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: Reading Notes (page 1 of 2)

Final Reading Notes: Rickert, Ambient Rhetoric, Hip Hop

I have had several discussions about ambience over the years. The reason being that before I came to English Studies, music was my life. We often discussed ambience in regards to which space would produce the best sound. It is easy for a violin to be drowned out without the right atmosphere. We used to provide background noise to some songs, so they seemed like they were recorded live or recorded near busy streets. A clear crisp sound was not a part of “gritty” hip hop. While my musical worlds were drastically different, I understood the importance of the character of the surrounding.

Thomas Rickert’s Ambient Rhetoric: The Attunements of Rhetorical Being provided a Frankentheory that I could get behind. Although I thought, Rickert’s work would be very challenging (i.e. Foucualt), it was not as daunting as I had imagined. Like Castells, I wished for more time. I felt rushed to absorb everything, and I added it to my lists of text to return to in the future. I also added Rickert’s work to the list of theories that were both enjoyable and accessible. The others are rhetorical situation theory, CHAT, neurology, and affordances. Within Rickert, I could CHAT, ANT, ecology, affordances, Foucault, and the rhetorical situation. He in a sense completes the circle or better yet, extends the network. What I took away most from Rickert was the connection between ambient rhetoric and Heidegger’s conceptualization of dwelling. (Before English, I was also a philosophy major).

Rickert presents ambience as follows:

We are entering an age of ambience, one in which boundaries between subject and object, human and nonhuman, and information and matter dissolve” (1),

“So ambience here refers to the active role that the material and informational environment takes in human development, dwelling, and culture, or to put this differently it dissolves the assumed separation between what is (privileged) human doing and what is passively material” (3).

“Ambience, then, becomes a useful distillation of ongoing dynamic shifts in a vibrant, robust environment that we seek to understand, explain, and work through; ambience is itself ambient, meaning, in part, that ambience, even in such seeming subjective forms as recognition, is not solely human doing” (5).

In Chapter 7, “Ambient Dwelling”, Rickert focuses on ethics, particularly ethos as presented by Hyde as a “dwelling place.” Rickert challenges this notion and asserts that rhetoric is always wordly. He argued in Chapter 5 against rhetoric being “discursively grounded.” Since we are conditioned, impacted, and attuned by the world, we cannot exclusively focus on discourse. Rickert presents: “Our ethics are not something exterior we bring in and deploy but rather a set of comportments that emerge from life as it is lived, from what we do, say, and make” (223). Rickert uses Heidegger to examine how we “dwell with things and each other in the world”

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I found this interesting given that the topic of Dr. Phillips’ Literature Seminar was Dwelling. It was even more so interesting in that my topic for this class was exploring hip hop and diaspora, especially the connection between Heidegger’s dwelling and the construction of home via hip hop.

I argued that the elements of hip hop, participants in the culture present stories of lived experience, which are usually spatially oriented to particular cities and neighborhoods. These cultural practices allow practitioners the ability to define, create, represent, and build a sense of home. Heidegger’s presents that building has moved away from the original definition of being to the idea of constructing shelter. Heidegger refutes this arguing, “We do not dwell because we have built, but we build and have built because we dwell, that is because we are dwellers” (148). Thus, Heidegger provides both a material and ontological discussion of dwelling as existence, construction of home, and connection to community within a particular space and time.

Hip Hop has a regional and territorial nature in the sense of city, community, neighborhood. Hip Hop culture provides the tools needed for these displaced and oppressed individuals to represent themselves, construct home, and dwell within often inhospitable spaces.


Under Cyphers Hip Hop Festival 2012

This was also interesting in light of my Oos switching to the cypher, an important concept and place within Hip Hop. Rickert’s ambient rhetoric, with its focus on humans, nonhumans, materiality, and ecology, provides a great lens through which to examine language and its movement within hip hop, hip hop’s connection/integration with place and environment, and the role of material to hip hop. I was especially intrigued by the idea that “the nodes do not exist prior to the network.” I feel like I am entering a chicken or the egg debate. Which came first the networks, the connections, or the nodes? In regards to hip hop, I can see how the structure/environment provided the foundation for the connections to take place. The foundation and connections took shape because of the surrounding environment. The individuals within also shape the environment.

Below is an example of a cypher from the BET Hip Hop Awards. This is more formal than usual, but it gives you the general idea. Disclaimer: This is uncensored

Reading Notes #13: Encoding/Decoding and the ISA

Stuart Hall’s “Encoding/Decoding,” in which he argues about the struggle within communicative exchange that occurs between the producers and consumers or encoders and decoders. Hall presents the idea that the producer encodes the message with intended meaning. This message is sent to the receiver who then decodes the message.

There is a movement:

encoder –>message—> decoder.

