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Kurtyka, Faith. Conservative Women on College Campuses. CE, Jan. 2021. Posted 03/31/2020.

Kurtyka, Faith. “Standing at the Threshold: Metonymic Generalization and the Social Penalties of Being a Conservative Woman on Campus.” College English 83.3 (2021): 235-57. Print.

Faith Kurtyka investigated the learning pathways students follow when they encounter “threshold concepts,” which, for composition, include those discussed by Linda Adler-Kassner and Elizabeth Wardle in their 2019 book, (Re)Considering What We Know: Learning Thresholds in Writing, Composition, Rhetoric, and Literacy. Kurtyka works from these authors’ definition of threshold concepts as “concepts crucial for epistemological participation in disciplines, the lenses learners must see through and see with to be successful” (qtd. in Kurtyka 235). Kurtyka investigates students’ “lived experiences” as they grapple with the “liminal” moments important to this learning process (236).

The author contends that little composition research has considered the encounter with the threshold concepts from the students’ perspectives. In particular, she reports, little research has focused on how activities and relationships outside of academia affect these encounters (236). Moreover, in Kortyka’s view, much research tends to foreground teachers’ efforts to teach the concept rather than the ways students experience their learning (238).

Kurtyka is interested in the ways that students develop prior beliefs and knowledge before encountering academic concepts and how these prior understandings affect their engagement with their college lives. Noting that threshold concepts have been characterized as introducing what, to many students, may be “troublesome knowledge,” Kurtyka cites scholarship in which knowledge and experience that students bring to college is seen as interfering with their ability to engage productively with the new points of view college will present (236). She cites research on how teachers address religious resistance to academic environments, but maintains that less effort has been put into investigating how conservative political beliefs may impact actual, lived encounters with the college context (238).

To address this gap, Kurtyka interviewed eleven women who identified as conservative in the age range 18-23, all white, in order to capture their narratives of engagement with the college environment (240; 255n1). Her interest lay not in the women’s beliefs per se but rather in the development of their beliefs in the light of progress toward threshold knowledge (239). She writes that as a white woman with a background including evangelical religion who similarly found her values and beliefs influenced by the college experience, she provided her interview subjects with a “safe” environment to express feelings they may have felt better left unsaid in other contexts (239). Political science research with these voices, she writes, tend to focus on “concrete, organized locations such as schools an women’s clubs” (238). In Kurtyka’s view, this research cannot capture the nuances of women’s lived experiences in what she describes a “kairotic moment” when important components of identities are being newly established (239).

In Kurtyka’s view, the women she worked with were moving toward the threshold understanding in composition that “writing enacts and creates identities and ideologies” (236). She presents interview excerpts illustrating women’s realizations on the path to this concept that “multiple viewpoints exist on political issues” and that “one has agency in and should take responsibility for developing one’s own beliefs” (236). Her appendix provides a summary of her research process.

An opening question about the construction of beliefs before college found women attributing their belief systems to family influences and friends. In the excerpts the women report both encountering and voluntarily exposing themselves to “outlier voices” that led to reflection on their beliefs (241). Faced with challenges to their views both in classwork and through friendships, the women report doing their own research to shape their responses to issues. The women assert that, contrary to claims that conservatives resist conversations with people who don’t share their views, they seek out and respond to discussion on difficult topics (243). Kurtyka reports these  comments as indicative of the women’s recognition that multiple viewpoints exist (241).

Her research codes for “fear and courage” as interviewees discuss their discomfort with expressing conservative viewpoints on campus (244). The women contend that speaking up leads other students to reject them or even “erase” them as people; their choices may be to remain silent or to limit themselves to campus conservative organizations (245). Research on religious students suggests that for women, drawing attention to unpopular beliefs is a greater burden than for men, because of what Luna Dolezal calls the “constant body visibility” of women, resulting from the social tendency that encourages women to see themselves as “an object for a present or imagined third-person spectator” and thus to conform to socially approved roles (qtd. in Kurtyka 247).

The reluctance to speak Kurtyka discovers through her study is, in her view, a function in part of what she calls “metonymic generalization,” in which audiences assume that a person holding one tenet of a set of beliefs endorses all other beliefs in that set (246, 251). For example, one student notes that even identifying as conservative leads other students to make automatic assumptions about her voting behavior (245). Kurtyka’s interviewees’ responses indicate that silence is the better policy and that only members of like-minded groups shield students from the loss of friendship and social welcoming that the students fear (246).

In Kurtyka’s view, metonymic generalization and the resulting search for social safety deprive students of important tools for exploring the full ramifications of their own and others’ points of view. Scholarship Kurtyka cites suggests that these factors may limit students’ ability to assimilate threshold concepts because of the importance of a community that is both supportive and wide-ranging as students negotiate troubling new knowledge (244). Quoting Matthew Forgarty et al., Kurtyka argues that only in a “cacophony of others’ voices” can students learn to articulate their beliefs and explore their ramifications (252).

Kurtyka argues that teachers reluctant to give space to bigoted or racist beliefs might consider whether they are practicing metonymic generalization; classrooms, she contends, should be “spaces where beliefs can be disaggregated” and nuances discovered (253). Moreover, she maintains that teachers can recognize that in the “liminal” experience of encountering new concepts, student identities are “in a formational, information-seeking stage,” open to “mov[ing] in many directions,” a process encouraged by sharing views (253). Helping students explore the sources of their beliefs, Kurtyka suggests, is one way to facilitate this growth (251).

She also suggests more research on the emotional burdens involved in the formation and development of political beliefs, citing students’ concerns about relationships with family and friends, burdens which she posits affect women more acutely than they do men (254). In addition, more fruitful research could be done on students’ progress toward threshold concepts outside of academic settings, in which students may be mouthing rather than fully understanding difficult ideas (254). In Kurtyka’s view, the ability to “openly process what’s happening to them” as they enter college can enable conservative students’ progress toward rich engagement with threshold concepts and prevent them from “fall[ing] back on familiar knowledge or retreating to settings where everyone agrees with them” (253).

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Cope, Emily Murphy. Evangelical Identities and First-Year Writing. RTE May 2020. Posted 08/17/2020.

Cope, Emily Murphy. “Compartmentalizing Faith: How Three First-Semester Undergraduates Manage Evangelical Identities in Academic Writing.” Research in the Teaching of English 54.4 (2020): 367-91. Print.

