Revolution Lullabye

October 9, 2014

Drucker, Graphesis: Visual Forms of Knowledge Production

Drucker, Johanna. Graphesis: Visual Forms of Knowledge Production. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2014. Print. 

Drucker’s project in this book is to show how visual forms of knowledge not only display knowledge but create and generate knowledge. Drucker argues for humanist graphical knowledge: visual forms of knowledge that account for complexity, not simplicity, and that understand information as constructed, not context-less, given, or value-less. Drucker crosses multiple disciplinary boundaries as she traces the history of visual and graphical forms, showing how different categories of visual forms of knowledge situate knowledge and make arguments about hierarchies, relationships, and individual agencies. Her book juxtaposes her text and her argument with visual forms of knowledge from ancient hieroglyphics and stone carvings to screenshots of digital texts and maps. One of her goals is to show how the informational graphics and the interfaces that have become such an intertwined part of our everyday experience are arguments themselves, designed for specific purposes. She works in this book to bring these more invisible visual elements to the forefront and analyze them in critical, humanistic terms.

Quotable Quotes

“Humanists work with fragmentary evidence when researching cultural materials. They produce interpretations, not repeatable results. We have to find graphical conventions to show uncertainty and ambiguity in digital models, not just because these are conditions of knowledge production in our disciplines, but because the very model of knowledge itself that gets embodied in the process has values whose cultural authority matters very much” (191).

Writing and composition in a networked and digital world: “In spite of the networked condition of textual production, the design of digital platforms for daily use has hardly begun to accommodate the imaginative possibilities of constellationary composition, graphic interpretation, and diagrammatic writing…Very few acts of composition are diagrammatic, constellationary, or associative. Fewer still are visual or spatial. The predominant modes of composition in digital displays have remained quite linear, even when they have combinatoric or modular underpinnings” (183).

the future of humanistic interface: “More attention to the acts of producing and less emphasis on the product, the creation of an interface that is meant to expose and support the activity of interpretation, rather than to display finished forms, would be a good starting place” (179).

The graphical interface (our screen) is an argument, not a thing: “We ignore its graphicality, its constructedness, the very features that support its operations and make it work. We look at the interface as a thing, a representation of computational processes that make it convenient for us to interact with what is ‘really’ happening. But the interface is a mediating structure that supports behaviors and tasks. It is a space between human users and procedures that happen according to complicated protocols. But it also disciplines, constrains, and determines what can be done in any digital environment” (138-139).

“Perhaps the most striking feature distinguishing humanistic, interpretative, and constructivist graphical expressions from realist statistical graphics is that the curves, bars, columns, percentage values would not always be represented as discrete bounded entities, but as conditional expressions of interpretative parameters – a kind of visual fuzzy logic or graphical complexity. Thus their edges might be permeable, lines dotted and broken, dots and points might vary in size and scale or degree of ambiguity in placement. These graphical strategies express interpreted knowledge, situated and partial, rather than complete.” (132)

“The rendering of statistical information into graphical form gives it a simplicity and legibility that hides every aspect of the original interpretative framework on which the statistical data were constructed. The graphical force conceals what the statistician knows very well – that no “data” pre-exist their parameterization. Data are capta, taken not given, constructed as an interpretation of the phenomenal world, not inherent in it” (128)

“Maps, like other graphic conventions, construct normative notions about time, space, and experience that become so familiar that we take them for accurate representations rather than constructions” (82).

“Visualization formats exist independent of particular media. Calendars don’t have to be scratched into stone and bar charts don’t need to be rendered by engravers with finely tooled burins – any more than scatter plots have to be generated computationally.” (67)

“The interpretative acts that become encoded in graphical formats may disappear from final view in the process, but they are the persistent ghosts in the visual scheme, rhetorical elements of generative artifacts. The challenge is to develop a terminology for the rhetorical iconography of graphical forms that is grounded in the features of spatialized relations such as hierarchy, juxtaposition, and proximity (66).

