A little last minute, but policies, syllabi, and assignments have been posted. My grad course, ENGL 610: History of Rhetoric, and my two sections of sophomore writing, ENGL 202: Writing and Critical Inquiry, are up. In the undergrad course I’ll be framing our study of rhetoric around food issues, specifically those raised in Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food. I’ll also be making use of other food-related media, like Will Burdette’s excellent podcast No Satiation, and Perennial Plate. And, it’s an election year, so I’m sure that political candidates will be saying plenty of asinine things for us to have fun with.
As always, feel free to crib materials, but I always appreciate attribution.
On Friday, March 11th I participated in the SXSW Interactive panel “Folkways These Days: Crafty Knowledge in Digital Networks.” Our panel mutated several times before the actual presentation came around. Originally, we had Magda Sayeg, the Austin Yarn Bomber on the panel, but she had to drop out because of a planned trip to Argentina. Then, we tried to get printmakers Lana Lambert and Julia Farrill on the panel. Unfortunately, Lana couldn’t make the trip from Virginia, and for Julia the date of SXSW was too close to the due date of her first child. So, we invited Collin Farill, an industrial designer with his own firm and Julia’s husband, to join us. Meanwhile, Magda’s trip fell through and she rejoined the panel. The day before our panel, Collin emailed to let me know that he couldn’t make it, because the Farill baby was on the way (Congrats, Collin and Julia, but really, you couldn’t get little Oriana to wait until after SXSW?!)
So, the panel ended up being comprised of Will Burdette, Ryan McKerley, Magda Sayeg, and myself, and we presented in that order on the panel.
Will Burdette kicked off the panel with “Folkways, These Days: New Audio Folkways,” an examination of sound folkways, the ways in which sound moves digitally. My favorite part of his presentation came when Will praised the villainous RIAA, in service of a canny rhetorical point, for forcing people–through its lawsuits–to rethink how music is created and shared. A slightly expanded version of his presentation is available here through Vimeo.
Next, potter Ryan McKerley talked about how his own work and the work of some potter friends of his. Ryan doesn’t seem to think that digital networking fundamentally changes how he or his fellow potters execute their work, but is more important of a consideration for the purposes of distribution. For me the most fascinating moment in his presentation was when he talked about a pottery forger on Etsy who boldly, and in much lower quality, copied the work of one of McKerley’s friends–essentially a case of pottery plagiarism, which I think raises some fascinating issues about intellectual rights/writes, and textuality.
Batting cleanup, more or less, was Magda Sayeg, the rockstar of our panel, founder of Knitta Please, and known globally as the Austin Yarn Bomber. Our panel probably got an additional boost attendance-wise because Magda yarn bombed the SXSW Interactive green room, to much hype. Magda talked about how the internet has propelled her own public art, by giving it broader venue with audiences and also bringing her art to the attention of distant audiences who have then commissioned her to create additional pieces. Such digital distribution of images of her in-place art bombings have also inspired copycat yarn bombers, much to Magda’s delight.
I ended the formal portion of the panel with my own brief talk “Networks in Place: When Fiber Optics Hit the Gravel Road.” I spoke mainly about longstanding but unremediated problems of digital divide and lack of digital access in rural America. I also talked about how digital access, both the lack of it, but also inevitably to-arrive access, affects rural traditions, which have developed in distinct ways largely because of cultural isolation.
By far the best part of the panel, or most exciting at least, I thought, was the question-and-answer period, about the last twenty minutes. Our audience had fascinating questions and comments, and we did our best to contribute meaningful responses.
Full audio of the hour-long panel session can be found here, though I’m not sure that it makes much sense since all four presenters were relying heavily on visuals that are not included in the audio-only recording.
Our panel even received a little bit of press (I’ll add links as I track them down):
Austin Chronicle Reportage.
In just under a month I’ll be at SXSW Interactive delivering a presentation with the three other panelists on the panel “Folkways These Days: Crafty Knowledge in Digital Networks.”
We had a very tough time getting the panel put together. At various points we were recruiting two separate print makers. Julia Farrill (wife of panel participant Collin), who runs Red Bird Ink and sells her gorgeous works on Etsy as well, was unable to participate. We were also recruiting Lana Lambert, the artist behind Pistoles Press, who also sells her work on Etsy. Neither artist was able to make the trip to Austin, but do check out their works–both produce beautiful works (see graphics below).
The Full Lineup:
Will Burdette, University of Texas at Austin — “Audible Folkways” (exact title to follow)
All over the Web technical amateurs are using new media to create, arrange, redesign, archive, and distribute their crafts. As they do, new techno-folkways are being passed down not only via new tools and networks, but also–as William Graham Sumner writes in his seminal book, Folkways–by “tradition, imitation, authority.” Folkways–the paths worn by mild social pressure–are being trod online. Generally speaking, we’ll ponder the question “what are folkways in the digital age?” and “What does craft have to do with it?”
