Reviewed by Meghan A. Sweeney, Saint Mary’s College of California (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Chair: Douglas Eyman, George Mason University
Speakers: Layne Gordon, University of Louisville
Kellie Gray, George Mason University
John Silvestro, Miami University
“Framing Circulation for Action: Frameworks for Enabling Action via Circulation Studies” was a direct response to Laurie Gries’s call to action at the 2015 Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC). Gries called for composition scholars to utilize circulation studies as a lens to examine writing, and in true collegiality (what I love most about our discipline and the CCCC), Gries was in the audience to learn how these three scholars used circulation studies as a lens for exploring the writing classroom, the digital landscape, and a non-profit organization. I also was there to learn. Before this presentation, I had only seen circulation studies used in journal articles focused on rhetoric, with little to no thought about connections to composition, so I was excited to learn more about the implications for composition if we view writing through the lens of circulation.
John J. Silvestro, a PhD candidate at Miami University, started the panel discussion with a key definition and question to frame the overall discussion. The panelists used Gries’s (2013) definition of circulation as spatio-temporal flows of discourse. Together, they also relied upon John Trimbur’s (2000) question, ”How can we see writing as it circulates through linked moments of production, distribution, exchange, and consumption?” (p. 196). With this definition and question, the panelists all sought to explore what frameworks and methods enable student, digital, and civic action through writing as it circulates.
After Silvestro’s framing of the discussion, Layne Gordon, a PhD student at University of Louisville, presented on how a circulation-based framework affects first-year composition. Gordon began with three assumptions that undergird her argument. The first assumption stems from The New London Group's (1996) argument that students are increasingly positioned solely as workers; the second comes from Gries’s (2015) argument that students need to be able to experience the circulation of their texts; the third assumption is Gordon’s own argument that “we need to reclaim the economic context of circulation for circulation studies, particularly if we are to make circulation studies actionable in our pedagogy.” Working from these three assumptions, Gordon argued for a pedagogical framework based on “circulation that aims to explore the ways in which identities, mobilities, labor practices, and composing processes are constructed by and through circulation." In doing so, a composition classroom can help students see how their writing doesn’t just stop once a text is turned into the professor. Instead, texts are allowed to create action in the community, and students are encouraged to examine how that circulation occurs and affects action.
Gordon then detailed a course design that would encourage students to examine and experience the circulation of texts (detailed on a handout for the audience):
- Unit 1: “Define and understand circulation through personal reflection and exploration of particular issue related to work.”
- Unit 2: "Create a collection of texts about your chosen issue and examine how the collection circulates."
- Unit 3: “Select a particular text out of this collection that has circulated widely and analyze its argument.”
- Unit 4: “Make your own argument about your chosen issue and circulation.”
To further show how the circulation framework would work in the classroom, Gordon detailed Unit 1 (on her handout). The three assignments in the unit include keeping a journal for homework assignments and reflections, making a “Concept in 60” video (a 60-second video using digital artifacts to explore a topic related to work), and remediating the “Concept in 60” (translating discussion of the topic to a new medium, like tweets). Throughout the unit, as students define circulation and as they create videos and remediations, they are required to share them with others outside the classroom and reflect on the circulation that occurred.
Gordon ended with her own call to action: for us all to create anthologies, readers, and textbooks that take up the issues of circulation; to consider how circulation pedagogies affect evaluation and assessment; and to build more pedagogies based on circulation to increase scholarship and understanding on how this concept affects the composition classroom.
Judging by the way Gordon talked about this pedagogical framework, I am under the impression that she has not yet taught this course. However, when she does, I am sure we will get to see examples of textual circulation that occurred in her first-year composition course. When we do, I look forward to exploring how this complicates our current discussions about transfer. At my own institution, I have watched as an assignment in a women and gender studies course has circulated through the campus, moving from a series of posters, to a Twitter campaign, to a campus-wide walkout. As I went through the process of writing this review for Kairos, I kept coming back to the current discussions at my own college and wondering how a first-year composition, that taught students to see their writing through the lens of circulation, could transfer to courses like women and gender studies. Overall, as you can probably tell, I found Gordon’s proposal for a course design generative for myself, as a teacher dedicated to first year writing.
While Gordon’s presentation got me excited about how circulation could invigorate the classroom, Kellie M. Gray got my inner methodology nerd excited. Taking on the visual rhetoric angle, Gray, a PhD student at George Mason University, used circulation studies to explore emoji in her presentation “Workable Methods for Studying Emoji.” Gray’s presentation also responded to Gries’s call for action, but more specifically she was building on Gries’s recent book, Still Life with Rhetoric: A New Materialist Approach for Visual Rhetorics (2015) and Gries’s article “Iconographic Research: A Digital Research Method for Visual Rhetoric and Circulation Studies” (2013), where she introduced iconographic tracking, a research method that “employs traditional qualitative and inventive digital research strategies to investigate the circulation, transformation, and consequentiality of images across genres, mediums, and contexts” (Gries, 2013, p. 332). Gray’s research project used iconographic tracking, but she also went into great detail on how she tracked emoji, making for an informative and enlightening presentation on methodologies and the tools available to study circulation.
Overall, Gray wanted to understand how emoji circulated. She found that emoji, as they circulated, varied in appearance differing across platforms and devices used. For example, the emoji for a woman partying looks different when used in Google versus Twitter. While they both require the woman to wear bunny ears (Why? Seriously, why?), Google has just one woman, while Twitter has two.
