the academy about the relevance and future of humanists’ work, is the invention of the term and concept “digital” useful as a heuristic for better defining our relevance in the academy?
  • If I’m going to pursue a major project on fanzine history (something I’m interested in), how can DH approaches support that project? How can the technologies, but also the methods, help me develop a better understanding of the transition, for example, in the mid-90s from print-based subcultural zines to e-zines. What work has already been done here? What would such a study tell us about other forms of writing? Remix culture?
Kirschenbaum, Matthew. “What Is Digital Humanities and What’s It Doing in English Departments?” ADE Bulletin. 150 (2010). : n. pag. 31 Aug. 2011.
Schreibman, Susan, Ray Siemens, and John Unsworth, eds. A Companion to Digital Humanities. Wiley-Blackwell, 2005.

31 May 2007

So rather than write one long response at the end this time, I decided to type up notes as I read to see how this would be more or less helpful. Though I don’t always synthesize the texts, this format does help to remember the texts. I guess it’s weird being a students again — experimenting with different ways of response and such…

Bizzel – see Short Paper #1

Graff/Leff – “Revisionist Historiography” (2005)

  • As Graff/Leff provide their meta-history of revisionist historiography, they fall into the same trap as their predecessors in comments like “…Charles Sears Baldwin established the standard pattern for twentieth-century studies of the history of rhetoric” and “[Carole Blair’s] essay ‘Contested Histories of Rhetoric: The Politics of Preservation, Progress, and Change’ represents the last major entry in the wave of revisionism…” because they never explain how they’re coming to these conclusions.
  • Oddly, when discussing the new scholarship that has emerged in com/rhet since the first wave, the authors do acknowledge that they do not “have space in this chapter to review all of the different perspectives featured in the early stages of the discussion but can identify some of the basic tenets as well as characteristic assumptions and motives animating the broader revisionist projects within the field of composition-rhetoric.” Again, no real discussion here about how these “basic tenets” were generalized. To what degree, then, do historians need to be explicit about who/what they’re including/excluding and their reasons for doing so? As an outsider (someone just now learning about this discourse community), it seems that the risk in not being explicit is unchecked canonization of certain authors – more on this below.
  • In outlining a chronology of first and second wave revisionists, are Graff and Leff contributing to the traditional view of history as a linear enterprise and in turn, canonizing certain historiographers and theorists (names that I now recognize as important)? We have more taxonomies (“critical historiography”). Interesting to have read this after Octlog and after last week’s readings. How would I have framed those authors if I had read Graff/Leff’s account of them first?
  • What’s also suspect is Graff/Leff’s four-page interrogation of Carole Blair. Seems like she being used for a set up, though it’s difficult to tell without knowing more about revisionist approaches. I also wonder if she is attacked because of some disciplinary distortion – as the authors admit, her speech background “contrasts sharply” with comp/rhet’s.
  • Argument for why we should look at pedagogy moves a bit quickly for me, though I like their suggestion to study the pedagogy of rhetoric since teaching is my most viable and rewarding reason to study histories of rhetoric (as opposed to other ways of viewing it, which so far seem more interested in its philosophical, textual, and therefore abstract consequences).

Carol Mattingly’s “Telling Evidence: Rethinking What Counts in Rhetoric” (2002)

