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Paper Programs: Notebook-Based Information Systems and the Generative Potential of Constraint

Kirdy, Moriah L. (2020) Paper Programs: Notebook-Based Information Systems and the Generative Potential of Constraint. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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This dissertation investigates genres of handwritten notebook-based information systems through meta-genre, a term borrowed from Janet Giltrow to describe the talk and texts surrounding genre-based practice. It asks: what do these routine and repetitive acts of writing promise for their users, and what do they do as rhetorical and affective agents of change? We live in an era with a massive “productivity market,” for wearable self-tracking tech, web and mobile productivity applications, and computer-based note-taking and yet many everyday writers maintain robust pen-and-paper practices. The case examples that structure this dissertation include the commonplace book (a genre of reading log popularized in the early modern era), the bullet journal (a productivity and mindfulness practice), and the experiences of seven individuals I interviewed about their practices which ranged from health symptom management, to workplace productivity, to time-based quantified self experiments. Drawing from experimental poetics, I introduce the concept of constraint to describe the self-assigned and generative “rules” practitioners design and appropriate to govern these systems, which promise for their users a training akin to cognitive, emotional, and rhetorical programming. I argue that constraint-based systems infuse text and writer with potentialities generated not from the writer’s agency alone, but in collaboration with the system’s own rhetorical force. “Paper Programs” thus offers that we do not need to look far for examples of writers who are attuned to the ways in which their subject positions are being deferred and distributed, and who adopt constraints as technologies of mediation to intervene in the various forces that co-construct their being.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Kirdy, Moriah L.mlp84@pitt.edumlp840000-0002-1849-5537
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee MemberCarr,
Committee MemberVee,
Committee MemberLangmead,
Committee ChairHolding,
Date: 16 January 2020
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 30 August 2019
Approval Date: 16 January 2020
Submission Date: 29 October 2019
Access Restriction: 2 year -- Restrict access to University of Pittsburgh for a period of 2 years.
Number of Pages: 235
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > English
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: composition and rhetoric, genre, material culture, constraint, procedure, everyday writing
Date Deposited: 16 Jan 2020 18:53
Last Modified: 16 Jan 2022 06:15


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