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CCCC 2004: Review

Review: Networking with a Porpoise: Ethnography of Publishers at the CCCCs
Reviewed by: Gloria McMillan, Ph.D., glomc@DakotaCom.net
Posted on: April 4, 2004
Updated on: April 4, 2004

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Researchers such as A. K. Being and Clifford Geertz have exposed the pitfalls of observer-participant status, while theorists such as Mary Louise Pratt have exposed the “contact zones” where proximal knowledge is gained and exchanged and identities are renegotiated in community (Being 78). Some discourse communities have remained less studied due to their guarding of clan lore and secrets. This review's study will map the cultures and status markers to be found among the textbook publishers at the 2004 CCCC conference of the National Council of Teachers of English.  For the purposes of this analysis, three cultural markers have been isolated: totems, ritual foods, and plumage.

The most prominent clan identification visible at conferences is the clan totem.  Textbook publishers have a surprising variety of such totems on display, although, as will be shown, the clan’s status and claim to power often decides the nature and visibility of cultural markers.  Because of their determinant function in the clan identity, this analysis will first deal with group totems and proceed to the other marker phenomena.


The “Holy Porpoise” (Schimmelfletcher’s “helige Porpoisen”) totem was on display at both ends of the Houghton-Mifflin booth.  This clan totem shows a phallic slant both in its male blue colors and in its column-culminating-in-the-corporate-logo design: the spouting porpoise. Surely, this was the work of clan elders who wished to acknowledge the power of the porpoise and, perhaps draw upon its arcane, aquatic potency (Snoop 34).  One must ask whether clan elders chose the title Writing with a Purpose as a sly allusion to the clan’s totem animus.  The larger clans, such as Houghton-Mifflin, take great pains in selecting their clan’s totem and many emphasize the masculine values in their totemic displays (Weestoppit 112).  On the other hand, Thomson-Heinle suspends its totem high above the hall and it hovers above the exhibits like a “mother ship” or a “halo.”  Being a circular and open canvas construct, suspended from the ceiling, this totem has feminine and vaginal connotations, according to participant Marjorie Winkelman at the Adjunct Advocate clan table.  It should be noted that these small clans, the not-for-profits, disciplinary organizations, and so on can only be said to exist on the margins of the society.  As I. Scoop notes, they occupy small niches around the periphery of the exhibit hall and graze on the ritual food offerings of the major clans (305).   

Other noteworthy totems included Pearson’s cluster of mandalas and its highly accessorized staff.  One staff member called the observer’s attention to how the food offering receptacle was color coordinated with the textbook logo (or “clan totem”) and pointedly remarked that none of this was accidental.   

The replicated apples on display at Scott-Foresman showed that the Druidic influence is still evident in these gatherings.  The garlands of plastic foliage and banks of bottled water called upon the various spirits of the earth and water to bring acolytes to gaze in wonder at the Scott-Foreman shrine.  Many more clans were in evidence and some had graphical displays that functioned as totems, but it is necessary to move on to category two, the ritual food offerings.


The literature of the "contact zone" notes that ritual food offerings form in large measure the clans' major attempt to attract new acolytes.  As one clan's saying goes,  "If you can't dazzle 'em with your totems, catch them with your Kisses."  (Kisses are chocolate offerings containing a slight amount of caffeine and heavy doses of sugar that, in combination, produce euphoria in the passers-by who sample them.)  Once again, this observer noted that "poverty row" around the edges of the hall had very little by way of food offerings to attract acolytes.

The Journal of Advanced Composition (JAC) clan's spokesman displayed a high forehead and serious demeanor as befitting the nature of their small, but intellectual, group.  Asked about the lack of ritual food offering by his clan, he replied "Our clan's journal provides intellectual sustenance."  This statement accompanied by the look of slight disgust at the mere thought of sugary ritual food offerings caused the investigator to hurry to the next booth of a smaller clan to see if this disdain for the body were shared by all non-commercial clans.  Unfortunately, that booth was occupied by the General Semantics clan, who not only had no food offering but no occupant at the moment.  The M--'s booth was among the larger commercial clans, but seemed out-of-place there, due to their different clan structure and methods of communicating to membership via newsletters (Responsible 44).

As the observer approached the clan members lounging on highchairs, they offered assistance.  Asked where their ritual food offerings were (the test question), the reserved M-- clan spokesman exclaimed,"We are a member-ruled clan and have no food.  But…" He lowered his voice conspiratorially, "we willingly harvest--or liberate, if you will--the ritual foods of other clans, and happily pass them on to passers-by, such as yourself."  He plopped a purple chocolate egg into the observer's hand, which, she realized came from the Houghton-Mifflin clan.  The two women clan elders, nodded sagely at this stunning revelation.  So, could this be the break through we in "contact zonal" research have been looking for?  Is this, as A. Fellow notes, the reason that, "despite their poverty, the smaller clans seem to survive well from year-to-year" (110)?

The observer moved on to the larger clans because their ritual food offerings are the most elaborate ones, consisting of both tiny offerings at their booths and large feasts, which are semi-secret and guarded, passes being handed out only to those with insider status.  Part of the ritual behavior of the Instructor Clan is to "blow the cover" on these Publisher Clan feasts and "crashing" is a major ritual amongst the Instructor clans in general.  There are even score cards carried by some Instructors showing how many Publisher Clan Feasts they have successfully "crashed."  This becomes a marker of status when they return to their home institutions.  

The dissident major clan was Scott Foresman, whose booth beckoned invitingly, showing banks of bottled water and large baskets of apples, brilliantly combining its clan totem (the apple) with its ritual food offerings and nature-worshipping.  The Druid underpinnings of Scott-Foreman were suggested in these garlands of plastic plants and also in that the clan members allowed repeated plundering of their food offerings (because they were like nature and generous?)  The other large clans primarily kept their food offerings in the caffeine-sugar food groups, so Scott-Foresman certainly took a risk in moving towards natural, possibly Druid, ritual foods.  There were few other deviations from the norm, either in booth ritual food offerings or in Clan Feasts so we move now to the plumage.


The thing that participant observers dread happened when this observer approached a Clan Staffer from the High Clan, the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).  The clan member "spooked."  This was inadvertent and probably caused by too close scrutiny of the clan's plumage. The incident occurred this way.  The observer approached and began asking about NCTE clan plumage, in this case the sacred name badge with the status marker purple "Staff" streamer hanging below.  Immediately the clan member looked at his female cohort, as if expecting her to rescue him from this uncomfortable situation.  She shrugged and smiled.  When no one came to his assistance, beads of sweat sprung on his brow and he kept stammering "It's only my name badge," while covering his plumage with his hand.  (Freudian note.)  Torn between fascination at this unexpected turn of events and feeling pity for this "spooked" member of the High NCTE Clan, the observer hastily excused herself and didn't wait for an explanation on why the High Clan had no ritual foods on display.  

The observer vowed to learn from this interchange and avoid too much eye contact with clan plumage.  This emotional response only underscores the supreme importance of clan plumage, however.  As Marjorie Winkelman of The Adjunct Advocate clan observed, "People zoom right in to look at the kind of tag you have.  These are status markers."  Status markers, yes, but now one must also suspect taboo objects, as well!  Winkelman explained one of the secrets of the clan plumage.  "The Publisher clans do not invite those wearing Exhibitor clan badges to their feasts, only those from the Instructor clan."  She seemed saddened by this, since clan feasts provide much of the free nutrition at these annual clan gatherings, and, as noted, the nutrition of the outer ring of non-profits and organization clans was scant.

A final note on plumage must be to describe--if possible--the long colorful streamers attached to the EC clan's badges.  The Executive Committee reserves for itself the right to wear a rainbow of streamers indicating membership in high committees.  Sometimes this clan also sports an array of buttons and pins to mark further status within that group, clan rank and member as an "elder."  The observer spent much time cataloguing the colors and degrees of EC badges, which are so diverse as to make secret Masonic insignia look bereft of style by comparison.  It became hard to keep one's scholarly distance and not be totally impressed by it all.  

But time grew short and the survey had to be concluded, so we sadly pulled ourselves away from these happy and active folk to plan our next field trip into uncharted terrain.  Should there be further funding for this foundational work in mapping lesser-known cultural groups, we plan to map the dance communication (footwork involving lengthy messages) found at the Friday night all-clan events (Nuff 65).  Many contact zones are established at the clan dances and further work needs to be done on the inter-clan alliance building that occurs via ritual dancing.  It is thankless work at times, but someone has to crawl forward and take the risks involved in photographing feet from floor-level.

NOTE: This observer wishes to thank the many helpful members of the various clans for their hospitality and cooperation on this survey.  Apologies to the member of the NCTE clan who "spooked" and we hope that he is fully recovered and able to resume his important role in the High Clan's structure.

Works Cited

Being, A. Kind.  Happy Days among My Friends the Publishing Clans.  Cambridge, MA: Harvard U P, 1901.

Fellow, A. Fine.  "Snacking Tonight?  Small Clan 'Harvests' of Large Clan Ritual Foods."  The Journal of Ritual Food Anthropology 17 (1999): 38-45.

Nuff, Hadda.  Outrageous and Indecent?  Comparisons of Publishing Clan All-night Parties in Europe and the United States.    Boston: The Women's Disapproving P, 1995.

Responsible, U. R.  Who's to Blame?  The Sad Disappearance of the Xeroxed Clan Newsletter. Salem, MA: M-- Inquisitor P, 1990.

Scoop, Itza.  "Journalism practiced among the Publisher Clans."  Publishers' Gossip Network 13 (2000): 12-15.

Snoop, Ima.  "Following the Clans to Dig Out their Secrets."  The Anthropological Eye 23.2 (Fall 2001): 230-45.

Weestoppit, Ken.  "Representing Animals in Publisher Totems."  The Friends of Dolphins Gazette  (Spr 1993): 26-35.

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