Revolution Lullabye

December 31, 2010

Phelps, Telling a Writing Program Its Own Story

Phelps, Louise Wetherbee. “Telling the Writing Program Its Own Story: A Tenth-Anniversary Speech.” The Writing Program Administrator as Researcher: Inquiry in Action and Reflection. Eds. Rose and Weiser. Boynton/Cook Heinemann, 1999. 168-84.

Phelps uses the metaphor of a “Great Group” to explain the heady, exciting first years of the Syracuse Writing Program. It wasn’t exactly a “Great Group” – Great Groups are usually elite, young, and self-selected, and at the Writing Program, the independent writing program grew from a very heterogeneous faculty and staff, diverse in age, experience, and in degree. Phelps explains that the Writing Program had a tension-filled dynamic, a thrilling roller-coaster ride oscillating between order and chaos. Phelps argues that this dynamic is central to the development of any complex system or organization. Phelps also describes the storytelling role of leaders, explaining why it is crucial for WPAs to use rhetoric through speech and through writing to communicate to their program and to the university at large.


October 3, 2009

Atlee, Theories of Co-Intelligence

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This post is a summary of some of Thomas Atlee’s key ideas about co-intelligence. The Co-Intelligence Institute (, the foundation he founded and directs, has a website that contains numerous articles and links to resources and scholarship on co-intelligence.

Co-intelligence is an attitude that a person or a group can orient themselves to in order to draw on the diverse experiences, intelligences, and wisdoms of others in order to better solve problems. It requires that those involved in the group embrace and understand diversity as an asset in order to build a more holistic, dynamic intelligence. Those involved in co-intelligent initiatives and projects work consciously and deliberately to build and construct systems that encourage the development of co-intelligence among members, creating sustainable, organized systems that highlight the interconnectedness and relationships between people and ideas. Co-intelligence is intelligence “with”: with others, with systems, with a group, between groups and communities.

Atlee’s theories are used by scholars in design, ecology, philosophy, political science and governance, and organizational theory. Atlee argues that participation in co-intelligence – as opposed to what he terms “alienated individualism” – benefits the individual, the group, and society as a whole. When people work synergistically with others, they keep the big picture in mind, benefiting all.

Atlee presents two aspects of co-intelligence: collective intelligence and collaborative intelligence. Collective intelligence is drawing on the inclusive collective knowledge of a group (as opposed to one person’s individual intelligence) to better, more wisely solve problems. Atlee gives examples of how different levels of groups and communities, from small and large groups to whole states and countries, have used collective intelligence successfully. Collaborative intelligence is the spirit in which a group or person can engage in co-intelligence: working for the benefit of all instead of to dominate or oppress. This can happen through an open economy of sharing information.

Quotable Quotes

“This ability to wisely organize our lives together — all of us being wiser together than any of us could be alone — we call co-intelligence. In its broadest sense, co-intelligence involves accessing the wisdom of the whole on behalf of the whole.”

From “A Compact Vision of Co-intelligence”
“attention to collective intelligence is a key ingredient missing from most civic and political undertakings.” How about our scholarly undertakings?

“A major challenge in all collaboration is the creative use of diversity. One form of diversity is, interestingly enough, different cognitive styles or what some call multiple intelligences. Within and among us, we find analytical intelligence and emotional intelligence, verbal intelligence and musical intelligence, kinesthetic bodily intelligence and transcendental intelligence, and many more. How do analytical, intuitive and kinesthetically-oriented people apply their diverse intelligences collaboratively to generate a more powerful, complete collective intelligence?”

From “Ten Qualities of Co-intelligence”
“Co-intelligence is multi-dimensional, inclusive, wise, responsive, grounded in interconnectedness, synergistic, collaborative, self-aware, holistic and systemic, manifesting at many levels of human activity.”

“We build, invite and utilize partnerships to accomplish our goals. We seek interactivity to generate energy — and dialogue to generate wisdom. We value, above all, conscious, intentional co-operation and co-creativity. We are practicing the co-intelligent art of collaboration.”

“We arrange our lives and relationships, groups and organizations, communities and cultures so as to support these co-intelligent qualities. We know that the design of environments, relationships and processes influences consciousness, and that consciousness influences design. We are being mindful of the systemic nature of co-intelligence that manifests at many levels of human activity and reality.”

Notable Notes

The Tao of Democracy (Atlee 2003)

February 23, 2009

Porter et al, Institutional Critique

Porter, James E., Patricia Sullivan, Stuart Blythe, Jeffrey T. Grabill, and Libby Miles. “Institutional Critique: A Rhetorical Methodology for Change.” CCC 51.4 (June 2000) 610-642.

