Weblog Authorship and Agency in "the Unfolding Action of a Discourse"

Here's my submission for Computers & Writing 2005, which is part of a panel on authorship-intellectual property-collaboration-open source, tap tap: and all that jazz! :)

Recent critiques of authorship have yielded the following insights. First, authors do not exist outside a social and historical context; social and material conditions enable and constrain authorship. Authors are, historically speaking, usually men, usually white, and usually economically privileged enough to afford the leisure time it takes to write. Second, a text is not the product of a sole author. Barthes argues that texts consist of "multiple writings, drawn from many cultures and entering into mutual relations of dialogue, parody, contestation." The field of composition has moved from the understanding
of authorship as a solitary act resulting in a product owned by an individual to an understanding of authorship as a weaving together of other texts the writer has read and voices he or she has heard in conversation. Lunsford (1999) takes up these critiques of authorship and calls for new ways of thinking "a view of agency as residing in what
Susan West defines as the "unfolding action of a discourse; in the knowing and telling of the attentive rhetor/responder rather than in static original ideas" (as cited in Lunsford, 1999, p. 185-186). Lunsford argues for "owning up" rather than owning, agency in
"answerability," and a view of self as always in relation to others.

This presenter will bring these ideas to bear on weblogging communities and practices. Weblogs emerged pari passu with the rise of open source and publicly licensed software, the backlash against the tightening of copyright restrictions in the 1990s, and the popularity of peer-to-peer networks. This influence can be seen in the widespread use of Creative Commons licenses on weblogs and in the rhetorical practices of weblogging, which take place in a network and for an audience who is invited to respond. Weblogging communities value accountability, exchange in the form of comments or trackbacks, and authority as situated in the connections one makes among discourses and the selecting and interpreting of content.


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love that quote from lunsford/west. Can you post the reference. Thanks

Marcus O'Donnell


Thanks for your interest, Marcus! I've blogged about the article in more detail here, in case you'd like to see. The page numbers correspond with the reprint in this anthology:

Lunsford, A.A. Rhetoric, feminism, and the politics of textual ownership. In G.E. Kirsch, F.S. Maor, L. Massey, L. Nickoson-Massey, & M.P. Sheridan-Rabideau, (Eds.) Feminism and composition: A critical sourcebook (pp. 140-159). Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's.

But it originally appeared in College English 61 (1999): 529-44.

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