Flat Discussion

I recently facilitated a graduate course discussion of a collection of texts. It’s a fairly typical assignment in a graduate seminar to ask the grad students to take one week and lead at least part of the week’s discussion. I’ve led these kinds of discussions before, but I don’t particularly enjoy them.

As I was preparing for this, I kept asking what is it that we expect of/as grad students when we assemble?

Flat-discussion seems to be the prevailing mode of graduate education in rhetoric and composition. We might ask of graduate students that they read generously or critically, that they engage in more activity-based work surrounding their writing projects, or that they read/discuss in particular ways or with particular facilitations in mind (such as a read-pair-share model, or other kinds of writing-as-preparation-for-discussion models).

This may be a limitation of my own memory or experiences, but I’m unclear as to why. Is it simply comfortable? Traditional? The lingering hauntings of literature programs?

It seems strange to me for a field that has such a vested and historical interest in the class room seems so… unimaginative in the education of its future educators. Our connections to pedagogy and education are vast and run deep, our scholarship on the teaching of undergraduate students is equally vast and deep. And while, I hear rumblings of a growing interest in understanding how graduate students are educated in our field, there seems, to me, a curious lack of practice/praxis there.

I’ve used the term flat-discussion to refer to the mode of graduate education that I’ve come to be most familiar with: go read one book or five-to-six article, come sit in a circle, and let’s talk. I use the term flat here both to evoke a particular sense of dryness and lack of dynamism, but also to suggest that it assumes a particularly flat ontology of the discussion, of equal participation, that seems to fail to account for the unevenness within classroom dynamics. Perhaps this underpinned by the idea that we are all, at ‘this level’ beyond or critical of such power-dynamics in graduate classrooms, which seems to me to be a particularly white-utopian view of a classroom or of graduate education.

Put slightly differently, flat-discussion fails to account for the unevenness of emotional labor it takes for participants to engage with that discussion, particularly when we are often asking graduate students to explore questions that involve certain subjectivities, questions of justice and violence, and implications of our being and knowing that each impact us unevenly.

Our classrooms are not apolitical, which seems like an empty commonplace when we talk about the undergraduate classroom, but when we turn our tassels at commencement, we do not somehow transcend politics when we enter new classroom spaces. I have no prescriptions for this for the ‘perfect pedagogy,’ but I can at least ask what that we consider our graduate pedagogy with the same rigor that we attend to undergraduate education.

With this particular class session, we read a number of texts that dealt with intersections of technology, identity, and embodiment. I asked my peers to think of, or bring, a text (defined broadly) that they felt like mediated an identity or group of experiences they had (I used Love, Simon as an example to talk about gay-coming-of-age/coming-out experiences, the experience of being outed, but also how this was rooted in a white-gay-‘universal’-“It Gets Better Project”-model of gay narratives). When they came to the room, I’d set out a series of writing technologies:

  • Pen and paper
  • Chalk (for the chalk board)
  • A note that asked them to compose on their laptops (and to consider sound, video, picture, etc.)
  • A note that asked them to compose on their phones (and to consider sound, video, picture, etc.)
  • Play-doh
  • Legos
  • Construction paper, scissors, and clue
  • Watercolors and watercolor panting paper
  • Printer paper and paints
  • Markers and construction paper
  • Banner paper and markers

I briefly introduced the authors and texts and raised the same question I am attempting to raise here before outlining that this session would be run in a series of workshops. The first is modeled after a workshop I first did with Brianne Radke for WIDE-EMU 2016 and I’ve since adopted for a first-year writing activity. I asked them to just compose for a minute with the technology in front of them and then to use that same technology to compose something that responded to memories, affective responses, limitations or affordances that arose from their composing.

Afterwards, we talked about that experience, reflected on some of our compositions and what motivated them, and connected the exercise to some of the readings. This was the first workshop.

