My Watson Conference Proposal

Several curiosities behind posting this. I’ll offer those in a soon-and-subsequent post. For now…

Transforming Writing Technologies: Composition Studies and Andrew Feenberg’s Critical Theory of Technology

Writing technologies are always changing. Those changes both inform and respond to new writing situations. This paper will explore the potential of Andrew Feenberg’s critical theory of technology as a framework for locating opportunities for meaningful participation in those changes. Feenberg identifies two dominant modes of understanding the cultural implications of technology. While “instrumental theory” holds that technology is inherently neutral and merely serves the goals of its users, “substantive theory” argues that technology is omnipresent and reinforces dominant ideologies. This paper will  survey several instances of each these two positions within scholarship on composition technologies. For instance, several warrants for multimodal practices in the composition classroom are grounded in the eventual inevitability of media-rich texts, and that students need to be prepared for these demands. Similar cases have been made for technologies such as networked classrooms, hypertexts, web pages, and social networking sites. On the other hand, several arguments for specific writing technologies characterize them as inherently democratic or insulated from issues of race, class, and gender. As an alternative to these two theoretical positions, Feenberg posits that points of intersection and conflict between technically embodied ideologies offer opportunities for resistance, critical analysis, and change. In this paper I will argue that a critical examination of sites where writing practices, technology, and ideology conflict will yield viable opportunities to actively participate in the transformation of those technologies.

(Proposed for the 2008 Thomas R. Watson Conference. Theme… “The New Work of Composing.”)

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