The forms of our visual communication are arguments themselves: the forms were culturally-constructed and still contain that history: “We are still Babylonians, in our use of the calendar, our measure of days, hours, and minutes, just as we remain classical in our logic, medieval in our classification systems, and modern in our use of measurements expressed in rational form. Each of the many schematic conventions in daily use and the frequently unquestioned appearance in our documents and websites replicate ideologies in graphics” (65).

“Though we often use visual means to make images of invisible things, much of contemporary life simply can’t be shown. The workings of power, the force of ideology, the transmission of values, and other abstract ideas have no specific visual form, even if they work through a material social world.

“Speed, scale, complexity, and the infrastructure in place and at work in systems of communications, production, distribution, much scientific discovery, and humanistic thought simply cannot be made apparent in visual images. But an endless stream of visualizations continues to turn complex phenomena into images, reifying abstractions, turning them into objects to be seen” (22-23).

Goal: “the urgency of finding critical languages for the graphics that predominate in the networked environment” (17)

Methodology: “draw on the rich history of graphical forms of knowledge production that are the legacy of manuscript and print artifacts as well as digital media works in the arts and applied realms” (17)

“Even though our relation to experience is often (and increasingly) mediated by visual formats and images, the bias against visual forms of knowledge production is longstanding in our culture. Logocentric and numero-centric attitudes prevail” (16).

Notable Notes


Key terms in the introduction

information graphics = “visualizations based on abstractions of statistical data…Visualizations are always interpretations – data does not have an inherent visual that merely gives rise to a graphic expression” (7)

graphical user interface – “dominant feature of screens in all shapes and sizes…In a very real, practical sense we carry on most of our personal and professional business through interfaces. Knowing how interface structures our relation to knowledge and behavior is essential.” (8)

Visual epistemology – “ways of knowing that are presented and processed visually” (8)

Language of form – “a systematic approach to graphic expression as a means as well as an object of study” (9)

Image, Interpretation, and Interface

Looks at different theoretical and methodological ways of understanding visual forms as knowledge, cross disciplinary and across history

There have been efforts in the late 19th, 20th, and 21st century to create a language for graphics – formal rules and descriptions (18)

We use visualization a lot, but it is still treated as less than, suspect (23) Maybe in part because there is no universal grammar of visualization – visuals by their nature are not consistent, don’t hold meaning with “stable, fixed, and finite rules” like words/language/mathematics does. (24)

In science, visuals were used to represent and record knowledge, not produce knowledge (26-27)

Change in the late nineteenth century (Eugene Guillamume, industrial revolution) from a graphic language based on the human body (fine arts) to one based on geometry (industrial design, design to be produced and reproduced through mechanical means) (31).

Growth of formal education/principles/methods in graphic and visual design in the 20th century, modernism (35)

20th century – rise of the use of visual/graphical/statistical displays of knowledge

Interpreting Visualization/Visualizing Interpretation

The histories of visual forms of knowledge

Forms that Drucker investigates: 1. Timekeeping (star charts, calendars, timelines; 2. Space-making (maps); 3. Administration and record-keeping (tables, charts, grids, flow charts); 4. Trees of knowledge (family trees, network diagrams, evolutionary diagrams, division and hierarchy and relationships); 5. Knowledge generators (diagrams, volvelles, Venn diagrams; 6. Dynamic systems (model processes and events, weather maps and meteorology, fluid dynamics, chaos theory and systems mapping

Distinction between “static” representations (those visual representations that are merely representations of information) and “dynamic” representations (those visual representations that can create or generate knowledge) (65).

Interface and Interpretation

Looks at digital and book interface as encoding and producing knowledge, explores what a humanistic interface design might be and entail.


