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Special Field Exam: Sample Questions

Computers and Composition: Interdisciplinarity and Technology - Joyce R. Walker

1. In The Domain of Images James Elkins contemplates the obstacles to and possibilities for interaction between "disciplines such as art history, archaeology, the history of science, linguistics, and anthropology…" (249). Robert Johnson, in User-Centered Technology, illustrates the overlapping and conflicting processes for the study of technological artifacts in the disciplines of Sociology, History, and the Philosophy of Technology. How might "self-education on how we read and write the personal" as suggested by Min Zhan Lu in "Redefining the Literate Self: The Politics of Critical Affirmation" (CCC 51.2 1999) be applied to the contemplation and enactment of such interdisciplinary relationships? In addition, how might the suggestion of Downing and Sosnoski in "Academic Cyberculture" (Emerging Cyberculture) that we turn "away from the ideals of disciplinarity to the more flexible protocols of postdisciplinary practices" (118) be used in an effort to encourage these relationships?

2. The following texts all use various storytelling practices to make claims, illustrate concepts, explore possibilities, and to shape perspectives (both reader and writer):

How might these variations of storytelling be considered methodological choices (as compared to the discussion of case study as methodology in Thomas Newkirk's "The Narrative Roots of the Case Study" in Methods and Methodology in Composition Research.)? How might these storytelling practices/methodologies apply to research on various uses of technology (particularly the Internet)?

3. In Investigating Subjectivity, Ellis and Flaherty state that the aim of their volume is to present "subjectivity as lived experience in its physical, political and historical contexts" (11). In another text, Composing Ethnography, Ellis and Bochner add the comment that "…we need to see what we do not so much a representation but as communication…we worry about how our readers will interpret what we write, what they may think, and how they will feel" (19). How might these concepts of ethnographic research as the representation of lived experience be compared to the discussion of the purposes of ethnographic research as described by Julie Lindquist: "…I am convinced that knowing our own rituals and performances is a way of becoming intimately familiar with who we are as rhetors, with our powers and limitations, with our motives and agendas"("Class Ethos and the Politics of Inquiry" CCC 51.2, 1999, pp. 245); or the discussion of the use of alternative forms and materials by Geoffrey Sirc ("What is Composition..? After Duchamp" in Passions, Pedagogies and 21st Century Technologies). How do these various texts (and others on the list) differ in their treatment of such issues as subjectivity, the presentation of lived experience, and (author)ity? How do these differences affect (or how are they affected by) the authors' "real-world" goals for their research? How might these differences serve to define and defend their disciplinarity?

4. In addition to variations in goals and methods (see questions 2 & 3) authors such as Trinh T. Min-ha (The Moon Waxes Red and Woman, Native, Other); Mary Fuller and Henry Jenkins (" Nintendo and New World Travel Writing: A Dialogue", in Cybersociety: Computer-Mediated Communications and Community ); Margaret Daisley and Susan Romano ("Thirteen Ways of Looking at an M-Word" in Feminist Cyberscapes: Mapping Gendered Academic Spaces ); and Laurel Richardson (Fields of Play: Constructing an Academic Life) all work with alternative textual representations of form and structure. How might these alternatives be connected to the author's methodology? How might they be connected to personal writing goals or to social/political goals for writing? Finally, how might these alternative forms and structures compare/contrast/connect to concepts of and theories for hypertext structures (as discussed in early hypertext theory such as Landow 's Hypertext 2.0 or in more recent work on multimedia forms and structures such as Janet Murray's Hamlet on the Holodeck)?

