Classifying and writing technologies

  • Lively and often troubling sites of flexible knowledges
  • Isn't classifying writing technologies what Marshall McLuhan talked about?
  • Starting in the 1930s looking at Milman Parry's collection of data about oral composition in places like Bosnia-Hercegovina
  • Using writing technologies to tell stories about the past
  • Excavating presuppositions among communities of practice speaking with the things of orality and literacy
  • A great classification infrastructure, and other stories feminism and writing technologies could tell

Lively and often troubling sites of flexible knowledges 

Many dining room tables have seen Gregory Bateson telling stories. With my friend Mark Engel I knew one in his campus apartment behind my dorm at Cowell College and in another apartment later at Kresge College at UCSC (not to mention various dining halls), one in the Santa Cruz mountains off Alba Road (site, he informed us, of the first "group marriage" in California), one in the house looking down across the highway to the ocean at Big Sur, and one in an apartment at Esalen (and its dining hall). As one would expect, Bateson thought about stories as well as telling them, pensively or wickedly. In her new introduction to Steps to an Ecology of Mind (which replaces the one about changing epistemological premises Mark Engel wrote in 1971) Gregory's daughter, Mary Catherine Bateson, states that anthropologist and cybernetics theorist Bateson "argued that the ecology of mind is an ecology of pattern, information, and ideas that happen to be embodied in things--material forms." His preferred form of communication was stories about and with things: "A story is a little knot or complex of that species of connectedness we call relevance." {Bateson, 1979 #39 : 13}

Relevance and context were pivotal and troubling. Bateson's work was profoundly interdisciplinary, read within very specific communities of practice, academic and professional, as well as becoming cult property during the New Age. How to speak of particular "things" to their specialist memberships as well as how to show that such particular speech was of importance very widely, this was something Bateson talked about in his guises of teacher, scientific practitioner, ethnographer and guru. Mary Catherine Bateson puts it this way: "Each group of specialists was inclined to view work that did not fit into their framework as a diversion--or even as a disloyalty. Experts on whales and dolphins read "Problems in Cetacean and Other Mammalian Communication" and experts on alcoholism read "The Cybernetics of 'Self': A Theory of Alcoholism" to illuminate their own narrowly defined subject matters without fully realizing that these were examples of wider concerns." {Bateson, 1999 #5212 : my emphasis}

Many of Bateson's stories were staged during his years as Ethologist at the Palo Alto Veterans Administration mental hospital in the 50s where he also taught psychiatric residents. He mused over their responses to his classes, telling a story about the atmosphere that was generated over and over, encapsulated in a student coming up to him after class when the others had left: "'I want to ask a question.' 'Yes.' 'It's--do you want us to learn what you are telling us?' I hesitated a moment, but he rushed on with, 'Or is it all a sort of example, an illustration of something else?' 'Yes, indeed!' But an example of what? [Bateson asks himself. And then he wonders:] And then there was, almost every year, a vague complaint which usually came to me as a rumor. It was alleged that 'Bateson knows something which he does not tell you,' or 'There's something beyond what Bateson says, but he never says what it is.'" He reflects: "Gradually I discovered that what made it difficult to tell the class what the course was about was the fact that my way of thinking was different from theirs." {Bateson, 1972 #43 : xix}

Another of the students around Bateson's dining room tables was my colleague in graduate school, in the History of Consciousness program where indeed she studied with Bateson in her first year, anthropologist Sharon Traweek. Traweek once told me a story about responses to a talk she gave years ago. This was when she first started describing as field site, folk and informants the U.S. and Japanese particle physicists who make up her ethnographic "people" and their laboratories. This talk was to a group of scientists including particle physicists, and afterwards one person came up to her, shaking his head in a puzzled way, saying: "It's all right, this is how it is. But I just don't understand. You talk about it as if it could be some other way...?" 

Traweek is profoundly aware of the presuppositions of the incommensurable social worlds she travels in her fieldwork, and of the conditions for conversation among them, among interdisciplinarities today, as a species of the "changing epistemological premises" that Mark Engel pointed to in 1971. She gave a talk at my own institution recently, recounting observations about her institution and the U.S. academy which she also makes in her essay "Faultlines": "At UCLA the list of interdisciplinary research 'centers' is longer than the list of the traditional disciplinary departments, as is true at most highly ranked American research universities. However, the departmentally based disciplines still appear to control the definition of intellectual authority: even faculty positions funded through the centers usually require disciplinary affiliation. Many faculty firmly situated in the disciplines smugly announce to their students that very few with an interdisciplinary degree can get good jobs. They are profoundly misinformed." {Traweek, 2000 #5878 : 45}

I pointed out earlier that knowledge work today is metastasizing all along the dispersed networks that are one characteristic of globalization. Who makes knowledges, who benefits from them, who disperses them? Are the humanities, indeed the academy, no longer their central sites? I suggested instead that we should examine smaller, more elastic communities of knowledge practices that cross over boundaries within and detached from the academy. These are now lively and often troubling sites of flexible knowledges. Traweek and interdisciplinary studies theorist and policy analyst Julie Thompson Klein situate these concerns inside micro and macro shifts in institutions today. Klein points out: "The argument that knowledge is increasingly interdisciplinary is sounded publicly while financial cutbacks curb and eliminate existing programs. This threat is not limited to interdisciplinary contexts. Both disciplinary and interdisciplinary futures are being determined by fiscal and political realities that enable some fields while impeding others.... Ironically, though, given that the context is institutions devoted to knowledge, ignorance and confusion are greater obstacles. Interdisciplinary activities are undermined by misinformation, bias, and easy generalizations." {Klein, 1996 #5587 : 209} And Traweek contextualizes:" the 1980s those modernist universities no longer controlled the allocation of most resources and were not creating resources, and their own resources were not necessarily greater than those of many other places. By the mid-1990s new agents were finally in a position to deny key resources to these institutions.... The regional shift in decision making about resources for research going on in various parts of the world is accompanied by a shift in awareness of the geography of knowledge making." {Traweek, 2000 #5878 : 35}

Bateson's stories--what they are about, and what motivates them--are tools for thinking about these contexts and interdisciplinary shifts, and for mapping communication and activities across communities of practice. Klein remarks how difficult but crucial these requirements are: "Mapping interdisciplinary activities is not easy. The task of understanding is complicated by the 'jungle of phenomena' (Huber 1992a, 195). Interdisciplinary activities compose a complex and contradictory set of practices located along shifting coordinates. The inevitable result of much interdisciplinary study, if not its ostensible purpose, Giles Gunn rightly notes, has been to dispute and disorder conventional understandings of relations between the most fundamental concepts of knowledge description--origin and terminus, center and periphery, focus and margin, inside and outside (1992a, 249). Mapping is also complicated by the multiple boundaries being crossed in interdisciplinary activities. They are not strictly disciplinary or academic." {Klein, 1996 #5587 : 4; my emphasis} Interdisciplinarity both undermines and excavates presuppositions, fundamental concepts and unconscious assumptions, all of which together Engel intends as "epistemological premises."

Bateson always claimed that science is "the testing and revision of old presuppositions and the creation of new." {Bateson, 1979 #39 : 25} Bateson inhabited the term "science" in an inclusive sense: both as fundamental knowledges as well as a set of particular professional projects. He reflected that in teaching students he had "encountered a very strange gap in their thinking that springs from a lack of certain tools of is the lack of knowledge of the presuppositions not only of science but also of everyday life." {Bateson, 1979 #39 : 26} Thinking ethnographically he told funny stories about "Americans," making comments like: "Americans...have a strange response to any articulate statement of presupposition. Such statement is commonly assumed to be hostile or mocking or--and this is the most serious--is heard to be authoritarian.... Consequently, to make any statement of premise or presupposition in a formal and articulate way is to challenge the rather subtle resistance, not of contradiction, because the hearers do not know the contradictory premises nor how to state them, but of the cultivated deafness that children use to keep out the pronouncements of parents, teachers, and religious authorities." {Bateson, 1979 #39 : 26-7}

Recursive cybernetic structures and processes provided Bateson with language and apparatus for thinking and storytelling that made it possible to be precise and complex as well as clear and mindful. What he called the "paradoxes of abstraction" or the stories he told of "maps and territories" helped. I will use some of his language, but even more, his imaginations of abstractions in layers, to offer an extended example of how to think about communities of practice and their "things." Bateson knew that one offers many examples of something in order to investigate what holds them together, what they are examples of. He pondered the relationship between abstraction and concreteness, but he never assumed that these were binaries. Rather he talked about them in layers, each in the relation abstract-to-concrete, or in the relation of map and territory: "...we may spell the matter out and say that at every step, as a difference is transformed and propagated along its pathway, the embodiment of the difference before the step is a 'territory' of which the embodiment after the step is a 'map.' The map-territory relation obtains at every step." {Bateson, 1972 #43 : 461} I refer to ecological layers of relative and relational concreteness and abstraction and talk about the double and triple and multiple takes of metastasizing knowledges today.

Since "writing technologies" encompasses both objects and the labor associated with those objects, the extended example I use to consider communities of practice and their "things" are the vast ranging variabilities among studies in orality and literacy. These histories, boundary objects, lineages, technologies, and classificatory infrastructure are pivotal to presuppositions made about writing technologies today. Few scholars have the opportunity to think about them together. This opportunity is one purpose for embarking upon the field of feminism and writing technologies.

Isn't classifying writing technologies what Marshall McLuhan talked about?

Up a layer 'writing' technologies. What does thinking about how we understand the stories about technologies tell us? Trying not to use a phrase like "the computer," for example, turns out to be extremely difficult. Think of trying to discuss the history of the book, without using the phrase "the book." Why would this ever be worth doing? Well, strategically avoiding its use in order to emphasize the local variability hidden under the global sign "the Book" is valuable. The very difficulties of not using the phrase "the book" may be what is most instructive, suggesting what kinds of information are hidden, lost, unrecovered if recoverable. Whole agendas for research may proceed from confronting the difficulties of particularism, that of naming and historicizing layers of locals under the global sign, naming marked categories speciously incorporated by unmarked categories, rigorously keeping to the local.

