Good Work Does Go Noticed

Congratulations to Sarah Read, assistant professor in the Department of Writing, Rhetoric, and Discourse, for the award she recently received for a paper she delivered at a professional technical communication conference at the University of Texas in Austin. The James M. Lufkin Award for Best International Professional Communication Conference Paper is given annually by the IEEE Professional Communication Society in recognition of work that supports their mission to promote effective communication within scientific, engineering and technical environments.

In the paper, Sarah and her co-author and fellow award-winner Michael E. Papka propose a more comreadaward_0001prehensive model of the document cycling process to capture significant activities not normally found in conventional project management plans. The paper emerged from an ethnographic study she conducted as a guest faculty researcher at Argonne National Laboratory where she analyzed the technical documentation and reporting processes that went into creating the facility’s 2014 annual report.

Operated by The University of Chicago Argonne LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy, the research lab and its high-powered supercomputer are used by scientists from academia and industry. Each year it produces a lengthy, polished report for the funder, “an extended statement about how the facility has met or exceeded the performance metrics set by the funder based on the previous review process,” as explained in the paper.

Sarah’s interviews with staff and her observations of the lab’s operations revealed hidden activities involved in gathering and generating data that indirectly fed into the annual report. This data-gathering had become incorporated into regular operational activities and fell outside the designated time frames for generating reportable information. These submerged activities not only informed the report but constituted a creative endeavor in their own right. (See a previous SSRC blog about Sarah’s project in which she vividly described the efforts demanded of staff in learning how to “write down the machine.”)

They did not arise sui generis. Papka, a senior scientist at Argonne, is the director of the Leadership Computing Center and an associate professor of computer science at Northern Illinois University. In 2012 he revised the annual report document creation process “from an annual last-minute all-out effort to a well-managed, well-paced drafting and revision process,” according to the paper. Reporting became on-going, rotating and cut across multiple divisions of the facility. Crucially, it entailed the development of processes “to more efficiently and accurately generate” reportable performance data.

The success of those efforts leads the paper’s authors to raise some provocative questions, including whether the staff time and effort required to write an annual report—a full-color, printed and designed document totaling 126 pages in 2014—is warranted when reportable information becomes readily accessible and available. “It is interesting to reflect upon how the imperative to develop a more accurate and efficient annual operational assessment reporting process ended up building processes at the facility…that could make the annually produced report unnecessary,” they point out. And they ask teachers and students of professional and technical writing to recognize and understand that the means of producing reportable information for the periodic reports so common to large organizations “have as much if not more value for the organization than the finished reporting document.”

The SSRC likes to think that our own support of Sarah’s research contributed to this project, from her use of ATLAS.ti, the qualitative data analysis application available in our computer lab, to analyze her data, to her ongoing participation in the SSRC’s Accountability Group in which tenure-track LAS faculty meet twice a month to set and discuss self-imposed professional and research goals. She worked on the paper during spring break at the off-campus faculty research retreat in Wisconsin that the SSRC organized to offer faculty designated writing time away from usual distractions. Sarah plans to develop the epistemic dimensions of the model in another paper.

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Economic Inequality According to Adam Smith

Eliminate poverty and economic inequality disappears.  Not so, says DePaul Political Science Professor David Lay Williams, who treated a recent Mess Hall audience at the SSRC to a preview chapter from ‘The Greatest of All Plagues’: Economic Inequality in Western Political Thought, a book he’s writing for Princeton University Press.

AdamSmith

Returning to an examination of seminal free-marketeer Adam Smith, Williams traces the recurring theme of economic inequality throughout Smith’s writings, particularly in his less celebrated book, The Theory of Moral Sentiments.  And while he finds Smith’s solutions for alleviating desperate poverty stronger than those addressing economic inequality, he points out that Smith was quick to recognize potential pitfalls of inequality at the nascent roots of capitalism.

Smith, whose own 18th Century Scotland was marked by great economic inequality, ascribed its development to a combination of people’s tendencies to base their actions on self-interest, the desire for rank and distinction, and an appetite for both superiority and domination over others.  In commercial societies where people are considered responsible for their station in life where success is measured by wealth and poverty equals failure, two separate moral codes can evolve, observed Smith.  People’s inclination to worship the rich allows the rich to indulge in a very lax moral code, one that tolerates their foibles while subjecting the poor to life-long punishment for theirs.  Likewise, greater wealth will also enjoy greater political authority, continues Smith’s critique.