Lecture 06: Encoding, Decoding | CULTURAL STUDIES 101

Hall does not stop with the linear model. He feels that this is a cycle.  The aim of the producer is for the consumer to understand the encoded message. Hall argues that there is a “hegemonic viewpoint.” This is the language or message that is encoded with the viewpoint of the “dominant cultural order” (134] ). Hall presents the idea that creation of meaning (encoding) does not guarantee that the viewers (encoders) will receive the television message as intended. Messages can carry multiple meanings; that can be interpreted different ways or simply rejected. Hall takes into account that viewers bring particular cultural, socioeconomic, and many other views to the decoding process. The audience can actively respond to the messages that are sent out. I always viewed Hall’s work in conjunction with Henry Jenkin’s collective intelligence. Collective Intelligence allows for the creation of new community and new knowledge, encoding/decoding allows for the decoder (viewer) to determine a meaning for the message sent and to decide what to do with it. He presents the idea that the producers, when encoding the message, assume or take for granted that everyone has the sameviewpoint. Viewers can interpret this dominant view in three ways. In the interpretation of the message, the decoder (consumer) can fall into either the dominant hegemonic, negotiated, or globally contrary.

In Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses,” Althusser expands Marx’s presentation of the connection between reproduction and production. He presents the concept of “ideological state apparatuses.”  He discusses the infrastructure, or economic base and superstructure, which is made up of law and ideology.  Althusser sees ideology as player a larger part that what was presented via Marx. So, he presents “ideological state apparatuses” (ISA). The ISAs are different from state apparatuses, such as the police, prisons, etc. The SAs function by violence and the ISAs by ideology. He provides examples of ISAs, such as family, religion, communications, and education. Althusser argues that the state uses ISAs and SAs to reproduce its production; it is all about control and power.

What has always been intriguing to me about ISAs is that they can seem harmless on the service; however, as Althusser presents, they function to maintain the status quo.  My favorite quote from the work is:

“Hence I believe I have good reasons for thinking that behind the scenes of its political Ideological State Apparatus, which occupies the front of the stage, what the bourgeoisie has installed as its number-one, i.e. as its dominant Ideological State Apparatus, is the educational apparatus, which has in fact replaced in its functions the previously dominant Ideological State Apparatus, the Church. One might even add: the School-Family couple has replaced the Church-Family couple. “

This always made me think of the way that education (the college system specifically) operates in the lives of marginalized citizens. What I appreciated about both of these articles is their pointing out and examining individuals or organizations (ISAs) exercising their hegemony.

Post-Marxist Philosophy: The Key to Understanding the Secret War


I have approached them before through pedagogy classes and cultural studies classes. The connection between the two works is clear in that they both focus on class struggle. The disconnect or misunderstanding occurs when there is a difference in ideology between encoder and decoder. If I think of this in terms of Snapchat and networks, Snapchat and the other social media and messaging applications, although sending user created content, would functions as ISAs. The focus on and use of these devices reinforce, transmit, or enforce the ideology of the hegemony.


Althusser, Louis. “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses.” Marxists Internet Archive, 1970.  Web. 19 Apr 2014.

Hall, Stuart. “Encoding, Decoding.” The Cultural Studies Reader. 3rd ed. Ed. Simon During. New York: Routledge, 2007. Web. 19 Apr 2014.

Reading Notes #10: Neurons and Networks

This week’s reading on Neurobiology reminded me why I am an English Major. I have no interest in science (beyond chemistry, which helps with cooking) and lack the ability to understand “sciencey” words.

“A single cubic centimeter of the human brain may contain well over 50 million nerve cells, each of which may communicate with thousands of other neurons in information-processing networks that make the most elaborate computer look primitive.” (Campbell and Reese qtd in “Neurobiology,” 1).

What intrigued me the most about the reading was that neurons communicate constantly. I immediately thought of the communication networks that many of us depend on today. We are constantly communicating in some way, using some technology. Neurons primary activity is cellular communication. This system has billions of neurons and trillions of connections. What does neurotransmission look like?

There are big neurons and small neurons. Each neuron has two ends dendrite (tree that branches) and axon. The axon end is made up of presynaptic neuron and the postsynaptic neuron. The interesting part of this, to me, were the vesicles. The vesicles–described as soap bubbles–enable neurons to listen and talk at the same time. Vesicles are loaded with transmitters and stand-by waiting for release the neurotransmitters. What was inside the vesicle ends up outside of the cell (exocytosis).

Neurotransmisson from Wikipedia

This entire process reminded me of HowStuffWorks? from the beginning of the term. The discussion of computers, WiFi and Mobile, and Networking. We examined hardware systems and the infrastructure needed for our devices. There are several networks that work together to allow our devices to function and to allow them to communicate with one another. As complex as all this seems, it has nothing on the connections that neurons make. Neurons transmissions are highly complex. Neurons use “both electrical and chemical communication” (1). This complexity is exemplified by the fact that the neuron, as sophisticated as it may be, is assisted by other cells in the brain (glial cells).

