Birthing the Diss

My project explores two basic questions: First, how has do-it-yourself (DIY) publishing changed since the popularization of the Web? Second, what might those changes tell us about the ways in which we conceive of and teach multimodal, public writing?

To answer these questions, I look at the ways in which DIY publishers have taught each other about the affordances and challenges of certain aspects of their work as they have come to terms with emerging networked and digital technologies in the so-called late age of print. My source for this analysis comes from the Canadian magazine Broken Pencil (BP).


Founded by pan-am cultural critic and publisher Hal Niedzviecki in 1995 — the same year the Web went mainstream — BP is a widely-read magazine that has covered zine culture and independent arts. Throughout its 66 issues, BP has reported on DIY publishing and independent arts primarily in Canada, but increasingly over time, the rest of the world. Although many columns have come and gone throughout the years, it has consistently published feature stories, letters, excerpts, editorials, and reviews of zines and other DIY media, always considering the stakes of cultural intermediaries through articles like “The 7 Dollar Website” (issue #3),  “7 Reasons to Get a Shot-Gun and Kill Your Modem” (#5), “Photocopied Politics” (#6), “Media Monopoly on Zine Culture” (#10), “E-Zines” (#23), Where the Fuck Are the Zines?” (#36), “Zines Aren’t Dead” (#50), and “Zines are Undead” (#57). Moreover, with a current circulation of over 5,000 they’ve served as an important epicenter for North American DIY culture, not only playing the role of critic, but also sponsor.

The current plan is to begin the dissertation by reviewing how self-publishing and DIY culture have historically been addressed in comp/rhet, and to create more space for discussing it (1) in a digital context, and (2) in relation to other aspects of rhetoric besides production, especially delivery. This is especially important in DIY publishing, as writing cultures and communities are primarily created through a desire to simply make and circulate texts. In Chapter 2, I develop a methodology and method for my historical reading of DIY culture since 1995. This will likely involve grounded theory, but at the moment I’m interested in thinking about the ways in which I can intertwine multiple narratives in Chapters 3 and 4 — histories of BP, of course, but also histories of comp/rhet and histories of technology. Ultimately, I am trying to situate and contextualize the conversations within the pages of BP to talk about what’s different about self-publishing in 2015 and what this bodes for the future of writing and self-publishing. To manage this, I’m planning to break Chapters 3 and 4 chronologically, with the former focusing on 1995-2003 (early Web) and the latter focusing on 2004-present (Web 2.0). These dates also serendipitously represent a break in editorship, which will help manage the data. The final chapter, Chapter 5, takes stock of these histories to argue for pedagogies that encourage students to make writing spaces and communities using contemporary self-publishing technologies.

So why am I writing a history of BP, a 20-year spanning Canadian magazine about zines, as part of a composition studies dissertation? First and foremost, my field has very little understanding of the history of digital writing as it has enveloped or emerged from print culture. Second, and probably more importantly, we also have little understanding about what DIY means — or could mean — for our writing pedagogies. How do DIY writers learn for instance, as new tools and technologies emerge into already existing writing ecologies? How do we tap into students’ obsessions and passions without ruining them? How do we encourage them to go public with their work? I’m hoping that by reading back issues of BP, I’ll be able to generate some generalizations about:

  • the history of BP, specifically, and DIY publishing more generally in the last 20 years
  • the rhetorical strategies of independent writers in the face of increasingly privatized tools and spaces
  • the nature of self-sponsored writing and the nature of delivery systems

So what’s next? Or rather, what’s first? One of the major takeaways from my hearing last month was to immediately dig into the data itself — that is, to read BP both distantly and closely. But because access to most back issues required me to use digital scans of pages in Proquest, I could not really see the context for BP in all its printed glory. For example, Proquest carves up publications for content, truncating things like advertising or their “using Broken Pencil” page — and yet in a participatory community like zines, it’s important to see who is advertising in the magazine and how the editor-curated content relates to those ads.

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Screen grab from Proquest index of BP #1

So a day or so after I passed I emailed founder Hal Niedzviecki who had already welcomed me and my project in an email exchange last summer. He offered to send me all the back issues of BP, which I received in the mail earlier this week from my wonderful editor at BP, Alison Lang.

Dissertation data! Thanks, @greasycop!