Composition and rhetoric scholars need to begin seeing the institution itself, as a rhetorical and spatial entity, as the place where they might critique and enact change. Working with the situated institution prevents composition and rhetoric’s critiques and calls for change from being to global and idealistic or being so local (classroom-level) that it does not effect the institution as a whole. Institutions range from the university to the school, legal, and political system. Institutional critique as a methodolgy draws on postmodern mapping and critical theory, particularily investigating the rhetorical and spatial construction of institutions, the power dynamics at the boundaries, and the multiple historical and social perspectives of those in the institution. This kind of methodology begins to push the gap between research and service and might be one way of validating and rewarding the rich intellectual work that compositionists and rhetoricians do that is all but thrown away with the label of “service.” Rhetoric and composition as a field is uniquely equip to practice institutional critique.

Quotable Quotes

“Our basic claim is this: Though institutions are certainly powerful, they are not monoliths; they are rhetorically constructed human designs (whose power is reinforced by buildings, laws, traditions, and knowledge-making practices) and so are changeable” (611).

“We focus, then, on institutions as rhetorical systems of decision making that exercise power through the design of space (both material and discursive)” (621).

“Institutional critique is, fundamentally, a pragmatic effort to use rhetorical means to improve institutional systems” (625).

Notable Notes

projects like where a writing center is physically situated on campus; how and when during the publishing process a handbook is open for revision & the various stakes that go into such a production; Ellen Cushman’s work with Quarytown in The Struggle and the Tools.

advocacy – action to enact change. Can’t stop at critique. It fills in the gap between macro-level ideals and mirco-level classroom practices

equating the discipline with the institution ignores the material constraints the discipline has to work in (619)

design relationship – between rhetoric and space

David Sibley Geographies of Exclusion, postmodern geography

February 22, 2009

Phelps, Telling a Writing Program Its Own Story

Phelps, Louise Wetherbee. “Telling a Writing Program Its Own Story: A Tenth Anniversary  Speech.” In The Writing Program Administrator as Researcher: Inquiry into Action and Reflection. Eds. Shirley K. Rose and Irwin Weiser. Portsmouth: Boynton/Cook Heinemann, 1998.


This version that I am reading and taking notes on is the uncut version. The  speech was significantly cut in the collection.


This article combines the tenth anniversary speech Phelps gives to the Syracuse University Writing Program in 1997 with her analysis and reflection on speech as a form  of administrative rhetoric and highlights the intellectual work of both administration and leadership. The speech is divided into three sections – narrative, analysis, and reflection – which are based on the common moves taught in the Syracuse writing studios. Phelps shows how the Writing Program, founded in 1986, can be described as a sort of “Great Group,” who risked chaos in a outpouring of inventiveness and creativity in the early  years of the program. This complex open system became self-organizing, subcritical, and more orderly as the Program reached relatively high “fitness peaks.” However, in order to remain responsive and relevant to changing context, Phelps argues that the Program must be inventive still by bringing in new faculty and new leadership, developing new programs like the graduate program and a major, and by constantly searching out large and small opportunities to connect with other departments, colleges, and outside organizations that will allow the Program to grow, expand, and evolve. Phelps then steps outside her speech and analyzes it as a form of administrative rhetoric, arguing that WPAs, especially women, must not cede their authority as a leader. Rather, they should embrace the public form of administrative rhetoric in the form of speeches for they provide an opportunity to explain to the community that they lead the ideas and principles inherent in their organizing narrative. Strong reflective leadership is not coercive; it is necessary for the survival of a complex, dynamic organization like a writing program.


Quotable Quotes


“The Writing Program chose the Great Group model, where disparate people are drawn together by mutual commitment to a project and became energized by the power of collaboration, because we believed that it is a social structure more conducive to creativity and more successful in the long run.

In that choice, we risked chaos.”


“If the early development of the Writing Program represented the gamble of falling into chaos, after ten years one must imagine that we now risk the possibility of too much order. We are likely to find ourselves trapped on relatively high fitness peaks, where there is a big cost for coming down and trying another one that isn’t likely to prove that much better.” – reminds me of Jefferson/Adams, a  revolution every generation, tension and questioning whether the next wave is going to be as good as what you got already


“I came ever more strongly to believe that it is right for writing program administrators to aspire to leadership as an honorable role, to explore and analyze the role of rhetoric in administration, to make creative and ethical use of the rhetorical power their office (and their training) lends them.”



Notable Notes


Great Groups


Important sources: Bennis and Biderman (Organizing Genius: The Secrets of Creative Collaboration); Gould (Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History); Kaufmann (At Home in the Universe: The Search for the Laws of Self-Organization and Complexity); Senge (The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization)


Reference to working on institutional invention piece


Used reflections from people who were in the early years of the program


WP wasn’t an  exact Great Group  because the people involved were so heterogeneous; not everyone bought into the idea, so that caused conflict and pain.


