“Beyond the Dialectic of Work and Play: A Serio-Ludic Rhetoric for Composition Studies.” – Rouzie

“Beyond the Dialectic of Work and Play: A Serio-Ludic Rhetoric for Composition Studies.” by Albert Rouzie

Article Citation: Rouzie, Albert. “Beyond the Dialectic of Work and Play: A Serio-Ludic Rhetoric for Composition Studies.” JAC 20.3 (2000): 627-58. Web.

Abstract (From Source): “I argue that the dichotomy between work and play in our culture continues to contribute to our alienation from creative connection to both work and play and that this dichotomy in English studies is further institionalized <sp> in composition studies. Although play may appear to exist outside the realm of rhetoric, where it is limited to “creative” or “expressive” writing, I argue that certain forms of play are highly rhetorical and that an emergent form of literacy must include fluency with the play element in the writing of both traditional and electronic discourse. Furthermore, in discussing play in the context of critical postmodernism, I argue that play does not
have to be apolitical, that its dialectical qualities can make it a powerful force for resistance and change” (629, emphasis mine).

Keywords: Play, Computers and Writing, Technology, Writing Studies, Ludology, Taylorism, serio-ludic (633), Rhetoric, composition

Further Reading:

  • Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. Beyond Boredom and Anxiety: The Experience of
    Play in Work and Games. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1975.
  • Dryden, L.M. “Literature, Student-Centered Classrooms, and Hypermedia
    Environments.” Literacy and Computers: The Complications of Teaching
    and Learning with Technology. Ed. Cynthia L. Selfe and Susan Hilligoss.
    New York: MLA, 1994. 282-304.
  • Gibson, Walker. “Play and the Teaching ofWriting.” The Play of Language. Ed.
    Leonard F. Dean, Walker Gibson, and Kenneth G. Wilson. New York:
    Oxford UP, 1971. 281-87.
  • Runciman, Lex. “Fun?” College English 53 (1991): 156-62.


Key Quotes:

“Progressives who land in between [the two extremes] view play as the natural mode of cognitive development through which intrinsically motivated activity can free us from the oppressive, authoritarian traditions epitomized by the conservative approach” (628).

“The deeply entrenched divisions between work and play, seriousness and frivolity, and order and chaos inherited by educators ultimately impoverish our culture’s approach to literacy. By now it is a truism that computer technology has added new dimensions and requirements to our concept of literacy” (628-9).

“Despite the emergence of computer technology and its potential for enhancing the play element in literacy education, a normative ideology of work, reality, seriousness, practicality, and adult behavior continues to rule post-secondary institutions” (629).

“Even though the complexity of the word play itself suggests considerable slippage across the binary oppositions between work/play and seriousness/frivolity, the prevailing dichotomy between seriousness and play has been our culture’s most persistent approach to defining play” (630).

“We construct reality on the basis of work versus play, the elective versus the required, as if our attitudes and performance were prescribed by these categories: now we play; now we work” (630-1).

“If, in our work, we are alienated because we are not engaged in creative activity, we are likewise alienated from forms of play offered by the leisure industry in which we are mere consumers of prefabricated presentations. If one connotation of play is the freedom to engage in creative activity, the leisure industry offers not the freedom to be creative, but the freedom from the control of the work environment” (632-3, emphasis in original).

“Play’s rhetorical power lies in part in how it can reflect our most serious activities, but with a parodic twist, as in a funhouse mirror” (633).

“Play parodies not reality itself but an idea or image of reality held by players, participants, and audiences. Reality then, is put into play and reframed in the context of the rhetor/player and the audience” (634).

“Walker Gibson sees the writer as a ‘play-actor’ assuming various roles and masks in ‘dramatic play through language’ and thus functions as an antidote to the model of the writer as objective mapmaker (284-86). Both play and writing can, in this view, be seen as forms of ‘symbolic action’ through which individuals encounter and negotiate socio-cultural structures of meaning” (634).

