Kairotically Speaking: Kairos and the Power of Identity

Kairotica of Kairos...

With these adversaries in mind, a particular feature of Kairos distinguishes it even more from print publishing—the juried review process. Just as Kairos was invented, the editors had to invent strategies for peer review (Salvo, 2002) that would demonstrate that Kairos was indeed a "truly recognizable peer-reviewed publication" acceptable for tenure (Doherty, 2002). This process, which they call a tiered peer-review, emphasizes the cultural attributes of what they think review means: "[collegiality], respect, encouragement, sound advice, and honesty" (Carbone, 1997), that is, ideally reviewers will work with an author in collaboration to prepare a piece for publication. And while the scholarly community may hope that these values are instinctively a part of all review processes, there are some journals that establish a more master/student relationship. But what makes Kairos's tiered process different and exciting is the collaborative spirit with which authors of webtexts work directly with an editorial board member:

Once an editorial board member has been assigned to work on a contribution with its author(s), the editorial board member has two roles. One, to help the author meet any requests for revision the editorial board saw as necessary, and two, to provide any needed feedback and suggestions on shaping the web[text] as the revision occurs. The editorial board member becomes a person the author can work with, whose opinions the author can draw upon. (Carbone, 1997).

In this process, authors don't simply know of the reviewers—both that reviewers exist and that the journal has a list of reviewers—they know the reviewers from working directly with them in the publication of their webtext. This relationship is what I think has the most potential for online publishing, creating "a collaborative and supportive author/board member partnership" (Carbone, 1997) among members of a particular community of practice. The Web offers spaces and opportunities for collaborating in new and exciting ways, ways not necessarily recognized by tenure committees. Early on, the credibility of Kairos was probably viewed skeptically by tenure committees since, when identifying the initial set of review board members, Mick Doherty "decided that [Kairos's] editorial board would not include any tenured faculty. Virtually everyone on the staff disagreed with the idea, but for the first (and not last) time, I invoked editorial veto and enforced a questionable decision" because, he says, their "early MOO-based staff meetings centered around the idea that graduate students were generally doing the most interesting and important work in hypertextual media, and that senior faculty rarely had an appreciation for that work" (Doherty, 1999). (Now, the editorial board and staff consists of cutting-edge graduate students, tenure-track and tenured professors, and instructors in non-tenure-track positions as well as K-12 teachers and those whose careers reside outside of academic institutions but are still connected to writing studies.)

It's fitting to repeat a quote by one of the few remaining original staff members, Michael Salvo (who is now on the editorial board). He (2002) says, "What contribution Kairos ultimately makes to electronic and academic publishing" depends on how "readers and future electronic writing organizations talk (or forget) about Kairos, and what future the journal creates for itself." Salvo’s comment about how we “talk” or “forget” about Kairos provides an opportunity for conclusion, although certainly not the end of the conversation. The thing is, a lot of our talk about online publishing (to those outside the computers and writing community) still carries a defensive stance, and we’re still explaining the value of online scholarship even when those digital artifacts resemble printed texts. Unfortunately, we still experience raised eyebrows when presenting a disk, CD, or DVD as a tenure artifact in portfolios, even as the supposed 'technology' people in our departments. To outsiders reading tenure files, these conversations might have seemed charming, maybe even interesting, perhaps, when they occurred mostly in print, such as in Computers and Composition, where they still looked familiar. But publishing online, and only online as Kairos does, brings about the same conversations on the comfort of books. This conversation is quickly becoming tiresome and, I suspect, not just for those of us who have been talking about it for ten (or twenty) years. Salvo’s use of “talk,” I think, does not refer to the endless defense of online scholarship, even though it certainly could; rather, it I see it as referring to the shared responsibility of all the communities engaged in our scholarly endeavors (the department, the college, the university, the discipline) to talk about and listen to the individual and collective value of the “work” we contribute to that enterprise’s identity.

Although he may not have intended this kind of interpretation, I view Salvo’s use of the word “forget” in concert with Socrates’ fear that “writing destroys memory” because it produces a thing that refers to a reality and not the thing itself. Walter Ong (1982), who points to this conundrum as repeating itself in what we once called the Computer Age, explains that “those who use writing will become forgetful” (p. 79), having no incentive to remember. Forgetting is what happens, or perhaps is a consequence of what happens, when the agency applied to print, and before that writing, and before that...... is privileged over human agency. Print asks to be passively read, while online publishing, as I see it, asks us to participate, to act, to engage in the ideas and issues moving across the screen. When a tenure committee questions the nature of nonprint publications (MOO scripts, Flash movies, webtexts, and so on), they may officially be asking for elaboration, but the subtext often suggests an effort to remove it, not count it, not have to figure out what it is, all of which makes it easier to forget.

