Buck, “Examining Digital Literacy Practices on Social Network Sites”

Buck offers a close observation of everyday literate practices of one undergraduate student who navigates across several social networked sites to represent himself and his identity in the process of mediating his literate life. As Buck writes, “social network sites are intricately woven into the tapestry of his daily literacy practices; they play a large role in how he interacts with others in his personal and professional life as well as how he presents himself to difference audiences. For students like Ronnie, everyday literate activity takes place in networked digital environments, which shape their literacy practices and their online and offline lives” (9-10). Per Selfe & Hawisher (2004), living a “literate life in the information age” increasingly means “learning to navigate these spaces, managing one’s identity and online data, and considering complex issues of privacy and representation” (10). In outlining her observations, she keys in on two aspects of his literate practices: (a) his identity representations on social network sites; and (b) his interactions with site interfaces (see pg 13).

Some of her key observations, relevant for my diss include:

  • Many of Ronnie’s decisions and rhetorical choices in writing where motivated by how he was representing himself in these sites. In this sense, his identity is closely tied to the networks of connections on a given social media site. Per Marwick and boyd (2011), “one’s personal network of connections collaborates in his identity construction, in interacting with others and responding to the intersts of one’s followers” (Buck 14). Hence, Buck notes that scholarship on identity often focuses on “how users build and maintain audience communities” (15).
  • Ronnie imagines an audience in each of his social networking sites which motivates the degree and kind of writing he elects to share. He reflects, “I use selective tweets on Facebook, so only particular tweets will make it over, pretty much ust ones that I know will get a reaction from people who are never using Twitter, because otherwise its just kind of a stream of consciousness. I don’t want to bother people’s news feeds” (17). He also reflects a similar process for photography: he’ll share just about anything on FB, but makes a selection for Flickr. As Buck writes, “Ronnie envisioned different audiences with different concerns and interests on both Facebook and Twitter and constructed his identity on both sites with audiences n mind” (18). The question then is how he constructed these imagined communities/audiences?
  • Ronnie also creates various ‘alter egos’ in order to both connect with a different kind of audience while also going under the radar of other networks on the other sites (though he doesn’t say that this is the reason). As Buck reflects, “he represented a specific part of his identity for a specific audience” so he can tailor the kind of writing he shares (e.g. music for his musical alter ego) rather than personal life. Connected to curation.
  • Ronnie is accurately aware of/attuned to the different ways he can disperse information & writing about himself and how it would be used by others, and he wants to control this process. While he generally didn’t have concerns about sharing his information online and publicly visible, he was concerned about ‘who’ owned his information and what they did with it (see page 31). For instance, Ronnie is concerned with the ‘mean world’ of the Internet that seeks to use his invisible digital identity against him. Buck argues that part of managing one’s identity online, such as in the case of Ronnie, involves the user to adjust, adapt, and resist the scripts and expectations of use that accompany technologies and enable/constrain certain actions. As Buck writes “users can align with these scripts or resist them, adjusting these technologies for their own usage through an ‘antiprogram,’ a user’s program that is at odds with the designer’s program” (32; see: Akrich & Latour 1992; Jonhso-Eilola 2005).

Key ideas/definitions:

  • Lankshear & Knobel (2008) define digital literacy as “a shorthand for the myriad social practices and conpcetions of engaging in meaning making mediated by texts that are produced, received, and distributed, exchanged, etc. via digital codification” (5).
  • boyd & Ellison (2007) define social network sites as “web-based services that allow individuals to (1) construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, (2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection; (3) view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system” (para 4).
  • Adpated from Bill Hart-Davidson (2007), Buck uses time-use diaries to “record the time of the event, the message and its purpose, and the technology through which the message was sent (mobile phone vs computer, for example)” (13).
  • Prior & Shipka (2003) define chronotopic laminations as “the dispersed and fluid chains of places, times, people, and artifacts that come to be tied together in trajectories of literate action, the ways multiple activity footings are simultaneously held and managed” (181). As Buck writes, “this kind of writing work is what makes up a literate life, occurring in multiple environments and across physical and digital spaces. Ronnie’s social media use demonstrates the ways in which many social network sites users integrate their social network activity into their daily lives” (22).