“The process approach supports the practice of playing around with ideas by viewing writing as provisional, deferring performance anxiety by involving students with the associative, constructive, and discursive process of writing in the hope that they feel a sense of intrinsic motivation” (634-5).

“Serio-ludic play calls attention to itself as play while achieving rhetorical purposes by conveying content of a serious nature through playfully stylistic means” (635)

With the shift to the “process approach, a student subject has emerged: seemingly for the first time students might focus on the intricacies of their experiences of writing rather than solely on the fetishized product” (638).

“Computer technology, according to Lanham, returns rhetoric to a fruitful oscillation between truth and style that has always been one of its disturbing and enabling tensions. Western thought has been constituted by ‘two clusters of motive’ (game/play and ‘being serious’) that the computer’s liquid interface keeps in productive oscillation in a more or less sustained and self-conscious way (57)” (641).

“It is not underlife itself that must be overcome but the alienated nature of academic ‘gamesplaying’ that results in cynical manipulation of classroom behavior and writing for external rewards that prevents the commitment to examining roles and identity necessary for growth as a writer” (644).

“Underlife and, more broadly, serio-ludic play are not inherently disruptive of the social order; rather, they open up a space, an opportunity for critique, while they help to connect that process with what we think of as “real life” and help make the work of composition less onerous, alienated, and drudgelike. From this perspective, play does not stand in
the way of critical agendas; rather, it is a necessary but not sufficient element of social change. Play can, of course, be a force for containment rather than subversion, since, as Sutton-Smith points out, “games of disorder” are balanced out with “games of order.” The outcome of play depends on what you do with it, on your goals and values, as well as on the cultural and material conditions within which it is enacted” (645).

Further Questions:

  • If the serio-ludic approach to composition studies is delicate, but will bridge the gap between work and play in academia, is game-based pedagogy the answer to its implementation?
  • There is a large focus on hypertextuality and digital compositions as being the playful options in the composition classroom. Rouzie stresses that the networked-classroom should be the focus of composition, but does this privilege those that have access to technology and previous technological skill?
  • I agree that bridging the gap between work and play is important in academia and the workplace, but is there an inherent balancing act that needs to be engaged in order to make sure writing instruction doesn’t fall in favor to experimentation and style? Don’t we have to help students understand disciplinary genres before we deconstruct them with technology?

Thinking Toward Holistic Composition: Jody Shipka Chapter 1

We have the absolute pleasure of hosting Jody Shipka in March at Eastern Michigan University. Several of the faculty at EMU have talked about Shipka’s work as “smart” and “important work on multimodality,” so I decided to buy her most recent book to host a couple reading discussions on campus before the visit. For our computers and writing course, we were assigned the first chapter out of Toward a Composition Made Whole, which I will discuss here.

The first chapter, “Rethinking Composition / Rethinking Process,” focuses mostly on setting up the idea of “a composition made whole.” She first explains it through the use of technology, but she reminds us that “a composition made whole requires us to be more mindful about our use of a term like technology” and all manners of stakes that are associated with the medium (20-21, emphasis in original). She also says, “As we embrace (or even reject) newer technologies, as we anticipate the way communicative landscapes might continue to change, it is also important to keep in mind the rich, material, multimodal dimensions of classroom practice, of learning, and, in fact, of living” (21). The reason why I quote her at length here is because this is an idea that is present in the entire chapter as she explores how technology has been used in classroom scholarship and pedagogy, as well as how writing and composition are used int he discussion. This chapter works through the history of composition studies, but not exactly in a way that is redundant of previous works. Instead, she looks into the suggestions made through scholarship for a more integrated approach to composition studies.

