Rhetorical Homeorhesis: Mixing Humans and Nonhumans Together

You want to cut through this rich diversity of delegates and artificially create two heaps of refuse: “society” on one side and “technology” on the other? That’s your privilege, but I have a less messy task in mind (308).

“Mixing Humans and Nonhumans Together: The Sociology of a Door-Closer” | Bruno Latour (as Jim Johnson)

All of these projects and objects are in media res: articulated and made real through and across the entanglements of humans and nonhumans alike. Accounting for some of the work, we emphasize symbolic and interpretive work, the work of humans, but don’t count the non-symbolic and non-discursive work of nonhumans. This short video from Nathaniel Rivers, part of a series he made on Bruno Latour and Rhetorical Theory, seemed to account for the chreod—a necessary path or the alignment of set ups that turn away from words —of Latour’s door-closer. In rhetorical theory, we look to texts or words to create a subject of inquiry/study, but what of actions and performances and speechless persuasion? How can we account for that which is not said, but can be accounted for in utterance?

Knowledge, morality, craft, force, sociability are not properties of humans but of humans accompanied by their retinue of delegated characters. Since each of those delegates ties together part of our social world, it means that studying social relations without the nonhumans is impossible (310).

An attempt at accounting for articulation work—extending the semiotic of story beyond human/inhuman and figurative/non-figurative:

scripts are scenes played by human and nonhuman actors

description is retrieval of the script from the scene

transcription or inscription is the translation of any script from one repertoire to a more durable one

prescription is whatever a scene presupposes from its transcribed actors and authors—the moral and ethical dimension of mechanisms

des-inscription is all the ways actors extirpate themselves from prescribed behavior

subscription is the way actors accept their lot

sociologism is the claim that, given the competence and pre-inscription of human users and authors, you can read out the scripts nonhuman actors have to play

technologism is the symmetric claim that, given the competence and pre-inscription of the nonhuman actors, you can easily read out and deduce the behavior prescribed to authors and users

The story of the door-closer is Latour’s attempt/account to make a nonhuman delegate sound familiar. In story-telling, one calls shifting out any displacement of a character either to another space or to another time or to another character—

As a more general descriptive rule, every time you want to know what a nonhuman does, simply imagine what other humans or other nonhumans would have to do were this character not present. This imaginary substitution exactly sizes up the role, or function, of this little figure (299).

Latour is working to make the door-closer, un/seen as a purely technical artifact into a highly moral and highly social actor through describing not how the door-closer works or how its made, but how it works on entering/exiting a door, or how it prescribes what people should pass through the door and their techniques for doing so—it keeps out drafts until it goes “on strike”, it is impolite in slamming shut, with a hydraulic system its discriminatory weight works against young, old, and workers hands full. To label techniques or technical as inhuman overlooks translation mechanisms and the many choices that exist for figuring or de-figuring, personifying or abstracting, embodying or disembodying actors (303).

No matter how clever and crafty are our novelists, they are no match for engineers. Engineers constantly shift out characters in other spaces and other times, devise positions for human and nonhuman users, break down competences that they then redistribute to many different actants, build complicate narrative programs and sub-programs that are evaluated and judged (309).

Returning to trajectories instead of stases, or how semiotics might account for flows instead of states of symbol/meaning or human is to intention: Homeorhesis is steady flow. Steady state implies equilibrium which is never reached, nor are organisms and ecosystems in a closed environment.

How is rhetoric working to account for the non-discursive and the non-symbolic in media res?

What does chreod afford as method?

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Carpentry

This week we read “Carpentry” from Alien Phenomenology, or What It’s Like to Be a Thing by Ian Bogost (I almost typed Alien Bogost…) and “Composing the Carpenter’s Workshop” by James J. Brown Jr. and Nathaniel Rivers, which have left my brain in a state of

in a good way! (gif shoutout to the Rhetoric of Craft Collaborative) Having read Bogost before with the Optatio Reading Group at EMU, it was a lot to think about. I took interest in his “Carpentry” chapter before, even making attempts to work with it, but I feel like this revisiting in the context of a seminar on rhetorics of craft, and in relation to the Rivers and Brown piece, brought new possibility to the work (that I would like to turn into a project…) While I don’t see carpentry as synonymous with craft, there’s a relation there that I am deeply curious about (in relation to rhetoric and composition).

