Thursday, March 10, 2005

Reading :: Deliberate Conflict

Originally posted: Thu, 10 Mar 2005 10:10:03

Deliberate Conflict: Argument, Political Theory, and Composition Classes

by Patricia Roberts-Miller

One of the tragedies of working in academics is that your colleagues necessarily don't share your specialty. When you're building a department, the strategy is to hire widely so that you have a larger repertoire of courses to offer and a wider field of inquiry. So I find myself working closely with people sharing my particular specialties across the country -- and wondering exactly what my colleague two doors down is up to.

That colleague, Trish Roberts-Miller, just published her second book. And though it's not in my specialty, it seems both smart and important. Deliberate Conflict is a book about how we teach freshman composition, one that takes seriously the question: when we claim that we are teaching students to be citizens, to argue effectively in public discourse, exactly what model(s) of public discourse are we using and to what end are we using them? What are the assumptions that underpin how we teach? This turns out to be a rather interesting question, and the answers are not tremendously obvious.

To map the territory, Roberts-Miller gives us a matrix (p.12):

- agonistic and expressive

- agonistic and deliberative

- irenic and expressive

- irenic and deliberative

Is ideal speech irenic (oriented toward agreement) or agonistic (oriented toward disagreement)? Is the public sphere ideally expressive (where individuals express their own points of view) or deliberative (where individuals try to "establish mutually binding policy")? (p.12) When we teach public argumentation, what do we hold as the ideal?

Throughout the book, Roberts-Miller methodically demonstrates that these questions matter quite a bit, and that they haven't been well addressed in our scholarship, our textbooks, or our classes. Textbooks in particular are demonstrated as holding internally contradictory views on public argumentation. The scholarship tends to be a bit more consistent, but still tends to mix up ontology and epistemology and still tends not to trace through the implications of various positions. Roberts-Miller is especially hard on social constructivism, whose consequences for the public sphere are quite well dissected. And she cautions us against thinking that arguments are necessarily supposed to be settled. Some authors

assert that resolution is necessarily the goal of argument, and I take issue with that assertion. Certainly, it is for certain kinds of policy deliberations, as there will ultimately be some kind of policy written or not written, but that seems less the case for philosophical, political, aesthetic, and disciplinary arguments. In such cases, simply identifying the disagreements seem a useful beginning as well as even an end. And that is the intention of this book. (p.226)

I'm no political theorist, nor a pedagogical theorist, but I can still see the enormous value in thinking through these issues. Take a look and see if you have the same experience.

Blogged with Flock

Monday, March 07, 2005

Reading :: Distributed Work

Originally posted: Mon, 07 Mar 2005 21:54:27

Distributed Work

by Pamela J. Hinds (Editor), Sara Kiesler (Editor)

I picked up Distributed Work in hopes that it would address some of the issues of distributed capitalism as discussed in works by Zuboff and Maxmin, Haraway, and Deleuze (see their respective reviews on this blog). It does touch on some of these issues, but obliquely. The book is mainly focused on how work changes as it is distributed geographically, particularly in global organizations and telework. There are some real gems in here, but the collection is somewhat uneven (as collections usually are). Many of the later chapters seem overly rigid in methodology and framing, probably an artifact of the original venue in which they were shared: a workshop. Like Jaakkotul Virkkunentftul, who recently reviewed this book for Computer Supported Cooperative Work, I think that the concept of distributed work was never really nailed down in theoretical terms, and this caused some problems in the later chapters.

I also agree with Virkkunentftul that the most interesting and useful chapters were the two historical studies. In the first one, John Leslie King and Robert L. Frost provide a riveting account of how the Roman Catholic Church and the creation of constitutional government both used "ambiguating technologies" to manage distance work. King and Frost use concepts from actor-network theory, particularly immutable mobiles and boundary objects, to great effect here. And they discuss two types of immutable mobiles -- texts and money -- in ways that brilliantly point out the necessary ambiguities and slippages that make the system work. Although they don't cite Callon, I see a lot of overlap here with his later work.

The second historical study covers 150 years of operation at the Hudson's Bay Company. This study, authored by Michael O'Leary, Wanda Orlikowski, and JoAnne Yates, makes the case that trust and control are intimately intertwined -- something that may sound counterintuitive to those who are used to thinking of control in terms of Foucauldian disciplinary societies, but that fits in perfectly with Deleuzian control societies. "Trust is closely connected to and intertwined with control," the authors conclude, and "both are enacted through ongoing organizing practices. Our investigation of the HBC suggests that at least three practices -- socialization, communication, and participation -- were particularly important sources of trust and control" (p.47).

Other chapters are useful as well, though not to the same degree. For instance, Bonnie Nardi and Steve Whittaker discuss face-to-face communication in distributed work, and in doing so, extend the notion of information ecologies to "media ecologies." And Robert E. Kraut and colleagues discuss how proximity affects collaboration. These and other chapters are useful, but I didn't see major revelations or theoretical or methodological implications arising to the same extent.

The book is worthwhile reading, particularly if you're interested in the challenges of telework. But I'm still waiting for a collection on distributed capitalism!>

Blogged with Flock

(Reading Roundup: Bodker & Iversen, Davies et al on Participatory Design)

Originally posted: Mon, 07 Mar 2005 21:55:52

Things have been very busy around here, particularly because my qualitative research class is in the middle of student-led discussions. That means five or more readings each class day for three weeks. I have seen a remarkable number of articles on case studies, participatory design, phenomenology, and ethnography. It's been enjoyable, but exhausting.

Of the recent readings, I was most interested in the participatory design readings. Along those lines, I was very glad to see Bodker and Iversen's "Staging a professional participatory design practice: moving PD beyond the initial fascination of user involvement," a paper that recently appeared at NordiCHI. Like Blomberg and Henderson's paper on the Trillium project, this paper tries to bring some methodological coherence to participatory design. Bodker was one of the early PD pioneers, and she has long been interested in injecting some rigor into the process; this paper continues that work by critiquing methodologically suspect PD projects and suggesting how PD can be made more professional and rigorous.

Davies et al.'s " The ethnographically informed participatory design of a PD application to support communication" also turned out to be highly interesting. This project involved developing a PDA application for a man with aphasia, "an acquired language deficit which diminishes the capacity to communicate through language" (p.153). It's a striking case: I typically think of accessibility as an issue that affects readers, but this case involves improving technology for a writer who relies on his PDA for everyday communication. What an interesting application of the "toolbelt" philosophy, and what a wake-up call for those of us who have concentrated almost exclusively on adding titles to IMG tags.

As always, I'm overwhelmed by the sheer amount of scholarship out there, and I'm struck once again by how little of it we can know of it. Back to reading.

Blogged with Flock