Textual Curation in Kennedy, Jones, and Slattery

April 12, 2010

Full disclosure: while I feel I’ve always appreciated Wikipedia at face value, I’ve never considered that the process of writing the site was so rich and worthy of analysis. I didn’t know, for example, that not only does the site have such a thing called Task Forces, which binds anonymous users around a common area to “strengthen the content of the broader topic area” (Kennedy 147), but that those topics can be as mundane as Legos or as specifically mundane as the video game series Castlevania. Holy. Crap.

Such Task Forces are formed to address “curatorial tasks” – where likeminded users editors collaborate to bring together texts as communities. I’m not sure who exactly has time to curate a page on Castlevania or how the main page escapes the hot, angry fingers of deletionists, but according to the fourth chapter of Krista Kennedy’s dissertation, “Textal Curation,” the agency of these editors function in much the same way as former encyclopedia authors have: as curators of texts. As curators, they ideally amass “the best textual samples available, assessing their quality, arranging entries in the most effective order, and writing a variety of additional texts to transform the gathered elements into a cohesive whole” (123). I say “ideally” because what each corpus strives for is to have entries compile the very best sources (of course!). Anyone who’s read a stub in Wikipedia knows good sources can be hard to come by. But in this sense the thousands of authors who have collaboratively produced Wikipedia draw from the same authorship principles as someone like Chambers writing Cyclopaedia in 1728; by “knowing where to collect information; developing ways to manage it; filtering the collection for relevance and quality; composing concise, clear articles; and attending to or outsourcing the myriad small tasks of publishing” (123) the encyclopedia succeeds.

However, what’s different between Wikipedia and Chambers’ Cyclopaedia, Kennedy argues, is their revision processes. Whereas Chambers made scant revisions of old entries 10 years later and focused instead on developing new entries, Wikipedia’s distributed authorship makes it “truly impossible to point to a central composer” (159). The 21st century tools – the Web, cheap hardware, wikis themselves – engender entries that are “written by a swarm of people” (160). The other articles we read this week, Scott Jones’s “From Writers to Information Coordinators” (2005) and Shaun Slattery’s “Technical Writing As Technical Coordination” make similar arguments about how the actual IT tools change the process of writing into what seems to be more and more like textual “curation” (Kennedy),“coordination” ”(Slatterly), “genre ecologies” (Freedman and Smart and Spinuzzi and Zachary), “layering” (Geisler), or the awesomely futuristic-sounding “Comprehensive Collaborative Continuum (Jones) — and less and less plain old single-authored writing with pen and paper or a word processing and email program.

I’m taken with this concept of curation (hey, who wouldn’t want to curate their own art space or music fesitival?), but I wonder how far we can extend the term “textual curation.” Is it a metaphor or not? What textual juxposition of researched texts isn’t curation? Are my students in WRT 205 curating their research essays, since they should be pulling together the best possible sources to make an argument — or is that the difference between curation and synthesis? In other words, does the neutral point of view (nPOV) stance of the encyclopedia privilege that term in ways other texts cannot? Finally, what’s the difference, and how can that difference be taught to students in our professional and technical writing courses — or even in FYC?

According to Slattery, it sounds like we need to introduce our students to strategically chosen classes of tools and platforms that evoke a “meta-level awareness” so that when they learn one class of those tools (image-editing software is the example), they learn them all. But if you ask Jones, perhaps he’ll say that we need to teach them to collaborate within Content Management Systems so that they can author multiple genres at once. And I bet if you ask Krista Kennedy, she’ll show you how to teach with wikis and other neat-o collaborative sites like Google Sites (psych – that already happened). I’m not sure what the answer is here, or how to make room in a curriculum for all of these tools, but as I sit in workshop on WRT 307 and think more about the Aristotelian definition of rhetoric – “all available means of persuasion” – then I do think we need to get our students into these tools, constantly coordinating texts.


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