Keywords in Threshold Concepts: Time-Binding and Methodologizing Disciplinary Lexicon

Derek Mueller, Eastern Michigan University, derek.mueller@emich.edu
1. Keywords operate as setae-like mobilizers for
threshold concepts (TCs).

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TC

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tech
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writing

All writing is
multimodal.

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computer
craft
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All writing is
multimodal.

wo
rk
tech
nolo
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mu

al
d
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TC

writing

materiality

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^

1.28 (1993)

image

.47 (2001)

materiality ^

.05 (2000)

multimodal
network

.47 (2007)
^

.29 (2011)

technology ^

.68 (1999)

writing

To illustrate, consider the TC
shown here: All writing is
multimodal. These ten keywords (left; six from Heilker
and Vandenberg’s Keywords
in Writing Studies (2015) and
four additional) function as
threshold-conceptual footings, over the past two decades marshalling the nowarticulable TC into prominence.

2. TCs are simultaneously catalyzed by phantom indexicals, organizing concepts that do not surface in high frequency using text-mining methods.

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genre

.83 (1989)

!

8.42 (2010)

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Proposal and references available at http://goo.gl/Q3XhjM.

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materiality

ver the last two years,
rhetoric/composition/writing
studies scholars have granted more
serious attention to threshold concepts (Meyer and Land, 2005) as a
theoretical frame both for organizing the field and for documenting
knowledge transfer related to writing instruction. Threshold concepts
have grown precipitously in popularity and proven useful as a curricular and programmatic heuristic,
and yet much of this early attention to them has been philosophical, conceptual, and speculative. As
such, this poster presentation
enters the conversation about
threshold concepts with an understanding that they remain due for
further examination and elaboration, especially in terms of the
methodologies used to identify
and trace them.

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computer
craft
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Q: How can researchers
attend to the nascence,
maturation, and expiration
of threshold concepts over
time?

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design ^

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Keywords featured in Heilker and Vandenberg’s Keywords in Writing Studies (2015).
! The sparkline for “writing” uses a max-10 y-scale due to its high frequency
relative to the other keywords.

Ten keywords from the TC-Keyword model are listed here with sparklines plotting
their frequency in College Composition and Communication from 1989 through 2013.
The twenty-five year corpus covers 507 articles and consists of 3,943,528 words. The
graphs offer perspective on the rising and falling of keywords over time. What does
this suggest about the life cycle of a threshold concept? While this approach cannot
on its own provide a comprehensive empirical basis for TCs, it advances inquiry into
the temporality of TCs.

4. Although its application requires qualification and careful
reframing, time-binding, or time-based superscript notations,
can direct explicit attention to temporal anchors in accounts
of relationships among TCs, keywords, and phantom indexicals.
Consider

Keywords are not alone,
however, in mobilizing
threshold concepts. TCs also
gain buoyancy from what I
call phantom indexicals-formidable (if ellusive and
tacit) accomplices to a TC
that may not circulate with
high frequency in published
scholarship.

The above illustrations operate as a modelling system more
than a representational system following a distinction expressed by Johanna Drucker: “They [modelling systems] are
concerned with generating new knowledge through the use of
visual means, not assuming that knowledge exists a priori” (40).

2013

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Keyw rd
ord
Keyword

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w
Key

Pha
nto
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Ph
dex
ical
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.34 (2010)

2009

TC

craft

2004

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Ph
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Phan

Peak n (year)
.85 (2004)

1999

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computer ^

1994

Keyword
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Keyw d
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Frequency in CCC, 1989-2013 (n=tokens/1000 words)

Token

1989

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This basic model indicates
envelopment: TCs coalesce
indexically, amassing a lexicon and solidifying in a
wraparound of materially
circulating disciplinary discourse. Tracing the rising
and falling of TC-associated
keywords provides a methodological basis for knowing the full life cycle of a TC,
through nascence, maturation, and expiration.

3. TCs participate in semantic networks and as such they are enveloped in keywords and phantom indexicals. Tracing keywords
attunes us to a TC’s accretion and avulsion in time.

design

1993

1989

image

1991

genre

2013

vs. design

2009

vs. image

2011

vs. genre

as a basis for exploring
When are keywords?

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When are threshold concepts?

Time-binding refers to a conceptual framework and notation practice designed to
specify chronos. Introduced
by Alfred Korzybski in 1924,
in association with the General Semantics movement,
the practice failed to catch
on. Yet, as a modelling operation, it alerts us to the relationship between time, TCs,
and the rising and falling keywords enveloping them.

The modelling system outlined here will be focal in the Fall 2015 pilot of
WRTG500: Introduction to Graduate Studies in Written Communication at
Eastern Michigan University. WRTG500 is an MA-level course focused on
threshold concepts, keywords, and the maturation of the discipline.