Emily Murphy Cope studied how students identifying as evangelicals addressed the requirements of their first-year academic writing courses at “a large, public university located on an urban campus in the southeastern United States” (372). From the original ten students, she chose three to discuss for this article, in order to investigate the phenomenon of “compartmentalization” as a strategy for handling faith in an academic setting (368).

Cope discusses efforts to define “evangelicals,” noting that while this subset, estimated at 25% of the U.S. population, is “not a monolith,” research suggests that members share beliefs in “personal conversion and transformation, the Bible’s authority over Christian life, and the importance of enacting faith in ‘the world’” (368). Cope writes that scholars name such enactment “activism”; she differentiates between “service-oriented activism” addressing social needs and “evangelism-oriented activism” focused on conversion efforts (368).

Research on identity suggests that evangelicals, like other members of the current undergraduate population, construct identities that are “fluid” and “hybrid” and are often adjusted according to context (369). Cope’s larger study spoke to this finding in that all ten original students reported in interviews that their faith was important and “relevant” to their coursework, but in her analysis of their papers, she found that “evangelical identities were mostly invisible on the page” (370). She finds a “gap” in research in that many studies address students’ efforts to express their religious beliefs in their academic writing, but fewer examine situations like that of the three students she assesses, who find strategies for separating their religious and academic selves (370).

Cope sees these strategies as important for writing pedagogy because, in her view, writing instructors often aim to create a “cosmopolitan” discourse experience, in particular, one of “ethical cosmopolitanism”; drawing on S. S. Choo, she defines this stance as embracing “other-centered orientations and dialogic practices” (369). She cites M. M. Juzwik and C. McKenzie’s concern that evangelicals may not espouse these inclusive values (369). On the other hand, J. M. Ringer argues that some “enact a set of values that align with the civic goals of rhetorical education,” including an openness to “communication across differences” (qtd. in Cope 369). Scholars of identity formation, Cope posits, can learn much from such students’ efforts to “bridge multiple identities, interests, and languages” (369).

Her analysis of the interviews with the original ten students revealed three strategies: obscuring faith, which “cloak[s]” religious elements; compartmentalizing faith, in which students deliberately choose options that they see as unrelated to their faith; and integrating values, in which students look for ways to mesh their religious beliefs and those of other contexts (370-71).

She combines these data with strategies discussed in “social identity complexity theory” (SICT), advanced by S. Roccas and M. Brewer. This theory proposes that people align with many groups but that the identities practiced within these contexts may conflict with each other. The theory presents ways in which people may respond to this dissonance. The strategy of “Intersection” results in alignment only with others who “share all salient identities,” while “dominance” leads to subsuming multiple identities under one overarching choice. Choosing “compartmentalization” allows people to sustain separate identities that they “do not activate . . . simultaneously.” Finally, “Merger” involves “preserv[ing] both differentiation and integration in an inclusive social identity” (Roccas and Brewer, qtd. in Cope 371).

Cope discusses the role of positionality in her study. An early attempt to recruit evangelical students failed, but when she referred to herself as a “Christian researcher,” she found students willing to participate. One of the ten identified as “a Middle eastern kid”; the others, though white, did not all claim this identity. Cope lists a number of identities salient to the students, including “Southern” and “fans of athletic teams” (373). Cope asked students to submit all papers written up to that point; she received 195 writing samples. She coded both her hour-long interviews and the documents using a number of methods (374).

Interview questions asked what faith and Christianity meant to each student, then explored the experience of being a college writing student. For the documents, Cope asked for “the story of writing this paper,” then closed by asking whether, in the student’s view, “your faith affects your writing for college” (373-74). Charts and appendices report data on these analyses.

For the article itself, Cope focused on three students whose strategy of choice was compartmentalization. One of these, “Joe,” was the only student of the original ten who, when asked if his faith impacted his college writing, responded “Not a whole lot. No.” (qtd. in Cope 378). Interviews indicated that Joe’s on-campus identity was largely that of a university student and his writing reflected his willingness to adopt what he considered the most effective moves to earn a good grade (381). Cope notes that when he was having a hard time coming up with a suitable topic, he considered incorporating the experience of a mission trip but rejected it as “personal” and inappropriate for the assignment. However, Cope writes, Joe was willing to incorporate personal reactions when they did not deal with religion. She disputes that the suggestion that his choices marked him as less religious than other students, writing rather that his evangelical identity “was not ‘activated’” in college settings (381).

In contrast, Cope writes that the other two students, “Leesa” and “Will,” wanted “to enact faith via academic writing, but hadn’t yet figured out how” (381). Both wanted to engage in evangelical activism and saw communicating outside of their religious group important, but neither reported acting on this intention (384). According to the interviews, these students struggled to find topics where discussing their faith would be appropriate given their conviction that academic writing did not involve “personal” matters like religion (383). Leesa was able to bring up her faith in a paper devoted to researching her major, religious studies (383). Will mentioned being concerned about endorsing evolution in a lab report; Cope notes he indicated this discomfort by attributing claims to scientists rather than to himself (384). But on the whole, these students chose topics where faith was not an issue for them (386).

Cope argues that perceptions that academic writing cannot be personal coupled with “secularization,” which “differentiates and privatizes religion” (388; emphasis original), are detrimental to writing teachers’ efforts to help students communicate across difference. Students who choose compartmentalization miss opportunities to practice “hybridized identities that can engage in cosmopolitan dialogue and civic discourse” (388). Cope suggests that teachers who resist the public/private binary and what K. Hyland calls “the myth of impersonality” can work to help religious students “integrat[e] values” rather than compartmentalizing them (387).

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Newmark, Julianne. Technical Communication, Archives, and Colonialism. CCC, June 2020. Posted 07/31/2020.

Newmark, Julianne. “The Formal Conventions of Colonial Medicine: Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Agency Physicians’ Reports, 1880-1910.” College Composition and Communication 71.4 (2020): 620-42. Print.

Julianne Newmark presents an analysis of government documents related to health services for Native Americans from shortly before to well into the era of the Dawes Severalty Act of 1887. She addresses implications of a study like hers for both technical/professional communications practitioners and scholars and scholars doing archival research.

