Here’s the slide deck and script for my #cwcon 2016 talk, “The University Library as Junk Shop: Visualizing DIY Composition.”
Below is an approximation of the talk I gave at my CCCC panel in Tampa last week, called “Meaning Is In the Making: Three Responses to Shipka & Her Response”. You can view the slidedeck here. Special thanks for co-panelists Frank Farmer and Kristi Prins, and an extra special thanks to our respondent, Jody Shipka.
4Cs is a annual reminder that the most intriguing aspects of Jody’s work can be gleaned from her own composing practices, where she makes meaning by experimenting with [slides 3-6] forgotten technologies and alternative archives, purchased through dedicated Saturday afternoon visits to Maryland junk shops, flea markets, estate sales, garage sales, and thrift stores which then get reassembled in her house, then edited through film and circulated via social media, journals, workshops, and, of course, national conferences. Her work gives objects a memorable, visceral afterlife through accumulation, curation, resuscitation, and remediation. [slides 7-8] In her Inhabiting Dorothy project, for example, she [planning to ad lib briefly here based on your panel]. In this paper, I’d like to align myself with Jody’s gestures to reuse materials, but apply this as a communicative practice that is more political than has been discussed in her work.
The act of reusing materials seems powerful to me because it employs an aesthetic and politics that Adela Licona has called second order consumption — an oppositional process that “disrupts the capitalist imperative and circuits of production and consumption that rely on the individual to value the new, the first, the singular, and the latest, including planned obsolescence” (153n60). I realize Jody’s intention isn’t necessarily to promote second order consumption when she criticizes our tendency to equate multimodality with digital texts, tools and processes. After all, first order consumption is being showcased right now through this machine — and Jody herself uses programs like Adobe Premiere Pro, and equipment, like iPads to make her films. And yet, defining multimodality beyond the digital encourages an awareness of second order consumption — to look to our own embodied histories, experiences, and traversals, as well as to our search engines and applications for the available means. As she argues in a 2012 film for Enculturation, “research is a lived process.”
In short, Jody has both theorized and demonstrated throughout her work that all communicative practice is multimodal. That is, following Paul Prior and Jason Palmeri, she argues that multimodality is not a genre or a certain kind of text, but a “routine dimension of language in use.” In her essay “Including, but Not Limited to, the Digital” she echoes an emphasis originally laid out in her book, Toward a Composition Made Whole, that multimodality should call our attention to systems of activity that lead to meaning-making. She explains how multimodal production is a “complex and highly distributed process” that accounts for “the role that texts, talk, people, perceptions, semiotic resources, motives, activities, institutions and so on play in the production, reception, circulation, and valuation of” things — whether they are printed texts, digital films, material objects, machines, or other hybrid forms not yet imagined (75). Hence, rather than ask students to respond to assignments with specific, genre-driven products, Jody’s courses emphasize a variety of possible rhetorical and performative multimodal accomplishments — “things” that are not restricted by representational systems that were denied or made available to them by their instructors. Time permits me from fully explicating some of the rich examples from her classroom, but in short, Jody’s students make a wide variety of things — objects like ballet shoes, garbage cans, and shirts [slides 11-13].
In the time I have left, I want to quickly offer a multimodal accomplishment of the public kind by looking at zines — self-made, self-circulated, do-it-yourself print publications that obsess about something, whether that “thing” is punk music, anarchism, bisexuality, Thai food, dishwashing jobs, murder histories, or something else. Before I theorize a bit about the multimodality of zines, I thought I’d illustrate what zines are and what they can do through an example of my own zine, Hotdogz.
I’ve been waiting to make a zine about parenting for a while and so I began Hotdogz knowing that Cs would be a useful occasion to connect my complicated experiences with Florida to the state’s broader social history. But instead of beginning with my own writing, I started making issue 1 with “F 319” — the Library of Congress letter and number most relevant to Florida history. Because zines are a visual medium, I found the relevant shelves in our university library and sat and fumbled through the books, pulling titles off the shelf and marking intriguing passages and pictures [slides 18-22], which I then scanned using one of dozens of photocopy machines in the library. Meanwhile, I gathered family images from my computer files and Flickr account. Knowing that I would eventually make photocopies of my zine, I used Photoshop to adjust my images from color to halftone black and white [slides 23-31]. In between these processes, I read a few chapters from the edited collection, The History of Florida and took notes on the facts and stories from Floridian history that struck me; I also began to narrate my familial history as simply as possible. I then downloaded and imported a free comic book font into Pages and printed these with my images on my aging laser printer.
Similar to Jody’s process for making films and her students’ processes for their projects, zines often take, borrow, and remediate from everyday materials. Mine came from the library and my own photos, but they could have just as easily come from printed matter found in junk shops, garage sales, or through Google Image. However, unlike the multimodal accomplishments articulated in Jody’s examples, the guiding force for making zines isn’t performance or interanimation but circulation; that is, although the epistemologies of our communicative practices are similar in our view of research as a lived process, success for a zine is determined by the rhetor’s ability to anticipate what happens after the prototype is built: how, where, and to whom the zine be distributed. This is facilitated by two critical encounters — one material, one cultural — that influence the goals and choices made in the production process: the copy machine and the stranger.
