Meander and Make Meaning With Me – Stedman, Frankentheory, and the Ecology of All Things

 “One day a college student in Canada asked me to define reality for her, for a paper she was writing for her philosophy class. She wanted a one-sentence answer. I thought about it and finally said, ‘Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.’ That’s all I could come up with. That was back in 1972. Since then I haven’t been able to define reality any more lucidly.

But the problem is a real one, not a mere intellectual game. Because today we live in a society in which spurious realities are manufactured by the media, governments, by big corporations, by religious groups, political groups—and the electronic hardware exists by which to deliver these pseudo-worlds right into heads of the reader, the viewer, the listener” (Philip K. Dick, “I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon”).


To be frank: the challenge of this synthesis is that – by virtue of how I progressed/functionally stumbled through Case Studies #1, #2, and #3, along with some significant over-theorizing in my Reading Connections (for example, see CHAT, Spinuzzi, Latour, Ecology of Mind, Castells, or Ambient Rhetoric) – much of the argument and theoretical process of this assignment chain has already been completed at this point.  I’m interested in reiterating these arguments through a broader context, sure.  But in the interests of the sandbox form of this course, I hope you’ll all permit me to be open about some of my intent, here.

I feel like I’ve beat a lot of this into the ground at this point, and I don’t think returning to the case studies en masse will prove productive – not to mention that I have already written perhaps 20,000 words more than was actually required/expected on the specifics of these theories throughout my Reading connections, which frequently exceeded 2500-3000 words each week.

If the goal of this course was to create a viable Frankentheory, I’ve done that already – or at least come close – a couple of times.  To be honest, I’m not sure I have 3500-5000 more words left in me (at this point) on my specific object of study.

This isn’t to to argue that I feel I needn’t put a real effort into this synthesis – but rather to argue that if I’m going to synthesize the theories of this course in application towards a specific Object of Study, my tendency is going to be to ignore the presumed standards of the assignment genre, and instead go completely overboard (yet again.)

So, let’s do that.  Let’s declare a new Object of Study at the eleventh hour.  Our new Object of Study will be – Network Theory.

I am expected to connect “2-4 theories in order to describe what [my] OoS is and how it functions in a way that is useful/meaningful to English Scholars.”

I’m supposed to note “where each theory has a gap or misses a critical part of the OoS as [I] see it, and [justify] why these theories can be made to work well with each other.”

Let’s instead argue that almost any two (or more) theories can be combined in this way, and in so doing interrogate the virtues – and pitfalls – of Frankentheory as an exercise within Network Theory.

After all, if I have another 3000-5000 words left to contribute in this course, they might as well make a splash.


Let’s begin here: what does it mean to “do” Frankentheory as an epistemological process?

I’m obviously a fan of bizarre philosophical syntheses.  I’ve used a lot of rhetorical, philosophical, and epistemological… deployments over the course of this year in order to problematize the ways in which we understand the rhetorical concept of the network.  I’ve spoken about Diogenean Cynicism as a form of interrogation for theory and practice.  I’ve discussed Jurgen Habermas in significant depth in terms of the role of functional/formal pragmatics in the establishment of theories of meaning.  I’ve all but dragged the concept of Whig Historicism kicking and screaming into the 21st century in order to provide a novel context for understanding how Network Rhetorics tend to embrace technoscientism in their opposition to technoscientism.  I’ve quoted Slavoj Žižek more than was probably necessary.

At one point, I even killed God in order to prove that rhetoric isn’t pragmatically “real.”  That wasn’t even for credit, I just… did it.

I think all of these processes are viable and necessary contributions to my personal (and hopefully my classmates’) understanding of the role of networks in rhetorical theory.  And I hope God isn’t too mad at me.

However, none of these seemed as useful to my classmates as the production of the group activity pre-theory-tree-theory-tree, which was a bit of an epiphany moment for several students (myself included).

Dan Cox coined this tree as the “Complexity Model of Epistemologic Ecology,” based on ‘s note that – regardless of the scope of study or tree of theory applied – the system always tended directionally towards a lensing into more intrinsic ecologies of network theory.

Complexity Model
Figure 1: The “Complexity Model of Epistemologic Ecology” – Courtesy Dan Cox

The thing I found most fascinating, however, was Dan Cox and Megan Boeshart‘s contribution (located on the right-hand side of the diagram) of a parallel model to theoretical complexity – which studies the ways in which identity and meaning are mediated and explored in the network context (exploration from within – microscopic, exploration from without – mesoscopic, and mediation of meaning/identity – macroscopic).  It is critical to note that such mediation moves linearly, as well.

Essentially, what Dan and Meg demonstrated – through Laurie’s interpretation of the theory tree as an examination of laminae of varying complexities – is that the selection, designation, and deployment of theory works in tandem with identities and ideologies which develop in kind.

That is to say, if a theory can be rendered linearly across levels of meaning (or laminae, ecologies, scopes, etc.) the interpretation of that theory can also be processed linearly along the same “axis” of meaning.  What changes is the directive scope, according to both object of study and originating “lens” or site of initial observation.

