Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Race, Rhetoric, and Technology by Adam J. Banks

I really, really liked this book. As with any text there's some shortcomings to Banks's posits (which I'll unpack more later), but overall I found this book to be compelling and relevant to what I want to do in my own scholarship.
In the first chapter, Banks lays out his overarching argument about how he will be looking at  "...African American history as reflected through its rhetorical production shows a group of people who consistently refused to settle for the limiting parameters set by either/or binaries" (2). An even better explanation Banks offers is this: "...the Digital Divide, and the larger history of African American is, essentially a rhetorical problem" (12). What a great way to phrase so much of what happens within exclusion. To put this in my own words, I found Banks's arguments within his book to be compelling because he's looking at African American's rhetorical tradition as rooted in oratory and the ways in which it informs, sustains, complicates, and differentiates people from white English. Before I move on, I need to unpack a few of the adjective I used. Complicates: I'm not suggesting that coming from an oral tradition complicates issues for the speaker/writer/consumer (although that is valid, and something Banks does bring up, but not what I want to discuss here), but rather how it complicates white English. Banks explores the ways that anyone who doesn't speak white isn't speaking correctly. Banks is pointing out something before Vershawn Young did with Young's article "Should Writers Use They Own English?" which is it's folk's assumptions about how people who don't use white English that really needs to change rather than the speakers themselves (Young 62). Banks points out "assumptions about the supposed inferiority by African American varieties of English that have dismantled consistently by Black and White linguists alike..." (13). This is what I feel Banks is trying to break down; the presuppositions people have about what is right (white) and what isn't acceptable. Banks is calling for a different look at for whom technology serves---and doesn't. Banks traces the history of how Black Americans don't have the same access to computers and how that is the first step in creating so-called Digital Divide. Banks is extenuation the conversation the Selfes; brought up about how computer icons were developed based on a very specific demographic, while others are excluded from participating. Banks writes about how it's not so much that Black Americans aren't "able" to do science, but rather how it's been mostly in English departments where African American studies lay, and how sciences and technological communication could do a better job of looking at issues of marginalized groups rather than relying on old narratives that aren't true (14). What I wanted from Banks, and something that Young does in his article, is to argue in the manner that he is defending. To illuminate: Young writes in Black dialect throughout his paper, which makes his point all that more compelling and striking. Young is demonstrating how we all can still understand one another, even if we don't all use the same dialect. If Young hadn't used the dialect he did, it would have felt like a cheat- something that I feel Banks kind of does. Banks argues for a oratory method, yet he's writing a book. He's calling for people to reassess their assumptions about dialects, but uses standard American academic writing to do so. 
It's kinda funny how one of the technical and professional communication journals Banks mentioned is Journal of Technical Writing and Communication because it's one journal that I have read extensively for another class. I totally missed how the journal elides any concerns for race and gender; the only "international" concerns they brought up was how Canadian and British folks teach technical communication in the classroom. So, not at all diverse whatsoever.
Another idea Banks puts forth is "that even now, with all of our technologies, oratory is still the genre of public engagement--the genre where the work of any group of people commit to begins" (29). I feel like this nicely ties-in to some of the other books we've read, the Castelles's book for example. I'm rather inclined to agree: there's no better rhetorical call to action than that from the skilled rhetor. Of course, Banks goes into the oratory skills of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. as example of Black Americans and use of strong oratory skills. So, on the one hand I was intrigued with Banks's ideas of oratory, I also wonder if he's trapping himself in the "single story."
Today I had a chance to watch a TED Talk with Chimamanda Ngozi (whose TED Talk I have included below), where she spoke about the perils of sticking to a "single story." Ngozi gave the example of being from Nigeria and being faced with presuppositions about how she must have grown up. Yes, she admits, food became scarcer as prices rose, but she also had enough to eat and wasn't starving. Ngozi's example is what she is warning against, that there's only one story to any group of people. She challenges us to write a different narrative, and gives the example of rather than starting a story with South Africa after colonization, start with the fall of its government and, as Ngozi points out, you'll have a very different narrative. So, that what I wonder about with Banks's book, that he's kind of falling into that single story of Black Americans primarily using oratory to express ideas. It seems to me like he forgetting about whole other swathes of stories.
The last issue that Banks brings up that I want to include in today's blog is found within chapter 3, and the Mike Wallace report on the Nation of Islam. Banks close reads how Wallace continually cast the Nation of Islam into suspicious lighting, drawing unfair conclusions about what the group was doing, in order to persuade (white) people to be afraid of them. Banks points out that what might have happened if "Lomax were the series' producer, had access to African American camera crews and research staff, and the freedom to present his results to an African American audience unfettered by the restraints of overbearing White public opinion that was already formed and unwilling to be persuaded?" (53). Yeah, what if? It's so important for as many different voices as there can be to add to the conversation; conversation that happens anywhere and under any circumstance. Banks points out that at the time the Nation of Islam news report was broadcast, it was during the days of objective reporting. Snort. As if. And to think of how many (white) people Wallace et al, had believing that the group was up to no good and to fear them, yikes.
I found Banks's book to be super interesting. It helps me think about technology through a critical race lens, and offers more than what the Selfes' article did. Banks is making the call for us to change the narrative surround the rhetoric of technology. Are you in or are you out?  