But if we forget about Kairos, I think we accept the limitations of print and the tenure criteria on which it is based (and a whole host of other boundaries too numerous to mention) and arguably run the risk of Kairos turning into a legitimizing identity, which is an “identity [that] generates a civil society; that is, a set of organizations and institutions, as well as a series of structured and organized social actors, who reproduce, albeit sometimes in a conflictive manner, the identity that rationalizes the sources of structural domination” (Castells, 1997, p. 8). In other words, what tenure is to us now, Kairos could become for future online scholars--rationalized, standardized, categorized, so familiar as to render it invisible. So, to “forget” about Kairos, or online publishing, at this time would mean to leave all its ten years out of scholarly history, to ignore its existence or the implications it has already fashioned in the academic community, and to dismiss its ability to engage in kairotica--what I see as the spirit of its enterprise: the ability to identify and act on opportunities when they present themselves and to do so with radical occasionality.

As one who chooses not to forget, to in fact talk about Kairos, I am speaking here and in any other parts of my life as a technorhetorician and, as long as I do, I share the responsibility for that identity, connecting in valuable ways to others both in and outside the direct computers and writing community and to Kairos in particular. I enjoy this site of innovative and creative activities, this special something that is Kairos, and if we speak about/for/with Kairos then we won’t be able to forget. To speak about Kairos is to be willing to engage in new ways of defining, doing, and thinking about scholarship and the scholarly act and to share those ways with others in our professional and personal lives. To speak for Kairos is to support and create alliances for online publishing activities wherever they occur. To speak with Kairos is to agree to try on, build, and/or carry on the work of online scholarship and its related defense. And more important, perhaps, speaking with suggests a willingness to contribute to an identity powerful in its ability to create new meanings and subsequently induce “new forms of social change” (Castells, 1997, p. 11) in scholarly contexts. The power of Kairos comes not from its bandwidth, design, or navigation but from the people who work or identify with the journal; people who willingly share important scholarly findings, who tap into each other’s competence and experience, and who work to dismantle autonomous systems like tenureNotes12 by finding creative ways of working together to establish something that is truly powerful. As Castells insists, power today in the information age is in “people’s minds” (p. 359). And because “identities anchor power” (p. 360), Kairos offers us multiple opportunities to explore different ways of engaging scholarly activities, which is where I think the journal succeeds.

I would like to suggest that whether we publish in Kairos or another online journal that we all learn to speak kairotically, which I see as learning to identify the opportunities online environments offer to scholars and scholarship today. My challenge to you (and myself) is to create different kinds of texts and to do so in interesting ways. Many of us, including me, often see scholarship in terms of what the static page makes possible or available for innovation. Online publishing offers so many opportunities to go outside the boundaries of print by including links to information and content not always available to print as someone reads. My pledge to the members of the computers and writing community is to try something with my scholarship that goes beyond the printed page and to “write” an article exploring the construction of identity based on the visual technology autobiographies students in my information design course created that would include video clips of the students themselves talking about their work, images from their work, links to websites they created, and, if I’m lucky, a clip from a movie depicting the students talking about each other’s work. Will you all join me in this pledge?

By celebrating Kairos, and not just because this is its tenth anniversary issue but because it is uniquely scholarly, those connected to it will contribute (and already have) to its credibility as online scholarship. Celebrating the many and varied rhetorical, visual, and collaborative accomplishments online publishing leads to will, I hope, also lead to a greater acceptance of multiple ways of thinking, doing, and acting, encouraging social actors (such as tenure committees) to spend more time broadening instead of reinforcing disciplinary frameworks. The credibility aspect of celebrating Kairos grows out of a willingness to be an active listener as well as an engaged talker with those who agree with us and those who don’t. Let’s try to spend more time with those who don’t for a while and see if dismantling their and our own disciplinary frameworks “in order to create the space and opportunity for learning” (Winner, 1997, p. 331) can help us help each other. Even further, if celebrating Kairos (the people and the journal) can affect tenure criteria in ways that change how online scholarship is viewed and valued, then, again, it will always be talked about.

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Dismantling Kairos 1
Dismantling Kairos 2

Autonomous Technology of Tenure 1
Autonomous Technology of Tenure 2
Autonomous Technology of Tenure 3

Kairotically Speaking 1

Myth of Transparency 1
Myth of Transparency 2
Myth of Transparency 3
Myth of Transparency 4

Kairotica of Kairos 1
Kairotica of Kairos 2
Kairotica of Kairos 3
Kairotica of Kairos 4




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