Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Flower and Hayes, "Uncovering Cognitive Processes in Writing: An Introduction to Protocol Analysis"

Hayes, John R., and Linda S. Flower. "Uncovering Cognitive Processes in Writing: An Introduction to Protocol Analysis." Research On Writing: Principles and Methods. Peter Mosenthal, Lynne Tamor, and Sean A. Walmsley, eds. New York: Longman, 1983. 207-220.

Leading off the "Observational Approaches" section in the Mosenthal collection, Flower and Hayes deliver a case for protocol analysis as it provides a scope on the thought processes that "is wider than most of the other windows available" (219). Protocol methods only interest me where they promote debates about writing as rule-governed rather than aleatory (or something a degree away from this, where agreements and rules are very loose--exerting the slightest imprint on the activity). So why work with this chapter? It includes yet another iteration of the visual model related to Flower and Hayes' cognitive process writing model. As in much of their work, writing is acknowledged as a complex phenomenon, and its intrinsic complexity justifies the protocol analysis--a method that allows a researcher to study writers "while they are performing it" (214). Here, the visual model doesn't get much, if any, explicit discussion. It's the silent transplant--a figure summoned from 1980, where it appeared in Lee and Erwin's edited collection, Cognitive Processes in Writing.

Johanna Drucker writes of visual forms of knowledge that "[t]hey can work 1) through offering a visual analogy or morphological resemblance, 2) through providing a visual image of non-visible phenomenoa, or 3) by providing visual conventions to structure operations and procedures" ("Graphesis" 3). Which of these does the cognitive process model match with? A case could be made for any of the three. It provides a visual analogy. It provides a visual image of a non-obvious phenomena. It provides visual conventions. Most often, it seems to be deployed for purposes matched with the third function of visual forms of knowledge: providing visual conventions to structure operations and procedures. This is what is meant when they write elsewhere of the model's organizing function. Yet this is tricky because their references to model often do not distinguish the discursive model as a conceptual framework from the visual forms--the visual model itself.

Much of this article follows the organizational presentation of the visual model. Writing, they argue, consists of distinct processes which are identified here as a task environment, the writer's long-term memory, and the writing process itself, which "is best described not as a sequence of stages but as a set of distinguishable processes that the writer must orchestrate in the act of writing" (208). [Imagine if they were indistinguishable. How would it be possible to name what is happening, other than with the gesture of a shrug?]. Further, they explain that the processes are "highly embedded" and that writing is "goal directed." Each of these, of course, must be asterisked with a *not always.

Why is this a good example of inert(ial) visual models in composition studies? 1) The model has not evolved. It is the same diagram that appeared in 1980 (later examples repeat and, thus, reinforce this stability/stagnancy). 2) The model is not discussed directly as a visual form of knowledge. It is given, self-evident (Drucker and Latour are excellent for asking us to think through the rhetoricity of the visual model, for Drucker as an aesthetic dramatism that performs in step with scientism, for Latour as a figure which mobilizes). Could the chapter proceed without it? Yes. 3) Its design is at odds with the dynamism (i.e., complexity, orchestration, embeddedness, etc.). It is, in this sense, positioned as in innocent mediator between the data produced by the method and the theory that generalizes the method to meaningful insights into the cognitive processes of (some) writers.

Cognitive Process Model, p. 208 (from 1981)

Phrases: process-tracing (211), thinking-aloud protocols (217), retrospection (217), retrospective reporting (217).

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