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Chapter 5

Annotation expresses power. Connecting historical uses of annotation with contemporary and viral art, we look at how annotation elevates counternarratives as well as silences dissenting voice. Looking across contexts, we consider who gets to annotate and under what circumstances.

Published onJun 05, 2019
Chapter 5

5: Annotation Expresses Power

I’m revealing another point of view that isn’t often considered. That’s what a counternarrative is. I also want to show how these little tiny changes tip the scale, and can fully change perspectives.

—Alexandra Bell, interview with New York Magazine, 20171

Alexandra Bell creates larger-than-life posters that revise and reimagine articles from The New York Times. Annotation is her method. By “deploying marginalia, obscuring whole passages with fat black ink, and rewriting headlines, captions, and other text,”2 Bell challenges the newspaper’s use and proliferation of racial stereotypes. In her 2017 public exhibit “Counternarratives,” Bell’s posters appeared throughout the New York City boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens affixed to the walls of buildings and plastered near subway entrances.3 In addition to annotated headlines and articles, the posters are a material and multimodal annotation of the built environment.

Figure 19: Bell poster

Bell wields annotation as an intentional and political resource. Through authoring counternarratives - atop and through the original words, images, and designs of The New York Times’ texts - Bell’s annotation highlights and magnifies representation, voice, and prejudice. Annotation, for Bell, is a practice of power. In reflecting on her process, Bell describes the work as an effort to “tip the scale” toward justice.

Alexandra Bell’s posters illustrate how annotation expresses power. In this chapter we illustrate how digital and analog annotation practices can shape and contest power. We begin with Bell’s posters to demonstrate how powerful counternarratives - or annotation that “can fully change perspectives” - are by no means hewed tightly or exclusively to the digital domain. From Martin Luther’s theses posted in 1517 to the door of the Wittenberg Church, to Wei Jingsheng’s The Fifth Modernization which appeared on Beijing’s Democracy Wall in 1978, to Bell’s contemporary work, forms of handwritten, plastered, and public annotation have sought to change minds and actions in global and local settings.

Annotation can amplify marginal voices - in literal and symbolic contexts - as an attempt to shift perspective or compel change. And yet, the power expressed by annotation is not solely exercised on behalf of or in solidarity with the plight of oppressed or marginalized communities. As a resource that may be authored and leveraged across texts and social settings, annotation expresses power on behalf of myriad constituencies and for various ideological ends. While we have provided examples throughout this book of opportunities for annotation to complement the activities of diverse communities, annotation itself can neither suppress nor liberate. Rather, annotation can help to shape who communicates, with what texts and tools, how points of view are articulated, and what voices rise to the surface within any given context.

Annotation expresses power but it does not wield it in and of itself. Annotation - like a megaphone, a viral tweet, a baton, a can of paint, or a poster - is a tool. To further clarify how the tool of annotation expresses power we’ll return, briefly, to the Roman Empire.


The word annotation is derived from the Latin annotatio meaning to “remark” or “note down.” And yes, we’ve intentionally waited to introduce this etymology until our fifth chapter because annotatio was more than a general term describing a type of writing. Annotatio were a specific means of exercising imperial law in post-Augustan Rome throughout the fourth and fifth centuries. Annotation was a genuine mark of power.

Annotatio were imperial replies, also referred to as rescripts, handwritten in response to a deliberative process or a consultation. Roman emperors authored annotatio in purple ink to designate a ruling, or grant some authority, or convey a new privilege. Once authored by the emperor, annotatio were subsequently conveyed to the Roman public and recorded as law in compilations of rescripts like the Codex Theodosianus completed in 438. Annotatio were “imperial responses to stimuli which were largely external [and] did not necessarily reflect the preferences of emperors,” suggesting these marks of power were interpreted and negotiated among legislative councils, local governors, and among “a government consistently preoccupied with seeking to systematise and to simplify the process of government.”4

According to medievalist scholar Stephen Nichols, the practice of annotatio “originated in the very centers of power… had judicial consequences, was philosophically pragmatic, and intervened in all aspects of social and political life. Annotation was a cultural construction that may be studied as a sociology of imperial legislative practices.”5 As a remark of imperial power permanently anchored in a text, annotatio were intended to influence decision-making and legislation. In many instances, this note of political power was conveyed to a court as a means of presenting the emperor’s presence, will, and “imperial dignity.”6

Annotatio resonate with much of what we’ve previously discussed. These rescripts provided information, shared expert commentary about a particular circumstance, and were a social form of writing intended for a public audience that contributed to a conversation, such as a legal or legislative deliberation. This origin of annotation further underscores how such handwritten remarks were imbued with expressions of power and had political repercussions.

