Initial thoughts on Richard Fulkerson’s “Four Philosophies of Composition” (1979).

As I’ve begun to browse over Fulkerson’s “Four Philosophies,” which I first read as an undergraduate several years ago, I’ve started to remember how influential this particular piece was to the field in terms of the disciplinary questions it raised.  Seminal publications by Murray, Bartholomae, Miller, Matsuda, Lunsford & Straub, and others all reflect upon the classifications set out by Fulkerson, as well as the influence these classifications had in the re-aligning of the modern Language Arts programs of American academies.  More than anything, I’m also beginning to recall how powerful James Berlin’s response to this specific work was in his “Contemporary Composition: The Major Pedagogical Theories” in the December, 1982 issue of College English.

In Berlin’s introduction to his re-imagining of Fulkerson’s essential four philosophies, he writes:

A number of articles [Fn1.: “I have in mind Richard Fulkerson”] attempting to make sense of the various approaches to teaching composition have recently appeared.  While all are worth considering, some promote a common assumption that I am convinced is erroneous.  Since all pedagogical approaches, it is argued, share a concern for the elements of the composing process–that is, for writer, reality, reader, and language–their only area of disagreement must involve the element or elements that ought to be given the most attention […] Differences, then, are mere cavils about which of these features to emphasize in the classroom (765).

I can’t help but keep this particular criticism at the forefront of my analysis as I re-read Fulkerson, and despite my cult-like worship of James Berlin as the One True God of New Rhetoric, I simply can’t agree with his assessment–especially when he name drops “Four Philosophies” in his footnotes as the primary text he is responding to.  I also can’t help but note that his own approaches similarly remix the basic elements of writer, reality, reader, and language to the same ends as Fulkerson himself.

I believe that it is helpful in defense of Fulkerson to dissolve his essay into the most basic forms of his argument and categorization, and then note where sections of his text reflect specifically on the inability of the instructor to meaningfully impose a will of emphasis in preference to one philosophy or another.

  1. Fulkerson opens his essay by first acknowledging, as Berlin later would for Fulkerson himself, that his classification is derived quite significantly from the work of Charles Silberman in his Crisis in the Classroom.  Silberman’s claim, as interpreted by Fulkerson, is that the problem of the modern classroom is that “educators exhibited a consistent mindlessness about relating means to desired ends” (343).  I’ll return to my problems with this analysis of Silberman’s thesis later on, but for the sake of this summary analysis it should be noted that Fulkerson’s essay is heavily responsive in nature, and that he carefully situates his categorization at the intersection of the current composition field in 1979 and the historical compositional concerns of a decade earlier (and even before that).
  2. Beginning in the second full paragraph of pg. 344, Fulkerson begins describing the philosophy and pedagogy of adherents to his formalist ideology of compositional instruction–a school of thought he roundly and clearly rejects, as does Berlin in turn, for being non-productive and largely abandoned by the field in general.
  3. Following this section, he likewise notes those scholars and teachers he considers adherents of expressionism beginning with the last paragraph of pg. 344, and notes their widespread acceptance in the current academy and their focus on writers’ exploration of the self and the celebration of “personal voice” as paramount to the instructional experience.
  4. Halfway into pg. 345, he similarly notes that mimetic philosophy–which seeks “a clear connection between good writing and good thinking”–has a time-honored status among rhetoricians and compositionalists due to its frequent emphasis on texts and material analysis.  As an interesting side note, his section on “propaganda analysis” deftly ties mimetic composition to the waning cultural poetics of the 50’s, the cultural materialist movements of the 60’s, and the nascent theories of New Historicism beginning to take the forms that would catapult them to popularity in the academies of the early 1980’s.  In a text that provides no other concrete assignment types more specific than “journaling,” his focus specifically on the political/cultural materials of government propaganda is especially noteworthy in that it may signal a strategic move to locate some more “appealing” philosophies as extra-disciplinary, external to the expertise of the traditional composition instructor, and even dated (see references to Jungian dream analysis in his section on expressionist journaling, for instance).
  5. In his final section on specific philosophies, Fulkerson introduces rhetorical philosophy and classifies Peter Elbow as Rhetorician in light (in part) of a claim in Writing Without Teachersthat “theories of free writing, collaborative criticism, and audience adaptation are really classical theories masquerading as modern theories [emphasis added] (346).
  6. What remains, then, is several more paragraphs of analysis of the challenges and dangers of synthesis of these forms and philosophies, which Fulkerson has taken care to hedge as being either datedoverly-specific, or non-productive.  However, the bulk of his analysis of the challenge of selecting a philosophy is not the act of synthesis itself, but rather the tendency of instructors to apply different philosophies to pedagogical process and the evaluation of product.