After, I asked them to recall the text that I asked them to think about before class and to either draw a network or write a short reflection that put the text they thought of in conversation with other texts or histories that are either tacitly or actively evoked in their original text and what futures that text makes possible for them to imagine. We did a similar follow up of talking about the experience, reflecting on our compositions, and connecting to the readings. For the last piece, I asked them to do the same activity as they did for their text for themselves as composers and instructors with a final similar wrap up. The idea was to think through our histories and how our identities are mediated in texts and through the discipline, and, in turn, to think through what futures are possible to imagine out of them.

The intent was to change to locus of discussion/emotional/subjectivity work from the center of the circle we all sit in for flat discussion to the space between the composer and their composition, in the hopes that we can connect out of that shared experience instead of discussing/critiquing texts. I don’t know that I was wholly successful in doing that, but I think it was a useful exercise to think through what graduate education is supposed to be and how we can acknowledge the unevenness involved in participation.

I was really impressed with the work that my classmates were doing. Even though while they were playing with Legos they, like my first year writing students when they say the activity “feels like Kindergarten with a purpose,” said that it just felt fun, they made really awesome connections between their lived experiences and what the technologies made them imagine and compose.

It was also a lot to try and put into one class session, and perhaps a series of activities trying to do too many things at once. I can also see how some of my colleagues might have felt that I didn’t respect the attention they’d given to each of the readings, if that was how any of them felt, since I did not linger on any one argument or textual argument—but even then, part of that was a conscious effort to encourage different relationships to the texts we read for the week and to create spaces for those relationships.

But I’m glad for the work that my colleagues did, and I think the activities did at least some of what I wanted them to. And I am glad for the chance to have thought with my colleagues around this question of what we expect of and as grad students when we are gathered. We should all be thinking about the conditions of participation, the ways in which we are precariously situating certain bodies.

Notes: Nicole H. Gray, “Recording the Sounds of ‘Word Burns’: Reproductions of Public Discourse in Abolitionist Journalism”

Gray, Nicole H. (2011). Recording the sounds of ‘word burns’: Reproductions of public discourse in abolitionist journalism. Rhetoric Society Quarterly, 41(4): 363-386.


Gray highlights the use of phonography, a speech recording technology in which a writer uses a phonetic alphabet, constructs reports of abolitionist speech events, that the construction of the phonographer as accurate operated as a rhetorical tactic.

Keywords: history, historiography, social histories


“Ultimately, the reader was presented with a text that incorporated a self-verifying apparatus, in that it could represent itself as transparent, objective, a ‘deguerrotype’ of an event, removing the necessity for interpretation, and thereby facilitating informed identification” (p. 384).


Gray’s work with the phonographic reporting to interrogate the role of the phonographer as creator that expands representation to the audience interaction is smart work. Gray traces the phonographic report through its uses with the abolitionist presses and how the phonographer was utilized rhetorically to undermine arguments of pro-slavery presses. Gray notes the way the aurality of the speeches plays a part in constructing the presence of the event itself and creates moments of interpretation for the phonographer representing the noise of the audience members.

It’s helpful to read this, and other examples, before setting out to do social histories work. Getting a sense for what the scope of a social histories project and how others are incorporating the source material into the text. It makes sense, in this case, just how a close of a reading is being performed on the source material, given that Gray is discussing how the phonographers represent the speech event, in which case seeing the source material as best we can helps follow along with her claims.

Notes: Martin Stempfhuber and Michael Liegel, “Intimacy Mobilized: Hook-up Practices in Location-Based Social Network Grindr”

Stempfhuber, Martin & Michael Liegl. (2016). Intimacy mobilized: Hook-up practices in the location-based social network Grindr. Österreichische Zeitschrift Für Soziologie, 41(1), 51-70.


Stempfhuber and Liegel examine Grindr practices as a renegotiation of the sociology of intimacies, seeing Grindr practices as remediating, instead of alienating, intimacy: further, they articulate the uses of Grindr as augmented space, wayfinding, place making/writing, and mapping.