 

Beck, “The Invisible Digital Identity”

In the study of digital writing and rhetoric, the field has been centrally concerned with the visible digital identity, one that users can regulate in online spaces and platforms. However, Beck argues that ‘with each click of a web page, we also have an invisible digital identity constructed through third-arty elements and tracking technologies” (126). For Beck, identity in digital spaces is intimately tied to digital surveillance and tacking technologies. Identity is “constructed by computer algorithms and tracking technologies, and those data elements become a digital apparatus for digital social engineering and marketing of virtual bodies” (128). Beck outlines three defining characteristic of the invisible digital identity:

  1. It’s regulated: by controlling flow of information, web companies can regulate behavior on the internet.
  2. It’s made up of an ecology of objects, materials, and dimensions.
  3. It refracts the internet: one’s invisible digital identity, harvested from web browser and machines, creates unique and customized experiences for each user.

Beck notes, via Lierouw, that there are three stages of internet development: the relational Internet (“the interpersonal and personally customized character of online and mobile communication”); the enclosed Internet (“growing technological and legal restrictions on new media devices and systems”); and the ‘mean world’ Internet (“these sense of risk or exposure online that has been used to justify the expansion of increasingly invasive private and state surveillance/security regimes”) (Lierouw 617 qtd in Beck 128).

Dich, Community Enclaves and Public Imaginaries

In a digital ethnography of a community of Asian-Americans who regularly posted on the blogging site Xanga, Dich observes the way these users construct an Asian American identity through their public participation on this site. The significant finding of her research is that users of the particular blogring she observed, Asian Diaspora, were writing both to other ‘community of strangers’ within the blogring (referred to as insiders) and to an imagined public readership, one that includes outsiders such as mainstream media. A key concept for Dich is imaginary: both the community imaginary (i.e. the community of strangers) and the public imaginary. For Dich, imaginary describes “writer’s enmeshed relationship with their space and audiences: They perceive themselves in their overlapping spaces and they write to these overlapping audiences, which underscores how identities are never contained in one space and for one audience” (94). In other words, users often go between these imaginaries, creating content that speaks to the plural contexts, imaginaries, and publics.

Dich also notes that the particular community she observed, the blogring on Asian Diaspora, was a somewhat closed, insular community enclave within a wider Asian American community. For instance, one user discusses the community as one that is more free, without the surveillance or standards of rigid family and cultural values. Describing the community, he writes it is ‘a community where you can be yourself and where you will find people who will love you for it. A chance to escape the mask you cover over your face to get through everyday real life. A place to be free” (95). Dich reflects that ‘free’ in this sense refers to the users experiences with his family “continuously challeng[ing] his sense of belonging” (95). Likewise, another users recounts the feeling that “they were not good enough or did not belong to their own ethnic spaces where proficiency over one’s language marked one as authentic or not” (96). “Some participants felt that they may not be able to be both Asian and American in their ethnic enclave, which was why Chris was able to express his ‘freedom’ as part of Asian Diaspora” (96). Another user ‘unserscored Xanga’s ability to provide a space where Asian Americans are bale to ‘express themselves’ in ways they are unable to do so elsewhere” (96).

Key passage:

If language proficiency is a signifier of belonging for Chris and Alex’s offline enclave, Asian Diaspora does not impose such standards. Rather, writers are bringing a variety of languages into this site, what some may call Chinglish (a fusion of Chinese and English), other ethnic versions of Chinglish, Standard English, or a different languages altogether, such as Japanese or Vietnamese. Therefore, linguistic differences, rather than standards, mark this enclave and negate notions of belonging based on monocultural beliefs surrounding authentic identities as related to/regulated by language practices. In short, by nature of this enclave and as afforded by the technology that brings culturally and geographically disparate people together, members are less likely to marginalize or reject others based on a predetermined language use, thus, creating what may be a more inclusive space of writing and identity production. (96)

Dich also focuses attention on how the users are able to maintain the online enclave that they have, keeping the community free of outsiders. “Xanga’s interface allows users to maintain various levels of privacy and exposure. Users can choose to block individuals and create filters for friends, or remain completely private and annoynmous. As with most social media networking sites, this privacy function is important because it helps users create semi-insular enclave and connects users with similar interest and experiences, such as ethnic and raced experience” (96-7). It is often the case that white, fetishizing users try to impose themselves inside the community—they are deemed ‘outsiders’ and a process begins to try to block or push them out. To do so, insiders in the community go between different social media sites (such as Facebook) or other backchannels to more freely discuss such outsiders.

