“Fragmentation and rupture are not necessarily debilitating. Indeed the inherent contingency and possibility of fragmentation requires socially active participants who are able to work for both stability and change” (Johnson-Eilola 28).
Part of actually working in a datacloud, rather than just theorizing it, is acting upon the principle that iInformation is not a tool, record, or plan of work… information is not something to be rigorously controlled and structured; it is not something to be easily understood; it is something to be played with, challenged and confused by, experimented with, and transformed” (68). The upshot for TPC and for Composition pedagogy in general is oddly reflected in my own poor ability to adequately adjust my work habits. Without realizing it, I have developed two different operational modes of work: one for what I perceive to be more traditional modes of scholarship, and one for more “playful” activities. Once upon a time, my teaching and writing were part of this playful mode, but as I receive more and more formal training, I find myself slogging through texts, essays, and lessons alike – from point A to point Z while trying not to miss or forget everything in the middle – linear, neatly framed (ish), and ultimately boring. Further, the harder I try to find solutions to both my own habitual deficiencies as well as to the overly-large research questions I keep tackling, the more I dead-end
Johnson-Eilola helpfully articulates this trend in terms of traditional vs. symbolic-analytic work in that “formal education often fails to provide the complex environments necessary to teach students [skills for working in information spaces]…their articulation of work in these contexts tends toward routine production rather than symbolic-analytic work” (98-9). The most obvious example for us occurs in our Composition classes. While it is quite common to require students to access and search databases, collect meaningful secondary research, and cobble that research together with their own arguments, we usually emphasize the finished written product over the process. I find it hard to even describe how I navigate various “soft” research skills – quickly running through different combinations of search strings; skimming through lists of search returns for particular combinations of terms; revising and repeating searches in different databases or platforms; manipulating windows for ongoing searches, articles to be reviewed, and those I will definitely include; periodically consulting tertiary materials for relevant background knowledge as well as to hone my search protocols (the list is for my own curriculum development) – much less facilitate the development of student capacities. Johnson-Eilola’s prescient recommendation, which is only recently beginning to shape the lion’s share of composition pedagogy, will become a feature on my syllabi: “robust information work requires support not merely for production, but for the recursive acts of production and consumption” (106). Further, the four key areas of education he glosses from Reich (experimentation, collaboration, abstraction, and systems thinking) act as a useful heuristic for us to design assignment sequences that naturally build students’ capacities while also modelling a soft-skill process for their own future work.
Ultimately, I am most interested in how Johnson-Eilola discusses the work that his theory does for us: “Articulation theory, as Hall (1983) constructed it, aims to mediate between history and space without either falling back into a simple, deterministic historical narrative or degenerating into pure fragmentation” or what I would otherwise call chaos/unmanageable complexity (102). In the case of my research, I at least have a starting point for describing the “flattening” of social interfaces (e.g. communities become “neighborhoods” become streets, yards, houses, treelawns, sidewalks or so many surfaced interface elements to be navigated in increasingly rigid and silo-ed ways). It seems like I need to add several questions to my research itinerary: How do we define social interfaces? What are they supposed to do? For whom? At what cost? How do we articulate space after postmodernism? …just to name a few.