(Published: October 10, 2012)
Image credit: Brent Simoneaux & Jairlyn Mason
Computers and Writing 2012 took place in Raleigh, NC, hosted by the First Year Writing Program and the doctoral program in Communication, Rhetoric, and Digital Media at North Carolina State University. This year’s theme, “ArchiTEXTure: Composing and Constructing in Digital Space,” asked contributors to think about how we compose digital texts for our research and our teaching, and to consider the challenges, benefits, and other issues related to the construction of texts in these changing and emerging spaces.
For this special issue of Enculturation, we invited participants from the Computers and Writing conference to submit manuscripts based on their contributions, which explore issues emerging from the conference call as well as the conversations that were shaped through the rich variety of events, including talks, roundtables, and informal discussions that took place over the three days that conference attendees gathered in Raleigh. Unfortunately, we are not able to include all of those in this issue, but all those conversations are certain to be ongoing and contributing to the developing fields of composition, rhetoric, and writing studies. We are pleased to present this special issue of Enculturation from this year’s Computers and Writing conference, with essays on various topics discussed at the conference, along with two of the keynote presentations and a special performance by Thomas Stanley.
ArchiTEXTure: Composing and Constructing in Digital Spaces
The articles in this issue demonstrate the wide range of ways that Computers and Writing scholars think about composing and constructing in digital spaces, while at the same time shedding light on some emerging trends in our fields. The work displayed at this conference in particular is some of the most innovative scholarship that we see during the conference season, and we would like to highlight some of the trends we noticed not only in the submissions to this special issue, but also at the conference as a whole.
Pushing the limits of what composing can be
The first trend reflected in this issue highlights how the conference gave scholars a venue to explore what it means to “compose” with technology. We have long known that composing happens beyond pencil and paper or keyboard and word processor, but there are many possibilities that are still ripe for research or that we have just begun to explore. In reconsidering the spaces and media within and with which we can compose, we must also consider the material and rhetorical constraints that we navigate, and the authors in this collection ask us to do so in numerous ways. When as scholars we push the limits of what composing can be, we find new ways to construct our stories and experiences with the many forms of media available to us: sound, video, code, and light, to name just some of those represented at the conference. Within this issue, we feature a rich variety of approaches to composing with both “new” and “old” media. Matthew Davis, Kevin Brock, and Stephen McElroy discuss how students find available means in new technologies for composing, such as in a class one of the authors taught on coding as a rhetorical activity. Jennifer Ware introduces an innovative concept for asking students to think about their planning and composing processes through composing as “light painting” with LEDs and various found objects. Next, Sarah Spring uses a social media and other online site curation technologies to compose her argument, which allows her to highlight her students’ voices in her argument about what skills and approaches they bring to their work with technology in the classroom. Jody Shipka composes her argument in video, sharing with us her story of composing other people’s lives with the “old media” of photographs. All in all, the presentations at the conference and these selected publications indicate research agendas with rich initial investigations and promising future explorations.
As Jim Brown claims,“2012 is the year of code,” and with the rise of digital humanities and our continuing efforts to account for various digital literacies, we would certainly not disagree with this statement. Further, as we imagine new ways to compose, we cannot forget the important ways that digital codes, and coding, changes our writing practices and discursive spaces. The emerging fields of software studies and critical code studies, including the work of Matthew Kirschenbaum, Matthew Fuller, Dennis Jerz, Wendy Chun, and Mark Marino, helps us begin to understand how what might seem unrhetorical (for example, software processes or computer code) is actually yet another tool in digital rhetor’s repertoire. To this growing field, rhetorical approaches at Computers and Writing promise to add important contributions. Two of the articles in this issue, and several more presentations at the conference itself, focus on this emerging site not only for composition studies, but also for a wider range of academic pursuits. Davis et al. ask their students to engage with code and consider it as another available means of persuasion, and the town hall article discussing code shows us different orientation to code studies by a number of established and emerging scholars in the field.