 

 

Pigg et al, “Ubiquitous Writing, Technologies, and the Social Practice of Literacies of Coordination”

Pigg et al developed a research project that is designed to respond to a set of descriptive questions: “what are today’s college student’s writing? What kinds of writing do they value? Such descriptive questions are useful for framing research that concretely (yet temporarily) grounds an understanding of writing’s everyday emerging forms and values during times when shifts in communication technologies can be felt strongly, such as the present moment” (92-3). More specifically, they offer three research questions that gauge their intersts in what college students were writing, why, and what they valued about their writing:

  1. What kinds of writing do students understand themselves to practice most frequently?
  2. What writing practices do students value and why?
  3. How do students understand their most frequent and valued writing practices to function within the broader contexts of their goals, roles, and interests?

Specifically, the authors consider the way that college student writing functions and is valued as coordination, “the role texts play in bringing people and organizations into alignment” (101). Drawing on the work of Ling and Yttri (2002), the authors describe two kinds of coordination that speak to the kinds of writing the students were employing and valuing: micro-coordination “emphasize the instrumental ways writing brings together individuals through the ongoing act of making arrangements (i.e., scheduling meetings) that are rearely set in stone and adjusted continually as allowed by the contact of mobile media” (Ling & Yttri 140 qtd in Pigg et al 102). Hyper-coordination “includes this instrumental work but enhances it, as keeping ongoing connections not only encourages planning discrete events but also grounds social group formation” (102-3). “The ongoing, expressive discursive exchange of texting created and reinforced social norms, including appropriate ways of communicating and presenting oneself within a peer group” (103).

Their method of exploring these coordination practices was outlined in three phases:

  1. Survey: “survey presented participants with a list of writing practices ranging from lists to research papers to texting to multimedia compositions” (96). Participants are asked to both rank the most frequent practices as well as the most valued. “for each type of writing either most frequent or valued, participants were asked to detail why, where, with whom, and with what technologies they typically write in order to account for contexts associated with these practices” (96)
  2. Diary: occurred in two tests:
    1. first, “prompted them to share what they were writing as specific times during each day. …we conceived the diary as a memory prompt that would provide participants with specific acts of writing on which to reflect during later interviews. In order to facilitate that process across several days of data collection, we developed a system that sent SMS text messages to students via their phones at programmed intervals (9 a.m., 12 noon, 3pm, 6pm, and 9pm daily during the collection period). These texts prompted participants to respond (also via SMS text message) by telling us what they were writing at the time that they received the text or immediately prior to receiving the text” (96).
    2. Second, “the final prompt of the day directed participants to an online diary form where they could look back over their responses for the day. In order to further stimulate memory, the diary form prompted participants to provide additional detailed information about three specific writing acts from that day that indicated information about local contexts in which the writing was conducted (i.e. audience, purpose, place, collaborators, technologies used).
  3. Interview: “explored questions of frequency and value tailored to each participant based on survey and diary results”

In their findings, the authors found that SMS text messaging was often more highly frequently used yet not as valued as projects or school notes. Turning to a set of case studies, it was often found that SMS text messaging was used to create contact among distant, distributed friends and family. Distance or mobility seems to be exigence for creating mundane, phatic communication via SMS. Two notable instances: Sarah texted her boyfriend throughout the day: “about what he’s doing and plans for when we’re gonna see each other” (104). She adds, “Since I don’t have a car I can’t just go and see people and friends from high school or anything. People that went all over the United States, I can’t just go and see them. So it’s easier to keep up with them over text messaging. I think that’s important to keep that connection for people that are far away from me, and keep those relationships” (104). Second, Alicia writes “since I’m in class so much and I’m at work so much, everyone texts me. They…my job [café name]…I don’t know how they learned to text from their phones, [laughs], but they text now” (107).

 

Research on writing as a spatially and temporally enduring presence across lifespheres:

Buck, A. (2012). Tracing literate activity on social network sites. Research in the Teaching of English, 47, 9-38

Roozen, K. (2009). “Fan-fic-ing” English studies: A case study exploring the interplay of vernacular literacies and disciplinary engagement. Research in the Teaching of English, 44(2), 136-169.

 

Research on ecological framework:

Barton, D. (1994). Literacy: An introduction to the ecology of written language. Oxford, UK: Blackwell.

Barton, D., & Hamilton, M. (1998). Local literacies: Reading and writing in one community. London, UK: Routledge.

 

Coordination:

Ling, R., & Yttri, B. (2002). Hyper-coordination via mobile phones in Norway. In J. Katz & M. Aakhus (Eds.), Perpetual contact: Mobile communication, private talk, public performance (pp. 139-169). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

 

Time use diaries:

Tomlinson, B. (1984). Talking about the composing process: The limitations of retrospective accounts. Written Communication, 1, 429-445.

