Excerpts from my post-human rhetoric seminar paper

Multi-Genre Research for the Student Cyborg

The Student Cyborg
[...] As Donna Haraway (1991) defined them, cyborgs exist as hybrid beings and they have no interests in gaining unity among varying and disjointed parts: “The cyborg is resolutely committed to partiality, irony, intimacy, and perversity" (p. 151). Increasingly, our students place less value on the unified whole and more on the connectivity between parts—supporting the notion, again, that they might be cast as Haraway’s cyborg. Students often prefer the music clip as part of a DJ’s sampling or the collage of video clips ironically edited. As Haraway claimed that cyborgs are characteristically “wary of holism, but needy for connection” (p. 151). It is the cyborg’s need for connectivity that undermines the idea of a unified whole. For cyborgs, meaning is not derived from the object itself. In fact, meaning is of little significance. Rather, cyborgs are interested in the way a thing connects with some-thing else, the rate at which those items connect, and the flow between them. The unified whole, if we can claim such unification exists at all, is derived from the connections between various and disjointed parts. [...]

Cool Writing by the Cyborg Student
In “What is Cool? Notes on Intellectualism, Popular Culture, and Writing,” Jeff Rice (2002) situated the function of cool in our society, specifically relating it to the university and writing. Rice explained that “For digital culture, cool as commutation sets up an alternative conception of writing”; he identified this alternative compositional style as sampling, as in DJs “sampling” music clips from various songs and artists. Rice commented that “Sampling…unleashes cool as writing.” Through sampling, the DJ spins a web of connections between disparate and varying sources of music. For students in the composition classroom, sampling might entail connecting varying types of writing and research. Both acts of sampling result in a new composition, one that values connectivity among disparate parts. [...]

The Multi-Genre Paper as Sampling
As technologies for students continue to grow in our universities, composition teachers might offer more cool writing assignments, as Rice defined it. Specifically, I advocate for students composing multi-genre research papers, which I see as a kind of sampled research paper. The multi-genre research paper has recently evolved as an alternative to traditional styles of research writing in the academy. Multi-genre research requires students to have an acute awareness of rhetorical situations, various genres, and connectivity between seemingly disparate texts. The act of (re)searching is emphasized, offering educators the chance to teach the typical research, citation, and source evaluation skills covered in first year composition. Additionally, students are asked to create new texts and/or assemble texts found through research into a combined final product. A student researching the topic of anorexia, for instance, might include a personally created poem from the perspective of a young woman with anorexia, followed by a list of definitions about anorexia from Webster’s dictionary, followed by a collage of advertisements showing images of thin models, followed by a schedule showing the daily eating regimen of a girl with anorexia, and so on. Because the multi-genre research paper values the search, partiality, connectivity, and form, I argue it is an ideal assignment for the cyborg student writer. [...]

Robert Davis and Mark Shadle (2000) are among the growing number of scholars advocating for alternatives to the traditional research paper. Davis and Shadle associate traditional research papers with a modernist, rather than postmodernist, approach. Encouraging “movement away from the modernist ideals of expertise, detachment, and certainty,” Davis and Shadle promoted assignments that value “uncertainty, passionate exploration, and mystery” (p. 418). Assignments such as the personal research paper or what they refer to as the “multi-genre/media/disciplinary/cultural research paper” also require “increased rhetorical sophistication” (p. 418). Similar to Rice’s (2002) definition of cool and Deleuze and Guattari’s (1983) comments on schizoanalysis, the uncertainty and mystery that a multi-genre assignment offers would meet the preferences and functionality of the cyborg student writer. Furthermore, alternative assignments like the multi-genre research paper often emphasize the act of seeking. Davis and Shadle (2000) recalled the “nomadic thought” which inscribes Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus, seeing this as a “kind of practice [they] envision for, and begin to see enacted by, alternative research writing” (p. 426). Encouraging students to engage with this type of nomadic thought and acts of seeking and gathering allows for the wandering and exploration of “either...or...or...” possibilities of cool writing. Rather than being bound to traditional, modernist research papers, students are able to explore several options that privilege connectivity but do not necessarily require unity.

Multi-genre assignments have, however, been criticized precisely because of their lack of unity. For example, after teaching the assignment, W. David LeNoir (2002) came to the conclusion that future assignments should contain the following warning label for teachers: “Caution, Requires unity. (Not supplied)” (p. 99). While LeNoir’s critique speaks to the concerns educators might have with such an assignment, I might revise his warning label to state “Caution: Requires Connectivity.” Drawing on the work of Haraway (1991) and Rice (2002), we can see that cyborgs value connectivity over unity and that “cool...produces meaning through interlinking” (Rice, 2002). In this way, the multi-genre research paper might work more effectively as a sampling assignment, in which meaning is, as Rice stated, produced through interlinking. Moreover, Davis and Shadle (2000) deemphasized unity in their description of the multi-genre assignment: “These projects often resist, suspend, and/or decenter the master consciousness or central perspective inscribed in the essay as a unifying voice” (p. 431). In fact, Davis and Shadle contended that alternative research projects “work by making, but not forcing, connections” (p. 432). Therefore, connectivity, rather than unity, should be one of the central goals of nontraditional assignments such as the multi-genre research paper. Having students approach the multi-genre research paper similar to how a DJ samples music could help them understand the importance of interlinking and connectivity—a skill that is increasingly important in our post-modern world. [...]

The theories of Haraway and others call us to question the role of composition as it relates to our students as cyborgs. In the first-year composition classroom, this re-assessment of our pedagogies may result in offering “cool” (Rice, 2002) writing assignments for students. Because of its emphasis on connectivity, linking, and fluidity, writing teachers might use the multi-genre research paper as a cool assignment that encourages students to sample various texts. The possibilities of multi-genre projects permit our students to engage in the play of writing (Haraway, 1991), leading to more interesting, meaningful, and engaging projects in the first-year composition classroom.