The echoes of annotatio appear, millennia later, in the annotation of another royal. Following his abdication in 2004, Norodom Sihanouk, the former King of Cambodia, began to share his remarks in a rather creative way. Sihanouk established a website which, despite his passing in 2012, remains updated and well-organized to this day.7 The archive includes selections of Sihanouk’s personal correspondences, handwritten recipes, musical compositions, and film commentary. It also includes many annotated newspaper and magazine articles.

An article about government loan debt from The Cambodia Daily is heavily underlined, includes a prominent question mark in one margin, and features multiple double brackets to emphasize importance. Sihanouk’s annotation also included frequent commentary - in French, English, and Khmer - about topics ranging from World Cup controversies to the ills of environmental degradation: “Our ‘Democracy’ should stop favoring companies and businessmen to the detriment of the Little People.” Annotation, for Sihanouk, served as a way to widely share his opinions and knowledge; as he once wrote, “Every Cambodian... including the King has the right to express freely their view.”8

From Roman courts to the King of Cambodia to artists like Alexandra Bell authoring counternarratives, annotation has long been - and continues to be - a means to express power.

What is Power? A Perspective

How might we characterize a teacher’s authority when copyediting a student’s essay? When New York Magazine re-published an annotated version of “The Uninhabitable Earth” because of a Climate Feedback peer review, how might we describe the value of scientists’ expertise? And would a hip hop fan question, much less downvote, a “verified” Genius annotation authored by Kendrick Lamar that explains the meaning behind his music? Authority, expertise, and knowledge are all important qualities of annotation, as are these qualities also indicators of power. If annotation expresses power, as with these and other examples discussed throughout our book, what do we mean by power?

To appreciate the significance of annotation expressing power, it’s necessary that we introduce an understanding of power as something more than “bad,” as something both complex and perhaps even constructive. A useful starting point, for many scholars and those interested in society and culture, is the work of the French philosopher Michel Foucault. During a series of interviews, in 1977, Foucault was asked to clarify how his thinking about ideas like ideology and repression had developed. His response, perhaps inevitably, turned to a discussion about power. Foucault observed:

What makes power hold good, what makes it accepted, is simply the fact that it doesn’t only weigh on us as a force that says no, but that it traverses and produces things, it induces pleasure, forms of knowledge, produces discourse. It needs to be considered as a productive network which runs through the whole social body, much more than as a negative instance whose function is repression.9

Foucault’s stance is useful as we consider the relationship between annotation and power. Power is a productive force, creating both discourse and knowledge. Moreover, the productive effects of power are a “network” which is social, dispersed, and active - indeed, power “runs through” the body politic. The 17 scientists who collectively authored an annotated post-publication peer review of “The Uninhabitable Earth” produced a convincing form of public discourse and established a more scientifically accurate form of knowledge. And thanks to the network of the web, the power of these scientists was able to “hold good” and become “accepted.” Power, in this instance, was much more than a negative or repressive function. Indeed, the power of Climate Feedback’s annotation resulted in more credible journalism.

Of course, scientists who contribute to Climate Feedback have years of disciplinary training, work as researchers, and are regarded (by many, though not all) as experts. To further demonstrate Foucault’s stance toward the productive, knowledge-producing, and networked function of power, let’s consider another type of annotation, written by a single author, and in response to a very different though equally important social and political circumstance.

Poetry, Power, and Dialogue

Isobel O’Hare is an award-winning Irish and American poet. During the amplification of #MeToo in 2017, O’Hare utilized the popularity of blackout poetry10 and the annotation practice of redaction to convert public sexual assault apologies into counternarratives. The result is O’Hare’s recent book all this can be yours. As O’Hare explains, the book:

began as a cathartic exercise in erasure. In the midst of sexual assault allegations against high-profile men, I found myself overwhelmed with emotion by both the accounts of victims (#MeToo) and the statements/apologies by the perpetrators. I printed out those statements and sat down with a Sharpie to reveal what I felt they were really saying about themselves, their privilege, and their willful oblivion to the consequences of their actions.11

O’Hare’s annotation turns page-long apologies into concise, witty, and troubling remarks. For instance, after Harvey Weinstein, the former Hollywood producer, sent The New York Times a public statement in October of 2017,12 O’Hare used annotation to transform his apology into her poem “a culture of demons.” Selectively redacting Weinstein’s words, O’Hare’s entire poem reads: “I came of age in a culture of demons I respect more than women.”13 A review of all this can be yours, published in Harper’s Magazine, celebrated O’Hare for exercising “the timeless art of strategic Sharpie redaction to bring this dissembling into starker relief.”14

Figure 20: O'Hare tweet/poem

By erasing words, O’Hare’s annotation and poetry evokes the well-known Quaker principle of speaking truth to power.15 And drawing further upon Foucault’s stance, we can read how O’Hare’s intentional redaction, like Alexandra Bell’s poster counternarratives, “produces things” - things like resistance, a critique of privilege, and the value of alternative perspectives. Perhaps not surprisingly, O’Hare’s poetry went viral thanks to the “productive networks” of ubiquitous digital media, suggesting her messages resonated with a broader “social body” and helped to further “produce discourse” about #MeToo.

