Ulmer Exercise: Term Extensions

Today in class we are working on two exercises from Ulmer's Internet Invention; the first of which is his Term Extensions exercise.

Using the history of the term "culture" as a model, select a different craft (other than agriculture) and develop its figurative possibilities as a new extension of the meaning of the term culture


If human development of learning can be like agriculture, what else might it be like? Or, if human development in general may be tended in the manner of a crop or herd, what about your particular specialized area of work? What sort of craft makes a good metaphor for developing knowledge in your career field? (35)

For my term, I picked "assembly." Here I admit I didn't pick a "good" term, but rather an unfortunate one. This keeps with the logic of my career site since I am examining the Scantron machine as my disciplinary invention. The assembly line, in connection with Fordist industrialization, appears as a trope for contemporary education in a number of places, particularly Aronowitz's book The Knowledge Factory. It is also the underlying trope driving Asimov's short story "Profession."

To help with this assignment, I used the Oxford English Dictionary.

Without getting too much into specifics, there's essentially two historic meanings for assembly. The first, whose origins date back to around 1333-1436 and is still in use today, speaks to bringing some things together. It can refer to assembling an army, a governmental body, or a flock of birds singing in a tree ("The byrdes..syttynge in assemble vpon an hye tre").

The second meaning refers more to the industrial process and emphasizes putting something together. Unlike with the first meaning, the parts here constitute little if taken separately. It is only in the right combination, guided by the proper process, that the parts gain utility or significance. This meaning begins to develop around 1914. From a 1914 Engineering Magazine article: "The boards travel..down the line, growing in completeness as they move, each ‘team’ working simultaneously on opposite sides of the board, adding some step to the assembly."

As with Ulmer's definition of culture, we have two different intonations here. If we consider education in terms of the first, then we think of students as individual entities whole before they arrive in the classroom (be it to fight, deliberate, or sing). If we follow the second, then students are incomplete entities before they arrive on our doorstep. Students lack. Teachers provide.

There are, of course, distinct overlaps to the definitions of culture Ulmer highlights--Arnold's and Taylor's. Recall that Arnold's specifies a particular and higher culture as the aim of education/enculturation. Arnold's students lack. Taylor, however, sees culture as something central to all humanity everywhere, he isn't interested in articulating a particularly proper culture as much as he is in identifying those things that all cultures do (even if they do them differently).

My objections to Scantron were routed in its homogenization of education, its dedication (and glorification) of efficiency and singularity. It makes sure students are getting what they lack. 

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