Hart-Davidson, W. (2007). Studying the mediated action of composing with timeuse diaries. In H. McKee & D. N. DeVoss (Eds.), Digital writing research: Technologies, methodologies, and ethical issues (pp. 153-170). Cresskill, NJ:Hampton Press.

 

 

Dissertation Reading List

Everyday Writing

Almjed, Jen, “A Rhetorician’s Guide to Love: Online dating profiles as remediate dommonplace books” Computers and Composition, 32, (2014): 71-83.

Amicucci, Ann N. “Rhetorical Choices in Facebook Discourse: Constructing Voice and Persona” Computers and Composition. 44 (2017) 36-51.

Arola, Kristen & Anne Wysocki (Eds.), Composing (media) = Composing (embodiment). Utah State University Press, 2012.

Bacha, Jeffrey A. “The Physical Mundane as Topos: Walking/Dwelling/Using as Rhetorical Invention” CCC 68.2 (2016)

Barton, David, and Mary Hamilton. Local Literacies: Reading and Writing in One Community. Routledge, 2012.

Baym, Nancy K. Tune in, Log on: Soaps, fandom and online community. Sage Publications, 2000.

Beck, Estee, “The Invisible digital identity: Assemblages in digital networks” Computers & Composition. 35 (2015): 125-140.

boyd, dana It’s complicated: The social lives of networked teens. Yale University Press, 2014.

—–. & Ellison, Nicole B. “Social network sites: Definitions, history, and scholarship” Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. 13.1 Article 11. Link.

Buck, Amber, “Examining Digital Literacy Practices on Social Network Sites” RTE. 47.1 (2012): 9-28. Link

Comstock Michelle, “Grrrl Zine Networks: Re-Composing Spaces of Authority, Gender, and Culture” JAC 21.2 (2001): 383-409.

Dich, Linh, “Community Enclaves and Public Imaginaries: Formations of Asian American Online Identities” Computers and Composition. 40 (2016): 87-102.

Fraiberg, Steven, and Xiaowei Cui. “Weaving Relationship Webs: Tracing how IMing Practices Medaite the Trajectories of Chinese International Students” Computers and Composition 39 (2016): 83-103.

Gerrard, Lisa, “Beyond ‘Scribbling Women’: Women writing (on) the Web” Computers and Composition vol 19 no 3, 2002, 297-314.

Hayes, Tracey J. “#MyNYPD: Transforming Twitter into a Public place for Protest” Computers and Composition 43 (2017): 118-134).

Herring, Susan, Kirk Job-Slunder, Rebecca Scheckler, and Sasha Barab. “Searching for Safety Online: Managing ‘Trolling’ in Feminist Forum’ The Information Society. 18.5 (2002): 371-384. Link.

Jane, Emma Alice “’Back to the kitchen, cunt’: Speaking the unspeakable about online misogyny” Journal of Media and Cultural Studies. 28.4 (2014): 558-570.

—–., “’you’re a ugly, whorish, Slut’: Understanding e-bile” Feminist Media Studies 14.4 (2014): 531-546.

Kuebric, Ben, “’White Guys Who Send my Uncle to Prison’: Going Public within Asymmetrical power” CCC. 66.4 (2015).

Lamberton, L. Jill. “’A Revelation and a Delight’: 19th Century Cambridge Women, Academic Collaboration, and the Cultural Work of Extracurricular Writing” CCC. 65.4 (2014): 560-87.

LaPoe, Victoria L., Candi Carter Olson, and Stine Eckert. “‘Linkedin is My Office; Facebook My Living Room, Twitter the Neighborhood Bar’: Media Scholars’ Liminal Use of Social Media for Peer and Public Communication” Journal of Communication Inquiry, vol. 41, no. 3, 2017, pp. 185-206.

Lueck, Amy J. “’Classbook Sense’: Genre and Girls’ School Yearbooks in the Early-Twentieth Century American High School” College English 79.4 (2017)

Marwick, A & dana boyd. “I tweet honestly, I tweet passionately: Twitter users, context collapse, and the imagined audience” New Media & Society, 13 (2011): 96-113.

Pavia, Catherine Matthews. “Literacy Sponsorship of the ‘My Online Friends’ Discussion Board: Competting and Complementary Relationships” Computers and Composition. 30.2 (2013): 132-145.

Pigg, Stacey. “Coordinating Constant Invention: Social Media’s Role in Distributed Work.” Technical Communication Quarterly 23.2 (2014): 69-87. Received 2015 Nell Ann Pickett Award for best article in TCQ.