Another aspect of the journey into neurobiology that intrigued me was the nerve impulse, or action potential. This is “a series of electrical responses that occur in the cell” (4). Action potential requires depolarization in the membrane, which allows sodium channels to open up. The sodium ions enter the axon, causing a change in charge. One the voltage becomes positive the channel becomes inactive, and the potassium channels open. The potassium ions exit the axon, causing the charge to change to negative. These channels stay open until the membrane “becomes even more negative than the resting potential for a brief period” (4). The action potential lasts only a few milliseconds (Amazing!). This entire process made me think of magnets. The switching of positive to negative moving the nerve impulse along the axon. I also thought of Leslie’s post on buses.  Buses allow data to transfer from one component to another. Both focus on transferring, moving information, through the network.

Action potential. Unit 10: Neurobiology from Rediscovering Biology online textbook.

This foray into neurobiology was not as horrible as I thought it would be. The neuronal network is quite remarkable. We learn about all this in school, but I never noticed the communication aspect. The neuronal network is all about communicating and transmitting. It is receiving data and transmitting data simultaneously. It moves the information forward and has a system in place to prevent information from going backwards and causing confusion in the system (sodium channel refractory period). The neuronal network is replicated (accidentally? intentionally?) all around us in the devices that we use everyday.


Action potential or nerve impulse also made me think of Snapchat. The movement of the nerve impulse forward via the opening and closing of channels and the inability of information to be sent backwards made me think of Snapchat communication as a nerve impulse. The user taking the snap after being sparked by an event or situation. The user receiving the snap and having that small window of time in which to consume the information. This entire process is not as fast as a nerve impulse and much simpler, but worth exploring.

Works Cited:

Does, Amy, Johnson A. Norman, and Teresa Thiel. “Unit 10: Neurobiology.” Rediscovering biology: Molecular to global perspectives. (n.d) . Web. 31 March 2014.

Reading Notes #9: Ecology Systems

This week’s readings on ecologies was a bit overwhelming. Guattari’s argument is an advancement of Bateson’s Steps to an Ecology of Mind. I was delighted to find that Guattari’s The Three Ecologies was much shorter than I thought. However, this delight shifted to sadness upon realizing that Guattari’s work centered on the deterioration of human life and society.  He states that the “techno-scientific transformation” has led to “ecological disequilibrium.” Guattari points out social and political issues, oppositions between East-West, and tensions between men and women.  He argues for ecosophy (ecology and philosophy). Ecosophy would examine and complex interactions between the three ecologies of mind, society, and the environment. The three ecologies are interconnected. So, there is not one approach to tackle world issues. The ecosophy aims to provide a new way of examining the world in hopes of creating a balanced society and protected environment. .

This quote captured Guattari’s argument:

“Rather than remaining subject, in periphery, to the seductive efficiency of economy competition, we must reappropriate Universes of value, so that processes of singularisation can rediscover their consistency. We need new social and aesthetic  practices, new practices of the Self in relation to the other, to the foreign, the strange – a whole programme that seems far removed from current concerns. And yet, ultimately, we will only escape from the major crises of our era through the articulation of a nascent subjectivity, a constantly mutating socius, [and] an environment in the process of being reinvented” (45).

Guattari’s work was illuminated by the definition of ecology provided by the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies. Ecology is defined as “[t]he scientific study of the processes influencing the distribution and abundance of organisms, the interactions among organisms, and the interactions between organisms and the transformation and flux of energy and matter.”  What stood out to me most about this definition, and connected to Guattari, are the focus on ecology as a process, and the focus on the interactions and relations among the organisms.  This is not focused on a linear/structured view of ecology.  This is a dynamic view the includes the organisms and the environment.

This was a nice build up to Margaret Syverson’s “Introduction: What is an Ecology of Composition” in The Wealth of Reality: An Ecology of Composition. This is my favorite thing so far this semester. I wish I had read this earlier in the term to gain a clearer sense of applying a theory of network to an object not traditionally seen as a network. This also helped me to understand Frakentheory.

Syverson defines ecology as a “set of interrelated and interdependent complex systems” (5).  The ecology of complex system is “a network of independent agents—people, atoms, neurons, or molecules,” that “act and interact with each other, simultaneously reacting to and co-constructing their own environment” (3).  Syverson identifies four attributes of the ecological systems: distribution, emergence, embodiment, and enact ion.

What I liked most about Syverson’s work is that she aimed to push composition beyond the rhetorical triangle (writer, text, and audience). She argues, “[T]hese traditions often ignore the psychological, social, temporal or physical dimensions of writing.” This approach illuminated the limitations of the traditional conceptions of the rhetorical situation presented by Bitzer and Vatz.


This examination of ecology system is pushing me to examine Snapchat from a different perspective. I have been looking at rhetorical activity and then levels of activity. Most of the conversation focuses on Snapchat as a social network rather than a messaging application. After this week’s readings, I am thinking that maybe I could return to the composition aspect of Snapchat but in terms of ecology system instead of rhetorical activity system. Snapchats role in social media also plays apart in the ecology system. This could work in regards to how Snapchat fits within the social, temporal, and physical dimensions of composing a snap.

