Academic Cypher

In hip hop culture, the cypher is a circle of MCs, B-boys/B-girls, beatboxers, etc who freestyle and/or battle one after the other without interruption, exchanging rhymes and flows back and forth or around. The cypher is where training takes place and skills are tested, where people collaborate, and where people create "off the top" or written/choreographed, tapping into the place where thought and action come together to share energy and advance the craft...the Academy should aim to do the same.

Category: Case Studies (page 1 of 3)

FrankenTheory: Cypher, Network, and the Research Process

Introduction

Rooted in African tradition of communicating and sharing spirit and knowledge in a circle, the cypher is a circle of MCs, B-boys/B-girls, beatboxers, djs etc who freestyle and/or battle one after the other without interruption, exchanging rhymes and flows back, forth, and around. The cypher (also spelled cipher) is where training takes place and skills are tested, where people collaborate, and where people create “off the top” or written/choreographed, tapping into the place where thought and action come together to share energy and advance the craft.

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Image from bookthatdj.com

It is important to note that the concept of the cypher is rooted in Islam via The Nation of Gods and Earths (better known as The Five Percent Nation). Within The Five Percent Nation, the word cypher is used to refer to circle, zero, or the letter “0”. The phrase was used to describe a group of people situated in a circle having a discussion. There are several aspects of hip hop culture, specifically terminology, that is rooted in The Five Percent Nation, but has lost the connection or meaning over time.

Cyphers can be both spontaneous and planned. The key is that it is constantly moving in regards to both the participants and the content they create. The cypher is about creativity, individuality, community, competition, and equality.  The performers–primarily, rappers or dancers—stand in a circle; each person takes a turn entering the center of the circle performing and then returning to the circle. Everyone in the cypher gets the chance to take part; participants are free to enter and leave the circle as they please. The audience, if there is one, is also a part of the cypher. They provide feedback via call-and-response, hype up the participants, and continue the content of the cypher by sharing the experience. Cyphers represent both the physical circle and participation in the cypher as well as the hip hop community at large. They are a space for  training, battling, and community building: the cypher.

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www.cypheradikts.com/page/3/‎

Literature Review: “Problem” with what a single (or any) theories have in analyzing your OoS.

Examinations of hip hop are nothing new to academia. In regards to English Studies, Hip Hop has been examined for its potential contributions to pedagogy, linguistics, and literacy. As a cultural practice, it has been studied for its history, role in the African diaspora, presentations of gender and sexuality, and socio-political impact.  Most of these studies focused on the more popular aspects of hip hop—rapping, djing, and breakdancing–with little focus on the cypher.  Most examinations Hip Hop in English Studies simply define the cypher as a point of reference within larger hip hop culture. There is little to no exploration or examination of it beyond it being a practice within hip hop culture. The limited amount of literature about cyphers focuses on two areas: language and pedagogy.

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Image from khowl-dmad181.blogspot.com

In “ ‘Bring it to the cypher’: Hip Hop Nation Language,” Alim presents that the cypher as a space where “the cultural modes of discourse are at their peak.” He examines the significance of language within the cypher stating, the cypher “is where all (or some combination) of Hip Hop cultural modes of discourse and discursive practices…converge into a fluid matrix of linguistic cultural activity. Works such as Newman’s “Rap Literacy: A genre analysis of Hip Hop ciphers” argue for the a multiliteracy approach to literacy by using the cipher as an example of “an oral vernacular genre” that challenges traditional conceptualizations of literacy.

Beyond its usefulness for language and literacy studies, the cypher has also been explored for its potential contributions to pedagogy. In “Framing and Reviewing Hip Hop Educational Research.” Petchauer argues that all aspects of hip hop are being utilized within academia to reach urban youth through critical pedagogy, to examine identity formation within the ethnic groups that utilize hip hop, and to explore historical and social aspects of hip hop. The focus on critical pedagogy can also be seen in the works of A. Dee Williams. In “The Critical Cultural Cypher: Remaking Paulo Freire’s Cultural Circles Using Hip Hop Culture,” Williams argues for the use of critical hip hop pedagogy to engage students in “a discourse of enlightenment” in order to develop “their use of counter-narratives,” “the language of critique and transcendence,” and “critical awareness (7).” The cypher was used as a foundation for the instruction, focusing on challenging, expanding, and constructing knowledge. There are many other works, which I do not have time to explore here, which examine hip hop pedagogy and cyphers for their usefulness in K-12 Urban Education. The key here is that the cypher is always literally translated in to the classroom by having students sit in a circle or by bringing hip hop texts/music into the classroom for students to discuss. Here the concept of a cypher and hip hop pedagogy is presented as a bridge between students day to day activities and ideologies and the curriculum.

Although there are only a few examinations of the cypher, these views situate the cypher as a significant part of hip hop culture with the potential to impact education. These works all provide definitions of the cypher and situate it as a significant tool of individual and collective expression. However, understanding the cypher as a network has the potential to move beyond examinations of cyphers as cultural artifact and beyond the cypher as a pedagogical tool through the literal classroom circle.

 

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www.huckmagazine.com/perspectives/reportage-2/battle-rap/‎

Cypher as Network

The cypher imagined as network would consist of the participants (performers, audience, and DJ), and the content of the performance as nodes in the network.  In regards to agency, the cypher in its conceptualization is not hierarchical. The cypher is a circle; it has no beginning and no end, so there is no top or primary node. Agency within the cypher is supposed to be shifting yet equal. The agency shifts depending on who is performing at that time. The DJ, if there is a DJ, performs continually creating the background on which the performers create. Because cyphers can occur with or without some of the nodes, none of the nodes have more or less agency than the others. The nodes in a cypher should be interdependent, as one performer should be able to connect with and feed off of another performer. In a good cypher, the performers should be able to pick up the flow if another performer should make a mistake or lose the rhythm. This is also true in regards to the DJ. The performers should be able to connect with or vibe to whatever the DJ is playing in order to present their best material in the cypher. The most interesting part of the cypher is the content generated. Depending on the participants, the content of the cypher could be rappers, dancers, or DJs. If the participants are dancers, they are creating or presenting dance moves that others in the cypher will try to emulate or top.  If the participants are DJs, they are creating music by presenting their variations or mixes of songs. Their content travels to the audience who can appreciate what is being played by dancing or show their lack of appreciation by not dancing.

If the participants are rappers, the content generated is speech/text. This content travels through the network via the audience, who can respond via call-and-response, cheering for the performer, or booing the performer. Within the cypher, the rappers content can also be interpreted by other rappers within the cypher. Another rapper may take parts from a previous rapper and transform them to benefit his/her particular message or flow. This can be done is a positive way as a form of admiration. It can also be done in a negative way as an insult or attack. The cypher as network emerges, most often, spontaneously. The cypher can also be planned. In that case, the network emerges or does not depending on how many people show up to participate. Just as the network appears spontaneously, it dissolves the same way. The cypher can stop or end at any point, depending on the energy of the participants and the content generated. The cypher may seem like a closed network in that it is localized. A particular group of people have to get to gether in a particular location for it to take place. This is a valid interpretation. However, the spontaneous nature of the cypher prevents it from being a closed network. The participants or nodes is every changing and the network can emerge or dissolve at any place at any time.  The cypher network ebbs and flows.

 

Network Theories: What works from each theory? What part of their theoretical lens lets you look at something interesting?

There are two theories that can utilized to address the question “Why is studying my OoS useful to English Studies?” To do this, this study will utilize theories that focus on rhetorical activity. The hope is that these theories will illuminate the cypher as an overlooked aspect of hip hop culture, which deserves examination, and emphasize its usefulness to English Studies for teaching about rhetorical discourse and the research process. The theories utilized in this project are:  Rhetorical Situation Theory, specifically Barbara Biesecker description of the rhetorical situation and Prior et. al’s remapping of the rhetorical canon via Cultural-Historical Activity Theory (CHAT).  Ultimately, this paper will argue that using rhetorical situation theory and cultural historical activity theory as theoretical frameworks provide insight into cyphers as networked rhetorical activity. Moreover, these theories allow the cypher to be viewed as a metaphor for academic writing, particularly the research process (source use and knowledge construction).

Rhetorical Situation Theory: Barbara Biesecker challenged the conceptualizations of the rhetorical situation established by Lloyd Bitzer and Richard Vatz. Bitzer presented a hierarchy between the event and rhetor, which Vatz inverted. Biesecker challenges the binary of  event and rhetor. Using, Derrida’s deconstruction and difference, she destabilizes the hierarchy. Biesecker points out the limitations of rhetorical discourse as focused on persuading and motivating action from expert/informed audiences. She argues that this conception of rhetorical situation ignores “discourses radically historical character” and “limits what we can say about discourse which seeks to persuade” (110). Moreover, rhetoric is said to have the power to modify or influence action, but cannot form new identities (111). Biesecker addresses these limitations by adding text  and audience as a constituent elements of the rhetorical situation. Within the framework of differance, Biesecker’s addition of text presents that meaning is found in “the differencing zone,” which is contrary to Bitzer’s presentation of meaning being situated within the event and Vatz’s presentation of meaning being situated with the rhetor. According to Biesecker: “Derridean deconstruction begins by considering thè way in which all texts are inhabited by an internally divided non-originary ‘origin’ called différance” (120). This move away from origin allows theorists to move beyond the binary between event and rhetor; it expands the rhetorical situation in that ““neither the text’s immediate rhetorical situation nor its author can be taken as simple origin or generative agent since both are underwritten by a séries of historically produced displacements” (121).In addition, Biesecker gives agency to the audience, which is something Vatz and Biesecker overlook. Biesecker presents the human element of the network (both rhetor and audience) as being in flux, stating:

“From within the thematic of différance we would see the rhetorical situation neither as an event that merely induces audiences to act one way or another nor as an incident that, in representing the interests of a particular collectivity, merely wrestles the probable within the realm of the actualizable. Rather, we would see the rhetorical situation as an event that makes possible the production of identities and social relations. That is to say, if rhetorical events are analysed from within the  thematic of différance, it becomes possible to read discursive practices neither as rhetorics directed to preconstituted and known audiences nor as rhetorics “in search of” objectively identifiable  but yet undiscovered audiences.” (126)

This approach to the rhetorical situation de-centers the subject  This means that subjectivity is constantly evolving, nothing is a fixed point. Therefore, the constituents–exigence, rhetor, audience, and text—are nodes in a network that produces rhetorically situated discourse; however, there is no origin point or primary node. The rhetorical situation then produces and reproduces identities and the linkages between them. The subjects (rhetor and audience) and are moving parts of the network

The Cypher: Biesecker helps explain inner workings of the cypher as dynamic and interactive. The participants in a cypher (the performers and the audience) are all equal within the cypher. There is no primary node or origin point; each performer communicates with and feeds off the other performers and the audience, if there is one. Since they are not situated in a linear pattern, all the participants have the ability to generate content within the cypher at any time. However, the audience also impacts and generates content through call-and-response and other forms of yelling out, such as cheering and booing. They also impact content generation through their presence. For example, a performer within the cypher could mention the clothing or features of an audience member within his/her rap. Therefore, the relations among the performers, audience, and content is shifting; the rhetor, audience, situation, and content all impact and leave traces on one another. Meanings relay to other meanings which have been impacted by earlier meanings and then modified by later meanings. This process continues because language continues. Therefore, the content that travels through the network is continually impacted. It has the ability to fold back on itself, depending on the creative connectivity of the cypher. Because there isn’t a primary node and agency is shifting, meaning is found in the process of the rhetorical network;  the content of the rhetorical situation is “on a trajectory of becoming rather than Being” (127). Therefore, the cypher emerges and grows, interacting and shifting. Biesecker’s description of the rhetorical situation, emphasizes the interactive and interminable nature of cypher.  The cypher itself, on the local level, may end or dissolve; however, as the cypher is also a  conceptualization of the members of the hip hop community, wherever “authentic” hip hop is taking place is the potential for cypher. Thus, the cypher as network is always in the process of becoming or taking place.

