Thursday, January 12, 2006

Bibliometrics JACing

I got caught up reading the Moretti Event over at The Valve, but I still have a minute to post a few notes about something I was thinking about earlier today.  I read the introduction to David Smit's The End of Composition Studies yesterday; there, he has this to say about the ideological dissymmetry among compositionists, divergences characteristic of the field at-large:

No one can doubt that the field has become increasingly divided into narrow areas of concern with little indication that scholars and researchers in one area read, respect, or deal substantively with the work of those in other areas.  Since Stephen North's pioneering work The Making of Knowledge in Composition classified the work of the field into eight major areas, there have been few attempts to bridge gaps between those areas. A comparison of the works cited pages in College Composition and Communication, Rhetoric Review, JAC: A Journal of Advanced Communication Theory, and Written Communication reveals some overlaps, but not much.  Hence the need for additional taxonomies, frameworks, and "keys," such as those by James Berlin ("Contemporary"); Richard Fulkerson; and Mark Wiley, Barbara Gleason, and Louise Wetherbee Phelps to explain the various areas of the field. (7)

This is a common enough proposal about divisions, no?  A balkanism, attendant to new waves of theory wars, noting how we're crumbling apart, fraying.  Reasonable as Smit's insight may well be, however, I'm struck here by the notion that comparisons of our journals works cited pages somehow reflect a field "increasingly divided."  To compare for increasing division would necessarily involve some longevity and detail work.  It's just that the journals most readily associated with composition's disciplinary commons (the noetic field (Berlin) or epistemic court (Lauer))--the journals listed by Smit--aren't really data-made for exhaustive bibliographic comparison.  What method, then, is available other than what we can discern by scanning the listings for a selection of articles?  The interference for me as I read this passage from Smit is that our data structures for citation comparisons in composition journals are, well, quite scarce.  And that scarcity, while it leaves us with little alternative other than to intuit increasing divisions "into narrow areas of concern" based on citations, it also motivates our thinking with CCC Online.  As Collin has articulated before, with more discipline-wide embrace of data-mining, we would have--from all of the journals identified with the field--a more dynamic database through which to test claims about "increasing" divergence in citations.  For fear that this might sound disingenuous toward Smit, I'm not going for that effect.  In fairness, I've just read the beginning of The End....  But I'm increasingly alert to impressions of the field's breaking apart that might appear differently if held up alongside a comprehensive collection of all of the citations ever made in any journal associated with the field.  Why not?

More to point--and the last thing for the night: Matt Kirschenbaum, commenting at The Valve on the possibilities of the nora project, mentioned "the capacity [of nora's results] to startle." I find this turn far more interesting.  How would we go about assembling a comprehensive bibliometric/bibliographic database for an inter-discipline such as composition studies (based, perhaps, both in journals and in monographs) and, in doing so, celebrate its "capacity to startle," rather than denounce it as faux-empiricism?

Bookmark and Share Posted by at January 12, 2006 10:50 PM to Methods

Beware of sentences beginning with "No one can doubt"--it's usually a pretty accurate signpost that a dubious claim is about to touch down.

I haven't read the book yet, but right away I notice the slippage between the "narrow areas" in sentence 1, which I presume are content areas, and the "areas" of sentence 2, which in North's books are methods. Not a promising start, and I say that even as I share his intuition to an extent.

Anyways, I'll be curious to hear more of what you think of it...

Posted by: collin at January 13, 2006 3:03 AM I thought you were talking about one of my sentences. No one would doubt that I could make the mistake of expressing a claim that way. I should't revisit my blog this early in the day (the problem of springing up in the morning with, "what on earth (wide moth) did I blog last night?"

I definitely don't want to be too hasty in presuming to know full-well, from only the introduction, how Smit arrived at his claim about increasing division. Within CCC, for example, we've watched the most recurrent nouns and noun phrases include--issue for issue--students and writing. In fact, just glancing at a three-year span, every issue of CCC, has those terms in the top three. Among the third terms are literacy, research, language, composition, teachers, methods, class, comments, work and courses. What does this prove? I don't know yet. But it does suggest pattern, and wouldn't it be something (of interest to at least a few folks in comp-rhet) how these condensations played across all of the journals? Maybe it would point us to a less despairing outlook about the field's common areas of concern, interest and inquiry.

Posted by: Derek at January 13, 2006 7:50 AM