Revolution Lullabye

January 24, 2013

Mueller, Grasping Rhetoric and Composition by Its Long Tail

Mueller, Derek. “Grasping Rhetoric and Composition by Its Long Tail: What Graphs Can Tell Us about the Field’s Changing Shape.” College Composition and Communication 64.1 (Septembter 2012): 195-223.

Mueller investigates 25 years of citations from the journal College Composition and Communication (1987-2011) to explore the discipline’s citation practices and changing shape.  He uses graphs, lists, and tables (an application of distant reading methods drawn from Franco Moretti’s work) to demonstrate the field’s growing specialization, as shown by the diminishing frequency of top-cited scholars among the data set of citations.  He uses Chris Anderson’s concept of the long tail to describe what he sees in the shifting citation practices of CCC articles: not only have the top-cited authors changed over 25 years (the scholars most frequently cited in 1987-1991 are not those most frequently cited in 2007-2011), but also there has been a growing number of once- or twice-cited authors or scholars, which shows the expansion and increasingly specialization of composition and rhetoric.  Mueller offers his study as a way to query the field and ask how our graduate education curriculum and professional development prepare future scholars for the field of the future.

Notable Notes

Chris Anderson – Wired magazine 2004: the long tail.  Anderson used the long tail to describe market practices, showing how online retailers are able to capitalize on less-popular niche markets (Amazon v. Borders.)  Pareto distribution/power law

contains a series of graphs – some looking at the aggregate data, others split into five-year subsets

distant reading – systematic, quantitative approach to data, a different scale than close reading, and this larger scale helps us recognize patterns and developments that are not always apparent at close range. Table of contents, article abstracts as an example of distant reading.  They enable decision making: “Readers rely on these devices to make quick decisions about whether to read a particular article or not, but reading the journal through these devices alone is not quite the same as reading a scholarly article in the common sense of the activity” (198).  (Mueller cites Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink in his endnote.)

the usefulness of graphs and distant reading – they encourage new questions

His graphs/lists/tables:

  • Figure 1- page count and citation count over 25 years (both have increased)
  • Figure 2- 102 most frequently cited authors in CCC from 1987-2011
  • Figure 3 – top ten most frequently cited authors in CCC from 1987-2011, divided into 5-year intervals
  • Figure 4 – Chris Anderson’s “Anatomy of the Long Tail”
  • Figure 5 – the long tail, references to unique names in CCC works cited 1987-2011
  • Figures 6-10 – the long tail, references to unique names in CCC works cited 1987-2011, split into 5-year intervals

there is no one stable field.  Growing specialization isn’t a problem to solve; it is something to query and base our actions on (215-217)

more research in the dataset – how does an author’s citation practices change over time? Are citation practices from graduates of certain programs similar? (214)

the problem of keeping up with scholarship in the field.  How can one read the whole long tail?  How has the field changed because of increasing specialization? (214)

our understanding of the field is based on our own vantage point (217)

extension of study done by Phillips, Greenberg, and Gibson in 1993

16,726 citations in 491 journal articles published in CCC from 1987-2011 (25 years) (197)

Who was central when? What does that say about our field? (203)

problem: “citation listings lack dimension” – the works cited does not indicate the importance or general impact of a citation on the work as a whole

dappled field (206)

Quotable Quotes

“From graphs, then, come new insights, new provocations, and new questions: what has changed, over time, in the relationship between the head of the curve and the long tail?” (215)

“A deliberate adjustment in the level of detail at which we ordinarily experience texts: this is a key motive when producing graphs as a distant reading method, and it is a common tactic for mediating large datasets, including scholarly corpora” (197-198).

“Certainly the figures at the top tell us something about citation practices and centrality in the journal’s scholarly conversation; however, the larger number of figures at the bottom indicates something more. It is, after all, in this long, flat expanse of unduplicated references that we can begin to assess just how broad-based the conversations (in a given journal) have grown – and just how much the centered, coherent, and familiar locus of conversation, based on citation practices, has slid” (210).

“Burke’s parlor is nowadays full and teeming, more crowded than ever before” (214).

“A changing disciplinary density: this is not a condition for us to solve; nonetheless, it demands a certain reckoning, particularly for graduate education and professional development” (219).


June 9, 2009

Ellsworth, Why Doesn’t This Feel Empowering

Ellsworth, Elizabeth. “Why Doesn’t This Feel Empowering? Working through the Repressive Myths of Critical Pedagogy.” Harvard Educational Review 59:3 (Aug 1989) 297-324.

Ellsworth argues that teachers that believe in critical pedagogy must confront and accept unknowability, that knowledges and voices in the classroom are partial, contradictorary, and irreducable. This complexity does not negate the purpose of a critical education. Rather, accepting that complex cultural and historical issues cannot be solved in the classroom refuses to allow for oversimplification, which in itself continues to perpetuate cycles of domination and repression. The teacher must acknowledge that they have a historical, political, and cultural perspective and stake in the dialogue and discussion and allow students to name what they want to be empowered to do. Their social subjectivity makes it impossible to completely understand students’ experiences and experiences and to steer them towards discovering their “true” inner voice.