Ecological/systems  model


In a complex open system, there must be smaller, more local groups with autonomy that can grow and evolve, together creating a network to form the entire system


Evolution isn’t a linear path – there comes a point where there is an explosion of creativity (supracritical) that then is tamed by a learning or S-curve, when you reach high fitness peaks.


That “cascade of novelty in uncoordinated, chaotic interactions” was the fear of those who wanted a common text and curriculum.


Coevolving systems


Move from romance into a fruitful marriage


WPA is a “convenient euphemism” for administrators who don’t want to take on the name of leader – why are we so reluctant to use power wisely?


Speech as intellectual work of a writing program administrator

February 17, 2009

Phelps, Institutional Invention

Phelps, Louise Wetherbee. “Institutional Invention: (How) Is It Possible?” In Perspectives on Rhetorical Invention. Eds. Janet M. Atwill and Janice M. Lauer. Knoxville: The U of Tennessee P, 2002.

Phelps argues that institutions can be sites of invention in two ways: they themselves can constantly restructure their ideals, governance, finances, and curriculum, and second, universities can consciously structure itself so that it provides a creative environment for all those who work there. Her argument is situated in the move on many American colleges and universities to restructure to a more bueracratic system, one where administrators and staff instead of the traditional full-time faculty have governance over the institution. In this type of system, distributed leadership is key.Writing program administrators need to realize the power of seizing leadership in order to make institutional change within their own programs to provide environments for creativity, collaboration, and community among the students, faculty, staff, and part-time instructors. Phelps looks at the institution through a system approach, showing how it is both chaotic/creative and structured simulatenously.

Quotable Quotes

University as a creative system: The “refreshing focus on the inventiveness of a human system rather than exclusively on its function of distributing and controlling power” (80).

“I find it fruitful to juxtapose an nderstanding creativity as systemic wiht a concept of sufficiently complex systems as inherently creative. Together they provide a new metaphorical frame that helps us define problems and generate specific questions about institutional invention.” (79)

Notable Notes

combining practical experience of WPA and a rhetorician’s knowledge of understanding how to react and communicate in changing circumstances. The importance of rhetoric in institutional leadership

further questions to explore at the end of the article

goals: develop concept of invention as emergent phenomenon of institutions; how this concept changes how we think of leadership; the barriers to institutional invention in institutions today (71)

practical art of institutional invention (71)

February 9, 2009

Rose and Weiser, The WPA as Researcher and Archivist

Rose, Shirley and Irwin Weiser. “The WPA as Researcher and Archivist.” In The Writing Program Administrator’s Resource. Eds. Stuart C. Brown and Theresa Enos. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 2002. 275-302.

Writing program administrators need to see archiving the program’s records as an intregral and necessary part of their job, for it provides a rich source for future WPAs to understand the history and development of the specific program, and it invites questions that result in further WPA-led research in the program. Archiving takes more than just scanning documents and saving them or throwing them in a file cabinet; every writing program needs to develop documentation strategies that create systems in which to evaluate, analyze, and store records so that they can be both a usable and accessible archive. It is vital that the WPA oversees the archival process, for only she has the disciplinary knowledge through which to understand the potential rhetorical importance of a document (both currently and for future WPAs.) Futhermore, creating an archive of WPA documents demonstrates that WPA work is important knowledge that should be kept and looked at in the future.

Quotable Quotes

“Records become an archiveand thus a potential resource for research when intellectual control has been exercised over them; that is, they must be organized and accessible to use. Thus, archiving, like research, is a deliberate activity, one requiring the exercise of agency” (277).

“Writing program research and writing program records management are essential and interdependent responsbilities of every WPA” (276).

WPA work “merits documentation, preservation, and subsequent investigation” (284).

Notable Notes

work with professional archivist, but take responsibility of record storage and documentation strategy in your own hands

document-event relationship; shifting significance of a document with different audiences over time

importance of collaboration with document creators to create a dynamic documentation system that retains records as they are being made

the outcome of WPA research (through archiving) is immediate with obvious impact

difficulty of carving out the time with all other more immediate WPA duties to go about creating and maintaining an archive, requires long-range vision for the future of the program

