Opening the Black box of the 2015 Baltimore riots: an actor-network theory contribution to composition

Koban, John Edward, author
Langstraat, Lisa, advisor
Amidon, Timothy, committee member
Champ, Joseph, committee member
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The purpose of this project is to experiment with new ways of supplementing the "social turn" in composition by using Actor-Network Theory (ANT) as a methodology. In demonstrating the ways ANT could support composition, I conduct a study of the 2015 Baltimore riots in the wake of the fatal injury of Freddie Gray by Baltimore police. In understanding the events the focus is not on the riots themselves but the place where the riots occurred, Baltimore’s Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood, also the home of Freddie Gray and his family. The social focus of this study is to demonstrate how ANT could support an anti-racist composition theory and practice. Herein I argue that ANT has much to offer anti-racist composition theory, arguing that when the methodology is deployed that researchers can arrive at robust findings that supports writing that produces action. In making this argument I identify four general areas that ANT contributes to composition theory: the first area is that the theory behind the method is non-critical in nature. This simply means that instead of relying on critique as means to achieve social justice and critical thinking that we also spend more time describing and assembling and composing--drawing a picture of the social--before beginning the work of critical analysis. The second area ANT adds to composition theory is that in drawing the non-critical pictures of the social that we pay close attention to all agents in the site, and this means that we pay attention to the agency of the nonhumans in addition to the humans. We do this because humans do not exist and act without the agency of nonhumans. The idea here is that any kind of rhetorical work we do will be more robust when we pay more attention to all parts of context and rhetorical situations. The third area ANT contributes is that can cultivate an attunement between and among researchers and the ambient environment or site of study. In other words, in doing the slow work that ANT requires, the researcher has greater opportunity to cultivate an affective engagement with the other agents in the site of study, and when this happens then there is greater opportunity for researchers and students to engage with exigent sites of concern, in both material and affective ways. The fourth way ANT supports composition theory is in that it promotes an ethic of amateurism that allows researchers to tinker with texts and sites and studies in playful and amateurish ways. ANT is a relativistic and objective approach that seeks as its goal consensus through description and slow analysis and work with others and as such this method is a friendlier and less dogmatic form of empiricism. Because of the relativism, the researcher needs to be comfortable with uncertainty, but this uncertainty is beneficial because it allows the researcher to constantly inquire until a consensus and plan of action is reached. After conducting my study of Sandtown-Winchester, I found that the problem of something akin to racism is distributed across the material and discursive space of the neighborhood, arguing that if we only pay attention to the racist discourse in or about the neighborhood that we miss out on half of the picture (the material side of the picture), and that the kinds of actions that could support the neighborhood may be overlooked with only a focus on language and discourse.
Includes bibliographical references.
2016 Summer.
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