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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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4 Complexity and Reduction: Teaching Writing as a Complex System


One premise discussed throughout this book is that systems—including writing systems—work on and across multiple levels of scale, and similarly, are interrelated with other systems that populate their environment.1 Each local level of a system, and each system itself, can be considered independently, but also, can be considered in relation with all of the other levels and systems, in various combinations and in various localities. In a system composed of levels A, B, and C, for example, we can consider level A as containing a set of elements functioning cohesively as a system, and separately, levels B and C each having a set of cohesively functioning systemic elements. Also, though, we can consider the elements on level A working in relation with level B as a coherent system AB. As well, we can consider level A working in relation with level C, level B in relation with C, and levels A, B, and C all functioning together as a coherent system. Any local system, in this sense, can be sliced up in several different ways. Systems philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari describe this multiplicity in terms of a plant “rhizome,” which is essentially an interconnected complex system that lacks hierarchical relationships—a vastly expansive networked set of nodes and relations. As they write, “[t]‌he wisdom of the plants” is ←127 | 128→that “even when they have roots, there is always an outside where they form a rhizome with something else—with the wind, an animal,...

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