Making Space title

Afterword: Shaping More Spaces

Richard (Dickie) Selfe

As it stands, Making Space is a powerful collection of experiences, research, and theoretical formulations. It serves the English studies communities well and introduces theories and practices that are uncommon in our sub-disciplines. As the editors suggest, we have, in our discipline, very few examples of “curated bod[ies] of work address[ing] issues of space design.” Agreed, but as you’ll see below, I think we can reach out and influence other disciplines as well as support our own. My charge, however, is to dwell on the future of this area of study. Before I move on, let me say that I am delighted that so many fantastic scholars and practitioners are working on the creation of new physical and digital spaces and tickled by the suggestion that there is a future for work of this type.

Situating the Collection

We are all well aware of the changing nature of physical and digital space configurations, even the newest of those described in this collection. So all curated bodies of work of this type will need to be refreshed frequently. To that end, it makes perfect sense to publish in a made space created by the Sweetland Center for Writing. The University of Michigan Press / Sweetland and participants in the Digital Rhetoric Collaborative (DRC) look at this publication and others not as one-off scholarly works but as nodes in a web of continuing discussions. One can see this in the objectives of the DRC and in descriptions of the UM Press / Sweetland. Anne Ruggles Gere and Naomi Silver made it clear in Paris, France, at the Writing Across Borders Conference in February 2014 that the Sweetland Center and the University of Michigan are making spaces that will surround stable, powerful collections of this type with interactivity. As a result, this curated body of work pulled together by Dànielle Nicole DeVoss and James P. Purdy has the potential to evolve. Bravo.

But is it enough to provide for and appeal to our own discipline, subdisciplines and sub-subdisciplines? I don’t think so. The scholar–workers in rhetoric, composition, and technology areas of English studies are very willing to bring in theory, scholarship, and research from other disciplines that can influence our understandings of the interdisciplinary, intrainstitutional, and interinstitutional “objects” (a Latourian phrase adopted by Douglas Walls and Leslie Wolcott in this collection) of these collected chapters. But how about taking our theory and practices out into the academic streets? Others should be reading this collection besides our disciplinary colleagues. How about C/LMS designers reading the Estee Beck, Mariana Grohowski, and Kristine Blair chapter? Challenge them to design for cyberfeminists if they can. Shouldn’t our instructional technology approaches, distance education initiatives, and classroom design and maintenance organizations read Christopher Scott Wyatt’s chapter on accessibility? Can we challenge them to develop inclusive—not just accessible—spaces and systems? Shouldn’t online learning designers consider the kairotic design process developed at Miami University (Cummings et al., this collection)? Certainly interdisciplinary academic teams working on projects at most colleges and universities should consider the (re)design models and approaches discussed by Aimée Knight; Dana Gierdowski and Susan Miller-Cochran; Russell G. Carpenter and Shawn P. Apostel; Andréa D. Davis; Rebecca E. Burnett and her colleagues; and Christine Hamel-Brown, Amanda Fields, Celeste Del Russo, and Marisa Sandoval. Every chapter has an audience outside the English studies disciplines.

Thinking Back, Moving Forward

So my first two gestures toward a future include a nod toward interactive, unstable— even messy—publishing venues and some hand-waving support for those willing to take their work to academics and professionals outside our discipline.

After reading this collection, I can’t help but think back to the mid-1980s when Cindy—that is, Cynthia L. Selfe, my wife and collaborator, herself cited many times across this collection—and I (and many others) were pushing around little cutouts of pod-shaped desks and chairs for computer class spaces in the then-new Center for Computer-Assisted Language Instruction (CCLI) at Michigan Technological University. We were only beginning to understand that combinations of the material and not-so-material world would come together in that space to influence the learning communities around us. As many of the space makers in this collection suggest, we didn’t really know the extent to which we would influence and encourage local communicative practices or how people would establish their own “living–learning community” (Sheridan, this collection). Subsequent observations of the things, policies, agents, and actants around us often drove our scholarship. It was constantly refreshing, shocking, and puzzling.

