Revolution Lullabye

March 10, 2009

Latour, Reassembling the Social

Latour, Bruno. Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2005.

Latour, a French sociologist, gives in Reassembling the Social a guidebook for actor-network-theory (abbreviated ANT), a way of approaching sociology that is markedly different than most “science of the social” sociology studies, including critical sociology. ANT looks at the “tracing of associations” and has three moves that must be done in succession: first, deploying contraversies about the social work; second, rendering associations traceable again; and third, reassembling the social. This way of approaching sociology ends with society instead of beginning with it, seeing the collective built from networks of associations, associations and ties that can only be traced if they are dynamic and have movement. In this way, there is no such thing as a monolith, invisible force in society that makes people (or actors) act in a certain way – if it is invisible, it can’t be traced, and it can’t be studied. Rather, Latour argues that the sociology that can change the politics in society is a sociology that is grounded in the shifting sands of relativism and uncertainty, that sees actors as mediators of change, that goes slow and keeps flat the connections between actors and sites. It’s a move from the global to the local, and he uses metaphors from cartography to explain how he is trying to keep the social flat – in 2-D – so that the traces can be easily seen, traces that would be lost in 3-D. The implications of Latour’s explanation of actor-network-theory is that he argues that there is no such thing as a stable society: societies, collectives, are fluid, constantly being arranged and re-arranged, and any study that tries to look at society (using “social” as a all-encompassing modifier) is missing the point; disciplines must become sensitive to the very dynamic, complex nature of the collectives, socieites, and systems they are studying.

Quotable Quotes

“redefining sociology not as the ‘science of the social’, but as the tracing of associations. In this menaing of the adjective, social does not designate a thing among other things, like a black sheep among other white sheep, but a type of connnection between things that are not themselves social” (5)

“the work of connection and collection” – what reassembling the social is (8)

“The laws of the social world may exist, but they occupy a very different position from what the tradition had first thought. They are not behind the scene, above our heads and before the action, but after the action, below the participants and smack in the foreground. They don’t cover, nor encompass, nor gather, nor explain; they circulate, they format, they standardize, they coordinate, they have to be explained. There is no society, or rather, society is not the name of the whole terrain….For sociology the era of exploration may start again, provided we keep reminding ourselves of this motto: don’t fill in the blanks.” (246)

“The social is but a moment in the long history of assemblages, suspended between the search for the body politic and the exploration of the collective” (247)

“At every corner, science, religion, politics, law, economics, organizations, etc, offer phenomena that we have to find puzzling again if we want to understand the types of entities collectives may be composed of in the future.” (248)

Notable Notes

the move of the modern is creating two binaries that can’t be reconciled, they are two camps that must be distinct. (10) This moderninst construction makes postmodern hybrids, which deny that purification move to separate what is human and what is natural (10-11) People want to try to avoid the messy hybrids and do so by creating these binaries.

move to description – it is enough (time-consuming if you do a good job, difficult and complex) to describe what you see. There’s too often a push to jump to evaluations, conclusions, as if the people or systems you are studying weren’t critical or self-reflexive before you came on the scene (from the conversation between the professor (Latour) and the PhD student) 141-156

everything that acts leaves a trace – follow the traces

Gabriel Tarde – the social is a “circulating fluid,” “not a specific type of organism” (13)

five contraversies – the nature of 1. groups, 2. actions, 3. objects, 4. facts, and 5. the type of studies done under the label of sociology

contradictorary group enrollment – look at hte forming and unravelling of groups – social groups are performative definitions (34)

actors are not passive intermediatories, the are their own mediators (153)

three moves of the second part – regender associations traceable again: 1. localizing the global 2. redistrubiting the local 3. connecting sites

third move of political epistemology

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February 15, 2009

Althusser, Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses

Althusser, Louis. “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes Toward an Investigation)” In Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1971. 127-186.

