Category Archives: Reading Notes

Reading Notes: Spinuzzi

Spinuzzi, Clay. Tracing Genres through Organizations: A Sociocultural Approach to Information Design. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2003.

Spinuzzi’s work is a practical application of theory, and as such serves as a fulcrum of sorts on which many of our previous theorists have “play.” Spinuzzi’s book illustrates a methodology which he refers to as “genre tracing,” a means of “examin[ing] how people interact with complex institutions, disciplines, and communities” (23), at times with results not unlike that depicted by the image above. More importantly to our approach to networks (especially those that develop by overlapping existing structures), I believe, is his insistence that this methodology concerns itself with the way workers develop “unofficial…work practices and genres, by adapting old genres to new uses” (23). He advances this method of analysis as a counterpoint to what he refers to as “user-centered design approaches” (x), which he critiques in subsequent chapters as one that creates a “victim narrative” as a way to create binaries of community and actions – in other words, dominant hierarchies. His work provides an interesting illustration of the work we’re doing, combining existing theories to create a new lens, one suitable to a specific object of study: information design. For Spinuzzi, this involves a study of traffic workers, a study that examines both “traditional” means of analysis (the designers at the top of the solution hierarchy) as well as the user-centered “innovative solutions.” Spinuzzi  resists choosing one over the other – perhaps what Foucault would refer to as applying a theory of “unities” (26) – and promotes an approach that blends Genre Theory with Activity Theory to information design problems or situations (4).

Spinuzzi’s work explores two competing discourse communities (designers and users), all the while echoing many of the works we’ve read thus far: Bitzer’s systematic rhetorical situation, Foucault’s ideas on unities and irregularities / roles, Popham’s  boundary forms and genres, Miller’s and Bazerman’s work with motives and action,  the work by Bourelle et al. on digital assessment, Biesecker and relationships, and agency as it relates to localized discourse patterns / needs (which all of our authors thus far have touched upon to one degree or another). Perhaps the most interesting passage, I found, was his integration of Bakhtin’s ideas as they relate to communication practices. The concept of centripetal and centrifugal “impulses” (20) creates a fascinating analogy with which to consider the discourse practices of these two communities: designers and users. His suggestion that the centripetal describes those discourse communities that gravitate toward the “formalization, normalization, regularity, convention, stability, and stasis” – the official line (20) – appears to effectively characterize the sort of knowledge creation privileging  Foucault points to in his work. The centrifugal, on the other hand, represents “resistance…, innovation, — and chaos” (20), features that seem more conducive to discussions of agency and the realism of the work place than its counterpart. This passage alone – combined with his list of justifications for using genre tracing as a methodology (22-23) – opens numerous points of connection to our course discussions regarding the ways we envision networks functioning and moving knowledge. This is a rich resource, which will no doubt make its way into my next Case Study.

As a final thought, the tensions Spinuzzi points to brought to mind several images: push-me-pull-you animal from Dr. Doolittle, as well as a very old Abbott and Costello movie – in particular the scene found at time hack 2:00. Both images suggest a unified network of organic origin, often faced with opposing impulses, very much like the average work place.

Abbott and Costello: “Have Badge Will Chase” (1955)

Genre Readings & Applications: Miller, Bazerman, Popham, & Digital Assessment

ggraphic Substance over Form

Substance Over Form

The readings this week on Genre Theory (listed below in the Works Cited section) represented a bit of a paradigm shift from the more intense theoretical frameworks of Foucault and Biesecker. And yet… I found myself making both of them a touchstone reference again and again. The concepts of difference and trace, as well as disruptions, etc. returned to mind repeatedly as I read about Miller’s and Bazerman’s attempts to define genre “as a stable classifying subject” (Miller, “Genre” 151), not as a system which derives its definition by focusing on / creating a set of classifying characteristics — in essence, an object. Rather, the works by Miller and Bazerman insist that the most productive and rhetorically viable way to approach the concept of genre is much the same as Foucault and Biesecker — it’s all about the activity, the connections, and the relationships.

The  Miller and Bazerman article sets provide both vocabularic underpinnings as well as ways to apply “conceptual and analytic tools” (Bazerman, “Speech Acts” 309). Miller situates the concept of genre as a “stable classifying concept” that is not to be applied as a static form but “on the action it is used to accomplish” (“Genre” 151). This emphasis aligns her with what we’ve read of Foucault, Bitzer, as well as Bazerman, and the turn toward “social action” as the motivating interpretive force behind genre as a tool of analysis. Miller’s “Rhetorical Community” article extends this basic primer by reconsidering her use of the concept of “hierarchy” (68). She reframes her earlier use of the term by applying a new set of concepts: pragmatic or action, syntactic or form, and semantic or what she calls the substance “of our cultural life” (68). She also creates a link with Foucault when she presents genres as “cultural artifact[s]” that can change as cultures evolve (69). Thus, a genre can represent relationships and activities, not simply assessing an inventory of formative characteristics.