Keywords: Grindr, human geography, mapping, mobility, place, sociology, space, technology


“It seems as though the sociology of intimacy is lagging behind technological advances which have long instantiated new regimes of mobility and have instigated a process of renegotiation of what it means to ‘be with’ someone else or be co-present. Taking issue with the humanistic, body-centric, and romanticist notion that intimacy becomes alienated when technologically mediated—something which is still lingering in the sociology of intimacy—we suggest that it is time to ask how the (im)mobilities (Büscher and Urry 2009) of ‘hook-up’ practices are being reconfigured by a ubiquitous use of mobile digital media” (p. 52).

“The very use of the plural in the designation of a sociology of mobilities, on the other hand, points to the mobility of the category of mobility itself; it is also a metaphor for the contested identity of categories that are touched by it. The study of mobilities, then, is concerned both with physical mobility and informational mobility” (p. 53).

“Mobile apps such as Grindr even have the engagement with one’s physical surroundings explicitly at their core. By identifying addressable interlocutors in physical proximity, such apps help to mediate the interaction constraints of urban public space, but in thus populating the vicinity they also serve as a place-making (or place-writing) device. Grindr uses location information as a resource for hooking up, but location, as we will see, can shift from a resource to the topic of the practice” (p. 57)

Notes: Heather Horst and Daniel Miller, “Normativity and Materiality: A View From Digital Anthropology”

Horst, Heather & Daniel Miller. (2012). Normativity and materiality: A view from digital anthropology. Media International Australia, Incorporating Culture & Policy, (145), 103-111.


Horst and Miller discuss how digital anthropology requires a reconsideration of how materiality and normativity operate in experiences of digital environments.

Keywords: anthropology, culture, digital rhetoric, materiality, methodology, new materialisms, research methods, technology


“Rather than rendering us less human, less authentic, or more mediated, we argue that attention should turn to the human capacity to create or impose normativity in the face of constant change” (p. 103).

“We therefore suggest that one of the central tenets of digital anthropology is the study of how rapidly things become mundane. What we experience is not a technology, per se, but an immediate culturally inflected genre of usage or practice” (p. 108).

Notes: Caroline Dadas, “Messy Methods: Queer Methodological Approaches to Researching Social Media”

Dadas, Caroline. (2016). Messy methods: Queer methodological approaches to researching social media. Computers and Composition, 40, 60-72.


Dadas explains the queer methodology that ran through her social media research, highlighting the queering of private/public binaries, the complicated role of ethos, and the possibility of queerness as techne.

Keywords: Research Methods, Methodology, Queer Rhetorics, Queer Theory, Technology


Browne, Kath & Catherine J. Nash (Eds.). (2010). Queer methods and methodologies: Intersecting queer theories and social science research. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing.

Cushman, Ellen. (1996). The rhetorician as an agent of social change. College Composition and Communication, 47(1), 7-28.

Law, John. (2004). After method: Messiness in social science research. New York, NY: Routledge.


“As more and more citizens are turning to social media platforms for civic work, rhetoric and composition must continue to develop methodological approaches that help study these online spaces. In particular, how do researchers ethically gather data from such sites, considering the tendency for users to treat online spaces as private interactions (McKee & Porter, 2009)? How might we use social media not only as sites of study but also as a method for conducting qualitative research? How can we adapt established research methods to better meet the needs of such dynamic spaces?” (61).

“Queer theory’s rich tradition of interrogating the public and the private provided me with the framework for establishing connectivity between my methods, data, and theoretical approach. The resonances between queer theory and digital research practices in terms of publicity and privacy make queer methodologies particularly fruitful for online research” (61).

“Glasby offered the “rhetorical negotiation” as a way of working through competing ideas (in her case, the dissonance between her personal and scholarly orientations to marriage equality) without expecting the kind of neat resolution that often dominates academic discourse. Rather, as Glasby”s (2014) approach showed, queer epistemologies honor the tensions, fissures, and gaps that often emerge in our research” (62).