To Williams, relieving poverty wouldn’t address the pathologies Smith identified or control badly performing political institutions.  What Smith described as the “natural selfishness and rapacity” of the rich has both individual and societal implications.  Pitted against the morally corrupting effects on individual character that Smith warned of, the interests of the poor barely register on the radar of the rich, Williams said.  The more disproportionate the wealth, the more violently and unjustly the rich will treat the poor, a Smithian observation not generally remarked on, Williams noted.

In other chapters of his book, Williams will examine the issue of economic inequality through the lens of Plato, St. Augustine, Hobbes, Rousseau, Mill, and Marx.

Master Hoaxing at DePaul

AlanAbel

Long before punk’d became a verb with a hip spelling, self-styled professional prankster and provocateur Alan Abel was pulling the legs of the unsuspecting. There was his fictitious Society for Indecency to Naked Animals, a years-long campaign to put animals in pants; golf-course dance lessons to corporate executives in the fine points of ballet positions promised to ratchet up their golf scores; or his school for beggars, a front for spotlighting the conditions of the homeless.

The incorrigible satirist, writer, comedian, lecturer, actor, musician and public interest champion has been tweaking the media and pointing the way to his provocative punch lines for almost 60 years. This week he’s bringing his hoaxing moxie to DePaul for a series of special events sponsored by the SSRC and the College of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences Dean’s Office.

Meet the man at Abel Raises Cain, a documentary by his daughter that recounts the history of his elaborate and thought-provoking exploits and their too-often unquestioned acceptance. The film will screen at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 2, in McGowan South, Room 108, 1110 W. Belden Ave., and will be followed by a Q&A with Abel in person.

On Thursday, March 3, Abel will lead a workshop in which participants will devise some mischief of their own, which will be tested on the city’s streets the next day. The workshop begins at 6:30 p.m. at the DePaul Art Museum, 2nd floor events room, 935 W. Fullerton Ave.

All events are free and open to the public.  The only requirement is no requirements.

Putting Art History on the Map

Joanna Gardner-Huggett, associate professor and chair of the Department of the History of Art and Architecture (HAA), has taken the plunge into the digital environment, setting her compass on mapping and spatial analysis to guide her current art historical research.

ARCHer subject is two Chicago feminist arts collectives that began in 1973: Artemisia, which lasted until 2003, and the still-operating ARC.  Her goal is to
tell the collective history of the two galleries by measuring their impact on the careers of the individual artists they touched as well as on the practice of art in and beyond Chicago at a significant point in the history of feminism and of separatist organizations.

Using ArcGIS data visualization software, she has been creating geographical maps based on the social, educational and professional demographics of the 129 member and guest artists who had solo shows at the two galleries from 1980–1985, “just to see if there were any patterns,” Joanna said.

What she’s discovered is that it’s “really a local story.  The mapping helped distill that beautifully,” she added.  To her surprise, she found that it “mostly had little to do w/ feminism,” she added.  “That was eye-opening, but really useful.”  She considers the role of the two collectives as essential in the development of a whole new generation of women artists.  “That’s the challenge,” Joanna said.  “There are so many people.  How do you write about a big group?”

The ARC and Artemisia archives held at the Ryerson and Burnham Libraries are her primary research source.  Through mapping and an analysis of spatial evidence she hopes to discover when the two groups were at their highest and lowest points of influence and what intersections were occurring at those points in time.

“I think art historians can make broad generalizations when discussing archival data, and the mapping makes us more accountable for our conclusions,” she explained.  “For me, the mapping is just a really wonderful tool.”