Bazerman‘s article on “Speech Acts” adds a considerable collection of terms to our vocabulary list, contributing such terms as ilocutionary, perlocutionary, and locutionary as analytical concepts that can be used to examine speech acts. “Locutionary” refers to “what was literally stated” — the facts (314). “Ilocutionary” refers to the intended act response of the discursive action (314). “Perlocutionary” then refers to the “actual effect” of the action (315). He establishes a hierarchy into which we can place the relationships between genres, facts, and speech acts — creating a system of nodes, a network that might represent (to Bazerman) “systems of human activity” via discourse (319). In order, this hierarchy builds from “social facts” (312) to “speech acts” (what “words mean and do”) (313), to genres (316) and genre sets (318), on to genre systems (318). These concepts are likely some of the most relevant to our current discussions, as they provide a means of making connections between  disciplines or communities in applied situations, to which Popham refers in her article “Forms as Boundary Genres.” Briefly:

  • Genre set  – “a collection of types of texts someone in a particular role is likely to produce” (318)
  • Genre system –  “several genre sets of people working together in an organized way, plus the patterned relations in the production, flow, and use of these documents” (318)
  • System of Activity – a means to “identify a framework which organizes their work, attention, and accomplishment” (319)

These terms provide us with a means to apply a genre theory as an activity-based (rather than form-based) means to focus “on what people are doing and how texts help [them] do it, rather than on texts as ends in themselves” (319).

In “Systems of Genres,” Bazerman then uses these concepts in an illustrative application of patent forms and the system in which they function to make and shape discursive meaning. His reference to the dangers of allowing our understanding of genres as merely “sediment[ing] into forms” (80) becomes clearer as he walks us through the history of patent systems and their associated texts, demonstrating as he does the activity / formative powers of the genre forms upon the culture and history impacted by this system, creating an understanding of genres as a textual variation of a “speech act” that exists “precisely where langue and parole meet” as an active node site of action (88).

The practical application of genre theory continues in Popham‘s article, which provides the clearest sense yet of how texts (or genres and the communities that use them) can locate a boundary of action — not of object. Her practical analysis of the way medical forms create a boundary space between the medical, scientific, and business communities provides an interesting example of how genre theory, combined with theories of networks and rhetorical situations as we’ve explored thus far, can be successfully applied to real world situations as a means of illuminating those “gaps” or traces to which Foucault refers.

Finally, the online text,  Digital Writing Assessment and Evaluation: Forward, Preface, and Afterword, situates our studies within the discipline of higher education and specifically writing studies. In the ancillary chapters, the authors provide the rhetorical situation our field finds itself in: in the midst of the current debate over machine-scoring essays, as well as “what writing is and what it means to write” (Lunsford “Forward”). The emphasis of this work is primarily on “developing … appropriate forms of assessment and evaluation” for digital / multimodal writing (Lunsford), and in doing so situates itself squarely in the midst of our discussion of genre theory and, thanks to the emphasis on digital spaces, network, mechanical, and rhetorical situation theories as well. In short, this collection brings the theory home for those of us engaged in scholarship in English Studies.


Works Cited

Bazerman, Charles. “Speech Acts, Genres, and Activity Sysems; How Texts Organize Activity and People.” What Writing Does and How It Does It: An Introduction to Analyzing Texts and Textual Practices. Mahway, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 2004. 309-339. Print.

Bazerman, Charles. “Systems of Genre and the Enactment of Social Intentions.” Genre and the New Rhetoric. Eds. Aviva Freddman and Peter Medway. Great Britain: Burgess Science Press, 1994.  79-101. Print.

Bourelle, Tiffany, Sherry Rankins-Robertson, Andrew Bourelle, and Duane Roen. “Assessing Learning in Redesigned Online First-Year Composition Courses.” Digital Writing Assessment and Evaluation.  Eds. Heidi A. McKee and Danielle Nicole DeVoss. Logan, UT: Computers and Composition Digital Press/Utah State University Press, 2013. Web. 2 Feb. 2014.

McKee, Heidi A., and Dànielle Nicole DeVoss DeVoss, Eds. Digital Writing Assessment & Evaluation. Logan, UT: Computers and Composition Digital Press/Utah State University Press, 2013. Web. 2 Feb. 2014.

