Reid, Alex.  “Exposing Assemblages: Unlikely Communities of Digital Scholarship, Video, and Social Networks” Enculturation 8 (2010).

  • R. begins by noting that some UPs are moving toward publication in digital formats – especially UM as well as the Computers and Composition Digital Press imprint at Utah State University Press.  Yet, as R. acknowledges, there are relatively few publications outside a relatively small number of presses interested in changing the format of the print journal article.  This isn’t merely the generic format but also the peer review and editorial processes as well.
  • R.’s main goal in this article:  [The] confluence of the marketplace woes for academic publishing, the general exhaustion of humanities scholarship, and the emergence of digital media networks creates an opportunity for engaging more fundamentally with the scholarly projects of humanism . . . . the current situation offers scholars the opportunity to investigate the material and social assemblages that have coded and territorialized the humanities over the last century.  Using “exposure” as the primary investigative analytic, R. proceeds to develop an understanding of how scholarly practices, identities, and communities emerge through exposure to shifting material, technological, and social assemblages to understand how nw otentials for humanism might emerge.
  • R. notes that the prevalence of video doesn’t signal, necessarily, the continuance of disicplinary work in a new medium; rather, the move toward the digital throughout the discipline is a result of “historical assemblages of material, technological, and social objects” and tracing those assemblages might reveal what kinds of shifts will occur in disciplinary practices and identities of scholars in the humanities.
  • R. acknowledges two separate but important methodological/argumentative concerns:  “So while the technical, rhetorical, and disciplnary concerns remain salient, they must be understood within the broader context of the assemblages to which the humanities are exposed.”
  • R. takes issue with the characterization of digital media as external force that threatens internal identity – be that identity disciplinary, student, etc.; rather, he sees digital media as part of a new assemblage through which contemporary identities are produced.
  • R. wants to explore this problem of “exposure” and the putative existence of the coherent, internal identity (read: Cartesian subjectivity of individuals, institutions, etc.) by using Manuel DeLanda’s notion of “a realist approach to social ontology” or a way to explore assemblages as a mapping of “general object relations.”
  • Bunch of related, but difficult ideas:  Apparatuses are an integral part of our humanity but also the primary mechanism for increasing the bounds of disciplinary society; “Profanation” (Agamben) of the apparatus occurs through processes of “exposure” or the movement of objects into non-sacred spaces; Assemblage theory allows researchers to trace the processes of exposure and profanation through mapping material, technological, and social forces; The interruption created by “exposure” results in moving “composing” from internal space to external relation.  The resultant “being-with” and not simply “being” offers different ways of understanding the communities/ontologies we inhabit.
  • Key Claim: “The exposure of scholarly practices to new assemblages, including digital media technologies and networks, profanes “sacred” (despite being secular) humanistic practices.  Indeed, it is particularly the radical redefinition of self/other in the relations of exteriority that characterize assemblage theory that might offer, not a solution, bust something other to do.”
  • R. notes that our “legacy” of academic publication is largely the result of the difficulty in communicating with colleagues, access to scholarship is difficult, and publication is expensive.  But, of course, very little of this makes much sense now in the age of networked digital media.
  • I’m sure Collin is aware of the bit of thinking that R. does aloud on the affordances of digital scholarship here.  R. notes that when we take into account the practices of networked digital communication, any potential “document” or publication could be working on simultaneously by many individuals spread across large spaces.  This means understanding digital scholarship as “social assemblage.”
  • A key claim to R.’s explanation of “social assemblage theory” : a shift from “mapping relations between interiorized organic totalities to mapping exteriorized parts characterized by both properties and capacities.”  What this means is:  exposure to the components of an assemblage creates danger for the totality of the interiorized organic whole.  Alternatively, recognizing social assemblages means taking up the relations of exteriority – the whole is not the aggregate of all the properties that make up the asseblage but of their exercise of their capacities.  In this model, the subject arises/emerges through the exteriorized relations (or assemblages) between parts of the assemblage that acutualize particular capacities (direct quote).  Rather than being threatened by exposure, as in the interiorized account, exposure is the only means of developing subjectivity.
  • Technology is of particular use to social assemblage theory because it often functions as a strong means of exposure, deterritorializing by disrupting organization and homogeneity.
  • How does media destabilize assemblages?  The “community” created through technological disruptions/interruptions of the myth of the writer results in a break, a turn away from “being-inside” to “being-with” through communitarian digital literacy.  In R.’s words, “In this formulation, we are each singular beings who arise through our exposure to one another, through being-in-common, not through sharing characteristics so much as through the interaction of the capacities of the assemblage we produce.”
  • R. makes an important recognition in this piece with respect to authorship:  “Despite the discipline’s fluency with various theoretical critiques of authorship, as scholarly authors we continue to view our own writerly identities in very traditional ways.  Student writers are seen in the same terms . . . . In the end, after theorizing of how subjects get produced, we say there remains an immanent being, me, Alex Reid, and I can present myself in this text.”
  • R.s article calls to mind Sampson’s book Virality: Contagion Theory in the Age of Networks.  In fact, there are an incredible amount of overlap between the two.  For composition, R.’s article is important because it argues that exposure is a core element of composition and communication (though, admittedly, some assemblages overcode to prevent too much mutation in the assemblage).

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