Bogost begins his carpentry chapter by calling attention to the dominance of writing as the work of philosophers, which I would extend to academics, by explaining that its unquestioned dominance comes from convention (89); “writing is only one form of being. The long-standing assumption that we relate to the world only through language is a particularly fetid, if still baffingly popular, opinion. But so long as we pay attention to only language, we underwrite our ignorance of everything else” (90). This is reminiscent of conversations we’ve had about craft  and it’s difficulty communicating knowledge – the knowledge that is embodied in making something doesn’t necessarily render well to written accounts, thus the struggle in legitimizing craftsmanship (making objects) as valuable. Bogost defines carpentry as the “practice of constructing artifacts as a philosophical practice” (92) that “entail making things that explain how things make their world” (93). He borrows carpentry from woodcraft (perhaps a bit too easily) and extends it to any material – “to do carpentry is to make anything, but to make it in earnest, with one’s own hands” (93), and combines it with the philosophical sense of “the carpentry of things” (from Graham Harman and Alphonso Lingis) that refers to “how things fashion one another and the world at large” (93). To Bogost, making things (with things) remakes us in the making by opening a “non-human, alien perspective onto everyday activity” (106) (maybe this is where his use of carpentry becomes odd). This is his work toward representing practice as theory – moving beyond putting theory into practice (111).

While I think there are some issues with how Bogost utilizes carpentry (even though it is smartly done), I see this chapter as material potential for situating rhetoric and composition in objects, which Rivers and Brown take up.

Rivers and Brown look at how rhetoric and composition (“R/C”) have taken up ecologies in scholarship that have focused on human to human relationships or human to world relationships, as compared to object oriented ontology’s consideration of ecology. But by highlighting the work of Collin Gifford Brooke, Marilyn Cooper, Jenny Edbauer, and Jody Shipka, they demonstrate “that R/C can be hospitable to various projects that take up the agency and existence of objects” (1). They state “the composition classroom presents a promising space for what we call, by way of Ian Bogost, rhetorical carpentry. The field’s recent focus on ecology is one that is mostly concerned with making and with production. This is in keeping with R/C’s long tradition of focusing on rhetorical invention (1)”. Building from Bogost’s carpentry, which they summarize as both a description of how objects make one another and a practice of doing philosophy (2), they extend carpentry one step further “suggesting that such making can be undertaken in an effort to do rhetoric” (2). In doing rhetorical carpentry, we would be engaged with “how we might ‘construct objects (and conversations among objects) in order to demonstrate approximations of the strange, alien conversations happening around us’” (quoting Brown) (2). Rivers and Brown carefully work to show R/C as not only a hospitable space for carpentry, but a vital space –

“The field’s interest in ecologies of writing and its pedagogical commitment to making strongly indicates that it can be yet another place to explore how objects carpenter one another and the world. An ecological approach to rhetoric and writing can fold together the work of making and relating, while keeping in place the withdrawn actuality of all objects” (3).

material scraps

audience as object (working from Graham Harman’s Guerilla Metaphysics) because “rhetoric is always speculative” (3) – shifting our scale to “in media res, in the middle of the thing and things” (3)

what this looks like/does in the composition classroom: While I can say that my pedagogy is an attempt at employing this theory as methodology, I have much room to improve. Rivers and Brown end their article with a description of a classroom as carpenter’s workshop from the view of an outside observer – “Part of what throws visitors and colleagues alike is that the class is not about the objects; the objects under composition are part of the class (they are what the students work on, of course), but, more importantly, the objects are also what the students work with” (5). I realize in the FYC classroom I inherit certain burdens (not all necessarily negative) about what I am expected to engage with in terms of textual materiality. But what I keep returning to is what makes the concept of working with/against objects in making material texts that account for and acknowledge their ecological situatedness so alien? What keeps us lingering in the theorizing about something that they are not doing in earnest?

“This range of compositions enacted ecologically introduces students to a multiplicity of composing skills, moves them to many scholarly activities across campus, weaves in an object-oriented approach, and positions rhetoric not simply as humans changing the minds of other humans, but as the work of relations, relations that remain strange and sometimes strained” (6) [bold emphasis my own] The idea of the alien or made strange-d classroom is something I’m thinking about…”rhetorical carpentry is focused on how we might “construct objects (and conversations among objects) in order to demonstrate approximations of the strange, alien conversations happening around us” (2)

The Smart Machine: Man, Machine, or Man-Machine?