Stages of Social Network Adoption by

Read Notes #8: Ecologies of the Mind

This week’s readings on ecology had me thinking about the kinds of ecologies  (networks) that I have grown from, the ones I am connected to, and the ones to which I am apart. This view of organisms, peoples, and objects game me the sense that everything is connected to everything in some way (big or small). This was probably reinforced because I was watching Neil deGrasse Tyson‘s Cosmos: A Space Odyssey. In the most recent episode, he made a comment about how we are each our own little universe. However, we are all connected. We are all made of star dust. He discusses evolution and how closely related humans are to chimpanzees and (most shocking to me) trees. The cosmos (and human life, specifically) is presented as being a massive network in which energy shifts and things transform. In this week’s episode, he stated that we are interconnected with the environment. We shape the environment. However, the cosmos (environment) ultimately exists and continues on without us.

Bateson, Steps to an Ecology of Mind “Form, Substance, and Difference”

Bateson presents evolution as an interactive process that centers on evolution occurring through differences. The world is built through and between differences. He uses the ideas of map and territory. Territory doesn’t go onto a map, but difference does.

He begins by discussing cybernetics and information theory has caused a change in epistemology. The answer is not lie hard sciences but in understanding the relations among actors (human, animal, objects).

A key statement from this chapter is:

“The unit of survival is a flexible organism-in-its-environment“(457).

This statement jumped out to me because Bateson is arguing for an examination and understanding of the connections among individuals, society, and the environment. These systems are interrelated and impact one another. This system is a way to examine human behavior.

Gibson, “The Theory of Affordances”

Gibson’s article, the foundational text, on affordances, presents that everything has afordances. They can be be negative or positive (benefit/injury or life/death). The environment and the animal are connected “inseparably.” The environment acts as a constraint on the animal. The animal can alter affordances of the environment. However,  the animal is still controlled by the environment and a product of it.

What stood out the most to me in this article was Gibson’s discussion of the conflation of affordances and qualities. We name qualities, but in actuality we are referring to what the object afford us.  I know that I need to tease this out more to understand why I felt it was so significant to Gibson’s argument.

Norman, “Affordances and Design”

This was my favorite article this week for two reasons. First, it was short and to the point. Second, it unpacked the term affordances. I appreciated the differentiation between affordances and perceived affordances. Norman argues for a return to the original definition of affordances. The term has become convoluted and is being used to refer to things beyond its reach.

J.J. Gibson invented the term to refer to “actionable properties between the world and an action (a person or animal)” (Norman).

Affordances are a relationship. This is significant in regards to thinking of affordances in terms of networks and connections between the world and actors.  Norman clarifies the term by discussing “perceived affordances.” He presents that the design world is more concerned with “what the user perceives than what is actually true”

He goes on to discuss cultural constraints and cultural conventions. Physical constraints are related to real affordances. However, cultural constraints are linked to cultural conventions, as cultural constraints are “learned conventions.”

Norman provides four principles for screen interfaces:

1. Follow conventional usage, both in the choice of images and the allowable interactions

2. Use words to describe the desired action

3. Use metaphor

4. Follow a coherent conceptual model so that once part of the interface is learned, the same principles apply to other parts.

Norman’s article reminded me of Snapchat the most because of the idea of perceived affordances. I have not framed this in terms of networks. However, there are clear connections in regards to the design of Snapchat and the idea of perceived affordances. This connects to the perception versus the reality of Snapchat’s function.


Reading Notes #7: ANTs go marching



Works Cited

Johnson-Eilola, Johndan. Nostalgic Angels: Rearticulating Hypertext Writing. Norwood, N.J.: Ablex Pub. Corp., 1997. Print.

Joyce, Michael. Of Two Minds: Hypertext Pedagogy and Poetics. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1995. Print.

Joyce, Michael. Othermindedness: The Emergence of Network Culture. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2000. Print.

Reading Notes #6: Hypertext

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

Michael Joyce’s chapter “Hypertext and Hypermedia” from Of Two Minds: Hypertext Pedagogy and indexPoetics provided a much needed history of hypertext. I never made a distinction between hypertext, hypermedia, and multimedia. What struck me the most from Joyce’s work was his statement about the role of readers and writers in regards to hypertext. Joyce states, “Hypertext readers not only choose the order of what they read but, in doing so, also alter its form by their choices” (19).  This was interesting to me because everything we read (Biesecker and Foucualt come to mind) seems to come back to the idea that things are non-linear and do not exists in binaries. that there isn’t a binary between speaker and audience, reader and writer. Hypertext is dynamic and interactive.