Miller, Carolyn. “Genre As Social Action.” Quarterly Journal of Speech 70 (1984): 151-167. Print.

Miller – “Rhetorical Community: The Cultural Basis of Genre.”  Genre and the New Rhetoric. Eds. Aviva Freddman and Peter Medway. Great Britain: Burgess Science Press, 1994.  67-78. Print.

Popham, Susan.  “Forms as Boundary Genres in Medicine, Science, and Business.” Journal of Business and Technical Communication 19.3 (2005). 297-303. Print.

Annotated Bibliography Entry: Bourelle et al.

Bourelle, Tiffany, Sherry Rankins-Robertson, Andrew Bourelle, and Duane Roen. “Assessing Learning in Redesigned Online First-Year Composition Courses.” Digital Writing Assessment and Evaluation.  Eds. Heidi A. McKee and Danielle Nicole DeVoss. Logan, UT: Computers and Composition Digital Press/Utah State University Press, 2013. Web. 2 Feb. 2014.

image of online computer learning

Online Learning Environment

Tiffany Bourelle, Sherry Rankins-Roberston, Andrew Bourelle, and Duane Roen describe the response of their university English department to an institution-wide budget-cutting impetus meant to restructure “approaches to teaching and learning” in order to cut costs and “reduce faculty workloads,” all the while maintaining the student learning outcomes. These authors chronicle the changes made to a traditional freshman composition course sequence (i.e., face-to-face or f2f, 25:1 student:faculty classroom ratio producing process-outcome-based essays) into a completely online, portfolio-assessed, multi-instructor, mass student enrollment design, which they dubbed the Writer’s Studio. The article describes the methodological as well as pedagogical and institutional considerations that went into this change. The authors point to specific changes to classroom design, teacher / student roles, assessment rubrics and methods, as well as curricular materials. Of course, the online nature of the course, as well as the incorporation of a collaborative team-teaching methodology, lends itself to analysis as both a genre as well as a network system (perhaps a genre system as well, as it combines elements of the f2f as well as digital environments). While the success of the change is measured only anecdotally at this point (based on student reviews), the authors encourage other institutions to consider their model as a potential basis for alternative composition course design elsewhere.

Key features of this modification make it a suitable candidate to which to apply our recent discussions of networks as well. Bourelle et al. describe how a single-teacher f2f classroom of 25 students moved to a totally online environment (a rhetorical situation) facilitated by a network of instructors/tutors. The economic force behind this change is reminiscent of the hierarchies referred to by several of our recent readings (Foucault, Bazerman, Popham), and represent an intersection of values that – for many in our field – are points of tension (i.e., institutional / business protocols taking precedence over disciplinary and pedagogical practices (Popham 281). In fact, Bazerman’s and Popham’s work both relate to the formative influences of one disciplinary culture (the academic administration) upon another as described in this article.

network hub of classroom redesign based on Bourelle et a.

Classroom Network Representation based on Bourelle et al.

The design of the course is of interest to our discussion as it incorporates several factors that may be explored in terms of genre. First, the redesign employs a collaborative-, network-based instruction model, incorporating several hierarchies of writing instruction – from lead instructor (full time, non-tenure track) to graduate teaching assistants (who are also cross listed as students, since they are earning credit toward their own academic work), to peer tutors. This hierarchy does raise some questions, as the description of the economic forces driving this change stress not only reduced cost but increased efficiency in terms of decreasing teacher workloads (which is reminiscent of not only Popham’s boundary cultures but also Bazerman’s activity systems). Secondly, the redesign is based on a shift in text forms, moving from a traditional series of text-based essays to fully “multimodal composition” (Bourelle et al.). In addition, aside from addressing the institutional edicts, the writing faculty at this university wanted to maintain a learner-centered course design, a concept that lends itself to applying network concepts in terms of connectivity, influence, and activity. Finally, the method of assessment moves from a single teacher-reader grading a final text toward  collaborative feedback using an e-portfolio system (which could possibly be explored using Bazerman’s concept of genre systems).

As a final thought on how we might bring all of our theories together, the redesigned program may also raise the question of whether, in addition to genre theory, we might apply Foucault’s theories of discursive formations if we see this Writing Studio’s existence as “a space of multiple dissensions,” a node of Arch of Knowledgeintersection created by the values of the administration and those of the composition program, If so, archaeological analysis may be another way to define “the form” as well as “the relations that they have with each other” (155)  The curriculum redesign relies heavily on key learning outcomes documents (forms) embraced by the discipline– the WPA Outcomes and NCTE Framework — along with the Quality Matters guidelines, a set of stabilizing practices (perhaps even a genre set) as described by Bazerman (“Speech Acts” 318).