When Berlin criticizes Fulkerson for “cavils” of “emphasis in the classroom,” I feel he misses the mark twice–once in the fact that Fulkerson takes no particular position on the superiority of a specific philosophy, though he demonstrates presumed deficiencies of each, and once more in his interpretation of apprehensions about students being punished for evaluative metrics at odds with their assigned writing as being an issue of petty objection on Fulkerson’s part.  This is certainly no unfair assessment (see Zirinsky, 1978).  Fulkerson’s methods of categorization may be suspect at times, and his methods for de-legitimizing certain philosophies may be in ways covert and even underhanded, but his disdain for a form of composition that was punitive of product while ostensibly celebrating process is clearly legitimate, even today, and reflects similar concerns by Donald Murray and others several years earlier.

In the end, my deep love for the categorizations and philosophies demarcated by Berlin stand, but I believe his argument would have been strengthened, not weakened, by supplementing rather than disassembling Fulkerson’s own disciplinary analysis.  Assessment and evaluation have always been a heath in which the evolving field of Rhet/Comp has found uneven footing at best, and has found itself repeatedly mired at worst.  Recognizing Fulkerson’s analysis as an assessment of the fairness of mercurial multi-philosophical synthesis to students instead of as a declaration of definite disciplinary categorization reveals a remarkably sympathetic and impassioned call for re-evaluation and reconsideration of the importance of one’s own personal desire to implement philosophy in the face of students’ needs for consistent instruction and productive process.


Annotated entry – Lemay’s Pattern Language

“Developing a Pattern Language for Flow Experiences in Video Games” (2007) – Philippe Lemay, University of Montreal

Lemay, P. (2007). Developing a pattern language for flow experiences in video games. In Situated Play, Proceedings of DiGRA 2007 Conference (pp. 449-455). University of Tokyo, Tokyo.

Lemay’s “Developing a Pattern Language for Flow Experiences in Video Games” (2007) explores the structure of play experience surrounding designed pattern languages in order to create a tool for gamespace designers to create efficiently structured and paced play experiences which encourage and maintain flow.  From this, Lemay attempts to create a dimensional model of play experience.

In order to accomplish this model, the author performs a metacritical survey of existing pattern languages in the understanding of play, and attempts to create a supplement or synthesis for these approaches which might offer an “extended corpus” which includes “all facets and dimension of the flow model” for play (454).

Bjork and Holopainen’s component pattern language.

Examining Bjork and Holopainen’s (2005) component framework (Figure 1), Lemay considers the categories of play and game systems (Boundary, Holistic, Structural, and Temporal) and finds a lack in the experiential elements of play and interaction–and argues that while the pattern “encompasses the wide variety of games found today,” it requires a “complementary language” in order to create a more coherent structure(449-50).

Csikszentmihalyi’s flow model

From this, the author moves on to Csikszentmihalyi’s model of “flow” and optimal experience (1988), which Lemay argues offers sensory and cognitive structures for understanding how individuals interact with spaces and media through a locus of experienced challenge and expressed competence (Figure 2).  Extending this argument into interactive spaces, Csikszentmihalyi’s conditions for flow demand expressed or clearly-presented goals, instant or immediate feedback, and an elevated degree of challenge matched to a specific degree of expressed competency (451).

fig_3From these two frames of  understanding game mechanic experiences, Lemay then attempts to structure a pattern language of experiential flow (Figure 3 and the experiential/design relationship (Figure 4 in concordance with previous scholars who applied flow experience to game spaces. In doing so, Lemay is able to further articulate the research questions at the core of the investigation, including:


  • What elements may help generate or maintain flow experiences? 
  • What elements would hinder the emergence of flow experiences?

In so doing, Lemay also establishes the notion of an “anti-pattern” language, one which functions against or subverts flow experiences. (452)  At this point, the author creates a multifaceted structural metric for coding play experience according to five core categories (sensation, emotion, cognition, behavior, and social) and offers three different pattern examples which might fit various flow experiences and medium types (453-54).

