Book Review: James J. Brown, Jr’s “Ethical Programs”

Ethical Programs: Hospitality and the Rhetorics of Software (Review)

James J. Brown, Jr.’s 2015 book, Ethical Programs: Hospitality and the Rhetorics of Software is part of The Digital Humanities series from The University of Michigan Press which is targeted more towards rhetoric and computation scholars under the umbrella of DH scholarship. Although the text is established in Derrida’s work on hospitality, Bogost’s procedural rhetorics, and general network and ecological theories, Brown does a great job of explaining the more difficult concepts through repetition and four major case studies which would put the average academic at ease. I did find myself looking up some acronyms and software terminology from time to time—I would have killed for a glossary of terms or a hyperlinked text—but the main concepts were more or less thoroughly explained. Continue reading “Book Review: James J. Brown, Jr’s “Ethical Programs””


“Wampum as Hypertext” – Haas

“Wampum as Hypertext: An American Indian Intellectual Tradition of Mulimedia Theory and Practice” by Angela M. Hass

Article Citation: Hass, Angela M. “Wampum as Hypertext: An American Indian Intellectual Tradition of Multimedia Theory and Practice.” Studies in American Indian Literatures 19.4 (2007;2008;): 77-100.

Abstract (from source): “This essay traces a counterstory to Western claims to the origins of hypertext and multimedia by remembering how American Indian communities have employed wampum belts as hyper textual technologies—as wampum belts have extended human memories of inherited knowledges through interconnected, nonlinear designs and associative storage and retrieval methods—long before the ‘discovery’ of Western hypertext. By forging intellectual trade routes between Tehanetorens, Wallace, Williams, and other wampum historians with the work of Western hypertext theorists, such as Bush, Nelson, Bolter, and Landow, this essay positions American Indians as the first known skilled multimedia workers and intellectuals in the Americas” (77-8).

Keywords: Wampum, hypertextuality, American Indian, Memex, Xanadu, networks

Further Reading:

Bolter, Jay David. Writing Space: The computer, Hypertext, and the Remediation of Print. 2nd ed. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2001.

Landow, George P. Hypertext 2.0: The Convergence of Contemporary Critical Theory and Technology. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997.


Key Quotes:

“Wampum strings and belts served to engender further diplomatic relations, and their presentation was a gesture that required reciprocity on the part of the recipient. Consequently, accepting a gift of wampum meant that the recipient accepted its implied message and responsibility…a wampum is a living rhetoric that communicates a mutual relationship between two or more parties, despite the failure of one of those parties to live up to that promise” (80).

“Wampum embodies memory, as it extends human memories of inherited knowledges via interconnected, nonlinear designs with associative message storage and retrieval methods. And it is this complex rhetorical functioning that first engaged my thoughts on how Indians have always been hypertextual” (80-1).

“The Memex was described in [Dr. Vannevar] Bush’s 1945 Atlantic Monthly articles as an instrument designed to extend human memory by allowing us to associatively store and retrieve memories through nonlinear trails, or a webbed network, of interconnected scientific knowledge and data” (81).

“[Ted Nelson’s] dream of the Xandu ‘Docuverse’ has been partially fulfilled vis-a-vis the World Wide Web, despite the fact that the Web does not currently make all published information available nor do we currently have a system for ensuring hypertext copyright holders are paid whenever their intellectual property is used” (82).

“Given the preceding origin story, I posit that the ‘history’ of hypertext is a Western frontier story, a narrative that most often begins with the exploration of the land of Xanadu and the Memex and eventually leads to the trailblazing of the World Wide Web” (82).

“This essay demonstrates how wampum is an example of a pre-Memex, pre-Xanadu, and pre-Internet American Indian technology that was not only imagined but became a reality and that not only works like hypertext but in fact extends those capabilities beyond the current capacity of interconnected hypertexts we see on the ‘World Wide’ Web” (83).

“[based on treaty belt] the two rows symbolize two paths or two vessels, and though the two parties will travel together side by side, they will do so in their own boat. ‘Neither of us will make compulsory laws or interfere in the internal affairs of the other. Neither of us will try to steer the other’s vessel’ (74). Such everyday practices of digital coding result in culturally saturated visual rhetorics that signify meaning to those who revisit wampum treaties–not to mention the visual mnemonics associated with the subsequent rereading of wampum belts” (85).

