Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Affordances of New Media for Social Change: A Critical Look at the Role of New Media in the Revolutions of Tunisia and Egypt

I will begin with the spark that set the Middle East alight. Mohamed Bouazizi was a man who lived in Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia. His crime was that he sold groceries without a permit in order to support both himself and his family. But when his produce and scales were confiscated by local police officers, he decided that he could no longer stand the injustice of his circumstance. In an act of desperation, he became the symbol of a revolution, some would say a martyr, who set himself on fire to protest his mistreatment by the Tunisian government. His last words echo on Facebook:

“I will be traveling my mom, forgive me, Reproach is not helpful, i am lost in my way it is not in my hand, forgive me if disobeyed words of my mom, blame our times and do not blame me, i am going and not coming back, look i did not cry and tears did not fall from my eyes, Reproach is not helpful in time of Treachery in the land of people, i am sick and not in my mind all what happened, i am traveling and i am asking who leads the travel to forget.” (arabcrunch.com)

Image provided by arabcrunch.com
Bouazizi's sacrifice is credited with starting the Tunisian revolution. The image to the left, which is difficult to verify, was allegedly taken with a mobile phone and sent across Facebook. His sacrifice triggered a string of events that has changed two nations with perhaps more to follow. Not far away in Egypt, Mr Abdel-Monaim also sets himself on fire in an apparent effort to raise awareness about injustice in Egypt, much as Bouazizi had in Tunisia. Though he was likely a contributing factor, others claim that it was the mysterious death of Khaled Said that created the climate for the Egyptian protests. His death was likely caused by Egyptian police officers wishing to silence his political dissonance.

The Middle East is changing—Tunisia and Egypt in particular. And it is exciting. The world bore witness to two movements of relatively non-violent resistance and each were successful in ousting leaders who had held power for decades. News media has largely credited the success of these movements to new media: an “internet revolution” or, as Egyptian revolution leader and Google CEO Wael Ghonim would call it, “revolution 2.0.” But others are not so convinced, and this is where I feel rhetoric and composition can play a key role. We know that that invention of new technology is correlated with social change (Manovich 41). Composition studies is looking at the affordances of new media and we are asking questions about what new media can do, who has access, and how we can incorporate new media in the classroom with student agency in mind. I agree with Anne Wyosocki when she says that we need to help our students compose for the future, instead of becoming uncritical consumers of technology (Wysocki 1-23). I feel that in order to really test these ideas, we must look at how they are used in the physical world. Thus I ask the question, what can the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt teach us about the affordances of new media?

First, I wanted to ascertain how social movements are able to organize in general and evaluate how these revolutions could have came to be. For this I turn to communication studies. According to Maheo, Vissers, Stolle and Hooghe, researchers often apply the civic voluntarism model when identifying successful social movements. This model is useful because it categorizes qualitatively measured factors that foster and maintain success for social movements (Maheo 407). This concept was first defined in Klandeermans and Oegama’s article “Potentials, Networks, Motivations, and Barriers” and I will focus on two aspects of this model: mobilization potential and recruitment networks.

Reservoir in Minnesota from MPRNews.org
First is Mobilization potential, which identifies that for a social movement to be successful, it must first have a group of people with common identity and common goals. Klandermans and Oegama liken this concept to a reservoir, stating that social movements assess a kind of resource pool that they can draw from. This pool is described by Klandermans and Oegama as “people united in the view that certain states or affairs are unacceptable and that they can be changed
with collective action that will also be effective in enforcing these changes (Klandermans and Oegama 519). Simply put, social movements must be able to identify people within a contentious zeitgeist, and offer real solutions to maintain support.

1960 Flier from JFK's Campaign
Second is “recruitment networks and mobilization attempts,” this aspect of the civic voluntarism model is largely dependent on mobilization potential, but focuses specifically on how people both are recruited and retained within the movement. As of when the model was first posed in 1987 recruitment could be achieved through mass media, mailing of print media such as campaign fliers, and by networking through friendships or partnerships. In addition there is a cascade effect, where the movements ability to overcome obstacles is proportional to how many people become involved in the movement through networking. (Klandermans and Oegema 520). The researchers prepared this schema by looking at social movements in America in 1986, which is before the majority of the Americans had public had access to the internet. There is must speculation that the internet works in much the same way. However, Maheo and her colleagues identified that there is disagreement within communication studies as to whether access to digital communication actually helps social movements (Maheo, Vissers, Stolle and Hooghe 406). In response to this, they analyzed empirically whether digital communication worked either as well or better than conventional forms of mobilization and recruitment. They admit that their sample was largely composed of young university students, and thus not representative of the larger population. But they did conclude that internet networking was at least as affective as conventional mobilization efforts such as print fliers like the one to the right from John F. Kennedy's presidential campaign (Maheo, Vissers, Stolle and Hooghe 424). These findings are interesting because it casts doubt on those who claim that internet possesses some inherent properties that discourage people from being socially engaged. However, it does not help those who claim that the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt are “internet revolutions,” since the internet may not be any more effective than traditional forms of mobilization. However, I think that the schemes and understandings within our own discipline of composition studies may help us to better understand this popular perception.

In rhetoric and composition studies we look at new media in terms of the affordances of different modalities. That is to say that when we use a blog or a wiki, or when we compose with sound or with image or text, we are asking questions about what these different medias and modalities allow students to do (Ed. Selfe). Under the guidance of Dr. Rouzie at Ohio University, my colleagues and I are exploring how we can create a sustainable pedagogy that integrates technology in the composition classes we teach. We do this not only so that we can understand the rhetorical power of multiple modes of composition, but also because this process helps students to better understand written language (Takyoshi and Selfe 7-9), a necessary skill for achieving a voice within the academy. So why am I looking at the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt? And what does this have to do with teaching composition? I think it comes down to the affordances of new media. When we look at affordances, not only are we looking at what new media can do, but we want to collectively and critically engage this power with our students. I hope to show you that new media did play a role in these revolutions, and that composition played a role as well.