For example, in terms of materiality, not only did the copy machine dictate how my images would reproduce, but [slide 36] I chose to make my zine a fourth of the size of a letter sized sheet of paper since I could make 50 copies of a 24-page zine using only 150 sheets of doubled-sided paper. In other words, I could reach more people with less resources if I worked with less space. I then spent 3 late hours in my department’s copy room, printing, collating, cutting, folding, and stapling issue 1. And, of course, as a cultural encounter, Cs provided me with the temporal and spatial occasion to circulate a zine to you, strangers, all of whom will judge me on the appropriateness of the occasion, my awareness of kairos.
In their book The Available Means of Persuasion Sheridan, Ridolfo, and Michel suggest that “kairotic inventiveness” plays an essential role in public rhetoric since it not only requires an understanding of how composition anticipates circulation, but also how kairotic determinants — time, space, channels — are often beyond the rhetor’s control. This has particular importance for public pedagogies that make use of multimodal forms as the material and cultural contexts of those forms limit the available means for production and circulation. As Sheridan, Ridolfo, and Michel put it, “rhetorical theory has yet to confront the full implications of taking circulation into account” (61) realizing that it is at least partially “constitutive of rhetorical composition” (67; emphasis in original); this gap in our theory is reflected in our multimodal pedagogies.
For example, when I ask students to make zines in my undergraduate classes they fully immerse themselves in the production process — [slides 40-43] cutting and pasting covers from old copies of Seventeen, remediating their nonfiction through comics or handwriting and type, scanning old children’s books from the library to use as backgrounds, and even sprinkling glitter throughout. But sometimes when I remind them that the photocopy is what’s really important for zines, they seem a bit disappointed. For some of them who are used to the ethos of professional magazines, black and white just isn’t what they envisioned; if they want a color cover or stitched binding, for instance, they have to find a way to reproduce that effect 20, 30, or even 50 times. Some students do vouch for color copies, but even then they have to significantly reduce their print runs if they want to stay within a reasonable budget. The printed copy is the reality that part of circulating one’s work means loosing control — that it means coming to terms with kairotic determinants that bring rhetorical agency in sharp relief. They learn that to publish is ultimately to commodify writing and that the available means of production and mediation are based on their own resourcefulness and capital.
While it is true that Facebook posts, retweets, blog entries, and wiki edits constitute other ways in which students engage textual reproduction (and they do this for me too), new media can sometimes obscure the material aspects of circulation. I can create a blog in no time, but who will read it? When it comes to distribution, zines don’t work through bots or analytics. They are either seen or they’re not. Hence, putting all those copies to public use is part of the multimodal work of zines. For this reason, I’ve pushed students to organize, curate, and publicize zine festivals hosted on campus where they can distributed copies of their work to strangers. On Tuesday, for instance, my students made the decision to [not sure what they decided yet — put I was pushing for a public festival like my Spring 2013 students did!]. When my students did this in the Spring 2013, they circulated their work for more than 30 strangers made of writing professors and the friends of their classmates.
As Sheridan, Ridolfo, and Michel argue in the introduction to their book, when the field brings multimodality and the public turn together, it can more clearly see the importance of who has — or does not have — the available means of production and mediation. In other words: “who owns culture” (xvi; emphasis in original) becomes a paramount concern. This extends — but also politicizes — Jody’s arguments that multimodal frameworks should be “engineered to underscore the interconnectedness of systems of production, distribution, reception, circulation, and valuation” (77). DIY and zines have historically pushed the politics of this interconnectedness, always aiming to minimize or altogether eliminate “moneypeople” — what Mary Sheridan has dubbed “corporate intermediaries” — from their systems. Although their content isn’t always political, the anticipation of circulation in the material production of zines renders these intermediaries — human and nonhuman agents alike — more clearly.
Even as zines limit the available “representational system” to printed objects, the ecology of their multimodality — their original obsessions, their remediated scraps, their changing of hands — are worth exploring, not in spite of the late age of print, but because of it.
The following is a list of resources my panel compiled for SUNY COW 2014 on teaching with WordPress. If you’re going to be there, we’re the happy hour panel on Saturday, E1, from 4-5:15 pm. Our panel is entitled “The Public Syllabus: Migrating Your Course to WordPress.”
Good places to start
Cadle, Lanette. “Why I Still Blog.” Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy 19.4(2014): n. pag. Web
Cavender, Amy. “Why Use an Online Syllabus?” The Chronicle of Higher Education Blogs: ProfHacker. N.p., 16 Sept. 2013. Web. 25 Sept. 2014.
Parry, David. “WordPress a Better LMS.” The Chronicle of Higher Education Blogs: ProfHacker. N.p., 18 Mar. 2010. Web. 25 Sept. 2014.
Reid, Alex. “Why Blog? Searching for Writing on the Web.” Writing Spaces: Readings on Writing, Volume 2. Parlor Press, 2011. 302–319. Web.
Richtel, Matt. “Blogs vs. Term Papers.” The New York Times 20 Jan. 2012. NYTimes.com. Web. 25 Sept. 2014.
