Title: The Material Culture of Writing
Deadline for Chapter Proposals: September 15, 2017
We invite proposals for chapter contributions to an edited collection on the material culture of writing. In particular, we are interested in work on the nature, histories, and roles of writing objects, read through a material culture studies (MCS) and consumer research lens. By putting MCS into conversation with writing and rhetorical studies, this collection aims to magnify the focus on the material things that sustain writerly acts and identities.
Writers depend on objects, whether those objects are possessions (e.g., desks, pens, homes), objects that travel (a book with another’s annotations, earbuds used in a coffee shop, a portable keyboard), talismans (objects imbued with special meaning or value in their ability to help one write), tools (software programs, erasers, paper, keyboards), or material goods that incidentally hang around one’s writing space (a painting, window, a stack of books, or bills and mail). Writing studies’ interest in the material dimensions of writing and rhetoric has grown steadily in recent years, as evidenced by scholarship that uses frameworks such as actor-network theory, cultural-historical activity theory, new materialism, and object-oriented ontology to expose the shaping role that matter takes in writing and suasive acts. However, this scholarship tends not to linger upon particular writing objects. This collection, then, aims to extend writing and rhetorical studies interest in material objects by drawing upon MCS assumptions and approaches.
Material culture is “the tangible yield of human conduct” (Glassie), the manifestation of culture through human production (Prown). MCS, as a discipline, has been represented by scholars in fields as diverse as history, consumer research, anthropology, art, landscape architecture, and social psychology, though not all of the scholars whose work takes a material culture approach would identify themselves as material culture scholars. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, MCS scholars labored to prove that everyday objects play complex, understudied roles in human society and relationships. The scholarship that emerged engages with objects as diverse as Turkish carpets (Glassie), blue jeans (Gordon), and teapots (Prown), just to name a few. The vast body of theory that emerged from MCS and related fields has demonstrated that the human-object-society relationship is complex, as humans invest an extraordinary amount of themselves in their possessions, even sometimes attaching more to them than certain body parts (Belk); they experience attachment to different types of artifacts over their lifespan (Czikszentmihalyi and Rochberg-Halton); and they obsessively collect objects of meaning while at the same time dispossessing themselves of others. In short, a rich body of work on objects, possessions, and artifacts has amassed that increases awareness of the roles they play in human lives and the work they perform for their users. Since the 1980s, interest in material culture has steadily grown in both the academy and popular culture, giving rise to, for example, scholarship on the role a kitchen table plays in restructuring family activities and identities as it transitions between family members (Epp and Price) and research on the transitional objects Chinese students bring with them when studying abroad (Bih). Bogost and Schaberg’s recent series in The Atlantic, Object Lessons, exemplifies mainstream attention to things as contributors chart the social histories of everyday objects including the ballpoint pen, chalkboard, and bookshelf.
Writing studies has turned its attention to the materiality of writing, but with less focus on objects and possessions, save some notable examples including work on the Moleskine notebook, the pencil, Post-It Notes, and Scrivener. Putting writing studies in conversation with MCS can uncover the distinct sociohistorical, cultural, and material textures of the objects writers write with and around and has the power to help reimagine writing and rhetorical studies’ understanding of writers, writing practices, writing identities, and writing technologies.
We are particularly interested in work that builds on MCS scholarship and invite contributions from diverse fields that take up the following, or related, issues and approaches:
- What objects are significant to writers throughout the writing process and in their writing practices?
- What objects, historically, have been significant to writers or to the development of writing and literacy?
- How do individual or collections of objects become significant to practices of rhetoric and persuasion?
- What contemporary or historical constellations of objects are necessary to perform the identity of “writer?”
- How do writers use goods to build an identity through writing?
- Which objects are important to writers across their lifespan? How and why?
- What objects have been significant in histories of rhetoric and rhetorical practice?
- How do writers negotiate their identities as writers through material things?
- How do writers “self-extend” (Belk) through the material goods they use to write and “think with”? (Turkle)
- How do teachers utilize artifacts, objects, and possessions for pedagogical purposes in the classroom and in writing centers?
Potential Approaches and Topics:
- “Biographies” (Kopytoff) of writing objects or writing technologies
- Histories of contemporary or historical writing objects or writing object collections
- Analyses of the role that objects have played, or could play, in writing studies scholarship
- Objects in histories of writing instruction
- Historical/archival perspectives on writing objects in the classroom or in writing centers
- Studies of classroom technologies/writing center technologies
- Histories of writing technologies
- Issues related to access and circulation of writing technologies and infrastructures
- Phenomenological narratives of experiences with writing objects (e.g., Turkle’s approach in Evocative Objects)
- Theories of relationships between writing objects and individuals (e.g., posthumanist theories, disability studies perspectives, situated/embodied cognition approaches, writing technologies as objects or tools, etc.)
- Analyses or qualitative/quantitative studies of classroom design or practices involving artifacts, objects, and/or possessions
300-500 word proposals due September 15, 2017
Contributors will be notified by November 1, 2017
Completed 6,000-7,500-word chapter submissions will be due May 1, 2018
Revised chapter submissions will be tentatively due August 2018
We have been in contact with presses that have indicated initial interest in the project and will submit a formal prospectus to publishers once contributors have been notified of their acceptance.