A photo posted by Jason Luther (@taxomania) on

In the meantime, the last few weeks have seen me gathering texts about archives, history, and coding, specifically from the perspective of grounded theory so I can begin to experiment with the ways in which I might read BP. Joyce Neff, for example, argues that grounded theory requires the researcher to code in waves, starting with something called “open coding,” a early, generative process where concepts emerge from a quick reading of the text(s). I might read several reviews from BP, for example, that use language to refers to impurity, obsession, niche, or other concepts evoked in DIY. Neff suggests developing an exhaustive list and then worrying later about validating terms through a more refined coding process called “axial coding.” Gesa Kirsch has uses a similar approach as she attempts to understand social circulation in women’s medical journals from the late 19th/early 20th century. Social circulation, as she and Royster argue in Feminist Rhetorical Practices, “invokes connections among past, present, and future in the sense that the overlapping social circles in which women travel, live, and work are carried on or modified from one generation to the next and can lead to changed rhetorical practices Here we are talking about evolutionary relationships—not just revolutionary ones—and more mediated legacies of thought and action, such as, things that we absorb even without conscious awareness rather than a static sense of direct inheritance.” (23). What Kirsch uses is a method also articulated in Feminist Rhetorical Practices called “tacking in” and “tacking out,” which balances close readings of a text with more traditional methods of using secondary research or thinking broadly using critical imagination. I was lucky enough to hear about these experiences myself as Kirsch has been a visiting professor at SU this semester and has taken the time to lead several grad student writing groups. 

The plan, then, is to read those issues of BP that are relevant to Chapter 3 (#1-30) alongside texts on methodology so that by the end I can actually write Chapter 2 with something concrete in mind. Then, I hope to read for Chapter 4 and write that chapter with a more specific method in mind. The revisions of those chapters, then, will ideally align them. From this, I’ll have a better sense of the lit review in Chapter 1 and where I might go with Chapter 5, when I discuss DIY and pedagogy.

All told, I hope to have almost 3 chapters drafted in the 16 weeks (80 days) I have this summer — which, as some people have more or less told me, is insane. But before I get too overwhelmed, I should note that if I break it down — 80 days, 160 pages of writing — that’s only 2 doubled-spaces pages a day or about 500-600 words. Totally doable, right?

Works Cited

Neff, Joyce Magnotto. “Grounded Theory: A Critical Research Methodology.” Under Construction: Working at the Intersections of Composition Theory, Research, and Practice. Ed. Christine Farris and Christopher M. Anson. Logan: Utah State University Press, 1998. 124–135. Print.

Royster, J. J, G. E Kirsch, and P. Bizzell. Feminist Rhetorical Practices: New Horizons for Rhetoric, Composition, and Literacy Studies. Southern Illinois University Press, 2012. Print.

Arise Therefore

I’m celebrating May Day by injecting some sorely needed labor back into this blog. If you are somehow reading this and don’t know me or why I’ve been in abstentia, the short version of this academic year is as follows:

  • July: passed my exams
  • October: Witnessed the birth of our third child, Christian,
  • January: Lost my mom suddenly to a pulmonary embolism
  • April: Passed my prospectus; now ABD

Frankly, it’s been a hard year, full of the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. Aside from the emotional strain of loosing one of the most important people in my life, trying to make progress on the diss with three small kids feels impossible. When I’m home, I’m not working. When I’m teaching or consulting in the Writing Center, I’m not working. And when I am working, I’m not at home — and I’m trying not to grade, consult, or otherwise respond to students.  And yet here I am. While I’ll be working a few hours a week this summer, I do have the time and space to write. And that work begins today.


4C15: “No More ‘Moneypeople’: Politicizing Multimodality Through Zines”

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.

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[slides 1-2]

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.

Teaching with Blogs: SUNY COW 2014

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. 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 links

Examples of syllabi

Examples of student blogs

Green Team Chronicles
Jon Lee
The Syracuse Eight
The Denny’s Incident

Comments from students


While I haven’t really written here since June, I’ve been busy on the back end, revising my exam article, passing my exams (hooray), falling into various research rabbit holes about anarchism, talking with faculty about directions for my diss, and on the home front, working on our house to prepare for our 5th family member (due in October). I’ve also been meeting with folks about planning Syracuse In Print, a small print festival to be held in late February as part of my fellowship for NY Council for the Humanities. In August I’ll be flying down to NYC for a 2-day orientation with folks there. 


My type squeezed into a chase using quoins & furniture.

But one of things I wanted to do over this summer was experiment with other methods of bookmaking, to experience more sophisticated methods  so that I would have a better understanding of what that process is like, especially how it might be different from publishing on a computer, something I’ve done since I started making zines almost 25 years ago. But in order to do that, I needed access to tools I don’t have. So I took a letterpress workshop at the amazing Western New York Book Arts Center the last two Wednesday evenings. There I learned about tools like composition sticks and quoins, terms like pica and points, and how to set moveable type — a totally different design process than I’ve ever experienced.