But feminist technoscience approaches would suggest that while indeed one might very well begin by examining the defamiliarizations and discomforts of avoiding phrases like "the book" or "the computer," that indexing their layers of locals and globals in various narratives also supplies valuable material. Such material opens upon a range of processes of production and productive agencies, of many material objects "Book," but also of many symbolic and material objects with which, through which "the Book" is seen, understood, diffracted . This is because the global sign "the Book" is itself a powerful boundary object, "weakly structured in common use" and "strongly structured in individual-site use," moving across various communities of practice, indicating differently in each the community's ranges of membership.

That the book is a technology is becoming a commonplace of scholarship in the history of the book (although not a commonplace, or even acknowledged in many other histories of technology, feminist or otherwise, or, for that matter, in many literary histories). But notice that "the Book," this global sign and boundary object, is also a technology. Engaging with the history of the book requires understanding both sorts of technologies , "writing" both sorts of technologies. Locating historically both the relatively recent consolidation of the field "the history of the book," and the related but even more entangled scholarship across many fields of research into orality and literacy, locating them at this moment in time, within and diffracted through contemporary writing technologies, is another kind of indexing, another form of "writing" technology. Marshall McLuhan's name, itself a boundary object, stands for connections between these areas of inquiry, and stands in for a multitude of scholars and scholarly approaches, but especially for their popularization in and about media.

Taking root and making global claims. The stories of writing technologies are dauntingly numerous, and in many registers authoritative and alternative and in mixtures: scholarly, literary, popular media, commercial, current affairs, policy making, internationally political. It is no wonder that large global claims are made over the many fields through which either the history of the book or the studies of orality and literacy travel. Taking root in one of the many possible specializations within these ranging fields is also understandable, even necessary. Nevertheless, inventive and tendentious impulses in all these specializations and across many fields continue to work comparatively. Both the history of the book and studies in orality and literacy are fundamentally comparative. The interconnections among locals, translocals and globals in materials and meanings are especially entangling, vibrant, passionate. The word "ecologies" takes on some of these resonances in this context. In overlapping academic fields, it is disciplines, subdisciplines, interdisciplines and (inter)interdisciplines that are continually disassembled and reassembled.

As one burrows more and more deeply into a specialization, say the social history of English commonplace books, one ends up--like the fantasy of a 1950s U.S. kid "tunneling to China"--popping out in a whole other discipline's subdiscipline, maybe the sociology of knowledge and the history of science. Or from Serbian sociolinguistics, ends up in ancient Greek epic poetry. Vast historical and geographical terrain may be traversed: perhaps from Sumerian cuneiform to Andean knot-writing to Chinese ideograms to Edison's sound recording equipment to binary computer code, all with say, reference to histories of writing and inscription and conflicts over which of these do and do not count as "inscription" and why; conflicts that mirror desires to increase the range but simultaneously also to delimit it.

One way to deal with these overwhelmingly proliferative possibilities is rigorously to attend to the local and the translocal; for example, rigorously to examine oral tradition through the linguistic and paralinguistic analysis of oral formula in specific epic texts, triangulating 20th c. Serbo-Croatian, with 8th c. BCE Homeric Greek, and 8th c. CE Anglo-Saxon. Because of these fundamentally comparative impulses, all the overlapping fields of the history of the book and studies in orality and literacy necessarily work in and through ecological layers of locals and globals, ecological layers of relative and relational concreteness and abstraction . There are impulses to simplify, perhaps by either narrowing and deepening the range or by moving up another level in abstraction in classifying; and impulses to proliferate, for example, by collecting and cataloging in detailed accumulation, or by moving up another level by comparing with other such data-intensive collections.

And there are impulses to large global proclamations, if only to manage all these layers of locals and globals. For example, take a look at this small sample of the paradoxical determinist aphorisms of Marshall McLuhan's 1962 Gutenberg Galaxy: "The interiorization of the technology of the phonetic alphabet translates man from the magical world of the ear to the neutral visual world" (18); or "The new electronic interdependence recreates the world in the image of a global village" (31); or "Literacy affects the physiology as well as the psychic life of the African" (33); or "Why non-literate societies cannot see films or photos without much training" (36); or "The twentieth century encounter between alphabetic and electronic faces of culture confers on the printed word a crucial role in staying the return to the Africa within" (45); or perhaps the most famous one from Understanding Media: "The Medium is the Message." Such aphorisms are precisely not traditional, not habituated, not interiorized.

Although "The medium is the message" and the term "global village" are both now commonplaces and have thus lost this quality of astonishment, nevertheless, these aphorisms were intended insolently to violate expectations, not confirm them. Precisely not timeless, they are only too place-able in time, space and aesthetic and imperial history: today some may even make one cringe. The modernist aesthetic that plays ancient against modern, and especially borrows, appropriates and defamiliarizes with and against the figure of Africa, is mobilized in The Gutenberg GalaxyGalaxy is only too obviously a product of the late 50s and early 60s and their eventual appropriations of international decolonialization as revolution and the slipping epistemologies of bodily experience (sexual, pharmacological, religious, neurological), intertwined with media representations of gendered and raced forms of cultural, political, class and generational change. While intended to astonish, McLuhan's aphorisms nevertheless participate in a range of differently motivated writing technologies: the paradoxical utterances of esoteric religions, the sententious proverbs of so-called traditional cultures, and the evangelizing slogans of commercial advertising.

Marshall McLuhan's name stands in for a range of scholarly projects. Some are less popularly known, but critical to scholars such as McLuhan himself. Pivotal, as McLuhan points out in the Prologue to The Gutenberg Galaxy, is Albert B. Lord's book The Singer of Tales, in which Lord analyzes the work he did as classicist Milman Parry's assistant in the former Yugoslavia in the 30s and his own later work there in the 50s. McLuhan conceptualized his own work as an extension of Lord and Parry's studies in South Slavic epic: "The enterprise which Milman Parry undertook with reference to the contrasted forms of oral and written poetry is here extended to the forms of thought and the organization of experience in society and politics....the job could only be done when the two conflicting forms of written and oral experience were once again co-existent as they are today." It is with this Great Divide, "the two conflicting forms of written and oral experience," that the powerful classification structures that make up studies in orality and literacy appear to begin. 

Classification technologies and the technologies of recording are fundamental to these scholarly projects for which McLuhan's name operates as boundary object.

Starting in the 1930s looking at Milman Parry's collection of data about oral composition in places like Bosnia-Hercegovina

Pastpresents: The Singer of Tales then and now. Following Leigh Star, we begin engaging the story of Milman Parry in order to identify a master narrative of a technological infrastructure and to surface invisible work, the invisible work of people and devices in complicated agencies. The scholarly story of Milman Parry is told again in the year 2000 CE in a new fortieth anniversary edition of the book The Singer of Tales , in the audio and video CD that accompany the book, and in the web site which mirrors and supplements them both. The book The Singer of Tales is by Albert B. Lord, Parry's graduate student, fieldwork assistant and collaborator, as well as his intellectual successor. Newly edited and with a fresh introduction by folklorist Stephen Mitchell and classicist Gregory Nagy, the current curators of the Milman Parry Collection of Oral Literature in the Widener Library at Harvard (Lord was its first curator), the book is itself thus a complicated artifact folding together across time and space several comparative impulses and a variety of technologies--new and not so new--for making comparisons.

These comparative impulses and their technologies and pastpresents structure the book on every level, beginning with Lord's opening forward: "This book is about Homer. He is our Singer of Tales. Yet, in a larger sense, he represents all singers of tales from time immemorial and unrecorded to the present....Among the singers of modern times there is none to equal Homer, but he who approaches the master most closely in our experience of epic song is Avdo Mededovi´c of Bijelo Polje, Yugoslavia. He is our present-day Balkan Singer of Tales." (xxxv) It is guslar (singer) Avdo Mededovi´c whose performance is found in video and in transcription on the CD, along with Lord's photo collections of people from the region during the 30s, and the audio recordings and transcriptions of conversations and songs from a variety of singers and storytellers keyed to points in the book. Thus the CD and web site make it possible to hear and see people and songs from the 30s in the former Yugoslavia. Of course the book itself does this too, although not in photos or in audio, but in its musical and verbal transcriptions.

Curating expertise. The book as a consolidation of and recounting of various technologies opens itself up to an unusual range of audiences, across many communities of practice. It is a book often read in pieces, as well as in whole. It can be engaged with various degrees of interest in its highly detailed local materials, and in its ambitious range of interconnections made and speculated upon. It performs itself many forms of expertise, by no means all embodied in the single author, but coordinated, or curated if you will, by the author Lord. Indeed, the relative visibility of Lord himself in relation to Parry shifts over time. As Lord's opening lines suggest, it can be read in large global terms, virtually universal, and in very local terms, highly ethnographic.

The book can be reordered to produce several kinds of such readings, for example, highlighting the Homeric speculations for Classicists and de-emphasizing the Balkan materials except as "examples" (how I learned to read it in the early 70s studying ancient Greek epic); or instead offering specific data for linguists, ethnomusicologists, and others interested in those very details of regional life, cultural practices and art forms--for some in an "ethnographic present," for others in a highly delimited moment, inscribed within histories of national and ethnic dominations and medieval and modern imperialisms. When intellectual trends value large universal claims or speculations, they can be found here. When instead they aspire to ethnographically faithful detail, that aspiration also can be found here. The book can be critiqued for universalism or defended against such charges; such readings are all possible, and different audiences, communities of practice, and disciplines and disciplinary generations will read it accordingly. This very complexity of reading possibilities is one reason reprinting an anniversary edition makes sense.

