All posts by rwharton3

Blog Post #10: What is exposition?

The full title of this class, from the course catalog, is “History, Theory, and Practice of Expository Writing.” Over the course of the semester we have identified some of the formal and rhetorical characteristics of expository writing. In general, the purpose of expository writing is to explain, inform, and describe. Its organizational structure tends to be narrative or associative. Expository writing is often found in “essays,” a form or genre that, as Lynn Z. Bloom explains, often operates as a catch-all category for the heterogenous canon of short works studied in first-year composition courses.  Expository writing that describes or explains the author’s subjective experience and perception displays the markers of “expressive discourse,” that is writing through which the author develops and comes to a better understanding of her identity as a human subject in the world.

Image credit: “Message #1” by John Nicholls on Flickr.

In this blog post, you will offer your answer to the question presented in the title: What is expository writing? Or, in a formulation that includes modes of composition that employ more than alphabetic text: What is exposition? How is exposition different from persuasion? And what is the relationship between exposition, as a rhetorical activity, and material culture studies, as an interdisciplinary field of cultural study and analysis? What, if anything, can we learn about the history, theory, and practice of exposition from material culture studies? Or, how does material culture studies draw upon the theories, or reproduce the practices of exposition?

Posting: Group 2

Commenting: Group 1

Category: What is exposition?

In your Blog #10 post, you should do more than offer a list of answers to these questions. Rather, you should offer a cohesive, reasoned answer to the central question presented in the prompt title: What is exposition? In the course of attempting to answer that question, you may also be offering answers to these or other related questions. Your post, though, should read as a coherent statement about, perhaps even an argument in favor of the criteria you are using to define what exposition is. You are encouraged to draw upon any of the texts we have read this semester, including Writer/Designer and Everyone’s An Author.  Please carefully read and follow the guidelines and posting information for this blog as they’ve been outlined in the Blog Project Description.

Feature Image: “moleskine” by Jochen Handschuh on Flickr.

Blog Post #9: Object Description

The final project for this class asks you to craft a multimodal object analysis. This project, Project 6, is modeled on an assignment designed by Jules David Prown for his students, which is described in Kenneth Haltman’s “Introduction” to American Artifacts. The first stage of the assignment requires students to write a detailed description of an object:

Thoroughly describe this object, paying careful attention, as relevant, to all of its aspects–material, spatial, and temporal. Be attentive to details (for which a technical vocabulary will almost certainly prove useful), but ever keep an eye on the big picture. Imbue your description with the thick texture of taxonomy yet with the flow of narrative. Render it as easy and appealing to read, as effortlessly interdependent of its parts as the object itself. Producing a sketch or schematic drawing may further this process, but avoid wasting precious words at this point on introductions, conclusions, restatements of the assignment, or autobiographical confessions; just describe what you see. But be sure to enjoy the pleasures in close looking–in translating material object into narrative description.

Posting: Groups 1 and 2

Commenting: N/A

Image Credit: “Eye” by Helga Birna Jónasdóttir on Flicr.

For your blog posting this week, everyone will post an object analysis written to Prown’s specifications. This should be a description of a particular material object. So, even if your object of study up until this point has been relatively abstract–necessity, college, value, motherhood; even pizza is a kind of abstraction–your description will focus on one specific and material thing. That thing may be an empty Coke can, a slice of leftover pepperoni pizza from your refrigerator, a doll, the Pounce statue in front of the GSU Student Center, the left shoe from your pair of vintage Air Jordans, your two-year-old iPhone with the cracked screen and the leopard print case, the papier mache sculpture you created for Project 5, etc. The object you select will be the focus of the description you post in response to this prompt, and it will provide the central focus of your multimodal object analysis for Project 6.

Featured Image Credit: Robberfly Macro by Johan J.Ingles-Le Nobel on Flickr.