Pigg, Stacey, Jeffrey T. Grabill, Beth Brunk-Chavez, Jessie L. Moore, Paula Rosinski, and Paul G. Curran. “Ubiquitous Writing, Technologies, and the Social Practice of Literacies of Coordination.” Written Communication 31.1 (2014): 91-117.

Grabill, Jeffrey T., and Stacey Pigg. “Messy Rhetoric: Identity Performance as Rhetorical Agency in Online Public Forums.” Rhetoric Society Quarterly 42.2 (2012): 99-119.

Reid, Jean. “We don’t Twitter, we Facebook’: An alternative pedagogical space that enables critical rpactices in relation to writing” English Teaching: Practices and Critique. 10.1. (2011): 58-80.

Rivers, Nathaniel A., and Ryan P. Weber. “Ecological, Pedagogical, Public Rhetoric.” College Composition and Communication 63.2 (2011): 187-218. JSTOR. Web. 16 Feb. 2015.

Selfe, Cynthai L. and Gai E Hawisher, Literate lives in the information age: Narratives of Literact form the united states. Lawrence Erlbaum, 2004.

Stedman, Kyle D. “Remix Literacy and Fan Composition” Computers and Compostiion. 29.2 (2012): 107-123.

Sohan, Vanessa Kraemer. “’But a quilt is more’: Recontextualzing the Discousre(s) of the Gee’s Bend Quilts” College English 77.4. (2015).

Soliday, Mary, “From the Margins to the Mainstream: Reconceiving Remediation” CCC 47.1 (1996): 85-100.

Takayoshi, Pamela, “Short-form writing: Studying process in the context of contemporary composing technologies” Computers and Composition. 37 (2015): 1-13.

Tarsa, Rebecca, “Emerging Voices: Upvoting the Exordium: Literacy Practices of the Digital Interface” College English. 78.1 (2015).

Wuebben, Daniel. “Getting Likes, Going Viral, and the Intersections between Popularity metrics and Digital Composing” Computers and Composition. (2016): 66-79.

Assessment Response

Callahan, Susan, “Responding to the invisible student” Assessing Writing, vol. 7, no. 1, 2000, pp. 57-77.

Connors, Robert J. and Andrea A. Lunsford. “Teachers’ Rhetorical Comments on Student Papers” College Composition and Communication, vol. 44, no. 2, 1993, pp. 200-23.

Ferris, Dana F. “Responding to student writing: teacher’s philosophies and practices” Assessing Writing, vol. 19, 2014, pp. 6-23.

Hester, Vicki, “Responding to Student Writing: Locating our Theory/Practice Among Communities” Conference on College Composition and Communication, Denver, CO, March 14-17, 2001. http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED451539.pdf.

O’Neill, Peggy and Jane Mathison Fife. Listening to Students: Contextualizing Response to Student Writing” Composition Studies, vol. 27, no 2, 1999, pp 39-51.

O’Neill, Peggy, “From the writing process to the responding sequence: Incorporating self-assessment and reflection in the classroom” Teaching English in the Two Year College, vol. 26, no. 1, 1998, pp. 61-

Phelps, Louise Wetherbee, “Surprised by Response: Student, Teacher, Editor, Reviewer” JAC, vol. 18, no. 2, 1998, p. 247-273.

Sommers, Jeff. “Response Rethought…Again: Exploring Recorded Comments and the Teacher-Student Bond” The Journal of Writing Assessment, vol. 5, no. 1, 2012. http://journalofwritingassessment.org/article.php?article=59.

Sommers, Nancy, “Across the Drafts” College Composition and Communication, vol. 58, no. 2, 2006, pp. 248-257.

—–. “Responding to Student Writing” College Composition and Communication, vol. 33, no. 2, 1982, p. 148-56.

Straub, Richard, and Ronald F. Lunsford. Twelve Readers Reading: Responding to College Student Writing. Hampton Press, 1995.

Straub, Richard, “Teacher response as conversation: More than casual talk, an exploration” Rhetoric Review, vol. 14, no. 2, 1996, pp. 374-399.

—–. “Students’ Reactions to Teacher Comments: An exploratory Study” Research in the Teaching of English, vol. 31, no. 1, 1997, pp. 91-119.

—–. “The student, the text, and the classroom context: A case study of teacher response” Assessing Writing, vol. 7, no. 1, 2000, pp. 23-55.