Much of this chapter is referencing scholars such as Sean Williams (2001), Geoffrey Sirc (2002), Lee Odell and Christina Lynn Prell (1999), Kathleen Yancey (2004), Douglas Downs and Elizabeth Wardle (2007), and several others that published in the last 20 or so years. Her goal is to show the dynamics of communication and the everyday use of multimodality pleading to “keep in mind the rich, material, multimodal dimensions of classroom practice, of learning, and, in fact, of living” (21). Her claim for a composition made whole is to “consider how they are continually positioned in ways that require [students] to read, respond to, align with–in short, to negotiate–a streaming interplay of words, images, sounds, scents, and movements” (21). She backs up this idea using a quote from Jewitt and Kress: “meanings are made, distributed, received, interpreted and remade…through many representational and communicative modes–not just through language” (qtd. in Shipka 21-22). Thinking about the dynamics of multimodality, she asks us to revisit the terms authoring, composing, composition, literacy, and writing. , many of which are touched upon, but not interrogated in this first chapter.

The rest of the chapter discusses the history of the composition field and the entangled discussions around the CCC’s name including communications and how the field should have aligned itself with communications. She goes through a series of “what if” scenarios, imagining what the field of composition would look like if scholars communicated and collaborated together with communications. The what if scenarios culminate in a list of questioning, but one that really highlights this discussion is one of the last questions: “What if our courses and research efforts attended to how social and personal motives, the body, historical circumstances, and the resources one has on hand impact both how and what one can do, mean, or understand?” (28). I think these are important questions to ask, and it is clear that Shipka believes that the alignment of the two disciplines would only enhance the work that students are doing, especially when it comes to making the multimodal composition “whole.”

This discussion around a composition made whole brings in many ideas, similar to those in ecological studies and Actor Network Theory where all things are connected and influenced by both human and nonhuman actors. Her interest in talking about technology in the more specific way, including all aspects of a classroom environment, would make the composition experience more holistic and genuine instead of the static, created genres of writing that are often associated with education. This first chapter sets up interesting points of contact with scholars and students alike when it comes to writing and composing, and I look forward to the rest of the book and her talk in just a few months.

Shipka, Jody. Toward a Composition Made Whole. Pittsburgh, PA: U of Pittsburgh, 2011. Print.

Connectivity in First-Year Writing: a Look at Composition Classes through Networks and Ecologies


Connectivity in First-Year Writing: A Look at Composition Classes through Networks and Ecologies

       Students, like most humans, don’t often think of themselves within a space where they are continuously affected by their surroundings. Humans intrinsically think of themselves as the center, or subject, of their life and current situation. Posthumanist theories such as object-oriented ontology and complex systems theory have been pushing to decenter the human and establish intricate networks of both human and non-human actors to better explain rhetorical situations. Young humans, (herein referred to as students), see themselves as a single unit moving through the school settings like an assembly line, picking up new tools and vocabulary as they move along a set track (i.e. course outcomes or program of study). However, what they don’t realize is that they are part of a large, complex network of both human and non-human actors. For this short study, using Jenny Edbouer’s “Unframing Models of Public Distribution” at the center, I propose a way to make students aware of the complexity of their involvement at a university, more specifically Eastern Michigan University’s First-Year Writing Program.

       Stemming from studies on the rhetorical situation, many scholars have expanded the framework laid out by Lloyd Bitzer (1968) and Richard Vatz (1973) by using ecological theories or complex systems theories. In Edbauer’s article, she explains how the rhetorical situation, and rhetoric in general, is typically viewed “as a totality of discrete elements: audience, rhetor, exigence, constraints, and text” (7). This framing makes rhetoric a “collection of elements” that is usually referenced as the rhetorical triangle and other inert variations that are limited within specific constraints of static, discernable moments. Edbouer references Louise Weatherbee Phelps’s work, Composition as a Human Science, at length to highlight the need for an explanation of a rhetorical situation “in flux” in order to “recontextualize those elements in a wider sphere of active, historical, and lived processes” (8). Edbouer uses an etymological approach to show how the term “rhetorical situation” points towards a static, pointable location, stemming from the Latin word situs, “tied to the originary position of objects” (9). She finds this reference to rhetoric unsuitable since much of the discussion around rhetoric is social in nature, which is never fixed to a single location.

