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Ecomedia and Ecocomposition

2011 June 8
by jtinnell

The spread of widely accessible web authoring networks has changed the course of the ecological turn in writing studies, such that ecological approaches to writing and rhetoric now tend toward the territory of ecomedia studies (see Collin Brooke’s Linqua Fracta for a leading example). The first compositionists to evoke ecology did so well before the rise of Web 2.0; indeed, ecocomposition has been an established subfield for at least the past decade. Sidney Dobrin and Christian Weisser’s Natural Discourse, the first book-length account of ecocomposition, positions composition and ecology in a symbiotic relationship when it tests, for example, the potential for thinking about questions of genre according to the logic of ecosystems. The more “group-breaking” passages of the book, however, occur not when discourse is thought in terms of environmental ecological, but rather when ecology—as a generalized mode of thought—inspires relational, systemic ways of approaching writing on its own terms. Such passages could be gathered together under what Dobrin and Weisser then called “discursive ecology,” which bears obvious resemblance to Dobrin’s forthcoming collection Writing Ecology.

Writing ecologies could be understood as a remediation of early ecocomposition that extends these early explorations into discursive ecology, while at the same time dispensing with the environmentalist overtones, which tended to turn attention away from the complexities of scenes/acts of writing. Turning now to complex ecology, Dobrin has recently called for and already initiated a remedial treatment of ecocomposition, acknowledging that, in he and Weisser’s earlier definition of ecocomposition, the discourse of environmental(ist) ecology was “often addressed in place of writing.” As such, ecocomposition has failed to distinguish ecology from environmentalism—much of what we’ve called ecocomposition can be more accurately described as environmentalist composition. As ecocompositionalists single out Nature over and apart from other, “non-natural” environments, they are actually contradicting the ethos of interconnectedness or relationality that is the lifeblood of ecological thought. Moreover, the conventions of ecocomposition indicate a need to engage more thoroughly with ecological theory beyond the metaphors and allusions characteristic of the symbiotic mode, which drove early work in ecocomposition like Composition and Sustainability and Ecocomposition: Theoretical and Pedagogical Approaches.

One aspect of Natural Discourse that remains quite suggestive, however, is the link drawn between ecological thinking and hypertextual writing. Though the connection is only developed explicitly over a few pages, Dobrin and Weisser maintain a resolute focus on how networked computing environments invite (if not demand) an ecological perspective toward electronic/digital writing. Unlike many other passages in the book, the ecology that they invoke here is an ecology without nature (to borrow Tim Morton’s phrase); that is, “webbed writing” becomes articulated as an ecological phenomenon, whose significance is measured not in terms of environmental activism or Nature thematics, but in terms of rhetorical affordances, with particular emphasis given to grammatological questions of circulation and interactivity. Again, while they do not pursue the question extensively, Dobrin and Weisser suggest that the digital medium will become an increasingly vital site for ecocomposition in the future: “we see computer environments, cyberspace, and hypertextual discursive locations as ripe for ecocomposition to explore” (Ecocomposition 174).


2 Responses leave one →
  1. smonani permalink
    June 10, 2011

    John, this turn away from what you describe as “environmental” to “ecological” is definitely something we see across the board in various disciplines within the environmental humanities (though the semantics of what words we use to describe this turn are somewhat debated), and your review of it in ecocomposition is insightful. Thanks for posting.

  2. srust permalink*
    June 11, 2011


    I found your post very helpful for thinking about how we bridge scholarship and political ideology/activism. I consider myself a cultural historian as much as a media critic and am finding in my own reading that environmentalist politics are best left outside of historical analysis. There’s a place for enviro-composition and what we are seeing now is a field that is growing rapidly and undergoing a healthy period of self-reflection.

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