In his conclusion, Lemay argues that these comprehensive flow patterns might be viewed as a guiding set of consequences of design for games which function effectively and communicate flow-capable mechanics.

However, I want to push back, briefly, and argue that I don’t think these metrics will inherently create flow experiences or encourage the maintenance of preexisting flow behaviors. This is to say that the design process is inherently too individualized and specific to theme or project purposes to allow for a heuristic understanding of flow within design procedures.  However, this pattern language may allow for studying flow experiences under coding protocols which attempt to locate flow by examining the emotional and performative dimensions examined here.

I’ll return to this more with the methodology and coding sections of my current study at a later point in the semester.  However, for now I will note that–while Lemay may not be generally useful for the study of visual rhetoric–this work offers very viable tools for exploring the experiential nature of visuality in interactive spaces.

Artifact – The Jefferson Grid

I’m always very intrigued by the concept of systemic affordances, especially those so macroscopic in nature as to be rendered invisible by sheer scale.  To this effect, I have selected to look at the Jefferson Grid for this week’s artifact.

The Jefferson Grid is, effectively, invisible.  You’ll probably never see it in your life.  And yet it comprises approximately 60% of the continental United States.   And it has shaped our entire logistical environment: roads, farms, utilities, public services, ownership of land… which in turn creates a cascade of other, resultant systemic features (the parceling system for subdivisions, the difference in scale and fairway composition between American and European golf courses, even the most popular length of segmented boom arm scaffolds for center pivot irrigation systems).

Developed by Thomas Jefferson in the 18th century as an effecient and accurate method for surveying newly acquired or unmapped federal lands, it has since divided everything west of the Mississippi, and much of the territory east until the original thirteen colonies, into a series of perfectly aligned, one-mile-square spaces.

It’s the shape of our world, both perfectly regimented and completely arbitrary.  For some reason, this strikes me as particularly fitting in the New American Century.

Norman argues that we should understand affordances in part through a felt sense of wrongness, “the queasy or knotted feelings in your gut” (12) which tell you about the lack of affordance present in objects without intentional design.

I grew up on a grid farm, in a grid town, in the heavily gridded western Ohio region of the Black Swamp.  For me, the existence of this grid defined my life and childhood.  It was how I understood (and saw) the world–and yet to define this space to others as formative or essential to my knowledge of space is challenging (perhaps impossible).

To live here, in Virginia, where spaces do not adhere to a logic of place (even when not limited by prevailing topography or natural features) is to exist in a constant state of unease.

Thanks, Jefferson.

Proposal, Collection, and Reflection – The Witness

My Collection

For part of my final project for this object of study, I’m going to be considering the visual language of the 2016 video game, The Witness, by Jonathan Blow.

Pinterest Album (LINK)

A sequence of changes to panel designs for puzzles in The Witness (2016).

For me, The Witness is a natural object of study for the visual rhetoric and visually linguistic forms of composition and communication within it.  A game that exists almost entirely without language or instruction, the game nonetheless encourages players to develop deep knowledge of an arcane ruleset through trial and error, exemplification, and (and here will be the primary focus of my investigation) designed environmental contexts.

This Pinterest collection, composed of screenshots, response videos from players and critics, materials from the game’s development phase, interviews with Blow, and conference presentation videos by Blow about game design, are all part of a larger effort to built a broad understanding of how the game’s forms extend from a design process–and how that design process might have been informed by rhetorical intents or desires.

As the semester moves forward, the content of the game will be largely “spoiled” in my posts.  However, since I’m still going to try to recruit a fellow student to actually play the game for feedback, I’ll avoid saying more than that for now.


In general, the process of building this collection was straightforward and unsurprising – having followed the game from near the beginning of development, many of these resources are ones I’d already consumed or been aware of.  Moving forward, I plan to supplement this collection with additional scholarship from game studies, instructional design theory, linguistics and philosophy (this part will make sense later), etc. in order to expand the scope of this collection and begin to hone in on a final research question.



My thesis will be structured by testing, so it is weak right now. Essentially, I’m guessing that I’ll be discussing the roles that doubt, exposure, and epiphany play in the development of knowledge in visual media – connecting pattern recognition practices and cognitive science to the visual design of play spaces. I’m especially interested in how visual design encourages or inhibits flow experiences in interactive spaces. Beyond that, I am interested in how visual spatial designs can communicate philosophy, both of design and interactive intent, but also humanist practices within technologies.

