Swarts, Jason.  “Recycled Writing: Assembling Actor Networks from Reusable Content.” JBTC (2010): 127-163.


Drawing on a study of writers reusing content from one document to another, this study examines the rhetorical purpose of reuse. Writing reuse is predominantly studied through the literature on single sourcing and enacted via technologies built on single-sourcing models. Such theoretical models and derivative technologies cast reusable content as contextless and rhetorically neutral, a perspective that overlooks the underlying rhetorical strategies of reuse. The author argues for a new understanding of reuse as a rhetorical act of creating hybrid utterances that gather their rhetorical strength by assembling ever larger and denser actor networks.

  • So, in essence, Swarts is arguing that “reuse” of language and content isn’t acontextual and arhetorical (as some TC has it); rather, it is actually a rhetorical act wherein legitamacy and relevance is established through the cobbling together of Actor-Networks.
  • Important elements to gather meaning from reuse:  the discursive, material, and contextual qualities of objects in reuse are part of the structure of any actor-network (128).
  • S. relies on Jon Law (2004) to argue that texts interpretation and meaning are made sense of not because of their essential qualities but because of their existences in “hiterlands” or “pre-existing social and material realities” (ibid.).
  • According to S., reuse is a process of “network building, of articulating social, technological, and cognitive infrastructures to support distributed work” (129).
  • Importance for “TC in the Wild” and key difference of this use of reuse from single-source articulations:  “One difference, then, which I play out in my analysis here, is that reuse as a network-building activity accomodates distrubution and coordination that are more ad hoc and spread out over time and space” (ibid.).
  • S. notes that in order for distributed work to occur, groups must build an “infrastructure” that allows for collective function across space-time.  The “human infrastructure” is then supported by various “technological and artifactual infrastructures” that actively carry out work[1. Is the “human infrastructure” another way of saying a discourse community?].
  • Law’s concept of “fractional objects” (objects assembled from borrowed content associated with different worlds or “realities”) resemble texts because texts allow agents to produce meaning out of different contexts.  So, said differently, the text functions as an object produced from the “hinterlands” that borrow voices of actors and their textual/inscription devices in a way that legitimates the text at hand.  This is the process of citation – really a process of actor-networking among fractional texts or texts as fractional objects.  See Swarts:

  • The activity of using texts to mediate other texts (or using fractional texts as meditations that stabilize an AN) is reuse:  “the recycling of materials to allow one context of activity to mediate another” (132).[2. I wonder about the connection between fractional texts and genre ecologies as described by Spinuzzi.]
  • A key quote about the function of text – or even small chunks of content/word chains – that describes the ways that “fractional texts” or the act of citation functions as a network:  “The more authoritative chunks of text, those with stronger allies and a denser and longer network, enlist the weaker text around them and translate its meaning so that the meaning becomes distributed across and mediated by the network of actors and contexts that it implicitly or explicitly references”[3. What we’re getting here is an epistemology for distributed activity. Wow.]
  • On Method:  S. used Camtasia to record the on-screen activity of 4 individuals who used CMS to single-source.  He recorded three instances of textual reuse from start to finish (from searching for content to use as single sourced to the implementation/integration of that content into the final document).  Afterward, he developed specific questions for interview that he posed to the individuals considering their reuse practices.  S. used the following questions:

  • On coding the data:  S. broke the data into t-units, developed two series of activities (relocation/state change are strategies of reuse, fixed/fluid are the flexibility of the meaning of content reused).  Swarts then developed a schema that could be used for the t-unit chunks (this guy obviously studied with Geisler).  Here’s the schema:

  • S. claims that writers in a single-sourcing environment often used the relocation/static texts and didn’t feel the need to select text in order to build coordination; conversely, the non single-sourcing environments necessitated the use of state change/fluid chunks of text in order to create coordination of activity (139).
  • S. claims that the folks working outside the single-source environment were reusing materials in order to build “coordination” in situations that weren’t regular or recurring (144).
  • The really interesting and useful stuff I see here in S.’s consideration of the non single-source folks is his emphasis on the functions of language and power with respect to actor-networks or fractional objects.  For example:

  • S. links Latourian translation (the process of actors following one another in mediated coexistence) and reuse thusly:  The language changes from one localized form to another but keeps its force (e.g., borrowing a university policy and localizing it); localized rules of a community to a specific level (e.g., enforcing a university policy on a specific level/site/forum; and create a text where the motives of the writer are buttressed by the power of a larger force in the “hinterlands” (152).
  • Takeaway 1:  In a single-source environment, the rhetorical activity of reuse is outsourced/delegated to the CMS while in non single-source environments the act of reuse of fractional objects/texts is a complex rhetorical practice that creates authority in order to coordinate distributed activity (158).  In this way, reuse isn’t just about managing “content” it’s about managing “relationships” in order to construct more stable, motivating actor-networks through language.

Main Sources: Castells, Latour, Law, Nardi, Mol

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