Twitpic shared amongst Tunisian protesters
Let me better define the kinds of new media I am looking at—the first being the social networking sites Facebook and Twitter. Facebook allows people to create profiles where they construct an identity based on their interests and their history. People can tell you what languages they speak, where they live, where they were born, or where they work and/or study. People can hare their nationality, gender identification (though selections are limited), or whether they are gay or straight or any variation in between. They can also share daily thoughts about their lives and join causes and organizations where they network with people who share their views or identities. I thought of counting all of the groups that can be found on Facebook, just to understand the magnitude of this force, but after careful consideration I decided I would leave that work to a more patient scholar. Perhaps more importantly to us, however, is that people can communicate and compose with these new media sites. They share photos and videos, often with alphabetically expressed thoughts on their relevance. We can know nearly instantly about each others problems in our politics and often with people freely discussing its impacts (though I have reason to question how many people in this country actually do--but the prospect is there). Twitter is similar, with a profile and up-to-the-minute statements combined with hypertext links to various media forms, people can express and share their interests. With Twitter people can also post images and video with "Twitpic." But unlike Facebook, the amount of text you can post is limited to 140 characters of texts and/or links, limiting how much can be communicated in a single post. I should note that only limited composition happens in the realm of these sites and that Facebook and Twitter seem better apt to share composition than to create it, but composition is happening every time a picture or video is combined with the text of the participant. It is a social world and writing is an inherently social act (Pandely 78), thus these social networking cites help people to compose for the purpose of communicating both their values and identities to each other.

Picture taken from an Egyptian Facebook page
The second is news media; these are the digital arms of conventional news sources. Much of what can be found in print can be found online, and with the advent of “Google Reader” and other such RSS feeds, we can be connected to numerous avenues of information at once. Many news organizations have also started blogs where text and image are combined to frame issues and raise awareness about the public sphere. These blogs can be updated quickly, providing the public near instant coverage of circumstances as they develop. Much like the picture you see to the left, these different types of new media seemed to be working hand in hand. The common thread between these two types of new media is that both are able to network people together and spread information, and often with rhetorical considerations in mind.

But they are also fast. New media has tremendous velocity when spreading information. Jim Ridolfo and Dànielle Nicole DeVoss capture this idea in their article “Compositon for Recomposition”: “As a set of practices rhetorical velocity is a term that describes an understanding of how the speed at which information composed to be recomposed travels—that is, it refers to the understanding and rapidity at which information is crafted, delivered, distributed, recomposed, redelivered, redistributed, etc., across physical and virtual networks and spaces” (technorhetoric). To ground this point in an example we can look again to Mahammed Bouzizi. We remember he declared his intentions to die on his Facebook page, an image of his body was taken with a camera phone and both uploaded and disseminated
using Facebook and Twitter sparking public outrage within Tunisia. Within a day, the news organization Al Jeezera publishes this information in cyberspace, thereby drawing attention to his suicide amongst an international audience. With the new media and its affordances of velocity and networking, everyone in the world could know what started the Tunisian revolution in nearly 24-hours.

And this happens over and over in the revolutions of Tunisia and Egypt. The affordances of Facebook and Twitter allow the spread of information at an accelerated rate. These medians were then used by the protesters to coordinate their efforts on the ground. Twitter especially was used to tell people where to meet or where to protest, and this was likely the fastest and cheapest way for people to be informed about the movement. In Tunisia internet access by mobile phone is cheaper than a land line phone, and many younger citizens are able to access the internet through cybercafes which can also bypass many of the countries restrictions on internet access (voanews). By comparison, Egypt has the greatest internet infrastructure in North Africa and has a still growing number of internet subscribers. This kind of environment encourages cell phone use, and Facebook and Twitter are common applications on all mobile phones, making it extremely likely that protesters could use these technologies for the reasons claimed by journalists. For protesters in the field, new media allows the rapid share on information. For example, this video shows a man in Egypt who approaches Egyptian Police officers while unarmed. A fair warning, this video shows a defenseless man being shot to death:

This is the video as it appears on Facebook
He drops his jacket to show that he is unarmed, but police respond by moving in close--and they gun him down. This video is posted on Facebook and shared with multiple users, making it visible to every one involved in the movement. In the comments section below the video, Facebook users post their outrage at the atrocities of the Egyptian police while people on Twitter send a each other links to the video. If we apply the civic voluntarism model with affordances of new media in mind, we see that people were able to address that they are unsatisfied with the political climate of their countries, as the atrocities against people are made public and spread quickly and effectively across these networks. And there is also some composition involved. Members of Facebook, many of whom live in Egypt, viewed the video and posted comments that asked for mercy, expressed anger at the Egyptian police, and some even wrote prayers for the man who lost his life. Ergo, like minded people were able to find consensus within the tempestuous zeitgeist of their affairs and channel that message in concert with one another--a unity achieved and maintained for the cause of justice and through new media affordances.

A photoblog on MSNBC.com (modified)
And the audience for these compositions are not limited to the people of Tunisia and Egypt. Natalie Fenton in her article “Mediating Hope” articulates how with the advent of new media, non-governmental organizations are able to reach across the boarders of nations with access to only limited resources (Fenton 233). I think her assertion is validated in the materiality of these revolutions. Not only do the social networking sites Facebook and Twitter allow people to reach each other anywhere in the world that has internet access, but the information shared reaches news media like Al Jeezera and MSNBC, who then use blogs and news articles to bring international attention to the killing of unarmed protesters. Many of the protesters practiced non-violent resistance in response. The affordances of these medias allowed them to combat force with increased visibility and velocity as the protesters spread the narrative of unarmed protesters facing armed opposition in Tunisia and Egypt between themselves and across the world. This put these governments under extreme pressure quickly, prompting world leaders like US president Barack Obama to encourage Ben Ali of Tunisia to cease any violence against political dissidents, and asking Mumbarack of Egypt to hold new elections so that the people of Egypt can participate in how they are governed.