Smith, Kevin. “Guidelines for Public, Student Class Blogs: Ethics, Legalities, FERPA and More.” HASTAC. N.p., 2012. Web. 22 Sept. 2014.
Williams, George. “Make Your WordPress Site More Accessible.” The Chronicle of Higher Education Blogs: ProfHacker. N.p., 22 Jan. 2014. Web. 25 Sept. 2014.
Books on teaching with blogs
Rettberg, Jill Walker. Blogging. 2nd edition. Polity, 2013. Print.
Richardson, Will. Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms. 3rd Edition edition. Thousand Oaks, Calif: Corwin, 2010. Print.
Recent computers & writing scholarship
Clark, J. Elizabeth. “The Digital Imperative: Making the Case for a 21st-Century Pedagogy.” Computers and Composition 27.1 (2010): 27–35. ScienceDirect. Web. 22 Sept. 2014.
Rankins-Robertson, Sherry et al. “Multimodal Instruction: Pedagogy and Practice for Enhancing Multimodal Composition Online.” Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy. 19.1. N.p., 15 Aug. 2014. Web. 21 Sept. 2014.
Santos, Marc C., and Mark H. Leahy. “Postpedagogy and Web Writing.” Computers and Composition 32 (2014): 84–95. ScienceDirect. Web. 21 Sept. 2014.
Wolff, William I. “Interactivity and the Invisible: What Counts as Writing in the Age of Web 2.0.” Computers and Composition 30.3 (2013): 211–225. ScienceDirect. Web. 21 Sept. 2014.
- WordPress — .org vs .com (pdf)
- WordPress Plugins for Writers
- WordPress Roles Explained
- Tutorial on how to use WordPress with an introduction to blogging
- Resources for teaching with blogs
- Free webhosting
- 20 of the best WordPress Plugins
- Two-factor authentication
Examples of syllabi
- Comp 1 (FYC): [Example 1] [Example 2]
- Comp 2 (Research writing): [Hurricane Katrina] [Remix Culture]
- Professional writing
- Creative nonfiction
- DIY Publishing
- Student Activist Histories
- Environmental Writing
Examples of student blogs
Below is an approximation of the talk I gave at RSA 2014 in San Antonio. You can view the slidedeck here.
The scene is from Ghostbusters. Egon Spengler, the nerdiest of Ghostbuster, emerges from the floor where he has been tinkering with the secretary Janine Melnitz’s desktop computer. She compliments him on his handiwork and says, “I bet you like to read a lot too.” He mutters back three infamous words: “Print is dead.”
[SLIDE 2] Although the film was released in 1984, the rhetoric surrounding print’s decline has been relentless into the 21st century — daily we read about newspapers folding, e-book sales exploding, and independent bookstores vanishing. [SLIDE 3] In 2001, and in less dramatic terms, Jay David Bolter dubbed this the late age of print, “a transformation of our social and cultural attitudes toward, and uses of, this familiar technology” (3). More recently Ted Striphas has adopted the term as a title to his book, and applies Bolter’s idea to consider the ways print — and more specifically the book — continues to “shape habits of thought, conduct, and expression – even in a supposedly ‘digital age’.”
For rhetoricians, the terms “death” and “transformation” might stand out as two important concepts from Kenneth Burke’s A Rhetoric of Motives. [SLIDE 4] Burke chooses death and killing as topoi at the start ofhis book in order to illustrate the complexity of motive — as “proportions of a motivational recipe” (17) — but also to argue that depictions of death are a way to identify a thing’s essence through its transformation. “That is: the killing of something is the changing of it, and the statement of the thing’s nature before and after the change is an identifying of it” (20). Given these premises, this paper will begin to consider print’s afterlife by taking stock of just a few of the rhetorical methods – “the ideas and imagery” – of one site where print still has rhetorical currency: the contemporary do-it-yourself (DIY) print communities of zines.
[SLIDE 5] Zines aren’t the only site where print has currency. Parents in the US, for instance, overwhelmingly value children’s books. But zines are not children’s books. [SLIDE 6] They are “noncommercial, nonprofessional, small-circulation magazines which their creators produce, publish, and distribute by themselves” (Duncombe 10-11). In this slide you can see some examples of pre-internet Ghostbusters zines from the 90s. [SLIDE 7] And here is a snapshot from a wiki site called Fanlore that has documented as many Ghostbusters zines as they could find, complete with scans of their covers. While these are historical examples, with many of these zines being produced in the heyday of the 90s, zines have actually enjoyed a renaissance of sorts over the last few years. [SLIDE 8]
In a 2011 article entitled “Anatomy of a Zine: When Magazines Go Indie,” Time Magazine notes:
While a small and dedicated do-it-yourself zine culture has been publishing for decades, zines haven’t enjoyed this much popularity in 20 years. Online craft mecca Etsy currently has nearly 50,000 distinct handmade publications listed for sale, approximately 3,000 of which are self-defined as zines; that number has been steadily increasing.
[SLIDE 9] In another article in the same year, the New York Times not only reported testimonies from public librarians, prominent bloggers, and social media coordinators that a resurgence was indeed happening, but they also cited a variety of reasons for the trend, including “a reaction to the ubiquity of the Internet,” “a much more tangible feeling,” “freedom to explore and experiment,” “tiring of the high rate of turnover in online content,” and their “air of exclusivity: they are like other artifacts that were never intended for mass consumption or distribution.”
