Rally ‘Round the Family (Anderson)

Rally ’round the family
Wit a pocket fulla…
new metaphors?

Anderson, Virginia. “Supply-Side Dreams: Composition, Technology, and the Circular Logic of Class.” Computers and Composition 27.2 (2010) : 124-137. Web. 14 June 2010.

Play a little Rage Against the Machine while you’re listening to this. Maybe “Bulls on Parade”?

Virginia Anderson’s “Supply-Side Dreams: Composition, Technology, and the Circular Logic of Class” is an important speed bump for the technoenthusiast thoroughfare. Her essay speaks quite a bit to my own experience as a fish in two bowls—the technologically affluent program I do my doctoral work in and the very differently classed department I work in. At TTU, I’m a technocritic among technocritics. In my home department, I’m the emergency printer-fix-it-guy and go-to for Word, Excel, or Moodle questions, with expectations for teaching, service, and, well family and school and church and life that get in the way of some of my more ebullient technoenthusiasms.

In this essay, Anderson begins with an assessment of compositionists’ role as pedagogues and researchers who can and should “influence the trajectory of technological evolution and can certainly address the prevailing inequities that constitute the “Digital Divide” (124). As she identifies, access is an important question and ethical issue to deal with, but the digital divide is more complex than just having hardware access (like in McM’s MOVE program)–it’s about how able people are to use technology. It’s about relationships between people and technology, and such relationships (like consumer, producer, creator, distributor) are situated–not everyone can be a creator. Anderson argues that things aren’t as simple as the Selfe-ian program of paying attention and becoming an informed/expert user: “the material conditions that determine class affect what kinds of activity and hence access are possible for differently situated users” (125).

Her basic thesis is as follows:

“I address a central assumption of the ‘dominant discourse’ on computers in composition: that keeping up with an exploiting technological innovation will benefit literacy educators. I argue that a too-exuberant embrace of this assumption can blind scholars to the effects of small but meaningful decisions on the everyday practice of teachers” (125).

What Anderson’s reflection on her own ‘down-classing’ and shattering of her own technological agency and ability to ‘pay attention’ shows a disciplinary class divide—the reality of many institutions that find faculty undermined by fast-moving innovation that they can’t (despite their best intentions) keep up with. This is even more of a problem when technological innovation is done at the sake of the corporation creating the tech, rather than with the usability input of the real (not techno-savvy) users. (Big usability focus here, but that’s not really where I’m going with this.) “Innovation-focused discourse” (127) positions the recipient-user in a passive position; faculty in institutions making many demands don’t really get the opportunity to meaningfully appropriate or resist the technological universe (in Anderson’s case, an unweildily-updated CMS) without taking time away from other important duties.

“But to departments like mine, where every new faculty line is a hard-fought victory and where any kind of reassigned time is a rarely granted privilege, hiring a technology expert or freeing up a department member to become a home-grown expert is a challenge requiring major realignments of department as well as personal research priorities.” (135)

Her concluding call is one that some of my rhetorical analysis work may potentially answer: “attention to the rhetorical framing of these leaders’ roles in the field” (136); i.e. attending to how the leaders in the field who promote technological innovation can “exacerbate rather than ameliorate the class divide” (136). Specifically, Anderson is interested in watching out for and criticizing the pioneer/explorer metaphor, which has such strong affinity with dominant cultural interests (technological progress and efficiency). As she describes: “uncritical allegiance to the metaphor can…devalue those who stayed behind to do the unglamorous work of home” (136). The practical base of the field don’t need pioneers, she suggests, they need representatives, ambassadors who sit and ask critical scholarly questions of our technologies and the systems they take part in.

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