Discussion of Participatory Composition

This is my latest post in the series I am doing reflecting on readings from my Foundations of Composition and Rhetoric class. My reading for next week was the first three chapters of Participatory Composition: Video Culture, Writing, and Electracy. While this book is interesting, I have a couple of hesitations.

First, what is the historical and theoretical bases for Arroyo’s claim that electracy constitutes the third literacy “apparatus?” What, specifically, makes electracy so different from pen and paper and from oral speech that it constitutes something completely new? Is/was typing something fundamentally different from writing? What about typing into a word processor? Are writers today whose writing is mediated by a computer fundamentally different from writers of the past? One area that Arroyo focuses on is video. Is there anything substantive about video that hasn’t been done before? Is a video anything other than a recording of something taking place in the physical world? Does the ability to use video to combine written text, images, and speech constitute something new, something totally different? Or is Arroyo falling into the trap that people all throughout time have fallen into: proclaiming the thing of the day as the “new thing,” as totally revolutionary. I am unwilling to grant her sweeping claims without further evidence.

An example of the kind of sweeping claim she is making is the chart she reproduces from Ulmer on page 8. Perhaps Ulmer had really good reasons for the distinctions that he draws, but she doesn’t reproduce any of them. The chart alone, without explanation, has clearly created false categories. Orality is not just useful for religion, the church isn’t the only institution that used orality (many oral cultures before the church came into existence), and mythology as the “philosophy” or orality means that Socrates wasn’t engaged in reason. Furthermore, people were writing long before science, as we understand it, came into existence. Literacy is used to tell stories, not just construct knowledge. I could go on, but I think these examples are enough to discredit the chart.

Second, if the answers to the questions asked in the second paragraph are “yes” (and I kind of doubt they are), why on earth are they relevant to composition classrooms? We don’t teach orality in the composition classroom; we teach writing. Why would faculty who teach Composition and Rhetoric teach something that wasn’t composition? Surely creating videos or whatever is the domain of a videogprahy class and not a composition class. I get that the connection is rhetoric, but rhetoric is taught in Communications departments as well as in English departments. And rhetoric is involved in creating art, but we don’t teach painting or sculpting in our classrooms either. Even if we grant Arroyo’s claim that there are now three literacy apparatuses, I don’t understand why we aren’t sticking with ours, letting the public speaking people keep theirs, and allowing some kind of electracy department have the newest one.

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