In many cases, machinery was used to re­place humans in supplying the motive power for various subprocesses of production. In most trades, though, labor-saving machinery developed slowly, and many factors inhibited its progress. Sometimes the new machinery, in amplifying the capacity of the human body to perform a given operation and thus increasing output, could also intensify the human participation that was required and thus exacerbate the prob­lems of physical depletion” (39). I can recall tours and visits to my dad’s plant, huge loud machinery. But there were people alongside the machines at different stages of process, people working and repairing the machines, the machines as extensions of people to build.

Proponents of scientific management believed that observing and ex­plicating workers’ activity was nothing less than scientific research. Their goal was to slice to the core of an action, preserving what was necessary and discarding the rest as the sedimentation of tradition or, worse, artifice spawned by laziness” (42). The cushy position of the auto worker is something that is talked about with disdain by some outside of the auto industry; these unskilled laborers are given wages and benefits that their work doesn’t justify. Then I think of the layoffs, the forced shutdowns, the worrying of my mom and dad on and off again that they would be replaced or released in the name of efficiency, production, cost-effectiveness, and progress.

Reading Shoshana Zuboff this week I couldn’t help but think of my family – my mom, dad, and brother all work in auto factories back home in Michigan. My mom and brother work in warehouses and pick parts to be shipped to assembly plants, while my dad is a Tool and Process Engineer (by training in an apprenticeship) in an engine plant; he moves from the office working on the phone/computer to find machines and parts needed for production to the floor of the factory to work on machines and with the people who run the machines. They have each told me stories that illustrate the tension examined by Zuboff in the know-how of the body (implicit) vs. the scientification of work as logically constructed they are subjected to by supervisiors.

My mom and my brother’s work is done by their bodies mostly – that is they hand pick parts (from small washers to much larger components of a car) – they bend, twist, lift, pinch, grab, pull. Recently, my mom was chosen to try a new cart/container design (she drives a buggy with a container attached to the front to put parts she picks in) by supervision that was created to make picking more efficient and safe in the workplace. The cart/container was moved to the back of the machine so that the buggy was towing it like a trailer. She reported that she didn’t like the design because it changed the way that she picked parts, and added extra movement and strain to be turning behind herself all the time. Supervision implemented the new cart design because it, on paper/design, was more efficient for work. Productivity went down in the warehouse because of the change in how my mom and other pickers worked; this turned into a larger and more complicated exchange between workers and supervision that took Union involvement to reconcile.

My dad’s plant was one severely impacted by the auto industry crisis in Michigan/Metro Detroit. Because of this, the number of Tool and Process Engineers my dad used to work with/amongst was greatly reduced. Workers were brought in as replacements for the more skilled labor of the Engineers, but it wasn’t an equal exchange, even though on paper it was. While the workers know how to work with their machines well to do work, they do not know the machines.

I realize this are very specific examples and are limited to auto manufacturing. But I couldn’t ignore the connection Zuboff made not only to the auto industry, but to plants and factories I know well (they’re by my house, my friends and family and neighbors have worked in them, they form the landscape/the architecture of the city(s)) because of growing up around them and through them with my family’s work and the absolute prevalence of the auto manufacturing industry in and around the Motor City. Reading Zuboff sparked a curiosity to find old film footage from around the time automation was becoming the standard in manufacturing. I’m sure there are better examples, but I found two old films that depict automation in ways that echo Zuboff’s argument and the experience of the workers in her research.

(particularly first 1:40 and last 1:00)

(particularly first 1:25 and last 30 seconds)

I’m left questioning automation. It is obvious to me the ways in which it can remove human agency that used to be present in work as a means of translation, but it is equally obvious that machines function as extension. And again, with a personal example, my brother was (and I hope is soon again) going to school to design programs and systems that orchestrate manufacturing processes. Where is craft? What is craft? Is it, in this context, diminished? Translated? Extended? Invented?

And Latour! What of Latour? Is this a matter of either-or? Or can it be a matter of with?

In the Age of the Smart Machine: The Future of Work and Power

Zuboff, S. In the Age of the Smart Machine: The Future of Work and Power. New York: Basic Books, 1988.