Link to video:

Wednesday, November 5, 2014


Yergeau et al.

Initial impressions: Oh, great! Another multi-modal essay. How cute. Yes, the authors acknowledge that there’s limitations to their webtext, and yes, I get the purpose of creating a multi-modal text to support the push to wanting students to create multi-modal stuff on their own, but it’s just too cute for me. I don’t like it. I don’t like that there’s no linier way to read this, but rather links I gotta click in order to get anywhere in this webtext. Yes, I get what they’re trying to do, and no, I still don’t like it. It takes away rather than adds to their argument, even though they probably thought it would; Like they say: “The modality of this webtext invites yet more of us to experience this game-changing series of presentations. Like I said, it’s too cute.
“Over There”
I’m already pissed at this “article.” I wonder who Self et al. are talking to when they mention the writing classroom. Are they really aiming this towards English instructors at all levels, or is it slanted more towards the English 101 teacher?
“Space/Presence” by Price
Funny how she’s arguing for an accessible space through modalities such as texting as a way for folks to have more access (she brings up deafness and multi-modality as a way to make the classroom more accessible for folks), but completely overlooks (quite intentionally, I’m sure) the issue of access for impoverished students, non trad students, and Luddites. Nice way to exclude all sorts of people.
When it comes to “Community” and “Reason” parts of this webtext, are they really necessary? What’s wrong with mental illness? What’s wrong with accommodations? Again, I get what they’re doing. Really I do. And it does have some import to think about the ways in which we use language as it does matter; it shapes us, gives voice to the places we’ve been, and offers tells on where we’re from. But what are these authors really contributing? They’re only substituting words for other words that may/may not be more accessible.

The Slatin piece is in such contrast to the Yergeau et al. webtext. Slatin has scrub all of the fanciness from his webtext and works in a bare-bones approach. His reason is that what’s visually pleasing for non-(dis)abled folks isn’t necessarily good for (dis)abled folks. I liked this piece much better than the last one. I feel like Slatin is calling attention to the same issues that the other folks did, but in a more practical, less ablest-in-their-own-kinda-way. It’s interesting how he numbers all of his points, rather than as one fully articulated essay. For me, it did make points more digestible, and easier to go back and re-read some point I wanted to revisit.