My specific emphasis will be on audible folkways. In America since 1948 “folkways” has been synonymous with the nonprofit record label of the Smithsonian Institution, which is “dedicated to supporting cultural diversity and increased understanding among peoples through the documentation, preservation, and dissemination of sound.” The mission of Smithsonian Folkways Recordings is to “strengthen people’s engagement with their own cultural heritage and to enhance their awareness and appreciation of the cultural heritage of others.” They do this “through the dissemination of audio recordings and educational materials.” The mission is still laudable, but the audio recording industry has changed a lot since 1948. Now that everyone with a computer is a potential record label, what new trends are emerging in the recording, collecting, and disseminating of audio recordings involving cultural heritage?
Collin Farrill, Co-founder of Object Truth
How do digital networks facilitate object design and production in new ways? I’ll present three case studies of contemporary product design as they relate to the new garde: people, companies, and industry that are exploiting increased access to knowledge, funding, technology, and distribution.
Ryan McKerley, Potter
I was once advised to view selling as an art form. An art form that is just as important as the things I make. I have tried to take this to heart. I view online sales as just another tool that helps keep me in business.
In the US of the recent past, handmade pots have traditionally been purchased in galleries, artist studios and art fairs. The seasoned collector would spend time holding many pots before purchasing the one that felt right. Online sales
have taken away this part of the process. Visual appeal, the reputation of the artist and shipping now play a larger part in the act of buying pots. The ability to present and sell my work online is overwhelming and beautiful for me.
Nate Kreuter, Western Carolina University — “Networks in Place: When Fiber Optics Hit the Gravel Road”
This presentation explores how rural geographies are altered when they suddenly become digitally accessible through virtual networks. In rural areas, the virtual and the actual meet in very visible ways. I explore the questions: What does digital accessibility mean for rural areas? Does digital accessibility dilute rich regionalisms that have been protected by their geographic isolation? How does digital accessibility morph traditional, geographically isolated craft traditions? What about lack of digital access–does it further damn rural artisans to toil in obscurity? I travel through examples from the rural cockfighting tradition, instrument making, and gun-smithing in my exploration of these virtual issues and their implications for the real people and places that constitute rural communities.
The Work Horse, by Lana Lambert, Pistoles Press
You can buy this print, and others from the series, at Pistoles Press on Etsy.
Glasses Notecards, by Julia Farrill, Red Bird Ink
Julia’s works are available from her website and through Etsy.
I am very pleased to announce that Will Burdette (a very good friend and colleague at UT Austin, and the author of the Mediated Humanities blog) and I just received word that our presentation “Folkways These Days: Crafty Knowledge in Digital Networks” has been accepted to the 2011 SXSW Interactive festival in Austin, Texas. Some details remain to be ironed out. We don’t yet know our presentation time. Also, we have not yet finalized the other 2-3 panel members, but we will most likely be bringing in some non-academics in an effort to complement our own perspective. Thanks to all those who voted for our panel! I have posted the full description below.
Folkways These Days: Crafty Knowledge in Digital Networks
Organizers: Will Burdette, University of Texas at Austin and Nate Kreuter, Western Carolina University
With the rise of the virtual has come a renewed interest in the material. Evidence of this renewed interest is everywhere in pop culture, from steampunk to Maker Faire, from Readymade to Make to Etsy, from yarn bombing to LED throwies. We see it in craft: the handmade mandolin, the carefully stitched quilt, the custom cabinet. We see it in the vinyl resurgence and the newfound nostalgia for the mix tape. We see it in the Bamboo Bike Studio. We see it in the resurrection of Polaroid film by the IMPOSSIBLE project. Even as we go further into digital culture, we’re getting up from the computer to hold stuff, to make stuff, to shake stuff. And yet, there’s a sense that renewed interest in the material is facilitated by digital networks. That is, we go online to learn about craft, to meet-up with makers, to feed our fetishes. We send pictures of our creations from our digital devices to our social networks. All over the Web non-technical people are using new media to create, arrange, redesign, archive, and distribute their crafts. As they do, new techno-folkways are being passed down not only via new tools and networks, but also–as William Graham Sumner writes in his seminal book, Folkways–by “tradition, imitation, authority.” Folkways–the paths worn by mild social pressure–are being trod online. This panel will explore the various crossroads where craftwork meets network, with special attention paid to bridging the digital divide in rural America.
- Is the maker trend an urban, suburban, or rural happening?
- What is the state of the digital divide in America? Are remote rural communities still digitally isolated?
- How can digital networks be used in rural communities where craftsmanship is often less a statement than a heritage?
- Is the maker trend elitist in a world where Walmart has the lowest prices in rural towns?
- Do digital networks threaten or encourage craftsmanship?
ProfHacker recently posted: Open Thread: Advice for Personal Versus Professional Websites? I didn’t have time to post a reply at the time, but I have strong feelings on this one. Folks should read through the original ProfHacker post and replies if they’re looking for more diverse perspectives on this issue.