[SLIDE 10] More recently the Times reported on the Brooklyn Zine Fest, where roughly 100 zine makers gather to make, sell, and trade their zines with strangers for one weekend in April. Importantly, there are other zinefests across the US — the largest being the Chicago Zine Fest, which, as the article points out, takes up three floors of a building at Columbia College. Others happen in LA, Albuquerque, Houston, Austin, Buffalo, and nearly every other large to midsize city in the US and UK. I’m currently in the process of curating one in Syracuse.
What’s interesting about this phenomenon is that contemporary zines leverage tensions between the borders of old and new media in order to critique and offer alternative spaces to more legitimate sites of knowledge production. For example, Malaka Gharib, the social media coordinator cited in the first New York Times article, “still makes much use of technology to create and distribute the zine, employing software to design each issue, Twitter to attract readers, and Etsy … to sell the publication.” Thus, as self-made, noncommercial, nonprofessional, material booklets that are also distributed and circulated through a variety of virtual and physical networks, zines complicate the traditional print/digital binary for makers of media, while concurrently asserting print’s affordances. [SLIDE 11] Zines are sold through online distros, [SLIDE 12] but they are also shopdropped in public spaces. [SLIDE 13] Zine makers tweet and maintain wikis, [SLIDE 14] but they also trade and sell zines at small press festivals. [SLIDE 15] Zines are crowdfunded through sites like IndieGoGo, [SLIDE 16] but they are also born from hacked photocopy machines. In short, zines exist in a complex borderland where print’s rhetorical currency is bolstered and politicized through physical encounters and the scarcity and intimacy of the page. As Alison Piepmeier describes in her book Girl Zines, paper acts as a mediating nexus that crosses various borders and “bears the marks of the body … to the reader” (63).
[SLIDE 17] Let me provide a brief example of such a borderland: Google “Ghostbuster zines.” [SLIDE 18] The first link you see is to a November 2011 Tweet from Hal Niedzviecki, publisher of Broken Pencil. Broken Pencil is a Canadian quarterly about zines that hosts Canzine, a zine festival that occurs each fall in Toronto. [SLIDE 19] Click the link from his Tweet and you’re taken to the synopsis of a public experiment conducted at Canzine 2011 between an illustrator, poet, and zinester. As Broken Pencil describes it:
A week before Canzine, we gave [these three] a list of five Hollywood movies, one of which they would re-imagine, in front of an audience and in their chosen form. A week later, our brave guinea pigs … took the stage at Canzine, scribbling, typing and drawing away in a mad race to recreate Ghostbusters…We thought the results too good to keep confined to the Canzine audience…
Below the description are several clickable scanned images from the zine, which – true to zine poltics – turns into a quirky critique of right wing ideology. [SLIDES 20-23] Although it’s not clear if these three went on to reproduce and distribute Ghostbusters Zine, this hopefully serves as a provocative example of the ways zine communities collapse print/digital binaries produce spaces that challenge more legitimate sites of knowledge production – or what Adela Licona might call a third space in her recent book Zines in Third Space. [SLIDE 24]
Because Licona is more interested in drawing from feminist, chicana, and post-colonial theory, she does not explicitly evoke identification in the Burkean sense in her recent book; however, she does use hermeneutics to explore the ways in which radical zines achieve consubstantiality through difference. She specifically looks at how they use borderlands rhetoric – discursive and visual convergences – to destabilize and dismantle traditionally inscribed borders of identity and in so doing, make a third space for authors who “self-identify as feminist, antiracist, queer, and/or of color” (142n6). Third spaces are interstitial, liminal and emerge through active material practices of zine-making, where authors challenge traditionally legitimized knowledge to produce historical reclaimings, treatises on self-care, or otherwise take on sexist, racist or heteronomative discourses. They also may splice together unsanctioned images – copyrighted or otherwise – to imagine alternative ways of being and to mobilize something Licona calls coalitional consciousness: “a practiced articulation or deliberate bringing and coming together around social change that can be witnessed in zines” (3). This usually happens through a call to action via an emphasis on self-care and community education. [SLIDE 25]
In Calico #5, for example, Licona shares how code switching between English and Spanish, when converged with a backdrop of 1950s all-white pop imagery, “disrupt the continued dominant assumptions of these representations” by requiring audiences to fill in the gaps, which, in turn, help build coalitional consciousness (51). That is, by creating third spaces through borderlands rhetorics, these zines are able to create solidarity that doesn’t coalesce through sameness, essential categories, or what Licona calls normalized or homogenized heterogeneity (100), but through radical democratics, “participatory and emancipatory politics” that are action-oriented action by constructing difference as always in flux. That is, through borderlands rhetorics these zines understand identity and identification through a politics of articulation; they view “the nonessential self as a multiply-situated subject informed by ambiguity and even contradiction” (62) in order to struggle against multiple oppressions. In third space, identification is still “compensatory to division,” to put it in Burkean terms, but it is made from difference. In short, third-space zines use the affordances of print to construct borderlands rhetorics that imagine visions for social change. But I want to move forward with two caveats. [SLIDE 26]
First, not all zines are third-space zines – in other words, not produced by authors who identify as feminist, antiracist, queer, and/or of color or even take social change as the foundation of their craft (the Ghostbusters zines, of course, are good examples of that).[SLIDE 27] Second, Licona focuses on zines found in Duke’s Special Collections that circulated before 1999 – not pre-Internet, but long before the proliferation of social media: what dana boyd describes as “the sites and services that emerged during the early 2000s, including social network sites, video sharing sites, blogging and microblogging platforms, and related tools that allow participants to create and share their own content” which has significantly “reshaped the information and communication ecosystem” (6). [SLIDE 28]
While zine makers in the 90s certainly could make web sites and exchange emails, the difference with social media is that the organizing principle online has shifted from interest to friendship. In this sense, although zine makers still use print, social media has distributed the tactics of coalitional consciousness for third-space zines to multiple sites – still within zines, of course, but also online. I want to argue that in order to better understand these tactics we should supplement our methodology and scale, building from third-space hermeneutics and moving into third-space ecologies.
