Tag Archives: borders

“Play Ball!” MindMap Reframed


So, I puzzled over how to reconceptualize a mindmap 15 weeks in the making using concepts, rather than components. I reviewed our class syllabus for footholds, pondered my case study foci, watched a little ESPN on a break, checked the Red Sox score, and then (you see this coming, don’t you?)…

Baseball Diamond

Baseball Diamond

It’s beautiful, really — but like the game itself is rough around the edges (just look at the recent ejection of a pitcher for “hiding” pine tar on his neck). But, bear with me, let’s see how this metaphor plays out.

Coming up with the bases for this diamond was fairly simple: Pitcher’s mound = Operationalizing Theory, our course initiator. Whether through blogs or assigned asynchronous activities, it seemed we were all swinging away … at first a fast ball (How it Works, Rhetorical Theory), then a curve ball (Foucault), and even an occasional knuckle ball (Prior, Guattari). Thinking next of First Base = Nodes and Agency. Here is our first task, our first accomplishment, our first move into the field of play. Identifying the lineup, determining who’s on first, what’s on second, and on third? (Abbot & Costello say it best.) Here’s where the analogy gets a little squirrely, however; the deeper we went into the game (some might say into extra innings), the lineup and rotation changes. Suddenly, we’re talking about genre as not just a border but having agency, even distributing knowledge. (It seemed so simple when I started.)

On to Second Base = Connections & Communication. We were often asked in our case studies to address the question “What’s moving in the network? How are nodes situated? Describe the nature and directions of the relationships formed.” Again and again, we reshuffled the roster, trying out new combinations, looking for that “sweet spot” of theory to create a FrankenTheory that captured the complexity of our objects of study (dare I say, a pennant?). One of our final readings this term was concerned with Operating Systems, which — come to think of it — captures agency, nodes, movement, and signals for so many of the theorists and readings we covered. So, take a base.

Third Base = Meaning & Knowledge … nearly home. Our network theories always already involved knowledge. Whether it was in terms of creating or distributing, all of our theorists and practitioners (ourselves included) touched this base. You may notice I repeated a node here — the OS makes another appearance. Those kinship patterns — cultural discourse, ways of knowing, ways of learning — have to be embedded here, as well as back at 2nd base. And, wouldn’t you know it, 1st base as well. That’s the power of an ecological system — there’s material transfer happening all over the place.

At last, Home Plate = Why theory? It’s why we came to the park in the first place. I saw this as both the goal of the course, but a destination too. It’s where I locate myself as a scholar, and a practitioner. And true to any baseball game, it isn’t just the bases that matter. It isn’t even the players. We can’t complete this mindmap without widening the reach of this network to include those fans, the “10th man.” This is where we write our Case Studies, add new theoretical layers, toss out uncooperative ones. This is where we find the ecology of our field, where the game really becomes interesting.

Extra innings? Double header? Maybe next time. Right now, I think it’s time for the 7th inning stretch.



A Mind (Ecology) is a Terrible Thing to Waste (Affordances): Week of March 16th

Peter Turchi, Maps of the Imagination

Peter Turchi, Maps of the Imagination

“We can equate the place with geometry and space with geography. Geography or space is lived or practiced more than geometry of place … geometries are necessary ways of mapping relations among histories and constructing tactics of resistance that tie local to global concerns” (141) – Johnson-Eilola Nostalgic Angels

First, let me say Gregory Bateson‘s philosophical treatise reminded me of several of our recent theorists (naturally). Secondly, I found his reference to Korzybski that “the map is not the territory” (455) especially interesting. I don’t think I’ve plumbed all the potential of that concept, but I do know the first thing I thought of was the distinction by Johnson-Eilola (J-E) on geometric vs. geographic space  (in Nostalgic Angels) and that “[c]ommon sense tells us not to confuse the colored lines on paper maps with reality” (15). However, J-E also points out that “maps certainly participate in the real activities, suggesting and authorizing ways of living – maps are part of reality” (15). So I wonder: how would Bateson respond to Johnson-Eilola’s argument that “the borders of discourse formations are real practices and structures” (15)? I rather suspect there would be some agreement, as Bateson’s article is all about perception and ways ecologies and borders and “minds” are functioning within a system (465). But there is so much packed into a relatively small space (and I’m still trying to figure out if that’s at all related to the comment about LSD in the conclusion) that I felt as though I was only able to grab onto a small piece. In this case, it is his concept of mapping and “worlds of explanation” of that mapping: the physical cause-effect world of the “pleroma” and the idea world of the “creatura” in which “effects are brought about…by difference” or ideas. Where those two meet — the “bridges which exist between those two worlds” (Bateson 462) — however, seems to hinge on perception.