“In this context, then, queer methodology functions both as a commitment to researching sites that have not previously found legitimization, as well as a willingness to draw from a range of disciplinary methods. Likewise, Kath Browne and Catherine Nash (2010) emphasized queer research as a way of challenging frameworks of power, located both in the disciplinary tools available to the researcher, as well as in her chosen topic(s). For Browne and Nash, ”Queer research’ can be any form of research positioned within conceptual frameworks that highlight the instability of taken-for-granted meanings and resulting in power relations’ (2010; p. 4″ (62).

“Uninterested in using queerness simply as a theoretical application or a framework for influencing research methods, they [Browne and Nash (2010)] argued that queerness should intersect with ‘those sets of logical organizing principles that link our ontological and epistemological perspectives with the actual methods we use to gather data’ (p. 2). Just as any methodology addresses the relationship between theory, data, and method, queer methodologies help negotiate methods that often do not yield clear-cut results” (63).

“Law (2004), more explicitly than most researchers, acknowledged the profound unknowability of many phenomena that we attempt to study; in doing so, he proposed that we embrace a more messy approach that does not purport to ensure the inherited Enlightenment-era notions of replicability, reliability, or objectivity” (63).

“[A] queer methodology is sensitive to moments when attention from a researcher might bring unwanted publicity to a participant/cause (Banks & Eble, 2009); it also acknowledges the benegits of publicity, particularly when conducting civic-based research, and seeks to harness those benefits in rhetorically savvy ways” (66).

“[U]sing queer ethics as a method involves establishing a more intimate relationship with participants… I drew on a queer ethic to divulge my sexual orientation. Due to the nature of the study…, I believed that disclosing my sexual orientation might be the primary gesture I could make toward establishing intimacy with them. At the same time, I worried that doing so would alienate those potential participants who opposed marriage equality” (66).

“[A] queer methodological stance will often not yield convenient results” (66).

“[A] queer methodology can help weigh all the factors involved and arrive at a decision that demonstrates a commitment to advocating for social justice while also showing care for our participants and ourselves. Such a methodology recognizes that the boundaries between safety and danger are not clear cut, and that acknowledging the fluidity of identity can help us navigate these boundaries in rhetorically savvy ways” (67).

“In other words, transparency can look very different at various stages of research. While being up-front about aspects of one’s life can enrich a project and benefit the researcher-participant relationship, other moments within the same study may require a more reserved approach. Implementing both strategies does not signal inconsistency but rather a kairotic sensitivity” (67).

“The methodology that I claimed, then, allowed for residing along various points on the public/private continuum as a researcher. Queering the methodological notion of transparency allowed me to be ‘public’ in one scenario and to privilege a more private approach in another—and to negotiate the seeming inconsistency by embracing the fissures that emerged in my method” (68).

“In this sense, queerness does not mean being either transparent or not with participants; what is queer is allowing for a broad range of possibilities when it comes to interacting with participants and data. Being able to adjust one’s approach throughout the course of a study, depending on the context, is a valuable tool at a researcher’s disposal” (69).

“Rhetoric and composition as a field has wrestled with its methodological diversity, sometimes seeking out categorization and classification as a way of demonstrating rigor and clarity in our research…. Because queerness flies in the face of clarity, reconciling it with methodological rigor might seem contradictory. In response, I turn to Boelstorff’s (2010) question about what queer studies would look like if it were less concerned with producing episteme than with techne…. When applied to the notion of queer methodologies, techne offers the possibility of troubling normative attitudes toward research rather than setting out a fixed set of characteristics that define such a methodology” (70).

“[V]iewing queerness as techne helps us to reorient toward the process of adaptation, the flexibility of method, the need to constantly change our approaches” (70).

