strategies, tactics, and the lore of eco-choragraphies

Made it to CCCC for two Thursday afternoon sessions: Clay Spinuzzi, Mark Zachry, and William Hart-Davidson discussing text ecologies and workplace writing and Jeff Rice, James Brown, Derek Mueller, Michael McGinnis and David Grant on the choragraphies of composition.

If there's an advantage to presenting in the penultimate sessions (and yes, I'm grasping here), it's that you can be inspired by the sessions you attend before that. So here I am the following morning putting together some of the ideas from yesterday… not in a way that does any justice to these panels, but in a more self-serving manner for my own presentation.

Clay offered a methodological overview of the work he and his co-panelists do in analyzing workplace writing on three different levels: the strategic, the tactical, and the operational. The operational level is an almost unconsicous event level–keystrokes, mouse clicks, etc. The strategic level, as I understand it, points more to institutional-organizational goals, and the tactical is about the activities that workers undertake in between the micro and macro levels. This had me thinking about De Certeau's use of these concepts, of the tactical as a kind of resistant repurposing of strategies by users, consumers, workers, etc. It's like the William Gibson thing: the street finds its own uses for things. And there was some talk in this direction, particularly at the end of the session in the discussion of how workers respond tactically to the kind of views of their own labor made possible by the kinds of research discussed at the panel, which certainly at least has the potential for a chiling panopticism.

I was particularly interested in their switching back and forth between two views of the tactical level. I don't quite remember their terminology this morning, but one view was a kind of causal event chain, largely reported by the writers (e.g. I did this then I did that). The second was a more "ecological" view, which attempted to capture a more ANT-like diagram of the forces at work.

In truth, the only thing these two panels have in common is what is inside my head. The Rice et al panel took up a choragraphical intervention into CCCC history, looking at putatively formative years in the 60-year history. But as one could see at this panel, choragraphy is about a kind of experimental, collaged storytelling where histories get remixed–the personal, the disciplinary, the social, etc. Derek selected 1987 and talked much about North's Making of Knowledge in Composition. That's where the topic of lore arose in the Q&A.

It got me thinking about lore in terms of the tactical and ANT-like ecology. I was also thinking of lore as potentially a choragraphical performance. Of course, lore was fundamentally local, the talk among compositionists in a department office or hallway. Today, locality obviously doesn't work the same way. Choragraphy offers a very different way of thinking about the local and network ecology, which might invent new tactics.

My own presentation, as I've been dancing around here, takes up the concept of computation to ask how computation might shape our ideas of composition in emerging technologies, particularly in relation to mobility and participation literacy. Listening to these presentations has me thinking that I ought to talk some about how social media technologies develop strategies that envelop, anticipate, or capitalize upon tactical responses. That is, the built-in opportunities for customization, mash-ups, etc. really invite users to make their own uses for things. In fact, that level of personal investment is really at the heart of social media success. (Manovich and others discusss this.) Our take on this is somewhat computational in its logic. When we think of different levels–strategic, tactical, operational–I am reminded of Hayles discussing the challenges of explaining emergence from one level of complexity to the next using these computational theories, like Wolfram's cellular automata. We see this with Twitter too, when we try to mine the data and look for patterns, when we assume that new structures of compositions will emerge, new levels of compositional complexity perhaps? I'm not sure.

But I guess for now I'm coming back to what I would see as Hayles' ethic of intermediation, which I think is (again, potentially) choragraphic. If the "regime of computation" is at least in part a "metaphor" and circulates through cultural discourses as makes its way back to the material and what we decide to make, then a kind of networked, choragraphic lore (which takes all those terms and uses them at a slant, I guess) might be a way of grasping at the tactical ecology behind social-mediated composition.

Anyway, that's what I came up with this morning.