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.

Tag: Bakhtin

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 #1: Foucault Parts I and II

The first two parts of Foucault’s Archaeology of Knowledge reminded me why I have always avoided literature and philosophy. Reading Foucault was like trying to run through mud. I spent much of my time flipping back and forth between different chapters, dictionaries, and Google in order to make heads or tails (or any other part) of Foucault. There were too many words that I could not define or pronounce. So, I have come to the conclusion that in about 15 years, I will read Foucault and it will make sense. For now, I will keep running through the mud and fake it till I make it.

Part 1: History and the Historian

Part 1 served as a reminder of how much Foucault I have managed to avoid. He refers to previous works several times, which required me to take several quick trips to Wikipedia. The two terms that stood out in the introduction were history and document. History is defined as “one way in which a society recognizes and develops a mass of documentation with with it is inextricably linked” (7). History transform documents into monuments. There is a change in what constitutes history. The most significant change is the document. The relation between history and the document has changed. History is no longer linear.

history has altered its position in relation to the document: it has taken as its primary task, not the interpretation of the document, nor the attempt to decide whether it is telling the truth or what it is it expressive value, but to work on it from within and to develop it; history now organizes the document, divides it up, distributes it, orders it, arranges it in levels, establishes series, distinguishes between what is relevant and what is not, discovers elements, defines, unities, and describes relations” (6-7).

This visualization helped me to understand the change or shift from progressive, linear history that has unity to the more expansive, complex history (dispersion).


Part 2: T.G.F.B (Thank God For Books)

I started Part 2 of Foucault in quite a funk. I was still trying to wrap my head around all the terminology from Part 1. I was also pushing my self to understand and make connections. My ray of hope came on page 23:

The frontiers of a book are never clear-cut: beyond the title, the first lines, and the last full stop, beyond its internal configuration and its autonomous form, it is caught up in a system of references to other books, other texts, other sentences: it is a node within a network.

This passage was my light-bulb-moment. My first thought was: yes, of course. Books/texts enter into conversation with one another all the time. That is what academic writing is all about. Then Foucault hit me with this next part:

And this network of references is not the same in the case of a mathematical treatise, a textual commentary, a historical account, and an episode in a novel cycle; the unity of the book, even in the sense of a group of relations, cannot be regarded as identical in each case. The book is not simply the object that one holds in one’s hands; and it cannot remain within the little parallelepiped that contains it; its unity is variable and relative. As soon as one questions that unity, it loses its self-evidence; it indicates itself, constructs itself, only on the basis of a complex field of discourse.

This section helped me to make connections to a concept that I already understand: intertextuality.  With intertextuality, the reader brings knowledge and experiences of reading other texts to the reading of the new text. This section of Foucault’s work reminded me of discussions I’ve had in other classes about one book’s dialogue with another. This of course lead me to Kristeva and Bakhtin. Kristeva goes beyond the idea that texts are in conversation or a network of references, presenting that the text, itself, is made up of utterances taken from other texts. Kristeva’s work is influenced by Bakhtin’s definition of the novel as a combination of diverse languages and voices organized in an artistic manner.

The connection to books helped me to visualize and ground Foucualt’s work. Hopefully, I will have another light-bulb moment in Parts 3-5.

Key Terms

  • Discontinuity-is a break with unity, challenges cause, effect, and tradition
  • Discourse-this was a complex term in Foucualt’s work. I think he uses it to refer to the verbal/written parts of history
  • discursive formation: I’m still debating and fleshing this out.
  • archaeology: Foucault’s approach to examining discourse of the past in order to understand the present; what led to now?

Works Cited

Bakhtin, Mikhail. The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays Austin: University of Texas Press, 1992. Print.

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

Kristeva, Julia.  Desire in Language: A Semiotic Approach to Literature and Art. Ed. Leon S. Roudiez. New York: Columbia University Press, 1980. Print.

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