Sunday, December 27, 2009

Saving Lives

How's this for a culture that uses technology to vital purpose and engages every day with questions of rhetorical silencing: nursing. In Saving Lives: Why the Media's Portrayal of Nurses Puts Us all at Risk, Sandy Summers (RN, MSN, MPH) and Harry Jacobs Summers show that, indeed, the media's portrayal of nurses is unfair--to say the least.

As a former member of the media, though, I recognized myself in some of their critiques. And my automatic response is to critique right back. I could easily have been one of the reporters who writes that "doctors put the victim back together." But my argument is that such a use of the term doctor does not refer exclusively to MDs. Doctor is a broad term. It can refer to PhDs and dentists. Of course, it refers to MDs, but it can also be used to reference any medical practitioner--nurses included.

(In a similar vein, Summers and Summers critique instances when people who are not nurses are referred to as such; it seems to me that we are encountering a problematic conflation of general and specific terms. After all, one who nurses is a nurse, whether or not they are a CNA or LPN, just as one who doctors--including nurses--can be broadly referred to as doctors. The resistance to this seems to be an issue of hierarchy, or professional class.)

So why does my counter-argument fall flat, thus meriting this post? Because of two things: 1) not all journalists think like me, a fact largely due to the fact that I've always had one foot in academia and, more importantly 2) any decent rhetorician (journalists included) knows that intention doesn't make a lick of difference. The public doesn't read doctor and think that includes nurses. The Summers' book isn't so much about what journalists write ... it's about how the public perceives what journalists write. And there are a lot of misconceptions out there about nurses, including the idea that they're all women and that all doctors are men. There is work to be done here on the part of journalists, the public, and nurses themselves. And, happily, this is exactly what Summers and Summers propose, asking that nurses take a role in altering their public image and, in Chapter 11, providing a sort of how-to manual for a variety of professionals to create more ethical portrayals of nurses. I would add to this that the most basic of solutions is for us all to be more aware of the rhetoric we use and how intention differs from perception.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

On "All Our Relations"

One book that I had hoped to read for a recent research project--but didn't because I ran out of time--was Winona LaDuke's All Our Relations. Luckily, I did have time to do some reading in this text before returning it to the library, and I was stunned at reading of the Mothers' Milk Project.

LaDuke's first chapter chronicles the struggles of the Mohawk Indians who live in the northeastern U.S. near a large General Motors plant. The plant dumped toxic chemicals in "SuperFund" sites, and those chemicals found their way into the water supply. LaDuke follows Mohawk activist Katsi Cook, who tries to involve women in activism.

"The fact is that women are the first environment," according to Cook. "We accumulate tocix chemicals like PCBs, DDT, Mirex, HCBs, etc., dumped into the waters by various industries. They are stored in our body fat and are excreted primarily through breast milk" (18). In fact, a study found a 200 percent greater concentration of PCBs in mothers who ate fish from the St. Lawrence River.

Now, I don't want to come off as the stereotypical tree-hugging academic liberal. (And, truth be told, I don't actually have a lot in common with that stereotype.) I have family that has worked for GM, and while the company has been less than generous (or even fair?) to its employees in recent years, it did provide millions of solid jobs for millions of people who would not otherwise have been nearly so well paid over several decades. I do not want to vilify GM. However, it does appear that the company has been less than ethical and responsible in many of its actions pertaining to the environment. Perhaps the more informative question is one of motive. Did GM shirk its responsibilities because of ignorance, costs, or just because it could get away with it?

In 1996, Chief Scientist to the World Wildlife Fund Theo Colburn gave an address at the State of the World Forum in which he said: "Every one of you sitting here today is carrying at least 500 measurable chemicals in your body that were never in anyone's body before the 1920s" (21). Colburn said 2,500 new chemicals are developed every year. How is anyone supposed to keep up with that much new information, let alone figure out how each of those chemicals might affect the human body?

Can we hold a company like GM responsible for being up to date on all chemicals they use? (That's not a rhetorical questions. I'm not sure of the answer.)

The one surety? Things are always changing, and this presents a challenge for native populations and cultures. But other cultures can make a difference by doing as little harm as possible.

In LaDuke's final chapter, she discusses the U.S. takeover of Hawai'i, and some bits are stunning in their demonstration of the ignorance of dominant cultures in the area: "The final eviction threat was fulfilled February 14, 1997, when the [National Park Service], hell-bent on its park of historic Hawaiian culture, evicted the Hawaiians" (168). Brilliant, eh?

But there is hope.

I was particularly struck by LaDuke's account of the island of Kaho'o'lawe, which the U.S. took martial control of the day after the Pearl Harbor bombing. Since that time, it was used as a test site for weaponry ... until 1990, when then-President George Bush ended pratice bombing there and returned the island to Hawaiians.

Friday, December 18, 2009

A Slight Change in Direction

Well, perhaps the title "a change in direction" is actually misleading.

This blog was originally created for a graduate level course studying race (which I renamed culture early on), rhetoric, and technology. The description of this blog (to the right) says exactly that, and I plan to leave that information up. But the class has ended (sadly, because it was wonderful) and I'm not ready to let the blog die. I plan to continue to post whenever I run across something that seems to fit the criteria set forth by the class (and, admittedly, when I have time).

I'll probably also continue to widen the criteria in order to be able to post things that perhaps don't quite seem to fit. I'm not really sure on that count yet, but the topics of race/culture, rhetoric, and technology provide a pretty broad umbrella. We'll see what happens.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Coming full circle

A few pages into Barbara Monroe's Crossing the Digital Divide: Race, Writing and Technology in the Classroom, I felt like my readings for English 467 had come full circle. We're back to defining race, but Monroe uses the term in a new way: "Race, as I use the word in this book, refers to people of color, specifically African Americans, Latinos, and American Indians, all of whom as groups have been historically excluded from the matrix of power and wealth in this country" (21). While this isn't a definition I personally would ever use, it does point to two important understandings in defining race. First, race is not static. It is always changing and is always different depending on one's perspective. Second, we can gain power over this often divisive word by using our agency to define it in the ways that benefit us. Monroe uses it to point out those who "have been excluded." We could also use it as a term that denotes commonality rather than difference, as in celebrations of ethnic (racial?) heritage. I think that this may mean my original definition of race still works for me, although I've now had the chance to explore and complicate it in various ways. Race is a construction of particular rhetorics, used for a particular end in a particular social realm. And regardless of the origin of the word, it doesn't have to be used with treacherous intentions.

I am reminded--as was Monroe on page 30--of Paulo Freire's goal of critical consciousness and liberatory pedagogy. In his Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Freire advocates helping the oppressed (whoever they may be) by teaching them to help themselves. They must be able to see the structures they have to work within and then cultivate a desire to do so. Anything less is pantomime. I particularly like thinking of race, rhetoric, and technology as addressed by Freire through bell hooks. In Teaching to Transgress, hooks points out the openness of Freire's work and life (and examines and ultimately comes to terms with his sexist language). It seems to me that this treatment of the oppressed speaks directly to the issues of access we've been discussing all semester. hooks admonishes us (teachers, in a broad sense) to work as cultural healers, utilizing and modeling tactics for disrupting hegemonic power in ways that are sustainable and productive.

One example of such a tactic comes in Monroe's second chapter, "Putting One's Business on Front Street." In this chapter, Monroe discusses a globally networked learning environment (GNLE) in which 27 Detroit High School sophomores and 27 University of Michigan upperclassmen interacted within a mostly electronic mentor/mentee relationship. Her attention to local and cultural contexts was exciting, and it was fascinating to read actual excerpts of the students' correspondence.

The cultural differences were interesting and a bit frightening. For example, Monroe concluded that the DHS students who "performed" their mentors' introductory emails by using "falsetto voices and with much body English" and "making fun of a person by overdramatizng his speech and gestures" were working within an environment that was "celebratory," "good-natured fun" (44-45). While I realize that I might be rankled by these students' treatment of their mentors because my culture is closer to that of the mentors than the mentees, Monroe could have done a much better job of explaining the culture clash at this juncture. As someone interested in navigating the complexities of culture and race in particular audiences, she should have been attuned to the audience of her book.

I think the study itself could also be critiqued because it is somewhat dated. The correspondences were conducted in the 1996-1997 academic year, and the book was not published until 2004. Dynamics at DHS with access and technological understanding have certainly changed in that time, and it would have been interesting to see some acknowledgment of that. (But, this is a common critique of technology-based books and a problem that is not easy to overcome.)

The parts of this study I was most interested in were the female-female partnerships that were so successful, and code-switching done be mentees, and the "Implications for teaching." I find that analogies pertaining to sex-based oppression often help me understand "the race problem" better than I would otherwise be able to. As such, it came as no surprise to me that the female-female partnerships were generally successful. The discomfort surrounding the sharing of romantic details was an interesting cultural difference to ponder, though. Monroe's discussion of the students' code-switching likewise provides food for thought on the complex discourse communities these students navigate, despite the fact that standardized tests often label such students as "failing." So far as implications for teaching go, I was particularly interested in Monroe's note that English teacheers should be aware of "race-based cultural differences when designing their curricula" (64). Monroe gives the example of using rap music as a pedagogical tool. While some might think this would be appropriate for a school system with a high African-American demographic, DHS found that it posed problems for the religious African American communities that many of their students came from (65). Care must be taken in making such moves.

