Thursday, February 03, 2011

CFP: Special issue of Written Communication on Writing in Global Context

If you're conducting writing research in global contexts, please consider this CFP:

Call for Papers: Special Issue of Written Communication - Writing in Global Context

The Editor and Editorial Board of Written Communication invite article submissions for a special issue on Writing in Global Context, tentatively scheduled for publication in October 2011. Submissions from established and new scholars of writing theory and research are welcome.

With continuing political, economic, cultural, and technological change, the world is becoming a smaller place. In many ways, contemporary life is, or is rapidly becoming, global. Questions about global context are no longer just about doing business internationally, but are increasingly about learning to live in a complex and connected global world. And, of course, one of the ways that we live and work globally is through written communication.

Assumptions about knowledge making, rhetorical action, identity and subjectivity, purpose and agency; about what counts as writing, what it means to a writer, or a teacher of writing -- all these assumptions are problematized and hence must to be reconceived in global context.

In this Special Issue on Writing in Global Context we invite authors to take up and extend ongoing discussions that situate, and interrogate, writing globally. Over the last four years, over a quarter of the manuscripts in WC have come from researchers outside North America. We hope this Special Issue will also draw contributions from around the world.

This special issue of Written Communication will publish original research on issues of writing in global context. Contributions might include, but are not limited to, methodologically rigorous studies that examine questions such as:

• What is the role of writing within the new realities of global context?
• What does it mean to be a writer in global context?
• What is literacy in global context?
• How do new global relationships constrain, reflect, or anticipate written genres? And how do genres shape global realities?
• What is the role of writing technologies in global communication? How can technologies bridge, undermine, or complicate writing in global context?
• How do issues of trust and ethos play out in writing in global context?
• How do regulatory environments and legal constraints impact global writers?
• How are problems and potentialities of global writing rhetorically constructed?
• How is writing implicated in technology transfer and technology diffusion, especially between the global north and the global south?
• What kinds of language questions complicate and inform writing (and the study of writing) in global context?
• What new research methods, or objects of study, does the study of writing in global context call out?

Ultimately, the articles published in this Special Issue will present new research findings and advance theoretical understandings about what writing is and can be in global context.

Consideration of mss for this special issue will begin January 1, 2011 and continue until April 1, 2011, or until a suitable number of publishable mss has been identified. Submissions for this special issue will follow the normal, peer-reviewed practice of WC.

Written Communication is the premier international multidisciplinary journal of research on writing. The scope of the journal is broad and encompasses writing in its myriad contemporary forms, both within and outside the academy. Theoretical and applied contributions of articles in Written Communication are made explicit and will be relevant to researchers, theorists, teachers, and policy makers from a range of scholarly disciplines. Published articles will collectively represent a wide range of methodologies, but the methodology of each study must be handled expertly and described explicitly.

Guidelines for submission: Please follow the regular guidelines for submission, published in each issue of the journal and on the WC page of the Sage website. Please confirm in a cover letter that the piece has not been previously published and that it is not under review elsewhere. Also indicate that you wish the ms submission to be considered for the Special Issue on Writing in Global Context.

Special issues of Written Communication follow these guidelines:
1. A CFP will be published and distributed widely at least 6 months before the proposed publication date of the SI.
2. Submitted mss will be accompanied by a letter, addressed to the Editor, noting that the submission is meant for the SI and explaining how the ms addresses the topic of the SI.
3. Members of the journal’s Editorial Board will be used as reviewers, but the editor will also solicit names of other appropriate reviewers on the topic of the SI from EB members and others.
4. Scholars submitting articles for review for the SI may not serve as reviewers for that SI.
5. Published articles will report original research on writing, with explicit attention to methodology.
6. Editorial control of the review process and the selection of published articles rest with the journal editor.
7. Manuscripts not accepted for the SI may be considered for another issue of the journal.

