networks: September 2004 Archives


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NYT RNC/DNC buzzword visualization

Johndan beat me to this graphic, which is from the NYT (the thumbnail is linked). It's a visualization of keyword frequency from the RNC and DNC speeches, along with a chart that shows mentions and frequencies by various key speakers at each. And it makes for a really nice example of both information visualization and the kind of data that can be achieved through aggregative methods. In a country with only two "viable" parties, the idea of a political party is itself an aggregate, and one that translates incompletely when you move to the levels of region, state, city, neighborhood, household, and individual.

I've been thinking about scaling, which is that process of translation up or down to various levels of organization. I've finally added Piers Young to my blogroll, who, in addition to helping me fill that gap between the M's and S's, blogs about many of the same things that I'm interested in. In other words, it's taken me way too long to add him. Almost a month ago now, he raised the idea of fractals in relation to debates about emergence and personal v. collective KM. It's interesting to me right now, in part, because I've been drafting some of the preface to my book. It's called Lingua Fracta: Towards a Rhetoric of New Media, and the first part of the title is a triple pun that's the only thing left from my dissertation that will make it to the book.

Triple? Yes. First, there's "lingua franca," a bricolage language cobbled together from a range of sources that allows communication across borders or boundaries, implying connection. And then, there's "fracta," past participle of "frango," which is the Latin verb "to break." And then, there are fractals, which for me, more than anything, spotlight the question of scale. It's not a question that we don't already ask, but we haven't had the vocabulary (at least in comp/rhet) for understanding it as a particular kind of question. "Think globally, act locally" is a slogan that assumes scale, for instance. The classic line in KB's Rhetoric of Motives about the shepherd who cares for sheep at the same time that such care ultimately prepares them for market is an example of behavior that doesn't scale. And more recently, the discussion being held variously at Derek's, John's, and Jeff's blogs raises for me another question of scale: to what degree should the the national range of sites for composition be represented disciplinarily in the form of a canon or locally in a graduate course on composition?

Scale doesn't answer that question, of course, but to my mind, it gives us a slightly different vocabulary from which to think about it. The assumption that composition scholarship scales to insitutions of all sorts without anything being lost in that transposition is one that John questions rightly, I think, and as some people have already observed, there's a parallel between this assumption and the assumption made by many graduate programs about the universality of the positions their students will end up taking.

That's me: I don't have any answers, but by golly, I've got lots of ways to re-ask the questions...



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This page is a archive of entries in the networks category from September 2004.

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