"Storytime on the Reservation" was also intriguing, and this is the chapter where Monroe returns to her original--problematic, in my opinion--premise that "electronic media--mainly, movies and e-mail--can bridge the gaping maw between home and school literacies" of students. I'm old-fashioned, I know, but I resist the idea of basing a child's education on anything other than good reading. Electronic media can be supplements, and a medium like the Kindle is synonymous to books. But substituting movies and e-mail for books seems to be a very bad idea to me, and one that Monroe doesn't support well enough for me to change my mind. She does mention that this is cultural, and this is part of my resistance. In a primarily oral culture, movies might be a better medium for instilling critical literacy. I concede that this could work ... but the movies would have to be carefully chosen given the nature of Hollywood today, and while e-mails and texting are fine means for getting students to write, I still think they must be able to code switch to SAE to reach their fullest potential. In short, I don't think it's responsible to encourage teachers to switch to using movies and email as their main pedagogical tools without providing a good deal more explanation and support on how to make these tools work for instilling critical consciousness in students.

In this end, though, I think my critique stems from my having goals that are different from teachers at the schools that are discussed. The local needs and goals are far more important--though many politicians don't realize it--than ensuring all students speak and write SAE flawlessly. In answering Cindy Selfe's call to come up with more methods for critical engagement, I think Monroe does a fine job. It's my own cultural situatedness that prevents me from accepting her suggestions. (Although I'm not saying my caution is an incorrect response, just qualifying it.) I wonder at her audience for this book, and I hope she'll write the new book that is suggested by her closing statement that we need to "teach all children, not just children of color, to become interethnically literate" (125).

Works Cited

Freire, Paulo.
Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Tran. Myra Bergman Ramos. New York: Continuum Publishing Company, 1968. Print.

hooks, bell. Teaching to Transgress:
Education as the Practice of Freedom. New York: Routledge, 1994. Print.

Monroe, Barbara. Crossing the Digital Divide: Race, Writing, and Technology in the Classroom. New York: Teachers College Press, 2004. Print.

Selfe, Cindy. Technology and Literacy in the Twenty-First Century: The Importance of Paying Attention. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois UP, 1999. Print.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

How the Irish Became White

I've been reading Krista Ratcliffe's Rhetorical Listening: Identification, Gender, Whiteness for another class (English 483: Studies in Rhetoric and Style) and stumbled upon her interesting discussion of race. She defines it as: "a fictional category possessed of all-too-realistic consequences" (13). This seems to jive with previous discussions of race on this blog and in this class.

She also brings up the book How the Irish Became White, which is of great interest to me based on heritage and my general interest in race and culture. I haven't read the book, but here is an interesting review. The book apparently discusses how the Irish, an oppressed "race" in America, became "white" by juxtaposing themselves against Northern freed blacks. By joining "whites" in subjugating "blacks," they assimilated and became thought of as white.

This is also an interesting topic in terms of Certeauian thinking ... what tactics and strategies do we use to re-produce ourselves in order to construct particular social identities and meet particular social goals?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Presidents, Star Wars, and Harry Potter: Convergence

It's been a while since I've given serious thought to the convergence of media, but Henry Jenkins strikes me as someone with a pretty good understanding of it. Jenkins points out right away that "people today talk about divergence rather than convergence, but (Ithiel de Sola) Pool understood that they were two sides of the same phenomenon" (10). Jenkins also largely talks about convergence in a way different than the understanding I was first taught. He is interested in how media bring people together in a "participatory culture" and he quickly puts to rest the "Black Box Fallacy" that we will someday have a centralized technology through which run all the media we need. However, he doesn't devote much space to the dangers of corporate media convergence. For example, when the newspaper I worked at was purchased by a different company, the scope of things I could write about changed. Because media ownership is concentrated in a few companies, the issues and people who get shown in the media are an increasingly elite group. Jenkins does address this crisis in his discussion of the 2004 CNN presidential primary debate: "[W]e can see which submitted questions got left out, which issues did not get addressed, and which groups did not get represented" (278). While this is true, people whose access is limited to television cannot see those things. They are victims of media convergence.

But Jenkins also encourages readers to think of media in a new way (although I wish he'd have done more with this). He defines media as: 1) "a technology that enables communication" and 2) a "set of associated 'protocols' or social and cultural practices that have grown up around that technology" (13-14). This second definition runs parallel to Bray's definition of technology as including social/cultural rituals that affect how people live. This general idea of making transparent the ways in which technologies shape our lives is an important point.

In the chapter entitled "Quentin Tarantino's Star Wars," I found the discussion of interactivity and participation to be illuminating. Interactivity is a referent to technologies being designed to elicit and take into consideration user feedback, while participation is more open-ended. Loosely speaking, interactivity could be aligned with strategies (using Michel de Certeau's understanding of the word) and participation could be seen as a venue for tactics.

(Although as Jenkins astutely notes, that isn't always what happens. "Too often, there is a tendency to read all grassroots media as somehow 'resistant' to dominant institutions rather than acknowledging that citizens sometimes deploy bottom-up means to keep others down" (293). Having served as moderator for the comments section of a newspaper website in a small town, I have more experience with the nastiness of consumer participation than I ever cared to experience.)

I also enjoyed--and I'll admit, I giggled a little at these terms--Jenkins' deployment of the words prohibitionist and collaborationist in reference to how corporations and other dominant entities respond to fan participation. Prohibitionist, in particular, hails an era of socially accepted rebellion that makes one think these dominant entities may be fighting a losing battle in their quest to close down fan participation. Jenkins' use of Star Wars and Harry Potter to show the interactions of fans and trademark/copyright holders was exciting, largely because those two alternate universes are so popular that they really have become a part of popular culture and as such were fertile sites for this conflict. Popular culture is another term that Jenkins defined very helpfully as "what happens as mass culture gets pulled back into folk culture" (140). This is also the point at which passions arise; when a particular story becomes so important that folk culture lays a claim to it, things really get interesting.

And, in fact, I can prove it. This appropriation of storylines and worlds by folk culture results in a sense of ownership by those who consume and/or re-produce these products in such a way that an avid Star Wars fan (ahem) would be a little insulted by a scholar who claimed to have done significant research on SW subculture without learning that the plural of "Jedi" is not "Jedis."

In "Why Heather Can Write," Jenkins does an excellent job of showing how new media can function as a space for children (and adults) to learn in new ways and to teach each other. The stories he tells about Heather Lawver are nothing short of amazing, and they make me wonder about the pedagogical possibilities of fan participation and media interactivity. I'm with Jenkins in thinking the "potential seems enormous" in having "a growing percentage of young writers ... publishing and getting feedback on their work" (187). This is why it is so important for composition scholars to look at the ways that young people are writing and interacting with the world around them and to react to those interactions. This is a field in great need of more work. Even Jenkins makes the mistake of citing studies that show that young people get their news from satirical late-night shows without problematizing the situation. The people who do these studies act surprised that "Daily Show viewers have higher campaign knowledge than national news viewers and newspaper readers" (236). In my opinion, this isn't because The Daily Show is the best news source ever. It's because most people who watch The Daily Show also consume the news from a variety of sources and are aware of the biases of those sources. Because Daily Show viewers are predominantly young, surveyors assume they don't consume traditional news outlets as well. But they do. They may not carry around print copies of the Wall Street Journal, but they're informed consumers and re-producers of popular media.

I'd like to end with a reflective note on Jenkins' use of sub-narratives in some of his chapters. In the Star Wars chapter, for example, he ran other stories in the (enlarged) margins. These stories concerned related, but not explicitly connected, topics such as camcorder history, anime, and The Sims. Although the design of the pages made these sub-stories a bit difficult to read, I really enjoyed the hypertextual element they provided and the network they began to weave for readers who are looking for new and exciting avenues of thought.

Work Cited
Jenkins, Henry. Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York: New York U P, 2006. Print.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Decentering medical authority (and other topics) in Lisa Nakamura's "Digitizing Race"

I was so excited to find Lisa Nakamura's chapter entitled "Avatars and the Visual Culture of Reproduction on the Web." Nakamura examines how pregnant women portray themselves (or ask others to portray them) on sites where cartoonish "dollies," or avatars, are used to represent community members. She notes that the "increasingly visual culture of user-posted photographs and other self-produced digital images is part of a rhetorical mode of cultural production online that also works to decenter medical authority" (133). While I have emphasized in my own work that there is a place for medical authority, I have also written that women must be able to make their own informed decisions in terms of reproduction. The fora Nakamura is discussing are places that help to allow that to happen. "The Internet provides a space in which women use pregnancy Web sites' modes of visuality and digital graphic production to become subjects, rather than objects, of interactivity" (133). They are the producers of their own visibility.

