This week's readings involved two mapping essays. Thralls and Blyler wrote their in the early 1990s, while Rude's essay was published in 2009. I am writing this journal entry a little late (the day after class), so it will be more reflective of the readings as I understood them after the class conversation.
The main idea of a mapping essay is to get a broad overview of a field as a whole. And as Rude tried to make explicit, a mapping essay should act like a map: that is, it should show where things are relative to each other and provide directions for how to get from place to place (I'm writing this from memory away from my books, so forgive me for not
having page numbers to cite). I believe that Thralls and Blyler also point out that maps are inherently political as well. In defining what belongs within boundaries, political power is expressed; even drawing a map about geopgraphical features will involve making judgments about which features are important enough to include and whicih ones are not.
At the same time, as Lee-Ann pointed out, a mapping essay is essentially a lit review. Only instead of functioning as a tightly focussed lit review aimed at carving out territory for a research project, the mapping essay tries to make connections between exisitng projects and schools of thought.
So what do I get from these two essays that I might use in my work?
I am still quite taken by the social constructionist perspective outlined by Thralls and Blyler. But I'm also seeing a lot of value in the Ideological Critique. I think these two perspectives combined will help me as I try to unawravel the collaborations around open source software. Social Construction provides a poweful way of understanding the creation of any text--but for me, open source software is inherently social--it just cannot be written by a single person. Ok, that is an iffy statement, when you look at the way Stallman wrote emacs or even the way Andrew Tannenbaum describes his work
on Minix. But I think those two projects actually illustrate the point: Software can be written by a single person, but until there is a community to work on it as a social construction, it does not thrive in the same way that Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) does. It took Stallman years to get Emacs and then GNU together. I'm not even sure if GNU is a usable product even today. And Minix was useful in only limited ways until Torvalds tried to clone it and created a new development model around the effort.
I didn't find much use in the Paralogic Hermaneutics critique. It may be true that meaning is only created between two people in the act of interpretation, but it seems that Social Constructivism and the Ideological Critique provide better scaffolding for teaching writing and writing about writing.
The Rude essay was interesting in that did much more to map out the directions that research in the field is taking. But at times I still felt that it was more of a categorization exercise than a mapping exercise. Rude describes four main veins of research, but I didn't get a strong sense of how to move from one vein to another, or more importantly, how to move from these existing veins into the new territory that I want to cover in my own research. However, my hunch is that if I re-read Rude, I'd have a better sense of those directions.
What would a more "map-like" mapping essay look like? How can you give explicit directions to what is essentially a lit review?
Is the social constructivism (and its ideological critique) current enough to sustain dissertation research in 2010?
Charlotte Thralls, & Nancy Roundy Blyler. (2004). The Social Perspective and Professional Communication: Diversity and Directions in Research. In J. Johnson-Eilola & S. A Selber (Eds.), Central works in technical communication. Oxford University Press.
Lay, M. M. (2002). Research in technical communication. Ablex Publishing Corporation.
Rude, C. D. (2009). Mapping the research questions in technical communication. Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 23(2), 174.