Wiltse, Eric M, “Correlates of College Students’ Use of Instructors’ Comments” Journalism & Mass Communication Educator, vol. 57, no. 2, 2002, pp. 126-

Writing Assessment, Misc

Hamp-Lyons, Liz. “Writing Assessment: Shifting issues, New Tools, Enduring questions” Assessing Writing. vol 16, no 1, 2011, pp 3-5.

Hanson, Allan F. Testing Testing: Social Consequences of the Examined Life. University of California Press, 1994.

Huot, Brian. “The Need for a Theory of Writing Assessment” Composition in the Twenty-First Century: Crisis and Change, eds Lynn Z Bloom, Donald A Daiker, and Edward M. White. Southern Illinois UP, 1996, pp. 112-117

Liang, Mei-Ya. “Rethinking Authenticity: Voice and Feedback in Media Discourse” Computers and Composition. 30.3 (2013): 157-179.

Poe, Mya, Norbert Elliot, John Aloysius Cogan Jr. and Tito G. Nurudeen Jr. “The Legal and the Local: Using Disparate Impact Anaylsis to Understand Consequences of Writing Assesment” CCC 65.5 (2014)

 

Writing Theory

Dobrin, Sidney I. Postcomposition. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 2011. Print.

Papacharissi, Zizi, Affective publics: Sentiment, technology, and politics, NYU University press, 2014.

Poe, Mya Asao B. Inoue. Special Issue of College English. “Toward Writing Assessment as Social Justice” 79.2. 2016

Prior, Paul, and Jody Shipka. “Chronotopic Lamination: Tracing the Contours of Literate Activity.” Writing Selves, Writing Societies: Research from Activity Perspectives. Ed. Charles Bazerman and David R. Russell. Fort Collins, CO: WAC Clearinghouse, 2003. N. pag. Print. Perspectives on Writing.

Roozen, Kevin. “From Journals to Journalism: Tracing Trajectories of Literate Development.” College Composition and Communication 60.3 (2009): 541-72. JSTOR. Web. 16 Feb. 2015.

Roozen, Kevin. “Tracing Trajectories of Practice: Repurposing in One Student’s Developing Disciplinary Writing Processes.” Written Communication 27.3 (2010): 318-54. Print.

Rice, Jenny, “Para-Expertise, Tacit Knowledge, and Writing Problems” College English 78.2 (2015).

Sirc, Geoffrey. English Composition as a Happening. Logan: Utah State UP, 2002.

Curation

Kennedy, Krista. “Textual Curation” Computers and Composition 40 (2016): 175-189.

 

Network

Castells, Manuel The Rise of the Network Society. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1996.

Taylor, Charles. Modern Social Imaginaries. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003.

Jones, John, “Programming in network Exchanges” computers and composition. 34 (2014): 23-38

 

Inoue & Poe, Race and Writing Assessment

Poe, Mya, and Asao Inoue. “Introduction.” Race and Writing Assessment. NY: Peter Lang, 2012. 1-14. (14 pages)

Inoue and Poe’s book considers the ways in which issues of race and racial identity manifest in classroom and large-scale writing assessments. To being, they offer a series of baseline definitions that help outline the scope of their discussion.

Beginning with assessment, t occurs “whenever one person seeks and interprets information about another person” (Ruth and Murphy, qtd in Inoue & Poe 3). Writing assessment, in particular, looks to obtain information about a student’s abilities in writing. However, they specifically look to assessment technology to refer to the system, environment and agents that comprise an assessment. Conceiving assessment as technology “allows us to always acknowledge explicitlty the shaping effects that various racial, socioeconomic, gender, and other sociocultural and sociopolitical formations have on any writing assessment” (4).

Race “is a social and political construction that has created and sustained human hierarchies and domination, ones we have not fully escaped, and that often inherently provide (or withhold) valued” (4). Culture refers to which refers to the common practices and “the way practicing groups talk about their practices” (4). Culture is something that is constructed from within a group while race is “socially constructed by external institutions, agents, and groups” (4). Seeing race and culture as interchangeable reduces race to relativism and ignores the “racialized, social, historical, and institutional structures that construct the lived experience of all students, teachers, and stakeholders” (4).

Ethnicity is a bit looser of a concept. Where some have described ethnicity as rooted in a stable features of one’s identity, i.e. common decent based in heredity, others see ethnicity as socially performed process that is constantly in flux (allowing some to identify with different ethnicities based on marriage or preference). As the authors point out, there may be two issues in using ethnicity as a guiding term to discuss writing assessment: “using the term ‘ethnicity’ tends to place everyone…on the same footing “ (5). Each group has different relations to power, different distances to the prestige. Also, ethnic terms change over time.