There are several nodes of tension that the authors do not explore in any detail, such as the question of labor hierarchies (just as it is with most freshman composition sequences, this model relies heavily on contingent faculty and graduate assistants in the name of “reducing faculty workloads”). While many of the goals, methods, and forms (assignments, rubrics, course policy documents, etc.) are not unlike the traditional f2f one-teacher model, the changes made to the system of instruction / classroom connectivity raise the question of whether all of the “traces” (Foucault) have been accounted for in assessing this teaching/classroom genre. For example, while the authors briefly address the technology mediating the classroom, this is limited to / framed by concerns of student computer knowledge and “maturity” (Bourelle et al.). This may be based on the mechanical structure of the connectivity (boundary spaces) – the digitally-mediated access to peers and instructor teams, as well as writing materials / resources. Analyzing this redesign using those analytical concepts provided by Foucault, Bazerman, Miller, and Popham may prove informative and illuminating.

Ancillary Discoveries

Following our most recent class meeting, in which we took a stab at applying Foucault to our objects of studies, I found that my rhetorical antennae were tuned up enough to capture a few interesting extensions of our work.

Digital Writing Spaces

Digital Writing Spaces

For example, thanks to a discovery by Daniel about blogging as scholarly work (published in Inside Higher Education),  I wanted to explore some of the recent publications in Composition Studies on the accepted place of blogging as scholarly work. I know there are a number of articles “out there” on how we as composition instructors can use blogs in the classroom (such as this article by Moxley), but I also wanted to see how our field is or isn’t moving to accept digital-media based scholarly publications as professionalization cred. (I’m sure that will impact my OoS on Composition MOOCs as one of the network hubs involved.)

In my search, I found an interesting online publication that blends multimedia with text: The New Work of the Book in Composition Studies.  I’ve only begun to read through it, but I’m already intrigued by the possible applications to our course work, and the theorizing of a MOOC classroom — especially since one of covermy early ideas for my OoS was on the subject of textbooks. I was especially excited (antennae pinging) when I read this passage from “Re-Inventing Invention: A Performance in Three Acts”...

Along with incorporating associative, remixed composing into our pedagogy, it’s also important that composition and rhetoric specialists (at least sometimes) compose scholarly texts that resist linear print models–that we compose texts which show rather than tell (Ball 2004) about the ways in which associative juxtaposition can provoke new insight.

The authors of this chapter (or “theme”) — Bre Garrett, Denise Landrum-Geyer, and Jason Palmeri — seemed to me to be echoing the Foucault concepts of resisting the linear, or texts grounded in models of received history, as well as the concept of archive.

lego pieces

Lego pieces

Then there was Lego building — “Build with Chrome” — an online building space for creating multiple variations. Yet, it begins with a controlled practice session, in which the number of potential constructions are pre-designed, seemingly much like the author’s way of indoctrinating the new member / user into the discourse of the digital building space. Set user protocols or rules, and all that (thanks Foucault). To simply begin building, there seems to be more options, but thinking about the “trace” of what is not seen, I wondered about the ways users / builders are limited by the technology space itself – the inner code. I couldn’t help but think of some of the wild shapes produced by my kids when they were younger, faced with a mountain of assorted Lego pieces. Sure, they could follow the “guide” on the box to get that cool-looking Star Wars ship, but just as often, one of them would go off solo (not Solo) and attach pieces in ways that made no “visible” sense. Granted, these would often be forever stuck together, but it was still a choice. How much does the online system of Build with Chrome offer the user such creative license? And how much of an expert in code must one be to subvert that order?

In sum, I’m amazed how much depth the theories of Foucault, Hardware, and Rhetorical Situation have already added to my typical internet browsing / thinking. Transformational.

Foucault, part deux

Foucault, Michel. “The Archaeology of Knowledge and the Discourse on Language.” New York: Vintage Books, 1972. Print.

Parts 3-5:

writing my masters words

From Alighieri, Dante: “La Vita Nuova (The New Life)” (1910)

The second half of Archaeology proved both daunting and illuminating. However, I must confess that I would probably have to read the book one or two times more to feel as though I am in a position to interrogate any of Foucault’s methods or conclusions. Instead, I found it helpful to isolate small threads  from his overall argument and see how they might be woven into the overall theme of our course. So I selected key quotations that really seemed to have direct connections to our course objectives, our recent HTW activities, and our other three authors (Biesecker, Bitzer, and Vatz).