The educational system is the primary way the ideology of the ruling class is reproduced and therefore inscribed in society. The schools are a ideological state apparatus, which though part of the private domain, are institutions of the State in as much as they silently indoctrinate (through ideology primarily, then repression) children, producing classes of workers who each ascribe to the philosophy and mentality that is necessary for them to reproduce the societal relations that the State, controlled by the dominant class, is dependent upon for existence. The ideology that pervades ideological state apparatuses like the educational system has a material existence: it must be a practice and be performed through rituals and apparatuses created and acted out by subjects to that ideology.

Quotable Quotes

Central thesis: “1. There is no practice except by and in an ideology; 2. There is no ideology except by the subject and for subjects” (170).

“No class can hold State power over a long period without at the same time exercising its hegemony over and in the State Ideological Apparatuses” (146).

“The ultimate condition of production is therefore the reproduction of the conditions of production” (127).

Notable Notes

ideology creates subjects out of individuals, exists eternally, so we are all subjects always

extends Marx’s critique to include the idea of ideological state apparatuses in addition to Marx’s repressive state apparatuses, which ensure the political existence of the state through repression primarily, ideology second.

Church used to be the dominant ISA – one of the most important consequences of the French Revolution and the Reformation was the destruction of the Church as a unified ISA for the State.

education system takes kids away during formative years, for 11+ years, 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, and spits them out at different times, have learned different roles according to their function in society: blue collar (exploited), white collar (those who exploit), leaders/elite (create ideologies, agents of repression). School is thought to be natural, neutral, beneficial, and indispensible. Education “steeps” them in ideology (133)

ISAs are the sites of class struggle, because they are so plural and diverse, full of contradictions, State power can’t lay down the law as easily here

February 8, 2009

Julier, Community Service Pedagogy

Julier, Laura. “Community Service Pedagogy.” 132-148.

Community service pedagogy (or service learning) became a cross-disciplinary higher education reform movement in the 1980s and was embraced by some compositionists because it answered many of the needs instructors found in their first-year composition classrooms: it gave students a real audience to write for; it increased students’ motivation; it allowed students to work with a variety of discourses, genres, and rhetorics; it encouraged context-driven writing; it had close connections with critical pedagogy and cultural studies; and it brought writing back to its civil, public rhetorical roots. Service learning in composition can take several forms: writing about the community, writing for the community, and writing with the community. Writing courses that incorporate service learning should have students think, discuss, and write critically about the power dynamics inherent in service projects.

Quotable Quotes

A problem with service learning: “The rhetoric of sending stduents ‘out’ into ‘the’ community may, in some settings and course designs, confirm for students an insider-outsider understanding of academic purposes, and replicate condescending models of charity and missionary work that do more to undermine than to advance the goals of multicultural education and social transformation” (142).

Notable Notes

service learning is not located in any one discipline; it is seen as a reform movement in higher ed that seeks to transform the cultures and mission of higher education.

service learning in composition has just recently been more theorized; much of the earlier scholarship told narratives of other peoples’ success stories with it.

service learning has a legitimacy problem. Scholars who devote time to service projects sometimes get docked on tenure and promotion; often it is not seen as an area of research because it is so multidisciplinary and cross-cultural in its appraoach.

Zlotkowski; Adler-Kassner; Crooks; Watters; Stotsky, Connecting Civic Education and Language Education; Jacoby et al; Waterman; de Acosta; Greco; Anson; Cooper; Rosemary Area; Linda Flower (Carnegie Mellon)

negotiate the educational project of service learning with the needs and wishes of the community organization.

importance of having students reflect on their service experience.

January 31, 2009

Lindemann, A Rhetoric for Writing Teachers

I’m beginning to see the value (you would hope!) in reading through all these guides for beginning teachers of composition. I now know the basic issues that new teachers face, what the field (in general) thinks that it’s important for them to learn or know about (and in turn what their students should learn and know about.) The same common theories and many of the same texts are referenced in both, both in the book and in attached bibliographies, creating sort of a “canon” for important texts for beginning composition teachers (I’ll be reading some of them next.) But, most importantly I think, from an administration point of view, I now know a lot of the approaches taken to instruct beginning teachers about the teaching of writing, and I can draw on these texts in creating a syllabus for that kind of course (or for less formal, less intensive teacher-training.) I like the theoretically-grounded approach Lindemann takes in this text, and I think the one-author (rather than anthology) approach makes the text more coherent and cohesive, a more intimate and straightforward guide for new teachers, but one with a lot of meat and nuances.