The epiphany I had was this – if such theories can be rendered linearly, and if the scholar can determine the directive level of scope by changing the site of observation – any two linear theories (or more) can be aligned along similar (or the same) “axes of meaning.”

Is this a good thing?  Does this actually generate knowledge?


There is a Latin term which I always find fun and informative to apply when thinking about theory: ceteris paribus.  Colloquially translated as “all things being equal,” ceteris paribus is one of those great cynical tests which the anti-technoscientist practitioners of technopositivism loathe.  Remove all of the assumptions necessary to create viability in a theory.  Remove all the backgrounding theory, all the referentialism of other contexts, all the prestige of schools of thought, the metaphors of brains and mirrors and inward-looking prisons – ignore anything which might be viewed as a confounding factor for meaning – reduce the practical input and output of a theoretical application to two features: what is changed, and what changes given that change.

Now, all things being equal, does the theory produce new knowledge?  This question is loathsome to those who reject logical positivism and empirical models of knowledge – and that’s fine.  Ideology functions in social and epistemolical contexts, beyond any doubt.  But it’s an intriguing starting point for critiquing theory.

Ceteris paribus is dreadfully positivist, but danged if it isn’t fun.

By example: as Fred Alford notes (125), the center and the margins of society functionally appear in discipline as one and the same.  Foucault’s entire notion of power rests upon the is-ness of a dichotomy which functionally is not outside of a very specifically post-Enlightenment French society.  If the center is simply the undisciplined margin, then, all things being equal, is what Foucault tells us true?  Without a foundation in post-structuralism which is not poststructural, and postmodernism which shall not be named, what does Foucault tell us that Plato does not – that knowledge, truth, and meaning are all mediated by power and the ability to functionally convince others?

Ignore the history of Castells’ Rise of the Network Society, the compulsive countenance of the Iron Curtain within models of technological progress – models which predict almost nothing that actually happened in the decade following Castells’ work.  Do not permit the equivocation of consumer culture and capitalism as ideological equals.  All things being equal, do we actually live at the beginning of an age of Network Society?  All things being equal, don’t Castells’ definitions apply equally well at the advent of stone tools, of fire, of agriculture, animal husbandry, or transatlantic sea voyages?

Even if the answer is “this is not correct,” all is not lost; but we must then explore the virtues of knowing untrue things.  That is to say, there’s a reason I attempted to demonstrate that God is Dead and Rhetoric isn’t Real – all things being equal


Kyle Stedman, PhD (CV Link)
Kyle D. Stedman, PhD (CV Link)

In my write-up of my 3d craft project for network society (link), I quoted Kyle Stedman’s “Two Ways to Confuse Your Audience, A Guide” – but there’s a context I left out in my playful brevity.

  1. Use big-theory words over and over without tying them to anything that we can see or touch.

  2. Carefully compose a pastiche of sources, meanings, and ideas, leaving it somewhat up to the audience to put the pieces together, resulting in a lot of meanings that are all in the same key, even if no one self-composed exactly the same mental song.

    Corollary to 2: This may result in not so much confusion as pleasure” (2015)

Dr. Stedman is using this axiomatic guide to what I would capital-C Cynically label “obfuscational theory” as a counterpoint to a broader narrative he’s been crafting on the humanistic necessity for theory to “be part of the making” – be it the making of meaning, or materials, or knowledge, or  even making apparent the truths of human existence – within the context of Jeff Rice’s presentation on Jamesonian cognitive mapping at CCCC 2015.

To Stedman, Rice’s deployment of Jameson functioned because it was woven into the human fabric of narratives and experience; “Jameson was a node in a network of ideas” [emphasis added], leading to theory achieving equal footing “with beer flights, with pictures of children, with Stuart Hall’s coding/decoding, with William Least Heat Moon and Wendell Berry.”  For Stedman, to view theory as a node within a “network of ideas” (And here we might ask: in opposition to what? A network of facts? Of truths? Of knowledges? What is the default network if we agree that the default network integration of theory is not in ideation?  Ideology?) is to see it as equal in footing with experience, with narrative, with practice, with pedagogy, with making… and with the act of sharing all those things.  If theory does not illuminate, it cannot change anything.


Stedman offers this tweet as something of an inevitable conclusion of his theoretical, material, and philosophical explorations of the CCCC panels, and notes that “this was actually me wondering all the things that it says I’m wondering, not telling-by-pretending-to-wonder” – wondering when we need theory, when theory gets in the way, when the self-evident is obfuscated by unnecessary complexity, whether that obfuscation might be fulfilling, or foolhardy, or fun.

Considering Stedman’s position as a scholar of the rhetoric of music as well as a compositionalist makes this all much more intriguing and complicated.  Dr. Stedman’s focus is on the confluence of musicality, of material manipulation, of art and making and theorizing; while my work here builds on that conceptualization of theory as a potential node within a greater “network of ideas,” mine will be precisely the opposite, to the same end.  That is to say, I don’t have a musical bone in my body.  But I think he’s on to something really here in terms of the humanistic impulse to understand theory through the act of “making” – as illustrated in the 3d tchotchke project in this sequence.