Rhetorical ecologies have occupied our field’s attention for at least ten years. In 2005, Jenny Edbauer, for example, argued that ecology “recontextualizes rhetorics in their temporal, historical, and lived fluxes”(9). In an ecology, agents are viewed as acting within a network, a space where rhetoric is actually a distributed — and hence, circulating — act. Here, rhetoric is always already amalgamated and transforming, what Edbauer calls “the viral spread,”or “shared contagion,”that infects as it reproduces. According to her, this view of rhetoric is of particular value to those in need of counter-rhetorics, which through the viral spread can resist hegemonic exigencies by mocking, exaggerating or reappropriating them (that said, the reverse can happen to those in the third space as even Edbauer shows us with the phrase “Keep Austin Weird”). Because ecologies render rhetorics in flux, it shifts our focus from the aesthetics of zine-making or their political content to their distribution or circulation. I want to take moment to explore how this might work with contemporary third space zines. [SLIDE 29]
In last fall’s issue of Broken Pencil the cover story, “The True Colours of Zines,”explored the issues facing the lack of visibility of these contemporary third space zines, or what the magazine dubbed POC zines. It tells the story of Daniela Capistrano, the founder of the POC Zine Project, who upon browsing NYU’s recent Riot Grrrl Collection on their Fales Library’s website, could not find any significant presence of POC even though they were part of the riot grrrl movement. [SLIDE 30] She took to Twitter and shared her concerns, and ended up talking with Mimi Thi Nguyen, a longtime third-space zinester whose compilation zine, [SLIDE 31] Evolution of a Race Riot, was analyzed by Licona in her book. As a cross-generational zinester and professor of gender studies at Urbana-Champaign, Nguyen worked with Capistrano to donate POC zines from 1992-1998 to NYU. Not only is this a rich example of coalitional consciousness at work, but also a good example of how ecologies create coalitions that spread third-space discourse across media. For example, on the occasion of the donation, Nguyen wrote a lengthy statement about the process and her mixed feelings about it including the impossibility of ever developing a full history from any archive and, more importantly, entertaining the possibility that by filling in the gaps of the collection with POCs the donation might have participated in the veiling of “more troubling queries about how women of color are included, incorporated, or otherwise made visible”through feminist historiography. [SLIDE 32]
The statement was posted on the finding aid for the collection at Fales as one might expect, but it was also cross-posted on Nguyen’s blog Thread and Circuits, and the POC Zine Project’s Tumblr, which meant, of course that it was also re-blogged by followers of those sites. Tumblr, in fact, has been an important digital site for contemporary third-space zines. On the POC Zine Project’s site, they claim their mission is to “make ALL zines by POC … easy to find, share and distribute. We are an experiment in activism and community through materiality.” Licona’s understanding of third space zines is worth repeating here: she is concerned with zines “where coalitional consciousness is explicit, activism is engaged and promoted, and community building, knowledge generating, grassroots literacies, and information sharing are the articulated foci”(22). In short, third-space zines are still out there, but they make use of tools that complicate the border of the print and the digital in order to create what I would call, following Frank Farmer, counterpublics. Still, as the Broken Pencil article argues, in order for POC zines to engage wider publics – especially those found in the predominantly white DIY culture of zines –“creators need to be just as concerned with the distribution as with the content” (17). [SLIDE 33]
The question for me moving forward then becomes how these print/digital borderlands of zines, and more broadly DIY, both resist and reinforce more incorporated, neoliberal streams of mediation where being independent is becoming increasingly difficult – where to participate in online social networks, for instance, requires complicity with the very forces they seek to challenge – consumerist culture, digital divides, the rhetoric of the new, template-driven design, etc. That is, how can zines – as the epicenter of certain activist media ecologies – leverage the currency of print to critique some of the problems with digital rhetorical processes, while at the same time make use of those processes?
Practices: DIY Publishing
[Slide 1] I’m going to discuss zines in the context of a 200-level course I taught at Syracuse University last spring called DIY Publishing. This was an open-enrollment pilot offered to all undergrads at Syracuse University — students ranged from mostly freshmen to a handful of upperclassmen. The course was initially set up so that students would experience and experiment with various approaches to publishing on their own throughout the 15 weeks — whether it was through informal print networks or online with WordPress, Twitter, Kickstarter, etc. Our work with zines occurred in the first unit as I sought to work with students to define and historicize the idea of DIY.