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www.crayonbeats.com

 

CHAT: Whereas the rhetorical situation theory focuses on why and how rhetorically situated discourse occurs, CHAT focuses on human activity and interactivity. According to Prior et al in “What is CHAT.” CHAT “argues that activity is situated in concrete interactions that are simultaneously improvised locally and mediated by historically provided tools and practices.” The tools range from machines to semiotics to name a few. The mediated activity includes speech/writing, interacting with others, and learning. CHAT traces these interactions as human or literate activity. These activities impact the environment, are embodied by the social organization, are mediated “over time and space among people, objects, and environment,” and are distributed across “social and historical boundaries.”  Prior et al use CHAT to remap rhetorical activity, presenting rhetorical activity as literate activity that takes place within functional systems within laminated chronotopes. Literate activity is: production, representation, distribution, reception, socialization, activity, and ecology. This remapping of rhetorical activity is a network in that “it points to a complex set of interlocking systems within which rhetors are formed, act, and navigate.”

The Cypher: CHAT could possibly define cyphers as a the embodiment of hip hop presented through a combination of production, representation, distribution, reception, socialization, and activity within the functional systems of people, practices, and communities. The communication within cyphers are produced by participants within a particular context or moment, which symbolically connects to other contexts and moments via the concept of the cypher. The content generated within the cypher is “entextualized in talk, text, and mind” by the participants through their performances in the cypher. The performers modify the distribution of the content through their performance. The performers decide what to say, how fast, how long to perform, and how to physically enact their performance. The “actual reading/viewing/hearing and response” to the activity takes place simultaneously with the performance. This entire experience and the history of hip hop is socialization in that it enculturates participants. As they participate in the cypher, “they are involved in apprenticeship, learning, and development.” Lastly, activity deals with “goal-oriented, motivated projects that lead people to cooperation, indifference, and conflict.” Cyphers serve as a training ground for performers and a space to share information and construct/create knowledge. The goal of the cypher is to disseminate and perpetuate hip hop culture. Within CHAT the nodes are literate activity. Literate activity is “action and cognition[…] distributed over time and space and among people, artifacts, and environments […]” (Prior et. al). Therefore, nodes within the cypher would be the participants within the cypher and the content created because within the cypher, the content created and communication can loop back, impact, and facilitate the cypher. Through CHAT agency would shift between the users of literate activity. As mentioned above, the participants are responsible for production, distribution, representation, reception, socialization, and activity. The relationship between nodes is interactive. It functions as an “interlocking system within which rhetors are formed, act, and navigate” (Prior et. al). The participants in the cypher and and navigate the cypher literally and figuratively through their performance. The individuals are also formed by the cypher, as they are impacted by the content generated by the other participates (DJ, audience, and other performers).  CHAT emphasizes ecologies, which operate within literate activity and function systems; ecologies “point to the biotic and natural world, which enables and constrains all the previous functions and which may also be a domain of rhetorical action” (Prior et. al). In this context, Hip Hop could serve as an ecology. The participants enter the cypher, which is a hip hop artifact, generate content and utilize the space of the cypher. Cyphers function is a system in which participants come together to mediate activity. CHAT allows for the cypher to be historically situated by tracing the cultural practices from individual activity to embodied within society. It also situates the cypher as a significant tool in hip hop culture for transformation and mediation.f853d91bce744fea819363d0a7229a5a

 

Where each theory has a gap or misses a critical part of the OoS? Why these theories can be made to work well with each other? Rationale for bring your chosen theories together in order to create a new theory of networks that works for your OoS.

The cypher is a dynamic interactive network between participants in hip hop culture. Each theory allowed for different perspective of the participants and the content of the network, respectively. Where rhetorical situation theory dealt with the why and how of rhetorical discourse, CHAT dealt with the specific activity and how it functions beyond individuals (outside of the monologue between rhetor and audience). These theories provide a focus on rhetorical activity. Rhetorical situation and CHAT both speak to how rhetoric is produced. The theories are grounded in rhetoric as a response to a problem or in order to cause action on part of the audience. Biesecker presents this via the difference zone and the construction of identities. CHAT speaks to this through reception and socialization. In addition, agency is shifting within both theories. Biesecker avoids the binary between rhetor and event. Prior et. al also try to avoid this binary presenting the issue of rhetoric being “a model grounding in a speaker and hearer, essentially in monologue.”

Through Biesecker, agency is given to all parts of the network. There is no point of origin or hierarchy. Rhetorical situation theory deals with origin or production of actions without falling into the binary of rhetor or event. The move away from rhetoric as response, allows for the cypher to be seen as a space where both the content and subjects are  modify, impact, and transformed. If the origin of the cypher become an issue, one could fall into a chicken and egg argument. Is the cypher started in response to a specific social or cultural issue? Does the cypher start organically? Does the cypher start out of a desire for creative expression? Through Biesecker the distinction isn’t necessary. The answer to all of these is yes. However, with the caveat that each of these situations is impacted by external elements and spaces of difference. However, rhetorical situation restricts the examination because it focuses on specific nodes.  Although the nodes are not in a specific order (because of Biesecker’s theorization of the rhetorical situation), the nodes are limited to the examining the basic elements author, audience, and text. Biesecker does present these as interactive and impact by one another. However, they are not presented as collaborative, meaning they interact and connect but do not necessarily play a part in the creation. Rhetorical situation primarily focuses on persuasive action. It is important that Biesecker does make a distinction in regards to its ability to constructing identities. This focus does not allow for the tracing of collaborations and the significance in these collaborations in socializing or enculturating rhetors and audiences.

CHAT provides a focus on activity and social context, which rhetorical situation allows only through Biesecker. However, CHAT also allows for a discussion of all the elements of the cypher, while rhetorical situation theory does not allow for such a specific examination. Whereas, rhetorical situation theory can allow for a discussion of meaning and audience, CHAT allows for a discussion of the activity within a larger context in regards to the literate activities role in functional systems, such as institutions and communities. However, CHAT is limited in regards to what it affords for exploring the location/relationships of nodes and the emergence/dissolution of the network. The remapping of rhetorical activity is presented as network within network within a network. This presentation of embedded networks does not necessarily place the laminated chronotopes (embodied, represented, embedded activity) at the top of the hierarchy. Different parts of the network can be located within different categories in the Remapping Rhetorical Activity: Take 2. CHAT provides a greater examination of how the cypher works within a larger social context. However, it cannot account for individual human activity. The activity within the cypher (the individual creative expression) will be connected to larger system. All activity “is situated in concrete interactions that are simultaneously improvised locally and mediated by historically-provided tools and practices, which range from machines, made-objects, semiotic means (e.g., languages, genres, iconographies), and institutions to structured environments, domesticated animals and plants, and, indeed, people themselves.” Moreover, in regards to individuals, “people are socialized (brought into alignment with others) as they appropriate cultural resources, but also individuated as their particular appropriations historically accumulate to form a particular individuals. Agency is difficult to address here as the people are important to the interactions; however, they individuals are also shaped and formed by “particular appropriations historically accumulate.”

 

Why is studying my OoS useful to English Studies?”

Scholars in English Studies have already examined cyphers in terms of turning the classroom into a cypher and examining black vernacular English in terms of multiliteracy and social literacy.  It would be interesting for cultural studies scholars to examine the construction and/or presentation of cyphers in different cultures. It would be interesting to see an examination of cyphers as early social networks, interactive oral narratives, and creative dissemination of news and history.  In the concept and performance of the cypher, Rhetoricians could study freestyle (memory), improvisation (delivery and style), the circle and its representations (arrangement), and the content of or act of the cypher to generate content (invention). The cypher can be seen as a space of rhetorical activity to teach students about the rhetorical situation in a more dynamic fashion (similar to Biesecker), as well as the significance of these networks culture and information systems within specific communities.  Cyphers also provide a way to discuss rhetoric and the production and movement of information. This is important for English studies as we move toward a more networked classrooms and teach students whose lives are digitally mediated. They will need the ability to think critically about the production and movement of information.

As a rhetoric and composition instructor, I find cyphers are useful as an object of study in English Studies because of their potential to illuminate academic writing, particularly the research process. They reflect and contest accepted constructions within the academy, potentially expanding the concept of the Burkean Parlor. Kenneth Burke’s parlor metaphor was presented in The Philosophy of Literary Form: Studies in Symbolic Action. Here the parlor is used as a metaphor for the “unending conversation”:

“Imagine that you enter a parlor. You come late. When you arrive, others have long preceded you, and they are engaged in a heated discussion, a discussion too heated for them to pause and tell you exactly what it is about. In fact, the discussion had already begun long before any of them got there, so that no one present is qualified to retrace for you all the steps that had gone before. You listen for a while, until you decide that you have caught the tenor of the argument; then you put in your oar. Someone answers; you answer him; another comes to your defense; another aligns himself against you, to either the embarrassment or gratification of your opponent, depending upon the quality of your ally’s assistance. However, the discussion is interminable. The hour grows late, you must depart. And you do depart, with the discussion still vigorously in progress.”