This thread also jumped out at me in Johndan Johnson-Eilola’s Nostalgic Angels: Rearticulating Hypertext Writing. Johnson-Eilola begins his work:

“Writing has always been about borders, about the processes of mapping and remapping the lines of separation between things. Writing constructs implicit and explicit boundaries between not only products and process and said and unsaid, but author and reader, literacy and orality, technology and nature, self and other” (3).

This quote was significant to me in that Johnson-Eiloa seemed to be working towards deconstructing the borders between author and reader, moving beyond the binary. He also argues for an expansion of what counts as composition, saying:Nostalgic-Angels-Johnson-Eilola-9781567502800

“We must find a way in which to talk and think about writing as a complex activity evaluating not only writers but also readers, texts, societies, politics, economies and technologies (as well as the complicated way each of these terms is articulated)” (18).

All of these theories move away from a linear and flat presentation of writing and rhetorical discourse to a non-linear and dynamic presentation. This is significant if we are to think of networks as being active. There is movement and interaction not in one direction or two directions but in multiple directions, each connecting with and feeding back into the other.  I think Johnson-Eilola emphasizes this when he says:

We recognize the apparently radical enactment of nonlinearity inherent in the node-link structure of all hypertext; we proclaim in various ways that revolutionary potential; and then we immediately rearticulate those potentials in terms of our conventional, normal practices. (13-14)

We have a tendency to present old ways via new technologies. Instead of embracing the “revolutionary potential” of hypertext, we are using this text in the same ways that we would the print text.

All of this week’s reading challenge linearity and authority. As I was reading the history of hypertext and its grounding in uptoia and postmodernism, I immediately thought of Jameson’s Postmodernism and Consumer Society (which Johnson-Eilola mentions).Jameson discusses the lack of true authorship via the “death of the subject,” which is the idea that the idea of an individual self with agency is a thing of the past or an ideological construct that never existed. This calls into the question the idea that their can something such as an identity or an author. In addition, the non-linear nature of hypertext in conjunction with the way in which hypertext is not consumed by the masses via the Internet brought postmodernism and consumerism to mind. Based on the way hypertext is used today, It is hard to see it as a revolutionary text/tool.

Viewing hypertext as something that complicates the relationship between author, subject, and audience is intriguing to me (as someone interested in rhetoric and Snapchat). Johnson-Eilola’s call for a change in the way writers and readers work within the same space brought Biesecker’s work with the rhetorical situation to mind. Johnson-Eilola states, hypertext ” must allow writers and readers to work within the space of the texts (rather than downloading them, preserving the purity of the master text). Second, it must encourage more than one person to write within that space (in order to avoid pitting the weight of a published author against a single reader) (21).


This is a dynamic relationship between writer, reader, and the text. This also adds the politics of the space to the interaction, focusing on collaboration and multiple authors rather than “the weight of a published author against a single reader” (21). This conception of hypertext creates the idea that the writing and reading of the text can take place at the same time.

If hypertext should reach its revolutionary potential, what would that look like? I was intrigued by the idea of hypertext pedagogy, but I cannot say that I have been able to internalize or process what Johnson-Eilola presented. I am encouraged to explore hypertext more in regards to First Year Composition. I want to end with a quote that I think encapsulates what first-year composition should achieve (whether through hypertext or old fashioned text):

Imperfect angels, nostalgic for a past that never was, we might instead learn to live as cyborgs. In mapping hypertext use we do not create a new world from nothing, but we do create discourses in which old worlds might be transformed. (242)

The video below, though not related to hypertext, fit in with the thread of authorship and the relation between author, audience, and text:

Author as Replacement from Daniel Apollon on Vimeo.

Works Cited:

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

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


Reading Notes #5: Let’s CHAT

What is Chat?

The discussion of cultural-historical activity theory (CHAT) led me into a crazy game of connect the dots. I am not sure what the final image will be, but I am making connections.

CHAT is a synthesis of concepts from a variety of different disciplines and sub-disciplines. The authors argue that “CHAT rejects the notion that human action is governed by some neo-platonic realm of rules, whether the linguistic rules of English, the communicative norms of some discourse community, or cognitive scripts for acting in a particular situation. It argues that activity is situated in concrete interactions that are simultaneously improvised locally and mediated by historically provided tools and practices” (Prior et al,. “What is Chat”).

This use of CHAT immediately brought to mind what we have read about genre theory. In regards to genre theory, CHAT seems to be the opposite of genre as social action. Miller argues that “rhetorically sound definition of genre must be centered not on the substance or the form of discourse but on the action it is used to accomplish” (151). CHAT on the other hand, as mentioned above, argues that “activity is situated in concrete interactions” (“What is Chat?”).

This is interesting because people are essentially networks. The connections and interactivity bring people together (into alignment with the system) and also individualized people (separate nodes):

In activity, 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 individual. Socialization (learning) simultaneously makes people and societies because what is appropriated and individuated is also externalized in activity and, thus, alters the social.