5. Keeping in mind the complicated nature of using terms such as "hypertext" across disciplinary boundaries (see Downing and Sosnoski, 2000), how might the following texts be used to construct a narrative of the evolution of hypertext (both as a form/structure of writing and as a concept for thinking about digital spaces):

6. In her text, Life Online: Researching Real Experience in Virtual Space, Annette Markham gives this description of one of her [identified as] female respondents: “Through her descriptions of her self…it is clear that she values online contexts more highly; online, self can flourish as a mind with other, without the complicating bonds of the flesh" (209). Compare this description of a textually based self to Shannon Wilson's ("Pedagogy, Emotion, and the Protocol of Care" in Feminist Cyberscapes) description of her experience as part of an online project called Alpha University: "Only in the halls [of a real world university] can personal experience and the emotions that go along with it be recognized as relevant to the material at hand. The false separation between the discussions that take place in and out of the classroom is replicated by a system that delgates an "appropriate" space for emotion and personal connections to the material" (147). How do these accounts represent the concept of a self in different ways? How does the context of the digital environment (chat room vs. school space) affect the possible representations of self? How might Hawisher and Sullivan's "Fleeting Images: Women Visually Writing the Web" (in Passions, Pedagogies) be used to complicate the issues of representational agency and representational unity brought into play by the first two references? How might other texts on the list (e.g. Dale Spender's Nattering on the Net or Technology and Women's Voices, ed. Cheris Kramarae) be incorporated into this discussion?

7. Explain or otherwise illuminate how the following phrases might be connected to the concepts of "identity building" and "knowledge building" in digital environments, using (separately or in combination) Patricia Clough's Feminist Thought, Jean-Francois Lyotard's The Postmodern Condition, bell hooks and Cornell West's Baking Bread; and James Elkins' The Object Stares Back (as well as other relevant texts from the list):

8. In the following quote from Rhetorics, Poetics, and Cultures, James Berlin describes a sense of the "compression of time" as part of the postmodern experience: "For those with the means and the time, life becomes a rich succession of manufactured events, a simulation of the past or future, the end being detachment from the concrete material and social conditions of one's own historical moment. One defeats time and space and escapes the depressing features of daily life--the dark side of the new regime--through manufactured public performance" (47). Compare this to the very different expression of the experience of time in this excerpt from Arthur Kleinman's The Illness Narratives: "Patients and families are coping with a day-by-day course that encompasses many individual episodes and events. There are serious consequences, some avoidable, others not. There are spells of improvement and periods of worsening (at times understandably, at other times inexplicably, linked). And there are threats to daily activities, special occasions, career, relationships, and perhaps most distressingly, self-esteem…Time is also dissipated prodigally in special treatment regimens that can interfere significantly with diet, life style, recreation, and the otherwise taken for granted activities of daily living" (46). How might these quotes be associated with or connected to various descriptions of online interactive spaces and the importance of the participant’s experience of time (using either/both texts from the reading list or actual website spaces).

9. How might the concept of "User-Centered Technology" as described by Robert Johnson (User-Centered Technology) and the concept of "Interactor-as-author" as described by Janet Murray (Hamlet on the Holodeck ) be applied to the development of one’s dissertation research? How might these concepts be integrated with concepts of narrative therapy as described by Parry and Doan (Story Re-Visions) and in Narrative Therapy in Practice (eds. Gerald Monk, John Winslade, Kathie Crocket, and David Epston). How would such an integration be informed and/or complicated by the issue of agency as it is debated in feminist and postmodern theory?

10. Regarding issues of storytelling (see question 2) , how might feminist concepts of storytelling, as expressed in texts, such as Feminist Messages: Coding in Women's Folk Culture (ed. Joan Newlon Radner); Women Writing the Academy: Audience, Authority, and Transformation (Gesa Kirsch); and Beyond Methodology: Feminist Scholarship as Lived Research (ed. Mary Margaret Fonow and Judith A. Cook) be used to develop a methodology for your dissertation research?

11. How do you see your special field list with its diverse texts and categories—Theories of Language, Writing and Textuality; Technology and Online Communication; Ethnographic Methodologies; Identity and Representation; Image Design and Alternative Literacies coming together to form a coherent, or at least connected, body of research? In what areas (or disciplines) have your found further readings that might be applicable to your dissertation research?