The Dawes Act, Newmark writes,

sought to allot, in individual allocations, 160-acre plots of formerly communally held land to individual Native heads of household. Provisions concerning farming, Christianization, and enrollment of children in school were elements of the act. (638n1)

The two government documents under study for the article are reports required of “agency physicians” in the employ of the Office of Indian Affairs (621). In these reports, the physicians fill out forms recording specifics of Native health and government-provided health care in a particular jurisdiction. The first, “Monthly Report of Sick and Wounded” (623) was completed in December 1882, by the Pine Ridge, South Dakota, agency physician Fordyce Grinnell. Newmark notes that this report was filed five years before the Dawes Act was passed and eight years before the massacre at Wounded Knee (626). The second document, “Physician’s Semiannual Report,” was written by Charles N. Brooks of the Nett Lake agency in northern Minnesota in 1910 (632).

Although Native physicians did hold some of these positions, Newmark points out that “the vast majority” of the physicians serving Native populations were non-Native, as were Grinnell and Brooks (621).

Newmark argues that not only the purpose and content of the reporting process as illustrated in these documents but also the form and structure of the document templates themselves were “paradigmatic tools of colonialism” (621). She draws on the work of Steven B. Katz, particularly his arguments in a 1992 article, “The Ethic of Expediency: Classical Rhetoric, Technology, and the Holocaust” (622).

Newmark cites this work to argue that valuing efficiency and expediency dehumanizes communities and masks “how these stories might have been told differently” (626; emphasis original). Also turning to Bernadette Longo, among other scholars of the implicit contributions of technical-writing protocols to the ideologies at issue, Newmark discusses the theory that a “military model” (624) designed to promote “an ethos of expediency” above humanistic values forces a Western mindset based on bureaucratic control on cultures that may have quite different values and practices (625).

In her analysis of the Pine Ridge documents, Newmark points to the “tabular data conventions” (628) of the report templates, arguing that they result in “anonymized (or depersonalized) lists,” with categorizations of populations as “Indians,” “Half-Breeds,” and “Whites.” Such enumerations, Newmark argues, reflect the control exerted by the colonial power and the importance given to expediency over capturing the lived realities of the residents (627). Similarly, in Newmark’s view, the use of an “umbrella term,” in this case “Chronic Rheumatism,” that is then belied by extensive lists of specific ailments later in the document, serves to both “flatten out nuance” while demonstrating the existence of “pervasive health problems community-wide” (628).

A second section of the report allows the physician to append some of his own thoughts; for Newmark, Grinnell’s unusually extensive use of this space indicates that he takes his responsibilities seriously at the same time that he reveals the colonizing agenda behind the process by contrasting the services he offers from “civilized life” with the treatment Native communities could expect from “their medicine men with the clangor of tom-toms” (qtd. in Newmark 630). Thus, Newmark argues, Grinnell reports on a “cultural accommodation” to Western, Christianized values at odds with the traditions of the community (630). She posits that the tensions embedded in this contrast may have foretold the Wounded Knee tragedy that lay ahead.

For Newmark, the second document, produced in Minnesota a quarter-century later, reveals the “perpetuation” of the bureaucratic mindset that dehumanized Native populations by recording their experiences in formats designed to foreground efficiency and depersonalization (631). She notes a design consistency she finds telling in that the tabular data in both documents precedes the opportunity for more revealing comment (632).

In the Minnesota document, the physician is specifically instructed to use his space for remarks to comment on the state of the buildings under his jurisdiction: “The physician is asked not about patients, but about facilities” (634; emphasis original). In his remarks, Dr. Brooks, expressed the need for “an infirmary for the very old people” who often “live in solitude, and are ill prepared to look after themselves” (qtd. in Newmark 634-35). Newmark maintains that the specific instructions Brooks followed made it less likely that he would address the cultural issues that characterized Grinnell’s report and less likely that he would feel free to speak to real human needs (635).

The author contrasts the work of the non-Native physicians whose reports she studied with the tenure of Dr. Carlos Montezuma, who served in North Dakota contemporaneously with Grinnell and later at the Carlisle Indian School (635). Montezuma, Newmark writes, grew frustrated with his inability to provide the needed support through government agencies and became an independent activist through his own medical practice and a newsletter, Wassaja (636).

Newmark notes that a Native physician, Charles Alexander Eastman, was appointed agency physician at Pine Ridge in October, 1980, three months before the Wounded Knee massacre (631). In the text and in an extensive note (639n3), Newmark presents the implications of the fact that Eastman’s reports on his role during the massacre are missing from the Kansas City National Archives even though the archives contain formal documents from other physicians of the time. Queries to archives have not produced the missing materials.

From her studies of what the archives do contain as well as what is less accessible or missing, Newmark sees the need for scholars of technical and professional communication interested in the relationship between bureaucracy and colonialism to search for records of the work of Native physicians, exploring how they may have responded to and perhaps resisted the rhetorical demands of their roles (637). She urges scholars to consider how research conventions in their own work may be complicit in what Linda Tuhiwai Smith deems a process of “classification and representation” implicated in power issues (637). Worth study, in Newmark’s view, is the nature of archives themselves, which must be assumed to be incomplete (640n7).

The Western tradition answers the question “What is real?” by placing what is deemed to be real—reports, authorized histories—in official archives. The genre of the report is a genre of the presumptive authoritative real. (637; emphasis original)

Newmark includes figures showing the documents she discusses and her notes link to zoomable copies of the materials.

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Johnson, June. Teaching the Literature of Witness. CE, Mar. 2020. Posted 06/27/2020.

Johnson, June. “Overcoming Reader Resistance to Global Literature of Witness: Teaching Collaborative Listening Using The Devil’s Highway and What is the What.College English 82.4 (2020): 351-80. Print.

June Johnson writes about the pedagogical challenges of using the “literature of witness” to engage readers’ emotional responses to suffering and injustice in the lives of people different from them.

Citing scholars Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson, Johnson lists the features of “literature of witness” as

a first-person narrator’s account of suffering and survival, the obligation to tell the stories of the dead, and grounding in cultural and geographic specifics. (353)

The goal of teaching this literature, in Johnson’s view, involves developing readers’ ability to care about strangers and recognize similarities of humanity, without, at the same time, “either subsuming cultural differences within our own cultural frames or accentuating them” (352). Paradoxically, Johnson writes, efforts to engage emotional empathy may exacerbate resistance and even trigger hostility to the sufferers readers encounter in these texts.

For Johnson, citing Martha Nussbaum, narrative writing and literature are the means best suited to draw out emotional responses (351). In the case of literature of witness, the effort to gain empathy through storytelling is “justify[ed]” by “the genre’s outcomes in the world” as attitudes and behavior change; as a result, Johnson considers these texts to have “an overtly persuasive purpose” (353).

