Posts filed under: blog

Frictional Ethics & Social Media

It’s time for one of those posts where a few different ideas have coalesced into something for me. It’s been a while since I’ve written here–I’d originally intended to post an angry rejoinder to Steven Pinker’s infotisement in the Chronicle, but in the process of writing it, I managed to get him out of my system. There’s still some material there that I want to post, but it’s not what I’ve been thinking about lately.

The first thread I want to collect comes from several weeks back, an essay that I happened across, probably on Facebook. Dorothy Kim, over at Model View Culture, has a great piece about the ethics of social media research, particularly (but not exclusively) when it comes to questions of race. Kim draws provocative connections between recent research and “[t]he scientific and academic history of disregarding rights and ethics in relation to the bodies of minorities and especially women of color,” connections that cannot simply be waved away with recourse to the assumption that “Twitter is public.” I strongly recommend Kim’s essay–to be honest, I began reading it defensively, because as someone who doesn’t do a lot of qualitative or experimental research, my understanding of the public nature of Twitter was pretty uninformed. I’m not going to summarize her essay fully here, because I want to connect it to a couple of other things here, but Kim persuaded me to take another look at my assumptions.

Kim’s argument relies on what I still find …

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In-Comprehensive-le

bluebookSo I’ve got a question, but it’ll take me a while to get to it.

A few years back, here at Syracuse, we overhauled our graduate curriculum, paying particular attention to the core curriculum and comprehensive examinations. When I arrived at Syracuse, our comps process was a fairly traditional major-minor-minor set up. The exams themselves were varied, in a well-intentioned attempt to account for a variety of writing processes, but the idea of generating 3 lists, writing, and being examined over the results is fairly standard practice. There are virtues to this model, not the least of which is that it gives students experience assembling bibliographies, time to read, and ideally, a more focused mastery over the field than perhaps can be achieved in coursework.

Nevertheless, there were problems. The written examination is a genre that only bears tangential resemblance to the writing that we do in our careers. If anything, it intensifies the event model of writing that seminar papers habituate in us (read, read, read, read, then write in a very short burst of eventfulness), rather than moving students towards a more integrated process of research/writing. We also found that, as an unfamiliar genre, the exams themselves produced no small amount of anxiety, and often took up more time than they perhaps deserved in a program where funding was limited. Finally, those kinds of exams are difficult to articulate with coursework–what exactly is being “tested” if the lists are student-generated and potentially have little to do with their …

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Dossiers (sigh)

FilesWinter is coming, and around the country, a host of applicants are diligently applying their talents to the assembly of materials that they hope will demonstrate their suitability for what few tenure-track positions are available. That means that anxiety is on the rise, as are the blog posts that castigate the academy for its inconsistencies, its capriciousness, and above all, its indifference.

The problem: partly because of their relative rarity, partly because of the varied institutional expectations, and partly because they are conducted by volunteers who themselves have other full-time positions, academic job searches are often more complicated than they need to be. To be honest, I think the single most relevant reason for this, however, is not cruelty but inexperience. Every year, I’d guess that there are a lot of programs (and search committee chairs) who basically find themselves reinventing the wheel. They rely upon their own (often limited) experience, local history, and whatever advice they’re able to track down. And the result is that it can seem like every single job ad comes with slightly different expectations, particularly at the dossier stage, from every other one.

Each of us doubtless has a story about that weird 1-2 page document that we had to write for one school, answering a question that no one else in the country was asking. And because the other applications we have to assemble all blur together, we remember the outliers, and tend to think of them as representative of a broken system. And …

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The Job Talk (draft)

On FB a couple of weeks ago, I posted a link to a fabulous blog post from Aimée Morrison, which looked at the differences between the standard conference presentation and the “keynote;” I noted that in many cases, what passes for the “job talk” is effectively a keynote presentation. Given how many people shared and liked the post, I thought I’d take it a step further here. We’re currently revising our materials for people on the job market, and so I thought I’d try my hand at providing a more comprehensive account of just what the job talk entails. While some of this advice may be specific to my own field (particularly with respect to job market timing, e.g.), most of it is probably general enough to apply more widely. But of course, ymmv.

Please feel free to add, question, complicate in the comments, and I’ll credit as I edit.

-cgb

(more…)

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Relearning to Write

my new writing set-upI would describe myself as a deep writer, not in the sense that what I have to say is any more profound than anyone else’s thoughts, but in the “deep sleeper” sense. That is, when I write and it’s going well, I’m pretty able to shut the rest of the world out and focus on little else. For most of my life, this has included my body itself. I haven’t had to think about posture, arm angle, or things like that, unless they happen to impinge upon my ability to focus.

That changed with my back surgery last fall. I’ve discovered, to my dismay, that there are certain seats in my house that are worse for my back than others, and chief among the offenders is my desk chair, or maybe my desk more broadly, since I’ve tried multiple arrangements and chairs there. Among other things, I’ve learned that when I focus to write, I have the bad habit of wrapping my ankle around a table leg, or wedging my left arm a certain way, and when I do that for more than about 15 minutes, I pay the price in the form of hours, if not days, of subsequent pain. And woe betide me if I find myself in a position where I have no choice but to push through and do desk work despite that pain. I spent most of RSA using a cane to recover from the time I had to spend putting the online program together.…

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RhetBit: a summer mecology project

It’s always a challenge for me to shift gears once the summer starts. After a full year of just-in-time work meeting others’ deadlines (and a few of my own, to be fair), the summer often happens upon me like an infinite horizon of possible projects, the opportunity to put a dent in the “to read” shelves of my bookcases, to write intransitively, and so on. It is the worst thing to hit August 1st only to realize that none of those wonderful plans have been realized.