So was new media the catalyst for these revolutions? Some are not so sure. Eugueny Morozov in his article “The Dark Side of Internment” describes how the differences between these revolutions and similar efforts in more authoritarian states, like Iran, is that the governments there were unwilling to use military force against the protests, unlike Iran, who is more willing to use social networking to find political dissidents and engineer their disappearance (though Tunisia and Egypt were accused of the same). Morozov provides us with a strong caution “In the hands of an authoritarian regime, [social networks] can be a tool of oppression” (Morozov 1). In light of this, it is important to note that the military of Tunisia and Egypt were unwilling to use violence against the protesters.

And when it comes to the internet, there is always the question of who has access. The amount of internet users in both Tunisia and Egypt nearly doubled between 2008 and 2009. According the the CIA World Factbook, Egypt ranks 21st in the world in terms of the number of internet users; Tunisia, by contrast, ranks 60th. Though internet access may not be as strong as, say, in the United states, in these countries it is comparatively cheaper and it is safe to say that a great many people in these countries have internet access of some kind. Not unlike our own Generation "M," it tends to be the younger generation who uses the internet. If we know that it is the youth of these nations that are more likely to use the internet, and that they are more likely to use Facebook and Twitter, then it is possible that many of the people coordinating the protests were the younger generations who both had internet access and used it to spread their message of democracy to other like-minded individuals. We cannot say, however, that a majority of the population has internet access. As Cindy Selfe reminds us, technology can create a growing divide amongst people of different ages and socioeconomic stratas (Selfe 1499-1531). However, consider the images the below:
Graffiti on a wall in Egypt

An Egyptian man in Tahrir square
 In the picture above you see various kinds of graffiti advertising both Facebook and Twitter. The intention seems to be to raise awareness about the social networking site. To the left, you see an older gentlemen holding a piece of cardboard stating “Facebook.” The message here seems clear, that these social media sites were seen as a wealth of information about the movement and that protesters in the region are doing all that they can to get that message out. Individuals on Facebook and Twitter were the ones organizing and supporting the movement. But as Wael Ghonim, who is largely credited as one of the leaders of the Egyptian revolution, acknowledges, many of the people in Egypt were on the ground. So there is a symbiotic relationship here between digital and ground efforts. For those who may not have had internet access, they still found interesting ways to get the message out and were still participating even when once removed form the social networks themselves. These images show us also that participation of non-youths was also essential to the movement. So what are the affordances of a piece of cardboard or a spray can? Think again of the civic voluntarism model: Mobilization potential was capitalized by using Facebook and Twitter to coordinated the movements of these resistances. Those who did not have access found any means necessary to encourage those who could. I also think that recruitment may have also been the message. Anyone who could access these sites could both see the images and messages that are being shared and use the technology to share their own experiences and to encourage involvement in the movement.

Facebook image, unknown author
We remember that one of the important factors for mobilization potential is a unifying identity, and we remember that social media is able to communicate a unifying identity for the purpose of social movements. This is where composition may have played a key role. For example, consider the image you see to the right, the imagery here affords a framing of the message that the older regime is being shed for a new Egyptian identity. Here we see an Egyptian man with the face of Hosni Mumbarak. The image portrays a shedding of Mumbarack’s face in exchange for a more youthful look, which possibly symbolizes the youth of the internet protesters. This youth is also adorned in the colors of the Egyptian flag while Mumbarak’s face is not. This reinforces the idea that Mumbarak is not representative of this new national identity that the Facebook community, and the movement as a whole, is creating.

Facebook image from a Tunisian protest page
Similar messages can also be found amongst Tunisian protesters on Facebook. The image on the left shows many fists raised in the air in a sign of protest raised above the Tunisian flag. Lana Oweidet of Ohio University was kind enough to translate the Arabic in this image, which roughly translates as: "You like cooperation, don't sabotage your country (schools, community colleges, public property)." The message here seems to be both clear and poignant, the author is encouraging that protesters abstain from damaging the infrastructure of the country. The activities of the protesters is encouraged, but with the caveat against the destruction of public property. The message is also that of unity signified by the Tunisian flag. To me there is little question that the identity of Tunisian nationalism is at the heart of this image. It encourages a respect for the land of Tunisia signified by the flag being below the fists and in combination with the alphabetic message to respect the infrastructure of the nation, but the fists above maintain that the movement is paramount. 

In addition to the identity of collective nationality, there is also the martyrdom imagery that is disseminated through social networking. Both Tunisia and Egypt are predominantly Muslim countries where the power of the martyr is a well-documented source of influence, for good or evil depending on whom you ask. But in the case of Tunisia, Mohammed Bouazizi became the image of government oppression. The pain that was afflicted upon him was thus equated to all Tunisians. The same is true for Kahaled Said. His image became the symbol of government violence, murdered by the very police force who would earn international recognition for their acts of violence against protesters through the activism of social networking, news media, and the composition of both, with a captive audience on the ground gaining fuel from the recognition.