First, a quick summary of the second section: a key principle seems to be that Foucault is pushing back against schools of theory and history that depend heavily on the established and immovable structures of dominant historical and cultural analytical practices. In this final half of the book, he pits the traditional “history of ideas” against his own definition of archaeology as a means of analyzing discourses and their functions.

He seems to assert that the disadvantage of applying uniformity-creating models of interpretation is that they create a structure that does not allow for difference or alternatives … variations that may allow for alternative cultural discourses. He frequently refers to these alternatives as, “discontinuities, ruptures, gaps” (169). Because the “history of ideas” theoretical model relies on analyzing discourses via linear, succession-based order systems, thereby creating a set of absolutes, Foucault considers it  “untrustworthy” (166). Like Biesecker, Foucault considers the “difference” a viable and more productive locus of study because it allows us to consider discourses as “a space of multiple dissensions; a set of different oppositions whose levels and roles” can be “described” as a means of understanding knowledge (Foucault 155). His theory / not-theory of Archaeology allows for the inclusion of the unexpected and deviations in order to consider what I will call “the big picture” or potential network of possible connections — Foucault, after all, is concerned more with the way Archaeology reveals “relationships” (162) rather than static objects of time and place (the nodes themselves).

Mind the gap in London underground, Victoria Station

Mind the gap in London underground, Victoria Station (Wikimedia Commons)

Minding The Gap: 

“A discursive formation is not … an ideal…It is rather a space of multiple dissensions; a set of different oppositions whose levels and roles must be described.” (Foucault 155).

This focus on difference and relationships allows Foucault to point his analytical efforts toward the more productive areas of relationships, and as we explore networks, I find that the inter-connections are often where the action is.  He writes, “Archaeology also reveals relations between discursive formations and non-discursive domains (institutions, political events, economic practices and processes)” (162). The purpose? In his words, to “map, in a particular discursive practice, the point at which [these multiple dissensions] are constituted, to define the form they assume, the relations that they have with each other” (155). In other words, what might a close examination of these networks reveal about “the way it works”?

system bus vs. pci bus diagram

Image from “How PCI Works” 2001

Thinking back to the activity on buses, I’m reminded of all of those data packets traversing back and forth between nodes — or objects secured in “history.” Foucault seems to be resisting traditional means of theorizing subject matter (and thus, knowledge) as overly restrictive and limited precisely because the “ideas” become monolithic places along a timeline. As a result, such linear focus may cause us to miss a “gap” — and while that may not result in the sort of unfortunate accident suffered by a subway rider, the loss to knowledge and understanding is of serious concern to Foucault.

In sum, the “take-away” lesson I see here — the one that I find connects to our other readings and our exploration of networks — is Foucault’s emphasis on the importance of the “gaps” and discursive functions to our understanding of and analysis of discourse. If we continue to trod the beaten path (a history of ideas), we are more likely to simply ignore the anomalies and exceptions, the new and untried — such a path might (especially in English Studies and Composition Theories) create a narrow focus that limits what we teach and how we teach. For example, looking

Digital Writing Spaces

Digital Writing Spaces

at the recent history of Composition, digital spaces were not (and some might say are still not) considered worthy of academic writing or inquiry. Yet many scholars have posited that they open avenues for student expression and critical thinking that expand upon traditional “history of ideas” or writing theories — I would argue — to the benefit of 21st century student writers.

To close, the following quotation from Foucault stands out to me as encapsulating the potentiality of what we are studying this term: exploring and mapping networks and potential connections, opening new spaces for active exploration and study.

“By deriving in this way the contradiction between two theses from a certain domain of objects, from its delimitations and divisions, one does not discover a point of conciliation…. One defines the locus in which it takes place; it reveals the place where the two branches of the alternative join; it localizes the divergence and the place where the two discourses are juxtaposed. The theory of structure is not a common postulate…. By taking contradictions as objects to be described, archaeological analysis…tries to determine the extent and form of the gap that separates them. In relation to a history of ideas that attempts to melt contradictions in the…unity of an overall figure…. Archaeology describes the different spaces of dissension” (153).

My closing question will be this: How will networks and network theory transform our approach to knowledge-building or knowledge-making this semester, given Foucault’s charge to pay attention to or define the objects of our analysis (nodes vs. relationships)?


Presentation Notes: “How Stuff Works: WiFi & Mobile”


Wifi! By Florian Boyd/flickr. Creative Commons license.