Alongside readings about zine histories these students visited the University Library’s Special Collection Research Center, which houses several old publications that qualify as DIY: abolitionist newspapers, Dada booklets, Tijuana bibles, various underground newspapers from the Sixties, and hundreds more. With the help of a talented archivist and our subject-specialist librarian, students got to handle these items from the Collection, research their histories, and teach the class about one of the items they pulled during a special class we held in the Collection [Slide 2]. Specifically, students had to show off their publication and discuss it in terms of its origins, significance, audience, materiality, and circulation. [Slides 3-4] This was meant to serve as a text that would inspire their own zine, leaving them to interpret “inspiration” broadly: it could mimic the artifact in terms of form or content, take a more reflexive approach by making a zine about the artifact, re-interpreting the research process, or by doing something else entirely [Slide 5].
Meanwhile students also brought in contemporary zines they ordered from several outlets, including distros like Sweet Candy or Nieves, online underground bookstores like Atomic or Quimbys [Slides 6-7], or directly from the writers through metazines like Broken Pencil. We used these to speculate on the variety of tools and processes necessary for making them: their covers, colors, sizes, bindings, and arrangements. Students also attended a bookbinding workshop hosted by a book-arts scholar at SU.
Distribution is a fundamental aspect to any zine experience and so this unit culminated in Syracuse’s first-ever zine festival, where students peddled multiple copies of their zines in a rented room down the hall from the Special Collections [Slides 8-10]. Although I imagined this event to occur within the confines of our classroom, perhaps inviting our librarian allies, the class decided as a group to invite anyone we could via our social networks [Slide 11]. This produced a pretty good turn out of 20+ strangers. Special Collections also blogged about it.
Toronto’s Broken Pencil [Slide 12], one of the few contemporary publications dedicated to zine culture, recently ran a thoughtful story about using zines in the classroom. Author Lindsay Gibb cites several academics who argue that the issue of grades is one of the main challenges when adopting zines for school. As U Iowa librarian Kelly McElroy says: “What makes an ‘A’ zine, and who the hell are you to decide that?” In both classes, then, I relied on process texts — proposals, contracts, emails, and reflections — to help me make sense of the rhetorical goals of each author’s zine. [Slide 13] First, students had to draft a proposal that asked them to pitch an idea for their zine that included details about its format, materials, content, circulation, and connection to the course. After meeting with me to discuss it, they revised these into more solid “contracts.” Scare quotes seem necessary because as any crafter will tell you, nothing was really set in stone; students made important discoveries through the acts of making. For that reason, and others, the contracts were more or less used as a starting point; students then completed the project by composing a reflective statement on the entire process. You can see some of their reflective questions in your zine [Slide 14]. I’ll talk more about some of the affordances and limitations of this unit, but next…
Theorizing the limits of protopublics
[Slide 15] The experience of leading students to curate their own festival was a first for me. Although I had used blogs in my classes, led peer tutors in our community, and even advised a student paper as a high school teacher, there was something different about the way students were putting themselves out there. And this led me to a series of questions about the nature of DIY and the publics my students might have imagined. Certainly the unit was compatible with prior scholarship on circulation pedagogies. Although there are several texts to evoke here, especially Kathy Yancey’s call at this conference 10 years ago, in the interest of time, I’ll discuss two that have appeared in CCC in the last five years — two texts I admire quite a lot: Mathieu and George’s 2009 article, “Not Going It Alone,” and Rivers and Weber’s 2011 article, “Ecological, Pedagogical, Public Rhetoric.”
[Slide 16] Mathieu and George argue that because “public writing can be an agent of social advocacy and of political action … it is important that any class focused on public rhetoric or public writing examine independent media texts in the contexts of their histories as social agents” (133). These histories are powerful because they teach students that social change occurs through networked relationships that move together to circulate texts. Students in DIY Publishing who looked at Diane diPrima’s Floating Bear, for example, saw she coordinated with other Beat writers like Frank O’Hara, Allen Ginsberg, and William Boroughs; those who looked at the abolitionist newspaper The Liberator saw Garrison’s paper had an impact that went well beyond its circulation of 3,000; and Karen Funk’s Trek fanzine, 2-5YM, was coordinated through the Trekie club, STAR. In nearly every case, such historical work shifted our definition of DIY as something more like what Ian Reilly has recently suggested as do-it-yourselves, where the “DIY ethic is only truly effective when actions take on a cohesive collaborative bent” (128).
[Slide 17] Rivers and Weber also see collaboration as a key tenet to teaching circulation. They imagine using an ecological framework so students see rhetorical action “as emergent and enacted through a complex ecology of texts, writers, readers, institutions, objects, and history” (188-89) where “change often happens when publics are generated by … multiple texts and individuals” (190). While my DIY Publishing students did not work with mundane documents as their students did, the ordering of zines and the coordination of the zine fest were important components of the course as students saw how DIY ecologies, group decision making, microcapitalist tools like Etsy or Paypal, social media, and our combined presence is what helps carry individual work to larger publics.