It seems that Bateson wants us to see maps with an eye toward layering in “abstract…philosophic thought” (454) when he addresses the related question, “what is the territory?”  He claims “the process of representation [by viewpoints or measurements] will filter [the territory] out so that the mental world is only maps of maps of maps… All ‘phenomena’ are literally ‘appearances’” (460-1). So if Johnson-Eilola’s borders are included in a map (as they surely must be), would Bateson’s theory of affordances when framed this way be a challenge to that concreteness? I am not sure it would, as I think J-E is also arguing for the role of perception of “borders” of a “landscape” that we actually “construct and maintain” – Bateson’s world of the creatura, perhaps. Yet it also seems J-E is arguing for borders that are the manifestations of “social forces” that are made visible at those “nodal points” of the border (16)… which reminds me of Bateson’s statement that we must “look at the bridges which exist between these two worlds” of pleroma and creatura in order to perceive the system (462). And as he asserts, if we “want to explain or understand anything in human behavior,” including the networks we inhabit and construct, then we must understand in terms of “completed circuits” – differences in perceptive agencies, whether it is “the cut face of the tree” or the visual cortext fed by the axe man’s retina (465). Could this be what our professors are referring to as “distributed consciousness”?

Then there is the subject of “affordances.” I must say, this is a concept for which I can see all sorts of deep-pool potential for my OoS (MOOCs). Gibson confesses that he simply made up this term (127), but I find his definition of the concept powerful. The connection to Bateson is in terms of relationships (455) – but Gibson puts this in somewhat less physio-psycho terms analogous to “the communication system of the body” (467). Such framing certainly seems appropriate given the cyborg nature of some of our network models. Gibson’s Theory of Affordance is designed to provide us with a “new definition of what value and meaning ARE” (140), something I think Norman qualifies productively in his string of design examples that focus on physical constraints and perceived vs. actual affordances. In truth, I think Norman’s article is the one that really clarified the application of this theory, while Gibson and (more so) Bateson lingered just a little too long in the ethereal domain for someone like me who is all about the practical application. Be that as it may…

For Bateson, there are two types of ecology: (1) bioenergetics or “units bounded at the cell membrane” for which “boundaries are…the frontiers” (466), which made me think of borders as nodes of multi-directional agency (Latour’s many-spoked nodes as illustrated by Dr. Romberger), a jumping off place. Then there are (2) economies of information – “boundaries as enclosing pathways” (467). Does “enclosing” mean limitations? Drawing the line “here, and no farther”?

At first, I thought of Latour and ANT when I started reading, thinking that these borders, relationships, and ecologies were mutually influential and equally capable of agency. But when reading Gibson’s claim that (129) “[a]n affordance points…to the environment and to the observer,” I wondered – since so much of this theory is about perception – is Gibson limiting (or privileging) this theory to the perceptions of the human observer? Norman points to perceived vs. real affordances in terms of designers and users (echoing Spinuzzi), but would this be the same as those “separations between ‘self’ and ‘experience’” about which Gibson cautions (469)? Gibson certainly puts the animal / material world on what seems like a subordinate level – something to be acted upon or damaged so how would this stack up against a Latour or Spinuzzi and Actor-Network Theory?

As I mentioned earlier, the concept of affordances as a means of expressing the physical as well as value-laden conditions of the network – especially in terms of online learning – seems to promise an interesting theory for my OoS. If I can just figure out how to align all these borders…  puzzle


Bateson, Gregory. Steps to an Ecology of Mind. New Jersey: Jason Aronson Inc., 1987.

Gibson, J. J. “The Theory of Affordances.” In R. E. Shaw & J. Bransford (Eds.), Perceiving, Acting, and Knowing. Hillsdale, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1977. pp. 127-143.

Johnson-Eilola, Johndan. Nostalgic Angels: Rearticulating Hypertext Writing. Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing, 1997.

Norman, Don. “Affordances and Design.” jnd.org. 2004. Web.

Hypertext Theory & ANTS

“A structure is defined by what escapes it.”  Brian Massumi, as qtd. in Johnson-Eilola 175

A colleague of mine (a fellow composition instructor who has a fondness for old typewriters — as do I) posted the following video link to a FB thread today, and our recent readings immediately invaded my innocuous audience participation.

My first thought when I saw this was of our recent CHAT readings and the concept of remapping existing frameworks of meaning (i.e., the rhetorical canon). The text-based explanation is immediately reminiscent of Hardware Theory, with the overlaying or repurposing of one technology — and its associated rhetorical practices — with another. In some ways, it reminded me of this week’s readings by Joyce and Johnson-Eilola in terms of the way we approach hypertext and web writing; in others, I could see Latour‘s ANT at work (but perhaps that’s getting ahead of myself). I must say that of all the works assigned this week, Johnson-Eilola’s prompted the strongest connective potential for my MOOC work, while at the same time presenting me with new questions (such as the distinction she makes between geographical and geometric as ways of visualizing the spaces of hypertext and reading/writing). Her article — recalling as it does Foucault’s concepts of ecologies, Spinuzzi’s activity-based discourse communities, and genre theory — suggests to me it may well be a suitable Case Study Theory node for my next step.