Art by O’Hare and Bell highlight - both visually and conceptually - the dialogic quality of annotation expressing power. As we discussed in Chapter 1, annotation is always dialogic because annotation - like annotatio - is responsive to other people, texts, and ideas. Throughout this chapter, we approach the relationship between annotation and power from a dialogic perspective. Both artists, through annotation, have produced new forms of public dialogue in response to other people (like Harvey Weinstein), texts (The New York Times), and ideas (sexual assault and racial bias) that are of broad social and political consequence.

Moreover, the dialogic quality of annotation expressing power is bolstered through the ways in which other people access, read, interpret, and ultimately respond to Bell and O’Hare’s new discourses. We contend that it is impossible to read these examples of annotation as isolated from either prominent people - as with Bell’s counternarrative about Michael Brown, the man killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri - or as separate from ongoing public conversation mediated by social network hashtags like #BlackLivesMatter, #MeToo, and #TimesUp. When Bell notes that counternarratives can galvanize “little tiny changes,” she may be suggesting a receptiveness on the part of readers to perceive and appreciate annotation.

Whether annotation expresses power for social critique, academic assertion, or personal provocation, the dialogic features of annotation position readers - like you, and among various public audiences - to respond with empathy, or anger, or disagreement, or confusion. Divergent responses to annotation demonstrate what Foucault means by power running through the whole social body. As we discuss additional examples of annotation expressing power, we suggest it’s imperative to foreground these qualities of power and appreciate how annotation expressing power can be productive for new knowledge and discourse.

Figure 21: blackout poem

Can I Annotate That?

Alexandra Bell didn’t receive permission from The New York Times to annotate certain articles prior to posting her work around New York City. Nor did Isobel O’Hare ask Harvey Weinstein - or any of the men whose statements she redacted - to proof her #MeToo poetry. Speaking truth to power does not - and should not - require consent from the more powerful or privileged.

In discussing power, we must recognize the complexity of authorship and authority, narrative and counternarrative, and consent to annotate. While quite serious, such dynamics can be rather humorous, too, as when the author Philip Roth penned “An Open Letter to Wikipedia” in The New Yorker about inaccurate claims associated his novel The Human Stain.16 Roth wanted to contest claims noted on his novel’s Wikipedia page. When new information is added to a Wikipedia entry, the encyclopedia requires that a fact be verified somewhere else using another source. In other words, while Roth authored The Human Stain - and, ostensibly, can make the only irrefutable claims about the intention of authorship and the novel - his statements could not be included on Wikipedia without an additional citation. Hence Roth’s open letter, a very public counternarrative to Wikipedia and, ironically, the missing reference.

Perhaps Roth should have used a digital tool to annotate, rather than attempt to directly edit, the contested Wikipedia page. And would Roth have needed consent to author such annotation? Various digital annotation technologies now allow readers to markup web pages and online documents at will. Whereas publications like newspapers and blogs can chose how to moderate online commentary, and whereas Wikipedia edits are reviewed and ultimately approved by editors, certain annotation technologies circumvent such processes. Which means that annotation can, under certain circumstances, be used to cause harm. There are important differences between a reader using a digital annotation tool to express viewpoints in response to an article in The Economist, and a troll who targets an individual with annotation as an act of harassment. What about a bot that automatically annotates a web page to add metadata; is consent required and, if so, how? Should authors of online content be notified when their writing is annotated and, again, how might that happen given a plethora of annotation technologies?

The complexities of authorship, consent, intent, and effect - all of which are endemic to how annotation expresses power - collectively raise an important question: Can I annotate that?

To be honest, we’re not sure. We cannot prescribe an appropriate response that is relevant to and respectful of all the unique instances of annotation across the entire web and as mediated by an ever-growing number of digital technologies and attendant social practices.

However, we do know where you can gain useful guidance on better understanding and approaching such issues of power. The web annotation organization Hypothesis has facilitated conversations about “Consent and Abuse in Annotation Systems,” with recommendations that include developing opt-out technologies for authors and strategies that balance author preferences with the public interest.17 The journalist and digital pioneer Esther Dyson has spoken about the need to respect both authors’ ability to control how their content is annotated and the freedom of speech that protects annotation. Ultimately, Dyson has suggested “moderating entities” should work to restrict harmful (digital) speech and foster productive annotation that helps to circulate new discourses and knowledge.18 And Michael Caulfield, an educator who has written extensively about misinformation, media literacy, and the importance of online “info-environmentalism,”19 distilled concern with online annotation to a pressing social question:

It’s your [web] browser, and you’re allowed to annotate anything you want with it. But the separate question is what should be encouraged by the design of our technology. People want to turn this into a legal debate, but it’s not. It’s a tools debate, and the main product of a builder of social tools is not the tool itself but the culture that it creates. So what sort of society do you want to create?20

Debate about online annotation technologies and practices will continue. We are hopeful that those with power and influence in these debates avoid technocratic fixes to complex social challenges and, rather, respond by creating socially responsible solutions to technical problems.