Joanna credits her HAA colleague Professor Paul Jaskot for igniting her digital exploration.  At his suggestion, she applied for and was selected as one of 15 Fellows to take part in the first-ever Summer Institute on Digital Mapping and Art History held in August 2014 at Middlebury College.  Paul and Middlebury Associate Professor of Geography Anne Kelley Knowles organized and co-direct the annual, hands-on, two-week symposium funded by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation.  Joanna thanks DPU Department of Geography Chair Euan Hague for referring her to the SSRC where Nandhini Gulasingam is guiding her use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and data visualization tools and techniques.  Joanna in turn has referred fellow HAA Associate Professor Delia Cosentino to the SSRC for help creating maps locating metal replicas of Mayan calendar stones for a project in Pilsen.

“It’s so great having that as a resource,” Joanna said of the SSRC.  “A lot of my colleagues don’t have that kind of support at other institutions.”  The students in Nandhini’s WQ Community GIS II class in the Department of Geography will incorporate Joanna’s database into their community-based group projects.  Joanna’s next steps will be to increase her own GIS proficiency and to develop more narrative-driven maps, possibly using Tableau or other visual analytics applications, with the help of the SSRC.

Some of Joanna’s maps may become available to future researchers on a website database that former members of Artemisia are building.  She’s also grateful to the Women and Leadership Archives at Loyola University Chicago which is collecting and preserving the papers of ARC and Artemisia members.

Research in Service of Action

DeMaioBillboard

Utilizing services of the SSRC this summer, Associate Professor of Sociology Fernando De Maio and students from the Master of Public Health program have been working with Rush University Medical Center to compile a portrait of what health looks like in the eight West Side and three Oak Park Community Areas that make up the hospital’s city and suburban patient base.

This is among the first projects of the new LAS Center for Community Health Equity (CCHE). Co-directed by Fernando and Dr. Raj C. Shah, a geriatrician and an associate professor in Rush’s Department of Family Medicine and its Alzheimer’s Disease Center, the Center is embarking on an ambitious goal: to help improve community health outcomes and eliminate health inequities in Chicago. By linking the two institutions’ research, teaching and experiential assets in a strategic partnership across disciplines, it aims to connect research and action, recognizing that, “it is not enough to identify a problem and then do nothing to fix it,” Fernando said.

Every three years, as a condition of the Affordable Care Act, non-profit hospitals must conduct a Community Health Needs Assessment describing the health needs of the residents within their service area and to what extent they are meeting them. They receive a mandate and an injunction (don’t exclude any populations within the service area), but get little methodological guidance, Fernando noted. DePaul’s participation through the CCHE now offers an opportunity to introduce “a social science approach” previously missing from Rush’s health assessment, Fernando said. Before, qualitative data was a very small component of the report, which lacked the “richness” valued in social research. “The actual voice of the participants was lost,” he noted.

The benefits of collaboration are already evident. A combination of health care utilization information from Rush, sociodemographic and economic data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), along with GIS mapping and data analysis from the CCHE (assisted by the SSRC) have added a significant change to the next report: Austin will be included in Rush’s Chicago service area for the first time. The 2015 assessment will also include quantitative data collected by a Cook County-wide collaboration of hospitals and qualitative information from focus groups. “The end result, I think, is going to be one grounded in qualitative insight,” Fernando said. “The voice of residents — in Austin, West Garfield Park, North Lawndale and other high-hardship communities — should have a more prominent role in the report.”

DePaul students are benefiting from the opportunity to directly observe the assessment planning, implementation and analysis processes. Students Denisha Brown, Kerianne Burke, Ernesto Flores, Aneta Jedrazsko, Maggie Nava and Adenike Sosina have participated as focus group note-takers, facilitators and transcribers. Denisha and Maggie got to join Fernando on a Rush committee that formulated the focus group questions, and Kerianne helped Fernando and Dr. Shah analyze the CDC data. The SSRC has trained students in how to represent data through GIS maps and how to use SSRC transcription equipment to capture the focus group discussions. Fernando said his preliminary examination of the initial transcripts is already revealing “valuable insight, which should add a layer of richness to the community health needs assessment.”

As of September, the Center will be housed at the Loop campus. An official kick-off event is scheduled for Oct. 29 at Rush. “All of us are really excited by the potential of the Center,” Fernando said. “It is a way for us to meaningfully collaborate across disciplines and professions, with community involvement, and work on one of the big injustices in our city — the simple and stubborn fact that your zip code largely determines your life expectancy.”