Or are they? Nakamura shows how women retain "racial" markers in building their avatars, but at the same time idealize the pregnant body and create "a uniformly and conventionally 'pretty' avatar" (145). While at first I was disappointed that these women were still in some sense controlled by hegemonic forces, I think this phenomenon is not necessarily a bad thing. What would it mean for a woman to conceptualize herself as ugly and to portray that in her dollie? What these women are really doing is finding a common ground and using it as a stable foundation on which to establish difference. (An ugly dollie might work as a deliberate critique of the system, but it might hamper the owner's engagement with others on the board.) In the same sort of move, avatar owners also mix colloquial rhetorics with medical rhetorics (153). By mixing these worlds--taking medical rhetoric as a base on which to build other rhetorics and discourses--and creating their own spaces, they are, in fact, using a form of bricolage to re-appropriate their own bodies from the medical establishment. These women are "producing a counterdiscourse that challenges the binarism of hypervisible/invisible pregnant bodies" (158). They are producing bodies that we can, perhaps, conceptualize as "mixed." (An interesting concept given Nakamura's chapter on, which I'll get to a little later.)

Cyberfeminism, Nakamura says, has been called a "'restart button' for gendered ideologies" because it tries to reclaim machines and "machine-enabled vision for women" (160). An example of where this could work, I think, is on page 159, where Nakamura tells readers how "the umbilical cord is painstakingly deleted from most photographic image of fetuses, thereby emphasizing its existence separately from the woman's body" (159). Women empowered through the visual dollies they create can challenge such conventions. Women "use the board as often as not to challenge received medical opinions be describing their experiences as conflicting with medical wisdom" (169). By using the power of community and narrative, women overrule medical opinions that don't fit their worldviews.

I thought these arguments were brilliant. However, parts of this book made me raise my eyebrows. Nakamura has a tendency to make bold statements and sweeping generalizations without providing immediate support. For example: "Women are relatively late adopters of the Internet" (136). While Nakamura does offer statistics on sex and Internet usage at a point much later in the book, she provides no support for this statement at the time that she makes it. She also posits on page 139 that design is "gendered as masculine" by "mainstream consumer culture." This book was published just last year, and I would argue that design--as evidenced by many television shows, the populations of design schools, and marketing tactics used by stores that sell "design"--is typically gendered feminine by the "public." In fact, "mainstream consumer culture" often questions the sexuality of men who engage in design with enthusiasm. Nakamura's point in this discussion is to set up taste and design as opposites (although she later conflates style with design on page 154) and thus to claim the "tacky" avatars as feminine backlash against the popular push for "clean" design (139-43). Based on the fact that I do not see style and design in a relationship as opposites, I do not buy the backlash argument. I do fully believe her argument that women use these spaces to re-appropriate their bodies, I'm just not convinced that adhering to "tackiness" has anything to do with it. (And who gets to judge what's tacky, kitschy, or clean anyway? What are the characteristics of these states?)

Another example of a statement that stood out as an unsupported generalization occurred in the chapter on Alllooksame?: " is a weird, weird, site" (78). Although I take Nakamura's point and appreciate her candor, I also felt a little judged as someone who liked the site. I realize the site is supposed to engender some discomfort, but--perhaps because of our very open exploration of race, rhetoric, and technology in class--I didn't feel put off or uncomfortable looking at it or taking the quiz. "Alllooksame is not a statement. It's a question" (79). And questions have to be allowed if we're going to deal with the race issue. There is no other way.

In terms of the quiz itself, I recieved a score of six on the facial recognition test, which is lower than the average of seven. Further, I hereby admit that the six I got correct were guesses. What does this mean? It either says something about my own ignorance, or it supports Nakamura's contention that "race" is not visible. I have to admit, I'd be very interested to see if one of the "not mixed" subjects of the site could identify the races of the faces. And that rhetoric of purity is highly interesting; I especially liked the deconstruction of this rhetoric undertaken on page 82. "What does Korean mean? Is it people from south western [sic] Korea who descended from Chinese in those same areas whose names are not Kim and Lee but Chang and Moon???"

Having run out of space to discuss the other chapters of this book, I will instead pose questions based on passages I especially engaged with.

  • What do we make of the shift from the Internet as a utopian space to a profit-driven place? (p. 3)
  • What is (or should be) the relationship of visual culture studies to Internet studies? (p. 28)
  • Is communication consumerism? (p. 46)
  • What of Barthes' "revolutionary idea" to apply formal analysis to popular culture? Is this really the idea of a single scholar? (p. 68)
  • What are the pros and cons of racial profiling? (p. 78, and all of the Alllooksame chapter)
  • How should race be represented in movies? Is it responsible to create the two-dimensional "old white prick" character, as described in Nakamura's discussion of The Matrix Reloaded? What about the token black guy, like Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) In Return of the Jedi (incorrectly cited by Nakamura with the definite article)? Can a person really get out of being white by claiming to be multiracial and disavowing whiteness? (p. 102 and all of "The Social Optics of Race")
  • How can authorities design surveys that are more representative and accurate? (p. 172)
  • The ethics of porn. I'm not even going to make this a question. (p. 184)
  • How "wrong" was Whitney NcNally in producing the piece "Asian or Gay"? Couldn't this be seen as a social critique of movies like the recent hit The Hangover? (p. 185-94
  • What does it mean to "refuse to cover"? (p. 208)

Work Cited
Nakamura, Lisa. Digitizing Race: Visual Cultures of the Internet. Minneapolis, MN: U of Minnesota P, 2008. Print.

Interesting further reading:
Sakai, Karen. "'Gay or Asian' spread causes minority uproar." Asia Pacific Arts
Online Magazine. 9 Apr. 2004. Web. 10 Nov. 2009. .

Sunday, November 1, 2009

On (Dis)Ability

Of the readings we did for this week (cited below), the one I found most helpful was Jason Palmeri's article on technical communication pedagogy. In addition to offering a new perspective on disability studies, Palmeri provided constructive ways to help others learn about this field as well. After providing several examples and a discussion of how "cripples" are framed as "burdens on society" and thus marginalized, Palmeri moves to promoting the idea that technical communicators must see disability accessibility "as a source of transformative insight into design practice for all" (57). This sounds like a noble and achievable goal to me, but I have more trouble imaging how it can work practically when he moves in that direction. Palmeri suggests that "we must begin to trouble the binary between normal and assistive technologies" by viewing all technologies as assistive. This makes sense, but when he goes on to say that students should conduct research with a screen reader, I wonder 1) might this activity reinforce that binary? and 2) where the heck do I get a screen reader? Both ponderings, obviously, point to larger questions about understanding and access that I don't have answers to.

Questions of access were at the forefront of several of the materials we viewed this week. Sandhu, Saarnio, and Wiman discuss access at several points, although I was disappointed that they didn't problematize the idea that laws can provide access until later in the piece. As an undergraduate, I distinctly remember the news staff of the campus paper doing investigative piece after investigative piece in attempts to get the administration to see that the campus was in violation of several accessibility laws. In the end, some administrators agreed but said there simply weren't funds to right the issues we raised. Sandhu, Saarnio, and Wiman also raise interesting questions about the intersection of poverty and disability. The correlation between the two conditions makes the whole situation much more complicated.

These three authors also make a claim when positing that there is a horizontal divide and a vertical divide within the digital divide. They say that Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) are inaccessible to some because of issues we've discussed before (socioeconomic concerns), and this is a horizontal divide. The vertical divide is "the difference between people who are able to use the existing technologies and people with disabilities with little or only partial access to these resources' (8). I think what we're dealing with is actually more than a divide. In searching for a better metaphor, it's almost as though we're all navigating the surface of a pane of safety glass that has splintered. In terms of technology, there are chasms everywhere.

Pamela Walker explore one such fissure in her essay "Artists with Disabilities: A Cultural Explosion." She makes a good point early on in saying that society expected people who were differently abled to accept their circumstances and make do, and that people internalized that feeling. This struck a chord with me because, although I do not identify with any community of physical disablement, I have internalized the same worldview in terms of socioeconomic struggles. Perhaps this is also why I react negatively to the lyrics near the end of Walker's essay "We're not longer grateful for the handouts you have thrown us ... " While I like the metaphorical "moving out and moving up," the sense of ungratefulness rubs me the wrong way. I don't have a lot of things and I don't think the system we live in is fair, but I'm grateful for what I do have. For that reason or perhaps for a reason I still need to find and explore, these lyrics do not evoke empathy in me.

Walker's text was rich with other connections between disability studies and the scholarship I've known. Her note on censorship was, I thought, very important. Unfortunately, I fear censorship in some form is happening to disabled artists, because I didn't find much when I tried to search for the artists she mentions. And she's certainly right that this has been going on for centuries. Her mention of Hephaestus struck a note of familiarity with me as well. As an undergraduate, I wrote a paper arguing that Hephaestus was the most overlooked of the Greek gods, and he certainly is the most unusual in his complexity. I love the connection Walker makes that Hephaestus, the one god described as lame, is the most well known patron of the arts among the Greek gods.