This metaphor is often used to introduce students, particularly freshman composition students, to the concept of academic writing being an “unending conversation.” Students are encourage to imagine themselves as entering this conversation. They are to listen for a while until they have the gist of the argument (research) and then join in the conversation (craft their position). From this students are to grasp the idea that writing is collaborative and a part of a larger conversation that has preceded them and will continue after they are gone. The focus here is on the interminable nature of conversation.

Through the conceptualization of the cypher as a network emphasis can be placed on aiding students in understanding and responding to sources. More importantly, the cypher can emphasize to the student the idea of becoming a source. The dynamic interactive nature of the cypher (similar to a conversation), emphasizes understanding the content of the cypher, as established by other participants, and then adding his/her ideas during the performance. The cypher places the same amount of weight on everyone’s contribution. This can provide a more inviting and accessible metaphor by which students can enter academic writing. Cyphers are a form of participatory culture, which can be utilized, akin to Henry Jenkins’ argument, to “reflect the new ways that young people are engaging with the world around them.”

Works Cited

Alim, H. Samy. “Bring it Into the Cypher: Hip Hop Nation Language” That’s the Joint! The Hip-Hop Studies Reader, 2nd ed.  Murray Forman and Mark Anthony Neal, Eds. New York: Routledge, 2012. 30-563. Print

Biesecker, Barbara A. “Rethinking the Rhetorical Situation from with the Thematic of ‘Differance’.” Philosophy & Rhetoric 22.2 (1989): 110-130. Print.

Bitzer, Lloyd F. “The Rhetorical Situation”  Philosophy & Rhetoric. Special ed. Selections from Volume 1. 25.1 (1992): 1-14. Print.

Burke, Kenneth. The Philosophy of Literary Form: Studies in Symbolic Action 3rd ed. California: University of California Press, 1973. Web. 6 May 2014.

Jenkins, Henry. “Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century (Part One).” Confessions of an Aca-Fan: The Official Weblog of Henry Jenkins. 20 October 2006. Web. 7 May 2014.

Newman, Michael. “Rap as literacy: A genre analysis of Hip-Hop ciphers.” Text, 23.5 (2005): 399-436. Print.

Petchauer, Emery. “Framing and Reviewing Hip-Hop Educational Research” Review of Educational Research, 79.2 (2009) 946-978. Print.

Prior, Paul, et. al. “Re-situating and Re-mediating the Canons: A Cultural-Historical Remapping of Rhetorical Activity: A Collaborative Core Text. Kairos, 11.3 (Summer 2007). Web. 31 March 2014. Web.

Vatz, Richard E. “The Myth of the Rhetorical Situation.” Philosophy & Rhetoric. 6.3 (1973): 154-161. Print.

Williams, A.D. “The Critical Cultural Cypher: Remaking Paulo Freire’s Cultural Circles Using Hip Hop Culture.” International Journal of Critical Pedagogy, 2.1 (2009): 1-29. Print.

Scaffolding Synthesis: The Cypher as Network

Scaffolding Synthesis: The Cypher as Network

Rhetorical Situation Theory, Genre Theory, and CHAT

Theories

Which 2 – 4 theories are you choosing and why?

For the Synthesis project, my object of study is the hip hop cypher. This project will address the question “Why is studying my OoS useful to English Studies?” To do this, I plan to synthesize theories that focus on rhetoric and activity. I think these areas are useful in addressing ways in which the cypher can be used within rhetoric and composition in regards to pedagogy, argumentation, literacy, and cultural studies. The theories I have chosen to utilize for this project are:

Rhetorical Situation Theory–This theory will allow me to address the cypher’s role and hip hop and hip hop’s history as a social and political movement. Although it is currently mainstream, hip hop’s history is rooted in resistance, subculture, and revolution movements. This theory will allow an examination of the social context in which hip hop, and thus the cypher, was born. In addition, difference (Biesecker) and exigence (Bitzer) provide a space to discuss the interactive nature of hip hop and hip hop’s history of responding to social issues, respectively. These theories could also illuminate the role of audience in the cypher. The connections between the exigence, rhetorician, audience, and the rhetoric can parallel the connections between the participants in hip hop culture, the social problems/issues, and the discourse created within the culture to maintain positions within the community and push against the oppression from outside the community.

CHAT–Cultural Historical Activity theory will allow me to extend the work of rhetorical situation theory by providing a wider and more nuanced look at the activity within the cypher. Through CHAT the improvisation, spontaneity, and style expressed within the cypher can be addressed. The socialization aspect of the theory is useful to examine performance on the local level (role in the neighborhood/community) and cultural level (role in hip hop culture). The goal of the cypher is to provide a space for training, knowledge construction, entertainment, self expression, community building, and competition. The layers of literate activity work well for examining the various elements of the cypher.

Genre Theory (specifically, Bazerman’s Speech Acts)–Hip Hop and cyphers have been examined as social, cultural, and political movements. However, there has been little done to examine genre in Hip Hop. Hip Hop is made of four elements (rapping, djing, emceeing, and graffiting). If the cypher is thought of as a genre, each performance created in the cypher could be seen as a speech acts. This perspective, similar to CHAT, is useful for examining the cypher as a genre system within the larger activity system of hip hop. Bazerman’s focus on the “use [of ] texts to create new realities of meaning, relation, and knowledge” provides a way to address the cyphers role in organizing and creating community, disseminating information, and constructing knowledge. There is a hierarchical nature to cypher, which is not often illuminated; however, Bazerman’s human activity allows for an examination of hierarchy within the layers of the cypher.

How are they similar enough that you can justify getting them to work together?

As mentioned in the short introduction, these theories provide a focus on rhetoric and activity that I feel are important for examining the benefits of the cypher in regards to English Studies. Rhetorical Situation Theory, Genre Theory, and CHAT all provide a way to discuss rhetoric and the production and movement of information. This is important for English studies as we move toward a more networked classrooms and teach students whose lives are digitally mediated. They will need the ability to think critically about the production and movement of information. The theories all focus on activity; literate activity in CHAT and human activity in Bazerman. Also, rhetorical situation theory addresses activity in the sense that rhetorical discourse starts in response to a problem in order to cause action on the part of the audience. These three theories work together in providing a way to look at the creation, movement, and impact of activity within the cypher.

How do they fill each other’s gaps?

Rhetorical situation theory and genre theory deal with the origin or production of actions. CHAT provides a focus on literate activity and social context, which rhetorical situation allows, but genre theory does not. Moreover, CHAT allows for a discussion of all the elements of the cypher, while the other two theories do not allow for such an examination. Whereas, rhetorical situation theory can allow for a discussion of the meaning and audience, CHAT allows for a discussion of the activity within a larger context in regards to the literate activities role in functional systems, such as institutions and communities.

My Position as a Scholar

How do these theories align with how you position yourself as a scholar?

In regards to scholarship, my goal is to bridge my two worlds together. I am a member of the hip hop community and the academic community. The structure, organization, and belief system of these two groups are wildly different, if not polar opposite. However, I think that the link between the two spaces is dialogue. Both groups emphasize the generation of knowledge and the advancement of the community through conversation. The academy has the concept of the Burkean Parlor. Hip Hop has the cypher. It is my aim to use these two conceptual spaces and ideas as a bridge to move scholarship between the two communities. I believe that scholarship should move from within the academy to outside of the academy. What I mean by this is that there should be practical application, action, or activism.  One part of this that is important to me is making scholarship accessible to an audience beyond academics. I think this is important if the people/groups/communities, especially those historically  marginalized, oppressed, and disenfranchised, should be able to participate in the conversations. Scholarship that is not accessible outside of the academic community is in a sense preaching to the choir. This does help to advance thought within the academic community, but it should also help to advance thought and enlighten the communities being studied and examined. The goal is to spark debate, raise awareness, encourage critical thinking. Each of the chosen theories, I feel, can be easily adapted for an audience outside of the academy. In addition, their focus on action in regards to production and movement of information parallels my focus on the movement of scholarship. I feel that an understanding of how and why things are produced, how and where they move, and in what context are important when working towards scholarships that works within the boundaries of two disparate groups. These questions and their answers can provide insight into hip hop culture, especially the cypher, which is a little known aspect of hip hop culture. These insights can further hip hop scholarship in the area of hip hop education, which is a growing area of education in urban schools and non-profit organizations that serve low-income and/or minority areas. Genre theory focuses on agreed upon patterns that enable action. Rhetorical Situation theory focuses on the acts of the rhetor and/or the audience to make meaning and effect change/persuade. Finally, CHAT is about rhetorical activity. These theories align with my belief that the movement and exchange of information is key to knowledge construction. They also align with my personal goal of bridging seemingly opposite communities.

How do these theories align with your own biases and background (the reason you came to this project in the first place)?

I came to this project because my previous object of study did not stand up well as a network. Most of my research has always fallen within hip hop, cultural studies, or both. So, it made sense for my next object of study to fall somewhere within those two areas. Much of my other work in hip hop scholarship deals with bridging rhetoric and hip hop and exploring questions of authenticity, gender, sexuality, and black identity in hip hop culture. I have also explored African diaspora and pedagogy in connection with hip hop. From this perspective, my bias is that I feel that hip hop is significant to the academy. I think it is culturally significant and honestly, more relevant than many of the other subjects we are required to study. Using rhetoric, through Bitzer, Vatz, Biesecker, and Prior et al’s use of CHAT, allows me to connect hip hop with something that is already recognized by the academy as legitimate.

Another bias, I have is that I privilege the “real” world over the academy. What I mean by this is that I think theory is valuable in all aspects of life. In reality theory is philosophy, something we all have. However, I feel that scholarship is only significant if it moves from mental practice and showcase to action or activism. These theories align with my bias by being accessible or easy decoded. Though the term rhetoric may be unfamiliar to some, the general idea or concept of rhetoric and persuasion is not. The term genre in the sense that it is use by Miller and Bazerman may seem foreign and first, but everyone is familiar with genres of music and movies. That can serve as the stepping stone by which to introduce genre theory to an unfamiliar audience. My scholarship, particularly hip hop scholarship, has to go beyond the academy. If it doesn’t, I, as a member of the hip hop community, will be selling out. I’m not “keeping it real” if I hit it big (PhD) and then go mainstream (only producing for outsiders). These theories, with their accessibility and focus on action/activity, allow me to be apart of the mainstream (the academy) while staying connected to my roots.

References

Bazerman Charles, “Speech Acts, Genres, and Activity Systems: How Texts Organize Activity and People.” Eds. Charles Bazerman and Paul A. Prior. What Writing Does and How it Does It: An Introduction to Analyzing Texts and Textual Practices. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2004. Print.