The range of selected articles (articles 1, 3, 5, 9, and 11) chosen as the subject of this blog entry come from the site “How Stuff Works?”

First, let’s see what we already know about the “behind the scenes” considerations of WiFi and Mobile technology. Start by taking these two quizzes:

Quiz 1: WiFi –

Quiz 2: Routers –




All of these articles make me think of the structural requirements inherent to any network. There must be some system or series of structural conduits through which the connections are made, whether mechanical or organic. The exercise this week emphasizes the reality that we must face when discussing networks – to really analyze or discuss the nature of the network and all of its constituent parts and processes, we must have a fundamental working knowledge of the structure…the “how it works.” Could this be related to what Foucault says about the need to examine discourse by first “freeing them of all the groupings that purport to be … universal unities” in order to reveal or foreground those that are “invisible” (29)? This passage on p. 29 where he describes his reasoning reminded me of an astronomical phenomenon called a “black hole,” the existence of which can only be substantiated by examining relationships, their “reciprocal determination” with regard to other visible spatial bodies, in order to best understand the functioning of said cosmos. Those areas of “difference” (Biesecker) are prime “nodes” for analysis and examination because the action there disrupts the status quo of the established means of interpretation (what we might call a rhetorical canon of practice, perhaps). As WiFi and mobile communication technologies are overtly characterized as network-based means of connectivity, these examples of practical applications of such connections offer us “objects of study” to which we might begin applying our emerging theories.

Here, then, is a brief summary of the articles’ contents, including key terms and definitions drawn from the sources, along with brief observations making connections to our other readings / discussions.

1.  “How Are Point-of-Sale Systems Going Mobile?”  barcode

A point-of-sale system is, quite simply, that mechanism by which payment is transferred between consumer and sales representative. The article points to the evolution of such systems, from cash transactions to barcodes to  SmartPhone apps. The author outlines ways that mobile technology “is altering the way we shop.” Advancements in wireless technology developed in the 1990s allowed data to be transferred even more rapidly, and via mobile devices. Proposed benefits of this technology — factors mentioned in all of these articles — include increased productivity and lower operational costs. Restaurants are the primary node in this development; from mobile card readers to iPhone apps the clients can use to place orders and transfer funds (see the preceding link to a Wall Street Journal article). But questions of security are key.  Another device is called “contactless payment,” from computer chips embedded in cards to phone apps, all designed to ultimately speed check out. A white paper published in 2010 highlights this “vanishing checkout lane” phenomenon.

3.  “How In-Flight Mobile Phone Services Work.”

Given the recent news stories about banning in-flight cell use, this more recent article (2008) of the set seems particularly interesting. The history of this dates back to 1980s (“the Airfone service…based on radio technology”). The provided explanation begins with a comparison to how cell phones work on the ground, equating cell phone technology to, at most basic, “a two-way radio,” switching frequencies to allow simultaneous back and forth communication. (But it doesn’t go much deeper than that.) However, when airborne, the system relies on different technology: “The service provider, OnAir, uses special equipment to route calls and messages through a satellite network, which patches it into the ground-based network. The airplane crew controls the system and can limit or disable its use.” This again demonstrates a network comprised of several layers of structural networks to allow multiple methods of use.

The article points out safety concerns, especially when the ground-based technology is used when airborne (article refers to this as “traditional ‘terrestrial’ cell phones”). The trouble is based on radio signals, raising the concern that the overlap with airplane navigation signals can cause dangerous disruptions, a concern that seems to be justified given British research reports cited by the Telegraph. But the article also points to a Mythbusters’ episode that challenges this conclusion.

Here’s the technical explanation: “The FCC bans the use of cell phones using the common 800 megahertz frequency, as well as other wireless devices, because of potential interference with the wireless network on the ground. This interference happens as the planes, traveling several hundred miles per hour, leave one “cell” of mobile phone towers and enter a new one quickly.”

5.  “How Mobile Broadband Services Work.”

The article begins with an overview of the ravenous appetite we have brought to bear on the internet industry, driving the development of faster & more. Especially significant is the demand for mobile access. A succinct definition of the technology: “Mobile broadband is powered by the same technology that makes cell phones work. It’s all about radio waves and frequencies. Cell phones and cell-phone radio towers send packets of digital information back and forth to each other via radio waves.”

