C&W Session D7: Service Learning/Civic Engagement: Hashtags, archives, and cultural techniqes of activists



Phil Bratta, Michigan State University, @philbratta
Jasmine Villa, University of Texas at El Paso, @jasvilla_
Elizabeth Davis, University of Georgia, @drelizabeth

After attending Computers and Writing for the first time last year in Rochester, I was eager to get back to C&W because of the range of possibilities in one panel. Session D7, this year in Findlay, was an excellent example of the multiple approaches to digital writing work being done in the field. Phil Bratta theorized the phenomenological relations between digital and material experiences, Jasmine Villa discussed to work of online space-making done by the organization and hashtag #LATISM, and Elizabeth Davis shared her pedagogical experiences with service-learning and digital writing.

Leading the panel was Phil Bratta and his presentation, “Wandering into Wondering and Wonder With(in) a Digital Archive.” Bratta started his presentation by situating his work between affect and semiotics, arguing for the combination of both theoretical approaches to create cultural affect, a phrase he describes as an embodied orientation towards a specific rhetorical event in which lived experience(s) (re)emerges through inquiry and reflections that reorient a set of relations and meanings. The application of this concept came in the combination of two stories: 1)  Bratta’s family history with “hoarding” as a archival practice, and 2) Bratta’s experience wandering through the Labadie digital archive.

For Bratta, hoarding does not signify mental illness as it is often understood but rather a hoarder can be seen as, “a differently-abled body that might have special sensory access to the call of things” (Bennet 2012, p. 244). His father’s collection of tools, scraps of wood, and spare parts or his mother’s collection and relationship to coupons, taught him to appreciate and be drawn to things like archives because to Bratta they are all mass collections of materials that have been curated. As Bratta made his way through the Labadie archive, his embodied experience with archives helped guide his wandering through the various posters “documenting the history of social protest movements and marginalized political communities from the 19th century to the present.” Furthermore, guided by  his own orientation, Bratta’s experiences helped bring the posters alive because of the meaning made by interacting with the semiotic and somatic elements of the posters and finding his way through them. Bratta’s emphasis on the connection between embodied experiences and our orientation to texts in digital spaces helps create us imagine important bridges between working class labor and laboring to the academic spaces of archives.

The second presentation was Jasmine Villa’s “#LATISM as Techne: Creating Digital Narratives for the Hispanic/Latino Community.” Throughout Villa’s presentation, I found myself thinking about the important stakes and range of topics her work was touching upon including: the presence of Latinxs* in social media, the Latinx non-profit industry, the strategic space-making of Latinx digital spaces, and a re-imagining of service-learning models for engaging Latinx non-profits. Starting with #LATISM, the hashtag was started by the non-profit 501 C(4) organization Latinos in Tech Innovation and Social Media (LATISM), to help tag and create spaces for social media conversations that are of interest to the Latinx community including education, health, technology, and business.

Villa’s research of the organization and the hashtag involved interfacing with their Twitter presence and attendance at their annual conference where she was able to see how it is that LATISM connects the wider Latinx non-profit industry. As a space for multiple non-profit organizations to engage each other, Villa asks us as rhetoricians and technical communicators, to think about how we might be able to learn about the vast networks and methods for communication that LATISM has created. Furthermore, because these organization are already so skilled in communication, how might we as academics better support and highlight the important rhetorical work that organization like LATISM are doing, that goes beyond the current model of semester long community engagement course structure. Villa explains that within a wider non-profit discourse, the Latinx non-profit community is under-appreciate and posits that the academic community could help signal boost the important work that these organization are doing.

Elizabeth Davis finished out the panel with her presentation, “Georgia Through the Looking Glass: Sparking Wonder through Archives-Centered and Community Engaged Pedagogy.” Davis’ work brought synergy to the panel as she touched on digital spaces, archives, and community-engaged pedagogy. Davis started by talking about a technical writing course centered on service-learning where students designed the information architecture for various cities in the state of Georgia. Through this course, students took inventory of the existing websites and pitched re-designs to help emphasize what seemed most important to the communities.

Davis argues that through the analysis of the information architecture of the websites, students could get a sense of the communities they were engaging with and gain a better understanding of their clients. Davis points out that many of her students came from the more urban areas of Atlanta and had vague understandings of the mostly rural communities that their clients represented. As students worked to build a relationship with their clients, Davis discussed the role that understanding information architecture played in helping create a baseline for those initial conversations and as the relationship progressed. Davis went on to discuss two other experiences that continued to push students to think critically about their approach to writing experiences that simultaneously asked them to understand a client and write for an ambiguous audience. Often working in teams, students learned to build and craft intentionally while developing skills for engaging communities based on the observations and interactions of various interfaces.

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Victor Del Hierro

Victor Del Hierro recently accepted a tenure track position at the University of Texas at El Paso where he will research and teach about Hip Hop, Technical Communication and Cultural Rhetorics.

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