One final criticism of the efficacy of social media is whether it is tied to the same forces as conventional media. Natalie Fenton warns at how capitalist market forces influence the spread of information. By Drawing on works by Stuart Hall, J. Habermas and others, Fenton draws attention to how journalism, through conventional outlets such as television, radio and etc., is geared more towards consumer consumption as entertainment rather than informing the public, an attitude that inhibits critical engagement and facilitates dramatization and oversimplification of complex matters--with an emphasis on a vivid polarization that alienates people from political communication (Fenton 230-232). There was certainly plenty of information censorship in both Tunisia and Egypt, both in the digital sphere and on the ground. But in Egypt’s case specifically, capitalist forces actually worked against the internet crackdown. As one communications analyst notes: “The government seems to have put itself in a tough position, as the Egyptian working week begins tomorrow, and with it, incredible disruptions to Egypt's economy and debt rating from the loss of Internet and mobile communications.” Egypt could not maintain its internet silence without damaging its economy and affecting the other economies that surrounded it. And even with Egypt's censorship measures in place, protesters were still able to use Twitter to coordinate their movements by using standard dial-up connections. Similar controls also failed in Tunisia, a country that also has strong censorship measures in place. People were able to create their own private URL in order to bypass Tunisia’s internet server. These realities at the very least cast doubt on the assertion that the internet can be easily controlled, even in times of crisis. We could also ask the question of whether it could be controlled at all.  

Tunisian Facebook Image, Unknown Author

Let me make clear what I think this means for the study of composition. The revolutions of Tunisia and Egypt provided a keen example of how new media can be used to afford agency to people. Though not uncomplicated, the movement did seem to overcome some of the barriers that scholars warn may be keeping new media from achieving any true liberatory potential. Market forces were not able to stop the movement. Internet controls were transcended by the ingenuity of the people. Identity was reinforced by compositions of text, image and video. The affordances of social networking were used to coordinate efforts and recruit individuals, and even individuals without direct access to the internet were willing to participate and raise awareness of how information was being transferred. News media worked in an almost symbiotic relationship with people composing on the ground, raising awareness of the violent actions of the ruling governments against their people, and with larger news sources who responded in kind by raising international awareness for their cause--and with amazing velocity. All these factors seemed to help these movements really capitalize on the mobilization potential within these countries. If multimodal composing is akin to writing and writing is a social act, then all three seemed to be at play and with the liberatory effects that Paulo Freire dreamed of in "Pedagogy of the Oppressed." These events were people on the ground working together to build knowledge, and that knowledge afforded them agency to make change.

1.) NPR reported that revolt leaders in Egypt took notes from Gene Sharp’s book 'Clausewitz Of Nonviolent Warfare.” It would be interesting to juxtapose their tactics with the book to see how they compare and whether or not the internet may have helped fulfill the tactics expressed by Sharp.
2.) The credibility of internet usage states in Egypt and Tunisia are hard to verify from here in the states (with perhaps the exception of the CIA report). I relied heavy on corroborating internet news media to ascertain what happened in Tunisia and Egypt.
3.) It would fruitful to know more about each country’s cultural history and political climate. I wonder if the degree of civil disobedience correlates with increased internet access?
4.) Foucault’s concept of Panopticism is definitely at play. Countries like Iran, China, Thailand and Afghanistan have all used internet monitoring to find political dissidents and arrest them, or make them disappear entirely. It should also be noted that the FBI has done the same thing here, “Democracy Now!” did a fabulous report on it.
5.) Some of the most crucial information about the movement was spread by less public means. In Egypt, a manual for engaging the Egyptian police force was distributed through private emails rather than social networking. In contrast, a Tunisian revolt page on Facebook explicitly states precise instructions for people to employ non-violent resistance.
6.) Tunisia created a website called "Tunileaks" which mirrors the format of Jullian Assange's "Wikileaks," the goal of this project is aimed at keeping the Tunisian government transparent.
7.)The utilization of the internet is largely credited as a determining factor in the election of Barack Obama to the presidency. Many Republicans took this lesson to heart after the last election.
8.) Some of the provided hyperlinks take the reader directly to the Facebook pages that contain the cited material, thus a Facebook account is needed to view these. Some of the images here come directly from Facebook pages, but the authors of these compositions are unverifiable since they were contained on multiple sites.  

Print Works Cited
Fenton, Natalie. "Mediating hope: New media, politics and resistance." International Journal of Cultural Studies 11.2 (2008): 230-248. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web.12 February. 2011.

Klandermans, Bert, and Dirk Oeoema. "POTENTIALS, NETWORKS, MOTIVATIONS, AND BARRIERS: STEPS TOWARDS PARTICIPATION IN SOCIAL MOVEMENTS." American Sociological Review 52.4 (1987): 519-531.Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 5 February. 2011.

Manovich, Lev. The Language of New Media. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001. Print.

Pandey, Iswari. "Saving, Sharing, Citing, and Publishing Multimodal Texts." Ed. Cynthia L. Selfe. Multimodal Composition: Resources for Teachers. (pp. 65-82) Cresskill, NJ: Hampton, 2007. Print.

Selfe, Cynthia; Hawisher, Gail; with Lashore, Oladipupo; and Song, Pengfei. "Literacies and the complexities of the global digital divide." Ed. Susan Miller The Norton book of composition studies (pp. 1499-1531). New York: W.W. Norton & Co. Print. 2006.

Takayoshi, Pamela; Selfe, Cynthia."Thinking about Multimodality." Ed. Cynthia L. Selfe. Multimodal Composition: Resources for Teachers. (pp. 1-12) Cresskill, NJ: Hampton, 2007. Print.

Wysocki, Anne, et al. Writing New Media. (pp. 1-37) Logan, Utah: Utah University Press, 2004. Print.

Valerie-Anne Maheo, et al. "The Potential of Internet Mobilization: An Experimental Study on the Effect of Internet and Face-to-Face Mobilization Efforts." Political Communication 27.4 (2010): 406-431. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 5 February. 2011.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

For my research project, I would like to revise my assignment assignment so that it may incorporate it into my English 151 class. My goal is to preserve most of the core theory behind the assignment, but narrow the scope to a clearly defined medium and genre, making it more practical for an English 151 course. To accomplish this, I will first revise my project using Dr. Rouzie’s advice. Instead of trying to build a resource base that would be the foundation of my students’ multimodal essays, I will instead assign a classical argument essay that: a.) Incorporates text and image and b.) That will be posted on a student created blog using blogger.com.