Identifying the master narrative. The other reason to reprint is the extent of the influence of the work of Parry and Lord and of the so-called "Parry-Lord Hypothesis" or "the oral theory" in a range of disciplines. This influence would be difficult to exaggerate, although many influenced by it will know it only in more generalized forms, both popular and scholarly, in the work of others such as Marshall McLuhan or Walter Ong. These more generalized speculations about oral traditions are likely to focus on the dramatic narrative of the Great Divide I mentioned before, that is, a claim of essentially divergent forms of human consciousness and culture, either "oral" or "literate." The Great Divide is the master narrative against which all variants produce themselves, and against which the Parry-Lord hypothesis is understood, constructed, valued and even mobilized in critique. Those scholars (Lord and Parry's work is mostly used and usable by scholars, if a great variety of them), those scholars that employ the so-called "Parry-Lord hypothesis" or "the oral theory" may subscribe, with varying degrees of self-consciousness, to variants on the Great Divide; or alternately may be quite critical of it.

The Parry-Lord hypothesis itself is more specifically technical. It speculates that what is perhaps the most significant form of oral poetry is created in a composition-performance process in which the singer assembles formulas at several levels of structure in the very moment of performance, thus also the moment of composition. The core concept is that of the linguistic oral formula, one of a repertoire of set metrical and multi-dialectical phrases (some not elements of ordinary language, but rather archaic or translocally dialectical). Singers learn a rich vocabulary of these, of some varying length and purpose, as a kind of art-language which they assemble during composition-performance. But, these formulas are not learned as pieces, despite my assembly metaphor, but rather within a grammar of associations, as elements in simultaneously larger possible constructions at other levels of structure. Within this process, much longer poems can be constructed on the spot than could possibly be memorized by a singer. The analogy here is not memorization, but rather language acquisition, for using the oral formulas, both on the linguistic level, and on other levels of theme and structure, is closer to speaking in a particular language with corresponding flexibility, than like memorizing, even with rhythmic support, long poems. This is the dramatic paradigm shift in understanding oral tradition that hinges upon the Parry-Lord hypothesis. For some following Parry and Lord, the presence of such formulas constitute empirical evidence of elements of "orality," making it possible to identify specific texts as "oral"; while beyond that for some including McLuhan, Ong and others, the presence of such formulas identifies forms of consciousness or of culture.

Singer is divided into two parts. In the first, "The Theory," Lord analyzes the South Slavic regional materials used to derive this oral formula apparatus, materials Parry termed "the accumulation from a living poetry of a body of experimental texts." (ix) In the second, "The Application," Lord applies this apparatus to the Odyssey and Iliad, as well as to Beowulf La Chanson de Roland , and the Byzantine epic Digenis Akritas, as a "test" to determine to what degree these epics might too be understood as "oral." As the web site puts it: "....what particularly set Parry apart from other researchers was his formulation of a test capable of moving the debate from the content of oral songs to the process by which such songs are produced...." (my emphasis) Certainly Parry subscribed to some version of the Great Divide. Certainly Lord does in the form and argument of the book. Essential divisions between "the oral" and "the written" (notice they are become technologies under global signs here) are presupposed in Parry's method of data collection, even while the interconnections among them are hidden by the methodological bracketing operations Parry and others performed in collecting, understanding and using their data.

Identifying Others. Parry's intention was to make visible a range of productive processes hidden historically in this technology, "the epic poem." He used a series of contemporary technologies to do so, and necessarily engaged in a series of bracketing operations that constituted his method. His modernist apparatus was largely the work of purification, setting "oral poetry against written poetry." (viii) This work was accomplished with a "massive assemblage" of devices, skills, people and a great deal of articulation work done in labors both visible and relatively invisible.

But while Parry gets the credit for conceiving of the project, locating it in a particular place, and coming up with the various methods for gathering the data-- after his accidental early death in 1935, Lord gets the credit for cataloging the data and making it usable, writing it up, translating it for various communities of practice, curating the Collection it becomes, and mentoring others who do similar fieldwork, or who engage in similar speculation. Even in the early 70s, ten years after the publication of Lord's book and in a period of his mature professional authority, when I first encountered "the oral theory" in The Singer of Tales we then called it "the Parry hypothesis." Lord's productive agencies were still minimized in such communities of practice, certainly in tribute to a prematurely dead teacher, but also as the teacher's name stood for the work of both the student and teacher, as the person conceiving of the project stood for the whole work of bringing the project to fruition, as the person with status who negotiated the funding and hired others to assist was the author of it.

Years later, not only is Lord's name very firmly attached to the now Parry-Lord hypothesis, but in the Introduction to the Second Edition also (if still minimally) are others who collected or processed data: "Nikola Vujnovi´c (a guslar from Stolac, Hercegovina), Ibro Beùca (also a guslar from Hercegovina), Hamdija ùSakovi´c and Ibrahim Hrustanovi´c ('two young Moslems' who collected many of the women's songs), Ilija Kutozov (a Russian émigré teaching in the gymnasium in Dubrovnik, who moved to Belgrade in September 1934), and a number of typists [named by function rather than person. Perhaps women? Perhaps their names are unrecoverable, or still yet not salient?]." (xi) A range of invisible work is made visible over time, and in a particular context or set of contexts. Not only have standards for the description of workers in the field changed, with limited but still increased sensitivity to the pivotal work of translators, informants and support people, if also usually gendered; but also the current visibility of conflict in the former Yugoslavia amid war crimes trials in the international media, and hopes by the present curators of the Collection that its existence might offer something positive to that conflict, are contexts in which some invisible work becomes visible. (Some might ridicule these efforts, as limited as they are, as "politically correct.")

Ambiguous things. Which things matter, or matter most, is pivotal, contextual, as Star terms it "ambiguous." In other words, these things--people, processes, devices--are more and less naturalized over duration and space for particular communities of practice. In some communities of practice naming one such "thing" either "the Parry hypothesis" or "the Parry-Lord hypothesis" might mark one as belonging to a specific intellectual generation. So too, in some intellectual communities, having noted the contributions of Vujnovi´c and others in the projects set into motion by Parry, might make one's intellectual activity more valuable, including information that was pivotal to others and indicate methods and objects of study and ethical practice. In others, the marginalization of the women's songs by an assumption of heroic epic as "male" amid overwhelmingly male sites of data collection, would be immediately significant. Over time too in some communities of practice Lord's name might become the shorthand, the "black box," standing in for all the ways this material might be used. My very description of these differences might be overwhelmingly belabored for some, too schematic for others, and usable for still others, as communities of practice differently value the disclosure of or commentary upon such bracketed materials (what Bateson called meta-communication, what for some counts as "theory" or even "meta-theory"). The very complexities of accumulation in Lord's book and in the Parry-Lord projects, allow for diverse communities of practice to make it and them differently usable, bracketing or foregrounding various sorts of materials and speculations, seeing them in relative and relational ecologies of abstraction and concreteness.

Each community of practice will literally define itself in its naturalization of such "things," including the Great Divide itself. Studies in orality and literacy are especially complex as membership in multiple disciplinary, subdisciplinary and interdisciplinary communities is likely--not to mention other movements across and beyond the academy, such as multiple relationships within and between international and national identity politics. Such multiple memberships are the very condition of comparative analysis. One's credentials, authority, membership in each such community are respected differently in others.

For example, in reviewing the many literatures of these ranging fields, say, under the rubric "oral tradition"; it is quite common to come upon reviews of the same book from those from divergent communities of practice, who literally see wholly different materials discussed and who make arguments and use evidence in ways that are diametrically opposed. (One can see this happening in women's studies and other large interdisciplines too, or in large disciplines with many subdisciplines and specializations. Indeed this is one condition of interdisciplinarity.) One reviewer may value the technical languages of formalization and abstraction (as "theory" perhaps, or even as "methodology") and elaborate some, to them, critical conceptualization, refining and applying it; while to another reviewer this is mere "jargon" which obscures rather than reveals the very ethnographic or literary detail they value most. For one, an on-going familiarity with, rather than specialization in, one of the ranging possible comparative data-locations is sufficient for authoritative statements, for another, only specialization (perhaps multiple) will authorize intellectual work. For one a missing detail, misspelling, or transcription error will be lamentable but not catastrophic, while for the other that transcription error will break the ethical bonds created with an informant, undermine key practices, and de-authorize the conclusions.

Naturalizing and denaturalizing The Great Divide. But in keeping with its status as "master text" any of these practitioners might assume the Great Divide between "orality" and "literacy," while others might also attempt to "prove" or "disprove" it with, perhaps the theoretical, or perhaps the ethnographic materials at hand (often valuing one over the other). For some the Great Divide has been empirically verified, for others it remains a set of speculations to be proven, for others it is already empirically refuted, for others it is not verifiable but nevertheless useful to forefront certain features of data and theory. This is also what Star means by an "ambiguous" object. These various degrees of "stability" of "fact" or "theory" or "speculation" are what is meant by "naturalizing" such important "things."

This thing is this master narrative, creating and valuing distinctions between "orality" and "literacy" and these permutations are its various degrees, in duration and in place (geographical, disciplinary, abstract/concrete), of naturalization. As naturalization is the condition of membership in particular communities of practice, these objects of naturalization are passionately viewed by members, often with virtually religious fervor, as are the particular processes of naturalization in a community of practice, ethnographic say, or perhaps technically textual in studies in orality and literacy, or empirical, say; these are locally pivotal forms of evidence in large contests for authority and social meaning. Even to point to this range of ambiguity and process in naturalization marks one as not in a community of practice that considers the Great Divide as taken for granted or already verified. For a few such communities the very foregrounding of the Great Divide as open for analysis is literally incomprehensible, it just "is." But all these communities of practice have some degree of naturalization of this object, the Great Divide, whatever its meaning there, and that is why it is the master text for these ranging fields.