Drawing on work within language studies on the role of emotions in decision-making and attitudes as well as in fields such as cognitive psychology and theories of critical reading and “collaborative rhetoric,” Johnson also turns to Krista Ratcliffe’s concept of “cultural logic” to explore the ways in which readers may resist the emotional force of works like literatures of witness (352). Noting that a cultural logic, in Ratcliffe’s words, is “a belief system or shared way of reasoning within which a claim may function” (qtd. in Johnson 354), Johnson examines ways in which these cultural logics may limit readers’ responses to the stories of suffering presented in the specifically situated accounts of refugees, immigrants, and others whose accounts challenge the preconceived assumptions of developed Western societies.

One form of resistance, in Johnson’s view, is “Shock and Fascination Followed by Patronizing Dismissal” (354). Readers may experience a “voyeuristic response” to horrors that seem unimaginable, then move on to cast such horrors as distant and irrelevant in their own lives. Geographical areas where suffering takes place can be seen as needing to “work their way out of their problems” on their own in order to emulate more “developed” countries (355).

Citing scholars studying efforts to ameliorate global suffering, Johnson identifies a second form of response: “Sadness and Indignation Followed by Emotional Overload and Helplessness” (355). In these cases, readers are overwhelmed by the enormity of the problem and “retreat into emotional self-protection” when no solutions are offered or seem possible (357).

Finally, readers may experience “Fear and Defensiveness Followed by Denial and Retrenchment” (357). In this dynamic, Johnson contends, issues of national security and economic well-being compound with protectiveness over identity to shift attention to questions of responsibility, as members of privileged societies resist blame for others’ suffering (358).

In order to alleviate the effects of these resistances, Johnson writes, respondents must fundamentally change, and she posits “collaborative listening” (354), practices that draw on work by Carl Rogers, Peter Elbow, Donna Qualley, Krista Ratcliffe, and sociologist Robin DiAngelo (353-54). To guide students into these “rigorous listening” experiences (358), she proposes teaching two specific texts, Luis Alberto Urrea’s The Devil’s Highway and Dave Eggers’s What is the What.

The Devil’s Highway recounts a non-fiction border tragedy in the form of a postmodern novel: a desert march by 26 Mexican migrants, 14 of whom died on the journey. Johnson argues that rhetorical features of syntax and structure immerse readers in transformative identity challenges in ways that traditional narrative strategies may fail to do (359). In her view, the text induces collaborative listening via such moves as a “disorienting narrative structure” that requires readers to “struggle to make sense of the text as the characters struggle to make sense of a journey” (361).

She writes further that the text creates “shifting character identities” with postmodern juxtapositions of characters including Border Patrol agents and “coyotes” or smugglers as well as the migrants (363). Dialogic narrative includes a shift to second-person through which she writes that readers are “[c]aught off guard” and “place[d] . . . directly into the shoes of the walkers”; this shift, Johnson claims, undercuts what Carl Rogers called “our very natural tendency to judge” (qtd. in Johnson 360). In Rogerian fashion, Johnson contends, the text also “listen[s] to” readers’ concerns and further opens a space for engagement (364; emphasis original).

Johnson also defines Eggers’s book as “postmodern narration” that “teaches collaborative listening” (366). The full title is What is the What: The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng, A Novel; Deng, a refugee from civil war in Sudan, worked with Eggers over many years, deciding with him that “a shift to fiction” with Deng as the first-person narrator would be most effective in conveying Deng’s story (366). Johnson writes that a “fragmented narrative” that moves forward and backward in time in recounting events from 1987 to 2004, from Deng’s experiences in the Second Sudanese Civil War to his life as a refugee in America, emphasizes the “unknowableness” of these experiences for Western readers (Elizabeth Twitchell, qtd. in Johnson 367). In Johnson’s view, this radical difference undercuts tendencies toward “ethnocentric representation traps of racial privilege and cultural superiority” (367). Instead, she believes it encourages us to collaborate in the search for “agency and meaning” (368).

The text also focuses on the irony that Deng’s search for safety in the United States led him to become a crime victim as well as a victim of cultural oppression (369), undercutting what Michelle Peek calls the “rhetoric of rescue and promise” in which Western readers might find solace (368). Johnson also explores the use of direct address to other “narratees, “ such as the young man guarding Deng while his apartment was robbed; for Johnson, Deng exhibits a “listening” stance that acknowledges readers and their views (370). She also argues that his “reflexive grappling with his subjectivity” over the course of the novel disrupts readers’ attempts to construct a familiar identity for the narrator, thus inviting understanding of the instability of comforting assumptions (372).

Johnson suggests low-stakes practices such as free-writes, journals, or letters to self that teachers can use to introduce students to difficult texts like the literature of witness. These activities should encourage students in:

(1) creating probing dialogues with self that address positionality; (2) curbing judgments and revising assumptions by living with/in multiple perspectives; and (3) embracing ongoing reflexivity that focuses on open listening as a rhetorical stance and an ethical choice. (373)



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Brown, William Christopher. Systemic Inequity in English Scholarly Journals. Forum, Spring 2020. Posted 05/24/2020.

Brown, William Christopher. “Scholarly Journals Should Not Replicate the Systemic Inequality of Higher Education.” Forum: Issues about Part-Time and Contingent Faculty 23.2 (2020): A3-A9. Print.

In Forum: Issues about Part-Time and Contingent Faculty, published twice yearly by the Conference on College Composition and Communication, a section of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), William Christopher Brown critiques the exclusion of non-tenure-track and contingent faculty from important academic positions in English programs and publications.

Pointing to ongoing concern about labor inequity in higher education and in English studies in particular, Brown cites scholarship that characterizes contingent faculty, including full-time faculty not on a tenure track, as “the new faculty majority.” He cites data showing that as of 2014, contingent labor constituted “65% of all faculty employment,” while data on English departments show that the field accounts for substantial percentages of this labor force (A3). Further, data show that the majority of first-year writing courses are taught by faculty not on a tenure track (A4).

In Brown’s view, the importance of these part-time or non-tenure-track faculty to the field warrants concern over a posting on the “Announcements and Calls for Papers” page of the NCTE journal College English in May 2018. This job posting solicited applications for the next editor of the journal English Education. The ad specifically required that applicants be either tenured or far along the tenure path with “a reasonable certainty” of success. In addition, applicants must have published “in English Education or a national journal of similar quality” (qtd. in Brown A3).

