Military Mashups: Remixing Literacy Practices

In this study, I draw on six months of ethnographic research* in Israeli society to examine the ways that the military is deeply embedded in the construction of identity and literate practices across a range of contexts--popular culture, high-tech companies, and writing classrooms. In the sections that follow, readers will find a video narrative that documents this ethnographic research, with emphasis on the visual and video data that supports this "mashup" of the military and cultural, corporate, and educational contexts. Below the videos, readers will find textual analyses that situate these narratives within rhetorical, technological, and pedagogical studies.

A Narrative Introduction to "Military Mashups"

Mashing military rhetorics across communities, classrooms, and companies. The point of view in the above video is from the balcony of my apartment overlooking Kikar Rabin, the city square in Tel Aviv where Yitzhak Rabin was shot and where there are an endless series of gatherings on a daily and weekly basis. The flows of people and groups below my apartment are part of local, national, and global flows (Appadurai, 1996) of a state under continual reconstruction. In order to examine the ways that these global flows are embodied in everyday literacy practices, I examine the manner in which literacy practices are deeply situated within complex cultural ecologies:

In both global and local contexts the relationships among digital technologies, language, literacy, and an array of opportunities are complexly structured and articulated within a constellation of existing, social, cultural, economic, historical, and ideological factors that constitute a cultural ecology of literacy. These ecological systems continually shape, and are shaped by people (Giddens)—at a variety of levels and in a range of ways—as they live out their daily lives in technological and cultural settings. (Hawisher, Selfe, Guo, & Liu, 2006, p. 619)

The rhetorics of the military can be understood as part of wider global, national, and cultural ecologies shaping and shaped by everyday mundane and routine literacy practices. These ecologies are always a “site of contestation between emerging, competing, changing, accumulating, and fading languages and literacies” (p. 629). To examine this phenomenon, I take up the term code mashing to trace the complex ways that flows of signs and symbols are remixed into the (re)construction of national identity and bound up in reading, writing, speaking, and design practices. The reference to the term “mashup” —derived from the Web 2.0 community—is intended to foreground the multimodal nature of this activity and the notion of language as a site of struggle: that is, the circulation of flows or scapes is not frictionless like billiard balls across a table (Agha, 2007), but instead involves struggle, friction, and contestation. This concept is closely aligned with media theorist Henry Jenkin’s (2006) concept of convergence culture or the “flow of content across multiple media platforms” that collides, intersects, crisscrosses, and interacts “in unpredictable ways” (p. 2).

However, I have elected to take up the term code mashing to point to the multilingual nature of this phenomenon, and as a response to Bruce Horner and John Trimbur’s (2002) call for the bridging of composition, English as a Second Language (ESL), and other language instruction. To provide further grounding for this term, the related concept of code switching traditionally refers to shifting back and forth between two (or more) discrete languages. More recently, however, with the onset of globalization and the challenges to the borders of the nation-state, the boundaries of language itself have been challenged. As sociolinguist Monica Heller (2007) wrote, there is an increasing recognition that the boundaries between codes are in fact “fuzzy” (p. 7). This fuzziness has become a key object of analysis as indexed by Suresh Canagarajah’s (2006) call for attention to code meshing. The term itself characterizes a multilingual writer’s strategic blending of his or her own native language into the dominant discourse (e.g., metropolitan English). Extending this concept further, I adopt the term code mashing or the complex blending of multilingual and multimodal texts and textual practices. This term conceptualizes writing as one resource within a wider rhetorical repertoire that includes speech, sound, image, gesture, and body language (Selfe, 2009).

Central to this analysis is a sociocultural framework and dialogic understanding of language. As sociocultural theorist James Wertsch (1991) argued, “A shorthand way of formulating Bakhtin’s ideas about dialogicality is to pose a fundamental question: “Who is doing the talking?” (p. 63). The answer from a Bakhtinian (1984) perspective is always at least two voices. Within this framework all voicing is in fact “double voiced” or re-envoicing other people’s words (p. 324). While Bakhtin was referring primarily to spoken discourse, we might extend this concept to all semiotic modes, such as image and gesture. In this manner, this webtext gestures towards the ways that wider social structures such as the military shape and are shaped by a range of literacy practices. Central to this framework is also Yrjö Engeström, Ritva Engeström, and Tarja Vähääho’s (1999) notion of knotworking or the continual tying and untying of genres, objects, texts, people, institutions, and ideologies. This is the process through which ecologies are co-constituted, improvised, shaped, and re-formed. As Kristie Fleckenstein, Clay Spinuzzi, Rebecca Rickly, and Carole Clark Papper (2008) argued, the ecological metaphor imagines writing as a web of interlocking social, material, and semiotic relationships and practices conceptualized as clusters or “knots” (p. 394). In this manner, we might conceptualize the rhetorics of the military as deeply knotted into cultural, national, institutional, and community contexts. In this vein, this study traces the rhetorics of military discourses across a range of sites in Israeli society.

**This study has received Institutional Review Board approval from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and all human subject permissions have been secured.

Drawing on his dissertation for both projects, Steven Fraiberg published parts of this webtext in a September 2010 article for College Composition and Communication.


by Steven Fraiberg