CCCC 2014 Reviews

E.11 "Open Axes: Identities, Technologies, and Pedagogies at Play"

Reviewed by S. Andrew Stowe (drewstowe@gmail.com)


Jan Rune Holmevik, Clemson University, SC


  • Patricia Fancher, Clemson University, SC, “Anatomy of a Gamer: Defining Bodies in Pedagogies of Play”
  • Lauren Woolbright, Clemson University, SC, “Gender(ed) Games: Play as Pedagogy”
  • Steven Katz, Clemson University, SC, “Open Media, ‘Personal Customization,’ and Fabrication: Playing Virtual Ethics”
  • Jan Rune Holmevik, Clemson University, SC, “Open | Writing | Spaces”

This panel featured four panelists from Clemson University who spoke about composing bodies and play. Each speaker brought different emphases to the discussion. The various speakers focused on bodies in such diverse locations as texts, video games, social networks, and writing spaces. Overall, this session provided an interesting array of the ways that bodies can be considered.

Patricia Fancher “Anatomy of a Gamer: Defining Bodies in Pedagogies of Play”

Fancher provided critical readings of Jan Holmevik’s (2012) Inter/Vention, Jody Shipka’s (2011) Toward a Composition Made Whole, and Kristie Fleckenstein’s (2003) Embodied Literacies. She examined the ways that these texts treat bodies in terms of pedagogy, ethics, appearance, and more.

Fancher explained that Holmevik’s (2012) Inter/Vention functions to examine pedagogies of gaming as a way to encounter new knowledge and experiences through play, to help keep play open. As we “play,” Fancher suggested, we experience “identity” (among other things) and produce “experiences.” Through her reading of Inter/Vention, Fancher found bodies to be portrayed as the sites of being and the center of ethics. Fancher noted in particular Holmevik’s concept of the “hacker” or “cowboy” as a body type. Fancher explained that Holmevik’s work portrayed bodies as being “personal” and “individual.” Ultimately, Fancher explained, Holmevik’s work provided a lens of understanding wherein bodies are “digitally free” and are “unencumbered by embodiment.” In this way, play, in the digital realm, allows for possibilities that are not possible in our day-to-day embodiment.

The next text that Fancher analyzed was Shipka’s (2011) Toward a Composition Made Whole. Fancher argued that the pedagogy of bodies in this text resembled pedagogies of “rhetorical flexibility.” Fancher located bodies as embodied within networks of discursive contexts. Fancher explained that throughout Shipka’s text bodies, like students, were described based on the ways that they are embedded in any particular context. These bodies, which come to the forefront because they navigate space, must engage in struggle and play. Throughout this process, Fancher explained, bodies are being composed. In this way, one’s relationship with embodiment can change.

In examining Kristie Fleckenstein’s (2003) Embodied Literacies, Fancher explained that bodies always exist in a “circular relationship” with material and discursive codes. This is to say, bodies are always a material place. They are simultaneously unique and ever changing. In this text, bodies function between Immersion (their direct experience) and Emergence (connecting with social and political codes). Thirdly, the work that bodies do is a struggle because it comes with a “responsibility to others.” This struggle, Fancher pointed out, is not a pleasure.

Toward the end, as a topical example, Fancher brought up Miriam Weeks (more commonly known as “The Duke Porn Student”) and Weeks’s work in pornography as a way of having choice about her body. Fancher concluded by stating that “play is not easy, but it is necessary.”

Lauren Woolbright, “Gender(ed) Games: Play as Pedagogy”

Woolbright began by explaining Greg Ulmer’s (2003) concept of electracy, paying particular attention to the concept of the electrate transversal. To understand this concept, one can imagine a three dimensional axis: orality (right/wrong) and literacy (true/false) are bisected or chopped by the 3rd dimension, which is the electrate (pleasure/pain). An ethic of electracy therefore moves us beyond “right” and “wrong” toward what feels good or what hurts. Ultimately, Woolbright hypothesized that Ulmer did not intend to “wipe out” ethics through this concept of the electrate transversal.

For Woolbright, this notion of ethics functions to bring “play” to the forefront. Woolbright used the concept of avatar to question how we “try on images.” In attempting to theoretically bust out of Ulmer’s electrate transversal, Woolbright stated that she prefers the concept of a “cloud” or a “web.”