Writing as a member and 2018-2019 chair of the Modern Language Association’s Committee on Contingent Labor in the Profession (A3), Brown argues that despite the journal’s stated mission of “serv[ing]” instructors in the field, this set of requirements “prohibits a majority of faculty associated with the field from serving in a leadership position as editor” (A4).

Brown notes that appointments to editorships and other leadership positions often require that applicants have access to institutional support, such as release time, office staff, and adequate compensation, features which, he posits, the field’s leaders see as “a privilege of the tenured and tenure-track faculty” (A4). In addition, he notes numerous institutions that restrict “publishing subventions”—subsidizes for publishing costs that facilitate the production of academic monographs—to faculty with tenured, tenure-track, or emeritus rank (A4-A5). He argues that this restriction is problematic because more and more non-tenure-track positions now include a research requirement (A5).

Moreover, he contends, increasing numbers of contingent faculty are committed to and successful in academic research and publication, with many having earned PhDs (A6). He points to one writing-center-coordinator position with non-tenure-track status that pays only 80% of what a new tenure-track hire would earn, but requires research, in his view, “provid[ing] lofty goals of research without enhancing the conditions necessary for research to occur” (A6). He presents these cases as ongoing examples of inequity in the field, as more labor and expertise is demanded of contingent faculty while that expertise and ability to lead are denigrated.

Brown notes that the appearance of the English Education ad in an NCTE journal belies the claims on the NCTE website that the organization’s mission is to

strengthen or create inclusive hubs, . . . providing access for more diverse voices to create, collaborate, and lead, within and beyond the organization. (qtd. in Brown A6)

The author cites data from the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of Americaa (TIAA) showing that tenure-track hiring does not meet this goal, with minorities and women occupying tenure-track appointments at lower rates than their actual representation among faculty (A7). Thus, by limiting leadership positions to tenure-track faculty, Brown claims, NCTE perpetuates the lack of diversity it proposes to address.

Brown adds his voice to those of other scholars who have called for contingent faculty to raise their visibility and make themselves heard. He argues that these faculty bring important strengths to the scholarly conversation, and urges those responsible for leadership appointments to consider how their exclusion of contingent faculty increases inequity while denying valuable contributions to the field (A7-A8).


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Gonzalez Ybarra. Mujerista Literacies in an Ethnic Studies Course. RTE, Feb. 2020. Posted 05/18/2020/

González Ybarra, Mónica. “‘We Have a Strong Way of Thinking . . . and It Shows Through Our Words.’” Research in the Teaching of English 54.3 (2020): 231-53. Print.

Mónica González Ybarra describes an ethnic-studies course she taught in the summer of 2016 at an “(im)migrant housing complex” in a “semirural suburb in the Rocky Mountain region” (234; parentheses original). This complex, which González Ybarra calls “Comunidad Miravalle” (CM) (231), is home to “mixed-status families” whose heads of households work in agriculture or landscape; many inhabitants have lived in the community for more than ten years (234-35). González Ybarra moved from volunteering at a youth learning center in the complex to teaching a course called “Chicana/Latina Experiences” (235).

Arguing that increased scholarly attention to the literacies and voices of young women and girls of color still gives short shrift to Chicana/Latina youth, González Ybarra stresses the role of “community or nontraditional spaces of teaching and learning” for these populations (231). She examines the literacies of four young women who participated in the course during the summer of 2016, documenting the knowledge their cultural resources contribute to their meaning-making practices (236). In notes, she explains her decision not to necessarily italicize Spanish words and her use of the terms Chicana/Latina (249n1; 240n3).

In this seven-week seminar, the four women and six men collected and analyzed “oral, written, and digital testimonios from the community” and applied the results to broader sociopolitical contexts surrounding marginalized groups. The use and analysis of social media also provided resources as well as material for analysis. Students reflected in journals or via digital projects (236).

The four “young mujeres” featured in the article were high-school students at differing levels, identifying as either Chicana or Latina; all had “cultural, ethic, and national ties to México” (236). All ten students had known each other since they were children. González Ybarra recounts her own cultural connections as those of a “middle-class Chicana” with an immigrant family background and experiences attending largely white schools; she notes as well that because she has citizenship status that many of her students lack, she is afforded privileges they may not have, but states that her “cultural intuition”—her “critical knowledge” of Chicana/Latina environments—makes it possible for her to engage with the ethnic issues her students face (237, 238).

González Ybarra introduces the “trenzas framework” for studying the meaning-making practices in communities like that of CM. This theoretical approach differs from what is usually considered “normal, rigorous, and valid in qualitative research . . . in literacy education” in that it draws on cultural intuition, “humaniz[ed]” data-collection processes, and feminist theories to locate “intersections as well . . . as points of entanglement” in various approaches (237).

The methodologies she illustrates include the “testimonio.” This is a “performative text” that joins “individual experiences to a collective story—voicing the silences and exposing the knowledge located within marginalized bodies” (238). Students participated in “testimoniando,” sharing their experiences as Chicana/Latina youth in the larger white culture.

Equally in use were “pláticas.” These are “dialogic processes of meaning-making that take place in salas, at kitchen tables, and in other gathering spaces within Latinx/Chicanx communities” (239). Pláticas enable the use of “dichos (sayings,), consejos (advice), chismes (gossip. . .), and testimonios” as analytical resources beyond more traditional methods for investigating how cultural experiences shape knowledge (239). González Ybarra sometimes prompted in-class pláticas, but says that often they were student-initiated and -driven. She videoed and recorded these when they occurred in class, but reports that they occurred in other settings as well (239).

González Ybarra’s trenzas framework began with examination of her students’ use of and interactions with texts, broadly defined as encompassing modes such as “visual, aural, written, gestural, embodied, etc.” across a wide range of modalities. This examination included study of these textual moments across “raced-gendered bodies, space and place” including borderlands and homes (239). She used tools like screenshots and photos as well as scanned artwork to record these interactions.

“Thematic coding,” especially through “narrative writing,” allowed González Ybarra to build trenzas as an analytical methodology. However, citing E. Tuck and K. W. Yang, González Ybarra resisted the degree to which such coding created “settler orientations toward knowledge production” (240). As a third layering to counteract this tendency, González Ybarra turned to pláticas with the four mujeres of her study (240).

