Julia Romberger

The ecology of a digital environment: Using ecofeminist theory to understand Microsoft Word’s rhetorical design

Julia Elaine Romberger

  • School: Purdue University (0183)
  • Degree: Ph.D.
  • Date: 2004 pp: 281
  • Advisor: Sullivan, Patricia
  • Source: DAI-A 66/03, p. 983, Sep 2005
  • Subjects: Language, Rhetoric And Composition (0681); Computer Science (0984)
  • ProQuest Document Number:
  • ISBN: 0-542-02304-0
  • UMI Number: AAT 3166698

Abstract:

    Digital environments in which users compose affect how a users conceptualize the writing process and their ability to carry it out within constraints they feel are imposed by the software. The visual, textual, and verbal rhetorical articulations of the digital writing space make assumptions about the subjectivity of the user that come across through the choices of terminology and metaphor employed. These assumptions become particularly clear when the discourse communities from which the terminology and metaphors come are identified. Ecofeminist theory is interested in connections between articulations of environment and those who inhabit it; therefore, ecofeminist theory provides a basis for constructing a methodology for examining the rhetoric of a digital writing environment. An ecofeminist methodology illuminates the connection between environment and subjectivity and is grounded in ethical principles that include the acknowledgement of the agenda and position within the data research of the investigator. Additionally, because an environment is described by its ecology, this methodology uses ecology as a metaphor to develop a heuristic. Drawn from an examination of definitions of ecology from several scientific textbooks, the ecological heuristic examines exchanges, (the dynamic interactions and sharing of rhetorical resources such with the environment and other inhabitants within that space), influences, (local and global forces that affect the development of components), and evolution (historical forces that shape the development of the rhetorical components). Applying this methodology to the Graphic User Interface of versions of Microsoft Word from version 1.0 through version X for the Macintosh demonstrates several trends (1) there is an increase in the incorporate of discourse from computer technology and business; (2) Microsoft understands that its user base is changing and they are trying to compensate for a variety of user levels while retaining their corporate base; (3) the users are expected to have subjectivities that enable them to be able to understand the discursive practices in place in the software which can at times cause boundaries users must overcome to user the software effectively. The methodology outlined in this dissertation can be used both to assist in teaching critical computer literacy and the composition of new media.