Theoretical perspective or methodology
I am using think-aloud protocols during live-play sessions with a single subject playing the video game The Witness (2016) with no prior knowledge of the title or its content. This testing is currently underway. I am maintaining separate A/V archives of the playspace and the player in-session, as well as notes and A/V content on inter-session Q&A periods. These testing sessions will progress until a natural stopping point to be determined by the subject. The theoretical foundations of the research structure are based in Mannell et al. (1988), Squire (2008), and Ulrich et al. (2014), especially as these sources pertain to inciting flow within interactive spaces.

Significance of project

This project lies at the nexus of multiple interesting conversations happening in the areas of game studies, digital pedagogy, technical communication, instructional design, visual rhetoric, and UI/UX. I am hoping that a successful approach to synthesizing these various approaches to interactivity can help to illuminate the core learning practices of visuality as separated from traditional literacy foundations used previously to study flow and pattern recognition in skills acquisition and competency.

2-3 sources

I have a lot more than 2-3 at this point, but I’ll be tuning downwards as I move forward. I’m still looking for the “killer” source in VisRhet for addressing epiphany, doubt, learning, and interactivity (though Burbules “Aporias” and “Rethinking the Virtual” combined are very close to what I need).

Burbules, N. C. (2000). Aporias, webs, and passages: Doubt as an opportunity to learn. Curriculum Inquiry30(2), 171-187.

Burbules, N. C. (2006). Rethinking the virtual. In The international handbook of virtual learning environments (pp. 37-58). Springer Netherlands.

Calleja, G. (2010). Digital games and escapism. Games and Culture5(4), 335-353.

Carnegie, T. A. (2009). Interface as exordium: The rhetoric of interactivity. Computers and Composition26(3), 164-173.

Cogburn, J., & Silcox, M. (2009). Philosophy through video games. Routledge.

El-Nasr, M. S., & Yan, S. (2006, June). Visual attention in 3D video games. In Proceedings of the 2006 ACM SIGCHI international conference on Advances in computer entertainment technology (p. 22). ACM.

Jones, P. C. (2014). The Receiver is the Message?. Semiotics and Visual Communication: Concepts and Practices, 269.

Kang, H., Lee, C. W., & Jung, K. (2004). Recognition-based gesture spotting in video games. Pattern Recognition Letters25(15), 1701-1714.

Klimmt, C., & Hartmann, T. (2006). Effectance, self-efficacy, and the motivation to play video games. Playing video games: Motives, responses, and consequences, 133-145.

Kline, S., Dyer-Witheford, N., & De Peuter, G. (2003). Digital play: The interaction of technology, culture, and marketing. McGill-Queen’s Press-MQUP.

Lemay, P. (2007). Developing a pattern language for flow experiences in video games. In Situated Play, Proceedings of DiGRA 2007 Conference (pp. 449-455). University of Tokyo, Tokyo.

Mannell, R. C., Zuzanek, J., & Larson, R. (1988). Leisure states and” flow” experiences: Testing perceived freedom and intrinsic motivation hypotheses. Journal of Leisure Research20(4), 289.

Myers, D. (2006). Signs, symbols, games, and play. Games and Culture1(1), 47-51.

Squire, K. (2008). Educating the fighter: buttonmashing, seeing, being. Beyond Fun, 27-42.

Squire, K. (2008). Video-game literacy: A literacy of expertise. Handbook of research on new literacies, 635-670.

Ulrich, M., Keller, J., Hoenig, K., Waller, C., & Grön, G. (2014). Neural correlates of experimentally induced flow experiences. Neuroimage86, 194-202.

Wolf, M. J. (2003). Abstraction in the video game. The video game theory reader1, 47-65.

Visual Media Included:

The final project will include copies of sample play session footage, as well as illustrative content from the game space, documentation of the design process from the developers of The Witness, and other A/V content as appropriate to illustrate concepts of cognitive science and so on (E.G. Lemay’s (2007) illustrations of pattern language.