The Core Text

The core text focuses on “a new mapping of rhetorical activity, one that acknowledges and advances in our understanding of language, semiotics, human development, technology, and society.” The authors argue for advancing the traditional understanding of the rhetorical canon (invention, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery). Using CHAT the authors argue for looking at rhetorical canons as “complex set of interlocking systems within which a rhetors are formed, act, and navigate.” This argument is interesting as it further complicates the agency of the rhetor presented in the works of Bitzer, Vatz, and Biesecker. In CHAT the rhetor and the audience are socialized. They (and we) exist in a more complex world. I was intrigued by the idea that “prototypical scene of rhetoric…[is] essentially in monologue.” This was interesting to me because I have always thought of rhetoric as being social in that it s concerned with audience and audience action. When I think about it I see how it is stuck in a binary (speaker and hearer). Rhetorical activity is centered around the rhetor or the situation. Although Biesecker complicates this by pointing out the interactive nature of rhetor and audience, the focus is still primarilyon the speaker and the audience.

My two articles:

I was responsible for reading Mar P. Sheridan-Rabideau’s “Kairos and Community Building: Implications for Literacy Researchers” and Liz Rohan’s “Nobody told me that college was this hard!: ‘Venting’ in the grad stacks.” Both of these articles discuss community. Sheridan-Rabideau’s article focuses on the literacy practices of a community group as they try to put up a billboard. This exploration examined how this community group moved towards being institutionalized and professionalized. They primarily communicated to the community. The billboard required them to change their presentation because they were moving beyond their community group and moving into a permanent space.

Funny Bathroom Graffiti

Rohan’s article examines how students “venting” on the library study room vents “create an imagined community of readers and writers.” The venting is presented as a system instead of a text with with rhetor. Rohan argues that “the act of writing on those vents enacts production, reception, distribution, and representation all dependent on participant’s collective participation in a larger ecology.” This second article resonated with me for several reasons. The first reason is that the writing on the vents remind me of Snapchat. The writing on the vents is easily erased. The writings, just like snaps, are about everyday things, personal time (studying), and intimate moments. The ephemeral and personal nature of the vents reminds me of Snapchat. Rohan notes:


The idea that the audience and the artifacts have agency in that they socialize others complicates the relationship between author and audience. The vents have a permanence that snaps do not have. The vents can be remediated for new audience. Snaps cannot because they “disappear.” The vents, memory, ecology, and community are pushing me to rethink how I perceive the interactions on Snapchat. It is also causing me to rethink the impact of the “disappearance” on snaps. Memory operates in a different way with snaps. Snaps are to serve as a

way to document and share memories so that they last within the individual but not in a concrete or retrievable  space. Moving forward, I am interested in how the expanded canon applies to modern communications versus the classical canon. I am especially interested in the addition of reception and memory in regards to Snapchat. I am not sure where I will go with these three areas, but I think that reception of snaps in regards to whether the person saves the snap. What impact does the disappearing aspect of Snapchat have on memory, if any?


Prior, Paul, et. al. “Re-situating and Re-mediating the Canons: A Cultural-Historical Remapping of Rhetorical Activity: A Collaborative Core TextKairos, 11.3 (Summer 2007). Web. 15 Feb. 2014.

Paul, Prior. “Remaking IO, Remaking Rhetoric: Semiotic Remediation as Situated Rhetorical Practice.” Re-situating and Re-mediating the Canons: A Cultural-Historical Remapping of Rhetorical Activity: A Collaborative Core Text. Kairos, 11.3 (Summer 2007). Web. 15 Feb. 2014.

Prior, Paul, et. al. “What is CHAT?” Re-situating and Re-mediating the Canons: A Cultural-Historical Remapping of Rhetorical Activity: A Collaborative Core Text. Kairos, 11.3 (Summer 2007). Web. 15 Feb. 2014.

Rohan, Liz. “Nobody told me that college was this hard!: “Venting” in the grad stacks”. Re-situating and Re-mediating the Canons: A Cultural-Historical Remapping of Rhetorical Activity. Kairos, 11.3 (Summer 2007). Web. 15 Feb. 2014.

Sheridan-Rabideau, Mary P. “Kairos and Community Building: Implications for Literacy Researchers.” Re-situating and Re-mediating the Canons: A Cultural-Historical Remapping of Rhetorical Activity. Kairos, 11.3 (Summer 2007). Web. 15 Feb. 2014.

Van Ittersum, Derek. “Data-Palace: Modem Memory Work in Digital Environments.” Re-situating and Re-mediating the Canons: A Cultural-Historical Remapping of Rhetorical Activity. Kairos, 11.3 (Summer 2007). Web. 15 Feb. 2014.