Central to the findings González Ybarra reports is the degree to which mujerista literacies focus on family and community, in particular the strength and wisdom of Chicana/Latina mothers. Drawing on quoted material from her four women students, González Ybarra sees feminism as practiced in these communities as “[em]bodied and [i]ntergenerational” (240); the experience of seeing their mothers and families resist threats to their survival from the larger culture, in González Ybarra’s view, becomes central to these young women’s world knowledge. She writes that her study belies the narrative that describes Chicana/Latina mothers as “submissive and subscribing to traditional gender roles”; on the contrary, she argues, the mothers supplied opportunities and models for resistance (241). The study points to a literacy that “center[s] the collective, situating literacies within larger sociopolitical discourses and lived realities of communities” (242).

Reports of exchanges between male and female students ground González Ybarra’s claim that the mujeres’ literacy is “disruptive,” as they speak up for the effects of larger systemic injustice on personal choice and against the potential for “othering” gay members of their communities (242-43). One plática she records, she argues, illustrates the young women’s sense of how public discourse can be dominated by “the young men, taking up space with their voices” (244). Finding their own space to express themselves, González Ybarra posits, allows them a better understanding of the politics of traditional school spaces.

Students’ deep reflection on the course reveals that, for one student, it served as a “spark” for otherwise silenced conversations (qtd. in González Ybarra 244), while another appreciated the vocabulary the discussions supplied for speaking to others about her realities (247). For González Ybarra, journal reflections reveal how the course led to “shift[s]” as students found a space to engage deeply with connections between their issues and lives (246).

The author notes that ethnic studies is not yet a consistent feature of traditional education and urges more effort to provide alternative opportunities to explore mujerista literacies. In such spaces, she contends, the degree to which these literacies disrupt normative narratives about Chicana/Latina youth become more visible (248). Her research, she writes, embodies a “mismatch” between the trenzas framework and traditional literacy research in that it

bring[s] together the lived realities of researchers, relationships cultivated within communities, pedagogical approaches, and critical theoretical orientations [that serve as] a legitimate lens for analysis to deepen ideas of literacy and literacy research. (248)

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Bunch, George C. “Metagenres” as an Analytical Tool at Two-Year Colleges. TETYC, Dec. 2019. Posted 02/24/2020.

Bunch, George C. “Preparing the ‘New Mainstream’ for College and Careers: Academic and Professional Metagenres in Community Colleges.” Teaching English in the Two-Year College 47.2 (2019): 168-94. Print.

George C. Bunch, describing himself as a “relative ‘outsider’” who has been studying English learners and the “policies and practices” affecting their experiences as they enter and move on from community colleges (190n1), writes about the need for frameworks that can guide curricular choices for the “New Mainstream,” the students with diverse backgrounds and varied educational preparation who populate community colleges (169). He suggests attention to “metagenres,” a concept advanced by Michael Carter (171) as an “analytical tool” that can provide insights into the practices that will most benefit these students (170).

Bunch contextualizes his exploration of metagenres by reporting pressure, some from policymakers, to move community-college students more quickly through layers of developmental and English-as-second-language (ESL) coursework. Such acceleration, Bunch suggests, is meant to allow students to move faster into college-level or disciplinary coursework leading to transfer to four-year colleges or to career paths (168).

Bunch reports a study of ten California community colleges he and his team published in 2011. The study revealed contrasting orientations in approaches to developmental writing students. One endorses a skill-based curriculum in which students acquire “the basics” to function as “building blocks” for later more advanced coursework (172). The other promotes curriculum leading to “academic pathways” that encourage “opportunities for language and literacy development and support in the context of students’ actual progression toward academic and professional goals” (172). Bunch contends that in neither case did his team find adequate discussions of “the language and literacy demands of academic work beyond ESL, developmental English, and college-level composition courses” (173; emphasis original).

Bunch writes that scholarship on the role of writing instruction as students prepare for specific professional goals follows two divergent trends. One approach assumes that literacy instruction should promote a universal set of “generalist” competencies and that writing teachers’ “professional qualifications and experience” make them best qualified to teach these practices (173). Bunch points to the “Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing” developed by the Council of Writing Program Administrators, the National Council of Teachers of English, and the National Writing Project, as well as work by Kathleen Blake Yancey, as exemplifying this approach (173-74).

At the same time, he notes, the later “WPA Outcomes Statement” illustrates a focus on the specific rhetorical demands of the disciplines students are likely to take up beyond English, asking, he writes, for “guidance” from disciplinary faculty and hoping for “share[d] responsibility” across campuses as students negotiate more targeted coursework (174). Bunch expresses concern, however, that faculty in the disciplines have “rarely reflected on those [literacy practices] explicitly” and tend to assume that students should master language use prior to entering their fields (174).

Bunch suggests that the concept of metagenres can supply analysis that affords a “grain size” between “macro approaches” that posit a single set of criteria for all writing regardless of its purpose and audience, and a “micro-level” approach that attempts to parse the complex nuances of the many different career options community-college students might pursue (175).

To establish the concept, Carter examined student outcomes at his four-year institution. Defining metagenres as “ways of doing and writing by which individual linguistic acts on the microlevel constitute social formations on the macrolevel” (qtd. in Bunch 176), Carter grouped the courses he studied under four headings:

  • Problem-Solving, most apparent in fields like economics, animal science, business management, and math
  • Empirical Inquiry, which he located in natural and social sciences
  • Research from Sources, visible in the humanities, for example history
  • Performance, notably in the fine arts but also in writing coursework (176)

Bunch notes that in some cases, the expected definitional boundaries required negotiation: e.g., psychology, though possibly an empirical discipline, fit more closely under problem-solving in the particular program Carter analyzed (176-77).

Bunch offers potential applications at the levels of ESL/developmental/composition coursework, “[w]riting across and within the disciplines,” “[c]ollege-level coursework in other disciplines,” and “[i]nstitution-wide reform” (177-79). For example, writing students might use the metagenre concept to examine and classify the writing they do in their other courses (178), or faculty might open conversations about how students might be able to experience discipline-specific work even while developing their language skills (179). Institutions might reconsider what Thomas Bailey et al. call the “cafeteria model” of course selection and move toward “guided pathways” that define coherent learning goals tied to students’ actual intentions (179).

Bunch and his group considered coursework in nine programs at a “small community college in the San Francisco Bay Area” that is designated a Hispanic-Serving Institution (180). In selecting programs, he looked for a range across both traditional academic areas and career-oriented paths, as well as for coursework in which minority and underprepared or minority-language students often enrolled (180-81). Primary data came from course descriptions at both class- and program-levels, but Bunch also drew on conversations with members of the community-college community (180).