“A wampum hypertext constructs an architectural mnemonic system of knowledge making and memory recollection through bead placement, proximity, balance, and color. Like colors are employed in Western visual design to signify certain moods or readers, the color usage of wampum reminds its ‘reader’ how to organize and read the story woven into the material rhetoric” (86).

“In order to memorize the belt and its story, the trained individual would impress in the mind the visual representation of the belt and subsequently forge mnemonic associations between the visual representation of the belt and the accompanying story” (89)

Further Questions:

  • The hypertextual maps (83) show the connections between the different nodes as outlined by Memex, Xanadu, and wampum models. Are these good representations? Wouldn’t the wampum–since it is culturally situation–be better served by a more ecological model? If it is being referenced to as a system without an end or a center with multiple layers of meaning at each node, would ecological models help to show the impacts and connectivity of this mode of communication?

“Why are the Digital Humanities so White? or Thinking the Histories of Race and Computation” – McPhearson

“Why are the Digital Humanities so White? or Thinking the Histories of Race and Computation” by Tara McPhearson

Article Citation: McPherson, Tara. “Why are the Digital Humanities So White? or Thinking of Histories of Race and  Computation.” Debates in the Digital Humanities.  Ed. Matthew K. Gold. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota Press, 2012. Web. 10 Feb. 2016. 

Abstract: McPherson makes the connection between the modularity of coding and computations in the 1960’s and 1970’s to the civil rights movements and segregation policies of that time. She is not saying that coders and programmers intended to extend modularity to politics and social issues, however, she is making the case that modularity in coding responds to the modularity in politics and vice-versa. She wants to bridge the gap between computation studies and cultural studies that focus on social issues and race.

Keywords: new media, digital humanities, race, computation, modularity, cultural studies

Further Reading:

Golumbia, David. The Cultural Logic of Computation. Cambridge, Mass Harvard University Press, 2009

Hansen, Mark B. N. Embodying Technesis: Technology Beyond Writing. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2000.

Kinder, Marsha. “Narrative Equivocations between Movies and Games.” In The New Media Book, edited by Dan Harries London: BFI, 2002: 119-32.

Turkle, Sherry. Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1997.


Key Quotes:

Further, I will argue that the difficulties we encounter in knitting together our discussions of race (or other modes of difference) with our technological productions within the digital humanities (or in our studies of code) are actually an effect of the very designs of our technological systems, designs that emerged in post–World War II computational culture. These origins of the digital continue to haunt our scholarly engagements with computers, underwriting the ease with which we partition off considerations of race in our work in the digital humanities and digital media studies.”

Within American, cultural, and ethnic studies, the temporal touchstones of struggles over racial justice, antiwar activism, and legal history are also widely recognized and analyzed.Not surprisingly, these two fragments typically stand apart in parallel tracks, attracting the interest and attention of very different audiences located in the deeply siloed departments that categorize our universities.”

-Making a case to analyze and discuss cultural studies alongside the technical/technological developments in history due to their interdependence.

Critical race theorists and postcolonial scholars like Chela Sandoval and Gayatri Spivak have illustrated the structuring (if unacknowledged) role that race plays in the work of poststructuralists like Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault. We might bring these two arguments together, triangulating race, electronic culture, and poststructuralism, and, further, argue that race, particularly in the United States, is central to this undertaking, fundamentally shaping how we see and know as well as the technologies that underwrite or cement both vision and knowledge.”

“In the post–civil rights United States, the lenticular is a way of organizing the world. It structures representations but also epistemologies. It also serves to secure our understandings of race in very narrow registers, fixating on sameness or difference while forestalling connection and interrelation. As I have argued elsewhere, we might think of the lenticular as a covert mode of the pretense of separate but equal, remixed for midcentury America (McPherson, 250).”

A lenticular logic is a covert racial logic, a logic for the post–civil rights era. We might contrast the lenticular postcard to that wildly popular artifact of the industrial era, the stereoscope card. The stereoscope melds two different images into an imagined whole, privileging the whole; the lenticular image partitions and divides, privileging fragmentation. A lenticular logic is a logic of the fragment or the chunk, a way of seeing the world as discrete modules or nodes, a mode that suppresses relation and context. As such, the lenticular also manages and controls complexity.”