Reading Notes #4: Spinuzzi and Information Design

Taking Genre for a Spinuzzi


Clay Spinuzzi Twitter Profile Picture

Quick Summary: Clay Spinuzzi’s text Tracing Genres through Organizations: A Sociocultral Approach to Information Design was surprisingly accessible. After readings on technology, Foucault, and genre systems, Spinuzzi was a breath of fresh air.  Spinuzzi’s aim in this text is to expand the user-centered approach to information design. Spinuzzi begins the text (after a short anecdote), “A common trope in the literature of user-centered design is the worker-as-victim: the everyday Joe or Jane who is oppressed by an unjust tyranny and in need of rescue” (1) Spinuzzi utilizes this trope to present the relationship between workers and designers. Information designers are presented as heroic figures, which “employ user-centered design methods to defeat the tyrannical system and rescue the victims…” (2). Spinuzzi argues that workers are not waiting to be rescued; they are creating innovative solutions to solve problems in the workplace. However, these innovations are not sanctioned. The “designer-hero” must refine these innovations for them to be of consequence in the workplace. This approach to the worker decreases the significance of their innovations. To address these issues, Spinuzzi traces the development of these innovative genres in hopes of understanding how these innovations by workers can be used to improve the information design through partnerships with designers. Tracing these innovative genres will allow designers to see worker’s innovations as a vital part. Spinuzzi presents genre tracing as a way to empower workers by validating the innovations that they have been using to get the job done. The text presents a methodology and methods for examining the “unofficial innovation” (3). In addition, Spinuzzi uses case studies as a concrete example of the methodology and insight into how workers use “unofficial innovation” to meet their needs.

Reflection: Much of what we are discussing is about relations. How groups of people, objects, ideas, etc interact with and relate to one another. Spinuzzi is exploring the relations between workers, designers, and systems. In this relationship, designers provide a system, which may be inadequate for workers, who then create workarounds to solve whatever problems are in the system. Designers overlook these innovations because the workers lack the authority to innovate in this space.  They key word here, for me, is: agency. The workers lack agency. The designers are hesitant to acknowledge these unofficial innovations. The designers have to modify the unofficial to make it official and available to everyone. This makes me think of all the times I have created workarounds in order to make a task easier or more effective.

What Jumped Out – “Chapter 2: Integrating Research Scope”

Chapter 2 provided good definitions and background information on activity theory, genre, dialogic, and artifact. The chapter was engaging and overwhelming, as I had to resist the urge to analyze each heuristic. The most engaging parts of Chapter 2 were the sections on the levels of scope.

  • Macroscopic is the organizational contextual layer
  • Mesoscopic is the level of “goal-directed action—the tasks which people are consciously engaged” (33).
  • Microscopic is the level of “moment-by-moment operations”

These three levels of scope “complement each other.” The actions on one level can impact or connect with the actions on another level. It was interesting to me that even though different approaches are needed on each level the levels are interrelated.

In addition to the discussion of integrated scope, Chapter 2 helped me make connections from Spinuzzi’s presentation of genre to those of Bazerman, Miller, and Popham.  He makes connections genre as a tool for interpreting artifacts. I was intrigued by the connections of genre to memory and ways of thinking (worldview). I specifically like the connection or movement from artifact to genre. Spinuzzi utilizes Bakhtin to emphasize genre as tradition. Spinuzzi states:

“With the tradition aspect of genre in mind, we can talk about genres mingling, merging, splitting, disintegrating, and being repurposed.”

Acting this way, genre seems to be akin to Foucault’s statement. The statement is presented as “specific and paradoxical object, but also as one of those objects that men produce, manipulate, use, transform, exchange, combine, decompose and recompose, and possibly destroy” (118).  Genres seem to reside in the same space, being in between concrete and abstract. In addition, genre as a stable part of social memory and as “dynamic and reshapable by any speaker for her or his specific utterance” reminds me of the dynamic nature of the statement. Foucault presents that the statement “must have a substance, a support, a place, and a date [and] when these requisites change, it [the statement] too changes identity (101).”

Snap Chat and Genre Tracing:

Right now, I am unsure of how to apply Spinuzzi’s methodology to Snap Chat.  I can see how Spinuzzi’s text could help to put the work of other genre theorist in context. After reading this text, I have a better understanding of artifact and genre. I also appreciate Foucault a bit more and see how statement and enunciative formations can be applied to Snap Chat.

Writing this blog led me to Will Blog For Hip Hop. I found an interesting post that traced the evolution of Hip Hop over 25 years. I was intrigued that the genre was being traced based on geographic location of the artist. The map provide a good view of how Hip Hop music faded in the West, grew in the East, and has yet to have a strong hold in the middle of the country. This isn’t as complex a genre tracing as what Spinuzzi represented, but it got me thinking about the progression of the genre (in the more traditional sense) and these moment-by-moment glimpses into Hip Hop.

The Evolution of Hip Hop In the Past 25 Years from



Foucault, Michel. Archaeology of Knowledge. New York: Vintage, 2010. Print.

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


Reading Notes #3: Genre


Brief Summary:

For this week’s reading notes, I tried to focus on the things that naturally jumped out at me. In previous weeks, I was working hard instead of working smart. So, I followed the established connections within the articles. The author’s referenced one another’s works, so I followed these connections to make sense of genre and network.