Inspired by the article “Writing and Citizenship: Using Blogs to Teach First-Year Composition” by Charles Tryon. Tryon’s class was able to draw in people in the blogosphere by asking his students to seek out certain blogs and link them to their own blog response. In the spirit of this, I intend to link my essay to Queer blogs such as towleroad.com, and with composition blogs such as English-blog.com, to see if I can draw a broader audience using the network affordances of the blog. If I am successful, I can revise my assignment assignment to focus on this formula of exploration. Audience and purpose will be at the forefront; I can ask my students to identify blog audiences that will care about their subjects, hopefully teaching my students a more comprehensive understanding of audience.

I have already created a blog on blogger.com, and I am somewhat familiar with its workings. For my multimodal essay, I will revise an alphabetic essay that I wrote for Dr. Nelson last quarter, but also incorporate images that will help to convey the overall message of the essay more persuasively. The essay’s central focus is to question how we a composition pedagogues can explore Queer subjectivities in the classroom and hopefully capitalize on the increasing awareness of Queer brought about by the recent media coverage of gay teen suicides. The reasons I chose this essay are fourfold. First, I put a lot of work into this essay, critically assessing every bit of scholarship I could find, thus, I feel is should be shared. Second, this work will likely be of interest to Queer people as well as teachers of composition. Third, so that I can experiment with MLA formatting as well as exploring citation with images within the genre of a blog. Lastly, it will allow me to test how successful this assignment could be in the hope of using it in the spring.

Though I will not be researching collaboratively for this project, as my students will, that part of the assignment has already been tried and true during my first two quarters teaching here (though Dr. Nelson’s feedback certainly qualifies as review). Thus, the collaborative research portion is not on trial with this experiment. What is on trial is: a.) Whether I can use the blog as an easy way to encourage students to incorporate text and image into their classical argument essays b.) Whether I can use the blog to reach a target audience beyond the classroom that will respond and c.) Possible test students’ comprehension of Chapter 9 of the Allyn and Bacon guide, “Analyzing Visual Rhetoric,” in addition to Chapter 10, “Writing a Classical Argument.”

The Affordances of New Media for Social Change

Both Communications studies and Rhetoric and Composition studies have explored the power of new media, internet networking and their affordances for social movements. The work of Cynthia Selfe explores how new media creates an environment where students compose for audiences both inside and outside the classroom. But with the recent revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, the world bore witness to an event where social media, news media, and multimodal rhetoric are applied within a specific context—and with nation changing results. In light of this I will pursue the question: What can the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt teach us about the affordances of new media?

My analysis begins with Mouhammed Izzari, who set himself on fire to protest his perceived unfair treatment at the hands of Tunisian law enforcement. This image was propagated through both blogs and articles composed by news media groups such as Al Jeezera and the BBC, as well as social media sites Facebook and Twitter. These media outlets afforded people a network to share rhetoric that combined text and image as well as help rally support and coordinate their protesting efforts. I will provide examples of digital news media coverage as well as rhetoric composed by the people of Tunisia and Egypt, which I obtained from Facebook groups supporting the movement. By grounding theory within this event, and exploring the relationship between affordances of new media and civic engagement in particular, we can recognize that the Arab world may have taught us a valuable lesson in composing with new media for social change.

Monday, February 21, 2011

RD Conference Proposal

Affordances for the Oppressed

Both Communications studies and Rhetoric and Composition studies have explored the power of new media and internet networking. The work of Cynthia and Dickie Selfe in particular envisions a classroom where technology creates an environment for digital literacy, collaboration, personal agency, problem posing, and the affordances of new media to teach students valuable skills for composing for audiences both inside and outside the classroom. This is not without complication; others in composition study are apprehensive of focusing on the affordances of new media, but with the recent revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, the world bore witness to an event where technology and rhetoric empowered an oppressed people to choose how they would be governed. In light of this, we as instructors of rhetoric and composition can explore the possibility that technology creates an environment were the oppressed can liberate themselves in a way that Paulo Freire could not have envisioned.

My cross-discipline analysis begins with Klandermans and Oegema’s civic voluntarism model to analyze both the conditions and adversities faced by social movements. Tunisia and Egypt provides a real example where new media and rhetoric both facilitate the conditions for advocacy while also transcending the adversities faced by their respective social movements. I will provide examples of multimodal rhetoric used by the Arab people and analyze the affordances of new media in collaboration, civic engagement, identity construction, audience and purpose. By grounding theory within this event, and exploring the relationship between composition and civic engagement in particular, we can recognize that the Arab world may have taught us a valuable lesson in composing with new media. I pursue the question: What can the Arab world teach us about composing with new media?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Final Assignment Assignment.

Please Click Here

Scribd will not decompress my example:

This image is a good example of what I would like to see from my students. This is from the “Visual Remix” project at OSU http://dmp.osu.edu/visual_remix/nike%20global.html

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Blog reflection: I found the title box!

Since I am fond of academic epistemologies, for all their revelations and complications, I want to reflect on my blog in terms affordances. I would presume that the goal of having a blog assignment is to—in some sense—mimic the practice of the Elbow’s freewrite, but what new affordances does the blog offer me in order to communicate more affectively?