Is the obfuscation of theory an inherent facet of the “genre” of theory itself?  In the network of ideas, are theories actually nodes, or are they doing something else entirely?  How can we make artifacts of networks which tell us more than the theories themselves?  What is illustrative about that act of making?


This may prove impossibly difficult to demonstrate without illustration.  To this end, let’s return to my actual object of study – the visual implicature of authority and compliance within the UI/UX of Blackboard Learn.  Let us make – in Stedman’s ideation of “networks of ideas,” a narrative and personal network of representations, for which theory functions as only a facet.

Figure 2: A grid-configured network map representation of Blackboard learn by three categories of nodes – (left) user/agent level, (center) activity/practice, and (right) pedagogical/pragmatic application level.

This illustration above may be said to function as the “nodes” of my network of meaning in Blackboard Learn’s UI environment.  We might consider the left column to be agents-as-nodes, the central column activities-as-nodes, and the right column meaning-as-nodes.

This is, for all intents and purposes, a network diagram of the Blackboard Learn ecology – linear relations between rows or columns maintain a continuity of purpose, in which network edges are implicit, and the flow of information within the network is clearly related by the proximal nature of the nodes in each column.

We can see that information from Blackboard, Inc. must travel through designers, universities, departments, and instructors in order to reach students.

We can see that the activity of representation can only reach student applications of the software environment through practices of production, integration, adoption, and implementation.

Finally, we can see that rhetorical meaning moves through “functional” meaning into the practical meaning of the interface as understood by end users.  This column may be a little unclear, but can be clarified by adding some more overt edges to the model.

Figure 3: Grid-configured network map from Figure 2, modified with connections for Spinuzzi’s three levels of scope.

However, what this network mapping is not is narrative or personal.  It fails to tell the story of how users inside the network understand their place within it, and it fails to give a situated idea of the observer’s place in understanding the network.

What we might do, then, is to apply theories as edges, rather than as nodes per Stedman’s suggestion.  From here, we can see our understanding of the network as lensed by observational perspective – a personal perspective for incomplete understanding of the object.  We are effectively building a determinant narrative of doors closed and decisions rendered.

For instance, as a scholar studying network ecology, I have rejected Object-Oriented Ontology as a foundation of knowledge – as such, the lens of Spinuzzian practice (applied here based on deployments in Case Study #1) considers as layers the authority of actor-agents (not technologies), and any material facets of the network would necessarily be ordinated along these scopes of study via a human factor (e.g. classroom level agents – Micro, institutional level agents – Meso, corporate agents – Macro).

What we reveal in this application is our own biases – introduced into the map by the application of a single theory.  The theory demarcates the outer bounds of our scope in a way that the simple map does not.  It is not simply that there is nothing displayed above the classroom or below the corporate interest – there is no scope of study which could internalize those categories under Spinuzzi.

In attempting to understand a network as genre, we are now strictly attached to this scope with no possibility of Spinuzzian expansion beyond the “genre” of the object.  The theory is handcuffs.

Figure 4: Grid-configured network map from Figure 2, divided into categories for Guattari’s “three ecologies.”

As an alternate single application, we might consider Guattarian ecosophy, as discussed in Case Study #3, and view each of the vertical columns not according to level of Spinuzzian scope, but rather according to ecology.  Again, theory serves not as Stedman’s node, but rather as a set of edges which delimit and bound further study.

Under such a model, we might delineate the space according to agents, activities, and meanings.  This, again, simply reveals that the issue of such mapping is one of lensing and situated observer influence.  There are not three ecologies.  There are dozens, hundreds, likely an infinite number of ecologies that might be applied to any single object.  The theoretical model is absurdly restrictive.

In attempting to understand a network as ecology, we can now no longer consider technologies as agentive – or truly consider technologies at all.  The theory is a straight-jacket.

Figure 5: Grid-configured network map from Figure 2, divided according to CHAT (Prior) “frames” of interpretation. Note the addition of categories according to each frame (literate activity (left), functional systems (center), and laminated chronotopes (right)).

And so, in order to reclaim agency in processes we might consider CHAT, as discussed in Case Study #2, and view each of the vertical columns not according to ecology, but rather the lenses of rhetorical canons – “the territory of rhetorical activity” (18) within the network.  The edges function to delineate the laminae of these territories, to segregate activity, systems, and rhetorical sites and chronotopes.

This implies several problems.  Firstly, the “activity” of practice under Spinuzzi and Guattari has shifted quite literally onto the agents of rhetorical practice, who engage in “literate activity.”  As such, we have an ideological conflict regarding who or what maintains agency in the network.  Suddenly, traditional activities have become systems of activity, which denude our previous attempts to “blame” organizational systems at the Spinuzzian Meso- and Macro-scopic levels for the restricted agency of microscopic actors.