In Carolyn Miller’s “Genre as Social Action,” she presents genre as a social action wherein an “understanding of genre can help account for the ways we encounter, interpret, react to, and create particular texts” (151). Miller’s argument centers on the idea that “rhetorically sound definition of genre must be centered not on the substance or the form of discourse but on the action it is used to accomplish” (151). Miller presents genre as dynamic.

Miller’s work directly connects to Lloyd Bitzer’s work on rhetorical situation. In Miller’s approach is a response to the traditional approach to genre. Genre is characterized by specific characteristics. The focus is on the text and the specific regularities presented in the text. Miller expands this conception of genre, focusing on the actions of the writes and the context in which the texts are created. Instead of genre following specific textual elements, Miller presents it as “typified rhetorical action” (151). Bitzer presented the rhetorical situation as “a natural context of persons, events, objects, relations, and an exigence which strongly invites utterance; this invited utterance participates naturally in the situational activity, and by means of its participation with situation obtains its meaning and its rhetorical character” (5). Miller argues that exigence is in the social. The rhetorical situation is socially constructed and involves the reader and the writer. Miller’s work leans more toward the work of Vatz. Vatz argues that exigences are not the product of events, but rather a matter of perception and interpretation” (Vatz 214). This places more agency with the rhetor. Miller places more agency with the social interaction; “a mutual construing of objects, events, interests and purposes that not only links them but also makes them what they are: an object of social need” (Miller 157).

Miller’s work provides an expanded definition of genre, which leads to the works of Bazerman and Popham. Bazerman’s work on activity systems, provides insight into how an understanding of the complexity of genre can help to improve writing. The texts that we utilize are “embedded within structured social activities and depends on previous texts that influence their social activity and organization.” Bazerman’s work connects back to Millers by presenting genre as social activity. Bazerman’s work also makes me think of networks in the sense that the texts are building on and connecting back to previous texts (as models guides for their role in the social interactions and their formatting/organization). The connection of genre to understanding rhetorical situations was significant to me. Many composition courses utilize genre. Students are taught particular characteristics and organizational patterns to aid in producing texts that fit within a certain situation. Bazerman posits that “understanding the acts and facts created by texts can also help you understand when seemingly well-written texts go wrong” (311). This rhetorical awareness is what composition instructors want to instill in students. I never saw genre as a path to rhetorical awareness because in composition courses genre is not always socially situated. Just as composition instruction falls short in presenting the complexities of rhetorical analysis, it also provides a limited presentation of genre that focuses on regularities in textual features and format. These works provided an expanded definition of genre that present genre as being more dynamic. Popham’s work on boundary genres expands on the concept of rhetorical situations and genres as dynamic.


Popham’s work on forms in medicine, science, and business provide a glimpse into how forms act as an “object of social need” (Miller 157). The forms are utilized across disciplines for different functions. The forms act as a genre system. They are interrelated and work to meet the needs of the medical, business, and science fields. They work across disciplines to get the job done. The boundary genres, just like genres in general, are active. They must be flexible in order to move across and between the different disciplines. They have to incorporate the necessary information for multiple disciplines within one form to be used in different context.

Key Terms:

  • Social Fact- “things people believe to be true, and therefore bear on how they define a situation” (312).
  • Speech Acts-sets of words or statements that “[do] something, even if only to assert a certain state of affairs is true. Thus all utterances embody speech acts” (313-314)
  • Genre-“recognizable, self-reinforcing forms of communication” (314).
  • Genre Sets-“a collection of types of texts someone in a particular role is likely to produce” (318).
  • Genre Systems- “several genre sets of people working together in an organized way, plus the patterned relations in the production, flow, and use of these documents” (318).

Connections to Personal Course Outcomes:

Coming into the course, my goal was to explore Snap Chat. My primary focus being the shift from timeline nature Facebook  and Twitter  to the immediacy of Instagram to the ephemeral nature of Snap Chat. After exploring the technical side of networks, rhetorical situation, Foucault, digital writing assessment, and genre, Snap Chat seems like a natural progression of the social media, sharing, and picture messaging. The static presentations of the rhetorical situation and genre were limiting my understanding of Snap Chat. In the context of these dynamic systems which connect to one another, grow, flex, and change based on the text, audience, and author, Snap Chat is an extension or expansion of an understood form of communication. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram no longer provided the right context for the needs of this community. My goal now is to make stronger connections between these ideas and what I’ve learned from Archaeology of Knowledge.


Works Cited:

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.

Bitzer, Lloyd. “The Rhetorical Situation.” Philosophy & Rhetoric. 1 (1992): 1-14. Print

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

Popham, Susan L. “Forms as Boundary Genres in Medicine, Science, and Business.” Journal of Business and Technical Communication 19.3 (2005): 279-302.

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

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