“Modules “don’t promiscuously share global data,” and problems can stay “local” (84–85). In writing about the Rule of Composition, Eric Raymond advises programmers to “make [programs] independent.” He writes, “It should be easy to replace one end with a completely different implementation without disturbing the other” (15).Detachment is valued because it allows a cleaving from “the particular …conditions under which a design problem was posed. Abstract. Simplify. Generalize” (95). While “generalization” in UNIX has specific meanings, we might also see at work here the basic contours of a lenticular approach to the world, an approach that separates object from context, cause from effect.”

Modularity in software design was meant to decrease “global complexity” and cleanly separate one “neighbor” from another (Raymond, 85). These strategies also played out in ongoing reorganizations of the political field throughout the 1960s and 1970s in both the Right and the Left. The widespread divestiture in the infrastructure of inner cities can be seen as one more insidious effect of the logic of modularity in the postwar era. But we might also understand the emergence of identity politics in the 1960s as a kind of social and political embrace of modularity and encapsulation, a mode of partitioning that turned away from the broader forms of alliance-based and globally inflected political practice that characterized both labor politics and antiracist organizing in the 1930s and 1940s.”

I am highlighting the ways in which the organization of information and capital in the 1960s powerfully responds—across many registers—to the struggles for racial justice and democracy that so categorized the United States at the time. Many of these shifts were enacted in the name of liberalism, aimed at distancing the overt racism of the past even as they contained and cordoned off progressive radicalism. The emergence of covert racism and its rhetoric of color blindness are not so much intentional as systemic.Computation is a primary delivery method of these new systems, and it seems at best naive to imagine that cultural and computational operating systems don’t mutually infect one another.”

Further Questions:

  • On the premise of “lenticular logic is a covert racial logic,” how else can we apply the lenticular logic when speaking about race in society, literature, art, etc.? Does it become a theoretical lens and term to discuss the design of separation, misdirection of the overall image?
  • How can we use computation and cultural systems to discuss education? How does the composition classroom change based on these delivery systems? Is the rise of multimodality a result of this pairing?

Thinking through Technology Use in the Classroom

Where does technology fit in the composition classroom?

The Writing Program Administrators outcomes refer to composition as “complex writing processes that are increasingly reliant on the use of digital technologies” (n.p.). The WPA continues: “Writers’ composing activities have always been shaped by the technologies available to them, and digital technologies are changing writers’ relationships to their texts and audiences in evolving ways” (n.p.). I don’t disagree with this statement in the slightest, however, I think there is a lot to consider when bringing technology into the classroom.

Every semester I send out a survey to my students asking several simple questions that help me understand their background with composition and technology: 1. How do you define writing? 2. Please select all technologies you use on a daily basis. 3. Using what technology do you feel most comfortable composing with? 4. What technologies do you own? Every class that I have given these to (six in total), I have received varying answers, some of which I was surprised. I have seen a decline in Facebook use, a rise in Twitter and Snapchat use, and a consistent use of Kik or Facebook Messenger to communicate in addition to text messaging. Less than half of my students claim to own a laptop or desktop computer, but all but two students–out of 143 students– own a smart phone that connects to the internet. They admit to nonstop communication and connectivity to information and each other, however, they don’t consider themselves writers, even though they mostly define writing as writing out words to communicate an idea or expression.

Now, my surveys have only been distributed to Eastern Michigan University students in Ypsilanti, Michigan in two sections of WRTG120, two sections of WRTG121, and two sections of a summer writing class through Eastern’s EMU Opportunity Program. In the research survey results explained in “Revisualizing Composition: How First-Year Writers Use Composing Technologies,” which is a study that had 1,366 students from seven colleges and universities respond, Moore et al. says, “students use fairly traditional technologies for school assignments, while they use a wider variety of technologies, including Facebook, cell phones, and Twitter for writing for personal fulfillment and for entertainment. furthermore, students seem to be changing how they compose, even before most writing pedagogies offer scaffolded strategies for using a full range of composing technologies to invent, draft, arrange, revise, and deliver texts” (10, emphasis in original). I don’t think this is much of a surprise to, well, anyone, but there are several things that are important to take away from the empirical data that is pulled from these surveys.

