Still Paying Attention Ten Years Later:
                    A Bakhtinian Reading of the
                    National Information Infrastructure Initiative
                    Agenda for Action

Cynthia L. Selfe examined the Agenda for Action while contextualizing its importance to those using technology, thus asking for more critical attention to literacy and technology.


Ten years ago, in Technology and Literacy in the Twenty-First Century (1999, pgs. 3, 53,148), Cynthia L. Selfe cited the Agenda for Action as a document that paved the way for the use of technology in society, in general, and the higher-education writing classroom and curricula. She encouraged computers and composition scholars to practice a critical technological literacy. Selfe theorized the ideological importance of the National Information Infrastructure initiative (NII): Agenda for Action. This web text re-visits Selfe’s call to pay attention to critical technological literacy by analyzing the rhetorical implications of the policy document, the Agenda.

Selfe examined the public policy document called the Agenda, contextualized its importance to those using technology, and asked for more critical attention to the field. More recently, the Spellings Report has shaped fiscal allocations and public attitudes towards education by stirring the public’s passions for accountability. Indeed, the 2009 Obama presidency argued for the importance of the vision of policy documents in education. Increasingly, public policy is a story in search of a place in history. Michael S. Knievel “Rupturing Context, Resituating Genre: A Study of Use-of-Force Policy in the Wake of a Controversial Shooting” (2008) affirmed the impact of policy in the public sphere.  Knievel noted that his study of policy “has implications for other contexts as well including private organizations and business, in which genres function like a kind of cultural software  [my emphasis] by and through which institutions operate, mediating relationships between seemingly fixed spheres and institutions while in dialogue with larger social norms and values” (p. 355).

I use a Bakhtinian frame to illuminate the rhetorical nature of arguments from policy regarding technology.  I argue in this article that the policy implications of the Agenda continue to create a mythology about technology, as might a literary or fictional text, with monoglossia echoing as the language of power. Monoglossia is centripetal in that it tends towards a unitary meaning, while heteroglossia is centrifugal and expands into many meanings, as will be explained in following sections. Examining the Agenda policy through a Bakhtinian literary analytical frame can provide computers and writing specialists with another perspective to critical technological literacy. In the manifesto, “English Studies and the University Experience as Intellectual Property: Commodification and the Spellings Report,” Richard Selfe invites computers and writing scholars to continue paying attention to the rhetoric of policy such as the Spellings Commission Report and the Agenda.  Policy can focus technological objectives on “institutional efficiency and productivity” and “lower costs” inn addition to rhetorical and critical literacy objectives. This Bakhtinian analysis pays attention to the manifestation of all objectives: especially critical literacy in area of computers and composition.

In Multiliteracies for a Digital Age (2004), Stuart Selber argued that too frequently, “computing infrastructures are established without the human  resources required to make them just and productive for educational purposes …in a learning environment” (5). This Bakhtinian analysis addresses how the Agenda has promulgated assumptions about technology.  Also, Brian Huot in the College English Opinion piece, “Consistently Inconsistent Business and the Spellings Commission Report on Higher Education,” validated how public policy such as the Spellings Report, shapes opinions about education: “I think it’s important to point out now that throughout the last hundred years or so, every time students populations have changed in significant ways, schools and public policy have also had to be revised (p. 514). Huot noted that the Spellings Report made little reference to technology per se. This Bakhtinian analysis examines policy as a rhetorical tool that forwards technological policies driven by hitherto obscured ideology.