This brings us to the idea of cyborgs. I found Cromby and Standen's discussion of the definition of cyborg highly informative (although I'm obviously prone to liking definitions). They suggest three interpretations: 1) a metaphor used for rhetorical leverage 2) use of media and 3) physical augmentation of the body. The latter two, the authors say, are useful to people with disabilities. They then discuss issues of cyborgism, including access, surveillance, control, and dependency. Their points about the problematic nature of using technology in this way are well taken. I was especially interested in their discussion of surveillance and the idea of a house that could monitor whether its occupants needed intervention. The authors conclude that such a situation could be helpful or invasive and may ultimately increase the chasms discussed above that allow only the wealthy to have truly palatable options. The site contributed some valuable insights to this dicussion as well, and I especially liked Jeff's ideas on the rhetorical choice behind the word disability:

"Disability focuses on a loss. Cyborg focuses on adaptive technology. It focuses on what we can do, not what we can't do. And I think that's a fundamental paradigm shift that must
occur if the disabled population has any hope of transitioning out of the shadows,
out of the institutions, and living a life of mobilization as opposed to one of stagnation."

I do take issue with one point in Cromby and Standen's article: the notion that women are more shaped by standards of appearance in our society than men. I wold argue that this is dependent on individual people. Although there may be a general perception that women are more affected by this, that may only mean that men are in greater danger of acting upon it.

Although I mentioned earlier that I do not self-identify as a disabled individual, I have certainly made use of cyborg technologies--braces, dermatological interventions, laser eye surgery--and I have encountered a surprising amount of (not always unwelcome) surveillance in each case. This also makes me think of the video I just watched of "quadraphlegic gamer/artist Robert Florio playing" a video game using mouth controls (found on this site). Although this surveillance was apparently allowed by Florio, it still was a result of his disability. Access, surveillance, control, and dependency are categories that become exponentially more complicated in terms of theorizing (dis)ability.

Works Cited

Cromby, John and Penny Standen. "Cyborgs and Stigma: Technology, Disability, Subjectivity." Cyberpsychology. London: Routledge, 1999. Print.

"Game Accessibility: Gaming with a Physical Disability." The Game Accessibility Project.

"On Disability, Adaptive Technology and Cyborg Societies."

Palmeri, Jason. "Disability Studies, Cultural analysis, and the Critical Practice of Technical Communication Pedagogy." Technical Communication Quarterly 15.1 (2006): 49-65. Print.

Sandhu, Jim S., Ilkka Saarnio, and Ronald Wiman. "Information and Communication Technologies and Disability in Developing Countries." October 2001. Print.

Walker, Pamela. "Artists with Disabilities: A Cultural Explosion." National Arts and Disability Center. University of California. 1998. Web.

Image from

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Discussion Questions

Here are discussion questions for use in thinking about Bray (See previous post).

Question #1: How can technology help us understand culture?

Contextualization for Question #1: Bray suggests that technology “shapes and transmits ideological traditions” (2) and produces women (15) (or people, to take a broader approach). I believe she demonstrates her points clearly as they pertain to China throughout the rest of her book. What examples can we come up with of how technology shapes our ideology here and now? How can we apply the framework Bray gives us to the work we are currently doing?

Question #2: How do physical spaces construct the ways in which we construct ourselves?

Contextualization for Question #2: I’m looking specifically at the first section of Bray’s book, and in particular her footnote on Bourdieu on page 57: “Bourdieu identifies the house as a key mechanism in the inculcation of habitus, a site where symbolic relations are encoded in the everday and naturalized as physical patterns of behavior.”

Question #3: In what ways do we privelege certain roles among the many roles we fulfill? What does technology have to do with this?

Contextualization for Question #3: Bray discusses how the role of wife was primary in Chinese imperial culture to the role of (biological) mother. (Wives could “appropriate” the children of their husbands’ concubines or maids.)

Question #4: Why do we claim things as products of Western technology? Does this limit our understanding of said technologies?

Contextualization for Question #4: “A few years ago Basim Musallam castigated demographers for assuming that effective birth control was a product of Western modernity” (292). The printing press and acupuncture are other technologies that have been appropriated and even claimed.

Question #5: What are good sources for gynotechnic study?

Contextualization for Question #5: Bray mentions “written and material texts” on page 372, and throughout the book she references household account, works of art, and census data. What other means do we have for “providing a new perspective on gender and its place in the social order as well as a way of getting beyond what written texts alone can tell us”? (373)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Technology, Gender, and Cyberfeminism

In her riveting book Technology and Gender: Fabrics of Power in Late Imperial China, Francesca Bray introduces “gynotechnics,” which is “a way of organizing materials from more varied sources into new patterns, providing a new perspective on gender and its place in the social order as well as a way of getting beyond what written texts alone can tell us” (373). The second part of her book is fascinating in its attention to the technology of weaving and how women’s lives existed in relationship to a technology that was considered “women’s work” without being devalued. Bray shows how women’s roles changed dramatically as weaving transitioned to being under the domain of men through this gynotechnical inquiry.

The part of the book of greatest interest to me was the third and final part, “Meanings of Motherhood: Reproductive Technologies and Their Uses.” Bray acknowledges that readers won’t be surprised that a society organized around the male descent line focuses concern over fertility on females (287). But what she tells us in Part Three changes what that statement means. Bray explains to readers that married men over age 40 with no children were legally allowed to take a concubine (although the practice was actually far more widespread than this statement would imply). While some wives resented their husbands’ concubines, others were eager for the concubine’s arrival and even sought her out. This is because the wife would be the real, or formal, mother of any child born to the concubine. Bray says that although “it appears to use that these women were simply acquiescing in their own oppression,” “such actions also offered to a childless woman the promise of a child who was formally hers” (357). Thus, women whose husbands had the status/money/power to take a concubine were released from the typical scrutiny surrounding fertility—and they could then avoid the plethora of frightening-sounding technologies Bray mentions for dealing with infertility and pregnancy. The wife employed a variety of social and local technologies, then, in the management of her household and the raising of the children that were now formally her own.

(However, even women who had no intention of bearing children still paid particular attention to their monthly cycles, because the Chinese conception of Blood as one of the vital organs meant that menstruation irregularities were a sign of bad health. Thus, technologies were often applied to women in imperial China in order to regulate them to a social norm.)

Gynotechnic inquiry is very related to the concept of cyberfeminsim, at least as represnted in Domain Errors!, although the latter is far harder to pin down. Cyberfeminism, according to Fernandez and Wilding in their book’s first article, came about in response to the fact that “historically, waves of feminism have often accompanied technological expansion” and the response of feminists to such expansions (17). A bit further on, they establish that cyberfeminism is, by nature, undefinable, unlabelable, and unidentifiable. As a person who likes definitions, this troubles me. Although I know that definitions (by definition) reduce complex ideas, I also find this initial reduction very helpful in developing a more complex understanding further down the line. Of course, “situating” a thing (as the title of the essay is “Situating Cybefeminisms”) may be a way to begin understanding it without defining it, and I found this technique helpful. I discovered that cyberfeminism is not feminism, but that it has much in common with second-wave feminism (20). I also found that cyberfeminism has its own two waves already as well: one that concentrates on the relationships of women and machines and a second wave that deals with politics and embodiment.

Among other essays I found particularly helpful to my work in Domain Errors! was Paasonen’s treatment of “the woman problem” in relation to the Internet. Paasonen notes that we (critical scholars) tend to “presuppose a given gender difference” in how women access the Internet. She also astutely points out that we incorrectly see gender is a polar characteristic and the Internet as gender-neutral (94). She goes on to present troubling depictions of expectations Internet authors have of women users … all of which, I think, go to show that more conversation on the topic is required in order to begin suggesting alternative methods that are less problematic. (But I’m out of room to ponder them here.)

Finally, Amelia Jones’ account of her infertility treatments was both touching and informative (an expected and yet interesting combination, given the book’s focus). “One’s entire identity becomes wrapped up in” a particular identity that is made possible by technology. Although I know it probably isn’t this simple, it seems to me that technology has allowed those dealing with infertility to hang onto hope, but also to make themselves miserable because of that hope. Technology has changed not only the way that women are perceived and embodied, not only the way they think and live, but also the ways in which they believe certain things about their inner selves.

Works Cited

Bray, Francesca. Technology and Gender: Fabrics of Power in Late Imperial China. Berkeley: U of California P, 1997. Print.

Fernandez, Maria, Faith Wilding, and Michelle M. Wright, eds. Domain Errors!: Cyberfeminist Practices. Canada: Autonomedia and subRosa, 2002. Print.

**I feel compelled to note that Fernandez, Wilding, and Wright maintain an anti-copyright on their book, so I feel that I’ve done it a certain amount of rhetorical violence by citing it in the conventional manner. I beg forgiveness for this offense as I found no better solution.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Reproductive technology and the legal system

Here's another interesting article, this one at the intersection of rhetoric and technology, though I'm certain race, class, and culture would also provide highly informative lenses through which to view this situation. This article is a feature on a state-run drug-treatment program for pregnant women in South Carolina.

In my previous studies, I ran across a couple cases where a woman was prosecuted for her behavior while pregnant, and I also found several cases (in Canada) where a woman was prevented from getting an abortion by the father of the fetus she was carrying.