The article describes the two cell network technologies: GSM & CDMA (more common to the US) – “both GSM and CDMA use different algorithms that allow multiple cell phone users to share the same radio frequency without interfering with each other.”  MOBILE broadband = labeled as 3G and now 4G (g=generation). CDMA creates separate transmission channels, one for voice, one for data. Access depends on the type of integrated technology owned. GSM uses a network allows for both types, making it more efficient by giving higher priority to download data. Again, special hardware is required to use this type of system, as well as be in range of a signal tower…so there are physical ties to ground-based network mechanics that must be observed.

Here’s a fascinating difference between the time of this article and today: “Cellular providers generally package their mobile broadband services for cell phone users.” With the growth of SmartPhones, this has been reversed (see this 2012 WSJ article ).

9.  “How the Airborne Internet Will Work.”

The date for this is particularly problematic, as it now reads like past history, but a search of the internet did reveal more current resources:

The author refers to “broadband” or a larger bandwidth for transferring as a “new” means to transmit the heavy loads of data Internet users have come to expect, as a means of replacing the lowly mechanical network hub, the modem, including cable modems, DSL (digital subscriber lines), and now, new options that are airborne. How it works: aircraft-mediated hubs (“High Altitude Long Operation” or HALO) flying in set patterns to accommodate (primarily) business needs for fast transmissions. Other options: blimps or NASA “sub-space” plane (unmanned). Built on the premise that land connections are limited by physics – mechanical restrictions of cables, etc. — the airborne will accelerate transmission time because it isn’t limited by physics of structurality or by physics of space (distance adds time of response).

Here’s where “networks” come into play: the airplanes will exist in numbers, but don’t replace satellites or land lines – rather they are designed to work as part of a system. The “airborne-network hub” that is the airplane itself is designed “to relay data signals from ground stations to your workplace and home computer.”

11. “How Unified Communications Works.”

Defined as tech that allows “messages and data to be rerouted to reach the recipient as quickly as possible,” UC began first with messaging (email, and “other text-based message systems”). UC relies on various “products and tools” that can be made to work together to funnel messages to users when they are away from their computer stations, or, “Communications integrated to optimize business processes” [source: Unified Communications Strategies].”

airborne-internet-halo-overview Businesses rely on UC to reduce costs, increase productivity, and streamline usage. The tech keeps messages from sitting idle on a server somewhere. But there are problems and complications. Some VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) services don’t translate seamlessly to consumer’s expectations (based on their experiences with land lines). Another type of communications platform technology used for UC is the SmartPhone. But then there’s the line blurring between the personal and the business uses, including security of data. Still another arena in UC is the cloud – data management. The primary example of successful UC is social media, still “blur[ring] the line[s] between our personal and professional contacts.” This medium advances even more the network potential of UC.

13.  “How WiFi Works.”

There’s an interesting lapse in the publication date revealed in the opening paragraph, which refers to an enthusiastic prediction that “in the near future, wireless networking may become so widespread that you can access the Internet just about anywhere at any time, without using wires.” Given the WiFi hotspots signs that appear everywhere from Starbucks, to McDonalds, to some gas stations, the dated nature of the article seems almost comical.

From article at

From article at

The article describes WiFi as “technology that allows information to travel over the air” using radio waves, comparable in function to “two-way radio communication.” I find it interesting that the article refers to a computer’s capability to “translate” data, akin to the mental processes we take to sift incoming information and produce a version suitable to the purpose and audience (how’s that for rhetorical?).

The router = the node, but not just a center of organization; that node actually “decodes” the input (the language / “signal”), then passes on that info through a physical means (from air to wire). This type of interpretation depends on the mechanical; think of p. 24 Foucault, when he writes that unities of discourse – the accepted methods or systems that comprise a tradition or historical context – are “the result of an operation…[which] is interpretive (since it deciphers, in the text, the transcription of something that it both conceals and manifests” (24).

The reference to “frequencies” makes me wonder if there is a connection to discourses (thinking of Foucault’s comments in Chapter 2). The higher the frequency, the higher the capacity for data. The frequency is described according to “standards” – or accepted nodes – that are described in terms of “coding technique.” It’s all about how much data can be carried. Description of “hotspot” as public nodes of access – seems this terminology may have the potential to be metaphorically useful moving forward in our discussions. (Is that what theory is? A metaphoric framework whereby we take an existing accepted structural system and treat it as an analogy-based means of translating knowledge or data?)

Connections within a network depend on adaptors, computer gear like internal transmitters, and capability to tap into the “standard” transmission lines/radio waves. The computer itself “informs you that [a]…network exists” and requires we exercise intentionality (“ask whether you want to connect to it”). Accessibility depends on identifying / knowledge of the network identification (SSID) – naming that community – access points or channel used by a router, and security (public vs. private) – privileged vs. subversive? One of the authors adds a post script to the article, in which she acknowledges the changes made recently. Of considerable interest are the following comments: “I remember the days when most mere mortals didn’t have modems and couldn’t get on the net, even if they had computers. Perhaps I’m projecting my experiences onto everyone else, but when I was a kid, our computer was this tool we used in isolation.”