Biesecker, Barbara A. “Rethinking the Rhetorical Situation from with the Thematic of ‘Differance’.” Philosophy & Rhetoric 22.2 (1989): 110-130. Print.

Bitzer, Lloyd F. “The Rhetorical Situation”  Philosophy & Rhetoric. Special ed. Selections from Volume 1. 25.1 (1992): 1-14. Print.

Miller, Carolyn R. “Genre as Social Action.” Quarterly Journal of Speech 70 (1984): 151-167. Print.

Prior, Paul, et. al. “Re-situating and Re-mediating the Canons: A Cultural-Historical Remapping of Rhetorical Activity: A Collaborative Core Text. Kairos, 11.3 (Summer 2007). Web. 31 March 2014. Web.

Vatz, Richard E. “The Myth of the Rhetorical Situation.” Philosophy & Rhetoric. 6.3 (1973): 154-161. Print.

Synthesis…I hope

Theories

Which 2 – 4 theories are you choosing and why?

Rhetorical Situation Theory: Bitzer, Vatz, and Biesecker provided different approaches to the rhetorical situation, which allow me to consider exigence (problem that invites a response), the rhetor, and the site of communication, respectively. If I utilize my re-proposed Oos, in which I expanded the Snapchat network to include the designers and the technology (infrastructure as well as the device), the above theorists will allow me to discuss Snapchat’s design creation as a part of the network because the creators are still creating the application. There are updates and changes to the device, which impact the Snapchat network. This theory will allow me to examine the users exchanges as rhetorical activity.

CHAT : Whereas rhetorical situation theory focuses on rhetorical activity of author, audience, text, and to some extent the situation, itself, CHAT focuses on literate activity. I think it is important to see the network as literate activity. In using CHAT I can expand from the rhetorical situation to the rhetorical canon, examining delivery, production, representation, and reception. I think using this theory will also help me to expand the original case study to address the cultural historical aspect of Snapchat. If Snapchat is situated within a cultural historical context, I would be able to address the design aspect of Snapchat as being part of the network. As mentioned before, the creators of Snapchat are still actively involved in and impact the network. It would be disservice to not include them in the network.

ANT: I am still undecided about using ANT. I feel that it is necessary because ANT flattens the network, which I feel is important. ANT also provides an easy way to include the technology in the network. Because all parts of the network are seen as actors, I can explain the role of technology in Snapchat. It is important to include this, as it is the application’s hiding of the snaps that makes it so significant. The ephemeral nature of Snapchat is easily discussed through ANT because ANT allows for the tracing of connections. There is a historical element to ANT that I did not address in my first case study. Returning to ANT (in conjunction with CHAT) may allow me to address this part of theory in a productive manner.

Affordances: The last theory that I am considering is JJ Gibson’s Theory of Affordances. This was my favorite theory of the semester because I felt it was the most accessible. This theory allows me to focus on action and perception, which I think is important for discussing Snapchat’s users and their interaction with the software. It also allows for the inclusion of the technology in the network.  Through this theory, I am able to include the camera phone and multimedia  messaging (MMS) into the Snapchat network. Camera phones and photo messaging are essential parts needed for Snapchat to function. Because I view Snapchat as a photo messaging application designed for mobile phones (smartphones, specifically) framed as a social network, affordances allows me to include the hardware and software as part of the network. Just as the aforementioned theories allowed me to expand beyond the users, affordances allows me to expand the environment of the network beyond the application of Snapchat to the smartphone (and possibly to the ISP network).

How are they similar enough that you can justify getting them to work together?

I would argue that the main similarity among these theories is activity. Rhetorical Situation theorizes the way rhetoric is created and the constituents required for this creation. CHAT and ANT both focus on activity. CHAT continues the work of the rhetorical situation theory, theorizing the production and overall movement of literate activity(rhetoric). ANT adds to this by focusing on the activity at all levels the network. Each part of the network is apart of the literate activity. ANT speaks more to action and the results of those actions. The theory of affordances also speaks to action and the results of actions. Affordances looks to what is in the environment, the purpose it serves, and the action allowed by the objects  (and the allowable perceived by the users). Although each theory is different, they all focus on some aspect of activity, looking at the context required for activity to the movement of the activity.

How do they fill each other’s gaps?

In regards to filling the gaps, CHAT (ANT) allow for singular focus on literate activity. However, Affordances, CHAT, and ANT provide a lens through which to examine the way Snapchat functions. The rhetorical situation theory does not allow for such an examination. Also, CHAT, ANT, and rhetorical situation theory (particularly, Biesecker) address historical and social context. Affordances does not address historical context. However, affordances by way of Norman does address cultural conventions.

Scholar(ship)

How do these theories align with how you position yourself as a scholar?

This is a difficult question to answer because at this point in my education, I do not feel I have a position. I have not written, read, or thought about scholarship enough to have a position.  I honestly feel at this point that I read and complete assignments to the best of my ability.  Much of my research comes from class assignments. The closest I can get to positioning myself as a scholar would be my blog title: Academic Cypher. I wholeheartedly believe in the power of the Cypher. Rooted in African tradition of communicating and sharing spirit and knowledge in a circle, the cypher is a significant part of hip hop and the way in which I believe all knowledge can be created and transferred. My blog description states: “In hip hop culture, the cypher is a circle of MCs, B-boys/B-girls, beatboxers, etc who freestyle and/or battle one after the other without interruption, exchanging rhymes and flows back and forth or around. The cypher is where training takes place and skills are tested, where people collaborate, and where people create “off the top” or written/choreographed, tapping into the place where thought and action come together to share energy and advance the craft…the Academy should aim to do the same.”  Knowledge exists within each individual and is connected by (and within) the cypher. The cypher is a network (I think I wrote myself into understanding this). Although this may be outside of the academy’s purview, I position myself as a member the cypher. I bring to the table what I have and throw it into the ring. I perform my conceptualization of the theory inspired by and connected to those who have performed before and perform with me. Ultimately, I hope to keep the cypher going (don’t break the chain), so that the exchange and creation never stops. The aforementioned theories align with this perspective in that they all consider the social, cultural, and historical aspects of production and reception.

How do these theories align with your own biases and background (the reason you came to this project in the first place)?

My thoughts on this question are similar to the previous question. I do not believe or see that I have a background on which to align anything. I am sure I have biases, but I do not know what they are. I chose the theories based on what I was able to understand. I did not choose the theories that I couldn’t understand.  I came to Snapchat because I was interested in the move away from traditional social networking of creating a profile and archiving photos, experiences, and thoughts. Snapchat does not fit within my larger research focus which is bringing together rhetoric and hip hop. I greatly offends me that mainstream society does not see any value in hip hop beyond appropriation, commercialization, and commodification. It could be argued that they perceived the value, which lead to all those things. I chose to pursue an advance degree to be a walking contradiction. What I mean is that I wanted to show people (particularly African Americans) that one doesn’t have to choose between hip hop culture and mainstream society. They are not mutually exclusive. One can hit the streets and the books. This perspective may be why I am somewhat adverse to scholarship. Scholarship is for those within the academy. My audience (imagined/dreamed) are those outside of the academy. I think my bias is that I am anti-scholarship.

I guess my ability and level of understanding plays a significant part in the theories I choose. I saw Snapchat as a unique opportunity to examine a shift in social networking, as it is happening. Rhetorical Situation Theory, CHAT, ANT, and affordances allowed me to enter into an unfamiliar conversation because I recognized in each of them elements of rhetoric, which is familiar to me. I know the rhetorical situation, I know the rhetorical canon (CHAT). I previously read about ANT in Digital Humanities, so I was aware of the basics of the theory. I appreciated its focuses on activity and action. I also liked that it included everything as part of the network. It was not user or human centric, which I appreciate because everything (animate or inanimate) is impacted by everything else.  Affordances was very new to me, but the theory was straightforward. It’s accessibility is what lead me to use if for Case Study #3. I liked the idea of perception impacts how we use things. I am sure that there is more to this than what I have presented. However, I am unable to articulate whatever that may be.

Case Study #3: Snapchat and Theory of Affordances

Introduction

Snapchat’s impact on social media networks has been a hot topic for several months now.  It and other ephemeral data applications are being championed as the next wave in communication. The application’s creators have positioned Snapchat in opposition to traditional social media applications, such as MySpace and Facebook, which focus on creating a profile and archiving experiences. This rhetoric and Snapchat’s increased popularity have led many to argue that the days of traditional social media network are coming to an end. Often overlooked in these conversations are short message service (SMS) and multimedia messaging service (MMS), which are Snapchats forerunners. When examining Snapchat’s potential as a revenue generating application and effective communication tool, it is important to understand its technological origins. In the last two case studies, I examined the users’ communication via Snapchat as well as technology’s role in that communication. This case study will move away from Snapchat users and technology, focusing instead on the design of the application itself. Since Snapchat is supposed to be an advance in digital communication and social media networks, it seems key to use Gibson’s theory of affordances to examine the actions users are able to perform within the Snapchat network.

Network and Affordances

The theory of affordances, as laid out by by J.J. Gibson in Chapter 8 of The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception, defines affordances as what the environment “offers that animal, what it provides or furnishes, either for good or ill” (127). Simply put, the environment or object allows certain actions for the animal or users. The emphasis here in regards to networks is that there is connection between the environment (object), what is allows the user (action), and the animal (user).  Affordance theory is connected to ecology, hence the reference to environment and animal, so there is a sense of looking at what a specific environment or space allows animals in that space. The is a interdependence or connectedness between the environment and the animal. Gibson presents, “The organism depends on its environment for its life, but the environment does not depend on the organism for its existence.” (129). However, he goes on to say that the organism does have impact on and the ability to share said environment.The allowable action or affordance impacts both the parts of the network in that “an affordance points both ways, to the environment and to the observer” (129). When an environment offers a set of affordances it is a niche. Gibson argues that “a niche is a set of affordances[…]The niche implies a kind of animal and the animal implies a kind of niche. Note the complementarity of the two” (128). Beyond the connection environment and the animal, is the idea of perception. The animal or user has to perceive the use before the environment or object can be utilized. Perception adds another dimension to the network of affordances because affordances can exist that animals/users cannot perceive. Gibson explains stating, “The affordance of something does not change as the need for the observer change. The observer may or may not perceive or attend to the affordance, according to his needs, but the affordance, being invariant, is always there to be perceived” (139). Affordances exist as a part of the network whether they are recognized or not by the user. So, as a network, the theory of affordances includes the environment in which action takes place, the objects themselves, the allowable actions, and the animal/user.