The rhetoric of this particular article is noteworthy, I think, because it does much less blaming than most discussions of this topic. Most such articles or other works use rhetoric that puts the pregnant drug addicts at fault. (Whether they are or not is beside the point; I'm only interested in the rhetoric and how it shapes these women in our minds.)

The article says some women find the program on their own, while others are forced there by law. This is all made possible, of course, by the advent of reproductive technologies (from formal scientific studies and the ways they get results to the use of fetal ultrasound) that allow us to trace cause-and-effect relationships between maternal drug use and fetal condition. In at least some cases, this relationship is also shaped by the rhetoric used to describe that technology--even if the technology is not used as the cultural knowledge that begets the rhetoric in question holds that it is.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

A reflection on a talk by Louise Erdrich

Native American author Louise Erdrich gave a talk today at Milner Library at Illinois State University, and the following entry is my reflection on what she had to say as it intersects with race, rhetoric, and technology.

Erdrich began her talk (which was so well attended that extra chairs were brought in and some people climbed to higher floors to look down on the event) with a reading of a story. Erdrich did not say which of her books the story came from (and I wasn't close enough to see the cover of the volume she was reading from), but she did say that her stories tend to "hitch up," meaning some of her books overlap. This connectedness is certainly the case outside of her work, as well, and may be a cultural characteristic of some stories. (Erdrich later addressed the oral traditions of many cultures and said she self-identifies as a storyteller.)

The reading centered on the character of Lipsha, a recurring character in Erdrich's novels and, she said, one of her favorites. It followed him through coveting a van on display at the hall where his Grandma Lulu plays bingo to meeting a girl, Serena, and going to a hotel with her. At this point in the story, Serena sends him to the gas station for condoms, and this got me thinking of birth control as a technology.

I haven't given this much thought before, but birth control (of whatever kind) is certainly a technology ... and it's a technology that is very connected to race. My mind immediately jumps to my course project, which (as you can read in a previous entry on this blog) will include examination of China's one-child policy. This is birth control in the form of a law, and it's aimed directly at a particular nationality, which encompasses several particular ethnicities.

Interestingly enough, it turns out the technology of the condom most likely originated in China. According to Aine Collier, "In Asia before the fifteenth century ... Condoms seem to have been used for contraception, and to have been known only by members of the upper classes" (qtd. in Wikipedia article under "Condom"). This technology is a class-conscious one. Members of the upper classes, then, would have been more able to control the number of children they had, while the lower classes would have lacked this ability. The expense of children and the resulting population disparity would, theoretically, reinforce a class divide. Certainly those Chinese families with access to ultrasound have an advantage today in producing the coveted male heir through sex-selective abortion.

In the same sort of legal vein as the one-child policy, Erdrich also touched on the absurtity of allowing a government to "create" racial background for individuals. She explained (as we have discussed in class) that governments prescribe ethnicities to people. For example, the U.S. government has instated laws about how much Indian blood a person must have in order to claim a tribal affiliation. What's more--this measure is likely based on an arbitrary judgment made generations ago by another government official.

Another interesting race-related reaction to the technology of birth control shows up in a study by Kalichman, Williams, Cherry, Belcher, and Nachimson, who found that black and Latina women reported fearing violence from the partners if they suggested using a condom.

But birth control and law's relation to race were hardly the only mentions of race/rhetoric/technology in Erdrich's talk. Another, unrelated issue, also caught my ear. First, inspired by the 25th anniversary of Love Medicine, Erdrich discussed how easy it is for an author to make changes to a book, thanks to current technology. This seems to me to parallel the shift in student's conception of writing after the advent of personal computers and word processing technology. I have no doubt that students think about writing differently today on a very basic level than students thought about writing 20 years ago.
Perhaps the new technology in the publishing industry will yield a culture that allows for more conversation between books, letting works change with time and creating slippage that could open up new avenues of dialogue.

Louise Erdrich (enrolled Turtle Mountain Chippewa w/ MA in creative writing from Johns Hopkins University in 1979) is the author of twelve novels, 5 children's books, 3 poetry volumes, and a memoir. Her novel Love Medicine won the National Book Critics Circle Award, and her most recent novel, Plague of Doves, was a finalist for the 2009 Pulitzer Prize in fiction. She is also the owner of Birchbark Books (, an independent non-profit bookstore and press . She and two of her sisters host annual writers workshops on the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation in North Dakota. (qtd. from an e-mail from Angela Haas)

Work Cited

Kalichman, SC; Williams, EA; Cherry, C; Belcher, L; Nachimson, D (April 1998). "Sexual coercion, domestic violence, and negotiating condom use among low-income African American women". Journal of Women's Health 7 (3): 371–378. Web.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Obama's race speech

I recently found a link to this Daily Dish article on the techret listserv. It talks about Obama's speech on race and how it came about -- including an admission from the speech writer that he was freaked out, so he went out with friends instead of writing and then ended up writing the speech in one marathon session (Who says these famous political people operate any differently from grad students?) I don't know that there's a whole lot of fodder for critical inquiry here, but it's an interesting story that centers on race, rhetoric, and technology.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Patient power ... or not?

Yesterday I stumbled across a CNN story entitled "Mom won't be forced to have C-section." Of course, because of my areas of interest, this immediately grabbed my attention. As it turned out, the reason the expectant mother in the story won't be forced to have a C-section is because she is traveling 300-odd miles to go to a hospital with a policy that allows for patient choice. You see, she is hoping to have her fourth child VBAC, meaning she has previously had a Cesarean section and now wants a vaginal delivery. (To make the situation even more appalling, it was her second child who needed a C-section. Her third child was delivered VBAC at the very hospital that then threatened her with a court order if she refused the C-section for the fourth child. Apparently their policy changed.) Rather than explain the story here, I'll just direct you to the link I've provided and say it's interesting reading.

Stories like this have really intriguing implications when we examine the ways technology and culture intersect. (I wouldn't be surprised if race plays into this as well ... I'll keep my eyes open for more on that.) And the rhetoric of the hospital adminstrator appears to have been quite problematic, which is really scary when one considers how we give doctors in our culture an almost god-like status. But perhaps more interesting than anything I could say here is the rhetoric in the comments on the story! Here are a few:

"C-sections are done in the US more routinely than in any other developed country but our infant mortality rate is not lower but higher. Doctors do not want to deliver on weekends, at night, if the mother is one week over her electronically determined due date."

"I think it is a little pretentious for doctors to get on here and give their speeches about how she should just listen to her doctor... there is a reason why they call it 'practicing' medicine and family 'practice.'"

"Did anyone else notice that when they list the risks of a C-section, they failed to mention that the mother is 4-7 times more likely to DIE than with a vaginal birth.?!?!?!"

"From many of these comments, it seems like many people do not grasp malpractice and insurance companies. This is not about the hospital, but about medical professionals and hospitals not wanting litigation. Can you blame them? After spending tens of thousands of dollars on an education before making a dime, I would do what I needed to to avoid a lawsuit, too! And to Tamara, we go to doctors because they DO know what is best for our health! Like another poster said, in health care, the customer is NOT always right."

"Good grief, get the lady to sign a waiver regarding rupture and give her the VBAC."

And here is the one I found most shocking ...

"I worked in the hospital for 5 years and then in a birth center for the last 4 years. I had to get out of the hospital because I started feeling guilty about my complicity in that system in which so much goes on behind closed doors of which the patient is never informed.

I've had docs tell me in the lunch room that they are doing a c-section because they have an important golf game, fishing trip, or hot date. Then they go into the room, lie to the woman and say, " oh your baby is too big, your progress is too slow, it's never going to happen." the woman believes them and thanks them so much for saving their babies lives. Over and over and over again. In Miami we have over 50% c-section rate, and it's way more convenient for the docs. If VBACS are not allowed at more and more hospitals, the rest of the country will soon be like it is here.

Women need to start demanding more informed choices, more providers, more options, not just from their local hospital, but from their insurance companies, representatives, etc. we will continue to be 22nd in the world for number of babies we lose in childbirth.....many of them from unneeded c-sections."

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Course Project Proposal

In my course project, I plan to examine the relationship of reproductive technology and culture. My purpose is to interrogate two main ideas: how institutions prescribe technology to fit particular cultures as well as how individuals appropriate technologies and enculturate those technologies on their own behalf. This examination will involve questions of ethnicity, culture, rhetoric, technology, agency, and how these five categories interact. In the context of this proposal, I would like to follow the line of thinking leading me to this area, and I will conclude with an explanation of the more exact plan I am formulating to interrogate this intersection of technology and culture.

Because I am a product of Western culture, I believe it may be more informative for me to examine how such webs play out in an Eastern culture. The obvious choice of country for my subject, then,—because of the international spotlight on reproductive issues and the controversial “one-child” policy—is China. I will give an overview of this policy and discuss how reproductive technologies have driven cultural and social changes in relation to it, and I will make a case that understanding of this phenomenon in the Western world is limited.

