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Paul Prior

Remaking IO, remaking rhetoric: Semiotic remediation as situated rhetorical practice

Here I present a case that helped to crystallize the thinking behind the cultural-historical mapping of rhetorical activity we propose in our collaborative core text. This case looks at an Art and Design group, and it highlights the ways in which media, mediational means, and materialities suffuse the production, reception, representation, and distribution of a web-based art object. It also points to some ways that rhetorical activity involves socialization (the situated learning of participants in the group, changes in social practice, a rhetorical campaign to shape the face of the internet).

Technical note: The webtext for Remaking IO includes Flash video (Macromedia Flash Player 8 or above may be required). It is best viewed with high bandwidth. Remember to stop any video still playing before you play another one; otherwise, you may get two sound tracks playing simultaneously.

Abstract: This case study offers an analysis of the practices of a group led by two art and design professors and two student research assistants as they engage in the process of remediating (Bolter and Grusin, 1999) a web-based art object called IO, an interactive site that mixes words and images. Drawing on data (videotapes of work sessions, recorded interviews, screen captures of the web site, print documents) collected over an eight-month period, I examine features of the group's redesign process as they worked to enhance IO by building a new database and developing a new interface. The group's interactions involved a heterogeneous collection of tools and acts, including writing a PHP/MYSQL database and doing data entry; viewing, talking, and gesturing over computer screens; viewing, talking, and gesturing over pencil drawings and whiteboard diagrams that represented the screen and the database; programming the site for Macromedia Flash; talking, gesturing, and note-taking around a table; and participating in online user forums. The group was enabled and constrained by the specific affordances of the computer programs, hardware, and networks as they worked to realize their visions in those material forms. Whereas the classical canons offer a limited framework for understanding or engaging in such complexly mediated rhetorical activity, the cultural-historical remapping we propose in our core text is well suited to such practices.

Paul Prior is an Associate Professor (English) at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, where he has served as Associate Director of the Center for Writing Studies and Director of Freshman Rhetoric. In situated studies drawing on cultural-historical activity theory, he has explored connections among writing, reading, talk, learning, and disciplinarity. This work has appeared in articles, chapters, and Writing/disciplinarity: A sociohistoric account of literate activity in the academy (1998). He has also co-edited with Charles Bazerman What writing does and how it does it: An introduction to analyzing texts and textual practices (2004). For further details see his homepage.