Tag Archives: knowledge

“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.



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)?