Call for new rhetorics, grammars of the digital media age


January 3, 2013

Reid and Estrem with Belcheir, The Effects of Writing Pedagogy Education on Graduate Teaching Assistants’ Approaches to Teaching Composition

Reid, E. Shelley and Heidi Estrem, with Marcia Belcheir. “The Effects of Writing Pedagogy Education on Graduate Teaching Assistants’ Approaches to Teaching Composition.” WPA 36.1 (Fall/Winter 2012): 30-73.

Reid and Estrem, through a two-site, multi-year study of graduate teaching assistants’ training as writing teachers, argue both that 1. TA training programs should focus on modeling to new teachers how to apply composition theories to their prior experiences as writers and students through consistent reflective practice and 2. that writing pedagogy education should extend in a formal way beyond a teaching assistant’s first year or semester.

Reid and Estrem’s study – conducted at both Boise State University and George Mason University – consisted of both a survey containing Likert scale, demographic, and short-answer questions (N=88) and semi-structured interviews (N=44) with both first-year and “experienced” teaching assistants. The goal of the research was to determine what teaching assistants valued or prioritized in their teaching of writing, what they were concerned about, and what they felt confident about as teachers of writing (syllabus design, student feedback, etc.) The survey questions and interviews did not try to elict direct responses to the formal graduate writing pedagogy education the teaching assistants participated in. Rather, the questions and the interviews tried to whether or not the principles taught in the graduate teaching seminars and workshops had “taken root” naturally in how the teaching assistants think about and approach teaching (38).

Reid and Estrem had four hypotheses: “H1: Formal pedagogy education positively impacts TA’s confidence, skills, and problem-solving repetoire; H2: TAs productively integrate formal pedagogy education into their daily thinking about and practice of teaching; H3: The effects described in H1 and H2 vary significantly across sites in relation to local conditions and practices; H4: The effects described in H1 and H2 differ across yearly stages, and are more prevalent and stable for second- and third-year TAs than they are for first-year TAs.”

The findings surprised the researchers. First, the researchers found that TAs were more likely to draw on their own personal experience as writers and students or the experiences of peers in order to build their confidence and increase their teaching and problem-solving skills than turning to the specific theories or practices covered in the writing pedagogy courses at their institutions.  Second, the surveys and the interviews showed very uneven integration of composition principles and theories in how TAs think about and talk about their teaching experiences (for example, TAs frame problems more frequently as “student-centered” than “pedagogy-centered” (48)).  Third, there was very little statistical significance in the responses between the two sites and between first-year and experienced TAs in their second or third years, showing that local conditions didn’t have a drastic effect on how TAs approached the teaching of writing and that experienced TAs weren’t more confident about teaching than first-year TAs.

Notable Notes

GSU and BSU have very different TA training programs – one is a two-week seminar in the summer, a one-semester teaching practicum, and a 1/2 teaching load in the first year; the other is a two-semester teaching practicum and a writing center appointment in the first year.  However, there wasn’t sizable statistical difference among the two groups. (51)

Survey questions and statistical results published in the appendix.

“interteaching mode” – a theory borrowed by Malderez/Bodoczky that new teachers aquire a pedagogy over time, in the same way second-language learners aquire a language (called “interlanguage” theories)  (34)

K-12 teacher education analysis (37)

Robert Parker – the progression of making theory practical – of using it to solve problems (55).

One of the problems – institutional pressure to certify TAs quickly, after weeks or a semester or a year, without time for TAs to truly develop into writing educators (57).

Quotable Quotes

“Data suggest that our TAs were influenced more strongly by prior personal experiences and beliefs and their experiences in the classroom than by their formal pedagogy education” (34).

“Our data do suggest that the very specific information we bring to TAs still occupies a limited and sometimes peripheral position in their daily thoughts and practices regarding teaching writing” (49).

“Our new teachers see writing education often, even predominantly, through the lens of student management rather than composition pedagogy; they continue to explicitly value their own lived experience more strongly than the knowledge or skills we focus on with them; and they infrequently use language or mention concepts that we can identify as coming from our programs. In other words, the data we didn’t find thus suggest the need for a more complex understanding of causation and learning regarding writing pedagogy education” (54-55).

