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CATTt: An Anti-Method for Architectural Research

July 14, 2016

Barbara Opar and Lucy Campbell, column editors

Column by Cathryn Copper, Woodbury University, School of Architecture, San Diego, CA

In the early 1990’s, when the Internet became easily accessible, Gregory L. Ulmer, Professor of English at the University of Florida, Gainesville, set forth new methods for conducting research and academic writing in an age of electronic hypermedia in his book Heuretics: The Logic of Invention.

His method, or anti-method, is an artistic experiment. Ulmer states that all the art (and architecture) that has been created is only a small portion of what could have been.[1] Thus, Ulmer’s method demands the researcher stretch their imagination. If the researcher can let go of structure, then the mental experience will lead to invention. Professors of architecture have embraced Ulmer’s method to help students develop research topics, primarily at the thesis level.[2] 

The method—known as CATTt—requires the researcher to create multi-level arguments. This is achieved through five progressions.

C         =          Contrast (opposition, inversion, differentiation)

A         =          Analogy (figuration, displacement)

T         =          Theory (repetition, literalization)

T         =          Target (application, purpose)

t           =          tale (secondary elaboration, representability)

Ulmer refers to CATTt as an anti-method, however the anti-method indirectly reflects some of the information literacy methods librarians are repeatedly challenged to communicate to architecture students.

Contrast is at the core of a good research argument. The intention is to investigate alternative viewpoints. Marc J. Neveu, in his lecture Theses for a Thesis, elaborates that contrast is a reaction to something and your position must constantly be in flux.[3] When the researcher plays devil’s advocate, their mentality shifts. At a fundamental level, librarians instruct students to evaluate various perspectives to draw attention to potential bias and accurately represent the research topic. Ulmer challenges the researcher to do the same, but with a more momentous reason, because when the mentality shift happens new ideas come to fruition. Consequently, it can be argued that this is what librarians have been encouraging through information literacy.

Analogy requires the researcher to borrow thoughts from other disciplines.[4] Ulmer states that analogy is where method becomes invention.[5] Libraries encourage this through multidisciplinary databases and curated collections. However, librarians can become stronger advocates of analogy by teaching by example. We sit at the center of an intertangled web of university departments that provides ideal opportunities to collaborate across disciplines. Ulmer suggests researchers look outside their disciplines to nurture progressive thinking. For example, architecture librarians could do this by borrowing the idea of design thinking from our architecture colleagues to solve problems and generate new initiates.[6]

Theory is the obligation to fundamental research that librarians crave. Ulmer’s formula recognizes that it takes theory to make theory and that an academic researcher is part of a scholarly conversation. To join the world of academic research one must reference back to clearly established notions.[7] Accordingly, this is one of the six newly adopted frames in the Association of College & Research Libraries’ (ACRL) Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education.[8]

Target is the audience for the research. This is an information literacy concept librarians communicate frequently to help students identify the purpose of the potential resource and the appropriate output format.

Finally, is tale or the cat’s tail/tale.[9] This is the representation of the research, and according to Neveu the aspect architecture students struggle with most.[10] At this point, the research project leaves the library and relocates to the studio where students make an effort to translate their ideas into drawings.

Ultimately, Ulmer’s pedagogy lets go of the nonsensical structure that one should have a thesis first before beginning to research.[11] Instead, CATTt demands the student conduct research in order to develop a topic. Librarians preach concepts like reviewing a list of references and developing a search vocabulary for this exact reason (and then some). One obvious semi-flaw in Ulmer’s method is that he implies that the researcher is not necessarily looking for accurate information.[12] He argues it is more important for the researcher to learn to make interdisciplinary connections—something librarians teach through tools like concept mapping, in addition to finding accurate information.

Seemingly, librarians have unintentionally embraced Ulmer’s concepts through aspects of information literacy instruction. I would argue that this connection should be more intentional. The discipline of librarianship is so rooted in structure that opportunities to nurture creativity are often missed. Creativity does not just happen in the studio. Architecture librarians have the obligation to inspire students and faculty through information. Why not take it one step further and incorporate the CATTt method into information literacy instruction? Working with architecture faculty to gain insight into the mindset of their students, architecture librarians could employ the CATTt method to help students think about research in a whole new way. Architecture faculty would then be able to better link library instruction to student learning outcomes and the finished design project. After all, if we let go of structure, and look at a topic critically through a new lens, according to Ulmer it will lead to something influential.



[1] Gregory L. Ulmer, Heuretics: The Logic of Invention (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994), 3.

[2] Marc J. Neveu, “Theses for a Thesis” (lecture, Hammons School of Architecture, Drury University, Springfield, MO, November 1, 2008).

[3] Marc J. Neveu, “Theses for a Thesis” (lecture, Hammons School of Architecture, Drury University, Springfield, MO, November 1, 2008).

[4] Marc J. Neveu, “Theses for a Thesis” (lecture, Hammons School of Architecture, Drury University, Springfield, MO, November 1, 2008).

[5] Gregory L. Ulmer, Heuretics: The Logic of Invention (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994), 8.

[6] IDEO, “Design Thinking for Libraries,” Global Libraries. December 31, 2014, http://designthinkingforlibraries.com/.

[7] Marc J. Neveu, “Theses for a Thesis” (lecture, Hammons School of Architecture, Drury University, Springfield, MO, November 1, 2008).

[8] ACRL, “Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education,” January 11, 2016, http://www.ala.org/acrl/standards/ilframework.

[9] Gregory L. Ulmer, Heuretics: The Logic of Invention (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994), 9.

[10] Marc J. Neveu, “Theses for a Thesis” (lecture, Hammons School of Architecture, Drury University, Springfield, MO, November 1, 2008).

[11] Jacob T. Riley, “The CATTt Method: In Defense of Heuretic Pedagogy,” http://jtriley-dragline.blogspot.com/p/introduction-to-catttheuretics.html.  

[12] Jacob T. Riley, “The CATTt Method: In Defense of Heuretic Pedagogy,” http://jtriley-dragline.blogspot.com/p/introduction-to-catttheuretics.html.  

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