Connection to Snapchat/Literature Review

The theory of affordances allows for the inclusion of the camera phone and multimedia  messaging (MMS) into the Snapchat network. Camera phones and photo messaging are essential parts needed for Snapchat to function. What is the significance of camera phones and photo messaging in regards to mobile communication? One scholar will provide work on which to build an analysis of Snapchat and it’s affordances. As mentioned in previous studies, there is little to no literature on Snapchat besides discussions of ephemerality and sexting. In this study, Snapchat is a photo messaging application designed for mobile phones (smartphones, specifically) framed as a network. In the previous case study, the hardware (data storage) and software were considered parts of the network. Moving forward, this case study will aim to incorporate the hardware in regards to the camera phone and photo messaging software that make Snapchat possible.

In “Visual chitchat: The use of camera phones in visual interpersonal communication,” Mikko Villi argues that photo sharing is a significant part of mobile phone communication, which was enahnced by the camera phone. The camera phone is not a ubiquitous part of moblie phones. Villi’s study aimed to see how mobile phone communication practices connected to photo sharing. Through the lens of James W. Cary’s theory of ritual view of communication, Villi concluded, “ritual communication is evidence in how camera phone photographs are captured and communicated in order to maintain social cohesion among a group or among individuals”(39).    Villi’s work presents that photographs have moved from being the subject to the medium of communication. Due to the camera phone, visual interpersonal communication has increased. According to Villi, “A photo message offers both interpersonal, shared experience, and mutual view of the same world through the photograph” (42-43).  Thus, the camera phone allows “new forms of mobile interaction by adding a visual element to the communication process” (50). A significant thing that Villi notes, which relates to Snapchat, is: “A further outcome of the convergence of photography and mobile communication is that photographs can be increasingly directed towards communicating the present. These communications, Villi argues are ritual communications that are used to maintain connections between individuals and/or groups.  The convergence and utilization of these technologies allow users to visually connect with one another to “show the recipient that s/he is in the sender’s thoughts” rather than to directly communicate a specific message (49). This is significant in that  Snapchat is all about capturing and sharing a specific, fleeting moment. The rhetoric of Snapchat’s creators emphasizes connectedness through shared moments and memories that must be paid attention to and absorbed by the individuals involved versus being archived and shared with everyone.

How does the theory define your object of study (as a whole, broken into pieces)?

The theory of affordances would define Snapchat as an object within the environment of the smartphone. The smartphone serves as the environment because Gibson defines the environment as “the surfaces that separate substances form the medium in which the animals live” (127). The smartphone would be the surface that allows the network of Snapchat to function within it. The smartphone’s functioning and ability would greatly impact the network within. For example, if the phone loses power or cannot connect to the cell tower, the user will have limited to no access to Snapchat.

What and/or who is a network node?

The network would include the environment, the object, the user, and the affordances. Through the lens of the affordance theory as network, the environment of the smartphone provides the space for the object of the camera to allow the functioning of the object Snapchat by the user. The environment (smartphone) would be the surface in which the nodes of the objects (camera phone and Snapchat) afford the animal (Snapchat user) action. The snaps, themselves, would also be objects that are moving within the environment of the smartphone and between the objects of the camera phone and Snapchat. These different nodes all impact and connect with one another. All are influenced by the larger environment of the smartphone. The affordances are also apart of the network. The camera phone affords taking pictures and videos. The application of Snapchat affords connecting to the camera phone to take pictures/videos, connecting to other users, and sending/recieving pictures/videos. Upon first glance, the application does not afford saving of images. However, this is circumvented by saving the picture/video on another device or utilizing another affordance of the smartphone and camera: screen capture.

How are different types of nodes situated within a network?

The nodes within the network are not necessarily hierarchical. In the previous case study, I discussed the significance of the hardware and software. This is also the case via the lens of affordance theory.  The objects, actors, and affordances are all connected and interdependent. There is no hierarchy. However, if the environment is considered a part of the network (it has agency). It would be situated as the primary node. This is important in regards to Snapchat because the environment of the smartphone and the object of the camera play a significant role in the functioning of the application. There is much more dependence of Snapchat upon the connection to the network and the functioning of the smartphone and camera than the other way around.

The theory of affordances aimed to allow the examination of the connection between environment and animals/objects in an interdependent and connected ecology rather than a subject-object divide. This moves in favor of the network being flattened. However, Gibson states, “The possibilities of the environment and the way of life of the animal go together inseparably. The environment constrains what the animal can do[…]”  (141). Although there is interconnectedness, the environment constrains the actions within the network.

What types of agency are articulated for various types of nodes?

In the Snapchat network, if the environment is viewed as only a surface, the actors have the most agency. Although there is a still a certain level of dependence on the functioning of the camera phone, the users still decide when and if to use the network. All the parts of the network and environment would still exist, but they would be static if not for the users. The users must perceive the affordance and then act in order for the network to be active. Moreover, within Snapchat the actors create objects that are added to the network. The taking and sending of a snap adds the snap to the network (even if for a short period of time).

What are the types and directions of relationships between nodes?

In regards to types of relationships, the nodes within the Snapchat network are interdependent. Gibson presents the idea of niche. A niche is defined as  a set of affordances” (128). He presents that the nice has more to do with how than where an animal lives. In this regards, the niche would focus on how the user functioned within the environment of the smartphone and utilized the affordances of the camera phone and Snapchat. The user needs all of these pieces. If any of the pieces are missing, nothing can move within the network. I am aware that this can contradict the previous section in which I stated the actors/users had the most agency. I justify this by thinking of a dysfunctional network as being more significant than a network that is not being used at all. What i mean by that is if parts of this network malfunction, the user is still attempting to access and make use of the network. If the user is not attempting to use the network, whether it is functional or dysfunctional, it will be static.  The objects of the network are limited to the network, except for those that are user generated. Objects, such as snaps, added to the network have the ability to leave the network if another user violates the terms of snapchat and saves/stores and disseminates the snap. A snap removed from the network would have its own set of affordances that would go beyond the affordance of sharing a private moment/experience between connected users within the Snapchat network .

What is moving within the network?

As mentioned above, the only thing that moves within the network are the user created objects (snaps). These move from user to user and only exist for up to 10 seconds. At this point, the object, theoretically, disappears. It is hidden from the user via the camera phone and smartphone, itself. It is also, supposedly, hidden or blocked in the larger environment of the service provider network. Nothing else within the network moves.

What happens to content or meaning as it travels through a network?

Through the theory of affordances meaning is complex. Gibson argues, “The meaning is observed before the substance and surface, the color and form, are seen as such.” As mentioned before perception is a significant part of affordance theory. Affordances can exist that are not perceived. Meaning is tied to the perception of affordances. Therefore, it is up to the user to assign meaning based on perceived affordance of the object (snap). However, since affordances exist whether not they are perceived, the meaning can be there and not be perceived. As Gibson states, “The affordance of something does not change as the need of the observer changes. the observer may or may not perceive or attend to the affordance, according to his needs, but the affordance, being invariant, is always there to be perceived” (139). So, theoretically, meaning would travel through the network and reside in the network until the snap disappeared. The snaps afford interpretation and internalization of meaning. If the user does not perceive this affordance, the meaning still exists but it is not perceived.

How do networks emerge, grow, and/or dissolve?

The emergence, growth, and dissolution of the environment would be impacted by niche ecology and constraints. Gibson argues, “ “The possibilities of the environment and the way of life of the animal go together inseparably. The environment constrains what the animal can do, and the concept of a niche ecology reflects that fact.” The niche, as previously defined, is a set of affordances.  Just as there were aspects of the environment that had to be invariant for animals to evolve. The environment of the smartphone has to have invariant elements for the network of Snapchat to develop. The camera phone had to become a ubiquitous part of mobile phones, and  photo messaging had to become a regular part of mobile communication. Gibson discusses constraints in regards to what the environment affords the animal/user. Another aspect is cultural constraint. Normal defines cultural constraints as “learned conventions that are shared by a cultural group.” In regards to Snapchat, the network emerged and grew due to the cultural constraints. Over time camera phones, photo messaging, and applications have become a regular part of culture that users have accepted overtime as natural part of mobile phone communication. This harkens back to Villi’s discussion of ritual communication. The ritual of communication through these methods allowed for this network to emerge and grow in this environment. The same can be said for the dissolution. The cultural constraints could provide advancements, which cause the network to grow, move toward another form of mobile communication, or the end this form of mobile communication all together.

Conclusion

The theory of affordances, for me, emphasized connection, action, and perception. The parts of the network were illuminated for what they do and how they do it in connection with the other elements. In the other case studies, I barely looked at the technology that makes Snapchat possible. This has to be apart of the equation if the entire system is taken into consideration. Through the theory of affordances (and what it brings from ecology), I was able to focus in on where Snapchat exists within a somewhat larger position, rather than focusing just on Snapchat and the users. There is much less on the users and the possible content of the snaps. The users will always be an essential element in this because Snapchat needs users to send snaps in order for the network to remain active and relevant. If everyone is a receiver on Snapchat the network will not be as effective. More importantly, the network will no longer align with the rhetoric that the creators have crafted. Each case study has allowed for a closer look at a different aspect of Snapchat. Bring the pieces together could allow for the big picture of Snapchat as a network within much larger networks. I am thinking of this in regards to the network of mobile phones and service providers. In addition to its position as the next big thing in social media networks.

Works Cited

Gibson, James. “The Theory of Affordances” The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., 1986. Print.

Norman, Donald A.. “Affordances and Design.” Don Norman: Designing for People. 2004. Web. 15 Mar. 2014.

Villi, Mikko. “Visual chitchat: The use of camera phones in visual interpersonal communication.” Interactions: Studies in Communication & Culture, 3.1 (2012): 39-54. Print.

Re-proposing my Oos

 In my original proposal on Snapchat. I stated that I was interested in  Snapchat because it “encourages users to connect between 1 and 10 seconds at a time” instead of creating profiles akin to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I wanted to explore: What impact does this have on the concept of social networking? What does this new, ephemeral form of communication mean for social networking and mediated communication?  I felt this was useful for English Studies because it offered a glimpse into rhetoric of messaging and study of time/space in communication. I stated, “SnapChat offers an exploration of kairos and spontaneity, privacy concerns, ephemeral nature of social media, and the role of body in communication.” I

After completing two case studies, I’m no longer interested in exploring Snapchat. Much of that is connected with my perceptions of Snapchat through research and the rhetoric that surrounds Snapchat. Snapchat is often discussed as a social network. I argue that Snapchat is a photo messaging application that is apart of social media. Snapchat is a network the same way that the text message function on a cell phone is a network. Yes, Snapchat does offer the potential to find and connect with people even if you do not have their number, but it does not provide the same chance for connectivity and flow of information apparent in social networks. Connectivity and network are not the same thing. Snapchat provides a connection, but it does not provide a network without continued and consistent effort on the parts of the users. I don’t want to present this as traditional versus nontraditional social network, but the conversations about Snapchat are moving in that direction. If Snapchat is going to be considered a social network: Does that redefine network? Does that change what counts as a network?