Woolbright pointed out that Ulmer’s explanations of the electrate seemed to be too ideal and that the electrate transversal implied an openness that allows all to have access. Woolbright problematized this conception of the electrate by pointing out that everyone does not, in fact, have access due in part to the price of games, which in itself has the potential to limit the audience.

To clarify her arguments, Woolbright examined the bodies in various games such as Dragon’s Crown and World of Warcraft. Notably, Woolbright presented examples from the independent game A Closed World, which features an androgynous protagonist. According to Woolbright, this game changes the way discussions of gender happen and opens the idea that the lovers in the game could be queer.

Notably, Woolbright’s presentation provided viewers with an understanding that games have the power to help their audiences break free of binaries such as “right” and “wrong” and “masculine” and “feminine.”

Steven Katz, “Open Media, ‘Personal Customization,’ and Fabrication: Playing Virtual Ethics”

Katz began with a narrative of how he went out of town for sabbatical, to a place where he typically leaves behind technology. He then published photographs from the past to Facebook, which caused others to think that he was in another location. One of the interesting points of discussion here was a consideration of the way that technology forces itself upon users and ways that this can be obstructed. For instance, Katz explained that Facebook’s interface made it necessary for him to include dates and captions for the images. To play with technology, then, Katz named his photographs poetically. According to Katz, these photographs, which he posted at a time other than the time at which they were taken, left viewers feeling that Katz was already out of town, where he typically did not have access to technology. This misunderstanding caused Katz to realize that he could “play” Facebook and slip through its technological loopholes. Katz explains that he could use the interface to virtually slip out of town, which highlights the issue of ethics through the disparity of the concepts of “presence” and “virtuality.” Ultimately, Katz created the idea that he was out of town. Katz amusedly admitted to responding to a colleague who was shocked to see him in town after the colleague had recently “liked” a photo of Katz appearing to be out of town by saying, “I am a ‘Hologram’.”

Katz concluded by explaining that the virtual world has become our real world. He pointed to long distance communication with loved ones and cyber-bullying as support for the concept of the virtual becoming real. Since the virtual world is becoming “all encompassing,” Katz explained, we must examine the technology that mediates the virtual.

Jan Rune Holmevik, “Open | Writing | Spaces”

For this presentation, Holmevik performed the kind of pedagogy that he studies and employs. In order to perform this presentation Holmevik used no fewer than two iPads, two iPhones, one MacBook, and a Google Glass.

Overall, Holmevik argued that the world, as a new writing space, contains layers and layers of meaning left by those who inhabit it. Throughout, Holmevik used the Google Glass to pull up various slides to support his argument. Holmevik explained that the point of writing is to control and augment the world with language. Holmevik made it clear that he does not agree with a contemporary, somewhat simple technological notion of “augmented reality.” He does, however, see these technologies as functioning to de-center technology. He defined “decenter” as a transitive verb that means “to cause to lose or shift from an established center,” and he pointed out that decentering is often associated with Derrida’s notions of deconstruction and decentering.

In developing his argument, Holmevik referred to the concept of chora. If chora is an impossible surface, then, Holmevik pointed out, video might function to write meaning onto it. Decentering allows us to be left open and vulnerable to the possibilities of choral writing, which allows us to be left at the core of electrate writing. Therefore, he explained, next generation writers will need new tools to work through these issues. With that in mind, Holmevik announced that he and Greg Ulmer are working toward a new textbook on electracy. This textbook’s aim is to resituate learners as producers of knowledge (called electrate egents).

Holmevik explained that “play” illuminates knowledge and is the central characteristic of electrate learners. With that in mind, the textbook will use mystorical methods to examine sites in the world in order to solve real world problems. The resulting mystory can be linked back to the site in order to create layers of meaning that others can explore. Holmevik demonstrated the augmented technology application of “Layar” to demonstrate the ways that various layers of meaning can be applied to real objects to effectively “augment” lived experience, allowing what Holmevik classified as “mystorical layering of chora.” This decentering allows users to reflect on their interactions and their creations in real and digital spaces.


Fleckenstein, Kristie S. (2003). Embodied literacies: Imageword and a poetics of teaching. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press.

Holmevik, Jan Rune. (2012). Inter/vention: Free play in the age of electracy. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Shipka, Jody. (2011). Toward a composition made whole. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press.

Ulmer, Gregory L. (2003). Internet invention: From literacy to electracy. New York, NY: Longman.

CCCC 2014 Reviews

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