In his article entitled “Grasping Rhetoric and Composition by Its Long Tail,” Derek Mueller explains how graphs can be used as a form of “distant reading,” or a method of gaining a new perspective on a work or group of works. Specifically, he uses graphs to take a look at the change in page lengths and citation counts of articles published in College Composition and Communication between 1987 and 2011. I intend to use this concept of “distant reading” as a lens through which to read an infographic detailing some of the issues surrounding the federal government shutdown. Mueller’s use of graphs proved to be an effective distant reading of the field of rhetoric and composition, and I will determine if this infographic proves to be an equally effective distant reading of this developing situation.
After introducing the concept of distant reading, Mueller explains his purpose in using graphs as a distant reading to “help us see with fresh perspective continually unfolding tensions among specialization, the interdisciplinary reach of rhetoric and composition, and the challenges these present to newcomers to the scholarly conversation” (196). Essentially, he says that this type of distant reading is valuable and important to understand the field of rhetoric and composition because it reveals long-term trends that would otherwise be overlooked. As previously stated, Mueller specifically focuses his distant reading on the page numbers and citation counts of articles published in CCC between ’87 and ’11. The various graphing methods he uses lead him to find that these articles have been growing longer and more citation-rich. More importantly, he finds that vastly more sources are cited now than in ’87, and even the most often-cited individual sources are cited less now than then. This brings him to conclude that the field of rhetoric and composition is in the process of growing and changing.
While certainly not all-encompassing, Mueller’s article offered valuable insight that he could not have gained by close reading, making it very effective for what it was: a distant reading. This idea of distant reading is invaluable, but not only in rhetoric and composition. We can use it in any area where we desire greater insight or a broader look at a topic. Very similar to graphs, infographics are an increasingly popular type of distant reading that combine visuals and text to deliver a concise yet informative view of any topic. They often contain charts and graphs, statistical information, and interesting facts that are related to their individual purposes. Infographics have been used to shed light on the problems in the meat industry, to show political affiliations of popular companies, and even to sum up the pros and cons of drinking coffee. For this analysis, I’ve chosen to look at an infographic that was posted on aNewDomain.net as part of an article entitled “NASA Down, PRISM Up.” This particular infographic takes a look at the federal government shutdown, the reasons for it, and its potential ramifications. At first glance, I like the infographic because it is simple, concise, and easy to follow–all the things an infographic ought to be. But is it really an effective distant reading of the government shutdown?
Just as Mueller’s graphs could not cover every topic in the field of rhetoric and communication, this infographic cannot be expected to give a detailed account of every factor that has played into the government shutdown. What it can do–and ought to do–is be thorough in what it does cover. The main focus of the infographic is on the Affordable Care Act. Stubborn disagreements on this act between Democrats and Republicans have been the main impasse leading to the shutdown, and this graphic effectively shows that by detailing the opposing opinions of both sides. It explains how Democrats tend to argue that the current health care plan is often discriminatory and unavailable to many citizens, while Republicans worry that the new plan will be too expensive to fund and will raise unemployment. The Democrats refuse to repeal the law because it’s already been passed, and the more radical Republicans refuse to vote on a new spending bill until it is repealed or postponed, and this division is ultimately what caused the shutdown. While it does not provide the level of insight as Mueller’s article, this infographic provides all this information in a concise and unbiased way, providing a way for me, a politically clueless citizen, to start to grasp this highly unusual situation. For this reason, I find this infographic to be an effective distant reading.