Moore et al. reiterates what has been discussed in scholarship from the last decade, “Students are writing more than ever with the diverse range of composing technologies and platforms that are widely available to them” (2). They stress that composition instructors need to bring these technologies into the classroom because “traditional composition and rhetoric pedagogies aren’t appropriate for teaching students how to invent, draft, arrange, revise and deliver texts today, with the wide range of composing and collaboration technologies available” (3). The introduction of the newer technologies could teach students how to use their technology more effectively, which would then possibly translate into more efficient and effective writing. These are all assumptions that are debated in both formal and informal settings, however, one has to tread carefully with bringing new technology into the classroom for the sake of saying “current.”

Having graduate students teaching a large percentage of first-year composition classes could be seen as an advantage when it comes to keeping the department’s curriculum up-to-date on current technology–contingent labor dilemmas aside–however, the assumption of the “digital native” knowing how to work all technologies is highly problematic. Marc Santos and Mark Leahy fall into this line of thinking in their article “Postpedagogy and Web Writing.” In their explanation of the simplicity of certain mediums over others, they state: “In our experience, students are not always the mythic ‘digital natives’ we have been promised” (89). However, just a few sentences later, they state: “students with myriad experience levels can quickly acclimate to the technology…Similarly, if an instructor is less familiar with such tools, it would not take more than a day or two to master any one of them” (89). Now, the technologies in question are mediums like “Blogger, Tumblr, Twitter, WordPress, or Pinterest, but I think it is naive to claim that an instructor can “master” any of these in a “day or two.” This would greatly depend on the experience and technical know-how of the instructor and student alike. As an avid user of Facebook, WordPress, GoogleDocs, Excel, etc. and someone that has been exploring hardware and software for nearly two decades, I would hardly call myself a master of anything.

Assuming anyone knows how to do precisely what you want of them using technology could lead to misinterpretation and misunderstanding. Santos and Leahy make some solid points about using these technologies: “Simply plopping student writing up on the web fails to account for the complex systems of reputation, recommendation, and discovery that characterize today’s Internet…we believe scholars need to extend discussions of accessibility beyond the availability of the technology itself” (89). Having a fruitful discussion about the medium, its limitations, and affordances could lead to an increase in rhetorical knowledge which would improve the students’ composition experience.

In Lannette Cadle’s piece, “Why I Still Blog,” she discusses the importance of the medium for the first-year writing student, graduate student, or even professor. The blog has been around for quite some time, and many see it as being all but completely replaced by Facebook, Twitter, and other sites, however, blogs are a special medium for academics. She explains how “blogs have the time, space, and ability to accumulate and form patterns where later, more specialized forms such as Twitter are by designed more ephemeral” (n.p.). These patterns, according to Cadle, lead to the formation of an identity: “No matter what a blogger’s intentions are for a blog, it will construct an identity. This identity could be aspirational, actual, individual, communal, deliberately deceptive, or even subsumed under a corporate gloss, but identity will be there. The accretion over time of many posts not only gives a long view on content, it gives a long, dimensional vision of the person (or people) behind the words and other media” (n.p.). Most students are assigned the blog as part of an assignment, most often as a reading journal, which creates the feeling of busy work for the student. If they were to explore the conventions of the blog and note the limitations and affordances, perhaps more students that are interested in creating an online presence for their discipline would be more inclined to maintain their blog.

I think there are a lot of uses for technology in the classroom that can enrich a student’s experience with writing, but we have to make sure we don’t make assumptions about our students and fellow instructors. Growing up, I had to experiment and learn all the intricacies of programs on my computer without the help of Youtube and or engaging with the hive mind of social media. Many of our students have grown up with smartphones where there is an app for everything or a tutorial to show you exactly how to do what you need. There is very little exploration and taking risks to figure out how to do things on your own. Just because the student is 19, we shouldn’t assume they know how to use their computer and do all the formatting we desire in Microsoft Word. I think we have to be a little more patient with our students and be open to showing them the basics of the technology we use in our classrooms. Students might not fully understand how to write an abstract, but many of them understand the constraints of a tweet or comment box. If we show them the parallels, I think we would all be better writers.



