Research on Writing 1 of 2 (Bazerman, Gabrial, Wysocki)

The following few entries all come from Bazerman’s Handbook of Research on Writing

1. From Bazerman’s Introduction, some quietly offered thoughts on the influence and importance of the “powerful and complex technology” we call writing; thoughts that help frame the underlying argument of the Handbook:

“in this pervasively literate world the beliefs, ideologies, stances, and prescriptions inscribed on the documents of culture, religion, and philosophy–as well as advertising–have come to guide our activities and decisions. Even our most basic biological activities that long preceded literacy are influenced by agricultural and nutritional science, philosophies and research of child care, teachings of religion and contemporary psychology, not to mention the realms of entertainment that have celebrated and conditioned our attitudes, from restaurant reviews to romantic movies” (1).

“A world in which we read but don’t write is a world in which we do not have primary agency. To gain direct agency it is necessary to be able to write, to produce the texts that will reach out to others, that will interact with others and influence them, that will mark our interests and perspectives in the literate world. It is by writing that we inscribe our place in the literate world and all the social systems that depend on literacy” (1).

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Gabrial, Brian. “History of Writing Technologies” (23-33)

Gabrial’s chapter is a brief history and taxonomy of writing technologies and how they develop in relationship to socially-constructed needs (and not just natural needs), the forces of economics and politics, the need for power and information and mass production. (Much of his argument and history will be familiar to those who have read Baron’s A Better Pencil, but the audience and intent of the two texts are quite different and thus no qualitative comparison is helpful at this time.) Gabrial breaks writing technologies into three categories: manual, mechanical, and electrical/electronic. Manual technologies are simple and complex, running from stylus to pencil, and at their earliest and crudest provided important new means to preserve, spread, and maintain culture; manual technologies remain in common but limited use, due to “modern” social needs for information on a large and rapid scale. Mechanical technologies (including the typewriter and the moveable type/printing press) prompted social change through opening interpretation to other groups and reducing the amount of labor involved in creating and reproducing texts. Modern mass communication then becomes a circle of technical and social codeterminism as each influenced the other in speeding up and spreading textual content. Finally, electronic technologies (from the telegraph to word processing and the internet) made communication instant and (eventually) somewhat standardized, permanently (and continually) changing communication. Gabrial offers a two-faced conclusion—first, that new media doesn’t kill older media by the mere fact of its existence:

“Just as centuries ago when ‘new’ media such as reeds and papyrus communicated human knowledge and culture, so, too, do today’s ‘new’ media of electronic bits and bytes. Furthermore, these new media do not necessarily replace old media if a need for that old media remains” (31).

That is, it seems doubtful to all but the most pessimistic (or optimistic) that books will die. At the same time, Gabrial reminds us that “It seems that no writing medium or technology has ever guaranteed permanence” (31).

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Wysocki, Anne Frances. “Seeing the Screen: Research Into Visual and DIgital Writing Practices” (599-611).

An examination of “how writing research has addressed the visual aspects of texts” (usually through advertising) and “digitality’s various reframings of writing research” (599). I’m more interested in the second issue. Wysocki starts by describing (and using referents earlier in the Handbook) how “all aspects of production of words have been shaped by a book culture whose grounds and objects now shift.” (608). (The first part of this chapter discusses writing and visuals from a historical perspective, which is interesting but not relevant to me at this time)

In the second half of her article, Wysocki describes the assorted ways that visual and digital texts change the ways we think about productive and analytical rhetoric, especially the way we think about ‘writing.’ Shifts in conceptions of writing (writing as collaborative and open and multimedia rather than individual and closed and solely alphabetical) disrupt and provoke anxiety in those who “value the word as what links us” and those who “believe writing arises from a singular individual” (608) as collaborative writing and alternate cultures of communication (such as gaming) engages individuals in forming their identity (an activity previously assumed to be enacted primarily by writing). Digital writing and networked computer communication have also “supported theories about the identity’s fragmentation in postmodernity” while at the same time disrupting (eventually) notions of egalitarian screen-mediated society.

“Questions about what constitutes writing–who writes it, who owns it, what it is–show that, as with research into the visual aspects of texts, research into the effects of digitization on writing (and on writing studies) demonstrates that expanding the objects of research can give perspective for seeing the materialities of our practices.” (606).

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