Given these issues with focusing on differences in culture and ethnicity, they see the focus on race as more primosing and illuminating a framework; however, they concede that focusing on race will also have their own issues: oftentimes, references to race can be ahistirocal and essentialists. They suggest, rather, we consider looking to racial formation: “the sociohistorical process by which racial categories are created, inhibited, transformed, and destroyed” (6). As they write, racial formations speaks to the historical precedents of racial formations and “acknowledges the social construction, the formation, of race by forces in history, local society, schools, and projects—such as writing programs” (6). As such, it doesn’t essentialise.

Racism, in the context of racial formations, thus, concerns itself with the unequal or unfair outcomes that structure our assessment technologies “and the interpretations that we make form their outcomes” (6). IN other words, the question is centered on the systems and technologies in place that form and construct race. For instance, writing assessments’ construct of writing ability often reflects or is associated with dispositions that are historically linked to whiteness.

Milne, Letters, Postcards, Emails

Milne, Esther. Letters, Postcards, E-mail: Technologies of Presence.

Introduction

In Milne’s introduction, she outlines that her book explores the ways that communication technologies—the letter, postcard, and e-mail technologies—facilitate often intimate relations with people despite the writers’ physical separation. She takes as her central concepts the idea of presence and how these technologies often facilitate different kinds of presence. She specifically looks to the ways in which such presence is both intimate and disembodied.

            In terms of disembodiment, she notes how writers are often not present in body, and yet the body still plays a particular role in these communications: “In the course of communication by letters, postcard, and email, readers construct an imaginary, corporeal body for their correspondents (drawing on and in part reworking their interlocutor’s self representation). At times, subjects believe the body imagined in these exchanges is more real, more expressive of the writer’s emotions and soul, and this belief may be threatened by the actual body encountered in face-to-face communication” (2). This imagined presence through the means of communication technologies is the focus of her book: “Presence is a term that need not refer always to material, corporeal presence. Rather, presence is an effect achieved in communication (whether by letters, postcards, email, for example) when interlocutors imagine psychological or, sometimes, physical presence of the other” (2). As she writes presence necessarily depends upon “the complex interaction between cultural practices and technological infrastructure” (2).

To make this concept more legible, she begins with a discussion of how some communication technologies have been understood under framework of time-space compression; however, she notes that it is not yet clear the role that old technologies like the postal service play in the time-space compression in facilitating networks of intimacy and connection at distance. It has typically been the case that new technologies are seen to have altered our experience of time and space “and unsettled the boundaries separating person, communities, and nation” (4); however, looking to old media/technology, she makes the claim that such networks also facilitate a kind of virtual or cyberspace. If the basis of cyberspace “lies in the form of communication technology where the body is absent” then some common understandings of epistolary culture fit in here.

For letter writing, this kind of cyberspace or imaginary/virtual presence is a fundamental features of letter writing. Writers often both perform the self through letters while their performance is also constantly interpreted: this facilitates the invention of an image of one another “without the need for the visible presence of the other, and then react joyfully to their own creations” (9). Of course, this mode of presence involves disembodiment which, comes in two flavors: disembodiment referring to the desire to relieve oneself of the body and disembodiment in terms of eclipsing the material technologies of communication. Toward this latter point, we can note Richard Lanham’s concept of looking through where the goal of such writing is to offer a direct link between writers, aligned with the time-space compression framework.

“Letter writers may refer to heir physical bodies and contexts in order to convey a sense of presence, relevance and aliveness to their interlocutor. But nevertheless, selective ‘quotation’ of this ‘body’ can sometimes provide the foundation for an implied or imagined ideal body that eclipse the real, corporeal body of the writer” (15).

Turning to intimacy, Milne writes that “intimacy is perhaps always ‘virtual’” (16): or, in other words, if we think of the virtual as a kind of discourse involving both performances and interpretations, then intimacy functions likewise: intimacy is developed through an interface of discourse.

 

Chapter 4: “The self-conscious air of the reproduced”: Postcard History

As with the theme of the book, Milne considers the ways that postcards function as a technology of presence, despite arguments that see the standardization of postcard media eradicates presence, individuality, and intimacy. In fact, as she argues, the standardization of postcards opened the practice up to a wider ordinary writer while also providing both individuality and intimacy in a new forms.