In the blog I am able to express my thoughts on the readings in alphabetic form, which allowed me to express my views without having to consider writing as just a product and a grade. Although we are being graded, the blog encourages me to write for more than just an assignment, I am writing for a broader audience. My audience is Dr. Rouzie, true, but also Claudia, Ashley, Amanda, John W., John H., Lana, SiYang, Matt V., and Matt N., which meant, for me, that I would need to consider everyone in that network. I feel this consideration hones my responses. I wanted very much to say something insightful and to consider the viewpoints of everyone in class. Because of this consideration, direct my responses accordingly. In terms of agency, this median affords me the opportunity to engage my peers in a place beyond the classroom as we can all collectively engage these texts through our blog compositions.

This dynamic seemed to situate me in certain ways. I play the believing and doubting game when I read the articles. I asked questions of them. I considered everything I have learned during my short time at OU as well as my education up until this point. I try to refine my understanding of what it is to compose as well as understand what it is to compose with new media and with multi-modalities. But in writing responses for the blogosphere, I am afforded the ability to see that some of my classmates share my concerns. I find through them some of the answers to my questions. I find through them new questions to ask. Thus, everything I write is not just the product just my interaction with the text, but the product of the interaction between the texts, my peers and myself, afforded through network that is the blog.

The blog afforded me the capability to consider a tremendous amount of scholarship in collaboration with a brilliant group of aspiring educators. I think this helped me in two ways: First, there was no need for me to rehash what was already stated, so I am often positioned to consider what the group perhaps had not, and second, if I was in consensus with my peers on an important point, then I would join the chorus of those who felt we were on to something—if both writing and repetition are important for cognition, and I would argue they are, then this helps us to really grasp the concepts offered by the readings.

I was also afforded the ability to bring in new material with hyperlinks. As I mentioned before, I consider my own lived experiences and education up until this point and attempt to make connection between my previous literacies and the new scholarship shared with us by Dr. Rouzie. But hyperlinks allow me to bring in outside material by allowing a quick reference to the kinds of interpretive frameworks, authors and concepts that I feel rhyme with the concepts introduced in the course. I suppose it is a little bit easier for me in this way as opposed to a purely written response, as I do not make the effort to thoroughly explain cognitive psychology or problem-posing education to those who are not familiar—though I would briefly summarize—but with the hyperlink I could just reference the material and provide a link so that my audience could engage the concepts on their own time. They did not have to simply take my word for it; the only distance between them and the information is a click of the mouse. Hyper links are like my own interactive citation; they share my angle of vision while also allowing my peers to look beyond my interpretations.

But my understanding of affordances here are two fold. In considering blogs as a genre, the technology allows me to network amongst my peers for collaborative learning as well as network between my different literacies in order to expand upon class concepts. But I also used a combination of alphabetic literacy with the use of images. The images I include on my blog afford me the ability to frame the concepts I am considering. For example, the concept of apophnia is not an easy concept to explain in volumes let alone in a short paragraph. But with the toast images I was able to give a very concrete example of how we tend to misinterpret random stimuli. Could I have made this point without the image? Sure, but not without a great deal of alphabetic text to articulate the point. Worth a thousand words? I think it was, but I should ask my audience. Could I have done this without the blog? Sure, but I in all my written responses for other courses I have yet to include a single image. So maybe the blog encourages multimodality purely by virtue of its design.

This is my first blog assignment and it was not until composing this last entry that I realized how much I appreciate it. Hopefully my audience did as well. That is the point right? That we all learn something? And that we learn what this has the capability to do?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

I decided to take a minute and try and answer some of the questions posed by Dr. D. Selfe on page 177. What he provides us in figure 12.4 is a sort of brainstorming exercise to prepare ourselves to (persuasively) plead our case to administrators of the university—people whose resources we are likely to need in order to be accomplished educators in multimodal composition.

“Why does the teacher consider multimodal composition important in terms of students’ education?

For me, it comes down to affordances and heuristics.

As an instructor I am especially interested in how language is used to construct meaning (identities, morals, values, geographies, memes, etc). We are surrounded by new media. We are consumers and producers of multimodal composition. To keep this freight train from running away with us, Rhetoric and Compositon should be aware of genre conventions and how mediums and modalitites both express and construct meaning—perpetuating memes and representative heuristics.

With heuristics we are grounding the work in trial and error. We do not have to waste time convincing a student of what is valuable or proper or right, we can use technology to allow our students to test their “meaning making” in real time, by engaging each other withing the classroom and engaging beyond the classroom.

“What does the teacher expect students to accomplish in multimodal compostions?”

By building a knowledge base around technology, students learn the value of relationship building and collaboration. This new relationship breaks down the hyperbolic sense of individuality in learning and composing and favors the more practical approach of people coming together to build knowledge. We are social beings, our pedagogy should reflect this in the way we constuct the environment of the classroom.

By engaging each other in constant revision and planning, students are able to learn valuable skills for revising their work, therby learning about the recursive nature of writing. And we collaborate at all stages of the project, including the way it is graded, insuring that the evaluation matches the pedagogy.

“How are teacher’s efforts to integrate digital technology into classes connected to various scholarly interests?”

This question can also be grounded in affordances heuristics when pared with an awareness of audience and purpose as well as genre. Whatever the discipline, we can identify the kind of composition/communication that is customary for a particular field, which undoubtedly uses some form of digital technology to communicate. The medium of the computer, I think is safe to say, is a staple in nearly every home and business in the United States. Genre is tied to professions. Affordances allow us to consider how different digital modalities are utilized within different genre’s for rhetorical affects. Not only can students gain familiarity with the tools that they will likely use in their field, but they can also learn by constant revision and interaction how to use modialities and mediums affectively within their genre/profession/interest of choice. The test is in the way their multimodal compositions can influence each other, the teacher, and even (in some cases) maybe tested against individuals already in the students' field of interest.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

This post will consist largely of a close reading/anecdotal response to the Table 2.1 in MC, based largely on my (still growing) experience teaching English 151 at Ohio university. I am a little critical of some of the assumptions made in this table regarding the first-year composition students proficiency to analyze and compose written text.

