Recently, I read Adam Banks’s Race, Rhetoric, and Technology: Searching for Higher Ground. According to Banks, this book’s project is not to answer either/or questions about technology, society’s development, and exclusion; instead, it traces the technologies used within the African American rhetorical tradition to unseat racism and exclusion based on technological practices (2). Very generally, then, this argument is one of access: access for African American to the dominant technologies of society in ways that are ethical.
Banks defines AA rhetoric as “the set of traditions of discursive practices—verbal, visual, and electronic—used by individuals and groups of African Americans toward the ends of full participation in American society on their own terms” (2-3). Here, Banks emphasizes technology and autonomy because, according to him, “technologies are the spaces and processes that determine whether any group of people is able to tell its own stories on its own terms, whether people are able to agitate and advocate for policies that advance its interests, and whether that group of people has any hope of enjoying equal social, political, and economic relations” (10). These opening points really resonated with me because I often explore access in terms of rural populations, across lines of gender, and (more recently) through the lens of dis/ability. Like others in comp/rhet, who Banks blasts for ignoring the “convergence of race a technology” (15), I have not paid due attention to these drastic inequalities.
When people first started talking about the Digital Divide, it was discussed in terms of material access. For example, rural populations didn’t have access to internet technologies. Neither did poor urban populations nor minority populations. White middle- to upper-class males were most privileged to this access. Since the early 2000s, studies have been published that have noted a balance in terms of gender and many other inequalities. However, as Banks notes, material access is only a single facet of a wider access:
The problem with the Digital Divide as a concept for addressing systematic differences in access to digital technologies is that it came to signify mere material access to computers and the Internet, and failed to hold anyone responsible for creating even the narrow material conditions it prescribed. 41
Banks breaks access into five separate parts: material, functional, experiential, critical, and transformative.
- Material access: “equality in the material conditions that drive technology use or nonuse” (41);
- Functional access: “knowledge and skills necessary to use technological tools effectively” (41);
- Experiential access: “access that makes the tools a relevant part of [the users’] lives” (42);
- Critical access: “understandings of the benefits and problems of any technology well enough to be able to critique, resist, and avoid them when necessary as well as using them when necessary” (42);
- Transformative access: “genuine inclusion in technologies and the networks of power that help determine what they become, but never merely for the sake of inclusion” (45).
The material is the foundation for all other types of access, and as we progress through these different categories, we (ideally) gain privilege to the transformative access that allows us to be part of the networks of power. In order to make it there, Banks writes, “We must know how to be intelligent users, producers, and even transformers of technologies if access is to mean anything to our individual lives, the lives of our students, or those of the communities we live, work, and play in” (138).
In order to gain that ultimate access, Banks asserts that writing teachers must take the initiative to teach students how to use technology, both as writing tools and also as systems of knowledge-making. For those unfamiliar with how to do this, Banks offers steps:
- Start slowly.
- Only use technologies to meet your curricular goals.
- Let (or make) your students teach you.
- Don’t be scared of recreational uses of technologies.
- Don’t just produce customers. 139-40
I’m interested to know what intersections Banks sees between African American rhetorics and feminist or dis/ability rhetorics, and whether he sees these classroom practices as applicable to a wider range of traditionally-marginalized student populations. Luckily, he will be Skyping into our class tomorrow, and I imagine he will have much to say about his own pedagogy!
Banks, Adam J. Race, Rhetoric, and Technology: Searching for Higher Ground. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., 2006. Print.