Shoshana Zuboff (profile from Harvard Business School site) is the Charles Edward Wilson Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School (retired), where she joined the faculty in 1981.  One of the first tenured women at the Harvard Business School and the youngest woman to receive an endowed chair, she earned her Ph.D. in social psychology from Harvard University and her B.A. in philosophy from the University of Chicago. She has been a featured columnist for BusinessWeek.com and for Fast Company Magazine.

This video is more geared toward her computer-mediated work – “the relationship between information technology and work: 1) technology is not neutral, but embodies intrinsic characteristics that enable new human experiences and foreclose others,2) within these new “horizons of the possible” individuals and groups construct meaning and make choices, further shaping the situation, and 3) the interplay of intrinsic qualities and human choices is further shaped by social, political, and economic interests that inscribe the situation with their own intended and unintended opportunities and limitations” (from Wikipedia dot org).

Overview of Argument

We read two chapters from the book – “The Laboring Body: Suffering and Skill in Production Work” and “The Abstraction of Industrial Work”. In “The Laboring Body”, Zuboff sets out to construct better understanding of the relationship between automation technology and the body in the industrial/manufacturing setting.On the one hand, industrial technology have simplified and reduced physical effort of work, and Zuboff discusses work as effort and skill, but because of the relationship that exists between effort (doing) and skill in work, technology have tended to eliminate knowledge, or know-how, that is implicit/intuitive in the physical working if the sentient body. In “The Abstraction of Industrial Work”, Zuboff looks at computerization and its impact on intellective skills and action-centered skills. Zuboff summarizes the tensions associated with the body as interface versus data as interface -“Ac­complishing work came to depend more upon thinking about and responding to an electronically presented symbolic medium than upon acting out know-how derived from sentient experience” (95).

  • “Technology represents intelligence systematically applied to the problem of the body. It functions to amplify and surpass the organic limits of the body; it compensates for the body’s fragility and vulnera­bility” (22)
  • “Information technology, however, does have the potential to redirect the historical trajectory of automation. The intrinsic power of its informating capacity can change the basis upon which knowledge is developed and applied in the industrial production process by lifting knowledge entirely out of the body’s domain” (23)
  • “work was above all the problem of the laboring body” (24)
  • bodies as instruments for acting-on: body as instrument for producing calculated effects on material and equipment and acting-with: body as instrument for interpersonal influence (30)
  • paradox of the body:
    • “But the body as the scene of effort, the body to be protected, held a special paradox. For it was also through the body’s exertions that learning occurred, and for those who were to become skilled workers, long years of physically demanding experience were an unavoidable require­ment…Where the skilled worker was con­cerned, the body’s sentience was also highly structured by a felt knowledge of materials and procedure” (36)
  • “Skill and effort finally seemed to be uncoupled” (51)
  • “As long as their knowledge is concrete and specific rather than conceptual and technical, workers will tend to be confined to a certain set of roles” (55)
  • “knowledge was first transferred from one quality of knowing to another-from knowing that was sentient, embedded, and experience-based to know­ing that was explicit and thus subject to rational analysis and perpetual reformulation” (56)
  • action-centered skill (61):
    • Sentience. Action-centered skill is based upon sentient information derived from physical cues.
    • Action-dependence. Action-centered skill is developed in physical perfor­mance. Although in principle it may be made explicit in language, it typi­cally remains unexplicated-implicit in action.
    • Context-dependence. Action-centered skill only has meaning within the con­ text in which its associated physical activities can occur.
    • Personalism. It is the individual body that takes in the situation and an indi­vidual’s actions that display the required competence. There is a felt link­ age between the knower and the known. The implicit quality of knowledge provides it with a sense of interiority, much like physical experience.
  • “Computerization brings about an essential change in the way the worker can know the world and, with it, a crisis of confidence in the possibility of certain knowledge” (61)
  • “Accomplish­ing work depended upon the ability to manipulate symbolic, electroni­cally presented data. Instead of using their bodies as instruments of acting-on equipment and materials, the task relationship became medi­ated by the information system” (62)
  • “It is as if one’s job had vanished into a two-dimensional space of abstractions, where digital symbols replace a concrete reality” (63)
  • “”We are simply providing you with new tools to do your job. Your job is to operate the equipment, and this is a new tool to operate the equipment with.”” (65)
  • embodied knowledge to “scientific inference” (72)
  • in mind vs. in body (embodied)
  • “Intellective skills are necessary when action is refracted by a sym­bolic medium. They are used to construct appropriate linkages between a symbol and the reality it means to convey” (79) – external and referential worlds
  • “new control technology had the parallel effect of informating the operators’ task environment. Accomplishing work came to depend more upon thinking about and re­sponding to an electronically presented symbolic medium than upon acting out know-how derived from sentient experience” (95)