Works Cited:

Bonsor, Kevin.  “How the Airborne Internet Will Work.”  30 April 2001. <>  18 January 2014.

Brain, Marshall, Tracy V. Wilson, and Bernadette Johnson.  “How WiFi Works.”  30 April 2001. <>  18 January 2014.

Crosby, Tim.  “How In-flight Mobile Phone Services Work.”  3 March 2008. <>  18 January 2014.

Kelly, John.  “How are point-of-sale systems going mobile?”  8 March 2010. <>  17 January 2014.

LaPine, Cherise.  “How Unified Communications Works.”  9 March 2010. <>  17 January 2014.

Roos, Dave.  “How Mobile Broadband Services Work.”  2 April 2008. <>  18 January 2014.


ENGL 894: Readings & Planning

Foucault, Michel. “The Archaeology of Knowledge and the Discourse on Language.” New York: Vintage Books, 1972. Print.

Part I & II: Clearly, Foucault is challenging to read (an understatement), yet as I progress into his text, thanks to the overarching theme of our course, I am able to see his concepts through one of the operational questions of our class: what is a network and how does it impact our thinking?  Thankfully, Foucault himself uses network language to articulate his reasoning. His approach is highly rhetorical, beginning by setting us within a large context — history — as a framework for this discussion, then moving into more defined examples of discourse communities within that history. Yet the “take away” possibilities are not limited to these examples of community discourse; as I was reading the early passages, I found myself recalling a recent class (English Debates) in which discussions focused on the subject of disciplinary in the field of English Studies. In particular, I thought of how many practitioners operate in isolation, without regard to how other disciplines can offer the field of English new systems, or networks, of interpretation or operation.

black hole

From “Nature Communications” website

Clearly, Foucault’s theories are wide reaching in terms of potential for application.  So much so, that I found myself making a comparison to the way black holes function and his description on page 29 of how looking at absences or gaps (disruptions and displacements, the difference) actually help define what we see.

So, some key points from these early chapters, condensed from the pages of notes I have taken thus far:

  • This work is concerned with exploring unities of discourse as a means of examining them.
  • He rejects a universalist approach to analyzing discourses, in part because such an approach ignores the “exceptions.”
  • He emphasizes the need to reject our preexisting “habits of synthesis” (25) in order to see our way more clearly.
  • Instead, he is interested in examining these discourses through relationships, connections – NETWORKS – to allow a more productive exploration, including the areas of disruptions.
  • P. 44:  “a discursive formation is defined if one can establish such a group; if one can show how any particular object of this course finds in it it’s place and lot of emergence.”
  • Relationships “are not present in the object. … they do not define its internal constitution.” (43) “Discursive relations are not… internal to discourse” (46)
  • Page 48: “I would like to show that discourses… are not… a mere intersection of things and words: an obscure web of things,… colored chain of words” (48). This appears to be another move against a structuralist tradition that is often bound up in linguistics, a move I see woven into other passages.
  • Page 49: “in analyzing discourses themselves,” we should look for “the emergence of a group of rules proper to discursive practice” in order to see them as “practices that systematically form the objects of which they speak” (49). His use of the term “rules” troubles me somewhat, and I wonder — as I progress through the reading — if that will continue. He does take great pains to preconceptualize the use of this term by distinguishing his use of the term from a more structuralist approach.
  • In chapter 4 he talks about the laws of operations: (1) directs us to look at author or speaker;  (2) also look at the site or location of the delivery (51); as well as look at the situation in terms of relationships to other groups (52). This is so rhetorical.
  • He refers to his theory about such “laws” as a “network of sites” (55), and as “a succession of conceptual systems” (56).

And so, at this point, Foucault has my attention. His description of rhetorical habits of systematizing discursive interchanges as “object vs. relationships” is intriguing, to say the very least. His treatment of text and even “the book” early in these chapters reminded me of work by Wysocki and Johnson-Eilola on the culture of the book, which refers to our use of book-based literacy as a metaphor for much of what we do in our field of Composition (and English) Studies. Thus far, Foucault’s use of a network theory, when juxtaposed to our first set of readings on the Rhetorical Situation, is creating a definitive lens through which I anticipate re-seeing some of my early training in rhetoric.