       The social nature of rhetoric requires a complex system in order for the situation to be mapped properly. Edbouer explains that no person is ever “outside the networked interconnection of forces, energies, rhetorics, moods, and experiences,” which is most easily diagrammed as a network of nodes and connections between both human and non-human actors. Marilyn Cooper, in her article “Rhetorical Agency as Emergent and Enacted,” explains the complex system of a network as “self-organizing: order (and change) results from an ongoing process in which a multitude of agents interact frequently and in which the results of interactions feed back into the process” (421). The network of these interactions could be a snapshot of a moment in time which can be diagrammed out to show a specific subject (an actor or node), and the connections that are currently influencing them, both tangible and intangible. Cooper highlights the aspect of the complex system that is always changing and situational, however, to fully understand the implications and influences on a subject, the network must be further complicated into what Jenny Edbouer calls an ecological rhetorical model.

       The ecological rhetorical model, unlike a closed network system, opens up all possibilities for connections and influences in an open network. When introducing this system, she explains “an ecological, or affective, rhetorical model [as] one that reads rhetoric both as a process of distributed emergence and as an ongoing circulation process” (13, emphasis in original). The open, ecological rhetorical model exhibits rhetoric as “infected by the viral intensities that are circulating in the social field” where rhetoric will “evolve in aparallel ways” which don’t share a carbon-copy situation, but “certain contagions and energy” (14). Simply put, the expansion of connectors from each node is exponential and influential, creating/changing a multitude of “processes, events, and bodies” (14). If the network is a useful tool to help us analyze particular situations in a manageable way, the ecological model is the method to find the influence of nodes in both related and unrelated situations in a fluid temporal space.

       To put these two methods of analysis in perspective, I want to show how we can analyze a student within the First-Year Writing Program (FYWP) at Eastern Michigan University (EMU). A student enrolled in the FYWP enters a seemingly tangible network which is not always made explicit in the classroom, although it is suggested to the student through the five program outcomes: rhetoric, process, conventions, multimodality, and reflection. The outcomes, posted on the program website and wiki, as well as printed in the assigned textbook, Understanding Rhetoric, explicitly shows how they connect the two composition classes that make up the FYWP, WRTG120 and WRTG121. If made explicit, the student can see how they are connected to the course and program, and in extension the university, based on these principles since the student will be interacting with these outcomes to demonstrate understanding regardless of section in all composition classes. In order to feel any sort of connectivity to the instructor, peers, or program, it is imperative for them to see this network take form. In the event that the instructor does not present the outcomes in a way that promotes the connectivity, the students may never be aware of the network and ecological structure of FYW, which does them a disservice. If we are at all invested in their education and want to create free, critical thinkers, we must set them on the networked, ecological path to prevent students becoming interchangeable parts in the university business model.

Eastern Michigan University’s First-Year Writing Program Course Outcomes 

       Once the student feels a sense of connectivity, it is important for the instructor to engage with the idea of agency. Steve Accardi explains how all studies in agency revolve around the idea that “an ability, power, or authority [can] be possessed by a subject or subjects” (2). In writing studies, it “suggests a writer is a rational individual, capable of inventing ideas autonomously and pursuing an intention to engage or provoke an audience” (Accardi 2). This concept is explored through all five core principles of the program, but this doesn’t necessarily connect the student to the network they are engaging in. Carolyn Miller suggests, in her article “What can Automation Tell Us About Agency?,” a “decentering of the subject-the death of the author//agent-signals a crisis for agency, or perhaps more accurately, for rhetoric, since traditional rhetoric requires the possibility for influence that agency entails” (143). This decentering then takes the connectivity of the students and instructor into a larger network with non-human actors, such as the curriculum, physical classroom, and program outcomes.