In attempting to understand a network as activity, we can no longer interpellate meaning according to ideology unless we enforce the rhetorical nature of that ideology.  The theory is a shoehorn.  So is our original mapping exercise.

Figure 6: Grid-configured network map from figure one, synthesizing all modifications from Figures 3, 4, and 5.

The theories can be interpolated (and interpellated) within the physical “space” of the network map, and in this act of “making” under the Stedman model, we might reveal the artfulness, which is to say the intentionality, of the design.

What is revealed in the Frankentheory map above, then, is not the viability of a multi-partate theoretical approach.  Nor is it, precisely, the revelation of a “gap” – the missing of critical elements under specific theories.

Rather, what is revealed is that the map functions as an ideological screen, upon which we might project theories.  In truth, any linear theory (and they are all, almost, linear theories) might be projected at any layer.

This, unfortunately, was my epiphany.  Theories lack a value of specificicity in networks, because networks are infinitely regressive – “turtles all the way down,” in the memetic argument of Dan Cox and others in the course.

Figure 7: Modification of Grid-configured network map from Figure 6, with sample additional theory for network interpretation/practice (in this example, Spellman’s “Ecology for Non-Ecologists”).

All things being equal, one could apply almost any theory of network practice or interpretation to this mapping model, either vertically or laterally.  Because, all things being equal, all maps imply either spatiality or directionality , and all theories function in one of those two contexts.  We have already seen this with the class activity for the “Complexity Model” above (Figure 1) – what changes is not degrees of complexity, nor epistemological ecologies, but rather simply a theoretical lens.

Seen along the bottom of the illustration for the Complexity Model are a list of theories which students managed to apply in this way.  It is, quite literally, every theory of networks offered in the course.


In the end, the best theory, and the best art, enacts/incites/leads to change for the better.  It allows audiences to, in the words of Kyle Stedman, “make meanings that [are] both scholarly and non-scholarly (whatever that means)” and interpolate the two in order to see what is wrong not only with the world, but with the models we traditionally use to interpret the world.  For the academy, that means, for better or worse, theory.  The many-headed beast of contingent meaning.

Philip K. Dick tells us that reality is found in those things which, when we elect not to believe in them, obstinately remain in spite of our best efforts.

In spite of my best efforts, I can’t seem to make theory go away.  God knows I’ve tried.  So maybe it’s real.

But I would also argue that it is deeply unreal: that every time we don’t apply a theory, it suddenly no longer matters to the model.  There is not a theory void or gap to the original model of BBL provided above.  Not really.  There’s a purposeful map.  The whole time I made it, I never thought of Michel Foucault, of Don Norman, of Bruno Latour.

Obviously, those men are “real” in that they exist(ed) “in reality,” but their contexts for knowledge, design, and practice are certainly not.

Frankentheory, then, is the reification of legitimacy in the practice of theory.  Theory is like a goldfish – it will grow to inhabit any container you give it.  When you’re done, the question “what size is a goldfish” relates directly to the bowl you place it in, and little else (assuming you feed it, to extend the metaphor a step too far).

I’ll not speak to whether that’s bad or good, but that’s what’s real.

Figure 8: Grid-configured network map from Figure 5, with parallel gradient according to Daniel Cox’s “Complexity Model” contribution.  I worry, however, that it might be reducible to this:
Figure 9: A Mad-Libs-style form for completing any Frankentheory application.
Figure 9: A Mad-Libs-style form for completing any Frankentheory application.

I keep thinking about how none of this works for me – and that’s fine.  I’m not, I’ll be the first to admit, a rhetorician.  I care about operationalization.  I’m a pragmatist, and a moderate expressivist, and a compositionalist, and a technician, and hardly a theorist at all.  I got into all of this to be a better teacher of making for my students. This work just isn’t for me.  But it’s fun!  I’d just rather be making things – and I’d rather my students were, too.

But I’m supposed to argue in this paper for the validity of my object of study, so here it is: people with the chops to believe that studying networks changes the structure of reality (or our understanding of it) are welcome to do soand if they do, I really hope they’ll look at Blackboard Learn, too – because it is really problematic for Network Theories.

In speaking to the realities of networks, we so often ignore that these networks are intentionally designed – and that many of the presumptions of ecology, of genre, of activity, of agency, of meaning are embedded within that network by choice.  Blackboard Learn is a network we can understand in terms of representational choices.  It is a network which is omnipresent in our – and our students’ – daily lives.  It is a network that is digital, personal, global, capitalistic, agonistic, antagonistic, social, corporate, pedagogical, purposeful, dangerous, and imminent.

I know this isn’t the conclusion I was expected to write.  I know it was hoped that I would come to the conclusion that Frankentheories give us a novel lens for practice and interpretation, and allow us to locate hidden meanings and what-have-you.  All things being equal, I can’t write that conclusion – at least certainly not about my original BBL Object of Study.

I wish I could.  I could take credit for an integrative “Theory of Everything,” blaze trails, what-have-you.  But I don’t believe in it, and poof, it’s gone.