Questions should be directed to Professor Christina Haas, Editor, at

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Reading :: The Mismanagement of Talent

The Mismanagement of Talent: Employability and Jobs in the Knowledge Economy
By Phillip Brown and Anthony Hesketh

In some quarters, it's become popular to talk about a higher education bubble that is about to burst. Brown and Hesketh don't quite make that argument. But they do ask: "Does a KBE [knowledge-based economy] lead to a significant increase in demand for highly educated 'knowledge' workers? ... Is the problem of employability one of developing the appropriate attitudes and skills or does it reflect a mismatch between the aspirations of university graduates and labour market realities?" (p.2). More colloquially: if we educate more people at the college level, preparing them for knowledge work, does this help to transform the economy, creating jobs for them? Can that segment of the labor market absorb them?

To investigate the question, Brown and Hesketh interviewed "fifteen leading edge private and public sector organizations" as well as ten "policy stakeholders." They conducted case studies of six of the organizations, specifically in their assessment centers. That is, they examined the job interview process at these centers, including aptitude tests and post-job-interview discussions. They also interviewed 60 graduates applying for jobs (p.5). All aspects of data collection were in Britain, and the authors cautiously suggest that these data can provide insight into other developed countries' understanding of graduate employability as well (p.6).

To be clear: the authors are interested in what constitutes employability (from the point of view of those hiring and those being hired) rather than in analyzing the knowledge economy as a whole. Although they have some valuable and trenchant observations about the knowledge work literature, the real value is in how they examine their rich data on how people prepare for, conduct, and evaluate job interviews.

Job interviews, they argue, is a bit of a different game than it was. Credential inflation has meant that more people have college degrees and even advanced degrees such as MBAs (p.30). Consequently, employers extend recruiting criteria to include "personal capital" (p.31). When a larger pool of potential hires can demonstrate individual achievement, employers turn to social and personal considerations (p.32). Does the person get along with others? Does s/he have leadership potential? Is the applicant self-directed and able to work on tight deadline? "This has led employers to extend the range of managerial competence to include interpersonal sensitivity, good communication skills, persuasiveness, drive, resilience, adaptability, self-confidence, good judgement and problem-solving skills, together with creativity and business awareness. The model of managerial leadership has shifted from the bureaucratic to charismatic personality" (p.33; cf. Gloor). And they go on to argue that "these charismatic qualities ... represent the essence of knowledge work itself" (pp.33-34).

Personal capital, the authors argue, represent a combination of hard currencies ("credentials, work experience, sporting or music achievements, etc.") and soft currencies ("interpersonal skills, charisma, appearance, and accent") (p.35). Together, these skills are elements in a narrative of employability, told first by the applicant and later elaborated by potential employers (p.36).

Let's skip through Chapter 3, "What Knowledge Economy?," which summarizes and questions various claims made by knowledge economy proponents. They make some good points, but rely a bit heavily on the fact that the knowledge work literature is not very coherent. The really interesting things start in later chapters, where the authors present and interpret their data.

For instance, the authors discuss their 60 interviews with job seekers. These job seekers fall into two basic categories, "players" (who see job-seeking as a sort of game that involves positioning themselves to maximize their market options) and "purists" (who see job-seeking as meritocratic, as puzzle-solving, and as involving maintaining their career integrity) (p.125). The authors take what could have been a rather reductive binary and illustrate its nuances, drawing nicely on quotes from their interviews.

On the other side of the table, they also discuss how potential employers interview and evaluate candidates. "We argue that the public rhetoric of competence obscures the realities of what employers are looking for," they state: employers are actually looking for suitability, proactivity, and acceptability (p.148). Selection criteria, they argue have changed from the 1990s to the 2000s (p.150) due to various organizational changes. Importantly, candidates can't just rely on their resumes; they must "construct a narrative of employability which conveys their proactivity" (p.156).

The authors go farther, using their observations and interviews to develop a typology of categories in which employers tend to place candidates. This typology is illustrated nicely in a graph with axes representing hard and soft currencies (p.162), and demonstrated through interviews with employers. You want to be a Star, but not a Razor; a Geek but not a Nerd; a Safe Bet but not a Freezer. Such categorizations happen very quickly and via discussions rather than systematic examinations of evidence.

