Scholarly Logos, Names, and Profile Pics

(extending my last entry… responding to some of Cheryl’s comments on it…)

[pullshow]Cheryl’s right. That I/we (job seekers in R/C) don’t necessarily need a logo. I’m 90% sure that I won’t be using one. But it’s not really about need (that’s another conversation). Rather, it’s about my identity as a scholar in our field. I don’t really have one. Well, okay, I have one, but few people are familiar with it. No complaints or self-deprecating jokes here. Four years ago, I had no idea what Rhet/Comp even was. That’s a long story, but once I got a taste for it, I’ve been going gang busters ever since. But that still doesn’t change my status as a graduate student just trying to get started.

The way I understand how this graduate student-to-assistant-prof things works is like so: Find that I have a love of teaching and/or research related to composition and/or rhetoric. (Go to grad school.) Read extensively in the disciplinary literature. Consider those readings in the context of my own politics, background, and alignments. Follow the focuses emerging from those considerations. Find ways to contribute-to, support, or challenge the conversations that interest me. Figure out the sorts of work those discourses produce (i.e. publications, presentations, community projects, training, archival work, etc.). Figure out how to produce or help to produce those products. Seek out institutions (who are hiring) where I’ll be able to contribute in these ways. Find a way to present the work I’ve done in a way that allows the institution to understand how I can contribute to the work in which they are invested. (Maybe this perception is a bit idealized, but I hope it might at least function as a touchstone for the variations on this structure that other young scholars perceive.)

[pullthis]So why am I obsessing about logos? First, logos are about public identity. And second, I wonder if logos might begin to supplement the traditional work of alphabetic names.[/pullthis]

Naomi Klein argues that logos tend to absorb the personas of the people/companies associated with them, the work/products those people/companies produce, and the histories constructed around those people/companies. I’m not just thinking about the semiotic weight of BP’s sunflower or Apple’s apple. I’m also talking about people. Steve Jobs, Angelina Jolie, and Lady Gaga don’t have logos (not yet), but their faces have become sort of logos for them. Symbols that absorb semiotic power and operate in different contexts for different purposes. But that’s because these folks are famous. Their faces are on the interwebs and the news stands. Great.

So what about scholars and scholarship and scholars? Do we have icons? I think we do, sorta. We’ve got our names. Maybe even our institutional affiliations, depending on how we feel about those (proud to be at UofLouisville, btw). But really, what we’ve got are alphabetic markers. And for centuries, that system has been great. Probably will be for a long, long time. But you don’t have to read very long in Rhet/Comp/Design/Writing scholarship to be convinced that alphabetic texts are not longer the only way to convey meaning. And in lots of cases, alphabetic strategies just aren’t all that effective. Images have always been a part of alphabetic practices, but they’re becoming ubiquitous. Is there any reason NOT to want a professional logo that might supplement the work that an alphabetic name already does?

Think about the work avatars already do for us. (Sorry, Dianna, but I’m not talking about Second Life sorts of full-bodied representations; that’s your post to write!) I have a profile picture for my Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, and other accounts. Lots of us do. When I’m looking at the Twitter stream in my TweetDeck interface, those little avatars/profile pics do a lot of work that written names don’t. And I love that.

I don’t really have a consistent profile pic. I’ve got one that I particularly like that’s sort of an homage to Francis Bacon’s portraits. But I don’t think about it as a logo. I really don’t even think about it as an icon. Mostly as an avatar. Something fun. Something interesting. Something that’s me-and-not-me-too.

And why don’t people talk much about the limits of the alphabetic name? Personally, I’m not sure that I like being identified with the same name in all contexts. Siblings. Romantic. Professional. Social. Digital. … Wait a second. I’m not identified in the same ways in all of those contexts. Siblings: “Uncle Ry.” Romance: “Trauman.” Professional: “Trauman”/”Ryan Trauman.” Digital: ??? Actually, I don’t know. More thoughts on that later, maybe.

I guess I like the idea of building a logo/brand/icon that represents my work/investments/history as a professional in a different way than how I might represent myself as a brother or boyfriend or fellow cyclist. And it seems to me that an academic/professional logo would be an excellent component (yeah, just a component) of the much larger projects we all enact in creating our own bodies of work.

It sort of sounds like I’m talking myself into this. Kinda scary.

(And thanks again, Cheryl. I always appreciate your comments!)