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Title:Reassembling Writing Technologies: Historical and Situated Studies of Rhetorical Activity
Author(s):Van Ittersum, Derek
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Hawisher, Gail E.
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Prior, Paul A.; Mortensen, Peter L.; Bruce, Bertram C.
Department / Program:English
Discipline:English with a concentration in Writing Studies
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Computers and writing
Engelbart, Douglas
Writing Studies
Abstract:Through historical research on hypertextual, collaborative writing software and hardware in the 1960s and situated studies of writers’ digital memory and invention work in the present, this dissertation considers the emergent uses of technologies surrounding disruptive moments. Combining Bruno Latour’s actor-network theory with theories of mediated activity (Vygotsky, Wertsch, Engeström, Nardi), it uses historical and contemporary scenes to propose that the coordination of mediating technologies constitutes important rhetorical work. Breakdowns in literate practices lead to the opening of what Latour has called black boxes, which otherwise would conceal the mediating roles of artifacts, people, and ideologies. Thus, breakdowns provide opportunities to trace the connections between situated activity and wider social contexts. Reconsidering the history of Douglas Engelbart’s On-Line System (NLS) of the 1960s and 70s, I illustrate how the black-boxing of a specific group of technologies into the standard personal computer suppressed alternate configurations that were supported by writing theories strongly resembling those of the early process movement. Through interviews with, and observations of, writers today as they demonstrate their digital note-taking and bibliographic work, I explore the breakdowns they encounter in the course of adopting new technologies and examine how functional systems (consisting of institutions, conventions, people, and artifacts) shape and respond to these writers’ goals for their literate practices. The historical and contemporary case studies suggest that writers, teachers, and designers working within digital environments can benefit from increased consideration of the role of computing practices and artifacts in rhetorical work.
Issue Date:2008
Citation Info:Dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in English with a concentration in Writing Studies in the Graduate College of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2008
Genre:Dissertation / Thesis
Publication Status:unpublished
Rights Information:Copyright 2008 by Derek Van Ittersum. Some Rights Reserved Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 license. To view a copy of this license, visit
Date Available in IDEALS:2008-08-18

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