Foremost, I think the important thing, especially for emerging scholars, is to have a web presence that you define. No matter where it’s hosted. It’s an opportunity to present your work, from the perspective you want to. Anecdotally, I know that it helped me a lot on the job market to have a site that re-presented virtually all of my job materials except for a few items. And I think that the competency to build and maintain basic sites like this one will become less and less of a “bonus” in job candidates, and more and more of an expectation in job candidates.
I set up this off- .edu website for a variety of reasons. One was that, in the summer in between my dissertation defense and the start of my tenure-track gig, I was essentially without an institutional home. This made me consider the ramifications of being beholden to any institution for the hosting of my professional website. In short, I didn’t like the idea of it, and the prospect of building an autonomous site was exciting. I also like the idea of having a really complete set of materials housed on one site, even if some of those materials are also duplicated on other, on- .edu sites. It was also cheap, and easy. (For technical info, check out the About 3 x 3 section.)
I also think it might be more to the advantage for younger, less established academics to set up off- .edu sites, in addition to maintaining necessary web presences on their home institutions’ servers. The simple facts are that young academics always–I think–hope to stay at their jobs for a long time. But careers are more volatile than they used to be–largely because of market forces–and very few people seem to stay at the same institution for an entire career. An off- .edu website is much easier to carry around with you if you find yourself moving from one institution to a new one. Your own site also can help to “brand” you within the field, and provides a space for professional communication that’s less formal than traditional publishing venues. If your home institution will allow you to run Drupal, you might have a little more autonomy than otherwise. Here at Western, a kind soul in the Coulter Faculty Commons even designed a WCU-specific WordPress theme for our faculty to use on the WCU servers, which is badass. I love my instutition, but I know that a lot of my peers who are also junior faculty look at the current economic/budget situations around the various states and worry that they could be looking for a new job sooner than expected. So, portability might be something for some folks to consider.
I’m a big fan of autonomy. My idea was that by going off- .edu I could simply control more of the site. The look, the traffic monitoring, the nature of the content. I could make the site as quirky or straight-laced as a chose, without worrying about aligning with institutional aesthetic themes, or other institutional bounds of design. I can run the Google Analytics myself, and I have control of the design of the site, which was very important to me. So, for me the big reason to have an off- .edu site was, as much as anything, that I enjoy having a visually rich site, and having the freedom to indulge some of my extra-academic interests on the same site. Some people like to keep those lives separate, but I don’t see much point, because they aren’t very separate in practice for me. The office comes home with me, and sometimes the office is home. It’s all muddy. We don’t have the luxury of punching in and out, and this site somewhat captures that dilemma, I think.
I don’t think it’s really an either/or situation. A lot of my mentors, peers, colleagues run off- .edu websites, but in almost every case I know that they maintain on- .edu websites at their home institutions, primarily for teaching purposes, as well. Here are some examples of both:
Clay Spinuzzi, University of Texas at Austin
Jim Brown, Wayne State University
Will Burdette, University of Texas at Austin
Patricia Roberts-Miller, University of Texas at Austin
One thing to remember–and remember very damn well–if you’re using an off .edu site to run your classes, is that absolutely no FERPA protected data should go up, ever. And if you’re unsure if something is FERPA protected, you should probably just assume that it is. Keep in mind also that every educational institution will have its own legal counsel, and its own interpretations and procedures for the finer points of dealing with FERPA data. Even if you operate an off .edu site, I would recommend abiding by your home institution’s best-practices, to the letter. Though, you should realize that by running an off .edu site, you are accepting greater personal liabilities if there is ever an occasion for you to be held liable for something. In my own case, this is a non-issue for the sorts of courses I teach. I keep FERPA data as far away from myself as I can, so I don’t have to safeguard it, and because there is very little that I need to collect. If I keep student names, grades, and identifying information off the site, I figure I’m on pretty solid ground.
In the spring my graduate students enrolled in Visual and Digital Rhetorics and I will launch the Rural Image Cooperative [URL works, but site is not yet built], which will fill a new niche in visual rhetoric scholarship. While I haven’t crafted the mission the statement of the RIC entirely yet (primarily because I want the grad students to have a role and stake in that crafting), I did choose to purchase an off .edu URL because the site will hopefully be “pan-institutional.” My hope is that other instructors at other institutions will periodically take over the site and, along with their students, make their own contributions. In this sense of cooperation, I didn’t want the site to appear in any way proprietary by falling under the purview of my home institution’s, or any other institution’s, URL. My institution is great, but in the sense of, say, performative rhetoric, I feel its important that the site perform what I hope it will be, which is to say, not owned by any one academic institution, but cooperatively owned by all of the contributors that I hope the site will attract in the coming years. I’ll have lots more on the RIC once the spring semester rolls around, and mention all of this only to say that there are lots of legitimate reasons to go off- .edu, both for individuals’ websites, and the sites of larger academic endeavors.