the new work of composition

The New Work of Composing

Forward – K. Hayles

This book teases out the ways that “the work of composing must be entirely rethought in the digital domain.” The re-imagining of composition includes: how we think about books; the function and status of digital works in the academy; the value of experimental scholarship; whether or not digital scholarship actually taps new circulations; and the value of play, invention, and creativity.


Journet, Ball, and Trauman tease out some rhetorical, epistemological, and aesthetic consequences of born digital scholarly books.

  • Book as an object: born digital scholarly books are often defined (and misdefined) through the metaphors of materiality associated with a book: form of the book (size, weight). They emphasize the idea that what is rendered tangibly in a book is often rendered symbolically in a digital format. This book is described as “self-reflexive” – hyperaware of its own status as an object with still undefined conventions
  • Book as a technology: as a technology the book is a way of “organizing and instantiating certain kinds of information, values, and ideologies.” And because these ways of organizing and instantiating kinds of information, the book is a related but different kind of intellectual project than the print book, because the semiotic modes and media in a digital book reshape the kind of intellectual work possible in a print text (see: Purdy and Walker)
  • Book as a genre: the editors note that books both “announce and enact assumptions” that we no longer notice: assumptions about authorship, about lending, about readership; however, these assumptions are learned behaviors taught by books throughout their evolution. This digital books asks readers to enact assumptions about print edited collections and new (perhaps not as well-learned) assumptions about digital texts

“Mothers and Daughters of Digital Invention: Women, New Media, and Intellectual Property”

DeVoss discusses the ways women and their intellectual property “are at risk in digital public spaces” and the ways that women work within these spaces to craft new products, make new knowledge, and contribute to a robust new media landscape: “I suspect that women are deliberately avoiding the formal, official, and legal systems in crafting and sharing their work. We have more ability to do so today and to make that work distributed and visible in part because of contemporary digital tools and networked spaces.”

  • Women are marginalized by the language and practices embedded w/in technology and the reproduction of authority in technology (Selfe and Selfe)

DeVoss points to the ways that developers gender technologies in order to defines the status and function of technology in the lives of women

  • Women are excluded in the design processes of technologies

Designers assume that female end users are “dumb, clumsy, unwieldy, and unable to understand directions

  • Women are situated as low-level users, consumers, and passive participants rather than as active agents

“The paradigm for the web today is too often point and click, browse and ship, look but not produce – especially for women”

  • Women’s technology contributions are excluded form history

“Historically, female-dominated fields such as horticulture, midwifery and fertility practices, weaving, cooking, etc., are trivialized and relegated to servile status. When work traditionally done by women is usurped by men, women are typically forced out and the work becomes higher status and receives higher pay after their absence”

DeVoss then points to the ways that women’s contributions to technology are invisible in the legal documents. There are two kinds of reasons: the intellectual property system is set up for property-owning men AND women tend to prescribe to “a gift ideology, an economy of sharing, than an ownership-and-control regime.” Because of these two competing ideologies, there are risks for women who share their work in digital spaces. Namely, those digital texts that women *gift* can become owned and recirculated with all the “chilling effects of representation and distribution.” DeVoss argues that arguing against copyright regimes should be part of a feminist agenda (see: Trimbur).

“Talking Back to Teachers: Undergraduate Research in Multimodal Composition”

The Normal Group – a group of students from Cheryl Ball’s Multmodal Composition class who attended the 2008 Watson Conference – offer a multimodal text that teases out the ways that teachers create gaps between themselves and students. In short, this text shows the ways that students can take ownership “of their own learning and telling teachers what they know about digital media.” Lunsford suggests that “The Normal Group” shows us the ways that “Today’s authors are active participants, makers of knowledge and content rather than passive receivers. In “Talking Back to Teachers” they train their intelligence (along with their cameras and recorders) at participants in the2008 Watson Conference, creating four fascinating multimedia “takes” on the conference and, along the way, showing us how to craft a nonlinear, digital, web-based argument about the nature and function of digital writing/scholarship.”

