Johnson-Eilola & Selber, “Plagiarism, Originality, Assemblage”

Johnson-Eilola, Johnson, and Stuart Selber. “Plagiarism, Originality, Assemblage”Computers and Composition 24.4 (2007): 375-403. (29 pages)

Johnson-Eilola and Selber challenge what they see as an originality-plagiarism binary in writing studies by placing a third term, assemblage, into conversation to these other two concepts. The authors suggest that while the field has lone decried the lone author approach to writing (a mark of the post-process paradigm), composition’s embrace of plagiarism still lends itself to such models of writing. In this way, there appears to be a kind of hierarchy that places the student’s “original work” more valued than the use of others work. However, in the framework of assemblage, “the assemblages do not distinguish primarily between which parts are supposed to be original and which have been found and gathered form someplace else; assemblages are interested in what works, what has social effects” (380). The focus of assemblage, then, is not so much on performance—tied to display and originality—and moreso on action or effect in context. In their distill definition of assemblage, they allude to this effect: “assemblages are texts built primarily and explicitly from existing texts in order to solve a writing or communication problem in a new context” (381). Further, the authors also align the assemblage framework with productive participation within discourse communities, drawing on pre-exisiting cultural products in order to speak to, reflect, and re-invent shared values and working within discourse conventions (381).

Often in discussing the value of assemblage, Johnson-Eilola and Selber discuss instructor assessment of these texts. As they write, “an assemblage can only be assessed in context.” They continue, “Comparing an ‘original’ text to its ‘remixed’ counterpart is less important than understanding how the remixed artifact was redesigned for the new context or how the redesigned artifact is performing in that context” (387). Again, the assemblage should be assessed based on its function within new context. The authors also warn against reinforcing hierarchical structures to understand a text. Specifically, they note that traditional classroom contexts will place more value and attention on the textual content of an artifact rather than the visual elements and how they are arranged and assembled to create meaning in new contexts. However, as they note, often those items perceived as original (images, personal narrative, and summaries) are still pre-existing elements that still remain part of an assemblage.

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