Now there’s the Dolmage piece Writing Against Normal: Navigating A Corporeal Turn where we’ve made the turn back into academia land. I’ll say that for this week’s readings is that they have run the gamut (for better or for worse). I’m in a bad mood, and maybe that’s effecting my reading of these texts too much. I was automatically put off by Dolmage’s assertion of “The dominate discourse surrounding the teaching of writing…” (115). Now the reason this ticks me off so much is that when bloody academics are envisioning “the writing classroom” what they mean is English 101. And who’s teaching English 101? Contingent faulty, that’s who. And I’m bloody tired of these folks thinking that they can come in, talk about what’s going on there, and offer their own scholarship about how to run a “writing classroom” when they don’t even TEACH these bloody classes themselves.
I do like this business of revision as Dolmage sets out: that it’s a way for each of us-teacher and student alike- to come to know our own writing better, yet the other side of the coin is that it can also be a way to “perform a drama of normativity” (117). The former speaks loudly to one of my loves (the writing center) and how giving and receiving feedback or talking about writing with other writers helps us to get a deeper sense of our rhetorical situation as well as attending to audience needs. Yet, feedback does have a way of making writing normative; to continue the standard academic ways of writing and thinking, at the cost of creating spaces for different voices to emerge.
I also like how Dolmage re-imagines embodiment not just as peoples with (dis)abilities, but also how the text itself can be (dis)embodied. By using wikis as an example, Dolmage is demonstrating how a “differently-embodied writing process” functions (120). I find this to be a super-rad notion, and something that can be done in English 101 rather seamlessly, rather than some of the theories scholars are putting out there.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Haraway's "Cyborg Manifesto"

I'm a bit perplexed with the chapter "Cyborg Manifesto" in Haraway's book. Yes, it's interesting that she's trying to combine notions of feminist and materialist theories with cyborgs. Yes, the feminist movement is fractured and it's important to think of ways of suturing the splinters together. Yes, it's interesting the way Haraway starts off the chapter with the notion of blasphemy as "ironic faith." But, I'm dubious as to how this fits in with Haraway's larger points of how "[cyborg] imagery can help express two crucial arguments in this essay: first, the production of the universal, totalizing theory is a major mistake that misses most of reality..." (316). Okay, let's look at that a little closer. Of course the use of essentialzing within theory can be complicated, reductive, and dismissive of other lived experiences. Yet what I feel is going on in this chapter is more of the same ol' same ol' in that narrative of the us's and the them's. Haraway even alludes, at one point, how we all have a tendency to talk about the us's and the them's: "It has become difficult to name one's feminism by a single adjective- or even to insist in every circumstance upon the noun" (296). For the majority of this particular page Haraway is talking about how the false dichotomy of the us's and the them's, while also hinting at one of her larger points that a "totalizing theory is a major mistake..." What I take issue with here is that she's making a strong point for how splintered feminism has become, how we could look more for the similarities rather than the differences, yet later she goes on to dismiss the notion of the we. Haraway furthers my umbridge by using lots of almost-but-not-quite scary quotes, for instance when she writes 'us.' It's jarring, but not in a productive way, but rather a dismissive and arrogant way. I think Haraway missed a great opportunity to call out factions and say, hey! The more we talk about the us's and the them's the more it splinters us, and the more the ideology survives to create the sexist, classist, racist world we live in.

I'm just fed up with the notion that we're all so different. "Men are from Mars; Women are from Venus." The ideologues want us to buy into these notions that we're worlds apart from one another; ideology works better when folks are alienated from what's important rather than in-tune with what is. So I'm bloody tired of hearing these narratives, particularly from folks who ostensibly try to build up a we narrative, only to knock it down right away. Take this bit from Haraway: "...and ironically corporate executives reading "Playboy" and anti-porn radical feminists will make strange bedfellows in jointly unmasking the irrationalism" (301). Seems like Haraway's trying to inspire a we narrative, but look closer at the sentiment. Haraway is setting up an assumption for her reader, one that makes the CEO a white male fat cat, and the radical feminist a white woman who's seen as a crazy person to the CEO. At least that's what I envision as I read and re-read that passage. But maybe it's reversed; maybe they're not white; and why think they're so far apart anyway? At the core, we're all human. And yes (to Haraway's point), it's tricky to universalize humans. But I argue that at our core, we're all the same. No matter where one lives; what cultural influence one has; etc. And what's universal about humans is that we all want to be loved, and we all avoid suffering. Now, it gets more complicated the more we branch out from the core, but I think that if we approached each human on that fundamental level, then it would change much of the interactions we have, and could lead to some real, indelible change. This is where I feel the major pitfall of Haraway's manifesto lays is that while she's arguing for a cyborg look at feminist et al. issues, to move away from the white male narrative, she's really driving it closer to the same ol' ideology that's persevered for eons. This makes me think of the Hayles book, particularly chapter five and her close read of "Limbo." I'm also tying this together with some of the stuff we talked about last week in class about how cyborgs tend to be white males. No one could come up with a non-white cyborg, and while there were a few woman cyborgs, they too weren't peoples of color. So while Haraway is trying to change the face, nature, and conversation surrounding theory, I feel she falls short of her goals by perpetuating some of the same stereotypes she's trying to dispell,