Cadle, Lanette. “Why I Still Blog.” PraxisWiki: Kairos: Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy. N.p. 25 Oct. 2014. Web. 26 Jan. 2016.

Council of Writing Program Administrators. “WPA Outcomes Statement for First-Year Composition (3.0), Approved July 17, 2014. Council of Writing Program Administrators. Council of Writing Program Administrators, 2014. Web. 21 Jan. 2016.

Moore, Rosinski, Peeples, Pigg, Rife, Brunk-Chavez, Lackey, Rumsey, Tasaka, Curran, and Grabill. “Revisualizing Composition: How First-Year Writers Use Composing Technologies.” Computers and Composition 39 (2016): 1-13.

Santos, Marc and Mark Leahy. “Post pedagogy and Web Writing.” Computers and Composition 32 (2014): 84-95.

“Revisualizing Composition: How First-Year Writers Use Composing Technologies” by Moore et al.

“Revisualizing Composition: How First-Year Writers Use Composing Technologies”

Jessie L. Moore, Paula Rosinski, Tim Peeples, Stacey Pigg, Martine Courant Rife, Beth Brunk-Chavez, Dundee lackey, Suzanne Kesler Rumsey, Robyn Tasaka, Paul Curran, Jeffrey t. Grabill

Article Citation: Moore et al. “Revisualizing Composition: How First-Year Writers Use Composing Technologies.” Computers and Composition 39 (2016): 1-13.

Abstract (from source): “Reporting on survey data from 1,366 students from seven colleges and universities, this article examines the self-reported writing choices of students as they compose different kinds of texts using a wide range of composing technologies, both traditional (i.e., paper,pencils, pens, etc.), and digital (i.e., cell phones, wikis, blogs, etc.). This analysis and discussion is part of the larger RevisualizingComposition study, which examines the writing lives of first-year students across multiple institution types throughout the UnitedStates. We focus especially on what appear to be, at first glance, contradictory or confusing results, because these moments ofambiguity in students’ use of composing technologies point to shifts or tensions in students’ attitudes, beliefs, practices andrhetorical decision-making strategies when writing in the 21stcentury. The implications of these ambiguous results suggest paths forcontinued collaborative research and action. They also, we argue, point to a need to foster students’ reflexive, critical, and rhetorical writing – across composing technologies – and to develop updated writing pedagogies that account for students’ flexible use of these technologies.”

Keywords (from source): students’ writing lives, composing technologies, 21st century writing, genres

Further Reading:

Frost, Erin A. (2011). Why teachers must learn: Student innovation as a driving factor in the future of the Web. Computers and Composition, 28(4), 269-275.

Jones, Chris, Ramanau, Rusland, Cross, Simon, & Healing, Graham. (2010). Net generation or digital natives: Is there a distinct new generation entering university? Computers & Education, 54, 722-732

Mueller, Derek N. (2009). Digital underlife in the networked classroom. Computers and Composition, 26(4), 240-250.

Shipka, Jody. (2011). Toward a composition made whole. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pitttsburgh Press

Key Quotes:

“Students are writing more than ever with the diverse range of composing technologies and platforms that are widely available to them” (2).

“It’s important to pay attention to the entire spectrum of composing technologies, since they are all part of students’ composing landscape today” (2).

“the authors [of the PEW Internet Research study] found that teachers think that Internet-based writing and digital composing technologies help sutdents communicate in creative ways, encourage students to write for different kinds of audiences, and give students a chance to ‘write more often in more formats than may have been the case in prior generations'” (3).

“we believe that traditional composition and rhetoric pedagogies aren’t appropriate for teaching students how to invent, draft, arrange, revise and deliver texts today, with the wide range of composing and collaboration technologies available” (3).

“Since students are embracing these newer digital technologies, academia should consider how they could be integrated into school writing, how classroom instruction can better prepare students to write effectively with these technologies when they use them for self-sponsored genres, and whether any kind of transfer occurs when students use these composing technologies to write for academic and self-sponsored purposes” (10).