The studio in the basement of the WNYBAC

Probably the most interesting thing about setting type had to do with how the space — not a screen — served as the primary means for composition. Not only does the WNYBA studio embody the materiality of writing, but combing through shelves, drawers, and cases looking for lead or wood fonts, wingdings, and symbols, required me to bricolage my way to something. So as I produced mockups with my composition stick, I never really knew how it would turn out. Unlike digital layout, where everything is WYSIWYG, as a newb to typesetting, I just wasn’t really sure how my project would come out. But after several gaffes (i.e. using layers of slugs instead of spacers, which would have been the same point as the type), I squeezed the type in a chase using furniture and quoins, hopped on an Excelsior platen press, and went to town, making 100 or so business cards. There’s lots more to say and reflect on about this, but for now, I’m thankful to have a reference point as I continue to explore questions of printmaking in the 21st century. 

One of my business cards

One of the business cards made on a platen press

During my visit I was also able to chat with Christopher Fritton, Studio Director and the founder of the Buffalo Small Press Festival (BSPF) about some of the things he’s learned in running that festival for eight (!) years. While Syracuse in Print won’t come close to the scale Chris has achieved with the BSPF, he had a lot of smart, practical ideas for carrying out such an event.

RSA14: Zines & Borderlands Rhetorics in Flux: Reassessing the Rhetorical Currency of Print

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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?

Why do youth share so publicly? Or, privacy as a process for agency

Note: This is part of collaborative book review of It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens by danah boyd that I wrote with other HASTAC scholars.  My original post is here. The book is available as a free download on boyd’s site.

Early in her second chapter of It’s Complicated, danah boyd makes one thing perfectly clear: teens want privacy. To illustrate this, she shares a few pithy quotations from “Waffles,”one of many teens she interviews throughout the book:

“Just because teenagers use internet sites to connect to other people doesn’t mean they don’t care about their privacy. We don’t tell everybody every single thing about our lives. . . . So to go ahead and say that teenagers don’t like privacy is pretty ignorant and inconsiderate honestly, I believe, on the adults’ part” (55).

The rest of the chapter goes on to explain why adults —and the media at large —often misunderstand or understate this desire as they see teens negotiate what boyd calls in the introduction networked publics.

Networked publics are both the virtual common spaces arranged by social media (not unlike malls or parks) and the socially-constructed, imagined communities that develop from participating in them. For boyd, such environments are shaped by four specific technological affordances —persistence, visibility, spreadability, and searchability —that have always existed, but are amplified for teens who are using social media. It also serves as a convenient schema for analyzing and making clear the structures at play as teens do what they’ve always done: try to socialize their way into adulthood. In this sense Chapter 2’s focus on teens’desire for privacy stands in as an important metonymy for the ongoing desire to have more agency in their lives —as a way to assert control over their socialization in a network that is complicated by the affordances of persistence, visibility, spreadability, and searchability.

For example, the persistence and visibility of a teen’s Facebook feed allows for snooping parents or siblings to either monitor or even comment on a photo or status update. As spaces where context collapses (mentioned in Chapter 1), friends and family collide making it difficult to achieve any sort of intimacy. As a result, teens often switch between platforms for certain tasks —from Facebook to Snapchat or SMS —or abandon them entirely just to stay one step ahead of their parents. In a less common but more impressive example, one teen deactivated her Facebook account each time she signed off just to exert some control over the platform’s persistence and searchability —so that if anyone wanted to write on her wall, they’d have to catch her when she was actually online (and even then, she would delete it).

Still, boyd makes it clear that the more common situation is that teens control access of their public content through their discourse rather than through the interface. In one of the more interesting-yet-relatable sections of the chapter, boyd explicates the concept of social steganography:“hiding messages in plain sight by leveraging shared knowledge and cues embedded in particular social contexts”(65). This occurs through subtweeting, using pronouns strategically, referencing songs or other pop culture references, or other tactics that use a specific but shared context for its meaning to coalesce with a select few.

Yet a more paradoxical strategy is to overshare —to emote daily, to give a play-by-play on a breakup, or in the case of one LA teen, to post goofy selfies. For this latter teen it was a lot safer to share her images publicly because not only would she be in control of the context instead of her friends (who would likely take an opportunity to embarrass her), but also “her apparent exhibitionism left plenty of room for people to not focus in on the things that were deeply intimate in her life”(75). This is an important point since boyd makes a lucid case that these cases are ultimately about teens controlling privacy “in relation to those who hold power over them”(56) —parents, siblings, teachers, or even other peers.