Assembling devices, skills and people. Mitchell and Nagy's new introduction is fascinating for its highlighting of the technological infrastructure of Parry's data collection process, especially the "massive assemblage" represented by the sound recording equipment, and the complex articulation work required to contrive this assemblage of devices, skills and people. To call this assemblage by the single stable term "recording equipment" is utterly misleading for we bring to that term a range of historical assumptions that are belied in the then uniquely local devices strategically assembled translocally by Parry and his team. This apparatus operated with aluminum discs that held about four minutes of sound each. The Parry Collection houses over 3500 of these discs today. When Parry ordered 3000 of them for his project, they weighed approximately half a ton. To record continuously for longer than four minutes at a time "Parry commissioned Sound Specialties Company of Waterbury, Connecticut, to prepare a recording device for him consisting of two turntables connected by a toggle switch. The careful back-and-forth alternation of the turntables allowed the normal time limit of several minutes of recording on a twelve-inch disk to be expanded virtually infinitely." The recording device was originally powered by "a motor-generator operated by a six volt automobile battery" (x) and the noise produced by the motor was sometimes transferred to the cutting head of the recorder, increasingly affecting the sound quality. So Parry turned to "the technician of the Bell Edison phonograph works" in Zagreb, and replaced the motor-generators with a 300 volt battery. (xi)

These technical manipulations and travels underpin the sound recordings now available (with much more work added) on the CD with the book, and on the web site. This description recovers articulation work Parry and others had to do to assemble and use these devices, and some of the skills applied, while it simultaneously values the very invisibility of devices and work in Parry's data: " quite remarkably allowed the singers Parry met to continue their songs as fit their designs as composers rather than the necessities of the sound-recording medium. Suddenly there was available something very close to epic in its natural environment with respect to such important facets of performance as length, rests, and the character of composition." (x; my emphasis) The mediation of the sound recording equipment needed to be as invisible as possible in order to produce the data as "a living poetry of a body of experimental texts," as "something very close to epic in its natural environment...."

This quality of the "naturalness" of the data was fundamental to Parry's method. It was ensured in other ways as well. Parry's project report states: "I found the Jugoslavian poetry ideal for the collection of such experimental texts. In certain regions more open to occidental influences the poetry has been largely lost, e.g. in Dalmatia and in the northern regions about Belgrade and Zagreb; but in Hercegovina, Bosnia, Montenegro, southern Serbia, and particularly in the border region where the Serbo-Croatian dialects shade off into Bulgarian, the old ways of life and with it the poetry have been affected very little. [...] The greater number of older men do not read; the younger men have been taught the barest elements and read and write only by ear; there were no books sold in the three towns which I visited and few newspapers. The influence of the printed texts has been slight and sporadic, and it is easily recognized when there has been any." (ix; editors' ellipsis in brackets) Producing the oral formula depended upon already assigned attributions of orality in the data collection process. The work of purification required several kinds of bracketing operations that removed "influences" of writing and reading.

More work of purification. For example, the sound recording was classified as "not reading and writing"--as natural sound. (We count as "natural" that which has been culturally purified of "culture.") Many of McLuhan's media formulations also depend upon this kind of classification of sound and sound recordings as "not reading and writing." For many this is an intuitively friendly classification today; indeed, for some people any alternatives are virtually incomprehensible; it just "is." But Lisa Gitelman's book Scripts, Grooves and Writing Machines: Representing Technology in the Edison Era makes a point of analyzing how Edison conceptualized sound recording as a kind of writing--grooves made into a rigid medium--in accordance with other contemporary understandings of writing and writing machines in the 19th c. Parry's team's very articulation work to alter the writing of sound on these aluminum discs has to be bracketed in order to do the classification work that assembles that sound outside of reading and writing practices, indeed, the data recorded there as its very opposite, nature to culture. What is notable here is that written transcriptions of "oral" poems had been called into question as always already too mediated by writing, writing which represented that contamination of "orality" by "literacy," and that Parry's undertaking was to "test" such mediated texts for their essential "orality." The use of sound recording equipment derived some of its authority from the appearance of less mediation, less contamination by this "writing." But this was a complex appearance, if one fundamental to the collection and production of this pivotal data.

For those with intrinsic interests in these Ottoman heroic or Serbian national poems these particular purifications might be less purposive. But for those for whom this accumulation of experimental texts was intended as evidence in global understandings of oral tradition, these bracketing operations were key. Having set the context as experimentally "free" of literacy, and Avdo Mededovi´c, the "Jugoslav Homer" certified as illiterate, then the intrusions of literacy on the experimental scene were also managed as variables to be tracked. One of Avdo Mededovi´c's long poems was one he had composed after hearing that song from "a printed song book" read to him by a literate neighbor. Lord analyzes the differences between Avdo Mededovi´c's version and the printed version to demonstrate that Avdo Mededovi´c treated the version he heard read in exactly the same way he treated versions of songs he heard sung by other singers. Lord tracks the possibilities and degree of contamination which lead to pivotal generalizations about fixed texts: "A general principle is here involved that is of significance when we are dealing with a tradition being invaded by printed song books: namely, that if the printed text is read to an already accomplished oral poet, its effect is the same as if the poet were listening to another singer. The song books spoil the oral character of the tradition only when the singer believes that they are theway in which the song should be presented...they can spoil a tradition only when the singers themselves have already been spoiled by a concept of a fixed text." (79)

Other work of purification is done lovingly by Mitchell and Nagy as they anticipate criticisms of Parry's methodology: "As in any experiment looking to hew to the scientific principle, the quality of the results will vary greatly depending on the quality of the evidence and the manner in which it is collected...the question arises: What were the effects of Parry's arranging the circumstances of the singing, or even paying singers for their work? [In other words, was the setting sufficiently "natural"?] In the first instance Parry, with his confidence in his knowledge of the culture and of fieldwork techniques growing daily, was well aware of what he was doing and why he was doing it. Moreover, he had the indispensable help of Nikola Vujnovi´c, a man who was not only from the Balkans but was himself a singer." In other words, all the variables were taken into consideration in the design and execution of the data collection, which was facilitated by a local informant capable of insuring sufficient "naturalness." (xxi)

Politically purposive without debunking. Notice that my tracking the work of purification and classification is not about debunking. Star is very good at being politically purposeful in her descriptions, not neutral and also not debunking even when in analysis making invisible work visible. This indexing and specifying the work of purification and the work of translation or hybridization as simultaneous processes (which Suchman draws attention to out of Latour's formulations) makes it possible to recover invisible work while concurrently acknowledging the necessity and importance of the work of purification and classification during production/use of this technical apparatus. The apparatus will not work unless these processes occur. The ironies of say, classifying sound recording as "not writing" when it was conceived as exactly writing at an earlier time, work to surface invisible work, not to de-authorize the objects created or naturalized in these processes. That some communities of practice find it difficult or impossible to authorize objects still in the process of naturalization, that for them pointing out such ironies is always only debunking, is something to index and specify as well. What I am trying to show here is the complex ecology of devices and agencies that I mean by the term "writing technologies" and begin to address and demonstrate why this ecology of devices and agencies matter.

"Writing technologies" is a vast intellectual infrastructure, partially understood and investigated within these overlapping fields of the history of the book and studies in orality and literacy, as well as in the studies into areas only provisionally named today. Some of those provisional names are: cyberculture studies, informatics, cyberfeminism, cybernetics, new media and technologies, digital culture and others. Given the vast range these all cover it may seem preposterous to insist upon connecting them as "writing technologies," rather than dividing them up into specific intellectual projects. But that is precisely what I am arguing. Connecting them is actually crucial, if entirely too daunting. Global proclamations, exciting as they are, are not the only method for making such connections and critical comparisons, but instead also elements of the ecology to be investigated. Such global proclamations have only too often stood in for historical and cross-cultural perspectives, just as faithful loyalties to very specific details have seemed self-evidently important.

Using writing technologies to tell stories about the past

Using alternate versions of the Great Divide to access pasts. Star and Bowker point out "There is no way of ever getting access to the past except through classification systems of one sort or another.... [Understanding] the indeterminacy of the past...means understanding how standard narratives that appear universal have been constructed...[that is,] looking to classification schemes as ways of ordering the past." "In the best of all possible worlds, at any given moment, the past could be reordered to better reflect multiple constituencies now and then." (326) The master narrative of the Great Divide which rather tightly organizes the vast terrain of the studies into orality and literacy and communications studies, and less tightly but still significantly organizes the history of the book and the multiple cyberculture namings, is thus a classification infrastructure crucial to the kinds of access to the past possible in these fields. So we turn to examine the Great Divide in more detail, noting that it provides justifications for making comparisons between "present" and "past" that underpin the Parry-Lord hypothesis.

The names "McLuhan" and "Parry" might represent alternate ways of using the Great Divide in order to access pasts. Some would name them as representative of schools of thought or intellectual lineages from divergent classifications within the interdisciplinary studies of orality and literacy, including communication studies and folklore. McLuhan could represent the so-called "Toronto school of Communications," which would include such famous others as economist Harold Innis, classicist Eric Havelock, to some extent theologian and rhetorician Walter Ong, and more recently medieval historian Brian Stock. Parry, on the other hand, would represent a so-called "Harvard tradition of scholarship on oral literature," which in him would see the fruition of the work of the great collectors of oral materials, Francis James Child and George Lyman Kittredge, but with Parry's work specifically valorizing the thread of fieldwork methods in folklore studies. One way one might simplify the differences here (with all the errors of such simplification) would be to say that the Toronto school has most often been interested in the details of both oral and written traditions, usually (but not wholly) in order to understand the impact of the Great Divide itself, its relations to culture and mind; while the Harvard line of influence has increasingly (but not exclusively) been interested in specific oral traditions, using the Great Divide as the master mechanism for increasing the range of significance of those traditions. In one the dynamic ecology of layers of locals and globals is weighted toward globals; while in the other the dynamic ecology of layers of locals and globals is weighted toward locals.

Note that in each this dynamic ecology of layers of locals and globals includes both specific "writing technologies" as well as the processes of "writing" technologies. Most of each, lineage and school, might well object to my use of "writing technologies" to extend with oral traditions rather than dichotomize against them (although this too may be changing). That very differential naming would be pivotal to most in each variation, although many with ethnographic and historical work weighted within the local would today claim that orality and literacy connect across a continuum, themselves critiquing earlier "strong" versions of the Great Divide. In that sense I value a more global use of "writing technologies" and would want to index the relative specificity/abstraction, or maybe frozen objects/processes of the term "writing"; and they would strenuously value relatively local meanings for the term "writing"; while indeed some would likely consider its more global uses indications of contamination by literacy.