Testing Protocols

Today we will be recording an extended testing session for a visual rhetoric analysis of The Witness, a 2016 puzzle-centric video game produced by Thekla, Inc. and game designer Jonathan Blow.  The session will take the form of five consecutive 30 minute play sessions, each followed by a brief break during which there will be resets for the testing hardware and questions about the play experience for the previous session.  These sessions will be played consecutively, with no restart of game progress or changing of play situations.  All sessions will resume where the previous session ended.  The participant is free to request a break from play and/or questioning at any point, and may choose to end the testing session for any reason and at any time.

Testing will follow a think aloud protocol, during which the participant will be asked to vocalize thoughts on the game, game space, mechanics, inputs, design, and themes as well as actively comment on their decision-making and learning processes as they play.  In order to assure accurate coding and successful recording, the participant is asked to project loudly, clearly, and with strong enunciation whenever speaking aloud.  During active play, the tester will not interrupt, provide guidance, or otherwise interfere with play.  However, the participant is welcome to ask non-directive questions for troubleshooting or other purposes.

This testing will address components of input and user interface experiences; however, this is not a usability test.  The participant is asked to focus primarily on the thematic, experiential, mechanical, and intellectual engagement they have with the game, with special focus on what the puzzles in the game communicate to them, how they understand the puzzles, and why they make specific decisions in solving the puzzles.

The subject’s participation will be recorded in three ways during the process.  All recordings will be available for the participant upon request.

  1. Gameplay will be recorded directly from the play device (Sony Playstation 4) to a secure cloud storage (hosted on, from which gameplay videos will be downloaded to the tester’s personal computer.  These files will not be available for public consumption after recording, and will contain only on-screen play recordings.  No in-room audio, video, or other data will be stored in this form.  All play footage will be anonymized, and will not include any identifying information about the participant.  All play footage will be removed from the cloud immediately after downloading.
  2. The participant’s play session will be recorded in the room via video camera for each session, including both audio and visual recordings.  These recordings will also be stored on the tester’s personal computer, and will be deleted after the research period is complete.  This content will be held in the strictest confidence, and any coding resulting from this recording will be anonymized prior to release.
  3. The tester will take notes on participant behaviors and actions throughout the play process, as well as notes on the participant’s responses during the pre-, inter-, and post-play segments.  These notes will serve as a supplement to the previous two recordings, which will be synchronized for coding.

Before we begin, please let me know if you have any questions about this testing protocol, or any concerns or proposed amendments.

Case Study commentary – Adrienne and Kim

Case Study Outline response no. 1 – Adrienne

Adrienne is analyzing public profile images as rhetorical devices (or with rhetorical functions) using CHAT and Foucauldian analysis.

I think that contextualizing representations in digital spaces in this way is highly functional, but I’m concerned in the CHAT section by the presence of a sole laminated chronotope. I think one of the driving concepts of the theory is that the laminar nature of the chronotopes expects that such rhetorical practices would function at multiple levels concurrently. Are there other chronotopic features we might consider?

As for Foucault, I have no real questions or concerns. I might note that there are other functions of discontinuity in profile pictures, perhaps, besides the temporal changes of aging and maturing – including through group associations, group photographs, photographs of others (e.g. children/grandchildren/pets) as profile images, etc.


Case Study Outline response no. 2 – Kim F.

Kim is analyzing writing centers as functional networks through the lens of Spinuzzi’s Tracing Genre and Latour’s Reassembling the Social.

I am intrigued by the notion of viewing the writing center as a network rather than as a node within a discursive network. Obviously, the notion of a network scales up or down according to the locus of study and the lensing used to explore it – so any scale is likely viable. That said, I am interested in how this network would connect with other networks, as well as how it functions internally (that said, if you aren’t interested in that, that’s totally cool!)  I only bring this up because the “network” of the writing center is so strongly influenced by external (institutional) contexts.

One recommendation I might make would be to look at Spinuzzi’s “Working Alone Together” (2012), which explores how professionals function in shared spaces while working on individual projects and for discrete organizations (in, for example, shared office rental spaces). I feel like his direct applications of some of his theories to a practical semi-collaborative space might be informative for your own methodologies.  Although his work is more inter-organizational, it provides some great methods for intra-organizational study as well.

As for Latour – while I am not personally a fan of the agentive impulse he embraces, I think you do a good job of exploring how it would function for inanimate objects’ influence on the writing space and situated learning practices.   It’s a real challenge to contextualize technology within the WC network because of the complex organizational relationships between text, tech, and production practices.  I think your approach really nails this.  Great work across the board!