I will also devote considerable space to looking at how Eastern uses of reproductive technologies have influenced the Western conventions that we often believe are ours alone. I will incorporate knowledge about the roots of medical technologies as they relate to reproductive medicine and I will discuss how such technologies are appropriated/reappropriated/poached. I plan to use Michel de Certeau’s theories about production as a framework over which to weave my examination of the everyday decisions and technologies made and used within the cultures I will examine. Because de Certeau argues for two productions—the first being equivalent to creation and the second being consumption, a sort of re-creation—I can situate American and Chinese consumption of reproductive technologies relative to each other.

I will also use de Certeau’s term “poaching” to promote understanding of how one culture’s use of a technology may differ from when another culture takes up the same technologies. By poaching a product and re-creating it in one's own context, othered communities find a tactic to gain power. This is what has happened in China as women abort female fetuses in an attempt to heed the cultural desire for sons. While this tactic reinforces the power of the culture, it also undermines other social desires (such as the opportunity for a Chinese son to find a Chinese wife, to say nothing of the ethical issues at stake).

My working question, then, in order to examine the relationship between how institutions prescribe technologies and how individuals appropriate technologies depending on cultural influences, will be: In what ways and for what reasons do Chinese women poach reproductive technologies? This question, though a workable starting point, presents problematic avenues for inquiry from the very beginning. I will address such complications early in my paper, including: how one might define “Chinese women,” since the term does not represent a homogenous culture; what poaching means in regard to where a technology came from; why women are placed in a position to do this poaching; and how my own situatedness influences this investigation.

Potential Works Cited

Blair, Kristine, and Pamela Takayoshi, eds. Feminist Cyberscapes: Mapping Gendered Academic Spaces. Stamford, Connecticut: Ablex Corporation, 1999. Print. New Dimensions in Computers & Composition Studies.

Blair, Kristine, Radhika Gajjala, and Christine Tulley, eds. Webbing Cyberfeminist Practice: Communities, Pedagogies and Social Action. Cresskill, N.J.: Hampton Press Inc., 2009. New Dimensions in Computers & Composition Studies.

Bordo, Susan. Twilight Zones: The Hidden Life of Cultural Images from Plato to O.J. Berkeley, University of California Press, 1997. Print.

Bray, Francesca. Technology and Gender: Fabrics of Power in Late Imperial China. London: University of California Press, 1997. Print.

de Certeau, Michel. The Practice of Everyday Life. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1984. Print.

Domar, Alice, Irene Meshay, Joseph Kelliher, Michael Alper, and Douglas R. Powers. “The Impact of Acupuncture on In Vitro Fertilization Outcome.” Fertility & Sterility 91.3 (2009): 723-26. Elsevier. Web. 11 Oct. 2009.

Domar, Alice D. “Acupuncture and Infertility: We Need to Stick to Good Science.” Fertility & Sterility 85.5 (2006): 1359-1361. Elsevier. Web. 11 Oct. 2009.

Eckholm, Erik. "Desire for Sons Drives Use of Prenatal Scans in China." The New York Times on the Web. The New York Times, 21 June 2002. Web. 11 Oct. 2009.

Evans, Karin. The Lost Daughters of China: Abandoned Girls, Their Journey to America, and the Search for a Missing Past. New York: Penguin Putnam Inc., 2000. Print.

Ikemoto, Lisa C. "Eggs as Capital: Human Egg Procurement in the Fertility Industry and the Stem Cell Research Enterprise." Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 34.4 (2009): 763-81. The University of Chicago. Web. 11 Oct. 2009.

Junhong, Chu. “Prenatal Sex Determination and Sex-Selective Abortion in Rural Central China.” Population and Development Review 27.2 (2001): 259-281. Population Council. Web. 11 Oct. 2009.

LaDuke, Winona. All Our Relations: Native Struggles for Land and Life. Cambridge: South End Press, 1999. Print.

Lay, Mary M., Laura J. Gurak, Clare Gravon, and Cynthia Myntti. Body Talk: Rhetoric, Technology, Reproduction. Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2000. Print.

Loo, Kek K., Xiling Luo, Hong Su, Angela Presson, and Yan Li. "Dreams of Tigers and Flowers: Child Gender Predictions and Preference in an Urban Mainland Chinese Sample During Pregnancy." Women & Health 49.1 (2009): 50-65. Taylor & Francis Group, LLC, 01 Jan. 2009. Web. 11 Oct. 2009.

Mamo, Laura, and Jennifer R. Fosket. " Scripting the Body: Pharmaceuticals and the (Re)Making of Menstruation." Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 34.4 (2009): 925-49. The University of Chicago. Web. 11 Oct. 2009.

Miller, Barbara D. “Female-Selective Abortion in Asia: Patterns, Policies, and Debates.” American Anthropologist 103.4 (2001): 1083-1095. Blackwell Publishing on behalf of the American Anthropological Association. Web. 11 Oct. 2009.

Mitchell, Lisa M. Baby’s First Picture: Ultrasound and the Politics of Fetal Subjects. Buffalo: University of Toronto Press, 2001. Print.

Roberts, Dorothy E. "Race, Gender, and Genetic Technologies: A New Reproductive Dystopia?." Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 34.4 (2009): 783-804. The University of Chicago. Web. 11 Oct. 2009.

Ryan, Maura A. " The Introduction of Assisted Reproductive Technologies in the “Developing World”: A Test Case for Evolving Methodologies in Feminist Bioethics." Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 34.4 (2009): 805-25. The University of Chicago. Web. 11 Oct. 2009.

Samerski, Silja. "Genetic Counseling and the Fiction of Choice: Taught Self-Determination as a New Technique of Social Engineering." Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 34.4 (2009): 735-61. The University of Chicago. Web. 11 Oct. 2009.

Shanley, Mary L., and Adrienne Asch. "Involuntary Childlessness, Reproductive Technology, and Social Justice: The Medical Mask on Social Illness." Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 34.4 (2009): 851-74. The University of Chicago. Web. 11 Oct. 2009.

Short, Susan E. and Fengyu Zhang. “Use of Maternal Health Services in Rural China.” Population Studies 58.1 (2004): 3-19. Population Investigation Committee. Web. 11 Oct. 2009.

Solinger, Rickie. Pregnancy and Power: A Short History of Reproductive Politics in America. New York, New York University Press, 2005. Print.

Taylor, Janelle S. The Public Life of the Fetal Sonogram: Technology, Consumption, and the Politics of Reproduction. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2008. Print.

Wyer, Mary, Mary Barbercheck, Donna Giesman, Hatice Örün Öztürk, and Marta Wayne, eds. A Reader in Feminist Science Studies: Women, Science, and Technology. New York: Routledge, 2001. Print.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

On Indigeneity

This week we are examining Pamela Wilson and Michelle Stewart's Global Indigenous Media: Cultures, Poetics, and Politics. Partly because all members of our class are reading the Introduction (while the other reading is dependent on personal choice) and partly because of my fascination with definitions, I'd like to begin by asking this question: What does the word "Indigenous" mean?

Steward and Wilson first use the word in reference to the Sundance Film Festival's support of "Indigenous independent filmmaking," and in this context, it applies to "eighteen eager Native American writers, directors, and actors" (1). But it's clear that this is not the book's working definition. On page 12, the editors discuss Indigenism as a "call for 'globalization from below.'" They go on to discuss how very idea of indigeniety is contested in some countries, particularly in the People's Republic of China, which claims that it does not have indigenous people or indigenous issues (13). The editors finally put forth four "general guidelines" for determining who is indigenous (14). Indigeneity involves:

1) a claim to a particular geographic place
2) identification with a particular ethnicity
3) self-identification
4) experience of colonization

I still struggle with this definition, and I think I almost prefer the simpler "submerged nations" suggested a little later on the same page. This is another term I'll have to keep working on.

A little later in the introduction, the editors note that they do not have any case studies from China in this book. I was disappointed at this, because my course project will revolve around Chinese culture (I know, it's not a monolith, but humor me for now) and its appropriation of reproductive technology, perhaps as compared to parallel phenomena in the United States. (I will post my project proposal here later this week.) I was encouraged, though, by the short discussion of minority status in China and the "recognized fifty-six minzu" which are indicated on "an individuals' passports, identification cards, and all official documents" (17).

For the purpose of collecting more material for my course project, I picked the article I found most interesting in this collection and began an unabashed mission to poach passages that will also apply to my work. The article I chose was Kathleen Buddle's "Transistor Resistors: Native Women's Radio in Canada and the Social Organization of Political Space from Below." In the paragraphs that follow, I will take quotations from her work, which deals with Aboriginal women using technology to reinvent themselves, and apply those bits of information to the work I plan to do in my project for this course.

Early on, Buddle addresses how "popular constructions of Native women structure their capacities for sociability at work, on the street, and at home" (129). This bit also applies to colonized peoples in general, including the mostly female demographic my work focuses on. People are always limited by the popular constructions of their own abilities.

