Argumentative Architecture: Building a Database for Educational Reform

Event Date: 

Friday, May 6, 2005 - 5:00pm

Event Location: 

  • CTL Trailer 932

Karen Lunsford

Karen Lunsford is a Professor in the Education and Writing Program departments at UC Santa Barbara. In recent years, scholars (e.g., Bolter, 2001; White, 2000) have fore-grounded hypertext genres as the primary challenge to traditional argumentation that digital media offer. For example, hypertexts may replace the hierarchical, linear logic of traditional argumentative texts with more rhizomatic, associative, yet equally persuasive argument structures. However, this focus on hypertext genres has overshadowed the often invisible, black-boxed technologies that also should be seen as argumentative agents: databases.

To be sure, information specialists (e.g., Lakoff, 1987; Bowker & Star, 1999) have pointed out that creating categories, such as database fieldnames, is an argumentative act. In addition, business and technical writing scholars (e.g., Salvo, 2004; Spinuzzi, 2003) have commented on how information architectures affect employees and other database users, and they have discussed the responsibilities that rhetoricians have in contributing to effective information design. Yet what are needed are more accounts of the discussions that groups engage in as they decide what values should be reflected by their information architectures--particularly when these groups are composed of information specialists alongside "content area" specialists. What strategies do they employ to embed their decisions into elements such as database fieldnames, and, more important, how do they also actively persuade the intended database users to align with values they have chosen?

In this presentation, Professor Lunsford reports on a case study of a consortium that was funded to develop a database of resources for fostering diversity in educational settings. She draws on semi-structured and text-based interviews with six key consortium members, along with rhetorical analyses of several of the project's central documents. She examines how the consortium took on the challenge of not only developing the database but also subtly acclimating teachers to the values that the database embodied--thus building the distributed common ground needed for the consortium's more traditional written arguments and the database to succeed. Originally recorded May 6, 2005 at UC Santa Barbara.