J.31: Non-Human Actors, Human Authors, and Transfer: ANT for Understanding Literate Practice
Reviewed by M. W. Shealy, Texas Tech University, Lubbock, TX (email@example.com)
Chair: Mark Shealy, Texas Tech University, Lubbock, TX
Speakers: Kim Moreland, University of Wisconsin–Madison, WI, “Is there such a thing as an author?”
Eliana Schonberg, University of Denver, CO, “Writers Reveal Hidden Transfer: An Actor-Oriented Perspective in a Longitudinal Study”
Nancy Reddy, University of Wisconsin–Madison, WI, “Blizzards, Badgers, and Tar Pits, Oh My!: The Risky Business of Proposing Nonhuman Sponsors”
Kim Moreland, sadly, was not able to be present. (I wish she had been there since her paper would have provided a good overview of Latour and the concept of authorship—a nice way to frame the discussion.) However, Schonberg and Reddy had plenty to share, there were many questions, some serious feedback, and the room was mostly full. Both scholars used Actor–Network Theory (ANT) for their research but took differing approaches.
Schonberg’s study asked why students so often fail to transfer composition skills and reconsidered how methodological approaches could foreground what is being measured when searching for evidence of transfer. She took an ANT perspective to four years’ worth of data from a longitudinal study of student writings that asked students about their beliefs and experiences. With 4000 artifacts from 50 students, Schonberg was still in the process of analyzing data, but had already realized that “moving our site of research from writing to writers themselves will reveal previously invisible evidence of transfer.” Audience members were interested in how she would finish coding her data to generate findings that would support writing program claims of writing skills transfer, and also how this might increase university funds for composition classes.
Reddy’s paper was a different animal: she made claims to an expanded notion of sponsorship that would account for nonhuman as well as human actors. The broader ANT claim, in her view, is that distributive agency allows us to see networked activity as “dynamic, unstable, and reciprocal.” Reviewing and analyzing documents from the Wisconsin Rural Writers Association of 1948, Reddy gave audience members plenty of room to question basic ANT concepts of agency, wonder how research documents should and should not be framed by her scholarly assumptions, and wander off into a group fantasy upon the feminized landscape (though one audience member claimed that “the landscape is still a penis” in some cases). The discussion was lively, cards were exchanged, and people lingered for quite a while. There were some subtle arguments and some vague disagreements, but everyone seemed to leave with a sense that we had assembled a sort of event that gave us plenty of material to consider.