Lindemann, Erika. A Rhetoric for Writing Teachers. 4th ed. New York: Oxford UP, 2001.

This guide for writing teachers, in its fourth edition, approaches the teaching of writing from a rhetorical perspective, emphasizing teaching a rhetorically and theoretically-grounded concept of writing to students and seeing the act of teaching (and all that is part of that job) as a rhetorical enterprise. The book is divided into three major sections. The first, “The Composing Process,” defines key terms like context, code, and message, and explains the stages of the writing process, highlighting the social nature of writing. The second, “Rhetorical Theory and Practice,” offers three chapters about the fundamental concepts in rhetoric, linguistics, and cognition that writing teachers must know, citing major names and theories, and goes on with other chapters about invention and revision strategies and the study of discourse and style (paragraphing, sentences, and words.) The third section, “Teaching as Rhetoric,” has chapters on assignment creation, response, evaluation, course design, and writing with computers (added for this edition.) Lindemann points out why writing instruction is so important for students – for economic power, social necessity (to live and interact with others in society), and for personal meaning-making – in the introduction of the text. She sees students and their instructors as writers both struggling to make meaning and urges teachers to have the “courage” to give up some of the control and authority those teaching other disciplines might have in order to meet and interact with their students as writers.

Quotable Quotes

“Theories give coherence and direction to the practical. They demonstrate the complexities of the writing process and the importance of teaching it well” (9).

Inspiration from Donald Murray: We, like our students “wrestle with the difficult process of creating meaning through language” (305).

“What is truly basic to composition – a person communicating with another person” (305).

Notable Notes

end of the book contains an extensive timeline of important dates in rhetoric and composition and a bibliography of selected texts

January 24, 2009

Elbow, “Embracing Contraries in the Teaching Process”

Elbow, Peter. “Embracing Contraries in the Teaching Process.” In The Writing Teacher’s Sourcebook. 65-76.

A good composition teacher (or really any teacher in general) must be simultaneously for the students (their advocate and coach, helping them improve as students and writers) and for society (upholding high disciplinary standards.) Elbow argues that it is possible to be both, citing that a similar contradiction is a necessary element of the writing process: a writer begins by opening up possibilities in invention and early drafting, and then polishes the piece according to standard writing conventions.

Quotable Quotes

“In order to teach well we must find some way to be loyal both to students and to knowledge or society” (75).

“underlying structure of contrasting mentalities” (76).

Notable Notes

points at Socrates and Christ as model teachers who embraced this contrary. Oxford and Cambridge have a tutor and examining committee model.

For students, we must treat them as smart and capable, act as their advocates, show them we are on their side and are ourselves still engaged in learning, individuals with “our doubts, ambivalences, and biases” (70).

For society, we must hold high standards, critically evaluate student work, don’t get too attached to individual students

In a course – set high standards at the beginning and then work with the students to help them achieve those goals.

Comments on drafts show “this is how you can do it better”

January 3, 2009

Csikszentmihaly, Flow

Csikszentmihaly, Mihaly. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: HarperCollins, 1990.

Csikszentmihaly explains the principles a person must follow in order to achieve flow, the optimal experience which leads to true happiness. His theory of flow is based on the data collected by his team of researchers through the University of Chicago, who interviewed experts in diverse fields (surgeons, dancers, philosophers, mountain climbers, musicians), and gathered personal testaments from hundreds of other ordinary people around the world through a method called experience sampling, where a person wears a pager for a week and writes down their feelings and thoughts each time the pager goes off (eight randomized times a day.) His concept of flow and optimal experience builds on the theories developed by other scholars in psychology, sociology, and anthropology, and is used by those in fields as varied as occupational therapy, education, design, and criminal justice.