Blog Post #8: Wanting Things

In their responses for Blog Post #7, Daniel, Sneezy Deezy, Lakisha, and Alex all take up issues related to how we produce ourselves and our culture through the consumption of objects. For example, Daniel muses about how post-modern consumerism may contribute to the construction of an extended, but ultimately alienated self:

Here, I reach the crossroads: Belk and Marx present related, but contrasting points of view- does having enhance or alienate the self?  I tend to think it’s a paradox– both things are happening in real time– the multifaceted existential concepts of self (Sartre via Kinneavy) could, at once, be at odds with one another within the individual, creating a sense of an enlarged and alienated self.

Sneezy Deezy explores how desires created by the marketplace may be feeding (pun intended) our unhealthy obsession with food. It’s an obsession unhealthy not only because it might make us physically sick, but also because it may distract us from significant intellectual work:

Do you think that Americans are obsessed with food? If so, where do you think this tendency to place our emotions on our eating habits comes into play? Is this why obesity and other health problems are an issue? Society focuses so strongly on food that people are becoming famous for their eating habits, or their food creations. For instance, The Guy who Survived on Pizza for 25 Years , now has his own documentary and is famous for having a complete obsession with pizza–his fridge is stocked full with the item–he only eats cheese pizza and claims to never eat pizza. Surprisingly, this so-called “Pizza King” is still healthy, according to his doctor, but is his obsession with one food? The main existence of food is to provide sustenance. What else does it provide and is this a beneficial thing or is it detrimental?

Image “Consume” by What What on Flickr.

Where Daniel and Sneezy Deezy take a look at how modern or post-modern consumption practices may be contributing to social alienation and mental and physical deterioration, Lakisha and Alex take an interest in how consumption of objects may actually help us form personal and cultural bonds that sustain individuals and strengthen societies. As Lakisha observes,  baby carriers not only make it easier for mothers to return to the labor of everyday life while caring for an infant, they can also promote bonding between mother and child by encouraging physical closeness between them. In thinking about how objects help forge connections between individuals and their culture–as well as between individuals and their families–Alex argues that cultural heritage objects function as aids to remembrance and communication of the cherished social experiences and learning processes from which they emerged.

Image “consume” by Nathan Siemers on Flickr.

Taken together, these four blog posts seem to suggest that, although consumption of objects–food, tools, art, etc.–is essential to human existence, satisfying our need for things can involve costs as well as benefits. What are some of those costs and benefits? How do you balance those costs and benefits in your own habits of consumption? What personal experience have you had that might help to illuminate the risks and rewards of our desire for things?

Carefully read or re-read the posts by Daniel, Sneezy Deezy, Alex, and Lakisha. Use those posts and some of the resources to which they link and cite as a starting point for some careful examination of your own consumption practices. Have you ever had to make a purchasing decision in which convenience or personal preference suggested one course of action, and the “greater good” weighed in favor of another? What is the most significant purchase or use of an object you’ve ever made, and why was it so important? How do you see the costs and benefits discussed in these four posts and their sources playing out in your own consumption practices?

Posting: Group 1

Commenting: Group 2

Category: Wanting Things

In your Blog #8 post, you should do more than offer a list of answers to these questions. Rather, you should frame your post around the description of a central experience or practice from your own life, and an examination of what that experience demonstrates about the relevance of consumption to you as an individual and perhaps culture or society more broadly. Please carefully read and follow the guidelines and posting information for this blog as they’ve been outlined in the Blog Project Description.

Feature Image: “CONSUMED” by Mark Colliton on Flickr.

Blog #7: Reading Things

For the first six blog prompts, I have taken charge of selecting the readings and focus of discussion. I’ve asked you to blog about the relationship between objects and writing, the sources and nature of cuteness, the uncanny lure of dead things, the histories we read in old things, how we sort tools from weapons, and what we might learn from thinking about smart things.

Now it’s your turn.


Photo of two birds on a high wire, one of them flying in with an insect in its beak for the other to eat.
Image credit: “It’s your turn” by coniferconifer on Flickr.