What I think we need to be doing more of is working to create the we narrative. To be inclusive rather than always keeping our eyes on the differences. Because I think it's the similarities between us humans that is more compelling than the differences. Just sayin'. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Hayles's How We Became Post-Human

Hayles's book is super hard for me to pin-down with a summary. There's a lot of stuff here that I'm not fully understanding with this book, so Gentle Reader keep that in mind as we walk through this blog together. To sum up Post-Human, Hayles writes about the ways in which "information has lost its body" (2). She goes through different mediums to illustrate her points: from science, to digital technologies, to literary criticism, Hayles leaves no stone unturned. What I liked about the first couple of chapters is how Hayles describes what posthuman is. There's a great (although too lengthy to use here) definition on pages 2-3 where she fully lays out how she's defining posthuman. I hadn't really thought about how "information [loses] its body" when it goes digital. Coupling that with what posthuman is (mostly that is to say it's more than just humans modifying their bodies), gave me a new perspective on the conversations surrounding digital humanities. So far we've covered how online spaces shape us, how we shape them, and what it means to be human within those spaces. Here, Hayles is looking at how human and machine are one, yet different.

Quotes/Compelling Issues:

"Although the 'posthuman' differs in its articulations, a common theme is the union between human and machine" (2).

This business of posthuman is, of course, essential to understanding the larger points she brings up throughout her book. When I first read the title, not knowing anything about what posthuman means, I figured it's "after-human" that Hayles would be discussing. That may be part of it, but this quote is getting closer to what I think her book is about: again, how human and machine work together, and how they differ. I'm getting closer to understanding the ideas Hayles posits, but it's still difficult for me to soundbite this back to a reader.

"[...]Haves of sentences spoken at different times can be amalgamated to let a speaker hear himself say the opposite of what he knows he said" (Roy Walker qtd. in Hayles, 210). This is regarding how record recordings, particularly on tape, can change what a person says.

What a super weird (and cool) idea! It's something anyone, with the right equipment and the right mind to do so, can create an alternate information that's separate from both the body of the person speaking, but how the technical/digital part can also be segmented apart, and put together in a different order. Hmm, that may not make much sense, so let's explore this further... What, I think, Hayles is talking about here through Walker is not how stuff can be edited to make anyone say anything, but rather differentiates how information becomes disembodied (a word she uses a lot, so riffing off of her). With this quote in particular, Hayles shows how tricky disembodies information is; that it's fluid.

"...displaces one definition of 'human' with another but also in a more disturbingly literal sense that envisions humans displaced as the dominate form of life on the planet by intelligent machines" (283). Hayles is writing about how posthuman invokes both "terror and pleasure" (283).

After reading this bit, I was skeptical about how much of this could be true. Can machines be intelligent enough on their own that they'll supersede humans? Doesn't this kind of intelligence rely on human intervention to survive (be it at the creation point, or to continue functioning)? This reminds me of T.V. Reed's book with regard to the notion that we shouldn't be super-suspicious, nor super-willing to buy into the idea that technology-in all its incarnations- will be the ruin/the saving grace for humans. This quote is straddling the line of being too suspicious of technology. No wait, I take that back. Its gone over the line and over the precipice. Now I just read the quote again. Maybe it's the case that machines have taken over in the less nefarious sense of our dependence on them makes life as we Americans know it possible. There's not a moment that goes by where I'm not using some machine to do something. Obviously I'm typing right now on a computer that's hooked up to the Internet (disembodied information).

Overall, what I found to be the most compelling about this book is how Hayles is taking the philosophical view of how we find our body, and applies that to posthumanism. It's impossible to find the body: if a person's arms are missing, it's not as if she ceases to have a body. Same applies with information in digital spaces.   

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Class Yesterday

Whoop. I totally forgot to blog about class yesterday, so I'm doing this now!