Csikszentmihaly’s theory of optimal experience is grounded in the belief that an individual must control their own consciousness (their perception and reaction to reality) in order to achieve happiness. The universe cannot be controlled or predicted; therefore, instead of only reacting to it as a passive responder, a person who wants to achieve flow must confront the challenges life brings and find a way to make meaning out of them. That way of meaning must be intrinsically developed through a set of personal goals and purposes, for societal goals and the “shields of culture” society develops in response to the chronic frustration humans face in nature can fall apart, leading to further disillusion and anxiety. What people can control is their attention: what bits of information they choose to focus on and pay attention to.

Happiness, Csikszentmihaly argues, is achieved through participation in autotelic activities, defined as “a self-contained activity, one that is done not with the expectation of some future benefit, but simply because the doing itself is the reward” (67). Autotelic activities have several characteristics: they are challenging activities that require skills, they occur during the merging of action and awareness, they have clear goals and feedback, they require complete concentration on the task at hand, they give the person a sense of non-threatened control, they allow the person to experience a loss of self-consciousness as the person becomes one with the activity, and they often involve a transformation of time (time slows down or speeds up.) The purpose of life, Csikszentmihaly argues, is to create a systematic pattern of optimal experiences, which can be achieved by setting goals, becoming immersed in activities that you care about, paying attention to what happens around you, and enjoying the immediate experiences of life. In the book, Csikszentmihaly shows how people can experience flow in physical activities, symbolic activities, work, relationships, and during times of extreme stress and tragedy.

Quotable Quotes

“Happiness, in fact, is a condition that must be prepared for, cultivated, and defended privately by each person. People who learn to control inner experience will be able to determine the quality of their life, which is as close as any of us can come to being happy” (2).

Flow: “The state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it” (4).

“We create ourselves by how we invest this energy” – psychic energy, attention (33)

“Cultures are defensive constructions against chaos, designed to reduce the impact of randomness on experience” (81) Cultures create goals and rules about how people should order attention.

“People without an internalized symbolic system can all too easily become captives of the media. They are easily manipulated by demagogues, pacified by entertainers, and exploited by anyone who has something to sell” (128).

“Taking up each new challenge not as something to be repressed or avoided, but as an opportunity for learning and improving skills” (172)

“Learning how to use time alone, instead of escaping from it” (171)

Notable Notes

Csikszentmihaly’s notes are contained in the back of the book, with references to the literature behind his claims for each chapter. The notes are extensive and are a condensed scholarly-referenced version of the book.

Optimal experience, flow, attention are not passive – they call on people to participate in life.

Csikszentmihaly believes that religion is not the answer for finding true happiness because it is a construct of culture, not an individually-determined creation. Old methods of liberation (from societal controls) don’t always work in different historical contexts (example: yoga in modern-day California) because the needs and purposes of people are different.

Consciousness = “intentionally ordered information” (26) because lots of information enters our brain (7 bits at a time, 40 bits a second), but we have to choose what we pay attention to and make part of our consciousness, our version of reality.

Plane of happiness: boredom — flow — anxiety/frustration

Autotelic families instill clarity, centering, choice, commitment, and challenge to their children.

The autotelic personality is created both individually and by a society that allows autotelic individuals to function and work.

History is important and enjoyable because it exercises memory. The ability to memorize allows for self, internal stimulation because the mind “is stoked with patterns of information” – an independent, autonomous mind (124).

Autotelic jobs are independent, skill-driven, challenging, and constructed like games.

People who get through ordeals well have dissipative structures that can recycle waste into order and energy: unselfconscious self-assurance, can focus attention on the world rather than themselves, and are open to discover new solutions and alternatives. (201-202)

Making all of life have meaning involves finding purpose, choosing a path of resolve, and moving in harmony with the world.

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