Posting: Groups 1 and 2

Commenting: Groups 1 and 2

Continue reading Blog #7: Reading Things

Blog Post #6: Smart Things

When I was very young, I read the Raggedy Ann (and Andy) stories by Johnny Gruelle over and over again. My grandmother made a Raggedy Ann doll for me. The doll was exactly my size, and one Halloween, I borrowed her dress to go trick-or-treating as Raggedy Ann. I was fascinated by the idea that my toys might walk and talk and live when I wasn’t around. Now, I am rediscovering the Raggedy Ann stories with my daughter, who loves them, too, and while I still find them charming, I also find them a little bit horrifying. Because I remember the vague guilt I would sometimes feel when, after days of forgetting she existed, I would discover my Raggedy Ann squashed (trapped) in the bottom of a container of toys, and in a fit of remorse, I would throw her tea parties and take her everywhere for a week or two before forgetting about her once again.

In her essay, “The Dream of Intelligent Robot Friends,” Carla Diana seems to welcome the possibility of smart objects that could respond to and interact with us:

The tools for meaningful digital-physical integration are finally accessible, but it’s still a messy challenge to get them all to work together in a meaningful way. Dreaming about robots is a bit like dreaming about finding strangers who will understand you completely upon first meeting. With the right predisposition, the appropriate context for a social exchange, and enough key info to grab onto, you and a stranger can hit it off right away, but without those things, the experience can be downright awful. Since we’ve got a lot more to understand when it comes to programming engagement and understanding, the robot of my dreams is unlikely to be commercially available any time soon, but with the right tools and data we can come pretty close.

I admit to being a technophile, like Diana. Robots, though, especially the kinds of robots she has helped to design, or the Kismet robot designed by MIT labs, evoke in me feelings of unease as well as fascination. As with the Raggedy Ann doll of my childhood, the potential “smart things” of our future raise for me the spectre of sentient objects, things that might resent us when we’re neglectful, things that might rebel if we treat them in ways they don’t like. Some scientists who work in artificial intelligence posit that things can be “smart”–that is capable of advanced human-like behavior–without being conscious or self-aware. If that’s the case, then arguably, we could have intelligent robots who aren’t bothered by their working conditions.

Yet, should feeling empathy with or responsibility toward things be dependent on a perception of those things as “intelligent” or “conscious”? For example, many of us go out of our way to avoid causing harm to animals, or plants, or even bodies of water or geologic resources. Why is it normal, even encouraged, to care for some objects but not others? How might our attitude to things like smart phones or robots be transformed if we could interact with them–and they could respond like–our pets or our friends? Would we be required to rethink the implicit ethics that guide our everyday interactions with things?

Some religions, such as the Japanese religion of shinto, posit a world in which inanimate objects are a manifestation of or are animated by living, spiritual forces. Environmentalists and animal rights activists often make compelling arguments that all living things have an equal right to existence, and that human needs and concerns must always be balanced against that right. To the extent we may develop smart objects that tend to blur the line between living beings and contrivances of inert matter, might we find ethical guidance about dealing with such smart things in religion or philosophy? Or should that guidance come from somewhere else? Or, maybe, are all of these discursive systems or intellectual disciplines potentially relevant?

Carefully read Diana’s essay, and use that piece and some of the resources linked in this prompt as a starting point for some quick research. Combine a web search with a search of the library’s eJournals, looking for resources that might help us understand the ethical systems that govern human/object interactions. Craft a post that summarizes the results of your research and provides links or citations to useful resources.

Posting: Group 2

Commenting: Group 1

Category: Smart Things

In your Blog #6 post, you should do more than offer a list of source summaries. Rather, you should frame the summary of your research, as a cohesive response to a research question that is posed or suggested by this prompt. Please carefully read and follow the guidelines and posting information for this blog as they’ve been outlined in the Blog Project Description.

Feature Image: “Forgotten 80/365” by Marcy Leigh on Flickr.

Blog Post #5: Sharp Things

Why are the most useful objects so often also among the most dangerous? Some objects, such as knives, fire, or chemotherapy drugs have inherent properties that make them hazardous to our health. In other objects, though, the danger stems not from the object’s properties (it’s sharp, it’s hot, or it’s toxic) but from how it is used. For example, one might argue (and some do) that there is nothing inherently dangerous about a gun; guns only become dangerous through the operation of human agency, through intentional use of a gun to cause harm or mishandling that results in unintended injury. How do we tell the difference between a tool and weapon, between poison and panacea?

