Friday, July 3, 2015

Trial By Fury: CHAT and Amanda Knox

In Douglas Preston's Trial By Fury, we see an example that's very close to the types of writing research I'm expecting you to do for your projects.  Although Preston doesn't directly reference Cultural-Historical Activity Theory, his work shows the interplay between social media genres such as websites and Wikipedia and the social factors surrounding the writing.  For our discussion, we want to look at the relationships he's found the ways in which he's organized these into a coherent narrative.

The story of the Amanda Knox trial is relatively well-known: an American exchange student and her Italian boyfriend were convicted of the murder of a British exchange student in Italy.  Over the course of nearly ten years, Knox's experiences in the Italian judicial system led to conviction, imprisonment, exoneration, another conviction, and a final judgement of innocence.

Before we get going, I want to remind everyone that we're focusing on the written genres surrounding the trial, and this is slightly different from a straight focus on the trial itself.  We aren't judging guilt or innocence, but rather examining how other people described guilt and innocence.  In particular, we'll be looking at how different individuals aligned via media and social media to promote either guilt or innocence, and the writing strategies used in order to either change or suppress narratives that disagreed.

For this discussion, we'll be looking at three main elements of Trial By Fury:

Genre Conventions of Social Media
A prime consideration is how the genre conventions of social media made it possible for the Amanda Knox controversy to become so heated.  Here are some highlights:
  • How did ecology and distribution allow so many people to become involved in the discussions about Amanda Knox?
  • What was the role of anonymity in allowing authors to promote certain points of view?  (Think Reception)
Social Factors and Socialization
One of the most terrifying aspects of the social media surrounding the trial is the way in which lives and jobs were destroyed by people who disagreed with certain points of view.  We want to look at:

  • Why were some professors fired from their positions?  (Socialization)
  • How did editors address disagreements regarding the Amanda Knox Wikipedia page? (Representation)
  • What do these descriptions indicate about the ways that "facts" are decided? (Reception and Representation)

Preston's Own Experiences
In the introduction, Douglas Preston describes some of his own experiences with an Italian investigator.

  • Why is this information important for our understanding of the Amanda Knox trial?
  • What do his experiences indicate about the nature of legal systems?
  • How can we extend this to writing systems?

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