Further Questions:

  • This study felt a little dated to me, especially based on the categories that were listed for the survey. I wonder what the results would be in a study today with the use of instant messaging apps, Instagram, Snapchat, and others. Would students associate these programs with writing?
  • I wonder if there could be a question on collaboration. Where do student collaborate? What programs are used? Are programs intended for collaboration used more than those that are not?

“Pedagogy and Web Writing” Santos and Leahy

“Pedagogy and Web Writing”  by Marc C. Santos & Mark H. Leahy

Article Citation: Santos, Marc C., and Mark H. Leahy. “Postpedagogy and Web Writing.”Computers and Composition 32 (2014): 84-95. Web.

Abstract (From Source): “Collaborative digital tools, online communities, and the evolution of literacy create opportunities in which writing for an English class and writing for the “real” world no longer have to be two separate activities. Seizing such opportunities requires rethinking thedesire to teach writing—a move toward what has been termed postpedagogy. We align the interactive and collaborative affordancesof web writing with a postpedagogical model of learning focused on inventive practices grounded in kairotic interactions. We also detail our candid experiences working with students who are writing for real world audiences, as well as the productive risks and anxieties such an approach produces.”

Keywords (From Source): pedagogy, postpedagogy, web writing, blogging, invention, community

Further Reading:

Arroyo Sarah, J. (2005). Playing ot the tune of electracy: From post-process to a pedagogy otherwise. JAC, 25(4), 683-715

Cooper, Marilyn M. (2010). Being linked to the matrix: biology, technology, and writing. In Stuart A. Selber (Ed.), Rhetoric and technologies (pp. 15-32). Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press.

Hawk, Byron. (2007). A counter-history of composition/toward methodologies of complexity. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press.

Vitanza, Victor J. (2003). Abandoned to writing: notes twoard several provocations. Enculturation, 5(1).

Key Quotes:

“Rhetoric and composition has underestimated the extent to which technological innovation transforms writing, and still succumbs to the temptation to reduce writing to a set of simple rules and procedures” (84).

“Writing is an elusive, complex practice, not the stilted activity codified by so many textbooks” (85).

“Web writing for us means participating in a community of similarly motivated writers engaging in a variety of writing practices” (85).

-Their work is comprised of students joining a community they are interested in and engaging with a series of posts a week that amount to at least 1,000 words. the students engage with a real audience and real dialogue which then pushes the student to think about their communicative practices and engage in rhetoric in a real setting. This is lead by their push for a postpedagogical approach.

“Our approach to webwriting is based upon a postpedagogical emphasis on play and practice, employing a workshop model that exposes students to the range of choices writers make when responding to and engaging with audiences” (85).

“Postpedagogy advocated a critical and self-reflexive re-inhabiting of teacher authority and an insistence on kairoitic, emergent, ‘risky’ learning” (86).

“By placing writing in communities selected by our students, by generating assignments that call upon them to develop new theories of writing based ont heir own experiences, and by allowing them to contribute to the criteria by which they are evaluated, we provide students an opportunity to develop an institutionally practicable form of authority (aware of its limitations)” (86-7).

“Our goal is to expose our students to the plurality of potential writings, and to guide them to select those most relevant to them” (87).

“we are not attempting to remystify writing so much as to acknowledge that the easily-taught, easily-evaluated prescriptivist pedagogy of the last century, with its emphasis on the academic essay and little else, has failed in every imaginable way to account for the unpredictable and ingenious new forms of writing our students encounter and participate in every day” (87).

“Simply plopping student writing up on the web fails to account for the complex systems of reputation, recommendation, and discovery that characterize today’s Internet…we believe scholars need to extend discussions of accessibility beyond the availability of the technology itself” (89).

“In our experience, students are not always the mythic ‘digital natives’ we have been promised” (89).

-I think this is a really important point that needs to be discussed further. Just because a student is under 30 does not mean they know how to work all forms of technology.

Further Questions:

  • How would an instructor monitor the work of the students through their online community? Does all work, i.e. informal posts, replies, playful banter/conversation, all count toward the analyzed 1,000 words?
  • If the student chooses a blog that is not very active, do they receive the same value from the online community as someone that has hundreds of views/replies?
  • How much instruction is given to the students throughout the semester to evaluate the discourse community they are engaging with? Is rhetorical terms/knowledge provided to the students?


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.