In his essay, “What Is a Machete, Anyway?,” John Cline implies the tendency of any object to oscillate between useful tool and dangerous weapon may be a function of its inherent characteristics, rather than the end to which it is employed by human actors:

What contemporary object can be both a tool and a weapon, like the machete? Communication technologies like cell phones might serve as one candidate, especially in light of their application during the “Arab Spring.” But can the iPhone ever bear the same gravitas as the machete? Is silicon the new steel? Information has been a part of every arsenal, revolutionary or otherwise. Still, it’s hard to imagine driving a smartphone into a body “down to the Apple.”

By contrasting the iPhone with the “gravitas” of the machete, Cline suggests that, although an iPhone might be used as a weapon, it’s not–unlike the machete–a weapon per se. Does that, though, mean that an iPhone is any less dangerous? The iPhone manufacturing process is detrimental to the environment, and iPhones themselves become environmental pollution when they are discarded. The environmental degradation caused by iPhones over their entire life cycle may ultimately far outweigh the benefits we derive from them during the relatively brief period during that life cycle when they are useful to us.

In “The Collector” and “Unpacking My Library,” Benjamin explores how individual identity is constituted through subject/object relationships. For Benjamin, the act of collecting–which transforms the commodity into the collected object–can be a significant act of resistance in part because collectors don’t fit easy, familiar categories such as “consumers” or “producers” of exchange and use value. The object itself, however, presumably remains unaffected by that transaction. Is it possible to argue these two pieces of writing are more about the power objects have over us, than they are about any power we might have over them? And if so, if we really don’t ultimately exercise much control over our things, does that make all that uncontrollable stuff inherently dangerous?

An image of a ceramic deer collection, including one blue and one green deer.
Image credit: “Deeries” by Katie Nicosia on Flickr.
While on their surface, such questions might seem too abstract to be worth much consideration, history is full of examples that demonstrate how human failure to consider adequately or understand completely what objects are and what they do has resulted in substantial harm. Early cosmetics contained heavy metals such as lead that slowly poisoned those who manufactured and used them. During the early nineteenth century, a fad for a particular shade of green dye resulted in what might be viewed as an “epidemic” of arsenic poisoning. Our inability to understand the long-term effects of industrialization and an ever-increasing dependence on fossil fuels was arguably a direct cause of climate change

Carefully read Cline’s essay, and use that piece and some of the resources linked in this prompt as a starting point for some quick research. Combine a web search with a search of the library’s eJournals, looking for resources that might help us understand more about the subtle and not-so-subtle ways in which objects exert their influence in the world regardless of the steps we take to control them. Craft a post that summarizes the results of your research and provides links or citations to useful resources.

Posting: Group 1

Commenting: Group 2

Category: Sharp Things

In your Blog #5 post, you should do more than offer a list of source summaries. Rather, you should frame the summary of your research, as a cohesive response to a research question that is posed or suggested by this prompt. Please carefully read and follow the guidelines and posting information for this blog as they’ve been outlined in the Blog Project Description.

Feature Image: “Danger of Falling” by Minchioletta on Flickr.

Blog Post #4: Old Things

What is the difference between studying objects to learn human stories and studying them to learn their own stories? Is there one? In “Recalling Things Forgotten” and “Parting Ways,” Deetz presents us with human histories that have been recovered through careful analyses of objects and building sites. To an extent, Prown, Czikszentmihalyi, and Belk, although they draw upon knowledge and methodologies from a wide variety of disciplines, nonetheless seem to approach their studies of material culture with a goal similar to Deetz’s.

As it begins, however, the essay, “A Terminal Condition: The Cathode Ray Tube’s Strange Afterlife,” by Josh Lepawsky and Charles Mather, seems to offer a different sort of teleology, or aim, for its analysis:

“Rust in peace,” ministered the New York Times in its 2009 catalogue of obsolescence for the aughts. The obvious play on words conjoins an industrial mythos with a Christian burial rite in a requiem for an object that had, not long before, been the primary screen on which many of us experienced television, video, and computing. What does it mean that we think of the CRT as something with a life—something that was born, lived, died?