Alford, C. F. (2000). What would it matter if everything Foucault said about prison were wrong? Discipline and Punish after twenty years. Theory and society, 29(1), 125-146.

Castells, M. (2011). The rise of the network society: The information age: Economy, society, and culture (Vol. 1). John Wiley & Sons.

Guattari, F. (2000). The Three Ecologies, trans. Paul Sutton. London: Athlone.

Prior, P., Solberg, J., Berry, P., Bellwoar, H., Chewning, B., Lunsford, K. J., … & Van Ittersum, D. (2007). Re-situating and re-mediating the canons: A cultural-historical remapping of rhetorical activity. Kairos, 11(3), 1-29.

Spinuzzi, C. (2003). Tracing genres through organizations: A sociocultural approach to information design (Vol. 1). Mit Press.

Stedman, K.D. (2015, Mar 25) CCCC 2015: A Story through Tweets [Web log post]. Retrieved from


Case study #3 – Ecosophical orientation of Spinuzzian Genre and CHAT Canons

In terms of discovering viable tools for understanding my selected Object of Study – namely, the rhetorical/pedagogical (visual) implicature of Blackboard Learn’s UI/UX design – Case Study #1’s vision of Spinuzzian genre-tracing proved an operationalization failure, which I resolved (as noted in Case Study #2) by arguing that:

“[w]hat this means, finally, is that Genre Theory and genre-tracing make for interesting holistic views of the process of meaning making within the Blackboard network, but only within the highly-idealized context of the best-possible model of navigation – one in which the user has the power to subvert and habituate, and experience is designed non-agonistically.  However, Blackboard is designed agonistically, if not antagonistically; a platform cannot be designed and implemented primarily to provide authoritative knowledge and assess users’ incorporation of that knowledge in a prescriptively-graded environment and not be hostile to independent agency of meaning.”

Were that I had at that point elected to restructure my Object of Study rather than double down on this significance of visual implicature.  However, I elected not to revise my position or OoS, arguing that the issue of Spinuzzi is not that victimhood narratives are not frequently accurate representations of the UI/UX environment, but rather that focusing on ameliorating such victimhood is rarely productive, stating that:  “various researchers’ findings have established that Blackboard does victimize users.  While Spinuzzi may be correct that the researcher is not a hero-in-waiting for the victimized user, the user may still be well and truly beset upon” (Nielsen, “Case Study #2”).  It is in this argument that I finally find issue with Spinnuzi, as well as CHAT and many other theories of analysis and practice from within the field of Network rhetoric; it is in the pursuit of a theoretical body of meaning functioning through networks—whether those networks be physical, digital, or genre-defined theoretical—that we fail to recognize the ideological drive of network practice.

I’ve spoken about ideology to a significant degree in most of my reading connections this semester; memetic jokery about the Capitalist Machinery of Death notwithstanding, ideology generally connects to technological adaptation, and technological adaptation (especially within the modern academy) defines the scope of networks.

The problem with Spinuzzi and with CHAT, then, is that such ideological purposes as serve as theoretical foundations for practice—as I had previously established in reading connections and case studies—are subsumed within the paratextual trappings of the theory itself.  To view Spinuzzian genre as an ecology of meaning is to argue against the virtue of a genre-based pedagogical canon, for instance. To argue, as Paul Prior does, that rhetoric before CHAT is “too centered on the producer rather than the system” (2007) is to make an implicit evaluation of both the rhetor and the rhetorical situation as non-viable sites of meaning in the digital, post-network ecology of post-modernity.

I have called this many things.  I’ve called it “technopositivism,” “Technoscientism,” “The Latourian Leviathan,” “Whiggish,” and “Whig Historicism.”  The assumption, implicit in almost all network theory, is that “onward” equals “progress.”  At the core of all the theories of practice observed in this course has been the presumption of progress through forward movement or network development and added complexities of form – and this (I’ll not say false, but I will consider its falsity) dangerous and damning presumption remains unresolved in both Spinuzzi and CHAT.

I would like to resolve this through the introduction of a third theory of practice (and not only because that is what is expected within this particular assignment) in the form of Guattarian ecosophical theory.  When initially applying CHAT in Case Study 2, I argued that “we can reclaim [objective] contexts by re-ordination of the space itself;” however, “first we must delimit the authority of [the object], and remove the limits of practice under the [object’s] model.”  I would argue that this is precisely the power Guattarian practice might offer – except that Guattarian practice is precisely as bogged down in the practices of ideological progression through neo-scientism. In effect, Guattari gives us an anti-authoritarian strain of systemic opposition which functionally adopts the ecological benefits of technological and epistemological progress (“society” as ecology) without acknowledging the practical origins of such “progress” within the psychological, psycho-social, and economic contexts he rejects.  Socio-anarchism as rhetorical theory.  Daddy’s money activism in psychotherapeutic contexts.

