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Spinuzzi, Clay. Network:  Theorizing Knowledge Work in Communications. New York: Cambridge UP, 2008.

Chapter Six:  Is Our Network Learning?

Summary:

In this chapter S. discusses how the nature of work has changed fundamentally in the age of informational capitalism.  By referring to workers as “deskilled” (Haraway), “dividuals” (Deleuze), “reskilled” (Castells), and “lifelong learners” (Zuboff and Maxmin), S. points out that the worker in the informational age will be in a constant state of negotiating different tasks and demands.  This argument is laid out in more detail at the beginning of Chapter 5.  Anyhow, after illustrating that Telecorp’s primary problem is a modular-production training model (well suited for Fordist economies, but no more), S. argues that they must do more associational – or rhizomatic – training in the future.  Instead of vertical integration models of learning (it all comes from the top down), what needs to happen more is horizontal learning practices – learning predicated on associations across departments.  While S. criticizes the formal training, apprenticeship and self-learning at Telecorp, he recognizes that learning did occur – to some extent.  He categorizes that learning in the same way that he characterizes networks in chapter 2.

  1. Heterogeneous – Workers at Telecorp were able to juxtapose different things – humans, individuals, nonhumans, groups, tools, belief, etc. – into assemblages that collectively perform activities.  They even learned in a heterogeneous manner through heterogeneous genres and tools.
  2. Multiply linked – Because of all of the hidden passages and Hannibal’s passes at Telecorp, learning happened through multiple links to multiple people and technologies.  This learning subverted the vertical integration model.
  3. Black-boxed – There was a problem with black-boxing at Telecorp.  Because the various assemblages wherein work occurred had so many facets and were changing so often, the information to that needed to be transferred between actants became too idiosyncratic and specific.  According to Spinuzzi to more effectively traverse the assemblages at work, more horizontal training in confidence-building and negotiation needed to be attended to.  This sort of training would result in the closure of some of the more problematic black-boxes in the network.
  4. Transformative – Transformations are central to any network because they allow for new pressures (Actor-Networks) to be assembled.  While Telecorp did a good job transforming texts, they did not provide for a way to transform their workers (training) so that the workers themselves would be capable of working through the associations and away from siloic modularities.

Method:

  • While the method has been pretty clear throughout the book, Spinuzzi again attends to Actor-Network-Theory and, to a lesser degree, Activity Theory in this section.
  • Spinuzzi’s work is ethnographic.

Questions:

  • I wonder to what degree Spinuzzi’s method is a rhetorical-analytical schema to make sense of an ethnographic study.  Bonnie Nardi, in her new book (forthcoming 2010) on activity theory and World of Warcraft calls her activity-theory informed research as “go-with-the-flow ethnography.”  To what extent is this work ethnography with an ANT/AT inspired data analysis sieve?
  • How can we see ourselves using ANT or AT in our own work?  We’ll try to take this question up more at the end of our presentation tomorrow.

2 Responses to “CCR691 – Network – Ch. 6 – for Comment”

  1. eileen E Schell

    I have really enjoyed Spinuzzi’s book and his articulation of the differences as well as commonalities between ANT and AT. It’s apparent that you have really immersed yourself in Spinuzzi’s study. As I read through the book, I wonder about AT’s connections to the field of organizational communication, which examines the very kinds of issues that Spinuzzi is interested in elucidating about Telecorps and its network. The discussion of blackboxing reminded me a lot of discussions I’ve read in org comm about communicative break-downs.

    I’d also be interested in discussing the concept of network, net work, knottworking. And also, in general, the fascination we have in our field with the idea of “network.” In transnational scholarship, there is a lot of discussion of cross-border and global networks. So I think the conceptual metaphor of network would be interesting to interrogate not only in light of Spinuzzi’s study, but in light of how we deploy the idea of network across our field.

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