In its title and with its three opening paragraphs, the essay promises to give us a history of the object itself. It provokes us with a question, about what it means to think of inanimate things as having a birth, a life, and afterlife. Yet, from that question, the essay seems to turn in the fourth paragraph quickly back to a relatively conventional history, not of the object, but of the people who created and used it, beginning with two 17th century intellectuals, Thomas Hobbes and Robert Boyle. After that turn, it’s not until the eleventh paragraph in the essay that we get a chunk of text organized almost entirely around exposition of non-human agency, alternating between copper and the CRT itself as the subject or actor of nearly every sentence. Continue reading Blog Post #4: Old Things

Blog Post #3: Dead Things

What can we learn from the way a culture deals with death, particularly how they handle dead human remains? As Belk explains in “Posessions and the Extended Self,” in modern Western cultures, bodies–and their associated smells and effusions–are associated with negative forms of contamination. This aversion to contact with someone else’s body, Belk argues, is expressed in the way crematoria sift through human “cremains” to remove any traces that retain too much of their original form as bones, teeth, etc. Yet, again as Belk explains, the aversion to bodies, especially dead bodies, has numerous cultural and historical exceptions. These exceptions include actual and symbolic cannibalism, the collection and reverence of saintly relics, and as Luke A. Fidler describes in his essay, “Impressions From the Face of a Corpse,” the practice of creating memento mori of the dead:

Death masks also record the work of human hands. They figure the body as something subject to post-mortem manipulation, as a kind of storehouse waiting to be raided by curious scientists, churchmen, or souvenir-seekers. Autopsies, for instance, left their marks. Beethoven’s death mask, taken two days after he died, shows the saw marks where the composer’s ear bones were removed. His left ear later wound up in a curiosity cabinet. Continue reading Blog Post #3: Dead Things

Blog Post #2: Cute Things

What makes one thing cute and another grotesque or uncanny? Some of the authors we have read so far suggest objects have inherent properties that make them “open” or “closed,” (Prown) or “masculine” or “feminine” (Czikszentmihalyi). Can something be inherently cute, or is cuteness a property cultures or individuals project onto objects? Beatrice Marovich poses these and other related questions in her essay on “The Powerful Authority of Cute Animals”:

[S]ites like BuzzFeed Animals remind us, daily, of the powerful authority of cute animals, who do cute things that make us stop everything and just look. Researchers are already trying to unlock the enigmatic secrets of this “Power of Kawaii” (Japanese for “cute”). It appears to hold valuable treasures—such as the ability to turn humans (who look at pictures of cute animals) into more productive workers. There are interesting questions to pursue here: what is this “power”, in the first place? Where does it come from? Why does it work? But I won’t pursue them now. Instead, I want to suggest that there’s something in this alleged power that seems to leave animals vulnerable to becoming talismanic. Continue reading Blog Post #2: Cute Things

Blog Post #1: Writing and Material Culture

In his essay for The Atlantic, “The Secret to Good Writing: It’s About Objects, Not Ideas,” John Maguire argues student writers and writing instruction are too focused on abstract ideas. In fact, he contends that “[s]tudent papers are often unreadable” (His words, not mine!) “because they are way, way too abstract.” Rather than asking students to grapple with abstract ideas from the outset, Maguire argues writing teachers should instead get students to focus on the physical world, and let the abstract ideas emerge from that emphasis:

An alternate approach might be to start the course with physical objects, training students to write with those in mind, and to understand that every abstract idea summarizes a set of physical facts. I do, in fact, take that approach. “If you are writing about markets, recognize that market is an abstract idea, and find a bunch of objects that relate to it,” I say. “Give me concrete nouns. Show me a wooden roadside stand with corn and green peppers on it, if you want. Show me a supermarket displaying six kinds of oranges under halogen lights. Show me a stock exchange floor where bids are shouted and answered.”

To some extent this course, with its focus on material objects or “artifacts,” puts Maguire’s assertion to the test. Continue reading Blog Post #1: Writing and Material Culture