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.

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Scaffolding Synthesis: The Cypher as Network

Scaffolding Synthesis: The Cypher as Network

Rhetorical Situation Theory, Genre Theory, and CHAT


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.


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.

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

Last MindMap: Thank Goodness

For the last MindMap, were were to organize our MindMap by concepts. I started this process by listing all the theorists as a guide. After this process, I stopped because I realized that I do not have any concepts by which to group these theorists. So, I went with the things that come to mind when I think of this course: human agency, non-human agency, tracing, and hierarchy.

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The biggest thing I’ve learned from doing the MindMap and the other blogs is that I learn the way I learn and it works for me. This has been the most challenging semester I’ve ever had in my entire life. Even more so than the semester in which I took 2 PhD level classes, my mom passed, and I taught 2 classes at 3 different schools. This entire semester I have been thinking: “There is something wrong with me. I should not be here. Apparently, I am not smart enough to get a PhD.” It took dealing with the MindMap concepts for me to realize what lies at the heart of my issues is my learning style. I am not a visual learner. I have never been in my 30 years of living. I have no desire to be a visual learner, creating this MindMap did not help me to grapple with the concepts presented in the readings. It obfuscated them. Every week I had to push myself to figure out how to condense and connect the things I’d read in order to do the MindMap. I am linear. I like straight lines. I like lists. I like short/concise annotations or long lists with no complete sentences and no visuals. That is how I learn. I like privacy to try out new ideas. This approach, however closed off and inadequate it may seem to others, got me here. I did the MindMap because I had to do it. Do I understand it: No! Am I glad I did it: Yes! I am glad because now I know for certain what works for me and what doesn’t. The processes (MindMap/ Visualize All the Things) felt like steeple chase from my days of track in high school.




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.

Synthesis…I hope


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.


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


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.


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.

MindMap#11: Neurobiology

Never thought I’d be typing the words Neurobiology. This week’s mind map was the easiest one for me. As I was doing the reading, I was thinking of connections. I imagined myself drawing lines from How Stuff Works to Dendrites and Axons and then drawing connections between Buses and Action Potential and Snapchat. I did all of these things for this week’s mindmap. The neurology jumped out at me, especially in regards to Action Potential, which I felt captured movement in Snapchat perfectly. In my reading notes I discussed:

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.

These connections were important to me because I think this week’s reading finally helped me to understand the network as metaphor.


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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.

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.

MindMap #10: Ecologies

This week’s mind map made me regret the week by week layout of my mind map. The week by week mapping has forced me to circle back to the top in order to connect to weeks that are on the opposite side of the screen. Anyhow, I added the following nodes: niche, Frankentheory, ecology of composition/writing process, and distribution,emergence, embodiment, and enaction.

I connected most of these nodes to CHAT, ANT, and Ecologies. These stood out to me because I see Syversons reworking or re-framing of the writing process as being similar to the remapping of the rhetorical canon done by Prior et al. I also felt that this Frankentheory approach was similar to ANT. Actor Network Theory pulls from a variety of areas. It is interdisciplinary even though it centers on re-framing sociology. As I’m writing this, I feel I should have made a node that said re-framing. It seems that much of what we have done in the course focused on re-framing existing ideas or theories flattening them and removing any binaries or dichotomies.

I think these things jumped out at me because I am starting to think that Snapchat may require a Frankentheory approach because the conversations about Snapchat continually frame it as something that it is not, so much so that everyone has just accepted this new conversation as the truth. I think I want to push back against that.

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