Inevitable?: Multimodal Texts in the Comp Classroom

I just finished reading an example prospectus one of my professors asked me to take a look at as I’m thinking through my own project. (With respect to anonymity and gender, I’ll use the name ‘X’.)

X seems to offer up some claims (Kress, Yancey) without examining them. They are based on a the assumption that Mutlimodal texts and practices are an inevitability. To a large extent I agree with her. There is room here, though, to at least complicate or call into question some of this work. (Is this movement inevitable? Is the Comp classroom the right place for this? Who do these practices serve? What assumptions are these practices based on?)

I think what this comes down to is the purpose of the opening of the prospectus. I get the sense that X is merely presenting a wave of scholarship with it’s own inertia. She constructs this body of scholarship in a way that does point to inevitability. So this is a rhetorical construction. I suppose that’s inevitable. Should this construction be as transparent as it is here? There just doesn’t seem to be a conversation happening in her scholarship review; it all seems to head toward the same place: MM text are inevitable in our classrooms, so we need to figure out how to assess them. Maybe the focus of the prospectus is not to pose questions early, but to pose them about what an author sees as the state of the scholarship. That seems useful in some ways.

One thing I find fascinating here is that she does a great job revealing the contradiction of introducing classroom practices without having some sort of understanding about how they relate to existing practices. Although I can’t really nail it down somewhere in her prospectus (maybe I’ll find it later), I get the impression she’s suggesting that these practices are happening all over the place, but there’s little agreement about how these practices relate to traditional composition classroom goals, and there’s little research available about evaluation strategies for MM texts in the classroom. I think that’s a fair assessment of the situation. I can feel my own anxiety rising about the growth of these practices without theoretical grounding in Comp or clear evaluation criteria. On the other hand, I suppose this is how any new composition practice gets adopted. Instructors have a sense about something, and they put it into practice to see if it will work. While that doesn’t match my own teaching practices very well, I do see it as essential for introducing new practices into the discipline. In other words, I need to remember that it’s not irresponsible when considered in the big picture.

So we should just accept the advent of MM texts and make it more effective? I can see that. However, what I find more fascinating is the sense that it’s inevitable. Andrew Feenberg, in the Preface to his book “Transforming Technology,” introduces two ways of historically situating (past/future) perspectives on technology. He draws a distinction between what he characterizes as “instrumental theory” which insists on the neutrality of technology, and “substantive theory” which relies on the perspective of technology as a self-directing force influencing most aspects of our existence. He suggests that while these two perspectives are significantly different from each other, they both entail an overwhelming sense of inevitability. Much of his book works through what he calls a “critical theory of technology” as a way of escaping the instrumental/substantive binary.

(I’m going to stop this entry here… but I’ll pick up some other things I noticed about it in a later post.)