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Invisible Effects

Rethinking Writing through Emergence

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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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Conclusion: Systems and (Un)certainty

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In any class, writing or otherwise, student interactions vastly differ. Depending on the composition of the class—the individual personalities, the various backgrounds and embodiments of the students, even the time of day—differing dynamics will develop, along with differing amounts and intensity of student-to-student interactions. As well, in many classes a few students may dominate discussion, and, likely, there will be a few who for a variety of reasons do not participate. While obstacles to student participation are a valuable and much-discussed topic in composition and writing studies, this section pertains to the intricacies of student interaction in different group dynamics.

I’ll start the section by giving a very brief example, just for reference, of how small group work is set up in my own writing classrooms: most of the time, small groups in my classes meet for about 35–40 minute sessions (half of a 75-minute class period). During that time, in the room it’s just the group and me (i.e., the rest of the class is not present), and we spend the time talking about each student’s writing, one person at a time. With fewer students, and with more time for each person to speak (and with my own involvement purposely limited), there is more of what in systems ←157 | 158→theory parlance could be called bottom-up interaction. In these kinds of interactions there is more room for different students to speak up, for different perspectives to be recognized, and for different aspects of the...

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