And yet there are essential differences between this scholarship and what I witnessed. Primarily, much of the research on pedagogies of circulation either implicitly or explicitly imagine their classrooms not as publics so much as “protopublics” — what Rosa Eberly [Slide 18] calls spaces where we consider (among other things) “the different subjectivities students might try out for different publics at different points in their formation or disintegration” (175; emphasis mine).
For example, Mathieu and George end their essay describing an advocacy project where a student addressed her boyfriend and his friends’ harassment of the homeless. In a footnote, they confess: “If one were to follow Michael Warner’s definition of a public, this example would not count as public writing, because, according to Warner, a public relies on an address to strangers (74–87). But we agree with Rosa Eberly that writing classrooms constitute ‘protopublic spaces,’ and as such, we believe that addresses to other students can constitute effective protopublic discourse” (147).
Warner is an important source here as he’s been widely cited in conversations on rhetorical circulation. For Warner, the reflexive circulation of discourse “among strangers” is constitutive — that is, there no thing that comes before it, which is why it’s different from terms like “communities” or “cultures.” Rivers and Weber concede to this constitutive public, and raise the question “of whether or how our pedagogy might enact the ‘concatenation of texts through time’ within the rhetorical laboratory of the classroom (194). Within the lab, students develop a robust, comprehensive — but imaginary — local campaign using mundane texts, similarly developed out of Eberly’s protopublic, “which allows students to practice the skills of public advocacy and safely produce texts that could become public” (207; emphasis mine). The unit is meant to replicate a public using genres necessary for everyday civic action, but Rivers and Weber hold back from actual advocacy since as first-year writers, “they are not all ready for the messy and risky engagement that advocacy often entails” (206).
Importantly, these aren’t the only two texts that imagine circulation operating within a protopublic classroom. In less explicit examples, students translate scientific discourse to journalistic discourse (such as in Trimbur’s “Composition and the Circulation of Writing”) or study press releases and practice writing them to anticipate re-circulation (as in Ridolfo and DeVoss’s “Composing For Recomposition”).
My thinking is that although these essays provide rich ideas for approaching circulation in the classroom, by envisioning students acting within a protopublic I wonder if, when it comes to teaching circulation, we’ve gone far enough as a discipline to frame rhetoric as what Laurie Gries calls a “a distributed network of becomings in which divergent consequences are actualized with time and space” (346). What the Syracuse Zine Fest afforded is a real, material experience worth reflecting on — it is, per Warner, a circulation that has the potential to encounter strangers who produce “divergent consequences … actualized with time and space.” That isn’t to dismiss these other approaches to circulation, only to think upon the opportunities we have as teachers to make circulation more real for our students — to have them experience it. Of course a more experiential approach also begs additional questions: what would are these approaches ethical? Or what other forms of public writing might strike a balance between the risker real writing of zines or activism and the safer replicated scenes of Habermasian rational-critical discourse? Ultimately which discourse do we believe leads to social change? Which in the short-term versus the long? Which give students more agency?
Here’s a handout I made for the Equity and Social Justice Conference. Our panel was “Writing and the Right to the City: Community Publishing in Syracuse” with Ben Kuebrich and Jessica Pauszek.
Note: This is a rough transcript of a talk I’m giving today for the RSA chapter at Syracuse. Some of my slides are included below.
I’ve spent much of my time the last few weeks trying to solidify my understanding of the various conversations surrounding rhetorical circulation, tracing its evolution from recent conversations back into its roots at the turn of the century (this century, that is). My goal at the moment has simply been to have a better sense of how circulation has been defined and taken up in various pockets of the fields of composition & rhetoric and communication studies — but in the long run I’m trying to map some of the ways we’ve parlayed these definitions into pedagogies. That is, I’ve wondered how teachers of writing take up practices of rhetorical circulation in their classrooms and how those practices frame rhetorical possibility (i.e. agency). I’d like to start then by briefly outlining some of the working definitions of circulation — ones that see discourse as “in motion” (Gries), “fragmented” (McGee), and “constitutive” and “reflexive” (Warner) — and look to some patterns of how these terms have been applied in the classroom. [Note: I’d would have liked to include Trimbur’s contribution to this conversation, but in the interest of time and space, I’ll have to save that for another forum. I did discuss his work on circulation briefly here.]
There are two notable contributions to the study of rhetorical circulation since 2013. Most recently, Laurie Gries culled together a helpful array of sources from visual studies, digital humanities, and rhetorical theory to succinctly define it as a subfield in Computers & Composition. Circulation studies, she argues, is “an interdisciplinary approach to studying discourse in motion” where “…scholars investigate not only how discourse is produced and distributed, but also how once delivered, it circulates, transforms, and affects change through its material encounters” (333). Although Gries’s concern is methodological — that is, she is develops a specific method, called iconographic tracking and demos it with Shepard Fairey’s Hope poster — it ultimately argues that rhetoric is “a distributed process whose beginning and end cannot be not easily identified. Like a dynamic network of energy, rhetoric materializes, circulates, transforms, and sparks new material consequences, which, in turn, circulate, transform, and stimulate an entirely new divergent set of consequences” (346).