February 1, 2009

Miller, Expertise and Agency

Miller, Carolyn R. “‘Expertise and Agency’: Transformations of Ethos in Human-Computer Interaction.” In The Ethos of Rhetoric. Ed. Michael J. Hyde, U of South Carolina P, 2004. 197-218.
Miller explores the two complementary modes of human-computer interaction in the post-Cold War era: expert systems and intelligent agents. Using a grounding in twentieth century US history and an understanding in the computer systems and programs developed from the 1950s onward, Miller shows how the ethos in the human-computer interaction changes from an ethos interested in rational reliability (phronesis) to one concerned with interaction with the user (eunoia.) Ethos is not just a normative function; it is descriptive as well and can shed light on the kind of rhetorical community participants belong to. The shift from a rhetoric of domain-specific expert systems to one of intelligent agents happened in the 1970s and 1980s, when public trust in institutions and authority figures took a nose dive (Vietnam, Watergate) and when rapidly evolving technologies allowed for the development of a more complex, more diverse (in markets and knowledge), and more distributed world. Intelligent agents, as opposed to expert systems that are concerned with the accumulation of one domain of knowledge, are semi-autonomous, have choices, and interact with the environment. Their “expertise” and knowledge is collected in a distributed fashion. Miller argues that the ethos of rational reliability and that of sympathy are on two ends of a pendulum and must be balanced with virtues and moral reasoning (arete.)
Quotable Quotes
“A discourse…delinieates a rhetorical community and consequently an ethos – a sensus communis and a locus communis – a place where interlocutors abide, about which they contest, and from which they draw appeals. Those who dwell within a rhetorical community acquire their character as rhetorical participants from it, as it educates and socializes them. The community does this in part by supplying the Aristotelian components of ethos – the judgment (phronesis), values (arete), and feelings (eonoia) that make a rhetor persuasive to other members of the community” (198)
This is important because it’s about how the discourse that we create in turns creates the community – the hive. The writing that happens in blogs, del.ic.ious, GoogleDocs, tagging, etc. – imparts both a community and a shared ethos that is carried out in different projects.
Looking at ethos “can help us determine aspects of our community and our communal character” (198)
Notable Notes
Distrust in authority is historically and culturally grounded, leads to these bottom-up, more user-need sensitive human-computer interaction systems. People aren’t (usually) crazy domain experts. Their expertise is distributed and can be documented and used most efficiently in more of an intelligent agent system.
Ethos is normative and descriptive.

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)

January 1, 2009

Hodge and Kress, Social Semiotics

Hodge, Robert and Gunther Kress. Social Semiotics. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1988.

The authors, who developed a theory of usable (or critical) linguistics in their 1979 book Language as Ideology, wrote Social Semiotics to address two limitations in their linguistic theory: the lack of focus on “the primacy of the social dimension in understanding language structures and processes” and the inattention to the meanings inherent in non-verbal messages (such as in aural, behavioral, and visual codes.) Their study, which begins with an overview of twentieth-century linguistic theory, explaining the structuralist foundations of Saussure and Peirce, highlights the importance of social context in the meaning-making process. That context includes ideology, the current logonomic system, history, and social relationships. Drawing from Durkheim (and Marx), Hodge and Kress point out that there are two parts of every social message – power and solidarity – and show, through examples ranging from sub-population accents and antilanguages to the Biblical debate over the pronounciation of “shibboleth” and from classic Davy Crockett and Two-Gun Lil cartoons to the traditional Greek familial relationships showcased in Sophocles’ plays, that every meaning-making act is a social strategy to position one person or group in power and authority over another, who confirms their power through by going along and acting in solidarity with the rest of society. For both social control and an understanding of truth and reality, there is an interdependence between those in power and those being controlled.

There is a good appendix with definitions of Hodge and Kress’s key terms and concepts from pages 261-268.

Quotable Quotes

“Meaning is produced and reproduced under specific social conditions, through specific material forms and agencies. It exists in relationship to concrete subjects and objects, and is inexplicable except in terms of this set of relationships” (viii).

“Genres only exist in so far as a social group declares and enforces the rules that constitute them” (7). What is captured in genres is the relationship between the participants.

“Meaning is always negotiated in the semiotic process, never simply imposed inexorably from above by an omnipotent author through an absolute code” (12). Social semiotics is interested in what happens (expected and not) in the action between participants.

“Every semiotic act has an ideological content” (40).

“Every semiotic structure inevitably exists in space and time” (163). You cannot ignore the temporal dimension, for with history, you can understand large-scale structures that inform the meaning of small, individual semiotic acts.

Notable Notes

Jokes are a reversal of the logonomic code – they are broken rules, subversive, oppoistional discourse, drawing from Halliday’s antilanguage (78)

Logonomic code – a set of rules about meaning-making and communication, based on an entire system of thought, which orders society by explaining who may make and receive messages and knowledge under what circumstances and with what behaviors (4)

Key words: formality, informality, constraint, energy, open, close, accents, T form/V form, truth, reality, modality, genre, logonomic, ideology, message, semiotic, act, participants, power, solidarity, social construction, system, history, context, control, style, grammar, metasign, group, cohesion

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