The work of estrangement: revolutions and traditions. Often the most exciting historical uses of the Great Divide are to produce estrangement effects: that is, heightening and elaborating incommensurabilities between "orality" and "literacy," thus violating assumptions about pasts and reframing stories of presents, while simultaneously producing unexpected equivalencies. Both McLuhan and Lord do this, to different purposes. McLuhan's use of these estrangement effects is largely focused on a series of historical ruptures or revolutions, in which the present is also a successive element, a new revolution. Thus, for McLuhan contemporary oralities are revealed as (strangely) revolutionary successors to past oralities, formally related, marking the present as a transitional time in which dichotomies between the traditional and the modern are replayed and invigorated with new ranges of meaning.

Lord's use of the estrangement effects of the Great Divide instead violate assumptions about craft, expertise, knowledge-making and -storing capabilities in so-called traditional cultures, either those in the past or contemporary ones. This makes it possible to revalue traditional cultures in the systematic appraisal of their art forms and practices in themselves, and also by comparing them formally across time and space to each other under the rubric "oral tradition." In other words, the Great Divide and its incommensurabilities justify the comparisons within the term "orality." Orality is created over and over again against and yet always through its opposite, literacy. This dynamic is aesthetically modernist in careful uses of the category "the traditional" to invigorate new hybridic modernisms; it is part of the contract of modernity in that the work of purification (restating ever more taxonomically complexly the Great Divide) and the work of hybridization (proliferating mixed entities within the category "orality") are effective as distinct activities.

Taxonomies of orality and literacy. McLuhan, Ong, Donald Lowe and others, taxonomically double "oralities" and "literacies": we have "primary" and "secondary" (or "electronic") oralities; the primary ones always before that activity "writing" and the secondary ones, within and outside, indeed "after" literacy somehow all simultaneously. And literacies can be "chirographic"--hand-inscriptions of some kind, including pictographs and ideographs, but most powerfully with an alphabet--but are at some point revolutionized by even more powerful technologies of "fixing" text, the great one being print, most powerfully with movable type of alphabets. As Ong puts it: "It is useful to approach orality and literacy synchronically, by comparing oral cultures and chirographic (i.e., writing) cultures that coexist at a given period of time. But it is absolutely essential to approach them also diachronically or historically, by comparing successive periods with one another. Human society first formed itself with the aid of oral speech, becoming literate very late in its history, and at first only in certain groups. Homo sapiens has been in existence for between 30,000 and 50,000 years. The earliest script dates from only 6000 years ago. Diachronic study of orality and literacy and of the various stages in the evolution from one to the other sets up a frame of reference in which it is possible to understand better not only pristine oral culture and subsequent writing culture, but also the print culture that brings writing to a new peak and the electronic culture which builds on both writing and print. In this diachronic framework, past and present, Homer and television, can illuminate one another. "

Sophistications concerning the Great Divide generate several overlapping taxonomies of correction and synthesis: of communications media, or forms of consciousness and culture, or extensions of the body produced within bourgeois systems of perception. Flickering across and within each other are such overlaid taxonomies:

  • the defamiliarizing doubled divide "orality -- literacy"
  • a modernist appropriation of the traditional in the three-part "primary orality -- literacy -- secondary orality"
  • a historicist phenomenological four-part taxonomy of culture-consciousness/perception "oral -- chirographic -- print -- electronic"
  • a communications technological history of progress"Oral: signal communication -> symbolic communication -- Literate: writing (pictographic signs -> phonographic systems -> logographic system -> fully alphabetic system) -> print (block printing -> mass-produced movable type alphabetic fonts) -- Electronic: first telecommunication 1844 with telegraph -> motion picture camera 1889 -> wireless telegraph patented 1897 -> radio system 1877 -> sound recording 1925 -> TV designed 1922 but first commercial broadcast 1939 -> first electronic computer 1946"

Some theorists of orality and literacy may use all of these, seeing them only as variations each upon the other, expanding and collapsing one or another taxonomic element. Walter Ong, for example, moves seamlessly among them, using them all in a great synthesis of otherwise divergent materials and theories, ranging both diachronically and synchronically. Others use each in correction, usually as successively better taxonomies with more subtlety in variation, better able to account for phenomena in increasing complexity and with greater historical specificity. These taxonomies both raise and beg many questions and thus generate different sorts of investments in the Great Divide in elaboration and in critique. For example, when does "literacy" begin? with any kind of writing (chirographic or script or inscription? what about Andean knot-writing? is it chirographic since it uses both hand--chiro--and visual memory--is that graphic)? or does writing begin with alphabets, and the links (albeit arbitrary) between phonemic sound and pictorial elements? should literate elites or craft-literacy count as "literacy" in a culture? and how to compare that with mass literacy? as measured by what elements, reading, writing, signatures? are reading and writing understood as combined or separated activities? how is a culture literate versus individuals literate? how is moveable type a different kind of "print" than block printing, and with what kinds of cultural meanings? is electronic communication oral, literate or both in mixture, or each in a new form, or something altogether different? is orality always prior to literacy, and is literacy always successive to orality? can one have cycles of orality/literacy rather than a linear progression? how does one describe mixed forms of orality/literacy? in literatures? in cultures?

Donald Lowe (1982) uses the third taxonomy in correction, with some of these questions in mind, de-emphasizing its diachronic aspect in order to specify historically and socio-economically possible perceptual arrangements and their meanings for the body in culture. The diachronic aspect is politically historicized in Lowe's taxonomy in order to minimize the colonizing stories of "progress" often unselfconsciously mobilized by others using this or similar taxonomies. For example, Ong quite depends upon metaphors of succession such as "building upon" in his quotation above. In these stories of progress, orality tends to be romanticized (Ong calls it here "pristine") as the lost object of a sometimes nostalgic longing, while electronic culture (sometimes named as secondary "orality," sometimes as a new kind of literacy of media and communications forms broadly, sometimes as a hybrid orality/literacy) is valorized as a last profound revolution.

Taxonomies as boundary objects. Depending on how one answers some of the questions raised and begged by these taxonomies, they can refer to very different times and places. For example, assuming or deciding that writing practices mark the profound divide of literacy, and defining writing as alphabetic writing will specify a different set of "literate cultures" than would assuming or deciding that any form of inscription would count as writing, or instead, that writing begins with tokens and counting. Or differentiating literacy into forms chirographic and print similarly allows for specifying very different times and places for comparison. That these taxonomies overlay one another, that they can be moved between seamlessly, or used against each other in contestation, allows for a great deal of permutation in classification. As boundary objects, they can be weakly structured in common use in a single taxonomy with variant forms, allowing for maximum agreement or at least seeming agreement, or they can bestrongly structured as contesting taxonomies, with high investments in historical and cultural specificities, with very specific agreements in particular communities of practice about the meanings of their elements. The mutual exclusivity of the categories can be emphasized, or they can overlap substantially, they can be held to mix, or they can be seen in continuum.

For some communities of practice this very variability de-authorizes one or more of these taxonomies. Just naming this variability as I have done, might in some communities of practice constitute debunking (appreciated or denied). Certainly indexing and specifying this range of variability does, to different degrees, denaturalize these taxonomies and their categorical elements, and I certainly do intend such denaturalization through my discussion. I value examining the meanings generated through naturalizing and denaturalizing these taxonomies and their categorical elements, meanings generated as aspects of "writing" technologies. With Star and Bowker I also consider how "[i]n the best of all possible worlds, at any given moment, the past could be reordered to better reflect multiple constituencies now and then." (326) I value the permutations possible within and in critique of the Great Divide as master narrative, in order to recognize and also generate "others" in relation to that narrative and to create new affinities across communities of practice.

In such reorderings of pasts and presents so as to "better reflect multiple constituencies now and then," I see this process as sometimes tentative and ephemeral, as sometimes vigorously contestatory, or as sometimes gaining solidity and status as "universal," along the possible processual trajectories of "ambiguous" naturalization Star and Bowker name. "We seek to understand classification systems according to the work that they are doing and the networks within which they are embedded....When we ask historical questions about the deeply and heterogeneously structured space of classification systems and standards, we are dealing with a four-dimensional archaeology. The systems move in space, time, and process. Some of the archeological structures we uncover are stable, some in motion, some evolving, some decaying. They are not consistent...." (42)

Excavating presuppositions among communities of practice speaking with the things of orality and literacy

Three great centrisms: graphocentrism, phonocentrism and logocentrism. Understanding the work of these orality/literacy classification infrastructures is specific to the networks in which they are embedded: the communities of practice they are naturalized and denaturalized within, the investments in pasts and presents they make possible and alter, the ecologies of writing technologies they describe, use, embody, contest, shift, engage. 

The Great Divide simultaneously embodies and contests three writing technological "biases." These are also ways of naming master narratives of epistemology or ways of knowing, and they overlap with and share meanings with the Great Divide of orality/literacy. We could think of them as three great centrisms: graphocentrism, phonocentrism and logocentrism. (I am indebted to communications and media theorist David Chandler's essay, "Biases of the Ear and Eye" here, and bits of my discussion follow his:

Graphocentrism (or scriptism) is the bias that McLuhan's and Parry's cohorts, each differently, attempt to correct, with the Great Divide as their master mechanism. Graphocentrism overvalues writing, literature, literacy, abstract forms of thought, usually as forms of national identity, progress, evolution, or development. In its most objectionable forms it overvalues them all as "civilization" over "savagery," or "modernization" over "outmoded tradition." In graphocentrisms these evaluations may appear self-evident, obvious, what just "is." But graphocentrisms can also be authorized in particular instrumentalities: through research projects, via cultural or psychological data obtained clinically, ethnographically or empirically, and within large systematic intellectual and socioeconomic apparatus, thus deliberately and inadvertently justifying foundational nationalisms and/or colonialisms.

The Toronto school and the Harvard lineages each differently challenged graphocentrism by creating, elaborating, empirically researching, and speculating about oralities, and their interactions with literacy. They took graphocentrism as the foundational ground against which all their work had meaning as intervention. The Toronto school historicized graphocentrism: describing its origins, its powers, its mechanisms, its effects, and perhaps especially, its pleasures. The pleasures of graphocentrism were elaborated and even delighted in by McLuhan, all in order to demonstrate its power as historical force, as well as its contemporary disruptions and reconfigurations. The cultural shaping of body pleasures and perceptions were central in this theoretical apparatus, epitomized in the privileging of the eye over the ear, the very cultural captivations of visual pleasure and their commodifications, in, about and through media.

