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Teaching and Learning Multimodal Communications

Alyssa Arbuckle, Alison Hedley, Shaun Macpherson, Alyssa McLeod, Jana Millar Usiskin, Daniel Powell, Jentery Sayers, Emily Smith, Michael Stevens, Authors

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Metadata: Interpretive Allopoiesis (Analysis)

With the aid of the Dublin Core guide to naming elements, I found the process of assigning metadata to be mostly straightforward. My sources, apart from the Stanford Encyclopedia entry, were both relatively old (the CriticaLinks project appears to have been abandoned years ago and yet is still hosted online; it was first written in 1998), and therefore did not have metadata attached to it. I therefore had to generate every element. Some of the elements, such as "creator" and "contributor" at first seemed like slightly ambiguous categories—given that the older sites (the CriticaLinks site and the podcast, which was recorded in 2005) had less data attached to them, I found myself repeating the element data in certain categories. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry, as a site within a much larger and comprehensive site, shed light on the distinctions between the categories, and the question of the distinction between creator and contributor became clear.

From a critical perspective, this exercise shed light on McGann's somewhat paradoxical model of autopoietic and allopoietic function in (non-literary) digital languages insofar as metadata functions to provide immanence to authorship. McGann's idea that digital languages constitute a form of allopoiesis (in that they are functional and not self-reflexive) seems at first glance to work in this example, as the functionality of metadata is apparent with regards to creating referential categories within the Scalar book. However, I still think that there is an element of autopoiesis involved with constructing metadata, as decisions based on a degree of ambiguity or redundancy within the elements themselves involve a reflection on the text. In other words, as a composer of text that is ultimately of an instrumental nature, I am still faced with a degree of interpretation and decision in how I write this text: can I consider this category as redundant? What is the ultimate source of this data? What should my final decision be if the information on the source seems ambiguous? What should my final decision be on the particular format or style convention I use to convey this information? The problem of potential ambiguities seems to be the biggest stick in the spokes of McGann's theory, as his allopoietic model hinges on a degree of universality within digital language that doesn't appear to exist. As an author of metadata, I am involved in a self-reflexive process of composition within the system; to have the data constitute a form of pure allopoiesis would be for the text to be complete and perfectly consistent with every metadata set within the Scalar system.

Author: Shaun Macpherson
Word Count: 424
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