Review (pt. III): Technological Ecologies & Sustainability

Technological Ecologies & Sustainability
Eds. Danielle Nicole DeVoss, Heidi A. McKee, and Richard (Dickie) Selfe
Computers and Composition Digital Press
, 2009

This is the third installment of my three-part review of Technological Ecologies & Sustainability (Eds. Danielle Nicole DeVoss, Heidi A. McKee, and Richard (Dickie) Selfe; CCDP, 2009). Click here for the first installment. Click here for the second.

(Digest: Ecological Theory: Marilyn Cooper, Daniel White. Marxist Critiques: Horner, Williams, Giddens. Technological Theory: Andrew Feenberg. Bibliographic Starter Kit.)

In my previous entries reviewing this text, I’ve offered a basic overview of the collection and explained why I think it’s important that it was published in digital form. Now I’m going to make a move similar to something Amazon or Netflix might do. Sort of an “if you like this text, you might also like…” or “readers who have read this text have also read…” I see this collection emerging from three overlapping scholarly discussions.

The first is loosely related to an ongoing discussion in our discipline which draws on ecological theory in order to understand the ways that writing technologies are situated within complex systems. Marilyn Cooper’s “The Ecology of Writing” (1986) is the text probably the most directly influential in terms of introducing ecological models of writing into our discipline. She argues that an ecological model of writing constructs writing as “an activity through which a person is continually engaged with a variety of socially constituted systems” (367). She proposes two very important positions. The first is that writing and the systems within which the act is situated are constantly dynamic. The second is that writing processes, texts, writers, and the contexts in which they operate recursively define and affect one another. As it was written more than twenty years ago, her argument has become a touchstone of sorts for anyone working to write about the context of writing technologies.

Daniel White’s book, Postmodern Ecology doesn’t directly focus on writing in the way that Cooper’s article does, but it offers a more theoretically complex understanding of of how rhetoric and communication operates in ecological systems. He draws heavily from post-structuralist theory in order to suggest that the differentiation necessary for individual entities to operate in an ecological system is almost entirely a rhetorical act. And a continuous one. Entities establish ontological meaning by asserting their own functions and differentiating themselves from other entities in the environment. White suggests that in order to fully understand the fundamental operations of any system, researchers must work to understand how the various elements of that system communicate with each other.

The second scholarly thread I sense operating here emerges from Marxist critiques of material institutional conditions. Most directly related, is Bruce Horner’s Terms of Work for Composition. Part of Horner’s argument is that the way we go about defining certain terms in our discipline determines not only what that discipline “means,” but also how it operates and establishes the resources within which it exists. So, too, do those definitions emerge directly from those conditions. Like Cooper and White, Horner suggests a recursive relationship between identity, operation, and material conditions. Horner’s text draws heavily on the work of Raymond Williams’s theoretical discussions of cultural materialist critique, as well as Anthony Giddens’s theory of individual and institutional structuration.

And finally, I sense the importance of more traditional theories of technologies. Andrew Feenberg’s work, especially Transforming Technology, emphasizes that in order to become active participants who can affect real, material change, people must have a sense that particular changes are necessary and possible in relationship to individual people. But fundamental to that premise is the importance of people’s perceptions of how technologies are developed, how they operate, and the potential for changing those technologies.

This is a partial list, and probably already too long as a blog entry. I’ve added a few more as-yet-unmentioned texts to the bibliography below. What I hope to have offered is a short reading list to get you started. My hope is that if you’re interested in some of the issues discussed in TES, you’ll be able to follow these texts to a wider discourse addressing those issues. Obviously, this list is partial both in it’s omissions and my personal interests. I would love it if anyone out there might offer his/her own additions to this bibliography, so that we can continue to make connections between the powerful discourses already operating in TES. Suggest away!

Blythe, Stuart. “Agencies, Ecologies, and the Mundane Artifacts in our Midst.” Labor, Writing Technologies, and the Shaping of Composition in the Academy. Ed. Pam Takayoshi & Patricia Sullivan. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, Inc., 2007. 167-186.

Cooper, Marilyn M. “The Ecology of Writing.” College English 48.4 (1986): 364-375.

Feenberg, Andrew. Questioning Technology. New York: Routledge, 1999.

Haraway, Donna. “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist -Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century.” Philosophy of Technology. Ed. Robert C Scharff & Val Dusek. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2003. 429-450.

Hayles, N. Katherine. How We Became Posthuman – Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1999.

Horner, Bruce. Terms of Work for Composition. Albany: SUNY Press, 2000.

Porter, James E. et al. “Institutional Critique: A Rhetorical Methodology for Change.” College Composition and Communication 51.4 (2000): 610-642.

Selfe, Richard. Sustainable Computer Environments: Cultures Of Support In English Studies And Language Arts. illustrated edition. Hampton Press, 2004.

Strenski, Ellen. “Fa(c)ulty Wiring? Energy, Power, Work and Resistance.” Insurrections: Approaches to Resistance in Composition Studies. Ed. Andrea Greenbaum. Albany: SUNY UP, 2001. 89-117.

Giddens, Anthony. Central Problems in Social Theory. Berkely and Los Angeles: U of California Press, 1979.

White, Daniel R. Postmodern Ecology: Communication, Evolution, and Play. Albany: SUNY Press, 1998.

Williams, Raymond. Marxism and Literature. New York: Oxford UP, 1977.

—. Problems in Materialism and Culture. London: Verso, 1980.