One might optimistically label this practice as “a reclamation” of the technopositivist space, but it would be challenging to claim that it is not in some way an extension of the pro-luddite visions of ecological theories of practice which views technology as a tool to subvert the selfsame technology—ideological peace through superior firepower.  When Guattari paraphrases Bateson (15) in noting that “for too long humanity has adopted ‘survival of the fittest’ as its maxim,” it is tempting to interrogate of Guattari precisely what point in human history he is studying; it is only through the lens of pure ideological representation that any modern (Western) culture of recognizable scale has – in the last century, at the very least – believed in (or executed social programs according to) this “maxim of humanity” on any cultural scale.

Let’s be overt, here.  Capitalism sucks.  Its influences on the “network society” are profound, and the inequality that it engenders into society is severely uncool.  Its influence is both perverse and pervasive to the point of becoming something akin to a toxicity of thought; as Slavoj Žižek (2005) notes “it’s much easier to imagine the end of all life on earth than a much more modest radical change in capitalism.”

For Guattari’s dependence on Whig progressive ideals of practice, here is a truth his text rejects: under capitalism, we also live in a time of unparalleled quality, perhaps the finest era of humanity not only in terms of the social, but the personal.  In history, the mean of humanity has never leaned so nearly towards absolute prosperity, security, and healthfulness.  The human polis has never experienced such wealth, been so well fed, so free of disease, so near-universally free by almost every metric of knowledge, of human bondage, of political franchise and representation.  Our public waters are cleaner, in urban centers around the world, than they have been since the onset of urbanization.  Our air is cleaner than it has been since the onset of industrialization.  And surprisingly few of our children have smallpox.

Is this a result of capital, and of the ideological and economic practices of capitalism?  Of course not – if anything, it is almost certainly because of the regulation of capitalist drives that humanity moves forward through this progress.  And yet the truth of the matter is that, while we could have less overfishing, we could have more renewable energy, and we could definitely stand to have less (or no) global warming, we did not live under capitalist systems when the disaster of human dominionism was born, and the resolution of capitalism would not reveal utopia, but the naked human desires which drive progress (and reveal equally that progress is not inherently productive).

We do not live in Leibniz’ “best of all possible worlds” (link), but we do live in the best of all possible times… to date.

So, how is this argument on my part not the Leviathan?  How am I, in declaring the best of all possible times, not engaging in technoscientism?  Well, in part, Guattari’s argument is inherently tied to the conceptual inexorability of sociological and environmental outcomes; that is to say, if social culture is toxic, that cultural toxicity influences the mind/self and the ecology of the environment similarly.  This has not, in practice, proven true – it is, however, a typical shorthand of specific Marxian predictive models of capitalism.  Technoscientism, the Leviathan—these concepts thrive upon a correlative feature of technology/science/knowledge and progress.  However, such a correlation does not exist.  Systems and the improvement of those systems and around those systems need not be directly (or even indirectly) entangled.

When analyzing my object of study, I recall my criticism of Spinuzzi during my first reading connections work on his Tracing Genres in week 4: “much of the intellectual enterprise of Spinuzzi’s work is ethically directive – to the point where it makes me question the veracity of motions towards objectivity” (link).  In other words, never trust a politician’s unemployment numbers while he is running for office, a barfly’s history of volunteering while he’s vying for a date, or an academic’s definition of genre while he’s formulating a theory.

That is to say, I address this issue with Guattari because it should be clear at the outset what Guattarian ecosophy cannot do – represent or comment upon reality.  Guattarian theory exists to comment upon the felt sense of a rhetorical or ecological space; this is, of its own right, useful.  If the Three Ecologies can demonstrate that environment, mind, and society are connected, then the ways in which mind and society might apprehend ecology still matters very much, because it is capable of modifying user behaviors (in this case, users being society) functionally in spite of realities which demonstrably negate the rhetorical claims of the rhetor/actor.

This is useful.  This, strangely enough, can be used to comment directly upon Blackboard Learn in ways CHAT and Spinuzzian genre theory cannot.

If it is easier to imagine the end of all social life than a minor change in the “interfacing” of capital with society, it is also easier to imagine the end of all learning on Blackboard than it is to imagine a change in the literal and rhetorical interfaces of Blackboard with the student-user or instructor-user.

Let’s get to the actual requirements of the case study assignment, and flesh out the relationship between the broader context and this specific object of study.

So, the question of Guattarian ecosophy—in the face of the pre-existing case studies of CHAT and Spinuzzian genre tracing—is how Blackboard functions as an ideological and rhetorical ecology, a confluence of mind/self, society/culture, and environment.

Let’s begin by moving back to Spinuzzi and the most rudimentary of UI/UX design principles.  At the core of assumptions of good design is a practice which meets the needs of users, and an interface which is developed in tandem with the user, either through feedback or other models of design, so that the core understanding of practice within the UI/UX environment is as naturalistic as possible.  What Spinuzzi shows us is that when UI/UX fails in this most basic expectation, users modify the work environment themselves, creating derivative genres of document and/or practice which function as either supplement or replacement to the non-naturalistic form.