The supposedly long-forgotten canon of memory has seemingly been resurrected in recent years. It is clear that as we think about how we might construct texts within a digital landscape, we are also motivated to think about the life of the text beyond its inception and reception. As such, we must also think about how texts can be made sustainable, or how we can ensure that what we are writing now (and have been writing) remains a viable text for reading, teaching, and researching in the years to come. The method of loci is certainly applicable as we think of memory as place, as a mnemonic device, through which we can wander to recall certain points of interest from the ancient Romans through Quintilian and on. There are numerous ways in which we might imagine how spaces or places relate to thinking about memory. Certainly the term architecture affords a variety of metaphors that can be translated into digital spaces and places where we store information and construct pathways, etc. Memory took center stage in Anne Wysocki’s keynote “Grounding Spaces for Recollecting,” which considered alternative ways of experiencing time through her constructions of and interactions with memory. Specific selections in this collection that relate to memory explicitly include Manivannan’s and Shipka’s contributions. Vyshali Mannivannan explores institutional memory on the online image-based bulletin board 4chan, while Jody Shipka stimulates us to think about what gets preserved and archived and who is allowed to do that preserving and archiving, especially of other people’s lives.
Finally, 2012 has seen unprecedented momentum toward open access practices for scholarly research and publication. David Parry had perhaps the most dramatic provocation at the conference, saying that academic publishers might be characterized as “knowledge cartels.” Entitled “Ending Knowledge Cartels,” Parry’s talk challenges us to rethink not only how we publish, but also how we engage with publishers. Ultimately, he is a clear and strong advocate of open access publishing as the solution to many of our publishing problems, as he sees them. Parry argues to build open access into the tenure system, build it into your tenure and promotion contract, and encourage students to support the cause. Certainly anyone slightly attentive to the publishing world in its current upheaval will know that these claims are embedded within a much larger move away from traditional publishers to open access venues.
Along with the discussions of where to publish, we see many questions about how we publish. Indeed, we might even recall our first trend of composing and ask where we compose and how open those platforms are for the process of production, as well as publication. For example, Google Apps are becoming increasingly popular with universities, including NC State where the conference was held, and this leads to questions about the nature of corporate involvement or, more pointedly, hosting of services for the university. Do these tools provide more access to software such as word processing, or are we putting all of our technology, and trust, into the hands of a small group of major corporations without serious hesitation? And what are the implications of such investment on the “openess” of our composing and publishing processes?
And, of course, the decision to publish this special issue in an open access journal with innovative online publishing methods and tools was hardly happenstance. We hope that by publishing what we believe, this important collection of essays in Enculturation continues this field’s dedication to online, open access publishing. The importance of such efforts is well-articulated in Parry’s contribution, but there is certainly a larger and ongoing effort by the Computers and Writing community to acknowledge the ways in which the scholarly publishing landscape is changing with the rise of digital network technologies, namely the internet. For previous special issues of Computer & Writing conferences, please see the Kairos archives for editions 12.2, 11.2, 10.2, 9.2, 8.2, 7.3, 6.2, and 5.2. For a more general review of the conference, please see the Sweetland Digital Rhetoric Collaborative’s C&W Reviews.
In This Issue
First, Jody Shipka’s “To Preserve, Digitize, and Project: On the Process of Composing Other People’s Lives” video speaks to the field on two levels. For one, she asks us to rethink what we count as an “archive,” and what counts in an archive, speaking to the re-emergence of interest in memory studies within rhetoric and composition. Specifically, she poses the interesting question about how we determine what might be archived, since we cannot select or save everything. Second, she speaks to us on the level of methodology, encouraging us to “choose a research subjects to which one is personally drawn, making research processes more transparent by describing them, and for attending to the role that chance encounters, happy accidents and serendipitous occurrences” as her own work exemplifies.
Vyshali Manivannan explores institutional memory in her article, “Attaining the Ninth Square: Cybertextuality, Gamification, and Institutional Memory on 4chan.” This scholarship adds to the discussion of memory, an increasingly revived and discussed rhetorical canon. Importantly, this essay helps to account for the ephemeral quality of web-based discourses spaces in terms of institutional memory. Using 4chan, the author writes about how the “production and preservation of institutional memory” function “in a uniquely transient setting.” Perhaps a fundamental argument being made by the author helps us to consider how the production and reproduction of cultural memory is reinscribed by deeply embedded participants in the conversational space of 4chan.
