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Invisible Effects

Rethinking Writing through Emergence


Chris Mays

Invisible Effects directly engages systems and complexity theory to reveal how the effects of writing and writing instruction work in deferred, disguised, and unexpected ways. The book explains how writing and language that exist in "writing systems" can indirectly (though powerfully) affect people and environments in sometimes distant contexts. In so doing, the book takes on a question central to rhetoric and writing throughout its long history but perhaps even more pressing today: how do we recognize and measure the effects of writing when those effects are so tangled up with our complex material and discursive environments? The surprisingly powerful effects explored here suggest new ways of thinking about and teaching writing and the applications, lessons, and examples in the text precisely model what this thinking and teaching might look like.

This book is primed to serve as an important addition to reading lists of scholars and graduate students in Writing Studies and Rhetoric and should appear on many syllabi in courses on writing and writing instruction and on rhetoric, both introductory and advanced. As well, the book’s advocacy for the unrecognized potential impact of writing instruction makes it appealing for writing program directors and any potential university faculty, administrators, and non-academics interested in the importance and the efficacy of writing instruction. This book is also a useful resource for scholars and graduate students specializing in Writing Across the Curriculum, as the text provides a useful way to shift the conversation and communicate about writing across disciplines.

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Introduction: Writing Effects, Complex Systems, and Emergence


Each chapter of this book will begin with a short section set off from the rest of the text, that is meant to illustrate how the principles of complex systems discussed in the chapter can add to or transform our understanding of writing practices, writing pedagogy, or rhetorical inquiry. The purpose of this format is to provide, up front in each chapter, concrete examples that help reveal why systems theory principles matter for teaching, writing, and analysis. The rest of the chapter will be a mix of discussion and explication of that chapter’s primary conceptual focus. For this Introduction, the opening section is a condensed offshoot of the opening example featured in Chapter 2.

As Jenny Edbauer Rice describes in her well-known (to rhetoric and writing scholars) article about the rhetorical significance of the slogan “Keep Austin Weird” (Edbauer), the phrase rose to prominence in Austin in the early 2000s, and quickly became a rallying cry—a proclamation of identity for the city and its residents that spoke to their pride in the unique ←1 | 2→character of the city that they thought was being lost as a result of massive gentrification transforming the area. The phrase also spawned a cascade of variations, each retaining the basic structure of the original, but with a twist (The University of Texas Liberal Arts college’s t-shirts reading “Keep Austin Liberal Arts” were one example of a popular variation [Edbauer 17–18]). It should be noted that these textual variations, while somewhat...

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