At the bottom of the same page, Buddle refers to the lack of a gap between makers and consumers, which certainly has interesting echoes in terms of the study of the fetal ultrasound/sonogram, since most sonographers in the U.S. are female and thus are both makers and consumers of this particular medical technology. A little later, she talked about "the feminization of public political space," which rings of the debate surrounding the ethic of care (130). The public political space surrounding fetal ultrasound is sharply divided, with certain uses being rationalized according to the ethic of care (getting to "know" the fetus, assuring oneself that all is well) and certain uses being rationalized according to a more patriarchal ethic (laws forcing a woman to view an ultrasound prior to abortion, laws which ultimately cause sex-selective abortion).

One of my favorite parts of Buddle's piece is in the section "Hearth Space for Smoke Signals." "By engaging in certain activities and not others, Aboriginal women collectively reconfigure the symbolic repertoires through which Aboriginality and womanhood can be thought and formulated--shaped by discourses on duty, family, and tradition" (132). They learn to act in non-traditional ways, and in so doing, "they challenge the grounds on which their authority is disqualified" and "they broaden the scope of possible roles for Aboriginal women" (133). This is precisely the model by which other colonized populations--in my studies, for example, those who believe they must use medical technologies in particular ways--can begin to work toward new possibilities.

Although it may or may not tie to my work, I was also interested that Buddle's acquaintances would not self-identify as feminists. The stigma surrounding that term continues to both hinder and fascinate me, because I once fell into the category of people who would have denied being a feminist based on the idea that feminists are too radical.

Buddle also employs de Certeau's notion of "pedestrian speech acts" to demonstrate that "reserves in the popular imagination are bastions of Aboriginal tradition" (135). This quote could certainly provide a sound theoretical point for many arguments about social construction and determinism if only the application to Aboriginal women alone is expanded.

I also think I may have found another space in which de Certeau's theories can be very helpful to me by paying attention to Buddle's claim that "women's everyday engagements ... are socioculturally embedded and are conceived in specific locales" (141). It does seem to me that everyday rebellions are those that are most marked. Rosa Parks' refusal to give up her seat--a fairly everyday sort of action--sparked (arguably) an entire movement, whereas more grand gestures of rebellion are tossed aside as displays by radicals. Perhaps this is exactly why the term "feminist" has such trouble sticking. I wonder how the everyday rebellion plays out in Chinese culture.

Finally, Buddle tells us that her study speaks "to the need for a more nuanced understanding of the nature of the linkages between cultural expression, gender issues, and political practice." Culture, gender, and politics--and race--are certainly intertwined, and I can't imagine that anything but good will come from a better understanding of the relationship between these terms.

Work Cited

Wilson, Pamela and Michelle Stewart, eds. Global Indigenous Media: Cultures, Poetics, and Politics. London: Duke University Press, 2008. Print.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Facebook vs. MySpace

I just happened upon this CNN story about the "class divide" between Facebook and MySpace. (The article also discusses several other social networking technologies, though Facebook and MySpace are the foci.)

While I think this article articulates a feeling that most users of the sites already deal with, at least subconsciously, it also brings another nuance to the forefront. Take a look at this quote, about halfway down: "I don't mean to be a racist or anything, but MySpace is like, ghetto."

And, farther down:

"Multiracial students tended to have more Facebook friends than students of other backgrounds and were often the sole connection between white and black circles, Kaufman said.

Nonetheless, Kaufman feels that social networks may one day help us overcome our instinct to associate with those who share our income level, education, or racial background."

Interesting stuff ... and it seems to play into our text for this week, depending on how one defines "indigenous media." (More on that tomorrow ... )

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Access: Is it a right? And how do we make it meaningful?

Adam Banks' book Race, Rhetoric, and Technology left me thinking something like this:

"Hell yes! Wait, what am I supposed to do?"

I'm missing the call to action. Or I think I am. Banks' parting admonition to "carry others" confuses me, reinforcing my belief that there were parts of this book that I just didn't "get." Any help would be welcome.

Here's what I did get, including some points I like and some I don't.

I love the argument Banks makes for meaningful technology access. He points out that providing someone with a computer and Internet connection is not the same thing as providing access. "Meaningful access to technology involves political power and literacies" (17). But the discussion of literacies in the text was, I thought, convoluted. Banks wonders why Black leaders sound white, why technological interfaces are white, why what we think of as Standard English is white English. These are valuable ponderings, and they leave me asking two pointed questions:

1) If Banks has a problem with how no one has taken up "non-standard" (for him, this is African American Vernacular English, but it encompasses a wide variety of Englishes) English as an academic form, then why is his book written in what could only be called Standard English? The answer is that SE is seen as the language of academics, which puts composition teachers like me in a difficult position. We want to allow space for non-standard literacies and dialects, but we know our students need to master SE in order to be successful in the endeavors they say they want to pursue. (Besides, being able to code switch between several dialects is empowering. Empowerment is a goal of teaching. How can we not teach SE?) Non-standard voices still are silenced in the workplace. Banks is just as caught in this trap as we are, although he does not address it.

2) And, given what we now know about meaningful access to technology, how are we supposed to teach about this technology without reinscribing standard views/uses and quashing the vibrant uses of technology that arise on their own in the Black community? This is where Banks does a truly awesome job giving teachers advice on how to provide meaningful access without forcing conformity. His list beginning on page 139 strikes me as a nice articulation of good pedagogy. (Go slow, let curriculum drive technology use, let students teach, etc.) He tells us that "we have to be willing to get lost together" (146). This is one area in which his call to action is clear.

While I love the notion of getting lost together, I resist the idea that we have to get lost together in our learning of specific technologies. Why is personal computer use such a huge issue?

I'm just not sure I take Banks' point about the basic right of access. He mocks FCC chair Michael Powell when Powell facetiously refers to a "Mercedes Divide. I'd like to have one, but I can't afford one" (34). But, though crass, I think this quote has merit. I, personally, do not have access to the quilting technologies Banks discusses in his final chapter. That's unfortunate, and perhaps my life will be less rich because of it. But do I have a right to access to African American quilting technologies? I don't think that I do. What material, survival-based use do they have for me?

Thinking about computer access in the same way raises some questions. I have a friend, a factory worker, who does not have a computer. Is he a "low-technology" person? Consider this: The factory he works in manufactures electrical boxes using giant, complicated machines ... machines he can alter, fix, and even cause to break down when the social environment requires it. (Think of the Silicon Valley experience referred to in last week's post.) What do you think he'd say if I told him he is on the wrong side of a Digital Divide and he'd better get a computer and let me teach him to use it? Talk about enforcing standards (and forcing out rich cultural practices). I think that much of the rhetoric about a digital divide devalues the technologies that are being used. While using a computer for a job search may be handy, we ought to consider that there are likely community-based methods for conducting a job search that might be easier, safer, and more productive.

Basically, I'm not convinced that access to a word processor and/or the Internet is a basic human right. It's certainly not a necessity. Although I would support any philanthropic organization that tried to provide computers to those who want but can't afford them, I do not understand why the government ought to provide everyone with a personal computer. And I don't believe that everyone wants one, and I don't believe those people are wrong or backward for not wanting one.

Wiring classrooms and providing meaningful access, though, is another matter. Computers are a valuable educational tool, and if all citizens are exposed to computers (with meaningful access) in the education system, then they can make an informed decision about their own access later in life. (I don't have time to address here the problems with our education system not reaching everyone.)

There were several other things I didn't "get" in this text. For example, I'd like to know how laws "continue to disproportionately imprison African American and Latino men" (91). I don't dispute the veracity of this claim, and in fact it seems to me that it might parallel many of the claims I make in my work about the systematic oppression of women. But I'd like an articulation of how and where this discrimination is happening, because I truly don't know what Banks is talking about. The only example given involves the application of law--when a black person receives the maximum penalty and a white person the minimum--but Banks seems to be positing a problem with jurisprudence itself that I don't comprehend. I think, perhaps, Banks touches on the key to this when he mentions "systematic problems resulting from slavery and racism (as) the source of the persistence of African Americans' problems in the United States" (100). This is a historical problem, like that of women. I would have liked more elaboration on this, and I hope that perhaps others address it in their analysis of this book.

The book discussed in this post is:

Banks, Adam J. Race, Rhetoric, and Technology. Urbana: National Council of Teachers of English, 2006. Print.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Bodies in a technologized world

This week's reading provided me with at least two sources that combine several of my own interests. "Tales of an Asiatic Geek Girl: Slant from Paper to Pixels" and "Their Logic against Them: Contradictions in Sex, Race, and Class in Silicon Valley" both combined technology and gender in engaging ways. Race certainly plays a role in both of these pieces as well; in the former, the women in question are immigrants, and in the latter, Mimi Nguyen names her ethnicity in the title. Midway through her article I started to wonder ... Can we ("we" being a social/cultural collective) only work on normalizing one perceived personal anomaly at a time? Nguyen tells us that in punk rock's transformation, " the race riot I wanted was clocking in at a very very distant third" behind revolutions regarding gender and sexuality (179). While I understand while we focus on markers of difference, wrong though that may be, I wonder why we have to separate these marked characteristics. Didn't the revolution of attitudes toward sexuality in punk rock do something for perception of race as well? I cannot prove that it did or didn't, but I wish I could read more writing that lets these markers mingle and be messy. These essays reminded me of a class discussion from a week or more ago in which Dr. Haas told us that one belief among black feminist thinkers is that being a female doesn't mean that one knows anything about what it's like to be a black female. Which makes perfect sense, and which is probably something most people don't consider.