For years, I’ve used the metaphor of exercise to communicate to my students the importance of steady, regular writing as a key to successful dissertating. The fact of the matter is that no one can just sit down and write a book, any more than one can lose a substantial amount of weight in a single burst of physical activity. It’s a long process that involves much more localized motivation and a certain amount of faith that daily activity will ultimately allow a body to reach its goals. And it’s something that improves with practice and investment.

However, when it comes to my own work during the summer months, too often I’ve been prone to waiting “until the mood hits.” So this year, I’m going to try something a little different. I toyed with Tumblr in my grad class last semester, and while my activity there had faded by mid-semester, I liked the interface well enough to think about adding it to my toolbox. …

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The Strength of Weak Media

There are a couple of different conversations that serve as context for this post, but rather than hail people directly, I’ll just note that it’s that time of the year (for us at Syracuse, anyway) when we encourage our dissertators to start thinking about the job market. Part of what we do in our graduate program is to set up gradual deadlines over the summer for them to share their dossier materials with each other and with faculty, so that when the deadlines start rolling in, they’re ready to go.

I’ve noticed in recent years, off and on, what has been kind of a surprising decline in the number of folks who maintain some sort of professional home page, whether a set of static pages or embedded within WordPress (or some other CMS). This isn’t to say that they’re not active online; for rhetoric and composition, at least, activity on social media has been steadily growing, I think. But as more and more of us embrace Facebook, Twitter, and the like, one of the casualties has been the individually-maintained homepage, and that’s to say nothing of blogging, which has been supplanted by its various micro- cousins. I want to make the case, though, both for my own students here and for others across the discipline, that this is a mistake. You might not necessarily know it to look at my own page (which has been in-process for an embarrassingly long time), but I think that a periodically maintained homepage may …

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A Book of Stars #tbt

It’s been a while. My spare time has been consumed with preparing for the 2014 Rhetoric Society of America Conference (that link will take you to the online program for the conference, which did no small amount of the consuming), which happened last week. As a consequence, I haven’t had a great deal of time to spend here.

Anyhow, one of the things that I talked about with friends at the conference was the idea of recovering orphan works–unpublished essays and/or conference papers that never saw the light of publication for one reason or another. One of my own orphan works is an essay called “A Book of Stars: Slicing, Scaling, and Data Mining Our Discipline,” which I wrote (as far as I can recall) sometime not long after I taught my first course in Network Rhetorics in 2005. Interestingly enough, you can see some of the same concerns (meta/data, scale, synecdoche) that are currently swirling in my brain as I work on my second book.

I submitted the essay originally to College Composition and Communication, where it received a “revise and resubmit,” which I declined to follow up on. In part, this was because the suggestions took the essay to a place that I was ambivalent about. Part of it too, I think, was that I was experimenting with what I think of Malcolm Gladwell’s style–the progressive layering in of sources over the course of a chapter/book–an approach that I would have had to rethink quite a bit in …

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Textexture (#THATCampCNY)

I suppose that it might surprise a few people to learn that, before this weekend, I’d never attended a THATCamp. Surprise! It’s true. I blame this strange omission on several factors, including but not limited to proximity, awareness, and that special brand of conferential social anxiety that I bring to the table. Unconferences always sound great to me in theory, but then I realize that they’re basically designed to put participants in social situations that are my least comfortable. Ah well. I like to think I did okay this time around.

Anyhow, one of the things that these sorts of gatherings inevitably accomplish for me is to tip me onto tools that I hadn’t been aware of before. I left our Camp dead set on trying to incorporate Zotero more mindfully into my workflow this summer, and I saw a couple of other interesting tools that I may try in upcoming weeks. Chief among these is Textexture, which allows you to paste in a text to be visualized as a network (and exported as a GEXF file.

It’s pretty cool. Here’s my chapter from Dobrin’s collection on Ecology, Writing Theory, and New Media:

Network Visualization of "Discipline and Publish"

 

As you can see, the site also gives you a couple of topic clusters, which accounts for the different colors (toggling the filters restricts the diagram to that/those cluster(s)) Each of the nodes in the network can be rolled over to reveal the term and its closest friends in the text. It’s not a …

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The Work of Conferences in an Age of Social Media #4c14

This week is our flagship national convention, the Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC). After having attended CCCC for many, many years in a row, I find myself once more forgoing the experience. This year, I’m spending my travel money on a couple of summer conferences (RSA and KBS), and between those and my upcoming talks at LSU and Wisconsin, that’s more than enough public speaking for me for the year.

But as rhetopians and complandians across the nation converge on Indianapolis this week, one of the things that I chatted a bit about in class last night was the role that the flagship conference plays in our field these days. I’ve thought a little about this in various places, but as the field of Rhetoric and Composition has grown (and shifted towards what I think of now as Writing Studies), one thing that hasn’t changed a whole lot is CCCC. I might even project that comment beyond the discipline to suggest that the idea of the flagship conference hasn’t changed a whole lot, but I can’t really say whether that’s correct. For the moment, I thought I’d explain a little of what I mean by this.

I’m sure that, with a little extra nuance, we could subdivide these further, but in my mind, there are at least three network models that correspond to changes in the field, with implications for how we think of the flagship conference:

centralized, decentralized, distributed

3 network models of disciplinarity

Wave 1: In the early days …

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