If I were to shift to a new Oos, I would expand from Snapchat and examine all of the ephemeral, disappearing, and privacy applications being presented as social networks/media. I wouldn’t focus specifically on Snapchat because of the aforementioned thoughts on Snapchat as a network. In a sense, I would move from examining these specific applications as networks to examining the idea of social network/media that focuses on moving data with the purpose of erasing or hiding it. These new services, such as Snapchat, Wicker, iDelete, and Facebook’s Poke, all provide a way to communicate and share information that will disappear. While the applications Secret and Whisper (which is a digital version of PostSecret) promise anonymity over ephemerality. It is important to think about Snapchat and these other services as networks to make the distinction between social networks and social media. Moreover, we may have reached the point where it becomes necessary to identify not only types of networks but also what each network affords.

As far as the significance of this Oos to English Studies, I think the significance lies in the study of communication (how we communicate, why we communicate, when we communicate, and in what medium). This mediation of text and photo messaging can be utilized to examine rhetorical activity, to facilitate composition pedagogy, to expand cultural studies. It could simply offer a glimpse into a shift in the way that society perceives and participates in social networking/media.

Ecology of CCCC

I approached this assignment with what I call the “huh face.” The major issue was the phrase “distributed consciousness.” After completing the readings and annotating, I still did not remember reading this phrase. So, I was a little disheartened when I saw that it was something that was “outlined in various ways by readings from this week.” Did I read the wrong readings?  One thing that I did connect with from the readings was affordances. So, I will begin there.

Gibson’s presented affordances as possibilities available in an environment. Via Gibson, the affordances are there even if one does not realize. Norman, however, presents affordances in terms of both actual and perceived. So, affordances are connected with the design of an object. This allows the user to identify what an object allows them; it serves as a clue, in a sense. Based off of these two definitions, Gibson’s definition of affordances is connected to possibilities, and Norman’s definition is connected to culture.

Through this lens, CCCC conference provided several affordances, such as networking, learning, partying, playing, reuniting, exploring, purchasing, and stalking (I’ll explain). Some of these things were related to possibilities and capability. For example, the massive space of the wholesale district in Indianapolis and free time on the last day afforded me “walkability”.  I was able to walk and explore much of that area; I was willing and capable. On the other hand, clues designed into the conference, experience, knowledge, and culture also impacted my conference experience. There aren’t official announcements for some of the parties, so if you are not aware or invited in, these things can occur without conference attendees knowing. For example, my first CCCC, I did not attend the Bedford party because I had no idea that it was taking place. In addition, I was shocked by the idea of drinking and partying at a professional conference.

As for as the ecology or network of the conference there were several spaces that connected together to create the conference experience. There was the physical space of the JW Marriott, the hotels of my colleagues, the spaces used for the publisher parties, There were spaces within these spaces that connected to the conference experience, such as the Black Caucus suite in the JW and the Lobby of the JW, which became a central meeting space. Other than the physical there were several virtual spaces that I used everyday. I used the physical conference book in conjunction with the CCCC app. I also used Twitter, Facebook, text message, snapchat (limited), and Instagram.

All of these things impacted the conference. The conference wouldn’t have been the same without them. I did not mention my traveling companions. I also did not mention the friends that I met/made at the conference. They were a significant part of the conference experience for me because I only see these people once a year. However, this year I did not see most of them because unlike previous years, I attended the conference with a group. I was usually with the group, so I did not see many of the people that help make the conference experience meaningful for me. Whereas others may focus on the sessions, stalking the academic celebrities, or attending the parties, I enjoy connecting with my “conference friends” every year, catching up on each others research and lives.

 

 

Case Study #2: SnapCHAT and ANT

Literature Review

Snapchat  is a photo messaging application that is often discussed as a social network. Many of the conversations about Snapchat are taking place on blogs, news organizations, magazines, and other mainstream/popular media outlets. However, there is little scholarship about Snapchat. As much has not been written, this review will examine emerging scholarship on Snapchat, which has focused on two areas: ephemerality and sexting (both rooted in privacy)

Ephemerality

Photo messaging is nothing new. What makes Snapchat so significant is that the messages disappear.  Kotfila argues that Snapchat, and other self-destructing applications, are the “solution, shifting control over digital communication back to owners” (12).  People have traditionally trusted that their private communications were beyond the reach of the public, until technology enabled massive data aggregation. Some information, even if it has been publicly available, is shrouded in “practical obscurity,” because the cost of retrieving it is excessive. But practical obscurity has been diluted by data recording, copying and easy dissemination. The tide is turning with emerging technologies incorporating self-destruct functionalities that obliterate images, texts, videos and pdfs in a time period specified by the owner. Similarly, Shein explores the societal desire for and implications of these new technologies. Shein argues that ephemeral data is the wave of the future because people are more concerned about the traces that they leave online and the potential for the data generated to harm them in the future. Social media was designed to store data. However, people are moving toward replicating the ephemerality of real world conversation in the digital world. Shein goes on to examine the motivations behind the desire for ephemeral data. Shein concludes by discussing the fact that the data is not in fact ephemeral. There are ways to circumvent the software via screenshots, hacking, and using other devices. Because of the advances in technology, software and hardware are designed to store information, so the applications are in a sense faking the ephemerality.

Sexting

Snapchat and sexting have become synonymous since reports of teens using Snapchat for sexting and cyberbullying surfaced in 2013. Poltash presents that personal pictures have been a very common part of social media for years. It often happens that photos are usurped and used for ulterior motives, which has brought about privacy concerns. This issue of privacy is exacerbated by Snapchat and further complicated by sexting. Poltash notes, “the company’s deletion of messages from its serves has led to a widespread alternative use for Snapchat: sexting” (11). The idea that snaps self-destruct, giving users (especially teens) a sense of security because their discretions, supposedly, will not come back to haunt them.  Poltash also notes that Snapchat is being used to share explicit drawings, to share underage drinking, and to cheat on tests. From the a legal standpoint, sexting is a dangerous endeavor for teens. If these explicit snaps are revealed, through screen capture, secondary photo, or technological infiltration, teens risk damaging their reputation, hindering job opportunities, and being bullied.

Trust and Snapchat

Jenny Davis complicates the discussions of ephemerality and sexting by adding the concept of trust to the conversation. Davis argues that although Snapchat solves the problem of sharing sensitive (erotic) communications via a network, it has “unique” and “possibly problematic” implications. Davis presents that within the network limited agency resides with the person who produces an image. However, once the image is put out into the network “it belongs–rightly or wrongly–to The Internet.” The image can either be unseen or spread quickly through the network. Snapchat can prevent this spread from occurring. Davis states, “Snapchat ostensibly helps users circumvent privacy concerns within networked publics. Or, more specifically, Snapchat should alleviate the worry inherent in digitally mediated intimate contact.” However, there is a major issue with Snapchat. Through the lens of technology as mediated action, Davis argues that Snapchat causes the “displacement of trust from a message recipient, to the technology itself”. Sexting is an intimate act, which means there is a certain level of trust between the sender and the receiver. Davis argues that Snapchat changes this trust. It provides users a sense of safety and privacy, but “the technology now–not the recipient—is the trusted object”. The unstated code of Snapchat users (not taking a screenshot or picture of the snap) and even more so, the application, itself, prevents the information from reaching the networked public.

This is significant in regards to thinking about Snapchat as a network. Explorations of Snapchat have not moved much beyond disappearing snaps and privacy/security issues. As Davis identified, trust and agency are significant elements of the conversation. Looking at Snapchat through the lens of the network will allow examination of agency. So, for this case study, I will use Prior et. al and Latour’s discussions of activity to analyze Snapchat as a  network. These theories offer a way to explore activity and agency.

Source KPCB estimates based on company data retrieved from NoraBella

What is the network?

CHAT could possibly define Snapchat as a combination of production, representation, distribution, and reception of practices within a laminated chronotope. The communications within Snapchat are produced by users within a particular context or moment. These communications are “entextualized in talk, text, and mind” by users through the addition of  text or drawing to the snaps, which are then disseminated to other users via the application. The user modifies this distribution by deciding how long the recipient has to view the communication. The last part of the activity centers on the “actual reading/viewing/hearing and response” to the communication. As a tool that sends interactive messages between users, activity within Snapchat is “situated in concrete interactions that are simultaneously improvised locally and mediated by historically-provided tools and practices” (Prior et. al). The snaps or communications are made concrete (although temporarily) with smartphone cameras by users, who wish to capture a fleeting moment using a mediation of SMS.

ANT could possibly define Snapchat as a network of actors circulating intermediaries or traces of connections between actors. Actors in Snapchat would include the application, users, service providers (and their hardware–cell towers), and the server on which the data is stored. Additional actors could be added depending on the number of people who receive the snap and their individual service providers (and their hardware). ANT would probably include all aspects of the system which enable the communication between users to take place. If networks are formed by actors sending intermediaries among themselves, then Snapchat is a network, as users send snaps among themselves. These specific data transmitted between users disappears (is hidden). However, the interactions themselves are not. The application creates a best friend list for users that shows which users interact more with one another. For example, if user A sends the majority of their snaps to user Z, user Z will be listed as user A’s best friend. The interactions between users are recorded and the level of activity described.

What are Nodes?

Nodes within CHAT are literate activity. Literate activity is “action and cognition[…] distributed over time and space and among people, artifacts, and environments […]” (Prior et. al). Therefore, nodes within Snapchat would include the users, who send communications to one another. The software would also be a node within the network because it facilitates the activity. In addition, the hardware would be a node. The smartphones, on which the application functions, facilitate distribution. Furthermore, the service providers and the servers are apart of the network due to their control over access and data. Within the ongoing conversations about Snapchat, these nodes would create the literate activity within the social network.