She begins by looking at the precursors the postcard, much in the same vein as Bazerman’s discussion of the letter as ur-genre. She starts with the common practice in the 18th century of sending playing cards in order to call upon others to visit or to call. By the mid-18th century, we begin to see cards manufactured for the purpose of “notifying those with whom on wished to make contact” (94). These cards, as Milne writes, were often collected and displayed: these were publicly displayed in order for visitors to see with whom the family kept among their social circle and made suitable impressions (see: Hall). Calling cards, thus, were part of a highly sophisticated and complex system that helped families and individuals mediate their social relations “according to the varying degrees of intimacy that were desired” (96). As such, we can point back to Milne’s argument that intimacy is always virtual in that it is always mediated by a discursive system involving materials, etiquette, language, and agents (including servants who delivered the calling cards).

But the cards’ function to represent the individuals who had sent the message becomes a common feature between calling cards and postcards—which is why its included as a precursor. But Milne points also to the carte-de-visite which was a postcard with a portrait which emphasized further the way that these cards performed identity: “the carte-de-visite photography was promote for its ability to ‘capture likeness rapidly and cheaply, for purposes as identification and documentation’” (100). Milne doesn’t mention this, but there also seems to be a direct link between this practice of portraiture and using selfies. But the carte-de-visite’s visuality offered a means of promoting intimacy between distant ancestors: future generations would be able to keep these portraits present, collapsing time and bringing history to the present.

One of the key anxieties about postcards, however, was its public face. Some noted during this period that the letter—with its enveloped messages—was a more private venue and thus should be reserved for intimacy and love; however, as the practice of the postcard indicate, postcards were used for intimate, personal message despite its publicity. This seeming disjunction between the public-ness of the format and the privacy of the message prompts Milne to argue that “privacy is performed rather than existing as a real empirical substance” (108). She continues, “like ‘intimacy’ or ‘empathy’ it exists at the level of emotion and expression and is ac complex cultural linguistic, philosophical performance. This, of course, runs counter to commonly held view that privacy is an objectively verifiable state of affairs and is socially, legally and technologically instantiated” (109).

In her concluding remarks for this chapter, she notes that the uniform design—standardization—of picture postcards was a key element to why it succeeded as an epistolary form: it’s standardization increased the desire to write since users are able to use the picture—and its selection—as content of the letter. And more, the postcard’s attachment to location allowed users to draw out and articulate a connection to themselves and the image (and the landscape) by writing/articulating these connections in the content of the notes. Thus, Milne argues that the postcard may have, in fact, increased the writer’s presence in their environment while also with their intimate relations with others

Chapter 5: “A photo of the ship that I am on”: Signifiers of Presence, Intimacy and Privacy in Postcard Correspondence

Continuing from the arguments she closes with in the previous chapter, she notes that the postcard—while compromising the traditional privacy of epistolary communication—did indeed facilitated intimacy, immediacy, and presence, despite arguments to the contrary. In fact, as she notes, those who warned against the epistolary privacy of the postcard often overlooked the ways that other epistolary communication were often made public. For instance, there was a possibility that government officials could open envelopes and read your material or that your recipient would circulate your note to unintended recipients. As such, “privacy is a historically contingent and culturally determined term” (118).

She also returns to the idea that the growing popularity of the postcard with the ordinary and everyday writer was that the note’s rigid constraints made writing a note more accessible for writers with little education (which also contributed to why the postcard was frowned upon by the educated class). But also noteworthy was the way that the postcard practice was not as time-consuming. A traveller can “merely buy a picture postcard at each station, scribble on it a few words in pencil, and post it. This enhances the pleasure of travel” (120). As Milne writes, the selection from “the sheer volume of images available” is an act of writing, itself and, a such, provides an opportunity for individual expression. This idea becomes further emphasized in the “Quick Fire” postcard where a writer ticks off selections on a pre-written note. The process of selection provides some degree of individuality, but, as Milne writes, particularly during wartime, “the material fact of communication itself [is what] established a sense of presence and individuality” (121) since it often noted when a man was still alive. Postcards, thus, were a literally sign of life.

However, Milne notes that the acontextual use of these “Quick Fire” cards was frowned upon: one must consider the context when deciding on what kind of message to send.

Finally, Milne notes that postcards provide an opportunity to scrutinize the claim that the material conditions of media—the technologies of inscription and transmission—“will effect patterns of communication and social relations within a specific culture and historical period” (123). “Technologies of communication are not transparent or neutral conduits for ‘content’ but actively shape the form, semantics and ideology of that content…Changes in the configuration or wrapping of language alters the way the subject processes signs into meaning” (123).