Emerging genres, dangerous classifications: The kairos of digital composing policy

Ellery Sills, Purdue University


Emerging Genres, Dangerous Classifications: The Kairos of Digital Composing Policy argues that writing policy infrastructure plays a significant (if often invisible) role in affording emerging digital genres in rhetoric and composition. Within the last few decades, the accelerating transformations and instabilities of emerging genres have posed a challenge for contemporary writing programs, which demonstrate a persistent wariness over incorporating digital composing into their mission. In response to this challenge, national educational associations have issued a growing number of policy statements meant to encourage a broader understanding of composing in the classroom. Curiously, relatively little scholarly attention has been paid to the potential impact of policy statements upon writing programs’ digital and multimodal composing practices. This dissertation asserts that writing policy statements’ impact often appears as invisible because of its status as infrastructure. According to Star and Ruhleder (1996), infrastructure “occurs when local practices are afforded by a larger-scale technology, which can then be used in a natural, ready-to-hand fashion” (p. 114). Because it is taken for granted as “natural” and “ready-to-hand,” infrastructure is experienced as invisible by its users. In an effort to make writing policy infrastructure visible, this dissertation uses Bowker and Star’s notion of infrastructural inversion as a methodological framework with which to study these infrastructures’ kairotic effects upon programs’ digital composing practices. A case study of one particular writing policy infrastructure, the 2014 revision of the Council of Writing Program Administrators’ Outcomes Statement for First-Year Composition (or OS 3.0), examines how the OS 3.0 tries to afford emerging digital genres in writing programs. Reporting on his interviews with members of the 2014 Outcomes Statement Revision Task Force, the author explores the conflicting interpretations embedded in key terms used in the OS 3.0, such as composing, technology, genre, and disciplinarity. Initial findings from the interviews indicate that the Statement revisers were very aware of the fleeting kairos of their revised document, which led them to negotiate between not “pushing the envelope” too much or “going out of date” too soon. Accordingly, readily acknowledging their (and the field’s) conflicting interpretations of the above terms, the Task Force chose to treat these terms as boundary objects, or ““objects which are both plastic enough to adapt to local needs and the constraints of the several parties employing them, yet robust enough to maintain a common identity across sites” (Star & Griesemer, 2015, p. 176). The Task Force thereby sought to ensure that digital composing outcomes could be broadly and flexibly adapted across writing programs. These findings suggest that writing policy infrastructures can successfully afford digital and multimodal composing practices by kairotically appealing to a disciplinary “ethics of ambiguity” (Bowker & Star, 1999, p. 313).




Sullivan, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Education Policy|Communication|Rhetoric and Composition

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