ANT defines nodes as actors. As mentioned above, the actors are numerous. Every aspect of the network—both human and nonhuman—can have agency. This means that the hardware and the software involved in making communications in Snapchat possible are apart of the network. Latour presents that “anything that does modify a state of affairs by making a difference is an actor” (71). He presents that when deciding about actors one should ask: “Does it make a difference in the course of some other agent’s action or not? Is there some trial that allows someone to detect this difference?” (71). I would argue that because the application is designed to hide the data from users, stored on the servers, and can be hacked by others (users and non-users of Snapchat) that the hardware and software are actors in the network.

Agency of Nodes

Through CHAT the agency would shift between hardware and the software. The users of Snapchat are responsible for the production, representation, and reception of the communications. They have primary agency as creators of the data that moves through the network. The service providers can be said to have greater agency as they control access to the network and allow the data to travel through the network. Also, once the time for the snap has lapsed, the technology and its creators (service providers and servers) would have primary agency. They alone would have access to and control over the communication. The user would be unable to access the communications without technological know how. It seems that primary agency is with the users; however, after the snap disappears the users have no agency. The agency shifts to the company, itself. Technically, the agency lies with the technology; it is with the server on which the snap is saved.

Within ANT, the temporary connectivity that the snaps provide and the “disappearing” of the snaps are enabled by the hardware and software. The users would not be able to utilize the network without these technologies. However, these technologies would lie dormant if users were not creating and sending snaps. So, the object actors and the human actors both have agency. There is no primary agency in this instance, as all parties are needed for the network to function

Location of Nodes

Although the agency shifts within the network, Snapchat’s nodes would be located within different categories in the Remapping Rhetorical Activity: Take 2. There is a hierarchy with the network. The users operate within the literate activity part of the system; they are a part of “individual and collective invention,” “style and arrangement,” “the way particular media, technologies, and social practices are disseminated,” and “how meaning is made under what conditions and for what ends.” (Prior et. al). The application developers, service providers, and the actual technology operate on the literate activity and the functional level of the system. This aspect of the network is responsible for the distribution of the data within the network. Those who control the hardware “tie together people, artifacts, practices, institutions, communities, and ecologies” (Prior et. al). Snapchat facilitates literate activity (snaps within the application space) within the functional system of the social network for a specified period of time.

As there is no primary agent in ANT, the nodes are not situated in categories or hierarchies. Latour argues for “keep[ing] the social domain completely flat” (171; original emphasis). I interpreted this as avoiding hierarchies. This is important as hierarchies would situate human actors higher than nonhuman actors. The lack of hierarchies make the relationship between the hardware, software, and the users both necessary and interrelated.

Relationships between Nodes

CHAT and ANT would present the relationship between nodes as centered on interaction.  It functions as an “interlocking system within which rhetors are formed, act, and navigate” (Prior et. al). CHAT emphasizes ecologies, which operate within literate activity and function systems; ecologies “point to the biotic and natural world, which enables and constrains all the previous functions and which may also be a domain of rhetorical action” (Prior et. al). In this context, the users of Snapchat enter the application, which the developers created, create their snaps and send them, utilizing the technology and data of the service providers. Once the snap has been viewed by the recipient, the snap disappears from all users. In actuality, the snaps are only hidden from users and stored by providers. Snapchat’s function is a system in which users, creators, and hardware work together to mediate activity. The relations have to remain active in order for the network to continue. The users of Snapchat must continue to send snaps in order for their connections and the network to remain active. There is an emphasis on the and information flow among the nodes (Latour 217).

Movement within the Network

In Snapchat, data (in the form of photo messages) moves within the network from one user through the application and the service provider to the recipient and then to hide on the server after the user designated time has lapsed. Through the lens of CHAT the movement of data would be distribution. Distribution is “the way particular media, technologies, and social practices disseminate a text and what a particular network signifies.” Distribution takes place on the part of the users and the controllers’ of technology. The users decide on when to deliver the communication and how long recipient(s) will have to view the communication. The controllers’ of the technology also control distribution by facilitating (and to some extent controlling) the movement of the data through the network from one user to the other.

Snapchat’s Best Friends List retrieved from www.forbes.com

ANT may describe the movement within Snapchat as traces or assemblages of connections within the social network. The network part of this is clear. The social part is defined, by Latour, as “made to circulate inside tiny conduits that can expand only through more instruments, spending, and channels” (241). Moreover,  Snapchat would be a part of society; it is “what travels through everything.” (241). The interactions on Snapchat are connections among users within the network. These interactions are traced by the software and stored on the hardware. These relations are a process that must continuously performed for the connections to persist and for the data to move through the network.

Meaning within the Network

Within CHAT meaning is literate activity, specifically reception and socialization, in the functional system. Reception is defined as “actual reading/viewing/hearing and responses, how meaning is made under what conditions and for what ends. It is a mental and social activity. Reception can be, and often is, actively shaped by writers or distributors” (Prior et. al). The activity of creating and sending a snap is the literate activity. The meaning resides with the writer upon the production/creation of the snap.  However, control of meaning shifts to the receiver upon viewing the snap. It is up to the recipient to make meaning of the snap and/or respond to the snap.  Socialization is defined as “the making of people and the making of society in concrete history. As individuals engage in cultural practices, they are involved in apprenticeship, learning, and development. As situated engagement in cultural practices, unfolds, society is (re)produced, that is, transmitted and transformed in activity” (Prior et. al). Through this lens, Snapchat could be read as literate activity of socialization within the functional system of the social network. Snapchat was created as a response to current social media and as a need to provide privacy for social network users. Since its inception, Snapchat has, as shown in the literature, impacted the way that people utilize messaging applications. The activity of photo messaging has been transformed because of Snapchat.

Meaning within ANT is a confusing aspect of the theory. In the beginning of his discussion of ANT, Latour emphasizes “the social cannot be construed as a kind of material or domain” (1). Thus, the focus is not on meaning. The social is defined a “trail of associations” that ANT aims to map. Since ANT aims to avoid the essentialist notions of the social, there isn’t a focus on meaning. This works for an application like Snapchat because the communications that move through the network are not readily available for analysis or interpretation. However, the functions of the network and the traces of the connections are available.

Emergence, Growth, and Dissolution of the Network

Through CHAT and ANT the network emerges, grows and dissolves based on the actions of the actors. The actions of the actors cause the network to be active and emerge. On the other hand, the emergence of the network could be the literate activity of the application creators, who made it possible for the network to exist by creating the software to connect and distribute the data of the users.  However, the users of Snapchat must continue to utilize the application and make connections with other users in order for the network to grow. If the users do not send data in the form of snaps then the network will be static or dissolve. The application creators and service providers also have some stake in the dissolution in the network due to their control over and access to the data that moves through the network.

Conclusion

CHAT and ANT, unlike Rhetorical Situation theory, allowed me to discuss Snapchat as a more complex network. Through these theories, I was able to examine the activity of the network in general terms rather than being caught in the binary of exigence or author. Snapchat is a limited network in that much of the network is dependent on connections already held by the user, and the users continued utilization of these connections. Using CHAT and ANT, I expanded my analysis to include those who create and control the technology and the technology (smartphone and application). Before, I was hesitant to label Snapchat as a network.  It is a network in a sense that the application is networked and that technology is required for the application to work. However, it is not a social network in the traditional sense, which is the goal of its creators. Because I was able to include human and non-human aspects of the network, there were few limitations.  I feel that CHAT and ANT would have allowed me to say more about the hardware and software as actors in the Snapchat network. I limited this aspect of the discussion due to personal limits on time and space limit on the assignment.  Moving forward, I would like to look more at Davis’ argument that users trust is in the application rather than other users. In terms of networks, this is significant because the application (ultimately, the servers) is then a part of the network that holds on the information that is said to have disappeared. CHAT and ANT provided a space for me to discuss the “disappearing” aspect of Snapchat as a part of the network, which is important as Snapchat’s popularity and controversy centers on this feature.

Works Cited

Davis, Jenny. “In Snapchat We Trust.” Cyborgology. The Society Pages. 12 Feb. 2013. Web. 22 March 2014.

Kotfila, Christopher. “This Message Will Self-Destruct: The Growing Role of Obscurity and Self-Destructing Data in Digital Communication.” Bulletin of the Association for Information Science and Technology. 40.2 (2014): 12-16. Web. 22 March 2014.

Latour, Bruno. Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005. Print.

Poltash, Nicole A. “Snapchat and Sexting: A Snapshot of Baring Your Bare Essentials.” Richard Journal of Law and Technology. 19.4 (2013): 1-10. Web. 21 March 2014.

Prior, Paul, et. al. “Re-situating and Re-mediating the Canons: A Cultural-Historical Remapping of Rhetorical Activity: A Collaborative Core Text. Kairos, 11.3 (Summer 2007). Web. 31 March 2014.

Shein, Esther. “ Ephemeral Data” Communications of the ACM. 56.9 (2013): 20-22. Web. 22 March 2014.

Responses: Outlines for Case Study #2

In my excitement about Spring Break, I forgot about this assignment. I responded/replied to Daniel’s Case Study using CHAT and ANT and Leslie’s Case Study using Genre Tracing and CHAT.

Daniel’s outline for case study #2 was organized utilizing the questions. It made the outline very easy to follow. It also emphasized the comparative nature of the assignment. I wasn’t confused in any areas. I’m still not 100% sure what Google Analytics is or does. I thought it was a well developed outline (much more so than mine). I did not have anything to add in regards to areas where I was confused or wanted to see more.

Leslie’s outline for case study #2 was organized very similar to my outline. She plans to apply Spinuzzi’s genre tracing and CHAT to the Noel Studio for Academic Creativity. Leslie’s outline, like mine was not very detailed. I had a question about how CHAT addresses what serves as a node. How are the different levels of activity nodes? It seems that a bit more explanation was to be provided, but it was not included. I am interested in this because I am also using CHAT and had difficulty expanding on how I saw the activity levels as nodes.

CHAT seems to be a popular theory for this assignment. I am interested in how each of use utilizes the theory in different ways. I hope this provides more insight into CHAT and possibly an article to expand on what was already done by Prior et al.

Peer Reviews for Case Study #1

For the first Case Study peer review, I responded to Summer’s case study on World of Warcraft (WoW) and Suzanne’s case study on Underground Press Syndicate (UPS).

Summer’s case study used Bazerman’s theory of speech acts and human activity to examine the Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) game World of Wordcraft (WoW). Summer’s study was interesting because I knew little about guilds or how they operate. They were much more organized and complex than I had imagined. The use of applications (form) to apply to certain guilds and the hierarchies within the guild were unexpected.