The idea of borders and “border crossing” (which the above video seems to do on several levels — from repurposed technology and activity to (re)mixing genres) seems to be part of everything we comp/rhet (as well as literature) scholars write about, in one way or another. Quoting Giroux, Nostalgic Angels illustrates how the theory of “border pedagogy” (198) can be applied as a means of exploring hypertext reading as mapping the intersections of activity and even tensions — nodes. Yet Johnson-Eilola’s chapters from Nostalgic Angels seem to critique the postmodernist motives and interpretive activities as an undercurrent to her exploration of how hypertext has become a theorized object.  From Popham‘s “Boundary Forms” to Miller‘s and Bazerman‘s exploration of genres as border-busting devices, “the difficulties of our border constructions” (Johnson-Eilola 3) become nodes of critical activity. However, these nodes — as hypertext — do not always function in idealized postmodernist ways. While Joyce’s chapters seem to laud, and even idealize, hypertext writing as a means of exploding and remapping existing texts, Johnson-Eilola’s critique of two examples of  hypertext applied as literary analysis serves as a powerful rubric by which to test the theory’s promise.

The work of CHAT by Prior et al. advances an argument for remapping not just the borders but the geographic and geometrical spaces of that node and its related activities. Johnson-Eilola, as well as Joyce, have focused this conversation on the object of hypertext, whether as  a creative power of activity that makes possible new nodes and new connections — enhancing agency  (Joyce) — or as system that may actually be less utopian than advertised because it all too often is “constructed in a web of institutional forces acting as a form of nostalgia (Johnson-Eilola 7).

everything old is new again south of the border sign

South of the Border Sign

This concept of nostalgia struck me as a repeating theme for several of our readings. As I mentioned in an earlier post, Prior et al. write about remapping the canon in ways that made me question whether we can ever truly remove ourselves from the traditional rhetorical canon. Even their online theory-testing space at times renders this remap in traditional book-based layout or visual cues. This is a cautionary point made by Johnson-Eilola as well, as she states:

“We recognize the apparently radical enactment of nonlinearity inherent in the node-link structure of all hypertext; we proclaim in various ways that revolutionary potential; and then we immediately rearticulate those potentials in terms of our conventional, normal practices” (13-4).

Such pinpointing of nostalgia, and the tensions of contradiction exposed through critical assessment / applications, become a way to test such border technologies as hypertexts, argues Johnson-Eilola. I agree, finding that her critical analysis of applied hypertext examples recall Spinuzzi as well as Bazerman, Miller, and Foucault in that such a practice of juxtaposition of “the different discourses of hypertext can highlight some of the political, social, and technological forces constructing our lives” (14) — even our scholarly theorizing practices. But that leaves the question: what map do we use? Even Johnson-Eilola addresses this question, especially as a critique of the postmodernist views of truth and knowledge…views that remind me of Neo’s spoon dilemma:

I could go on for some time about Nostalgic Angels, but there is Latour to note. He too takes on this concept of borders — nodes and “geometrical shape[s]” (24) — as a means of making sense. However, I am not convinced he and Johnson-Eilola meet eye-to-eye on this subject. In an early chapter, Latour seems to push back against the use of borders as critical activity centers, preferring instead to focus on the “actors” and “movements” (25). It seems he is asserting that the most productive focal point is not the node-as-theory, but the tracing of connections, the patterns, and the relations “between the controversies themselves rather than try to decide how to settle any given controversy” (23). Essentially, this “Actor-Network-Theory” — a concept that reminds me of Foucault’s traces — asserts these disruptions and  tensions are where we must look for clues to understand that network’s (or social group’s) construction, structure, and function (30).

And so, what might these chapters offer my Object of Study (composition MOOCs)? Clearly, the way readers move through online spaces — often by using hypertext or other socially-constructed navigational tools — reflect mediated movement. Recognizing that mediation leads frequently to theoretical tensions (a la postmodernist deconstruction), but may also be explored in terms of “border spaces” or nodes through which movement (activity) might be traced. In terms of composition pedagogy, such movement in an online space carries great significance, especially in terms of production and agency. I am looking forward to applying both Latour’s and Johnson-Eilola’s lenses in the next round of Case Study application.

Works Cited

Latour, Bruno. Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. New York: Oxford UP, 2005. Print.

Johnson-Eilola, Johndan. Nostalgic Angels: Rearticulating Hypertext Writing. Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing, 1997. Print

Joyce, Michael. Of Two Minds: Hypertext Pedagogy and Poetics. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan Press, 1996. Print.

—. Othermindedness. Ann Arbor: U. of Michigan Press, 2000. Print.