“Using a lens of failure, we can see these disruptions as instances of nonlinearity: that research does not necessarily progress through sequential stages of (private) data collection and analysis and then on to a (public) presentation of the findings when the researcher is ready. Refusing this linear progression is one way that we might adapt established research methods to better meet the needs of dynamic online spaces” (71).

touching [writing, writing] feeling

In this ongoing project, Brianne Radke and I have been reflecting on the intersections of affect and materiality, at the interactions and extensions of self and/through objects in our composing process, at the way that selves and objects mean. Below, you can see how we have written our way into this inquiry—and we invite you to click, read, and write your way into this project as well.

legos ultra-fine blog gel pen laptop typewriter voice proposal rubber bands knitting

Our “do” session “attend[s] to the tex[x]tures” and affects of converging materials and experiential realities to explore how “objects and [body]events mean” (Sedgwick, 2003; Massumi, 2002; Bora, 1997). We invite participants to compose with varieties of materials and respond to the sensed experience of writing.

Having trouble viewing this? Interactive .pdf available here:

Knit /code and a lazy Fall afternoon


Some days are chill pants days. Fall is here, which means for me gray skies, strong coffee, big sweaters, and a sort of nostalgic slowing down when at all possible. On those days, where it’s possible, I tend to not leave the couch. Whether it’s curling up to read, binge a show, drink more coffee, work: it’s couch work and chill pants time.

The stress of the school year, finishing up my MA program, working on my MA project, applying to PhD programs—these, if indulgent, moments seem few and far between.

I’m not the best at knitting, but it’s something that I love. Even sitting here on the couch knitting a misknit scarf is one of the highlights of my week. The soft yarn moving between my fingers, wrapping around the smooth metal needlethe textures of the fibers in the yarn fraying lightly, the fabric is cool, but touching it makes me feel warm beyond a physical level.

Any time I sit to knit, it is nostalgic. My grandmother taught me to knit and I still remember the black feathery scarf she was making for her mother to mother’s day. It was something I desperately wanted to learn to do, but it seemed strange. It was something I was ashamed to do if anyone was around or watching me. Some years later, my dad found a some study somewhere that I still haven’t read about knitting being helpful for people suffering with moderate to severe depression (my diagnosis). Then it was something that was encouraged, something I could display openly.

But there is an easy rhythm to knitting. It feels like beat counts: 1, 2, 3, 4/k, p, k, p. It feels even in time and material. The paced stitching of fabric in the measured passing of time. Like beat counts, after the first few bars, the pattern all but seems to fade away and becomes something more internalized: a knowledge that my hands know/do. And it is always moving: it never feels like an appropriate place to stop in knitting, as though there is something compelling me to continue to the next stitch.

All because of two stitches: knit (k) and purl (p). All purling even is is a reverse knit (coming from a Middle English word to twist). I can make from them scarves and sweaters, and hats, and socks, and gloves, and cozies… I can misknit, drop a stitch (or drop-stitch) or double stitch and then what does that mean? Now that the pattern has been interrupted and I’ve moved on rows and rows away.

It’s frustration and failure. It’s the questions of value: is this still a scarf? Is this still usable? How bad does it look? What are my options? Are there ways to adjust or compensate? Does a scarf need a straight edge?


catch(e) {


Not only because knitting operates with a binary operation/language (k,p/1,0) but I think about the ways in which knitting and coding are similar. The pattern operation, the potential for error in-line, and the frustration I feel during these moments seems the same as when I write code.

However they both involve the use of an interpretive and performed language to make digital and material objects.

What is that act of making? And how am I doing it? Have I installed, as I knit, some sort of Python library that make these flurried movements recognizable as knitting though? And where am I in this or as I code for that matter? Or is this just the practice of doing with skilled knowledge?

I don’t feel skilled.

Nor do I feel like I’m tending to the formation or sustaining of something skilled. These acts of doing inscribe into what I do as much as my doing makes the objects.

feel some sort of generative energy in both situations that is clumsy and wondering with the interplay of vision and (re)vision that my hands make possible; a conceptualizing ends and means that wouldn’t be possible without my hands and self being present with the materials at hand.