Quotable Quotes

argument: “Key assumptions, goals, and pedagogical practices fundamental to the literature on critical pedagogy – namely, ’empowerment,’ ‘student voice,’ ‘dialogue,’ and even the term ‘critical’ – are repressive myths that perpetuate relations of domination.” (298).

“What diversity do we silence in the name of ‘liberatory’ pedagogy?” (299)

“All knowings are partial, that there are fundamental things each of us cannot know.” (310)

problem with the “generic critical teacher” (310)

Notable Notes

goal of empowerment is too abstract (good of society?) – no clear, identifiable purpose

February 3, 2009

Peeples, Rosinski, and Strickland, Chronos and Kairos, Strategies and Tactics

Peeples, Timothy, Paula Rosinski, and Michael Strickland. Chronos and Kairos, Strategies and Tactics: The Case of Constructing Elon University’s Professional Writing and Rhetoric Concentration. Composition Studies 35.1 (Spring 2007) 57-76.

Using two scenarios (discussions on new faculty hires and acquiring space), the authors show how the complementary perspectives of chronos/strategy and kairos/tactic work as a theoretical framework for describing how programs are designed, developed, and enacted. Their theory draws on both the ancient Greek notions of time (chronos and kairos) and de Certeau’s terms to describe the space from which a person acts (strategy (one’s own, independent) and tactic (undefined, opportunity-driven.)) Their piece attempts to bring case-study story-telling, a method often used by administrators to explain program design due to the very local, contextual nature of program creation, up to a theoretical level by introducing rhetorical terms that can describe common techniques and methods faculty use to carve out their own institutional spaces through majors, minors, and concentrations.

Quotable Quotes

“What we find most powerful about this framework is the way it emphasizes the rhetorical, productive, compositional nature of program development; we write and re-write our programs. As a heuristic framework, the combination of chronos/kairos and strategy/tactic helps with the ongoing inventional process of program development….gives us a way to move beyond situated awareness and toward applying rhetorical analytical skills to our own efforts at program development.” (58)

Notable Notes

emphasis on tactics is not often talked and theorized about in journals, giving a space for it here. Kairos is a key component in the development of programs.

our action – strategy and tactics – form our social realities and our discourse (58)

we need to be more deliberate and conscious of what courses of action we are taking to develop programs, to be aware of the moves that are available to us.

January 13, 2009

Birnbaum, How Colleges Work

Birnbaum, Robert. How Colleges Work: The Cybernetics of Academic Organization and Leadership. San Francisco, Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1988.

The purpose of this book is to encourage and guide college administrators towards improving what they do by thinking about their work from multiple, complex perspectives. Birnbaum does this by providing case studies of higher education administration (through five fictitious institutions) and by showing how multidisciplinary management theories either do or do not answer the unique challenges of a university. Fundamentally, a well-run university is managed by administrators who can identify the organizational patterns (like a pattern language), follow them in their administration, and create new ones when situations arise where there are no appropriate patterns. The book is divided into three parts: the first explains the elements and concepts that define universities and colleges; the second presents the models used to explain higher education organization and management (collegial, bureaucracy, political system); the third combines those models and argues that a college or university is always being developed and reinvented through all these (as possibly more) patterns.

Chapter 1, “Problems of Governance, Management, and Leadership in Academic Institutions,” addresses the challenges to leadership because of the very nature of academic institutions. It centers around governanace, since a university has three different foci of control (duality of control): the board of trustees, the administration, and the faculty. Other problems include different, conflicting goals and missions (teaching, research, service), a disagreement in the type of power and control that works to sway administraiton and faculty, inflexible resources (personnel due to tenure), decentralization of authority among faculty due to academic specialization, and the conflicting goals of cosmopolitan and local faculty. Birnbaum suggests a model based on social exchange leadership theory – that the faculty and the administration are interdependent – should be considered in the development of an administrative plan.

Chapter 2, “Thinking in Systems and Circles: The Structure and Dynamics of Academic Organizations,” explains the difference between closed and open systems and argues that the university is an  open, nonlinear, and dynamic system (which can seem chaotic), since it is comprised of so many subsystems whose intersections are so distant that a major change or failure in one area would not affect the entire system very much and other subsystems not at all. This is called loose coupling, and it allows for a greater sensitivity to the environment and the needs of each subsystem, which would not happen in a centrally-controlled, tight coupling system. Birnbaum advocates nonlinear thinking in circles and subsystems for administrators, arguing that an effective administrator is more interested in understanding the system than ruling over it with an iron fist.

Quotable Quotes

“Administrators with linear perspectives are likely to emphasize making rational decisions; administrators with nonlinear perspectives are likely to be concerned with making sense. Linear administrators think they know how the system works and how to change it; nonlinear administrators are more modest in their assumptions and expectations” (55)

“Effective administration may depend not on overcoming it [the chaos of an open system] but on accepting and understanding it” (41)

“The beliefs held by administrators and others who influence institutional life affect how they behave, how they interpret their experiences, and even what they ‘see'” (xiv)

Notable Notes

the symbolic president of university

Administration is organized around “the control and coordination of activities by superiors”; faculty around “autonomy and individual knowledge” (10) This is duality of controls. “These two sources are not only different but in mutual disagreement” (10)

Blog at