Parry and Lord on the other hand, offered divergent alternatives to graphocentrism: engaging the craft, the creativity, the complex cultural operations, the essence of art, all demonstrated in the rigorous detail and process of oral-formulaic composition. The very term "tradition" is elevated, ordered, connected with the deepest meanings of human activity, and with the most valued form of literature, poetry itself, both at the origins and in the margins of the Western tradition. Only in the context of their interventions into graphocentrism can the classification work of the Toronto school and this Harvard lineage be understood. Elaborating oralities, purifying them (from literacy) in order to multiply them, characterizing them, producing unexpected equivalencies via them, even romanticizing them nostalgically; all these activities operate to value orality/oralities, as an intervention into graphocentrism. The forms of graphocentrism vary according to time and place, and the threads of graphocentrism can be traced historically through a range of periods and cultures, with greater and lesser degrees of dominance.

Parallel to graphocentrism, with similar variabilities of period, culture and dominance threads its sibling, sometime opposite, phonocentrism . Phonocentrist biases privilege the ear over the eye, create and name orality as the metaphysical essence of sound and speech, and with greater and lesser degrees of self-consciousness equate orality, sound, and speech with the natural, with reality, and with wholeness, individual and cultural. The work of elaborating oralities in order to counter graphocentrism often inadvertently or perhaps vigorously, even religiously, engages phonocentrisms.

If graphocentrism privileges writing over oralities, phonocentrism privileges sound and speech over writing, sometimes claiming that the essence of language is naturally and really inherent in speech, of which writing is but the pale reflection, or perhaps that the essence of communication itself is in language. Chandler points out that "[p]honocentric writers may also tend to stress that writing is a technology but speech is not, and may be implicitly anti-technological." Walter Ong can be cited over and over again to exemplify various ranges of meaning of the term phonocentrism, as he attempts to enliven and elevate oralities (Chandler quotes him): "Sound is more real or existential than other sense objects despite the fact that it is also more evanescent. Sound itself is related to present activity rather than to past or future." Or "By contrast with natural, oral speech, writing is completely artificial. There is no way to write 'naturally.' Oral speech is fully natural to human beings in the sense that every human being in every culture who is not physiologically or psychologically impaired learns to talk." And finally: "Voice is alive...."

Indeed with Ong and some others, the Great Divide is phonocentric, called to account on that basis by some of its strongest critics. Phonocentrisms, as self-evidently and naturally true, or perhaps carried inadvertently, are mobilized by a range of collectors and creators of traditional materials. Justifications or appreciations of traditional practices, cultures and art forms, today or in the past, may hope to and do take weight from various phonocentrisms. Anti-colonialisms may mobilize phonocentrisms, often as interventions against colonizing and/or modernizing graphocentrisms. Such tactical phonocentrisms may take form as elevations of traditional or oral cultures, valorizing their integrity, their social commonalities, communalisms, equalities, privilege their access to nature, may romanticize their gender arrangements, divisions of labor, sexualities; interconnecting all these through this relation of speech, sound and the voice to nature and wholeness.

Feminisms and other social movements may engage with phonocentrisms also as interventions into a range of dominations: valorizing the voice (and/or critiquing visual pleasure), valorizing authenticity, indigenous cultures, anti-technologies as evidences of past equalities and possible presents in creation. Feminisms may associate women with oralities against literacies, knowingly within histories of denial of literacy to women, and knowingly or unwittingly associating women with the natural, with the voice, with the authentic and real. Thus many of these forms of classification work are intended as interventions into dominations, intended to value devalued social systems, to make visible more egalitarian social forms from pasts as guides to possible presents, to support indigenous peoples and women in many times and places. Yet these very attempts to intervene in colonialisms and other dominations may be open to critique as imperialist and as sexist, racist and classist. The very inversions intended to challenge the primacy of literacy over orality, may instead reinscribe old and new relations of power.

Chandler points out that some of these phonocentrisms and related binaries are foundational in the work of the great structuralists Claude Lévi-Strauss and Ferdinand de Saussure, whose work is blended with theory and ethnography mobilized as "oral tradition" in the interventions with and after Lord's Singer of Tales. Indeed in his discussion of phonocentrism and the third great centrism, logocentrism, Jacques Derrida analyzes Lévi-Strauss' system of binaries producing and illustrating phonocentrism in Of Grammatology. In the 30s Lévi-Strauss taught at the University of São Paulo in Brazil and his book about his fieldwork there, Tristes Tropiques is one object of Derrida's analysis of phonocentrism and its binary speech/writing. Derrida demonstrates that the biases of phonocentrism are linked also to what he callslogocentrism, that is, the focus on origins, on the origin of the Word, on the metaphysics of presence, on the privileging of causation. In phonocentrism the voice and sound are understood as the cause, origin, essence or presence of language itself, purified communication. Phonocentrism then is a form of logocentrism.

Derrida uses the term "writing" in a global sense, including but not only referring to inscription. Rather writing in this context, as a global term, refuses to dichotomize speech and writing. Instead of the work of purification, it performs the work of hybridization or translation. It deliberately makes it impossible to purify either writing or speech as entities in themselves, to purify them of bias or their political meanings, they are always already mixed together as the not innocent power term writing. I take my own use of the term writing from this deconstruction of Derrida's. I intend my term writing to always emphasize the dynamic processes, powerfully political, in which layers of locals under the sign "writing" and layers of globals under the sign "writing" are always already interconnected, both as "writing technologies" which include, value and question a range of technologies of meaning-making, but also as "writing" technologies, that is as the dynamic processes across fields of power in which we attempt to describe, use, create, alter these "writing technologies." I understand this doubled meaning to be related to, or perhaps better, to literalize Derrida's term "grammatology."

Denaturalization, defamiliarization, debunking critique. It is from critics such as Chandler that I take the term the Great Divide to refer to what I analyze as the great master classification infrastructure of "orality -- literacy." Chandler is interested in debunking what he calls "'Great Divide' theories," as always already reinscriptions of relations of domination. As critiques the activities of deconstruction disassemble the great assemblages of master narratives or master theories. Such disassembly may be used by some to debunk intellectual practices, those academic and those of everyday life. Such debunking may itself serve as an exciting practice of defamiliarization, turning understanding inside out while performing the urgency of this kind of analysis. In their most rigorous form these debunking defamiliarizations may be what some mean by the term "critique." Great divide theories, debunkings including critique, and the clear articulations of contesting paradigms are all intellectually urgent forms of defamiliarization. They all may involve denaturalizing the objects within and boundary objects across particular communities of practice. Since membership in these communities of practice is intertwined with the naturalization of these things, these practices of defamiliarization are often received with hostility, sometimes with incomprehension (since these naturalized things "just are " in these communities), and other times received as deep misunderstandings, even betrayals, of the communities, their practices, their intentions and their histories.

And it is the case that misunderstandings are not just inevitable across communities of practice. These and all translations across ranges of power also will be marked by misunderstandings and by illegitimate uses of power, while also accountable for such mistranslations and partial translations, their meanings, consequences and problems. Donna Haraway's essay "Situated Knowledges" is cited by Star, Suchman, and others studying feminist technoscience and feminist theory when they reflect on this work of translation, and reflect on the possibilities of objective knowledge, on the agencies of knowledge-making. Others use the term postmodern or poststructuralist to refer to a range of denaturalizations, in derision or as self-description. Latour uses the term postmodern along with the idea of the contract of modernity in order to claim that while the work of translation and the work of purification are kept separated in modernity, in postmodernism, this separation assumes the form of debunking. His point is that such debunking still allows the contract of modernity (and illusions of political purity) to remain in place. But shifting our understanding of the agencies of humans and what Latour calls nonhumans--including what I call "writing technologies," among them those oralities devalued under graphocentrisms, hybrids of naturecultures--understanding such agencies requires, Latour says, "the parliament of things" or what Haraway calls "worldly practice." What Latour calls to account as debunking here, a work of purification, Haraway calls "a fear of embracing something with all of its messiness and dirtiness and imperfection."

A great classification infrastructure, and other stories feminism and writing technologies could tell

Breaking the Enlightenment Contract: naturecultures, oralityliteracies. pastpresents. McLuhan and Lord in their respective cohorts and histories attempt to make visible the articulation work that hybrid oralities of many chronologies and cultures do, in their interventions into graphocentrisms. Similarly, the history of the book and many of the cyberculture and media studies (including some of McLuhan's explorations here as well) operate to surface the articulation work of hybrid literacies in various media, including mixtures of the visual and aural. Using the Great Divide as the master mechanism keeps separate the work of purification and the work of hybridization or translation, as the contract under which each kind of work is valued, if differently in varying communities of practice.

Latour proposes we break our contract, this contract of modernity and of enlightenment reason, of what some have called humanism and what some anxiously tend as the very essence of the "humanities." He claims that breaking that contract requires moving farther than a postmodern "critique." Indeed, he gleefully points out more pastpresents: "....So long as we consider these two practices of translation and purification separately, we are truly modern--that is, we willingly subscribe to the critical project, even though that project is developed only through the proliferations of hybrids down below [that is, we misrecognize the mixed entities we have created and devalue and de-animate them and our own intra-action]. As soon as we direct our attention simultaneously to the work of purification and the work of hybridization, we immediately stop being wholly modern, and our future begins to change. At the same time we stop having been modern, because we become retrospectively aware that the two sets of practices have always already been at work in the historical period that is ending. Our past begins to change. Finally, if we have never been modern--at least in the way criticism tells the story--the tortuous relations that we have maintained with the other nature-cultures would also be transformed." (11; my emphasis)

The phonocentrisms that are marshaled through the Great Divide to challenge graphocentrisms are based in a radical difference between speech and writing, as if that difference were the origin and essential meaning of material technologies within varying oralities and literacies, and of the technologies "orality" and "literacy." This is a variant on a great divide Latour and feminist technoscience studies explicitly address, that of nature and culture. ""How can one not establish a radical difference between universal Nature and relative culture? But the very notion of culture is an artifact created by bracketing Nature off. Cultures--different or universal--do not exist, any more than Nature does. There are only nature-cultures, and these offer the only possible basis for comparison." (104; Latour's emphasis) Such naturecultures, as Haraway names them, are what I attempt to address as ecologies (in layers of locals and globals) of writing technologies, oralityliteracies in pastpresents.