He writes that “the notion of metagenres” was “useful for comparing and contrasting the ‘ways of doing’ associated with academic and professional programs” (181). He writes that history, fashion design, and earth science (meteorology and geology) could be classified as “research from sources,” “performance,” and “empirical inquiry,” respectively (182-83). Other courses were more complex in their assignments and outcomes, with allied health exhibiting both problem-solving and empirical inquiry and early childhood education combining performance and problem-solving (183-86).

Bunch states that applying the metagenre concept is limited by the quality of information available as well as the likelihood that it cannot subsume all subdisciplines, and suggests more research, including classroom observation as well as examination of actual student writing (186). He cites other examinations of genre as a means of situating student learning, acknowledging the danger of too narrow a focus on particular genres at the expense of attention to the practices of “individuals who use them” (187). However, in his view, the broader analytical potential of the metagenre frame encourages conversations among faculty who may not have considered the nuances of their particular literacy demands and attention to writing as part of students’ progression into specific academic and career paths rather than as an isolated early activity (174). He posits that, rather than trying to detail the demands of any given genre as students enter the college environment, institutions might focus on helping students understand and apply the “concept of metagenre” as a way of making sense of the rhetorical situations they might enter (189; emphasis original).

Ultimately, in his view, the concept can aid in

providing more specific guidance than afforded by the kinds of general academic literacy competencies often assigned to the composition profession, yet remaining broader than a focus on the individual oral and written genres of every conceivable subdiscipline and subfield. (189).

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Jackson et al. HBCUs in the Composition Conversation.CCC, Dec. 2019. Posted 02/09/2020.

Jackson, Karen Keaton, Hope Jackson, and Dawn N. Hicks Tafari. “We Belong in the Discussion: Including HBCUs in Conversations about Race and Writing.” College Composition and Communication 71.2 (2019): 184-214. Print.

Karen Keaton Jackson, Hope Jackson, and Dawn N. Hicks Tafari note that scholars in composition have written about issues in African-American higher education, but they write that the voices of compositionists who teach at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) “are most noticeably, and perhaps ironically, absent from this conversation in any consistent way” (185). They note scholars writing about the black experience in higher education are “well-meaning,” but that “very few” have actual experience in HBCUs (185). In the authors’ view, this absence casts HBCUs as “the well-mannered Other” referred to by Jacqueline Jones Royster in her 1996 article, “When the First Voice You Hear Is Not Your Own” (186).

The authors write to make the voices of HBCU faculty, especially female faculty, heard in the composition conversation, making visible the value to the field of HBCUs as places where black students are centered and the African American experience is “fully integrated and a part of the curriculum and campus life itself” (188).

Reporting the history of HBCUs, the authors explore the differences between HBCUs and other “minority-serving institutions” (MSIs). They write that only HBCUs and “tribal colleges” serve specific populations as their mission; in other cases, the colleges may be designated as MSIs based on enrollment and this designation may change as enrollments vary (187). The first HBCU, they write, originated in Pennsylvania in 1837 to serve African Americans who could not enroll in white schools; these institutions proliferated during reconstruction. At present, there are approximately one hundred HBCUs designated as such by a 1965 act of Congress (186). In 2015, 76% of HBCU enrollees were black (187).

Elaborating on Keith Gilyard’s 1999 article, “African American Contributions to Composition Studies,” the authors argue that the contributions he notes come largely from HBCUs in existence before the civil rights movement, whose faculty were “vocal, prominent, and actively engaged in discourse about the teaching of writing to our students” (190). They reiterate Gilyard’s reference, for example, to Melvin Butler, chair of the committee that drafted “Students’ Right to Their Own Language” in 1974 (191).

Jackson et al. write that students at HBCUs differ from African American students at primarily white research universities in that they are more likely to be first-generation college enrollees, come from lower-income households, and have experienced under-funded schools. Importantly, in the authors’ view, these students are less likely to have heard Standard English used frequently and are “more likely to speak AAVE [African American Vernacular English] consistently, with little experience with or awareness of code-switching or code-meshing” (189).

Acknowledging work by scholars who do address effective pedagogies for this population, Jackson et al. state that much of this scholarship appears in “‘special’ issues” rather than in the “normative” conversation in “mainstream” journals (192). The authors critique examples of this scholarship as “incomplete” in that it often involves very few students over short periods of time. Moreover, in one case they cite, they argue that including code-meshing in the curriculum as exemplified leaves out the facility with Standard English required if AAVE speakers are to successfully combine the two languages (193-94). In their view, research conducted by and with HBCU students and faculty would come closer to producing a “complete” picture of how such pedagogies work (195).

As an alternative, Jackson et al. discuss the 2014 HBCU Composition Symposium at North Carolina A&T State University, at which HBCU faculty and students collaborated with “nationally recognized faculty and scholars” (195). From this event, the authors recount two “unwelcome stories” (David Wallace) or “hiccup[s],” moments that illustrate the nature and challenges of “cross-boundary discourse” (196). In one example, an HBCU faculty member was invited to participate in a CCCC panel but was unable to attend because of lack of funding, a barrier that the authors argue is a pervasive limitation on the participation of HBCU faculty in matters in which their voices should be foregrounded (196). In the second unwelcome story, an HBCU student challenged a presenter who advocated for code-meshing, “critically interrogat[ing] the benefit” of this strategy in her context (199).

The authors contend that this exchange illustrates the concept of a “hush harbor” (199), a space in which the students in their population are able to speak freely and examine issues affecting them without being judged. Other concepts that the authors identify as guiding effective pedagogy for their students include “othermothering,” in which female HBCU faculty can mentor and nurture students as they enter larger contexts (205).

Similarly, they present “discursive homeplacing” as a process through which students in their classrooms can “explore language as a tool,” again without being judged (202-03). The authors present examples in which the students examine the role of code-meshing and Black English in events such as the George Zimmerman trial and in Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. Other pedagogical choices include the use of narratives to permit “double-consciousness writing” as students consider their “collective knowledge” about their complex environments. In the “safe harboring” provided by an HBCU, the authors write, students can practice complex cross-boundary discourse as they challenge teachers’ assumptions about their learning (202-03). Jackson et al. further illustrate their use of students’ social media skills and their strategies to provide literacy options for students for whom cost may be a factor (204).

In the authors’ view, HBCUs furnish students a “unique” environment: “the safe space or hush harbor to freely be themselves without feeling judged or attacked” (204). They illustrate the value of HBCUs by providing data on the prominence of HBCU graduates among African Americans who go on to distinguished and successful careers in science, engineering, and the humanities (209).