Meanwhile, Prior et al. might be applied to the same UI/UX environment from the interpretive side of the (re?)design process – if Spinuzzi tells us about user behaviors in the face of design implicature, CHAT tells us about how designers might integrate such implicature by virtue of their point-of-entry into the aesthetic design process of UX.  For Prior et al., this demonstrates that “people, institutions, and artifacts are made in history” (2007), demanding a view of design which happens “in the world” as rhetorical “activity-in-the-world” and as only an initial step (“production”) in the multi-process “literate activities” of deployment and reception.

I have argued previously for entry into CHAT from the central point – “Functional Systems” – in a rejection of the linearity of Priorian process.  Prior advocates for entry at the most procedural level, “literate activity,” while a Spinuzzian, genre-oriented interpretation of the CHAT space of an object would expect theoretical entry at the ordinal layer of the “laminated chronotpes,” the most abstracted layer of integral practice or design.

It’s worth noting, then, that Guattarian ecosophy also encourages the understanding of functional systems as a point of entry into systemic analysis of an object – after all, both ethical and political “articulations” are inherently protocols of functionality, and unquestionably systemic (28).  When Guattari argues for a connectivity between the three, it is inherently systemic, ideological, spiritual, communal… social.  That is to say, we might argue that politics and ethics are inherently capable of being literacies, but they are not inherently literacies.  They are certainly not chronotopes, the laminae of ordination; which functionally provides a space for Guattari’s ecologies at the social-ordinal, global-environmental, and human-subjective scale only within the systemic layer.  Indeed, we see a place for them clearly demarcated within CHAT’s second layer quite clearly (people, artifacts, practices, institutions, communities, and ecologies).

So, what is the theory configuration of the “network” of Blackboard Learn in the rhetorical space – according to Guattarian ecosophy?  It’s hard to say.  In many ways, the notion that BBL is already factually a network problematizes projecting its entire “ecology” as a separate network of meaning.  However, we might presume it looks something like this:

Fair warning: this network illustration will also be doing double duty as part of my final illustration for the synthesis.
Fair warning: this network illustration will also be doing double duty as part of my final illustration for the synthesis.

Let us take a moment, one last time, with Genre vis-à-vis Spinuzzi in the above illustration: if we are to view the “micro”scopic level as accounting for “social-psychological stability, identity and [comforting] predictability [within] organizations” (45), then certainly the Guattarian ecological view of CHAT rhetorical practice makes sense if we view microscopy of the classroom environ not as ecology but rather as layer of rhetorical purpose (that is to say, the embodied layer of the laminae).  Meanwhile, the institutional/organizational context similarly holds to the expectations of Spinuzzian mesoscopy, which views genre as the “maintenance of activity systems,” which are intrinsic to “the construction of motives” within that genre.  Certainly, we can view this as an embedded rhetoric of maintenance-based (i.e. “status quo”) practice. By final extension, the macroscopic level is systemic and ideological, generalizing according to systemic practices of design, execution, and representation: a truly represented rhetoric of ideological practice and form which through the implicature of design enforces the dominant cultural ideological practices of the corporate interest (Blackboard Learn).

That is to say, the practical application of Guattari functions in parallel with the laminae and ordinations of Spinuzzian and Priorian theory, if–and only if—we view the environmental ecology as purely rhetorical (as we should, Cynically, based on its un-truth in representing “reality” as  rhetorically unreal – as discussed previously), and if we view systems (under CHAT, “Functional Systems”) as inherently socially relative.

To recap, and prepare the theoretical orientation of this case study for the final synthesis:

  • How does the theory define BBL?
    • This theory views the visual/rhetorical implicature of BBL as a coherently-designed, authoritative product (either intentional or not, likely not) of the macroscopic ideological practices of social-relative production – which can be demonstrated by the human-subjective lens and demonstrated by the environmental-rhetorical lamina as compared against other laminae.
  • What and/or who is a network node?
    • The nodes of this network functionally may be understood in many ways. However, for the sake of this illustrative model, we can safely consider both literate activities and functional systems as nodes.
  • What types of agency are articulated for specific nodes?
    • This is dependent upon laminal stratification. The move towards the macroscopic level of design implies a greater productive/authoritative agency.  Agency at the mesoscopic level must be negotiated communally, and at the microscopic level must be negotiated subversively.
  • How are different types of nodes situated?
    • As illustrated, each node is situated according to three interrelated strata – scope of genre inquiry (Spinuzzi), revised category of canon (CHAT), and ecosopic ecology (Guattari).
  • What are the types and directions of relationship between nodes?
    • The network is multidirectional; that said, specific features of the network, such as authority, likely flow from the macro through the meso and into the microscopic. Other facets, such as knowledge, might flow differently in specific contexts and from different originating nodes.  Standards likely flow from the meso outward into both the micro and macroscopic levels.  Meanwhile, if practices move “vertically” within the diagram, mediation and meaning likely are negotiated “laterally” between ecologies.
  • What moves within the network?
    • Everything: that said, most likely Objects of Study for the current research direction would be visual implicature, ideology, rhetorical meaning, authority, and standardized practices.
  • What happens to content or meaning as it travels through the network?
    • This would be entirely dependent upon content type, originating scope, ecology, canon, and lamina, or nature of practice. Effectively, the system (as designed) changes transformative articulations dramatically according to the originating site of both content and observation.
  • How do BBL networks emerge, grow, and/or dissolve?
    • Capitalism. Guattari is a little bit right, after all.