Questions

Zuboff poses the question “Will effort and skill, indeed the very presence of the worker, be wiped out altogether?”, going on a few sentences later to pose the question “While it is true that computer-based automation continues to displace the human body and its know-how (a process that has come to be known as deskilling), the informating power of the technology simultaneously creates pressure for a profound reskilling. How are these new skills to be understood?” at the end of “The Laboring Body”.  Zuboff’s work with this text was conducted in the 1980s, do we understand these skills now? Has the context changed ?

Do the selections we read from Bruno Latour’s Pandora’s Hope about the action that is made possible by human and nonhuman actants, and about the influence of actants on each other – how they change because of their interaction (mediation) – allow us to approach Zuboff’s computerization, from action-centered to intellective skill, differently?

Where is craftsmanship/what is craftsmanship in this context?

Bruno Latour: Pandora’s Hope

Reading “Do You Believe in Reality? News From The Trenches of the Science Wars” and “From Fabrication to Reality: Pasteur and His Lactic Acid Ferment”, I am reminded of why I am drawn to Latour’s work (although I haven’t read much, nor have I read this) – (from) what he composes, his delivery, and the desire to dwell within small nodes of the text (but moving within it). With this last characteristic, I will mention, that Latour is someone I would like to read slowly as an attempt at understanding at different scales. For now, I am thinking about the section from “From Fabrication to Reality” , “In Search of a Figure of Speech: Articulation and Proposition”, as I try to pull threads from our conversations in class, as well as Patricia H. Smith’s account of science as new philosophy in The Body of the Artisan as a way of constructing knowledge through human interactions with objects in nature as observation and representation as means to get closer to knowing objects and nature (really oversimplified and reductionist account on my part, but something I’m working with in threading Latour into what we are weaving as our class conversations). Reading Latour made me wonder about the construction of knowledge through understanding nature (would it be considered “out there”?) as something fixed, as something that is worked toward, established as knowledge, and recorded. What would the relationship between humans and nonhumans be in this period of the beginning of science? Is it like what Latour describes in Pasteur’s working with lactic acid ferment? Can the object exist as a discrete entity articulated in so many settings (evoked as knowledge?)? What does this mean for craft? I’m wondering about both the affordances and constraints to craftspeople in the relationship between them (their hands and bodied knowledge that create objects that reflect this) and their materials (objects for working) where the objects might stand apart from the maker. I’m struggling to articulate this, but is there a parallel to scientists, laboratories, science, and craftspeople, workshops, and craft at the level of objects? At the relationship between human and nonhuman (objects)?

In the moment, I am stuck on:

Latour states “What I have been groping toward, from the beginning of this book, is an alternative to the model of statements that posits a world “out there” which language tries to reach through a correspondence across the yawning gap separating the two…I am attempting to redistribute the capacity of speech between humans and nonhumans” (141).

And

“Our involvement with the things we speak about is at once much more intimate and much less direct than that of the traditional picture: we are allowed to say new, original things when we enter well-articulated setting like good laboratories. Articulation between propositions goes much deeper than speech. We speak because the propositions of the world are themselves articulated, not the other way around. More exactly, we are allowed to speak interestingly by what we allow to speak interestingly” (144).

For material to make something else, I found this talk Latour gave at Dublin City University, which I would like to listen to while rereading his “Steps Toward the Writing of a ‘Compositionist Manifesto'”. The abstract, from his website:

In this paper, written in the outmoded style of a “manifesto”, an attempt is made to use the word “composition” as an alternative to critique and “compositionism” as an alternative to modernism. The idea is that once the two organizing principles of nature and society are gone, one of the remaining solutions is to “compose” the common world. Such a position allows an alternative view of the strange connection of modernity with the arrow of time: the Moderns might have been future-centered but there is a huge difference between the future of people fleeing their past in horror and the “shape of things to come”, that, strangely enough, now appears suddenly in the back of humans surprised by their ecological crisis.