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

As Carol Berkenkotter and Thomas Huckin note, “Genres are the intellectual scaffolds on which community-based knowledge is constructed” (1993, p. 501)


As Carol Berkenkotter and Thomas Huckin note, “Genres are the intellectual scaffolds on which community-based knowledge is constructed” (1993, p. 501). Reaccentuation created a new community and knowledge based on a “conversational continuum,” thus simultaneously shaping the bureaucratic genre to meet institutional needs. On this continuum, the writers of the Agenda play at the boundaries of connotation and denotation. Language is assumed always to be ideological, depending on circumstances of the reader or reading. In Discourse of the Novel, Bakhtin describes the process of reaccentuation. The life of writing continues as readers make available a new valuation with each encounter with a text.  For Bakhtin, the reaccentuation is neither good nor bad. It is not a violation of the authorial intent; it is merely a re-accentuation of meaning.  As context, chronological, and spatial loci change, meaning reshapes itself. In the same way, but to a lesser degree, each encounter with a policy document may reaccentuate meaning for readers.    

Readers and authors may reaccentuate key concepts.  The term “deploy” from militaristic rhetoric, suggests that application of technology is a battle for democracy and against ignorance (to spread out troops or ships as for battle). The phrase “promise of NII” invokes a social pledge within the Agenda. The Agenda’s promise presupposes it can provide the following without recognizing the complexity of social change: “best” schools, resources for art and culture, health care, occupational flexibility by technology, improved manufacturing technologies, and access to government resources. Where is the evidence of previous movements toward democracy or access to resources realized? What can be realized is reaccentuated as “hottest video games" and the reader of the document is reinscribed as a reader who desires these technologies without being asked their opinion of what access he/she prefers. These “promises” of the technological potentialities imply that the promises have not yet been fulfilled

The Agenda linked the abstract “promises” of democracy and global economic proliferation to the cables, wires, computers, disks, television, and switches. The hardware of technology is reaccentuated with the ideological goals of globalizing communication and connectivity. Readers are reassured that “The NII will integrate and interconnect these physical components in a technologically neutral manner so that one industry will not be favored over another” (p. 7). This will be the “promise of the information age” (p. 8).

The benefits of a Bakhtinian rhetorical analysis for the Agenda are significant; yet, much can be gained by considering competing and complementary rhetorical approaches. Using a Bakhtin frame reveals contradictory positions in a seemingly unitary text. Through Bakhtin, readers can do a close reading while looking at multiple literary perspectives attached to texts. Through Bakhtin, readers are part of the “Ideological becoming of a human being, in this view is the process of selectively assimilating the words of others,” (Dialogic, p. 341). A New Critical reading may illuminate the possibilities of the Agenda and by isolating the words of the text and circumscribing its boundaries. Feminist, Marxist, or Activity Theories complicate the Agenda in ways that a Bakhtinian cannot. For instance, a Feminist reading would highlight the phallo-centric basis of the document and its relations to hegemonic power structures, as would a Marxist reading. Activity Theory could position the text within a matrix of competing and complementary systems of activity.