“However, the ‘resistance’ we see in our data may be more inertial than consciously directed: we may simply be seeing TAs rank the least familiar and most abstract factors lowest among things they can rely on in helping them feel and act like confident teachers” (55).

“We cannot endow our TAs with new theory by giving them a pedagogy class; they must appraise and integrate new knowledge themselves” (55). Development takes time.

Call for extended TA education: “Continued access to guided educational moments might provide the interruption, the call to reflection and ongoing metacognition that have been found to enable transfer” (59).  Parallels to WAC and spiral writing curricula.

“Given data that reveal so few differences between first-year and beyond-first-year TAs, a program of regular, formal, directed pedagogy must continue beyond the first year if we hope to have any substantial, lasting effect on how TAs teach and think about teaching writing” (61).   Sporadic professional development opportunities are not enough.

December 20, 2012

Middleton, Recognizing Acts of Reading

Middleton, Holly. “Recognizing Acts of Reading: Creating Reading Outcomes and Assessments for Writing.” WPA 36.1 (Fall/Winter 2012): 11-31. Print.

Middleton argues for clearer outcome statements for reading comprehension in writing programs, pointing out that good college writing practices are inextricably linked to successful college reading practices. Together with the instructors of her institution’s basic writing program, she wrote specific, measurable reading outcomes for the basic reading course and designed a pre- and post-course assessment to determine whether or not those students’ reading comprehension (tested by true/false reading guide statements and a summary of the problem presented in three related texts) improved over the course of the semester.  Middleton kept data for four semesters (two academic years), and found a positive, statistically significant improvement in students’ reading abilities. She argues for WPAs to develop and align reading outcomes and assessments for their writing programs that fit the needs of their institutions, and calls for further research in the field on the relationship between reading and writing.

Notable Notes

the program was designed for students at New Mexico Highlands University, a university that enrolls a large number of Hispanic, low-income, and first-generation college students.  The English 100 (basic writing) course is one that is an important part of the university’s mission and the subject of administrative interest and oversight.

Middleton instituted a common text (Integrations), a common reading assessment (pre- and post- text), and asked instructors to privilege open-ended, inquiry, problme-solving questions and responses instead of one-answer-is-right reading assessments.  Reading is assessed through writing.

Tehaha O’Reilly and Kathleen Sheehan: framework for reading assessment – “model-building” and “applied comprehension” (15) – assessment not easily accomplished in multiple choice.

consistency in this assessment was key – in course text, assessments, grading practices, teaching strategies

rely on Adler-Kassner/Estrem’s “Critical Thinking, Reading, and Writing: A View from the Field” (The Outcomes Book) and “Reading Practices in the Writing Classroom” (WPA 31 (2007))

increase in word count between pre- and post- test (more fluency, if not better summary/content)

Quotable Quotes

“If we do not recognize the role of reading, the other act of composition, in our writing programs and our field, we aren’t recognizing the complexity of our textual world” (27).

Long-range assessment: the US Air Force Academy mathematics study (instructor/student pairing, Carrell and West): “The study is a compelling one, because it points to the limits of each assessment in the context of a learner’s intellectual life and within a sequenced curriculum. We assess what we value, but that does not mean that everything we value is or can be captured.” (25)

“We would do well to remember that learning to write for a new discourse community requires learning to read for it” (12).

“Rather than an elementary activity, reading comprehension is itself a complex set of practices implied, but not usually elaborated, in our writing programs” (15)…connection to summary writing/using sources

“It is the activity of rereading and returning to the text, of referring to the text in class discussions, that we wanted to prioritize.” (16)

“Students tended to experience each reading as compartmentalized and discrete, rather than as the sequenced intellectual journey we imagined for them” (18).


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