"Students have considerable experience choosing topics for written essays--although their skills need developing and refining."

I would agree that students are able to select a topics and produce an essay. But what is unique in this program, and thankfully so, is that we value writing as a process of exploration--which my students demonstrate very limited capability in doing so early in the course. I do not focus on choosing a topic and simply supporting/arguing a thesis, I instead focus on delayed thesis techniques to encourage critical engagement, which I feel is the real goal of the essay assignments (audience and purpose and genre of course are considered). To say their skills "need developing and refining" may be too polite in some cases, with some students I am encouraging a complete re-imagining of what an essay is and does.

"Students have basic familiarity with composing ...locating materials...downloading and documenting sources..."

Many of my 151 students are engaging this for the first time, and many view documentation as a way to avoid getting in trouble or cheating (Ashley did a great job pointing this out with her presentation). The re-imagining of what citation is and to critically engage its purpose is more than just memorizing genre and convention, it is engaging what how ideas are able to progress by building upon and revising the writing of others and using documentation to, yes offer credit, but to share what is a constantly changing pool of knowledge within and outside the academy.

"Students generally know how to save, print...share them in digital environments."

I agree. But learning how to submit essays on blackboard seems difficult for some, a point that I think the authors quasi-explore in chapter 3 page 36, "Devote attention to the technical side of production."

"Students have acquired a great deal of semiotic...understanding of English and can put this knowledge to work in writing alphabetic essays."

Perhaps I am the only one, but in my classes are hear the 'It just is' argument a lot. Writing essays and facilitating class discussions allow both instructor and teacher to use both critical theory and schemas to engage semiotic meaning. My students seem to not have a "great deal of semiotic understanding" coming into the classroom, or maybe they are just nervous engaging it. In any case, I agree that multimodal education has the power to look at affordances in order to understand how meaning is constructed and conveyed. But I would caution against assuming our students "have a great deal" of semiotic understanding regarding written texts.

"Students may need a great deal of help operating equipement..."

I probably do as well, and I am probably more familiar than most (I worked in retail AND I am sort of a tech geek). Technology changes so quickly, this will likely be a constant process. Do we have access to technical assistance through university channels? And remember what Dickie says, establish a knowledge base of our own and have a backup plan in case something goes wrong (D. Selfe 20, 22).

I don't know if anyone else shares my opinion, but while the authors of these articles acknowledge the caveats against trivializing stylistic conventions of alpabetic texts, they also seem to exaggerate either the differences between alphabetic meaning and other modes, or they exaggerate a student's familiarity with these conventions. Is there such a need to differentiate the two? How different are they?

In fairness I think the subsequent chapters address this (audio to convey an accent or a tone...etc.), but perhaps until I am able to work with it myself, it remains abstract to me. We eva gonna have a workshop on dis shit?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Goefry Sirc’s “pedagogy of the box” contains a few gems of pedagogical practice. “The idea of arranging materials that speak to the students own voice and concerns” (113) seems to echo Paulo Freire ideals of a liberatory pedagogy, the idea that the students themselves must be involved in the process of creating their own existential understanding of the world by applying and creating meaning in partnership with the educator. Freire used problem-posing methods to do this, but Sirc seems to argue for an intermediate method. He refers to the “ending the long reign of the strictly analytic (pedagogy)...(Students) are not subjects of inquiry, but immensely learned and allusive carriers of meaning” (124).

It is unclear to me how his “box pedagogy” accomplishes what it means too. Further I am troubled by focusing on what I would interpret as one half of the focus of problem posing methods of education. Put simply, I would like to problematize Sircs assertions without dismissing it’s more encouraging elements.

Sirc proposes that box pedagogy emphasizes the artful expression (expressivist?) of composition that reflects a collection of contextually situated elements. I am a big fan of this ideology as a way of thinking and creating because arrangement is an “important compositional skill” (123) and it is a break from the hard-nosed essay approach which proposes a “unified resolution (that) is prized over the richer, more difficult, de facto text the world presents itself as” (123). There must, however, be a caveat against pure expression.

My concern comes in with the “...obscure, perhaps, yet promising illumination” (113), and it comes from my study in Psychology at OSU. Our cognitive ability to perceive relationships and patterns, correlations and causations, is absolutely a part of how we understand the world. This process has evolutionary utility, our ability to understand contextual relationships is what facilitates scientific thought, but without complex language to structure specific relationships, we may venture to far into the abstract to truly be able to convey meaning; vague expression and combination of elements can lead to error.

Apophenia in cognitive psychology is an error in judgment where we perceive order in completely random stimuli. In short, we tend to see patterns that are not there. Imagine now the lazy disengaged student forced to take our class for a grade. What prevents the meandering student from pulling a fast one by just throwing random elements together and calling it expression? Or what prevents me, as an instructor, to misinterpret the meaning being conveyed by a diligent student because I do not have the angle of vision to see their intentions? What criteria are we looking for in grading such a work?


We would have to have an interpretive framework to approach the work, or else we are just looking at collages of information with an error-prone mind. Aesthetic, yes, but is it creating meaning in a way that others can understand? I had previously used Jenny Holtzer as an example of multi-modality that works. She actively employs that same kind of expression that is situated within context as a way of creating and conveying meaning. There is certainly something to Sirc’s acknowledgment of this, I love Holtzer’s expressions and her “meaning making”, but it can have limitations. Holtzer printed “Men don’t protect you anymore” on a condom to raise awareness of aids, but what would, say, the a home-schooled devoutly catholic student make of this image? She has not been educated on sex and sexuality in a comprehensive way, and thus she has not been afforded the language to interpret Holtzer’s message. She is brought to think of “he” is possibly god, and god is always her protector. She might say “What is this blasphemy printed on a bubblegum wrapper?” Without complex prose and a focus on inquiry, how could she interpret the meaning of Holtzer’s work?

