Lecourt and Barnes – Writing Multiplicity: Hypertext and Feminist Textual Politics

Lecourt, Donna, and Luann Barnes. “Writing Multiplicity: Hypertext and Feminist Textual Politics.” Feminism and Composition :A Critical Sourcebook. Eds. Gesa Kirsch, et al. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2003. 321-338. Print.

In this chapter, originally published in Computers and Composition (1999), Donna Lecourt and her graduate student at the time, Luann Barnes, explicated their theory of feminist textual politics and how hypertext has the potential to enact it in the writing classroom. They argued that “social transformation is best executed by disrupting the gendered nature of writing. Because of hypertext’s ability to express multiplicity and multivocality, the two asserted that it could be used in the classroom to achieve two interventions:

“(a) the disruption of the contexts and communities that force the author to accede to masculine ways of knowing, and (b) the deconstruction of the author as a single, unified self who suppresses alternative perspectives and gendered ideologies.” (322)

The key problem, for the authors, is the type of voice, authority, and logic that writing produces (322). The implicit argument here is that the textual form not only creates the content, but that it also shapes the identity of the author. Lecourt and Barnes cited Janis and Richard Haswell’s concept of gendership to further explain: “‘the image of a writer’s sex interpretable from text and context. It can be conceived of as the gender dimension of the ‘implied author’ imagined by the reader’ (p.226)” (322). In light of gendership, then, they asserted that academic genres are connected to masculine ways of knowing and knowledge production and work to silence the “feminine.” To counteract this phenomenon, they advocated for a textual politic: “a direct intervention into the ideology of writing spaces” (323) that allows for inquiry into specific acts of reading and writing as well as challenge narrowly focused practices writing and knowledge-making that they identified as being phallocentric.

To this end, the authors described Barnes attempt to create a hypertext that could call attention to the politics of textuality. In doing so, they of the limitations to working with hypertext, or any media for that matter, is the constant need for remediation and attention to genre. They wrote:

“Venturing too far outside academic and cultural acceptability risks not only not being read but also the material results of grades, authority with the graduate students with whom [Barnes] works as a programmer, and her colleagues, teachers, and supervisors within the department… As such, even hypertext cannot escape the mechanism of ethos orchestrated by academic context. Knowing that others would eventually read this text construct a concern that Barnes not be seen as inappropriate; such a concern for self-presentation is difficult to resist, particularly for students.” (333)

Barnes and Lecourt also concluded, as they has anticipated, that hypertext and rhetorical literacy are not sufficient to achieve the goals of textual politics, but that other interventions that fall under the category of critical literacies would have to be incorporated in their writing pedagogy as well:

“Our analysis highlights many limitations for hypertext’s ability to enact a textual politic, including its inability to escape the logocentricism of writing, its immersion within the discourse context, and the new mechanisms of reader control it introduces… As Barnes’ continual concern with reader dislocation reveals, the disruptive potential of hypertext alone will not create an awareness of multivocality in a reader.” (336)

One example they offered for how to work against some of these challenges is to engage student in continual peer review of the hypertexts they are creating.

The concluded that despite the challenges hypertext is still valuable in the composition classroom:

“Whether the texts produced for class actually enact a textual politic seems less important than what students may learn in the process – the need to interrogate the discursive grounds for achieving authority such that they can write differently in the other contexts which would silence both their alternative voices and the challenges those voices might make to the context’s idoelogy.” (337)

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Selber – Multiliteracies for a Digital Age

Selber, Stuart A. Multiliteracies for a Digital Age. Southern Illinois University Press, 2004. Print.

Stuart Selber distinguished this text on computer literacy in a digital age by approaching the subject from a humanities perspective instead of a technical one. He contended that college English teachers need to take a postcritical stance toward computer literacy in which they understand that computers in education are inevitable and need to help their students develop a critical consciousness regarding digital technology and computer literacy.

“In sum, if teachers fail to adopt a postcritical stance, thus leaving technology design and education to those outside of the field, it is entirely probable that students will have a much more difficult time understanding computers in critical, contextual, and historical ways; that technology designs, informed by pedagogical and cultural values not our own, will define and redefine literacy practices in ways that are less than desirable; and that computer literacy initiatives will simply serve to perpetuate rather than alleviate existing social inequities.” (12)

The three components of his multiliteracy approach include functional literacy, critical literacy and rhetorical literacy. All three of these literacies are necessary because while functional and critical literacies are necessary to help students utilize and understand these technologies within their contexts, the rhetorical aspect of interfaces also need requires attention, according to Selber: “… students who are rhetorical literate will recognize the persuasive dimensions of human-computer interfaces and the deliberative and reflective aspects of interface design, all of which is not a purely technical endeavor but a form of social action” (140).

Selber outlined specific parameters for each of the three literacies, but cautioned readers/ educators that his program should not be taken as a rigid prescription, but as a suggestive guide. His table of the conceptual landscape of a computer multiliteracies program provides a clear summary of how the literacies work in relation to one another and their objectives:

Functional Literacy views computers as tools (metaphor), students as users of technology (subject position) to achieve effective employment (objective)

Critical Literacy views computers as cultural artifacts (metaphor) and students as questioners of technology (subject position) to achieve informed critique (objective)

Rhetorical Literacy views computers as hypertextual media (metaphor) and students as producers of technology  (subject position) to achieve reflective praxis (objective)

Selber essentially argued that Neil Postman was right: technological education is not a “technical” subject, but one of the humanities.

“Humanists often have estranged or uncomfortable relationships with technology, yet neither indifference nor paralysis are acceptable options nowadays. In fact, an important role for English departments is to help position human-computer interaction as essentially a social problem, one that involves values, interpretation, contingency, persuasion, communication, deliberation, and more.” (235)