With their article, “Expanding the Available Means of Composing: Three Sites of Inquiry,” Matthew Davis, Kevin Brock, and Stephen McElroy discuss how students discover their available means of composing with digital technologies. They examine multiple sites of undergraduate student composing, including a multiliteracy center as an “avenue for assistance,” concluding that as instructors, we must expand our notions of the potential means our students have for composing: “Word, image, sound, visual layout, composing infrastructure, individual abilities and histories, and even markup or code languages all have the potential to influence—at a significant and fundamental level—the rhetorical invention, arrangement and delivery of their composed artifacts.” In addition to their important conceptual work in what might be consider traditional scholarship on teaching and learning, they advance our understanding of new media beyond the classroom and in our own publishing practices by including innovative java applets and scripts to unfold the scholarly narrative in a native digital form, reflecting the kind of composition that they ask their students to perform.
Alexandria Lockett, Elizabeth Losh, David Rieder, Mark Sample, Karl Stolley, and Annette Vee bring us “The Role of Computational Literacy in Computers and Writing,” from the town hall that they hosted at the conference. They have adapted their presentation to a composition that reflects the discussions that happened during the town hall, including the backchannel conversations that occurred on Twitter. During the session, each of the speakers gave a concise manifesto describing their rationales for the importance of considering that which is beneath the computational surface. In this reconceptualization of their presentation, readers are provided with a synthesis of the important threads that each presenter began to untangle in their talk. Combined, this code town hall piece offers a collection by code studies scholars that helps to situate the current state of the field.
Next, in “Composing in the Dark: The Texture of Light Painting,” Jennifer Ware offers an innovative way to explore the planning and composing process. Based on her ConstrucTEXT session at the conference (a new category this year), her article demonstrates how workshop participants experimented with a new form of composing, LED light painting. Writes Ware, “By using familiar technology to compose in unfamiliar ways, participants were able to pay attention to the pre-planning process of creating a composition and better externalize how their own composing process functions.” Her work is one of the first to ask compositionists to consider light painting as a tool to help students think about the composing, while also combining concepts of materiality in composition, an issue that is also receiving much attention as of late.
Finally, Sarah Spring brings us her work, “Code-Switching or Meshing? Designing Digital Texts in/for the Classroom,” in an emerging site for composing: Storify. Spring introduces for use two terms to help us better understand the ways in which students bring previous technology use to the classroom and how that previous use impacts the work that we ask them to do with specific technologies. With the affordances of storify the student voices are able to be included in ways that might be characterised as “hearing” student voices or connecting to more extended student contributions through their blogs.
The three keynotes at Computers and Writing—David Parry, Anne Wysocki, and Alex Reid, in order of appearance—enlivened the crowd and sparked many a conversation following each of their talks. Featured in this issue are two of the keynote addresses.1
And lastly, we are glad to feature Thomas Stanley and Erica Benay Fallin’s video adaptation of his evening performance at the conference, “Silent Beacon.” Erica is on the treated autoharp, and Thomas, electronics and effects. Describes Thomas, “The surface of the water is a turbulent membrane displaying the dynamics of interference patterns. It is, to us, a text waiting to be read and comprehended.”
Editors & Reviewers
We would like to extend our thanks to Byron Hawk, Jim Brown, and Casey Boyle of Enculturation for making this special issue happen in just over four months. We are happy to have the issue released in such a timely way that the work published here is still relevant to and in the minds of those who attended or would have liked to attend the conference. Finally, we’d like to say another note of thanks to the reviewers who lent their time and expertise with their generous reviews: Kati Ahern, Jennifer Bay, Michael Day, Peter Goggin, Lorie Goodman, Bump Halbritter, Joshua Hilst, Jason Kalin, Virginia Kuhn, Brad Mehlenbacher, Jeff Rice, David Rieder, Shelley Rodrigo, Eve Wiederhold, and Anne Wysocki.
1 Due to technical problems during her address, Wysocki’s keynote is not included here.