Properties of oralityliteracy infrastructures. This time let us return to studies in orality and literacy in their aspect as a great technological infrastructure (both about and using technologies), indexing the nine properties of infrastructure that Star names. Four of them we connect to their communities of practice: studies in orality and literacy are linked to conventions of practice in specific communities, and learned as part of membership in those communities. Indeed the very transparency of the infrastructure, its naturalization, is an element in the conditions of membership. That it becomes visible on breakdown, may be a result of denaturalization processes over time; in particular communities of practice elements of the infrastructure or its integrity, lose or do not achieve stability, they are still in motion, sometimes evolving, sometimes decaying. Think of the four overlapping taxonomies, for example.

As I said before, the Great Divide tightly structures the studies of orality and literacy, and significantly but less tightly structures the history of the book and the cybercultural studies. In their academic forms all these kinds of study are comparative, and in these academic versions often cross-disciplinary, although not always. Some disciplines historically define themselves by their specific comparative methods, such as anthropology and history. There the studies of orality and literacy may instead constitute or engage specific subdisciplines, say the history of the book, or the sociology of literature; or, as in some versions of anthropology and history, may classify materials and data, via the Great Divide, as material and intellectual infrastructure--likely to be most transparent and embedded, most just "what is."

But when comparative, such studies may center around a boundary object used across disciplines, what I would call a writing technology. For example, the study of epic poetry as a writing technology may cross such disciplines as anthropology, literature and classics. Literature, for example, is institutionalized in a range of forms, also understood as fields or areas, disciplines or interdisciplines; some defined by nation or period or language--such that the epic poem Beowulf would be studied in English, La Chanson de Roland in French, and The Iliad in classics; some defined by comparative method or objects--such that "the epic poem" including Beowulf and Roland and The Iliad might be studied in comparative literature. That the boundary object "the epic poem" is instantiated as different materialities (these layers of locals and globals) in different literary disciplines and subdisciplines is one reason for producing interdisciplinary communities of practice.

For example, the journal Oral Tradition speaks to this concern in its self-description: "This periodical was founded in order to address a clear need in the area of studies in oral tradition: although pathbreaking research was taking place in many different traditions, and although each tradition or classically defined discipline had more or less sufficient avenues for publication within its own purview, there existed no comparative, interdisciplinary journal devoted specifically to this area. The result was that scholars in one field were seldom aware of important scholarship in other fields, and progress over the larger spectrum of traditions was haphazard; studies in oral tradition lurched this way and that, often reinventing the wheel, without a central organ for summarizing research in a given field and presenting new findings to a suitably heterogeneous audience....The history of Oral Tradition may be effectively read in its contents from 1986 onward. Even a casual glance, however, will ascertain that OT has published articles on, among other areas, folklore, Biblical studies, ancient (and medieval and Modern) Greek, English, Irish, Spanish, Portuguese, Yugoslav, Chinese, French, German, African, African American, Persian, Norse, Italian, Welsh, Romanian, Mayan, (Asian) Indian, Arabic, Hungarian, Finnish, Japanese, Tibetan, central Asian (Kirgiz), and numerous South Pacific traditions. Other issues have included special issues on Native American, the epics of the Euro-Asian Silk Road, and South Asian Women's Traditions." So the journal Oral Tradition here brings together a range of disciplines and nationally defined "traditions," which could be studied as literatures, area studies or specializations in anthropology and/or folklore.

Let me give a different kind of list of writing technologies, pairing boundary objects and some possible associated disciplines, interdisciplines and other communities of practice: epic poetry and anthropology/literature/classics; print culture and history/sociology/economics; the book and history/art/literature/women's studies; oral consciousness and religion/philosophy/rhetoric; oral literature and anthropology/women's studies/ethnic studies; literacy and history/education/psychology;television and media-communication studies/cultural studies; the computer-in-cyberculture and cultural studies/technoscience/computer science/communications; the computer-as-technology and women's studies/computer science/history; internet-in-civil society and political science/policy studies. These listings of just one way of talking about communities of practice, in terms of academic disciplines and interdisciplines (not even addressing at this point practices in everyday life), gives an idea of only one of the ways to express the extraordinary range or scope of this technological infrastructure.

Implicit in this disciplinary mapping are other mappings of range: across time and across space, or as Ong indexes it, diachronic and synchronic. For some communities of practice the greater this range the more significant the objects of naturalization; for others, a restricted range establishes significance. Usually however, a combination of broad range in some areas and restriction in others is optimal. For various communities of practice which is which is different and differently matters, possibly with generational or methodological inflections.

For example, in some subdisciplines of anthropology or history the more local the material, the more significant. Such communities of practice are often fairly small in numbers of practitioners with strong methodological consensus. Such communities may have self-defining critiques of earlier or other, say, anthropological approaches; for example, they might devalue the kind of decontextualized data gathered in the Human Relations files, and may associate so-called "comparative" approaches with the methodology and historical circumstances under which that data was collected (some by the great comparative ethnologists of the early twentieth century), perhaps as part of their self-defining critique. Some area studies or period studies, inside or outside of history and literature, say, may share these characteristics of establishing significance and self-definition with more local materials.

Meanwhile in other communities of practice more global appeals for significance (along such registers as abstraction, chronology, geography) may be necessary because of the breadth of the community. Such communities might work with less methodological consensus, be larger and more heterogeneous. Thus their attempts to create a community of practice across multiple institutionalizations, as with the scholars of the journal Oral Tradition . In such cases each scholar will have to implicitly assume the significance of their local materials and/or explicitly argue for it to others for whom those local materials are initially perceived as outside their concerns (their community of practice and its ranges of significance), cajoling them to increase their range by appealing to various forms of global significance. Thus the massive technological infrastructure of "orality -- literacy" may represent tightly held, consensual apparatus, or may work as a loosely structured apparatus that functions to place disparate materials into new configurations of significance, perhaps even creating new communities of practice (which can then create other tightly held consensual concerns). In other words, the embodiment of standards Star describes, may be strong, in flux, stable, decaying, and so on, with varying ranges of significance.

And the vast technological infrastructure of studies in orality and literacy are built on an installed base . That base grounds the infrastructure in many ways, for good and ill; explains some uses of the infrastructure in various communities of practice and the objects with which it is associated in each, revealing built-in biases, politics, structures of power; elements of which are stable, in flux, decaying and so on. For example, the Harvard lineage might be pushed back and beyond Harvard, to studies in folklore that valorize the Volk in Europe, exemplified in, say, the Brothers Grimm collecting Kinder-und Hausmärchen (1812-22). Jacob Grimm simultaneously pursued comparative philological study of Germanic languages and etymology, helping to demonstrate genetic relationships among European languages. Such genetic relationships were used in the great 19th c. project to posit and reconstruct a single common source language for a range of European and (South Asian) Indian languages, Proto-Indo-European, through the development of the great 19th c. linguistic methodology, the comparative method. Among other projects, Jacob Grimm also wrote a Serbian grammar, and studied ancient law practices and pre-Christian German beliefs. Nationalisms (and romanticisms) throughout Europe were expressed in and through the projects which valorized the Volk and folklife (even socialist nationalism or Nazism), and the reconstruction of Proto-Indo-European was in its historical significance perhaps something approaching the Human Genome Project today. Not unconnected to that 19th c. project reconstructing Proto-Indo-European, were the 20th c. structuralist projects, in which Lévi-Strauss was one actor; as was also Cambridge anthropologist Jack Goody, who studied orality and literacy across historical cultures. Each in their own way made efforts to systematize large quantities of data about cultures through their formal elements, influenced by mathematics and structural linguistics, and by post-WWII cybernetics and information theory. These are but brief allusions to the installed base upon which the technological infrastructure of studies in orality and literacy are built.

As a property of technological infrastructure, embeddedness is part of the institutionalizations of the communities of practice in which the objects of the infrastructure are naturalized. But embeddedness also refers to the complexity of interconnection among all the parts of the infrastructure, which in the case of writing technologies includes what I have called ecologies in layers of locals and globals , along the registers (at least) of abstraction, chronology, geography. In the registers of abstraction are the layers across concrete/abstract or perhaps better territory/map, as materialities of "territory" are formalized, and then those formalizations are themselves materialized, that is, carry material weight and power. Star and Bowker's historizations of the classification systems such as race under apartheid are examples.

In the registers of chronology, are periodizations, which are contextual; shifting deliberately and inadvertently according to the objects they contextualize, producing narratives of association, direction and completion, as well as ranges of significance. The variant ranges of the term "modernity" in different communities of practice is an example. In the registers of geography are regions and hemispheres and globes by different scales of wholeness, of translocals newly associated, by contiguity and by theme, nation, lines of power, lines of trade. Today such remappings (with our contemporary writing technologies) of the "globe" are gorgeously (perhaps chillingly) multiple, from internationally famousLife magazine photos taken from outer space, to neighbors in local communities tracking old toxic waste sites, to circumnavigations of satellites for TV, to differing regionalizations by cell phone operator, to translocal communities produced via the internet, to new regionalizations of the former Soviet Union. Such registers of layers of locals and globals are ways of describing the specifics of embeddedness, and their ranges of interconnections, their ecologies. They overlay one another, one or another seeming especially salient at particular moments and places, or shifting in their own ranges and processes of naturalization; or happening and dynamic all at once.