Suzanne’s case study was interesting because I was unaware of Underground Press Syndicate (UPS). Upon reading the background on UPS, I could easily see how communication evolved from the Pony Express to today. The UPS was interesting to me also because I am always concerned with agency, ethos, and meaning. What is the origin of rhetorical discourse? Where does meaning reside? The different nodes and connections within the UPS in conjunction with the purpose of the communications brought about questions in regards to where agency lies within activism?

From reading both of these case studies, I wondered how I could apply genre theory to SnapChat. Charles Bazerman explores “how people using text create new realities of meaning, relation, and knowledge” (309). It would be interesting to examine how people using SnapChat are creating new realities. Is SnapChat that complex? Much of the discussion focuses on the ephemeral of SnapChat. Maybe it would be beneficial trace the development of SnapChat. It is an advancement of text messaging. Reading about genre theory in these posts also made me think of how speech acts operate on different levels and on what level SnapChats operate. Viewing the lasting connections presented in the case studies above, I again return my focus to the tenuous nature of the connections made via SnapChat and how (and if) that impacts the communications being made via the application.

 

 

 

 

Case Study #1: Applying Rhetorical Situation to Snapchat

Network

The rhetorical situation, as discussed by Bitzer, Vatz, and Biesecker, would define Snapchat as a site of rhetorical discourse/communication by its connections among exigence, author, audience, and text/message. Snapchat’s purpose is to provide connected users the ability to utilize an ephemeral form of communication.

Although, it is presented as a dynamic network, the rhetorical situation as network reveals that Snapchat functions as a closed system that cannot exist without its users and their connections.

Nodes

The rhetorical situation as network would operate/form differently by each theorist. Via Bitzer, the rhetorical situation network would include the exigence, rhetor, and the audience as nodes within the network, with the exigence being the primary node.

Bitzer

According to Vatz, the network would have the same nodes: exigence, rhetor, and the audience. However, the primary node via Vatz would be the author due to Vatz’s argument that the rhetor decides what is relevant and then communicates it to the audience.

Vatz

In both instances, text/message travels through the network, and the audience is a given part of the situation.

Biesecker’s presents the rhetorical situation network that includes the exigence, rhetor, audience, and text. The text and audience are constituents in the rhetorical situation, meaning they are a nodes within the network and have impact on the network, itself. Biesecker moves past the discussion as to whether the situation or the rhetor serve as the origin of rhetorical discourse, meaning there isn’t a primary node.BieseckerThrough the lens of the rhetorical situation, the Snapchat users are the (nodes). Each user (rhetor) has the ability to capture a situation or moment (exigence) as a snap (text) and send it to other users (audience). On one hand, the primary node of the rhetorical discourse in Snapchat could be a specific situation/moment that the author experiences. On the other hand, the author could take a picture and make it meaningful by capturing the moment and/or adding text and drawings. Furthermore, each user has the potential to act as the primary node, creating and sending snaps. Snapchat does not afford the users the complex interactions presented via Biesecker’s take on the rhetorical situation.

Snapchat

Agency

As mentioned above, Bitzer presents the primary node as the exigence (situation or event), which requires a response. However, Vatz presents the primary node as the rhetor. The rhetor chooses what is relevant and makes it meaningful. Biesecker complicates this, as none of the constituents, or nodes, of the rhetorical situation serve as the primary node.  However, Biesecker does give agency to the audience, which is something Vatz and Biesecker overlook. Biesecker presents the human element of the network (both rhetor and audience) as being in flux, stating:

“From within the thematic of différance we would see the rhetorical situation neither as an event that merely induces audiences to act one way or another nor as an incident that, in representing the interests of a particular collectivity, merely wrestles the probable within the realm of the actualizable. Rather, we would see the rhetorical situation as an event that makes possible the production of identities and social relations. That is to say, if rhetorical events are analysed from within the  thematic of différance, it becomes possible to read discursive practices neither as rhetorics directed to preconstituted and known audiences nor as rhetorics “in search of” objectively identifiable  but yet undiscovered audiences.” (126)

This approach to the rhetorical situation de-centers the subject  This means that subjectivity is constantly evolving, nothing is a fixed point. The network then produces and reproduces identities and the linkages between them. The subjects (rhetor and audience) are moving parts of the network

 From this perspective, the level of agency in Snapchat is complex. For example, the author decides what moment to capture, what text or drawing to include, and what the time-limit will be. This can be interpreted two ways: 1)  agency being situated with author for making said event salient  and 2) agency being situated within the event for serving as the catalyst of rhetorical discourse. This falls along the lines of the rhetorical network presented via Bitzer and Vatz. However, via Biesecker’s take on the rhetorical situation, agency is situated with the recipient of the snap. Upon receiving the snap, the recipient can view only, respond, or take a screenshot. No matter the chosen response, the recipients level of agency becomes higher than the author. In choosing not to respond, the recipient ends the communications, breaking the discourse. If the recipient chooses to respond, the recipient becomes the author and the original author a recipient. However, the recipient has the ability to take a screenshot, subverting the purpose of Snapchat and, depending on the content of the snap, negatively impacting the author.  Although both author and audience have agency, it is higher with the audience, who has more impact on networks continuation (response), dissolve (not responding), or growth (via screenshot).

In the rhetorical situation network laid out by Bitzer and Vatz,  the nodes are not situated differently. There is a linear progression from the origin of the discourse to the audience. The directions of the relationships among the nodes is one-way with each node impacting the subsequent node. However, for Biesecker, the nodes are not situated in a linear pattern. The nodes exists in relation to one another, bearing the traces of one another; thus, there is no origin. The network “produces and reproduces the identities of subjects and constructs and reconstructs linkages between them” (126). The nodes relate to and impact one another.

Along the same lines as Bitzer and Vatz, users are not situated differently within Snapchat. All users have the ability to send and receive snaps, with an author communicating to an audience. However, some users can have more connectivity than others. For example, a user can have a closed system in which he/she only receives snaps from friends (already established and accepted connections). A user can also choose to have an open system in which he/she can receives snaps from anyone who uses Snapchat. Furthermore, the author has the ability to send the snap to as many people as the network and his/her connections allow. This affords new rhetorical situations to be created if and when receivers decide to respond.  Though not as complex and interactive as the network Biesecker imagines, snaps can be sent in various directions to various users.

Meaning

Meaning within the rhetorical situation differs for each theorist. However, meaning travels through the networks in a similar fashion for Bitzer and Vatz. Bitzer argues that meaning is intrinsic to the event and calls the rhetorical discourse into existence (compels the author to respond). This refers back to the primary node being the exigence.  Vatz argues that meaning lies in the creative act of the rhetor, which refers back to the primary node being the rhetor.

Since Bitzer and Vatz place little to no agency with the audience, as the meaning travels, it holds whatever meaning via the exigence and rhetor, respectively. However, Biesecker avoids the binary created by Bitzer and Vatz, arguing instead that meaning is found the “non-originary ‘origin’ called différance” (120). The content travels through the network and is continually impacted. For example, meanings relay to other meanings which have been impacted by earlier meanings and then modified by later meanings. This process continues because language continues. Biesecker argues, “neither the text’s immediate rhetorical situation nor its author can be taken as simple origin or generative agent since both are underwritten by a séries of historically produced displacements” (121). Because there isn’t a primary node, meaning is found in the process of the rhetorical network. Therefore,  the content of the rhetorical situation is “on a trajectory of becoming rather than Being” (127).

From this perspective, meaning in Snapchat can be said to derive from the exigence or the rhetor. In regards to what happens as meaning travels, Snapchat is different in that the content “self-destructs” after it travels from the author to the recipient. The author and the audience do not have to share the same meaning/understanding. Once the snap is sent, meaning can be misinterpreted by the recipient and changed via the response that the recipient generates. Also, the recipient has a limited amount of time (10 seconds maximum) to interpret and internalize the message before it disappears; the content Snapchat network goes from existence to non-existence as it travels.

Emergence, Growth, and Dissolution

Although the origin of the networks presented by Vatz and Bitzer differ, after the point of origin, the idea is that the message is communicated to an audience that can be influenced. Once the network forms, it can “mature or decay or mature and persist” (12). In this instance, though mostly ignored by both theorists, the audience would have a high level of agency. They could respond to the exigence or not. Biesecker complicates this by presenting the rhetorical situation as a process in which all the nodes are created and interact simultaneously. The network “produces and reproduces the identities of subjects and constructs and reconstructs linkages between them” (126). As Biesecker’s network is not caught in the binary of exigence and rhetor, the network “makes possible the production of identities and social relations” (126). Therefore, the network emerges and grows, interacting and shifting.

The dynamic network presented in Biesecker’s network is not possible via Snapchat. The network has the ability to grow based on the number of connections users make with one another. The possibilities of making connections can be expanded if one has an open Snapchat profile. However, the network can dissolve easily. The Snapchat network only thrives when snaps are sent. If snaps are not sent and users do not interact with one another, the network does not function. The connection remains intact, but it will not be a live network.

Conclusion

Comparing Snapchat to the rhetorical situation was more complicated than expected. At first, I envisioned Snapchat as a social networking platform, which allowed users to make and maintain connections. This made the network seem more complex than it actually was. Simplifying my approach and examining Snapchat as a messaging application or tool made it much easier to envision all parts of the network. Thinking about Snapchat in terms of the rhetorical situation helped me to realize that Snapchat is not much of a network at all. Although it is discussed as being a  dynamic social network, it is not. Snapchat is a closed system, which is more direct and linear (i.e. Bitzer and Vatz).  It  lacks the dynamic, interactive nature of the network as laid out by Biesecker.

The rhetorical situation allowed a closer examination of what counts as a node, the relationship between the nodes, and what the Snapchat does as a network. I left out a discussion of constraints, as they only played a significant role in Bitzer’s article, and I did not feel they factored into the development of the network.  In retrospect, the rhetorical situation does not afford an extensive discussion of the ephemeral nature of Snapchat. The idea that the snaps disappear is a big part of the applications popularity. Foucault’s discussions of discourse may have been more applicable. Moving forward, I am interested in exploring the ephemeral and tactile nature of Snapchat.

Works Cited

Biesecker, Barbara A. “Rethinking the Rhetorical Situation from with the Thematic of ‘Differance’.” Philosophy & Rhetoric 22.2 (1989): 110-130. Print.

Bitzer, Lloyd F. “The Rhetorical Situation”  Philosophy & Rhetoric. Special ed. Selections from Volume 1. 25.1 (1992): 1-14. Print.

Vatz, Richard E. “The Myth of the Rhetorical Situation.” Philosophy & Rhetoric. 6.3 (1973): 154-161. Print.

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