Curricular and extracurricular activities forced us, again from David M. Sheridan, to “look not just at courses and course sequences, but at how we can foster learning-supportive activities that take place outside the confines of classes and classrooms.” What we learned from the CCLI at Michigan Tech—now the dazzling HDMZ (Humanities Digital Media Zone) designed by Erin Smith—was that this self-constituting community would help to reframe classes, curriculum, and the literacy experiences of teachers, students, and eventually the many visitors from off campus (consider both the CIWIC, Computers in Writing-Intensive Classrooms, institutes and ECAC, the Electronic Communication across the Curriculum, workshops that took place there over the years).

The materiality of this one space forced us to look at the design of physical space and the digital interfaces and networks at the time (then one of the few LAN-connected learning spaces in the humanities). But we also realized that policies around safety, food, ownership, and access for students, family members, faculty, and staff were hugely important to the living–learning communities that developed in the space. In this collection, that kind of attention to non-digital and non-physical realities is best represented in the chapters by Christopher Scott Wyatt and, in particular, Todd Ruecker and Beth Brunk-Chavez.

Moving Forward, Crafting Futures

So two more gestures to the future:

  1. Keep paying attention to all aspects of the newly minted spaces being made. Surprising collectives and activities will emerge.
  2. Learn from the non-digital, non-physical components of these spaces. That process has always been both a humbling and a productive experience for me.

If my experience at Michigan Tech and at The Ohio State University is any indication, this type of scholarship should continue to be a source of pride as we work with changing systems, events, and sites at our institutions. Making Space steps us down the road, showing us how to learn from theorists and intellectuals; from research around students and teachers; from those who help build, maintain, and support our efforts; and finally from the outside communities who visit.

What are the sets of obligations and material responsibilities that we take on when we make spaces of the sort described in this collection? Not surprisingly, this collection pays productive and sophisticated attention to the future. And why not? Considerations of new and improved learning, new types of lived pedagogies, new compositions, and unique social relationships are compelling. They generate an excitement necessary for academics asked to dive into these deep collaborations over time as spaces are made.

In his chapter, David M. Sheridan asks us to attend to a type of emergence: “Emergence is the materialization of order through the interactions of heterogeneous elements in a complex system.” Making Space has created its own order: powerful, useful, challenging.

Where might we go from here? I’d like to suggest a few paths that I hope those in the “interdisciplines” created by this collection are willing to explore. The extensive sets of collaborations and hard work reported on in this publication and in others are concerning for at least three reasons: electronic waste, credit and merit, and space design communities.

Electronic Waste. If we take on the responsibility of developing new online and technology-rich spaces, should we not also care, to some extent, about what we replace, tear out, and throw away? On my campus that means engaging the “surplus” people: an under-appreciated unit that deals with our departmental e-waste among other disintegrating “objects” (Walls & Wolcott, this collection). We certainly do not want to contribute unwittingly to the electronics dumping industry that has developed worldwide (see for endless distressing details). Check with your surplus people about the type of certification their waste contractors carry and read about the certifications on the Basel Action Network web site ( Let them know you care and are paying attention.

And as my colleague Louie Ulman and I suggested (2014), let’s deepen our “horizon of care” for the objects we are replacing. As we illustrate in figure A.1, our current horizon of care does not adequately address the full range of activities related to the tools we use on a daily basis. We attend, in our scholarship and our institutions, to issues of use, distribution, and collection in reusing, repairing, repurposing, and remanufacturing our old electronic goods. However, we don’t fully attend to issues of manufacture, extraction, recycling, and disposal. Promote the green efforts of manufacturers and those at your institution as you purchase, use, refurbish, reuse, and recycle electronics (and buildings for that matter). I could go on and on, but I’ll stop here. In sum, we need to be environmentally concerned space makers.

ewaste and ejustice use map of extraction, manufacture, distribution, collection, recycling, and disposal, with activities of  Free Geek Columbus and Community Computer Lab








Figure A.1: eWaste and eJustice (click for full-sized image)

cc license
by H. Lewis Ulman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