Star points out that breakdowns in technological infrastructure are fixed in modular increments, not all at once or globally

Communities of practice use boundary objects to create alliances and associations of meaning, as when the journal Oral Tradition creates materialities of association in their journal, with institutionalized processes and mechanisms for associating already existing communities of practice and creating new ones. This happens in pieces, in locals and translocals, with attempts to create new layers of globals, new imaginations of globals. A theoretical critique might identify breakdowns, but only some communities of practice will know about that critique, only some will see its application to their local circumstances and objects, only some will give it authority. It travels, but slowly, with changes and translations, with new objects associated with it, with varying ranges of naturalization. New writing technologies may alter the range of objects to be naturalized in given communities of practice; and such naturalization may be highly differential; just as are the ranges of access to internet technologies, across classes, genders, races, nations, educational levels, in particular institutional settings (workplaces or schools perhaps) and so on. Cellular phone service or satellite television may make internet connection possible on a Native American Indian reservation where other technologies would have been dependent hitherto on (non-existent) wires and cables. Star points out that such "fixings" in modular increments require the collaboration and contestation of communities, agreements and negotiations, the production of commonalities and so on.

The stories we tell are the heart of the terrain of feminism and writing technologies. My own rearrangements of the Great Divide as technological infrastructure attempt to index simultaneously the work of purification and the work of hybridization or translation. I want to draw attention to contexts of meaning and articulation work of communities of practice, in layers of locals, even through we sometimes hand off reified technologies across their differences, in layers of globals. I locate the heart of the terrain of feminism and writing technologies in the stories we tell about the shifting, problematic, and always multiple boundaries between those only seeming stabilities, "the oral" and "the written." I want to surface the very work of making, transforming, dissolving distinctions between "the oral" and "the written," variant as these processes are by community of practice, processes highly politicized. I understand these stories within narratives that access different pasts, "reordered to better reflect multiple constituencies now and then."

I think in terms of four large bundles of stories. These are not the only such stories, but ones that seem salient now, within the last two decades or so in feminism and writing technologies. They are tendentiously political stories, political as in "technologies as sites of struggles for power," and so are my feminist descriptions of them:

  • First, stories about origins continuously retell "the" difference between "the" oral and "the" written," in layers of globals, and we note that these differences turn out not to be the same in various stories, in layers of locals. Stories about origins similarly continuously renarrate "the" printing revolution, and we note that it too is multiple and differing. These stories describe histories and social relations instantiated in such writing technologies as tokens, knots, alphabets, kinds of type, copying machines, displaying surfaces, instruments of inscription, linking devices and so on; this approach is curious about the different communities of practice that tell these stories and the meanings they mobilize using them. Feminist stories point out that current technologies are situated within the international integrated circuit of women, within multinational sexual, racial, ethnic divisions of labor. And that past technologies and the history of the book are situated within systems of power too, national, religious, colonial, as well as gendered, raced and classed. Deconstruction supports feminism and writing technologies in addressing logocentrism rather than devaluing or overvaluing oralities, erasing them or romanticizing them. "Writing" in this context emphasizes thatoralityliteracies and pastpresents are always already mixed in naturecultures; this approach both looks at boundary objects "writing technologies" and at dynamic processes of understanding, that is "writing" technologies. Haraway's story-telling is pivotal here too as "diffraction patterns record the history of interaction, interference, reinforcement, difference. make visible all those things that have been lost in an object...."
  • Stories about crisis are the stories of loss and opportunity: on the one hand the Gutenberg Galaxy made room for by the loss of the harmonious sociality of spoken memory; on the other hand, the invasion of new "oralities" creating new pleasures of mind and body. They include the stories of terror and romance told from all political vantage points about revolutionary new technologies and media, including "the end of the book" or "the end of the body." It is here that we might question "digital divides" and ask who profits from which stories about crisis? We can create and examine feminist critiques of McLuhan's, Ong's and others' orthodoxies of orality and literacy, exposing especially their colonial and neocolonial assumptions, their narratives of progress, their implication in development policy, their centering of a West with its heart in the Homeric hero. Stories of crisis would also include and examine the leftover colonialisms of development and modernization theory and international monetary policy, where literacy is held to be the harbinger of logical thought, healthy and economical family life, cost-accounting, and threshold levels of national industry and democracy. Such stories are now intertwined with neoliberal and even neoconservative attempts at management of globalization processes as well as with the stories told by those attempting to intervene in these processes and in their exploitations and dominations.
  • Stories about identity examine the politics of decolonization and the investments of US feminisms in specific ethnic/racial/sexual literacies. They include an examination of the politics of English in a world in which English is increasingly the language of science and the web, of global film and television, of multinational capital and banking (each promoting their own economic regionalisms). Some stories highlight English as a map of colonial histories, while others might emphasize English as a bridge between tribal and regional languages in the construction of new nationalisms and national literatures and arts. English First is the rubric under which new traditionalisms are engaged in the U.S., attempts to contain insurgent and traveling culturalisms. Competing stories suggest alternately that English and other official languages are breaking apart or are supplemented as linguistic resistance communities in regionalisms or mini-nationalisms are spoken in revived dialects or written on the web as virtual ethnic communities. Within U.S. identity politics, feministoralityliteracies (one word) speak the "Spanglish" of the Chicana or envision broad and narrow utopias of "women's language," "women's culture," "women's writing." Song and poetry and storytelling are all the elements of these new sets of narratives--not simply their forms, but their contents as well. The narratives and theories of performance in a range of meanings and objects, the technologies of the oral-formula and other production and memory devices, and the articulation work of their practitioners and theorists to value naturecultures across writing technologies figure here as well. New forms of association on the internet and their emergent activisms, their reconfigurations for good and ill of human rights imaginations, treaties, and universalisms intertwine with the writing technologies that make possible new historicizing of identities, including sexual identities, in their layers of locals and globals, pasts and presents.
  • Finally, stories about the production of stories require feminists and progressives of all kinds to situate their own engagements within these story-making practices. This is the meaning of feminist theory in this context, a reconceiving of "working relations." There are no innocent positions from which one can only look on, no ways to be outside all this "messiness and dirtiness and imperfection" and, of course, excitements, hopes and valorizations as well. Speaking to the intra-actions of people and writing technologies are ways of addressing urgency, agency, change, and knowledge-making. In the 1950s French literary sociologist and journalist Robert Escarpit's "literary fact" was measured by the amount of paper consumed in a country, rather than by the numbers of so-called books published. In the year 2004 CE, where in Silver Spring MD (my current residence) one goes to the public library as much to listen to story-tellers, to take out video tapes and DVDs, audio books and CDs, to learn English or borrow a variety of materials in a range of languages, to copy or download tax forms and job ads, or just to surf the web, as to borrow paperbacks, taking literally the materiality of "the literary fact" has to be strategized beyond paper. "What counts as the material?" is an important political and theoretical question in "layers of locals and globals," in ranges of maps and territories. The systems of publication, vertically integrated transnational multimedia productions and copyright in new forms of intellectual property, the valuations of the academy and the market, all this and more must be taken into account in an examination of relative and relational global and local layered apparatus of cultural production.

My emphasis on stories parallels Haraway's who says: "Understanding the world is about living inside stories. There's no place to be in the world outside of stories. And those stories are literalized in these objects. Or better, objects are frozen stories. Our own bodies are a metaphor in the most literal sense. This is the oxymoronic quality of physicality that is the result of the permanent coexistence of stories embedded in physical semiotic fleshy bloody existence. None of this is an abstraction...." Stories are situated in communities of practice and travel between and among them; they have to be understood as interventions within them, creating alliances and contests, and boundary objects between them, having local and global meanings. While I do not renounce critique I do situate my own stories and those of others inside the work they do as particular kinds of intervention, curious about critique as an element of narratives in layers of locals and globals. With Star I am interested in surfacing invisible work. I look todeliberate and unexpected ironies as one of the ways assumptions are defamiliarized and articulation work is surfaced, one way in which the work of purification and the work of hybridization can be practiced and recognized simultaneously. I agree with Haraway that: "Irony is about contradictions that do not resolve into larger wholes, even dialectally, about the tension of holding incompatible things together because both or all are necessary and true. Irony is about humor and serious play."

The bundles of stories I have narrated here and the kinds of work they do can be contextualized by the questions Star and Bowker raise respecting classification infrastructures: 

  • "How objects can inhabit multiple contexts at once, and have both local and shared meaning.
  • "How people, who live in one community and draw their meanings from people and objects situated there, may communicate with those inhabiting another.
  • "How relationships form between (1) and (2) above--how can we model the information ecology of people and things across multiple communities?
  • "What range of solutions to these three questions is possible and what moral and political consequences attend each of them?"

These bundles of stories are meant to reconfigure "black boxes": not to eliminate them but to mix up the objects and narratives of communities of practice, resorting them, denaturalizing them and renaturalizing them; understanding them within what Suchman calls "working relations," what Star and Bowker call an "information ecology," some of them and their elements specifically feminist. Such stories are meant to show curiosity about rather than eliding what Suchman calls "an overwhelmingly complex network of relations, for the most part made up of others we had never met and of whose work we are only dimly aware."

To be curious about what is both masked and indexed by a "simple dichotomy of technology" which is "in actuality an increasingly dense and differentiated layering of people and activities, each operating within a limited sphere of knowing and acting that includes variously crude or sophisticated conceptualizations of the others." This curiosity is about "knowledge in dynamic production, reproduction and transformation....The movement is from a single, asituated, master perspective that bases its claims to objectivity in the closure of debate, to [curiosity about] multiple, located, partial perspectives that find their objective character through ongoing dialogue." Such a curiosity is better engaged by diffracting rather than deleting the lived work of knowledge production "across multiple, discontinuous worlds each of which stand as a block box for the others." Considering this great classification infrastructure reframes all the stories and the skilled categorical work they do: remaking and refreshing the categories, and juggling multiple memberships in communities of practice and multiple naturalizations of objects, by the creation and management of boundary objects. I want these stories to create what Star calls "compound subjects." Such compound subjects allow for understanding logical relationships in new ways and for creating new relationships: comparing the seemingly incomparable, using local analytic terms faithfully but also translocally or even globally, in order to understand writing technologies within ecologies of locals and globals. The point here is to begin to create "a richer vocabulary than that of standardization" since "standards do not remain standard for very long, and person's standard is another's confusion and mess."