Synthesis Scaffolding

  • Which 2 – 4 theories are you choosing and why? How are they similar enough that you can justify getting them to work together? How do they fill each other’s gaps?
    • For the final synthesis, I am combining CHAT, Spinuzzian Genre Tracing, and Guattarian ecology, as per CS#3.
      • As discussed in the class session synthesis/theory tree activities, I view CHAT and Spinuzzian theory as essentially running in parallel in terms of scope of study, which are paralleled similarly in Guattarian conceptualizations of the ecologies of environment, society, and mind/self.
      • By extension, I would not argue that these three approaches “fill each others’ gaps,” but rather reinforce a zeitgeist or genre structure of ecological-rhetorical tropes/thought.  This tropic structure in part what I intend to study in my final case study synthesis.
  • How do these theories align with how you position yourself as a scholar?
    • As discussed in past writings, I view this as an interpretation of the practice of network theory through a pragmatic-rhetorical lens – one which views humanities & other academic practices as primarily rhetorical activities designed to generate general meaning rather than to discover specific information.
      • This aligns with my interest in pragmatics as a pedagogical foundation for instructional and theoretical practices.
  • How do these theories align with your own biases and background (the reason you came to this project in the first place)?
    • The Diogenean study of these practices (as applied to my Object of Study) serves to demonstrate that the track of network theory is a generally progressively Whiggish practice of technoscientism abstracted into an opposition toward non-rhetorical technoscientism which might prove oppositional to the rhetorical trends of the corpus of disparate theories.
      • This study inherently reveals a pragmatic bias in my own assumptions regarding not only these theories, but also my Object of Study – namely, that use value must be real, demonstrable, and measurable in standardized terms in order to prove viability as a course of practical application; in other words, the meaning conveyed within the textual premise of network theory must be able to be usefully segregated from its instigating pedagogical ideologies, or it is non-functional as a rhetorical practice.

MindMap Revisions: or, What Went Away?

I didn’t redo my mindmap much, if we’re being honest.  This isn’t because I think it’s perfect – though it’s not laziness, either – but rather because I think the enterprise of the mindmap has an inertia which at this point precludes the possibility of broad revision.

What I did change was to delete the things that were not present within the “reality” of where we’d ended up in network theories of rhetoric – the presence of the rhetor, of the rhetorical situation, of audience, discourse, or exigency.


I did make a few minor changes besides this elision of the rhetorical context – namely, I’ve separated Moderate Expressivism out of Current Traditionalism, which I rescued from its isolation up top after the removal of rhetoric for the rhetorical network.

I want to return to this, but it’s not precisely as clear as I’d like within the model represented here.  I’ll speak more to this in my recap for Case Study #3.

My 3d Tchotchke

Two Ways to Confuse Your Audience, A Guide, by Kyle D. Stedman, PhD:

  1. Use big-theory words over and over without tying them to anything that we can see or touch.
  2. Carefully compose a pastiche of sources, meanings, and ideas, leaving it somewhat up to the audience to put the pieces together, resulting in a lot of meanings that are all in the same key, even if no one self-composed exactly the same mental song.
    • Corollary to 2: This may result in not so much confusion as pleasure” (2015).

So, this is my tchotchke.  Quite clearly, I’m reducing Network Society vis-a-vis Castells down to its most efficient form-factor: the combination of cultures, information, and systems of capital in what I referred to in-class as the “network fire triangle.”

3d Model

The notion of a fire triangle is that you can reduce a fire down to three primary factors: an ignition source, a fuel, and an environment conducive to sustained flame (typically labelled as “oxygen;” though chemically you could have alternative atmospheres, one would suppose that to be an overly-specialized argument).

Fire Triangle (illustration from Wikimedia Commons, Sharealike license)
Fire Triangle (illustration from Wikimedia Commons, Sharealike license)

The argument, then, that my tchotchke makes is that a global “network” society depends upon three factors – a “fuel” of information, an “atmosphere” of cultures which are conducive to networking, and an “ignition source” of capitalism.  Without these three factors, network society would not functionally be possible.

Additionally, one might note that this argument is inherently pejorative by design – you don’t actually want capitalism to be at the core of a technologically-driven process in almost any model, since to have that would be to acknowledge the functional foundation of Castells’ world view is The Leviathan of technoscientism and technofuturism.

P.S.  Boy, the “society” of the network sure is violently impaling the Earth while representing itself (with those little flower stickers) as implicitly pro-environmental, isn’t it?  Surely that wasn’t intentional!