As boyd puts it, privacy isn’t something to be had but something to be continuously strived for, “a process by which people seek to have control over a social situation by managing impressions, information flows, and context”(76). For teens socializing in networked publics this means doing whatever possible to control those affordances. And for boyd, it’s critically important to their psychosocial development, including their self-efficacy and self-esteem since “[p]rivacy doesn’t just depend on agency; being able to achieve privacy is an expression of agency”(76). Importantly, then, adult surveillance shapes teens’understanding of privacy; when good parenting is defined as striving for omniscience, as is often the case in our culture, it sets up a pernicious cycle of distrust that will haunt teens —and their parents —well into their adult years.

If there’s a limit to boyd’s chapter is that it doesn’t go far enough to explore some of nuances of these problems; although she justifiably harangues adults for homogenizing teens into a bunch of drama-whoring oversharers, as a young parent and longtime teacher, I found myself hungry for some of the more complicated examples where adults and teens were able to negotiate public/private thresholds that didn’t always pin one against the other.  Moreover, as a scholar interested in zines and other forms of alternative media, I became a bit depressed by the implication that the only way to socialize in networked publics is by using the fast capitalist tools of Silicon Valley. By her own admission, boyd “take[s] for granted, and rarely seek[s] to challenge, the capitalist logic that underpins American society and the development of social media.”This statement is indicative of boyd’s honesty in terms of audience, methodology and purpose throughout the book, but when teens are implicated in this logic throughout, it is hardly reassuring. For example, in Chapter 2 she notices that teens struggle to control their identity in the midst of “a media ecosystem designed to publicize every teen fad, moral panic, and new hyped technology”(55).

Despite these limitations, I’m finding It’s Complicated accessible, engaging, and important for parents and teachers as they seek to better understand how technology affects their relationships with teens. This chapter in particular not only paints a vivid picture of several teens negotiating privacy in the digital age, but also shows how timeless that struggle really is.

Gone fishin’

After working intensely on an article, drafting a paper for RSA, and trying to scuttle the family from Syracuse –> Texas –> Syracuse –> Canada these last three weeks, I’m back. The fam and I had a great time. Personal highlights include eating 100 lbs of heart-stopping Texmex, touring the Alamo in a downpour, taking some time to read for pleasure (Erik Larson’s history The Devil in the White City is so brilliant), and catching this walleye on our last night in Canada:


But alas, I’m ready to refocus and stay home for the rest of this summer to start the diss process. In the meantime, I’ll post a review of chapter 2 of danah boyd’s It’s Complicated (part of a HASTAC scholars collaborative book review),  and my RSA paper, which assesses the rhetorical currency of print through zines.

Basic binding

Note: This is the fourth of a five-part workshop I am doing for a class on community writing this semester.


  • saddle stapler
  • pieces of thread, pre-cut per participant
  • needles
  • 1 piece of card stock and 2 pieces of copy paper (per participant)

Many zines are bound using nothing more than staples. Since your common, everyday desk stapler can’t reach the center of most pieces of paper, a special stapler is used called a long-reach or saddle stapler. It looks like this (we’ll also have one in class today):


A common saddle or long-reach stapler runs about $20-30

But some of the more elaborate zines use a threaded binding, called a saddle stitch or pamphlet stitch. It looks a bit like this:

Image from Eunoia by Christian Bök.

Folks use threaded binding when they are trying to make a more intimate zine; it’s just one other labor intensive way to make a zine stand out. You can use different colored threads or 3- or more holes, to make your zine look more interesting than the standard stapled zine.

There are many decent guides out there for how to make a pamphlet stitch. The one I’ll be using today is from the Brooklyn Arts Alliance.

I’ll walk you through how to make a pamphlet stitch, but the basic premise is that you are attaching folded sheets of paper (called folios) to a cover by sewing one signature (or groups of folded papers). The more folios you have, the thicker the booklet. If you make longer zines or mini-books, your binding method will become necessarily more complex because it will require more signatures to hold it together. But today, we’ll simply sew 2 folios to 1 cover using a single signature. This will make an 8-page zine with a nice card stock cover. Like so:

From Vera Lane Studio.

Remember, if you decide to do this for your zine, you’ll need to pre-copy the pages and sew the binding for each zine (100 copies might make for some sore fingers).  If you’re interested in other, more complex methods check out Ellen Lupton, whose books on indie publishing are wonderful.