“Scholarship on the Move: A Rhetorical Analysis of Scholarly Activity in Digital Spaces”

James Purdy and Joyce Walker discuss the relationship between scholarly activity and tenure-able scholarly forms – the single-authored refereed book and the single-authored refereed article. Believing that digital scholarship allows for new kinds of scholarly activity, Purdy and Walker argue that “our discipline needs to pay more attention to scholarly activity rather than certain scholarly forms to fully recognize the new work of composing.” Their analysis includes webtexts, blogs, discussion boards, and twitter.

Their method for tracing scholarly activity is through a set of discoursive moves:

  • Explicit argumentation: practices taught in instructional materials and modeled in published scholarship, “a work that communicates primarily with words, includes explicit thesis statement and linear organization, directly connects evidence and claims, and reviews relevant literature within a particularly scholarly conversation, including bibliographic citation”
  • Speculation: a kind of discourse that resists assertions in favor of dynamic, open-ended, and nonassertive kinds of discourse: “more tentative, less forceful consideration of ideas”
  • Implicit association: elsewhere called palimpsest (Thompson and Enos) and juxtaposition (Garrett, Landrum-Geyer, and Palmeri), implicit association is framed as a distinctly digital way of making meaning: “knowledge produced by association and depend on reader intervention and interaction to draw connections and “make the text over in a direction that the author did not anticipate” so that new knowledge can be produced
  • Dialogic exchange: based on the belief that knowledge emerges from conversation (Bruffee), Purdy and Walker trace the ways that “digital texts encourage and enact direct or indirect dialogue”
  • Formal enactment: “digital spaces afford formally enacting ideas, encouraging use of presentation and design as rhetorical scholarly moves” (see: for example, Kairos articles)

“Why Linearity Is Not the Issue; or, The New Work of Composing is Much Like the Old Only Different”

Diana George, Dan Lawson, and Tim Lockridge argue that linearity has become the latest taboo, but is not a productive way forward. What is significant about the new way of composing is that new, digital texts “re-form the way a reader experiences that article and its argument (or, narrative). And, that, we might suggest, is one of the most important reading and composing experiences digital technologies afford us.”

KEY POINT: The “new work of composition and production,” then, is far more complex than knowing how to handle the latest digital technology. The new work of composing, like the old work of composing, is about deciding what you want a text to do (see: Bazerman and Russell), what audience you want to reach (see: Trimbur), and where and how you want that text to appear. More than that, the new work of composing is about responsibility (see: Cooper): understanding new technologies’ countless possibilities as well as its limits.

“Re-Inventing Invention: A Performance in Three Acts”

Garrett, Landrum-Geyer, and Palmeri offer three new theories of invention for digital media – both resisting the “conceptions of ‘invention’ often present lone geniuses who seem to come up with radically new ideas out of the ether” and embracing the idea that “composition and rhetoric theorists have long recognized that ‘original’ compositions arise (at least in part) out of the creative juxtaposition of existing materials”

Like Shipka, these authors consider new forms of intellectual work for students: “Rather than focusing solely on teaching students to narrow and focus their thoughts to produce ‘coherent’ arguments, composition teachers might also engage students in crafting works of interactive hypermedia that value and enact the process of discovery through inventive juxtaposition.”

Like Porter, these authors argue for a posthuman understanding of composition where the means of composing are enmeshed with the body.

And like Shipka/Prior, these authors attend to the way “invention happens when one sits down at the computer, facing a blank screen, but invention continues as one moves from the computer screen to the kitchen, from typing to washing dishes; the mind doesn’t stand still, compartmentalized, because one’s body moves locations and tasks, but rather, the body travels through fluid boundaries, only compartmentalized by the tendency to enforce linear demarcations between experiences and spaces.”

Further, these authors argue that invention is a social act that takes place within the conversation of mankind (see: Bruffee): “Our view of invention as a social act also acknowledges the importance of interactions and conversations between individuals as key parts of invention processes.”

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