Nguyen's discussion of in/visibility was also fascinating. She tells us several times that "in/visibility is a trap" and goes so far as to suggest that the promise of the Internet for "abstract citizenship" depends on one's own narration of one's own body (182). You're only allowed the protection of that abstraction so long as you do not narrate yourself as marked in any way. Once you've done that, there is a sense that visibility becomes an obligation, as evidenced by the hate mail Nguyen received. Thus, while technology can be an equalizing factor, it can just as easily be a means to mark a person and punish them for any perceived refusal to play "by the rules."

I also want to touch just briefly on the passage in which Nguyen discusses her difficulties in finding Asian/American feminist work because every search engine turned up pornography when given her search terms. She criticizes the notion of visibilty being power, paralleling Peggy Phelan's point that "almost-naked young white women" would be running things if visibility were equivalent to power with her own point that Asian women would also be much more powerful. My answer to this is simple: Who says young white women aren't running at least a high percentage of Western culture? I'd say there are an awful lot of young white women with an awful lot of power. Maybe the larger problem is the way that young white women (and Asian women, and any women) conceptualize themselves.

Early in this class, I put forth a possible definition of race: " a construction of particular rhetorics, used for a particular end in a particular social realm." I knew at the time that this was a broad definition that would have to be revised, and I think now that I should add something like "a construction of particular rhetorics about a person's physical being, used ... ." And after trying out this addition, I realized that this definition would include gender as a sub-category of race. I think this is interesting, and I'm not ready to toss out that notion yet.

In "Their Logic against Them," Karen J. Hossfeld does an incredible job of showing how the integration of immigrant women's various markers works both for and against them in the factories of Silicon Valley. She also demonstrates how "managers fragment the women's multifaceted identities into falsely separated categories" as a strategy to keep the women subservient. For example, women are so conditioned to believe that being a worker and possessing femininity are mutually exclusive that they make practices to restore femininity a priority (43). Like Nguyen and others, Hossfeld also separates "gender logic" and "racial logic" in order to address the ways in which these logics are used, but she also shows that they always are connected. Just as the managers use fragmentation to employ colonizing strategies, the women use their "unified consciousness" to turn those strategies into tactics to benefit themselves.

The most shocking piece of information I read in this essay--in this whole book--was that "because employers view women's primary job as in the home, and they assume that, prototypically, every woman is connected to a man who is bringing in a larger paycheck, they claim that women do not need to earn a full living wage" (47). While I wouldn't have a problem believing that this is a subconscious motivator in the workplace today, the overt articulations of this feeling in this chapter were outrageous. Such evidence really makes me think hard about affirmative action. As I've previously said, I think affirmative action has been a good thing, but I wondered if it had outlasted its necessity. With cases like this at hand, it's safe to say that affirmative action is still very much necessary.

I've not touched upon any of the other chapters in this text yet, and I feel that I'm not giving them the time they deserve. I thought that Logan Hill's chapter on access to technology was enlightening, although I disagreed with him in a number of places about the ways and reasons that race and technology are connected. Kumar's discussion of the plight of the H-1B worker was another point in favor of affirmative action (although I don't know if affirmative action applies to non-citizens). And the examinations of lowriding, hip-hop, and karaoke cultures were all fun ways to apply some of the ideas we learned from our reading of Michel de Certeau last week. The people within these cultures are certainly poaching products and re-producing them as tactics to gain power and reinscribe their own cultural ideals.

The book referenced above is:

Nelson, Alondra, Thuy Linh H. Tu, and Alicia Headlam Hines, eds. Technicolor: Race, Technology, and Everyday Life. New York: New York University Press, 2001. Print.

Other interesting reading: My Mulan, a short piece on the Disney movie by Mimi Nguyen

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Culture, technology and globalization

According to Thatcher, there are four levels of cultural and rhetorical patterns that determine how a new technology will be assimilated into a culture. These include the broader cultural context, the local/regional context, the specific organizational culture, and the personalities of those within the organization (385).

I like this framework in the sense that it can give the author of a study like Thatcher's a way to organize his or her findings. However, I also think this discrete four-category system is a little too neat to take as reality. Thatcher gives a nod to the fact that the last factor, individual personalities, are influenced by all the others. I would argue that all four categories are influenced by all four other categories. Further, I think it's very difficult to take any cultural artifact and place it in one category because, besides the fact that all are intertwined, culture is ever-changing. But, I think these four categories can still be useful so long as we recognize their limitations. (The same applies, I think, to Appadurai's scapes, which are mentioned in the Slack and Wise chapter on globalization.)

In the culture present in the Mexican maquilas, legitimization of processes was an important purpose--arguably the most important purpose--of the technical document. The technical document is not there to actually relate the process, but rather to reinscribe power. The process, then, is "taught through oral and hierarchical methods" (402). The author seems somewhat critical of this approach; I don't see an inherent problem in it. The power-establishing purpose of the technical document is somewhat more problematic; I'll discuss that in a moment.

Thatcher also discusses another characteristic of the culture of the maquilas that he seems critical of. He gets at this point by drawing on Hofstede's conception of power distance, which refers to the "ability of two people with different power and authority to influence each other" (387). A broad cross-section of Mexican culture (though, obviously, Mexican culture is not a monolith) apparently placed the country among the highest in terms of having a high power-distance socialization. "Rarely were subordinates in positions to influence training" (396). This is related to the fact that technical documents are encoded as objects of institutional power rather than as objects intended for the sharing of knowledge. Thatcher suggests that Mexico's high ranking in terms of collective values contributes to this hierarchical approach. I'd be particularly interested to hear more on the research he discusses about collectivist-type cultures being different, because it seems to me that collectivity as a value would precipitate access to information for all. This is obviously not the case.

This is the point at which Thatcher's observations become problematic for me. I resist making value judgments about a culture that is not my own. I don't want to say that the Mexican maquila workers and writers need to alter their relationship and use technical documents to help disseminate knowledge. From my perspective, this is a catch-22. By dictating that the Mexican technical communicators should be more democratic, I am assuming the same sort of dictatorial authority that they have assumed in order to create documents that reinscribe power. (Actually, I think my action would be even more colonizing, as I would be intruding into a society I do not understand.)

So far as taking action in a case like this, I suppose I ascribe to the notion of the global referred to by Slack and Wise, which demands that we "critically engage the workings of a complex global technological assemblage" (189). We need to do a lot more learning before we do anything else. It was interesting to me--and it certainly rang true--that Slack and Wise see antiglobalization movements de-emphasizing their use of and connection to technology. It seems that what we (in the Western sense) define as technology is equivalent to the forces driving "evil" globalization. Thus, a resistance to learning this new strategy allows activists to resist.

In an interesting connection to Slack and Wise's note that the global affects the local and vice versa, Sun's article on user localization shows how the local affects the global and also how personalities can move straight to the top of Thatcher's food chain to influence the broader social dimensions of how a technology is applied. I recently had my students in English 249 read parts of this article, and they keyed in on how the technology (texting) was used differently to make meaning in different locales. In the Western case study, the participant used texting as a comfort (relating it to chocolate, a "comfort food") while the Eastern case study participant used texting to convey messages with deep societal meaning. (Here is the page with responses from my students to this article. You have to scroll to the bottom to see responses from Sept. 17-18.)

I'm struggling to place these case studies over the framework de Certeau gives us in terms of production. He argues for two productions: the first being equivalent to creation and the second being consumption, a sort of re-creation. By poaching a product and re-creating it in one's own context, othered communities find a tactic (as opposed to a strategy) to gain power. "Many everyday practices are tactical in character" (xix). I suppose what we see in these case studies is grounded in the original production of the technology. Each participant then uses a different tactic in her consumption of the technology, and those tactics reinforce the power of the culture she is working within.

I also thought the juxtaposition of de Certeau's Expert and Philosopher was highly interesting. "In the Expert, competence is transmitted into social authority; in the Philosopher, ordinary questions become a skeptical principle in a technical field" (7). I think this situation really resonates within English Studies. We often find ourselves wanting to be expert (or maybe I'm speaking for myself), only to rediscover again and again that I am "walking on air ... far from the scientific ground" (8). Being a philosopher, a questioner, is an easier claim to make (like that of the generalist), if not an easier job to do. But is it as valuable? Or, as de Certeau suggests (and critiques) on page 9, is it possible to be the Philosopher as Expert? And if so, what does this mean?

Works referenced above include:
  • Michel de Certeau's "The Practice of Everyday Life"
  • "Intercultural Rhetoric, Technology Transfer, and Writing in U.S.-Mexico Border Maquilas" in TCQ by Barry Thatcher
  • Jennifer Daryl Slack and J. MacGregor Wise's "Culture+Technology"
  • "The Triumph of Users: Achieving Cultural Usability Goals with Localization" in TCQ by Huatong Sun