Thursday, July 27, 2006

Selfe and Selfe, "Intellectual Work of Computers and Composition"

Selfe, Cynthia J. and Richard J. Selfe, Jr. "The Intellectual Work of Computers and Composition Studies." Olson 203-220.

According to Selfe and Selfe, four characteristics characterize intellectual work in computers and composition: grounding in language studies and social theory; a belief in social justice (204); commitment to school settings as sites where social change is produced (204); and "an understanding of technology and technological systems" as enacting change and resisting hegemony (204). Selfe and Selfe go on to describe computers and composition as infused with a pragmatic orientation; this piece has a tendency to frame computers and composition's intellectual work as a critical project or, that is, as a project anchored in critique (analysis, examination, etc.).

Though they admit it to be partial, the central portion of the essay focuses on three elements in computers and composition: educational issues (205), social/cultural issues (207), and representation and identity (210). Each section reads like a densely packed bibliographic essay with paragraph-long listings of books and articles that resonate with each focal area.

To conclude, they point out the cultural mythologies of technologies as monsters (211) and turn their emphasis to human beings; the final push is for humanities computing or technology studies cognizant of human agency in the proliferation of technologies. They end citing Giddens on the sociality of technology and the often "unanticipated consequences" and also with a reaffirmation of "continuing to pay attention to technology" (212).

"Technology is not fully constituted by machines. It is, instead, a set of articulated social formations--ideological, economic, political, cultural. And given this fact, the study of technologies must, at its heart, involve the study of the humans who design, make, and use these machines" (212).

^What's odd about this piece is that it is just nine pages of heavily referential prose (a dense bibliographic essay) followed by eight pages of citations--appr. 170 in all and many of which are never used in the piece. Does everything listed fit with the label of "intellectual work" (rel. to the distinctions in the early section of the book--Neel, Swearingen, Olson)?

Related sources:
Giddens, Anthony. The Constitution of Society: Outline of a Theory of Structuration. Berkeley: U of California P, 1984.
Winner, Langdon. The Whale and the Reactor: A Search for Limits in an Age of High Technology. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1986.
Wysocki, Anne Frances, and Johndan Johnson-Eilola. "Blinded by the Letter: Why Are We Using Literacy as a Metaphor for Everything Else?" Hawisher and Selfe, Passions 349-68.
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