Concluding that the voices of HBCU faculty and the educational space they represent are essential if the field of composition is to fulfill its mandates of inclusion and empowerment, the authors propose resolutions to enhance their ability to participate in the professional conversation. Funding support to attend conferences and conduct research, as well as representation and designated board positions on national and regional organizations, they propose, would result in the kind of cross-boundary collaboration and discussion that would bring their students from the periphery of college writing education into the mainstream (206-09).

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Obermark, Lauren E. “Misfitting” and Disability in English Graduate Studies. Nov. 2019 CE. Posted 01/28/2019.

Obermark, Lauren E. “Making Space for the Misfit: Disability and Access in Graduate Education in English.” College English 82.2 (2019): 173-203. Print.

Lauren E. Obermark examines the English graduate school experience through the lens of disability studies, incorporating the concept of the “misfit” to analyze responses to a survey she conducted at the “midsize regional public university” (179) where she is an assistant professor.

She reports that her own graduate education, where she regularly felt she “did not fit the graduate school mold” (173), aroused her interest in issues of access in English graduate programs like the one she attended and the one in place at her institution. To key concepts of access and disability, Obermark adds “wonder,” which she draws on Tanya Titchkosky to define as “a multipronged and exploratory orientation” (177) that can be “uncomfortable” because it is “outward-facing and change-focused” (178). She describes her survey as an act of wonder; her grounded-theory approach to the responses leads her to conclude that many assumptions underlying common models of graduate education create unacknowledged “pedagogical misfits” and diminish access in these programs (176).

Disability scholarship leads Obermark to argue for understanding disability studies as a form of inquiry into concerns that affect everyone as these studies consider how the “collaboration and interdependence” that improve conditions for people with disabilities can enhance everyone’s lives (176). Such an approach, she contends, makes questions about access “generative” rather than casting access as a way of correcting a specific problem through “accommodations” that can create more obstacles than they remove (174, 193-94).

Noting that institutions implement procedures that attempt to resolve access problems, Obermark describes many such efforts as part of a “disability bypass,” which renders people needing different forms of access invisible as their needs have supposedly been met. In graduate schools, she argues, this bypass takes the form of insistence that no student succeeding in academia meets the definition of disabled (182). Obermark’s survey examines the ways she believes the university and the students alike bypass or deny the existence of students for whom extant forms of access mean struggle (181).

For the concept of “misfitting,” Obermark turns to the scholarship of Elisabeth L. Miller and Rosemarie Garland-Thomson. Quoting Garland-Thomson, Obermark writes that “a misfit is a result of incongruence or ‘awkward’ juxtaposition” and therefore “does not imply a problem with the environment or with an individual” (177). A premise that emerges from the survey data is that misfits occur when established norms are wrongly assumed to work well for everyone. In Obermark’s view, such misfitting can affect access, especially as it often goes unnoticed (177).

Obermark’s institution offers an MA and an MFA, which feature many overlapping classes for students working toward a number of goals, such as credentialing for their secondary teaching jobs or preparing for PhD work. Of the ninety-five students offered the survey, thirty-two participated(179). Opening questions asked about the “most common in-class approach and the most common assignment” in the students’ experiences (183). By wide margins, students reported that whole-class discussion was the most common approach and an academic essay the most common assignment (183).

From open-ended comments, Obermark concludes that many students question whether the class discussions really serve either the learners or the course goals as effectively as they might (184). Student comments note the tendency for a few students with strong oral skills to control discussion, in one case describing this environment as “repetitive and even a bit intimidating for those not ‘in the loop’” (184). Another called such discussions “unstructured and random” and not clearly aligned with assigned materials (185). A student who found the reading challenging wrote that the discussion did not provide the access to the material that she needed (185).

Student comments about the essay assignments, in Obermark’s view, constitute “a deeply enculturated essay allegiance,” with students contending that only the traditional essay correctly showcases graduate-level skills (188). Obermark counters that much recent scholarship in digital and multimodal communication suggests that a wider range of options might be fruitful (188).

For Obermark, students’ sense that they are expected to succeed in these situations even if they are not comfortable with them suggests that students have internalized a message that those for whom the accepted process is not the best fit are not actually “fit” for graduate school (185). She characterizes “reverse accommodation” as a common assumption on students’ parts that it is “their job to figure out and work through” any issues they encounter with the teaching methods considered the norm (190; emphasis original). Rather than questioning how the norms could change, Obermark argues that students see adaptation as their only recourse. The ability, in the words of one respondent, to “just muddle through and figure it out on our own” is seen as the duty of a graduate student in English by students and professor alike (191). Misfitting, in this view, is the misfit’s fault.

Maintaining with other disability scholars that “accommodation” is not “access,” Obermark argues that accommodation as generally provided “requires a great deal of emotional labor from students,” making it their responsibility to inform and educate their instructors individually about their needs, thus “reliev[ing] the professor (or the institution) from making a wider change” (192-93).

For Obermark, the students’ struggles to accommodate the traditional academic assumptions raise the question of what the field of English studies really wants. She responds to “water cooler” assertions that graduate school should be rigorous and the material difficult with the contention, quoting Anne-Marie Womack, that “The way to teach difficult material well is always to make it more accessible” (194). The failure to provide this access leads Obermark to wonder whether the field “really want[s] [graduate education] to be accessible or inclusive in meaningful ways” (195).

Acknowledging that colleagues may see student struggles as “an ongoing reality” (195), Obermark asks questions about her respondents’ attitudes toward disability. She reports that for students currently teaching, learning about disability issues makes them more aware, not just of specific disabilities, but also of difference and diversity generally in their own classrooms (196). Such awareness, she contends, suggests that the teachers acknowledge their responsibility to change rather than requiring their students to adjust when their fit to norms is not perfect (196).

Obermark writes that examining how graduate students manage their fit in current graduate-school culture might encourage an open-ended and ongoing conversation, perhaps triggering small changes in the pedagogical practices that are often taken for granted (195). She offers examples of alternative practices that can welcome other ways of learning rather than promulgating what she considers a “take it or leave it” message (177), which she believes drives students out of graduate programs when they perceive that their abilities are not those the field requires. Thus, in her view, awareness of misfitting is a step toward creative thinking: improving access generates new approaches that she believes enhance access for everyone.

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Canagarajah, Suresh. A History of Orientations to Text. CE, Sept. 2019. Posted 11/24/2019.

Canagarajah, