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
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.
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
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
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.
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.