I got some feedback on folks about my writing center paper. I've been thinking about, rather than taking the one with one to one with many, changing that to one with a few. Specifically looking at how to do this work within studio classes like the 102 groups we have at WSU. So, we knocked around a few ideas, and I got a chance to talk out some of what's in my head.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Article Blog # 2

I have come, Gentle Reader, to that part of the semester where my brain is having more and more trouble with producing understandable pieces of prose. I’m fried, in other words. So, for this week’s blog I’m doing an old-fashioned pull-a-quote-and-respond type of analysis. Proceed with caution…
From the Berry et al. book:
Ethnographic practices…need to consider how the classroom is a location that connects to other locations, locations that subjects constantly inhabit, dwell in, and move between" (p. 210). In other words, we need to move beyond the classroom while holding on to pedagogical concerns.
Stopped really paying attention pretty much right after coming across this quote. Rhet folks don’t truly do ethnography; in order to do that, they’d have to be students again, and I don’t see it happening.
From Rubria and Gil-Egui article:
“The first has to do with the change it has caused in the definition of the public opinion’s agenda within Cuba. The first has to do with the change it has caused in the definition of the public opinion’s agenda within Cuba” (154).
This is continual within and throughout Castells book: that social networks have shaped the ways in which a public sees its society. This is much like what the occupy movement gave, I believe, to Americans: that now we have a different discourse that surrounds how we talk about the rich versus the poor.
 “Your blog provides the world a unique window into the realities of daily life in Cuba” (Obama qtd 157).
I don’t remember something like this coming up in Castells’s book, that is, to have a leader of a country praise the work on a blogger.
“Lamrani raises questions about Sanchez’s ability to maintain Generation Y without strong financial and technical support from foreign agencies, pinpoints what he deems to be inconsistencies in S├ínchez’s accounts of harassment by the Cuban government  and finally accuses her of profiting from her critical position regarding Cuba’s current affairs” (157).
It’s true that blogs and such can have an unfair slant to the writing. But then, what writing doesn’t? From the words journalists use, to the networks/publications they work for, every bit of political news we consume is going to have some sort of slant to it. So, what becomes crucial here is to ask those rhetorical ethnographic questions of: for whom is this text written, under what circumstance, and for what purpose. While it may be true that no news is impartial or purely objective, I do believe there are truer things out there. It’s something I don’t think enough folks think about; it was hinted within this article and not really found at all within Castells’s book, that it’s our job to choose carefully whose truth we buy into.
“…the majority of respondents saw the Internet as a discursive medium, rather than as a way of becoming involved in ‘real’ collective action or shaping policymaking” (159).
Yes, point very well taken. Castells was remiss in not fully excavating how the social movements were constructed online. There was a bit of this sentiment in the beginning of the Castells book, but this quote hits home more for me because of how social networking sites are typically used, consumed, and viewed. I can see how folks would consider this not the real work of social action, but rather as a hobby. I mean, that’s how facebook, twitter, and others are often used: as the coffee house philosopher. A place where people can say stuff, and get people to respond, but we don’t think enough about how these are sites for conversation; should they also be sites of action?
“Regarding social issues, the loss of civic values and the need for an unrestricted dialogue among all Cubans, both inside and outside the country, are stressed” (162).
It’s rather fascinating how this is a common thread to all social movements, that is, the loss of having basic rights as a human as the impetus behind folks gathering together for change. Castells is right when he writes about how when fear is removed, folks start banding together. It’s a shame it doesn’t happen more often. I think about the ways I was motivated by fear at the insurance company I worked at; I think about the ways in which some not-so-nice folks still try to control me with fear. At one point in the article, Rubria and Gil-Egui write about apathy of the masses. Fear is a good way of creating and sustaining that inertia, because if we didn’t feel like we’re replaceable, if we didn’t fear that we’d lose jobs, if we didn’t fear what others think about our writing, then maybe change would come and stay awhile. Just a thought.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Blog # 5


For Manuel Castells's Networks of Outrage and Hope, Castells maps out how current social movements work within the internet age. Castells starts with exploring power dynamics that are the catalyst for social movements; to unpacking how nascent social movements are started when people feel they belong to a group that has the same desires and goals;  then moves to how the social movements From Egypt to America have been shaped and pushed forward by sites like youtube and facebook.  The overall argument is that social movements may not exclusively be held within these online spaces, but these spaces are necessary to look and think about as we enter a new era of social justice (105).


