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Wealth of Reality

Wealth of Reality

An Ecology of Composition

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Margaret A. Syverson


Hardcover (Other formats: NLEB)
304 pages, 6.125 x 9.25, 10 illustrations


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About the Book

Margaret A. Syverson discusses the ways in which a theory of composing situations as ecological systems might productively be applied in composition studies. She demonstrates not only how new research in cognitive science and complex systems can inform composition studies but also how composing situations can provide fruitful ground for research in cognitive science.

Syverson first introduces theories of complex systems currently studied in diverse disciplines. She describes complex systems as adaptive, self-organizing, and dynamic; neither utterly chaotic nor entirely ordered, these systems exist on the boundary between order and chaos. Ecological systems are "metasystems" composed of interrelated complex systems. Writers, readers, and texts, together with their environments, constitute one kind of ecological system.

Four attributes of complex systems provide a theoretical framework for this study: distribution, embodiment, emergence, and enaction. Three case studies provide evidence for the application of these concepts: an analysis of a passage from an autobiographical poem by Charles Reznikoff, a study of first-year college students writing collaboratively, and a conflict in a computer forum of social scientists during the Gulf War. The diversity of these cases tests the robustness of theories of distributed cognition and complex systems and suggests possibilities for wider application.


Margaret A. Syverson is the director of the Computer Writing and Research Lab in the Division of Rhetoric and Composition at the University of Texas at Austin. She is the web editor for the Computers and Composition Journal Online and also president of the Board of Directors for the Center for Language in Learning.


"A vital contribution to an important, emerging field. Synthesizing as it does research in complexity theory and cognitive science that has long been lurking on the margins of composition studies, it is in effect the principal work in what will likely be termed hereafter 'studies in the ecology of composition.' In giving form and urgency to the controversies of self-organization, this book will spark much-needed dialogue among composition researchers, literary theorists, and cognitive scientists."—Joe Amato, author of Bookend: Anatomies of a Virtual Self