In their conclusion, the authors make clear that they don't consider the current system to be effective or humane. Evaluating people at the beginning of their career, the authors argue, is "inefficient and unfair"; productivity "depends on work context" rather than the abilities on display (p.198).

Overall, I found this book to be very interesting. The authors have developed what I think turned out to be a clever and insightful study. As a pragmatist, I filed away many tips that I can teach to my students to prepare them for interviews; as a rhetorician, I found the idea of a narrative of employability both plausible and intriguing; as a researcher interested in knowledge work, I found that the book deepened my understanding of how knowledge work has been understood, operationalized, and applied as well as how labor markets have changed. And as an educator, of course, I thought quite a bit about its implications for preparing students. If you fit one of these categories, pick this book up.

Reading :: Swarm Creativity

Swarm Creativity: Competitive Advantage through Collaborative Innovation Networks
By Peter A. Gloor

Swarm Creativity introduces the notion of "Collaborative Innovation Networks" (COINs; p.3) in which "knowledge workers collaborate and share in internal transparency" (p.4). The basic concept should sound familiar if you've read much of the popular business literature on knowledge work: COINS "communicate directly rather than through hierarchies"; "innovate and work toward common goals in self-organization"; and they are "the most productive engines of innovation ever" (p.4, author's italics). Gloor argues strongly that these COINs "Innovate through massive collaborative creativity"; "Collaborate under a strict ethical code"; and "Communicate in direct-contact networks" (p.12). And Gloor lists a variety of benefits that COINs deliver to organizations: agility; external knowledge; hidden opportunities; synergies; reduced costs and time; experts and hidden contributors; more secure organizations (pp.12-14).

But if you're familiar with this literature, you may be wondering what benefits this book delivers that go beyond others you've read. That's a hard question to answer. Gloor draws from familiar literature (Granovetter, Gladwell, Malone) and familiar examples (Linux, Wikipedia), but his COIN construct is a bit more specialized than the networks implied by the literature he cites. In particular, he specifies that COINs form around "charismatic, inspirational and creative thought leaders" (p.37) surrounded by "motivated disciples" (p.40), providing Leonardo da Vinci's circle as one historical example (Ch.2, 3). Strikingly, this sort of network, which is ideologically centralized around a charismatic leader but is operationally distributed, is described as one type of network in Castells' The Power of Identity; the exemplar there is Aum Shinrikyo. But Castells is careful to offer other examples that are not concentrated ideologically. See also the work of Granovetter and Burt, who focus on concrete links among actors rather than ideological ones. And especially see the work of RAND analysts who have been studying swarming: they've developed concrete examples of associational networks that do not center on a particular charismatic leader or ideology, yet innovate in striking ways. By focusing on "thought leaders," Gloor seems to imply that other sorts of networks simply don't deliver the benefits of COINs - and I was left wondering if he was even aware of networks that didn't fit the template he laid out. Indeed, I have strong reservations about COINs' ability to account for loose multidimensional organizations.

That worry was stoked by Gloor's reading of history. At the beginning of Ch.3, he states flatly that "Homo Sapiens beat out Neanderthals because of learning networks": homo sapiens migrated, cooperated, and innovated, and this "flurry of innovations ... led to the extinction of the Neanderthals" (p.49). I'm no anthropologist, but this appears to be a variation of just one of many hypotheses of Neanderthal extinction. I wouldn't hang my hat on it, nor would I put too much stock in Gloor's reading of European history later in the chapter, all of which seems to focus on brilliant individual leaders rather than systemic sociocultural and technical changes.

It's this push-pull between a Great Man view of leadership and a newly distributed, adhocratic labor force that seems to be the central contradiction of the book. Gloor hasn't been able to resolve this contradiction, and consequently I'm reluctant to recommend the book.