"Coercion and intimidation...are essential mechanisms for imposing the will of those in control of the institutions of power" (4). I love this quote because it reminds me of a lyric from Bob Dylan, in which the great D sings:"One of the boss's hangers-on/Comes to call at times you least expect/Try to bully ya-strong arm you- inspire you with fear/Sometimes it has the opposite effect." I like this quote with regard to this class for two reasons: it's one of the points Castells brings up that has effected me, and it's important to note how social movements are generated in order to understand Castells's book at large. In Nebraska I used to work at an insurance company where one of the head bosses would do a sweep through of the department I worked in. It was a lot like what Dylan was rapping about: she was trying to catch folks on the internet so she could tell our direct boss about it, who would then relay the message to the offender. I'm now in a position where I have more agency over the work I do, and it's much nicer than having someone try to inspire me with fear. Gramsci writes about how when consent is withdrawn, the state flexes. I believe that. Once we get rid of the fear of being fired (been there), of being laughed out of the academy (seriously, I was told this), of knowing that you're being disrespected but feel like you can't do anything about it, once that fear is removed change happens. And it's scary for the powers that be. This quote is important with regard for Castells's overall argument because he reminds us that social movements happen once folks are pushed too far with intimidation and fear, bringing folks together for social change.

"[with regard to the movements in Iceland and Tunisia] In both cases, mobile phones and social networks on the Internet played a major role in spreading images and messages that mobilized people in providing a platform for debate..." (45). Again, I like this quote because it's one of the points I found most compelling in Castells's book, and ties in nicely to his point of how social movements are shaped and driven by social networks. Just like with the 2008 presidential election, regular folks are able to post videos to youtube and facebook to show a different, less subjective view of what's going on with the world. I was living in Lincoln, NE when the occupy movement first got started in NYC. Eventually, as all things have a way of doing, Lincoln had an occupy chapter as well. This iteration of the occupy movement was located in an open space right next to the insurance company I mentioned above. I was attending UNL, which was a short distance from where I worked, and almost daily I would walk by the protesters: reading their signs, listening in on snippets of conversations. One day I decided to talk with one of these folks, and got the information I needed to walk in one of their protests. It was a chilly Saturday morning in November that I laced up my sneakers and went to join the occupy movement. Castells's writes about the movement as having a change your bank day, and that's the day that I happened to march. We walked around the governor's mansion (who happened to be entertaining guests that day), and then down to the Wells Fargo where we proceed to occupy their lobby. Before I had seen with my own eyes what the occupy movement was about, I had read a lot of comments in the local newspaper's online website from folks who didn't understand what the movement was about. I too was worried that the protesters would do something- get pushed too hard by police, or by-standards- causing folks to get seriously hurt and shutting down the whole movement. But once I marched with the other protesters, I realized that it was a completely non-violent group. At one point when we were outside of Wells Fargo, someone yelled, "Fuck the police!" and one of the organizers shut that down quick by saying, "We don't talk to the police that way. They have been very nice to us and we have no reason not to treat them in the same manner." It was interesting, scanning the faces of the protesters: some older, some younger, yet mostly all white. There were even a few professors from UNL that joined the group, but I didn't know any of them personally. We were heckled by a few folks, but mostly people waived or ignored us completely. Maybe the occupy movement didn't last. Maybe it wasn't really supposed to, but what it did do for us is shape the discourse surrounding the rich and the poor.

"Thus the occupy movement was built on a new form of space, a mixture of space of places, in a given territory, and space of flows on the Internet. One could not function without the other..." (168). Again, ties into Castells's larger point of how the social platforms changed the way that social movements were able to take place. Now, folks could be apart of the movement without necessarily getting out of their chairs. This may sound lazy on the outside, but for folks who can't/don't get around easily (and even if they can), the word of occupy movement was able to spread. And it shaped the discourse of a generation.