Credit and Merit. And then there is the problem of credit and merit. As usual in the sub- and sub-subdisciplines of English studies, we need to wonder if the substantial work of current and future scholars engaged in space (re)design on their campuses will be valued by administrators and tenure or promotion committees. When the output of this work is a conference presentation, article, or book chapter, the work is generally recognized and valued. But what about the work of serving on institutional space design committees? The work of analyzing and situating existing and future institutional spaces? The time spent reviewing different configurations of tables, chairs, desks, and other material objects? This book itself stands as a corrective for this situation and a way that we might, perhaps, bring more attention to the complexities of space work. The chapters here document the hidden work of many teacher–scholars. But, once again, individuals are left to describe what is not obvious to those evaluating them on their campuses. How do colleagues involved in making new spaces represent themselves and their work professionally? How do they set themselves up to receive the credit they deserve for projects? Shouldn’t that—couldn’t that—be part of the publishing process? Is there digital space for accounting for the hidden academic and extra-academic work involved in all these projects? Sure there is. But we will have to engage in the hard work of surfacing the hard work involved and in helping others understand how—and why—such work should be valued.

Space Design Communities. One of the lessons learned from Making Space is that the type and scope of projects represented here require long-term, intrainstitutional, interdisciplinary, and, at times, interinstitutional collaborations. Some institutions have the luxury of stabile academic design communities. Most do not. My anecdotal experience suggests that communities of space-making scholars at any one institution are mobile and changeable. In addition to providing tenure and promotion credit for that work, the question of how programs and institutions continually reinvigorate these collectives of scholars and practitioners remains.

Over the years when this sort of exigence occurred, communities of scholars, like the ones represented in this collection, have typically developed yet another sub-sub discipline—or, perhaps more appropriately in this case, an interdiscipline—in response to the dilemma. These communities of scholars have garnered institutional attention and support in at least these four ways:

  1. Through avant-garde publications like this one,
  2. By creating graduate classes and programs in which new scholars are professionalized in this area of study,
  3. Through job descriptions and hiring criteria that will bring in scholars who can teach in these programs and do the work of redesign,
  4. By developing national representation at conferences and in (inter)disciplinary organizations

That leaves me with a few questions for the community of scholars engaged in this collection and their readership. Are there interdisciplinary graduate-level courses or programs that address theories, research methods, pedagogies, best practices, and the mundane issues of space making? Can future faculty choose to specialize or develop a concentration in the collection of problematics configured by Making Space authors? Can they do so within a department, or, more likely, within interdisciplinary initiatives or centers? How do those of us invested in space making encourage our colleagues and administrators to embed hiring criteria into disciplinary and interdisciplinary job descriptions so that space-making communities continue to grow and develop over time? Where should we be represented in the pantheon of national organizations?

In light of these questions, perhaps the following scenario is something to consider.

Is there enough interest in a learning and communicative space-making collective such that a burgeoning online and face-to-face community of expertise can be developed? I imagine such a collective starting with groups of professionals and scholars recruited by those of this and several other related collections. Can we create a supportive space for colleagues to gather around pedagogical and theoretical justifications, research, design philosophies, common policies, online and physical space configurations, funding concerns, and so on? We all recognize and appreciate Making Space as an important node in that effort. But I am inspired to dream of much more:

  1. Rich multi-institutional collaborations that embrace the extracurricular and cocurricular
  2. Fascinating hands-on, conference-like experiences involving diverse educational and noneducational representatives
  3. An internationalized commitment involving the very wealthiest and poorest users of made spaces, with designs that accommodate both
  4. An ethical concern for the agents and actants involved in our projects, e-waste in particular.

One of the strengths of the current collective is its ability to set up infrastructure. What are the components of a made space that will support those who follow and find these projects real, exciting, and important? Can we help build that infrastructure?

It is remarkably gratifying to see the spread of scholarship represented in Making Space. It is not the legacy of any set of individuals that seems to drive this inquiry but something about the encompassing vision of our approach to communicative learning that allows, encourages, and even demands that we attend to all of the material and not-so-material world that influences those communities that we love. I am proud to have lived and worked in that made space.



Gere, Anne Ruggles, and Naomi Silver. 2014. Born-digital scholarship and long-form publishing in online environments. Paper presented at Writing Research across Borders Conference, Paris.

Ulman, H. Lewis, and Richard L. Selfe. 2014. Composing horizons of care, engagement, and collaboration. Paper presented at Conference on College Composition and Communication, Indianapolis.