Another recent contribution — this one in communication studies — is a special forum in the last 2012 issue of Rhetoric & Public Affairs. The forum, made up of eight brief essays, make use of two texts in particular as the authors contribute to various theories and application of circulation studies: Michael McGee’s “Text, Context, and the Fragmentation of Contemporary Culture” (1990) and Michael Warner’s “Publics and Counterpublics” (2002). For McGee, “rhetors make discourses from scraps and pieces,” fashioned from fragments (279). Although this theory obviously still has currency today, the two essays in this forum that cite McGee at length frame his work as limited, either because it denies certain fragments — the sound bite — as a legitimate component for public address (Foley 620) or for “reinforcing a Eurocentric perspective on history and belies a commitment to modern/coloniality, which elides global heterogeneity” (Wanzer 647).
Warner’s “Publics and Counterpublics” is used more generously, especially from Atkinson who forwards Warner’s view of circulation: “[t]he public created from circulation is … notional and material; it exists because its members attend to a text that circulates for a definite period time and within a particular space, and because they imagine it to circulate for a definite period and within a particular space” (676). For Warner, the reflexive circulation of discourse “among strangers” is constitutive — there no thing that comes before it, which is why it’s different from terms like “communities” or “cultures.”
Importantly, within much literature on pedagogies of circulation I’ve reviewed so far, most authors either implicitly or explicitly imagine their classrooms not as publics as Warner imagines them, but as “protopublics” — spaces where we consider (among other things) “the different subjectivities students might try out for different publics at different points in their formation or disintegration,” as Rosa Eberly put it 15 years ago175; emphasis mine).
For example, ten years after her article, Mathieu and George describe an advocacy project where a student addresses her boyfriend and his friends’ harassment of the homeless. In a footnote, they confess: “If one were to follow Michael Warner’s definition of a public, this example would not count as public writing, because, according to Warner, a public relies on an address to strangers (74–87). But we agree with Rosa Eberly that writing classrooms constitute ‘protopublic spaces,’ and as such, we believe that addresses to other students can constitute effective protopublic discourse” (147).
Another example comes two years later from Rivers and Weber, where students develop a more comprehensive but imaginary local rhetorical campaign, also developed out of the protopublic, “which allows students to practice the skills of public advocacy and safely produce texts that could become public” (207; emphasis mine). In less explicit examples, students translate scientific discourse to journalistic discourse (Trimbur) and study press releases and practice writing them to anticipate circulation (Ridolfo and DeVoss).
My thinking is that although these essays provide rich examples of ways to approach circulation in the classroom, I wonder if, by envisioning the classroom as a protopublic — that is, as encounters within the walls of the classroom — they go far enough to frame rhetoric as “a distributed network of becomings in which divergent consequences are actualized with time and space” as Gries has suggested (346). If we were to reimagine pedagogies of circulation to go beyond studying it or practicing it in protopublic classrooms, what would it mean to teach it as materially experienced, where students would experience their discourse as in motion (Gries), made from scraps (McGee), an encounter with strangers (Warner), or as commodities (Trimbur). Would public blogs accomplish this? Tweet jams? Student publications? Zine fests?
As my last post indicated, I also wonder how theories of experiential learning (Dewey) would help develop these approaches. I also wonder if more public approaches are ethical or sustainable. Finally, I wonder how we’d know we’ve succeeded.
Atkinson, Nathan S. “Celluloid Circulation: The Dual Temporality of Nonfiction Film and Its Publics.” Rhetoric & Public Affairs 15.4 (2012): 675–684. Print.
Eberly, Rosa A. “From Writers, Audiences, and Communities to Publics: Writing Classrooms as Protopublic Spaces.” Rhetoric Review 18.1 (1999): 165–178. Print.
Foley, Megan. “Sound Bites: Rethinking the Circulation of Speech from Fragment to Fetish.” Rhetoric & Public Affairs 15.4 (2012): 613–622. Print.
Gries, Laurie E. “Iconographic Tracking: A Digital Research Method for Visual Rhetoric and Circulation Studies.” Computers and Composition 30.4 (2013): 332–348. ScienceDirect. Web. 15 Nov. 2013.
Mathieu, Paula, and Diana George. “Not Going It Alone: Public Writing, Independent Media, and the Circulation of Homeless Advocacy.” College Composition and Communication 61.1 (2009): 130–149. Print.
McGee, Michael Calvin. “Text, Context, and the Fragmentation of Contemporary Culture.” Western Journal of Speech Communication 54.3 (1990): 274–289. Print.
Ridolfo, Jim, and Danielle Nicole DeVoss. “Composing For Recomposition: Rhetorical Velocity and Delivery.” Kairos 13.2 (2009): n. pag. Print.
Rivers, Nathaniel A, and Ryan P Weber. “Ecological, Pedagogical, Public Rhetoric.” College Composition and Communication 63.2 (2011): 187–218. Print.
Trimbur, John. “Composition and the Circulation of Writing.” College Composition and Communication 52.2 (2000): 188–219. Print.
Warner, Michael. “Publics and Counterpublics.” Public Culture 14.1 (2002): 49–90. Print.