If our home-schooled catholic student were allowed to ask what it meant (ala Freire) and share her own views and experiences, then we have the opportunity to share the perspective while engaging the student in how meaning is created and employed. Inquiry seems a likely resolution, but what would Sirc say?

Sirc does couple his box pedagogy with research and networking in order to help his students draw from the world to shape their meaning (122). Maybe, as Sirc suggests, this method is just a stepping stone to learn the creative aspects of writing as a means of expression as a way to articulate deeply felt truth (128). But for those of us concerned with persuasion, this is an intermediary step. And by persuasion I do not mean strictly argumentation. Sirc and I would agree that composition should be about “paradigms not arguments”(120), but persuasion encourages compromise by including the audience with the goal of consensus to affect change. A focus only on pure expression can reduce the immensely complex to the purely relative.

Does anyone think that this is an important step?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

In response to J.E. Clark's article, the private/public dichotomy is being changed significantly by the emergence of digital media.

Censorship is power

Literary scholars have repeatedly reached into the past to find the more marginalized voices of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. Though perhaps never really found, these voices were never acknowledged during the enlightenment, which privileged "objective" truth without realizing that much of the truth was in actuality male-white-truth.

It was not until postmodern deconstruction, feminism, cultural studies and queer theory, that we began to recognize how narrow we had been. The inclusion of marginalized voices facilitates a more holistic understanding of the human experience by recognizing the contentions among perspectives. This enabled us to apply multiple angles of vision to the world that is, to really challenge ideas by using the lived experiences of different groups as a grade card--a heuristic. Previously, to perpetuate a system that favors the dominant class, all you had to do was use wealth to silence the dissonant. With the increasing visibility of marginalized voices, this farce is no longer possible.

However, it was the socially aware privileged who first began the conversation, and it is the burden of the margnialized voices themselves to continue to share their experience and thereby challenge the dominant culture. In this way, inclusion was only afforded by the ruling class, so does technology have the ability to change this?

Technology can break the silence

In the digital world, there is potential for students to assume an identity and tailor their engagement with their audience in mind. They are free to share their views on the internet where literally anyone can potentially find them (as long as the internet remains free). This is a reality brought about by technology. Before now, the marginalized could rarely afford an education, rarely afford a printing press, and almost never have the opportunity to express their ideas without the permission of the ruling classes. The internet has the potential to bridge this if the marginalize have access an interface and the literacy to use it.

Agency is power

The marginalize then are no longer silenced. They can share their lived experiences to truly test social structures, and all ideas and perspectives can be shared on the digital frontier.

But perhaps more so, people are able to challenge the the capitalist "tradesmithing" that has become our compartmentalized education system. Take for instance Clark's success with his ePortfolio and his student, "Ally". According to Clark, Ally felt constrained by academic writing. It's structures inhibited her agency by have a strict structured "product approach" where her ideas were tailored to a format--often to the detriment of her ideas. But the ePortfolio exposed Ally to a digital world of possibility. She could write informally in her blog about the Iraq war (the ghost of Elbow?) which she was able to link to a paper she wrote about personal interviews with Vietnam veterans. Multi-modality allowed her to tie these two different works together. The public domain of the blog provided the heuristic where she could test her writing on a broad audience, thereby learning the importance of audience and context. Through this work, she was able to establish a networked voice and identity using a networked body of works, including a research paper on Vietnam and its similarity to the Iraq war.

Her voice as an advocate for political awareness was born. Technology and writing, working in tandem and with the network of peers provided by increased accessibility to the public domain, provided her with agency to pursue passionate interests. Ally's final grade, her testement to her newfound identity and agency, was being able to prevent her work to the entire college, sharing her ideas they may have otherwise not been actualized let alone articulated.

But the reality rarely matches the ideal

Does everyone have a voice? Can they? Are we right to challenge ideas and identities in this way? There must be repercussions? Does the potential to be anonymous facilitate vitriol? How successful is the heuristic approach without being coupled with actual civic engagement? Could third-space disembody the individual and work against the heuristic? Can we call this kind of engagement, under constant scrutiny, as agency? Who benefits from the ePortfolio, ie...is it trademarked?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Has anyone heard of Jenny Holzer?

In short, she is an artist that conveys complex meaning through simple prose statements. She does this by utilizing a variety of media while being mindful of how medium, environment and context can change the meaning of text. Consider the following from Holzer's Survival Series:

"Men don't protect you anymore"

This phrase was conveyed through a video projector beaming the text as an image on the side of a building. Through this medium, and in this environment, the phrase has an ambiguous meaning. Was this a critique of the Cold War (which started at the time she produced the work)? A critique of New York? Without deconstructing assumptions of Gender and sexuality, this message could be either or both; but it was in her second choice of medium that the message perhaps achieved lucidity--on the wrapper of a condom. "Men don't protect you anymore"; this message, in this medium and in this context, was about AIDS.

How could we in rhetoric and composition ignore this power? I take the point of Selfe and her team that multi-modality is already a reality, and we have no reason to think that, from the printing press to the internet, that communication will ever remain static. We should be mindful of this. From a rhetorical standpoint we should be aware of semiotic domains of communication, that is, if we profess to be students of how language constructs meaning and how meaning constructs language.

My analogy ignores computers, sound and moving image, but I think the point still stands. Holzer evolved with technology. She used projectors to contextualize her work within certain spaces. She later uses digital billboards are to add movement, making the text more organic. Like Holzer, I want to be mindful of how technology is changing how we communicate. I want to know more about how text and image and sound can shape our understandings and expressions. I profess that like many teachers of composition, I am no expert in digital communication, but I aim to take their advice and start slowly and small. I can always build from there.

Thursday, January 6, 2011