Reading Annotation as Inscribing Power

Accompanying the dynamics of consent, and whether a note may or may not be added to a text, questioning who gets to write annotation is another important consideration of power and how power is expressed. Throughout our book, we’ve explored various purposes of annotation, the intent motivating how notes are authored, and the way annotation may be interpreted and shared. As we further examine dimensions of power that are expressed by annotation, we must also consider who gets to annotate and how annotation inscribes power.

Historically, books have been expensive to produce and, for many, difficult to access. Until annotation became a more ubiquitous practice in the 1500s, the privilege and knowledge required to annotate a book was afforded to select groups of individuals, such as scribes, apprentices, or religious leaders. Throughout much of the development of print culture, manuscript and book annotation was an opportunity granted by those in power to people who, henceforth, were empowered. The philosopher and media theorist Marshall McLuhan has suggested that texts can transform a society.21 In his assessment, the book - and, more generally, print culture - has played a singular role communicating to mass audiences, crafting national identities, and also exerting state power over the individual. Texts are technologies that have, for centuries, expressed power across societal scales. We can read annotation in a similar way.

Yes, annotation is an act of individual agency - as we discussed in our first chapter. However, the relationship between agency and power is complicated if not also contested, suggesting the question of who gets to annotate, under what circumstances, and for what purposes is complex. We might, for example, read annotation as civic media, or a type of note authored for and communicating with a particular community in service of that group’s social practices and political values. From this perspective, we can read Alexandra Bell’s annotated newspapers as civic media that both advocates for Black lives while also critiquing institutional bias and media stereotypes. Alternatively, we might also read annotation as a technology of control given, for instance, the labor of data labelers (whom we discussed in Chapter 2), working predominantly in developing nations, and whose notes are tediously authored for the profit of multinational corporations. There is no neutral or single correct way to read annotation, especially when annotation is perceived as a technology that can express - and help inscribe - power in society.

Annotation, in this respect, can also be practiced as a gatekeeper, or as a tool further designating whose texts, voices, and forms of knowledge are acceptable in certain contexts. Within many scholarly traditions, annotation has functioned as the “proof” justifying claims and codifying what “counts” as knowledge.22 To this day, research is predominantly a written product, published as various forms of manuscripts, and substantiated by the presumed authority of an annotation. Importantly, there is necessary debate about the exclusion of oral traditions and folk knowledge from conventional scholarly practices, as well as resistance to the privileging of Western forms of knowledge acquisition and accumulation.23 And efforts like #CiteBlackWomen are a reminder that when a note is added to a text for the purposes of reference and evidence, the resulting network and intellectual dialogue can inadvertently or quite intentionally exclude particular scholars, works, and ways of knowing.24 Annotation cannot be read as an impartial scholarly practice when, historically, it has helped to inscribe preference and power across texts and contexts. Then again, annotation can also be leveraged to strategically include and help to expand the bounds of authority and expertise.

“Quaint Historic Hostel”

In this chapter, we’ve argued that annotation expresses power in ways that are productive, networked, and situated in social contexts. Annotation may be a counternarrative, speaking truth to power. Annotation is an unresolved question of consent that varies by circumstance. And annotation is not neutral as it has helped to inscribe the power of accepted knowledge within books and scholarship for centuries. Knowing that we can view annotation in this way, that authority becomes more contested and complex because of annotation, we’ll conclude our discussion by returning to an example of commentary we mentioned in Chapter 3 - the online review. How might we read such annotation through a lens that foregrounds power?

San Quentin State Prison is the oldest prison in California and, among its rather dubious distinctions, includes the largest death row for male inmates in America. It has also been described as a “Quaint historic hostel.”25 While the Yelp review that opens with that particular phrase drips in irony, and while many reviewers have used Yelp to satirize a consumer culture obsessed with public ranking and evaluation, there are many other reviews that leverage this particular form of annotation for critique. A 2010 TechCrunch article highlighted a number of these Yelp reviews: “Stay away. The food is horrible.”26 One review, in particular, exemplifies the value of reading annotation as a counternarrative that draws from personal experience to convey social critique:

In 1989 when I was 17 I made the mistake of borrowing a strangers car without their permission & after many months of courtroom banter I was sentenced to the California Youth Authority.

Unbeknownst to me, California has a “scared straight” program for youthful offenders where they take unwitting sentenced juveniles to the hardest state prisons & .....

Well they let you think this is where you have been sent ..possibly by mistake.

The 4 days I spent here were miserable. We all arrive on the grey goose & are schackled and escorted to a main pen to be counted & dispersed.

This place is cold & damp and just like every prison movie -(the green mile) you have ever seen depiciting a shit hole prison. [sic]27

We can read such annotation as criticism of both the prison and, more broadly, an indictment of America’s criminal justice system. In the decade since these Yelp reviews were first brought to broader public attention, the page for San Quentin State Prison has become crowded with dozens of reviews that may be interpreted in multiple ways; as parody, as a sincere assessment of the guided tours, and as debate about the carceral state. Similar types of review appear on many other Yelp pages, as with Mammy’s Cupboard, a “traditional” restaurant in Natchez, Mississippi, that is physically shaped like a domestic worker from yesteryear and that celebrates imagery, relics, and cultural stereotypes that many find explicitly racist and sexist.28 These reviews - as a type of annotation that expresses power - intentionally transcend the expected purpose of Yelp and alter how a review platform can host divergent viewpoints and disagreement. As such, we can read Yelp and similar review sites as curated collections of texts that provide annotators with a public and networked opportunity to express their truth and author counternarratives.

We began this chapter with a quote from Alexandra Bell in which she explains how her redacted and revised articles featuring annotation can reveal “another point of view that isn’t often considered.” Annotation is a tool that can reveal another valuable perspective not represented in a newspaper, blog post, scholarly manuscript, or online review - and annotation can tell us why that alternative view matters. With this potential social function, we are reminded that annotation is not neutral as it helps those who add notes to texts produce new discourses and knowledge. And to consider further – from yet another point of view - how annotation, discourse, and knowledge can be productive, we next turn to the field education to account for the ways in which annotation aids learning.

Jeffrey Pomerantz: Arguably scholarship is entirely dependent on annotation; scholarship is an exercise in annotation. Research is not just “substantiated by the presumed authority of an annotation,” by which I assume you mean peer review. Research depends on the ability to cite other research, and a citation is an annotation to that other work. Oral traditions are excluded at least in part because there’s no artifact to annotate.
Jeffrey Pomerantz: See also the short essay by Kevin Kelly, Triumph of the Default:
Jeffrey Pomerantz: This is what I was talking about above, that in order for annotations to make sense, the reader has to understand the context. I agree that it is impossible to understand these examples of annotation as isolated from the social context. The problem is, it is actually possible to read them in isolation. Imagine Bell’s and O’Hare’s art being viewed by someone unfamiliar with US politics, for example, or by a viewer 500 years in the future. Reading would happen but without understanding. Bell’s & O’Hare’s work explicitly annotate real texts. But the text here is more than a tweet or a page of the NYT; the “text” is the social context.
Jeffrey Pomerantz: Seems to me that this harks back to the comment about Twitter, that it’s marginalia on everything in the world. The thing is though, in order for these annotations to make sense, the reader / viewer has to understand the context. The fact of Wei Jingsheng’s work being on the Democracy Wall provides the context. Existing in the modern US provides the context for Bell’s work. But maybe not for a foreign tourist in NYC? Digital annotation can provide a link to the context, as in Twitter. What mechanisms do physical annotations use to provide context to the reader?
Betina Hsieh: And contest knowledge. Just going to keep putting that out there ;)
Betina Hsieh: Yes. How do citation practices work with annotation and how do we not take up ideas as our own when they are bred through conversation on our original ideas.
Betina Hsieh: Yes! I was thinking this when you mentioned the 17 Climate scientists earlier—that was a culminated annotation process, and I wonder how we grapple with whose voice counts or how various voices count when texts become multi-vocal.
Betina Hsieh: I wish there was a little more unpacking of the idea of social movements in relation to power here. I think you’re getting at this, the power of annotation with hashtags to amplify but it’s not as clear or connected to power as it could be
Betina Hsieh: This is so critical — the (externalized) dialogic nature of annotation. Not only am I interacting with and responding to text internally, I am engaging in the dialogue externally
Chris Aldrich: I wonder how better, big data being overlaid on virtual reality may be helpful to the currently marginalized in the future? Would it be useful to have shared data about businesses and practices that tend to marginalize people further? I recall an African-American comedian recently talking about the Confederate Flag in a (Netflix?) comedy special. They indicated that the flag actually had some worthwhile uses and reminisced driving on rural highways at night looking for a place to stay. When they saw that flag flying over a motel, they knew better to keep driving and stay at another hotel further down the road. In this case, the flag over the hotel not-so-subtly annotated the establishment itself.
Chris Aldrich: I perceive a lot of social slights and institutionalized racism as being of a marginal sort which are designed to be bothersome to some while going wholly unnoticed by others. What if it were possible to aggregate the data on a broader basis to bring these sorts of marginal harms to the forefront for society to see them? As an example, consider big companies doing marginal harms to a community's environment over time, but going generally unnoticed until the company has long since divested and/or disappeared. It's hard to sue them for damages decades later, but if one could aggregate the bigger harms upfront and show those annotated/aggregated data up front, then they could be stopped before they got started. As a more concrete example, the Trump Management Corporation was hit with a consent decree in the early 1970's for prejudicial practices against people of color including evidence that was subpoenaed showing that applications for people of color were annotated with a big "C" on them. Now consider if all individuals who had made those applications had shared some of their basic data into a pool that could have been accessed and analyzed by future applicants, then perhaps the Trumps would have been caught far earlier. Individuals couldn't easily prove discrimination because of the marginal nature of the discrimination, but data in aggregate could have potentially saved the bigger group.
Chris Aldrich: Here I'm reminded of Tom Standage's book Writing on the Wall: Social Media: The First 2,000 Years as potentially having some interesting examples that include the ideas of social media as an annotation layer on life.
Chris Aldrich: What about the potential for digital redlining, which has the potential to further marginalize fragile ecosystems? example:
Chris Aldrich: social media: live annotations on life itself
Chris Aldrich: The more you reference her work, the more I think you should add an explicit example of it within the text.
Heather Staines: I agree.
Chris Aldrich: I've added a few examples of abuse and conversation here in the past:
Chris Aldrich: Perhaps in the future with VR or AR technologies, I might be able to add an annotation layer to an audience viewing a performer singing and digitally write the word "slave" on their face?
Betina Hsieh: Ooh, Chris’s point is fascinating. My response to this question though is really different — in some cases, to whom are we asking permission? Especially as layers of annotation are formed. Even in this document, as I’m adding comments to annotations, am I invited to do so by the public nature of annotation, by you, Remi & Antero? If I’m given permission by one entity (NYT), am I also to seek permission from the author of the article? So this adds to complexity.
+ 1 more...
Chris Aldrich: How would this have worked in pre-literate societies? Examples? "the whole social body" also reminds me of the idea of the "Great Chain of Being" to consider how differences in annotation may change and evolve in societies over long periods of time. I can't help but consider Richard Dawkins' original conceptualization of the "meme" and how they move through societies with or without literacy skills.
Jeffrey Pomerantz: Also the idea in the Western canon of The Great Conversation.
Chris Aldrich: These sorts of annotations can also help to force people who might not otherwise understand the subtlety of a piece to "read between the lines". I have to wonder about annotations as a means of apophasis as well... Not having anywhere else to attach it yet, I also wonder about verbal annotations or asides in actual speech? Perhaps president George H.W. Bush's famous quote "Read my lips: no new taxes" could be considered an example of this sort of verbal annotation or highlighting?
Chris Aldrich: You're referencing something directly here which you didn't present directly earlier. Perhaps it's worth adding it as a specific example of her work in the section above? I got enough context with the tangential mention of her work above, but think it would be beneficial to add a specific example of it in your text.
Chris Aldrich: What about examples of future sorts of annotations/redactions like these with emerging technologies? Stories about deepfakes (like Obama calling Trump a "dipshit" or the Youtube Channel Bad Lip Reading redubbing the words of Senator Ted Cruz) are becoming more prevalent and these are versions of this sort of redaction taken to greater lengths. At present, these examples are obviously fake and facetious, but in short order they will be indistinguishable and more commonplace.
Chris Aldrich: While I'm reading this, I can't help but wishing that would add a redaction functionality to their product. They could potentially effect it by using the highlighter functionality, but changing the CSS to have the color shown be the same as that of the (body) text instead of being yellow.
Chris Aldrich: Do her words have even more power in doing this because she's using Weinstein's actual words against him?
Chris Aldrich: I appreciate that you've explicitly left this etymology out until now, and this chapter is a perfect place to reveal it.
Chris Aldrich: But if we're going to consider music as art, isn't a lot of the value and power of art in the "eye of the beholder"? To some extent art's value is in the fact that it can have multiple interpretations. From this perspective, once it's been released, Lamar's music isn't "his" anymore, it becomes part of a broader public that will hear and interpret it as they want to. So while Lamar may go back and annotate what he may have meant at the time as an "expert", doesn't some of his art thereby lose some power in that he is tacitly stating that he apparently didn't communicate his original intent well? By comparison and for contrast one could take the recent story of Donald Trump's speech (very obviously written by someone else) about the recent mass shootings and compare them with the polar opposite message he spews on an almost daily basis from his Twitter account. See:
Chris Aldrich: While I like the sentiment here, a lot of the power of the message comes from not only the medium, but the distribution which it receives. Many daily examples of "typical" annotation done by common people are done in a way that incredibly few will ultimately see the message. The fact that the annotations of the emperor were republished and distributed was what, in great part, gave them so much weight and value. Similarly here with the example of the King's blog or Alexandra Bell's work which was displayed in public. I hope there is more discussion about the idea of distribution in what follows.
Chris Aldrich: Not just purple ink, but most likely Tyrian purple which was a signifier of royalty and power owing to the incredible cost to manufacture the dye. The annotation itself may have shown it's own power, but the color it was done in added even more subtle social power to those who would have read it.
Chris Aldrich: I like the photo you’ve provided of her work in situ, and you’ve given lots of references of her work and some interviews, but I wonder if it may be more helpful/illustrative if you provided a specific example here of her work as well.
Betina Hsieh: Express, but also to meet power with powerful counterpoint. The critical nature of response in annotation here feels a little underemphasized.
Jeffrey Pomerantz: Express and reinforce: Not just anyone could author an annotatio.
Betina Hsieh: Yes. This is a key point. Annotation is a tool. Like many literacy-based tools, it can be used for oppression or liberation.
Betina Hsieh: I love this. It is critical literacy in real world contexts
Maha Bali: You mentioned something earlier about teacher annotation and power but didn’t come back to it - perhaps you plan to come back to it in the next chapter? For me, one of the key missing things in this chapter is that all the examples you use are by particular people doing annotation. Particular authorities or artists or such. But not lay people, not really. There needs to be some unpacking of the power issues in everyday annotation. Of school books you borrow from school or from library which you cannot annotate, of teachers annotating student work, and of students annotating when given permission or instruction to do so. Also, what of students scribbling or doodling on texts assigned in school - rebellion, resistance, something else? To this day, I remember borrowing books from my PhD supervisor and being fascinated with what he chose to highlight in his own texts. It distracted me but also interested me a lot and I think I learn about annotation from the way he did it. Does anyone ever really teach others how to annotate for the purpose of learning? I guess you will tackle this next!
Jeffrey Pomerantz: It’s funny that Maha raises this question. (Well, not really ha-ha funny.) My middle school-age daughter has a summer reading for school, and the kids were told by the teachers to annotate it for discussion. But she’s complained that they were never taught how to do annotation, & had no idea how to approach it. To that end, I second Troy’s point above that recommendations for teachers would be valuable. Perhaps as an appendix?
Maha Bali: I’m not sure this chapter has shown that. I can see the counternarrative aspect and the aspect of authorities like the Climate example… but not so clearly the “strategic inclusion” dimension and just barely expanding boundaries of authority and exprtise
Maha Bali: good points… but not for general digital annotation… whether or not something like a Vialogue counts as knowledge construction in any traditional sense (I know a journal that does Vialogues around stuff…)
Maha Bali: well this speaks also to the way Wikipedia defines authority. It is not enough that the author of the book in the Wikipedia article is saying it… he has to say it somewhere *else* that has some credibility according to Wikipedia’s standards
Maha Bali: that is a cool story :)
Jeffrey Pomerantz: Or maybe not ironically? Roth is no dummy; he doesn’t say so explicitly in the Open Letter, but I wonder if he didn’t know exactly what he was doing.
Maha Bali: why is the above Figure 21 called “blackout poem”? Seems like an invitation by the authors for readers to do a blackout poem of it… but the figure itself is not a blackout poem as it stands here…
Chris Aldrich: perhaps add a “?” to the invitation and prepend the words “an invitation to create a”
Maha Bali: At this point, a thought crossed my mind related to Audrey Watters feeling like she did not want annotation to happen on her own website (but is happy to have it done outside her website if people wanted). I wonder if there is any value in unpacking that one here? Perhaps. perhaps not.
Chris Aldrich: Ultimately Audrey Watters rescinded the Creative Commons license on her website, though I don’t think she ever mentioned specifically why she made that change (nor does she need to publicly state a reason) though it may have had something to do with annotations and/or harassment she experienced at the time. I do remember thinking at the time she was looking at those decisions that in some sense by allowing annotations on her site, she was providing a platform and distribution for others to potentially harass her. Some pieces of that extended conversation:
Maha Bali: I think if you want to look deeply at power, since it is half the title of this chapter, you may want to go beyond just Foucault because there are so many different theoretical approaches to power and I don’t know how including or excluding them would influence this chapter. A good resource on this is Burbules A Theory of Power in Education (I assume you both have your favorite resources on this also, and when I read that article while doing my PhD it went over my head a bit, but would probably make sense to you :)) and probably to me, now ;)
Maha Bali: That is an excellent point.
Maha Bali: would be nice to include a screenshot. Also, I feel like I need to read up on Cambodian history to understand the significance of this particular royal - you don’t explicitly talk about how he is using power here. Was he trying to influence public opinion, was he just annotating for his own knowledge and learning, what kind of power is at play here? (I also wonder if the whole leaders having “right to express freely their view” does not work to anyone’s favor in the case of Donald Trump, so I would contest this strongly. That freedom of expression for political leaders maybe should be weighted differently than for the general population, no? As it has broader consequences for the entire country or even the world…
Chris Aldrich: I nearly added it above in the opening, but Maha’s comment reminds me of it again. In a countercultural way, a web developer created a browser plugin that will re-format all of Donald Trump’s tweets to appear as if they were written in crayon by an eight year old: While not technically annotation in a “traditional” form discussed in the text so far—though close from the perspective of the redaction technique mentioned above—, by reformatting the font of Trumps tweets, it completely changes their context, meaning, and political weight.
Maha Bali: You said “briefly” but the section on Roman Empire reads long and I started to lose focus. This may be on me because I am not particularly interested in the Roman Empire, but I was also not sure that all the details were needed to make your point across… perhaps consider shortening this and keeping it punchy and to the point? Readers can follow links to read more details if they’re interested?
Troy Hicks: And, in turn, the fair use provisions of US copyright law allow for transformative uses of the original work given the kind of commentary, critique, and parody that you are advocating for here.
Maha Bali: What is this?
Troy Hicks: Again, as you bring this point home, I think that you need to accentuate your example about Wikipedia above by talking, specifically, about the policies that the entire Wikipedia community must adhere to.
Maha Bali: I wonder if it would be helpful to offer a hypothetical case study or semi-fictional narrative of annotation where it has been used as a tool to suppress, liberate, or as a more neutral tool… perhaps in different contexts, but perhaps also within one context (whom might it liberate or oppress, for whom would it make no difference of power?). I’m annotating now as I read, so this may be something you have done in some form or another anyway..
Troy Hicks: It may not be your intent to do so, but if there was a point in the book to make some recommendations to educators (especially teachers of writing), this section would be it. A clear, concise list of recommendations about how to use annotation in powerful, smart ways would be very helpful here, along with some specific activities that teachers and students could do.
Maha Bali: I’m glad you brought this up here because it was buzzing in my brain just before you added it in.
Troy Hicks: Yes, you can. This is transformative use. You can bring in support from The Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Media Literacy Education.
Jeffrey Pomerantz: +1
Maha Bali: I love that this is an offline example, about annotation in general. I’m starting by reading this chapter and thought the book was about open, collaborative annotation. I am extremely pleased with this start to the chapter. It’s really engaging and relevant and makes a strong point straight off
Troy Hicks: It could be useful to cite and explain Wikipedia’s stance on maintaining a “neutral point of view.”
Troy Hicks: Are people, after the annotations are shared, talking with these authors/artists? Talking about them? Talking at them? In other words, you need to make the case that this is truly dialogic.
Troy Hicks: OK, so this is a powerful phrase, and for some reason stands in contrast with “annotation” as I read it. That is, “annotation” seems to be something, while done with intention, that happens in the moment. It is fleeting, though meaningful. This kind of “intentional redaction” took some planning. I doubt highly that O’Hare just randomly took the black marker to the text without having read it all the way through, at least once if not two or three times, and had a very specific purpose in mind by choosing these words, forming them into this particular sentence. Again, talk about how this kind of annotation aligns with (adds to, differs from) your original idea of “annotation” as defined in the opening chapter.
Maha Bali: I’ll agree to that, even though I have not yet read the opening chapter :)
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Troy Hicks: As mentioned in the other chapter, it might behoove you to make mention of the rhetorical triangle here. Moreover, in looking at these examples in this chapter, I began to wonder: Is graffiti a form of annotation?
Troy Hicks: Were annotatio really dialogic, however? I think that you also need to talk about how they run against what you have been discussing throughout the book.
Maha Bali: I was getting this sense, also, and wondering.
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Troy Hicks: Fair enough. That said, could you make a hint at it earlier? As a reader, I wish I would have known this earlier, even if I would have had to skip ahead to Chapter 5 to get the full definition.
Troy Hicks: Please see my note below about use of “annotator,” as this would be a good place to describe who an annotator is, what s/he does, and why it matters.
Troy Hicks: I may have overlooked it, but I don’t know that I have seen “annotators” — those doing the act of annotating — used as a noun anywhere in this manuscript before this. It is a useful grammatical construction to consider, especially in this chapter, but also throughout the rest of the manuscript.
Maha Bali: well I also had a question. Is writing a review on Yelp an “annotation”??? It does not modify or mark some “text” in some way… so I’m not sure … I should go back to how your earlier chapters!
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Lynne Norris Murray: W
Sara Wagner Pimenta Gonçalves Junior: When we are taking about authoship, its must that place from where that person talks, feels and see, filed by intersections that cross race, gender, class and over a ocidentalized subalternity. Are there intercrossings that works straight shows narratives as counternarratives and fields ignored, as endosex bodies X intersex, cis X trans, north X southern.