        Once the student is aware of the network, the student then can look beyond their own subjectivity and be granted agency to engage in the network at large. Cooper explains that agency is “interpellated, a role they can perform or a node they can occupy temporarily” (423), which suggests that agency is not always embodied by the students and that an aspect of the network, many times the instructor, must offer an invitation to give power/agency to the student to both engage with the network, as well as perform inside the classroom (423). The classroom, and FYWP at large, is what Amin and Thrift would call a “container” in the network and ecological model (qtd in Edbauer11). The analogy of the classroom as container and city as container is helpful to understand how the classes are situated in the ecology. Edbauer furthers the city/container example by explaining “that Austin is a container for the local elements within a given space, much as New York is a container for another set of local elements. Talking about those two different cities merely involves talking about the different elements held by the same (kind of) container called ‘city’” (Edbauer 11, emphasis my own). Following the example of the city, the classroom and program can be seen as a verb because the framework–program outcomes, curriculum, and pedagogical instruction–possesses unique qualities not found in all other classroom/program networks (Edbauer 11). All classrooms and FYWP’s share similar characteristics, which makes them containers in a network. However, due to the connectivity of the unique ties the composition classroom has to the program at large, “these sites are sustained by the amalgam of processes, which can be described in ecological terms of varying intensities of encounters and interactions,” making each class slightly unique due to the instructors and students’ conduct in each node (Edbauer 13).  

        The ecology of the FYWP does not need to be made explicit to the students, or the instructors, for it to exist. The efficacy of the instructor is called into question if they do not adhere to the course outcomes or the expectations of the writing program administrator, however, the students may not be aware of such expectations. Although it is ideal that the student is made aware of the ecology their class is part of, if they are not, they are still within it and impacting the program without cognitive engagement. The below diagram is a visual representation of what a networked FYWP might look like at EMU at the level of an individual WRTG120 or WRTG121 section–at its most basic design. All students come into the university with prior knowledge in composition from high school and other education, which influences both the classroom–teachers just engage in a comparative writing discussion–and the student’s writing aptitude. Depending on the instructor and how they decide to integrate the program outcomes into their classroom, disciplinary influence, both of the student’s major/interest and the instructor’s background, has at least a minimal effect on the class. Again, depending on the instructor, the section of students may or may not participate in the Celebration of Student Writing (a conference to display researched work in a multimodal presentation). The students that do participate in the culminating conference engage in their future/concurrent classes in a different manner than if they did not.

FYWP Netork-Ecology (2)

       If this were an ecological rhetorical model, there would be many more human and nonhuman actors that influence the program. Most sections run autonomously with at least a nod to the program outcomes, which reinforces connectivity. There would also be writing program administrators and others in the FYWP communicating their research and pedagogy at meetings and in private settings which alter curriculae and pedagogy. The students’ prior knowledge and disciplinary expectations also connect and alter connectors. Even a conversation grounded in the fundamentals of composition can alter the connection a student has to the program. All these factors are difficult (impossible?) to completely map, but can be made explicit in the classroom to students so they fully understand how their registration to a section is also an invitation to a much larger ecology.

       Framing the First-Year Writing program as an ecological rhetorical model helps the students, instructors, and writing program administrators understand the influence each actor has on the program. Program outcomes, the Celebration of Student Writing, and training of instructors fosters a strong commitment to writing that will carry with students throughout the university and their future careers. It is not within the scope of this paper to fully articulate the implications of this ecological model, but I hope some of the connections that I made explicit start the conversation about the need to make the ecological model explicit to all human actors of the FYWP.

Works Cited

Accardi, Steven. “Agency.” Ed. Paul Heilker and Peter Vandenberg. Keywords in Writing Studies. 1st ed. Boulder: Utah State UP, 2015. 1-5. Print.

Cooper, Marilyn M. “Rhetorical Agency as Emergent and Enacted.” College Composition and Communication 62.3 (2011): 420-49. Web.

Edbauer, Jenny. “Unframing Models of Public Distribution: From Rhetorical Situation to Rhetorical Ecologies.” Rhetoric Society Quarterly 35.4 (2005): 5-24. Web.

Losh, Alexander, Cannon, and Cannon. Understanding Rhetoric (EMU Custom Edition). Boston: Bedford St. Martin’s, 2015. ISBN 978-1-319-02870-1

Miller, Carolyn R. “What Can Automation Tell Us about Agency?” Rhetoric Society Quarterly 37.2 (2007): 137-57. JSTOR. Web. 1 Nov. 2015.