  • Agrees with Bizzell that more needs to be done to “explore the broad range of texts that can contribute a vibrant understanding and appreciation of women’s role in rhetoric.”
  • Outlines early recovery efforts and uses the example of Cady Stanton and Anthony to argue that this early work has been guilty of canonizing certain women rhetors (admittedly, to establish ethos) at the expense of ignoring other important ones. The problem is that those canonized “become deeply imbedded in our cultural narratives,” initially chosen from rhetorical criteria “established in the masculine tradition.”
  • By reading a wide range of primary sources, Mattingly discovered that more women were more publicly active as rhetors in the 19th century than scholars initially thought. A resistance to study women outside of the suffrage movement (i.e. women in the temperance movement) prevented scholars from coming to this understanding sooner and is the result of not reading locally (contextually) enough – an argument made by several of Mattingly’s contemporaries (so-called second wave revisionists) – since contemporary scholars have equated temperance with conservativism. More focused study, she argues, opens up possibilities for more interpretations. Without this additional work, she implies, she would have never discovered that Amelia Bloomer was more influential than Anthony or Cady Stanton or that the temperance movement was really a call for better conditions for women.
  • In arguing for a more accurate understanding of rhetorical traditions Mattingly ultimately wants scholars to rethink the ways they measure rhetoric by redefining evidence. “Since traditional definition of rhetoric have been constructed around notions of masculine rhetoric,” she argues, “many rhetorically sophisticated women simply do not fit neatly into the rhetorical tradition. What has counted for evidence fails to recognize women’s excellence.” Mattingly’s example is women’s clothing in the 19th century played an essential role in establishing ethos, though we wouldn’t consider that if we went with the traditional measures of rhetoric.

Karlyn Kohrs Campbell’s “Consciousness-Raising: Linking Theory, Criticism, and Practice” (2002)

  • Campbell’s overarching argument can be captured in her pithy quote in the intro: “as a form of discursive practice, consciousness-raising is the thread that links the recovery of texts, their recuperation through criticism, and the extraction of theoretical principles that underlie women’s ways of persuading.”
  • She begins by tracing a few ways women’s histories have been recovered, even before the U.S. woman’s rights movement, from speeches in the 19th century to dissertations in the 1930s through the 1950s to the emergence of women’s studies programs to new anthologies of women’s histories. She acknowledges, however, that no matter what historians try to do, “the historical record will remain profoundly distorted, skewed toward those lucky enough to be literate, educated, and middle or upper class and whose works appeared in mainstream outlets with wider circulation.”
  • In the spirit of recovery, Campbell then analyzes how women’s rhetoric and its history have been “lost” in the first place – or how certain obstacles and criticisms (“formal prohibitions,” “denial of agency,” “unsexing,” “attacks on character,” “aesthetic”) are fixed by traditional rhetoric to make it impossible to analyze justly.
  • In order to overcome these obstacles – and to protest them – women spoke or wrote in ways that both met traditional expectations of the rhetor “while incorporating stylistic elements that projected femininity” such as inductive structures, narrating personal experience, dialogism, etc. According to Campbell, these alternative rhetorics can only be recuperated through critical analysis.
  • Barrowing from Krista Radcliff’s efforts to theorize from analyses, Campbell argues that feminist critical analysis of the discursive practices that are recovered should be used to extract larger rhetorical theories: “the task of recovery is unending; recuperation, however, requires the analytical and interpretive work of critics.” It’s not clear to me, though, how these all link together. What would these new theories do? How might they help with current issues facing feminism? How might they help historiography of rhetoric?

Christine Mason Sutherland’s “Feminist Historiography: Research Methods in Rhetoric” (2002)

  • She starts by comparing how she learned to conduct historical research to how she learned to write – it just became second nature – which doesn’t seem to be very self-reflective. Her privileged background reinforces this for me.
  • The article is feminist in that it’s autobiographical – the most personal we’ve read so far – yet sometimes I can’t help but feel she abuses the notion by not discussing evidence enough. She brings up multiple issues but tends to dismisses them and move on (postmodernism being one of the biggies).
  • Agrees with Enos that more attention needs to be paid to primary texts since interpreting them makes her “feel more like a benefactor” than “taking the adversarial stance typical of so much secondary research.” This really provoked me – I never thought of this distinction and the idea that primary research could be considered a “feminist” move is powerful. I’m surprised more attention wasn’t paid to it. Instead she makes grander claims about the trouble with argumentive discourse.
  • Notes that she sides with “the authority of the writer, and the importance of seeing the text in the historical context,” which, she argues, characterizes traditional scholarship. But many feminists and scholars (who’d probably be calssified as po-mo) agree that all historical scholarship needs to be localized. I thought Campbell made a more nuanced argument in this regard and that Sutherland gets confused because she tries to claim too much.