To conduct her iconographic tracking study, Gray used two methods: mapping code hierarchies and coding/classifying the culture of emojis by using Zotero, NVivo, and NCapture. Gray cleverly named her first method “begging your friends to take screenshots” because that is how she mapped the code hierarchies. She received screenshots of emoji from her friends, who all used different devices and platforms. Gray logged the year, the device (e.g., MacBook Pro), and the browser (e.g., Chrome). The result is a spreadsheet that tracked variability in appearance as these emojis circulated in a digital landscape. Gray named her second method “coding and classifying culture...or ‘befriend your school’s data specialists STAT.’” To further track emoji she used NCapture, which works with NVivo, to create a zine that “captured” stories from the web about emojis. In doing so, she was able to track how the culture of emoji circulated.
In closing her presentation, Gray concluded with action items that encouraged the audience to use this methodology to “evaluate, develop, experiment, and repeat.” As a part of the audience, I feverishly wrote down the software she used, especially NCapture, which was new to me. The method of iconographic tracking was also completely new to me, so I appreciated how well-thought out and methodical Gray’s presentation was.
With classroom and digital contexts explored, Silvestro completed the panel presentation with “In Backyards and Boardrooms: Making our Circulation Methods Actionable for Civic Organizations.” Silvestro is working with The Women’s Fund of the Greater Cincinnati Foundation—a 20-year-old non-profit organization with the goal of providing “a strong voice for women in our community” (Women’s Fund, 2016b). The organization has five specific strategies, but Silvestro, as part of his participatory action research, was asked to focus on three areas: “promote the use of a gender lens in all community research to better identify the barriers and educate decision makers with disaggregated data, build a common agenda and shared goals with key stakeholders, and champion relevant policy advocacy” (Women’s Fund, 2016a). Upon further reflection, Silvestro noted that these three areas were rooted in concerns of circulation and its effects on local communities and publics.
To study circulation in this context, Silvestro built upon Jim Ridolfo’s (2012) research method of “practitioner stories.” This method requires researchers to interview participants about their composing processes, with an emphasis on delivery and distribution, so discoveries can be made about intended and unintended circulation. Silvestro found this method useful in gaining perspective on the composing processes in The Women’s Fund. However, complicating his study was his desire to be useful to The Women’s Fund, so he had to figure out how to make the practitioner stories actionable. Silvestro asked, “What can I do and discover that makes their efforts to engage with circulation and its effects on publics stronger?” and “How can we make our circulation research methods more actionable for civic organizations?”
Silvestro began to answer these questions by looking at how the organization discussed circulation before his participation. Overall, the goal of the organization was to “get and motivate others to share, discuss, and recompose their research and their concerns.” Specifically, Meghan Cummings, the executive director, along with other executives, want their “research and their concerns discussed in backyards and boardrooms.” They also want their staff, members, and volunteers to share and discuss the work they are doing. They created a Facebook page that posts #Smartricles, created a Twitter account, and distributed research as digital pdfs.
To engage with The Women’s Fund, Silvestro began with sharing his findings from the practitioner stories and creating visuals to show the group that they were focused on individuals and communities, while missing the “viral” circulation that they desired. In addition, he encouraged them to focus on getting others to share and circulate their work and to participate in the stories that are part of the discourse. He also participated in creating a hashtag for an event with Cokie Roberts. While he and others advocated for a hashtag that would participate in the discussion about poverty, the group went with #ConvoWithCokie (you can’t win them all). Finally, he tried to explain circulation to them and link circulation processes to their institution, which is hard.
The results of Silvestro’s actionable research are many. The group has grown in how they use social media and distribute digital texts. They use infographics to share their research (and to encourage others to share their research). They promote their hashtags for events, by creating selfie boards and displaying the hashtag. And at those events, they also share research data on poster boards and tabletop cards.
His action items (or advice for those of us who might want to conduct similar research) include the following: listen to how the group describes circulation then work with their terms; fit in with where they are and what they do; offer a “vision” of what they can and can’t do; and introduce tools, practices, and processes that they can use.
Together these panelists left me invigorated as a teacher, scholar, and researcher. Their take on pedagogy, methodology, and practices was inventive and serves as a sound reminder that good panels often go unheard because of our desire to fly home Saturday morning. People should be paying attention and watching for more work from these PhD students; it is careful research, and it is important research.
After the panel, I ran into Laurie Gries in the restroom at a sustainable restaurant across the street. I told Gries how great the panel was and asked what it was like to watch an entire panel dedicated to her call to action. She basically described it as amazing, enjoyable, and flattering. I look forward to seeing what is next for these three scholars.
Gries, Laurie E. (2013). Iconographic research: A digital research method for visual rhetoric and circulation studies. Computers and Composition, 30, 332–348. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.compcom.2013.10.006
Gries, Laurie E. (2015). Still life with rhetoric: A new materialist approach for visual rhetorics. Logan, UT: Utah State University Press.
New London Group. (1996). A pedagogy of multiliteracies: Designing social futures. Harvard Educational Review, 66(1), 60–92.
Ridolfo, Jim. (2012). Rhetorical delivery as strategy: Rebuilding the fifth canon from practitioner stories. Rhetoric Review, 31(2), 117–129.
Trimbur, John. (2000). Composition and the Circulation of Writing. College Composition and Communication, 52(2), 188–219.
The Women’s Fund of the Greater Cincinnati Foundation. (2016a). The issues. Retrieved from https://www.gcfdn.org/Investing-in-Greater-Cincinnati/The-Womens-Fund/Our-Work/The-Issues
The Women’s Fund of the Greater Cincinnati Foundation. (2016b). Our focus. Retrieved from https://www.gcfdn.org/Investing-in-Greater-Cincinnati/The-Womens-Fund/About-Us/Our-Focus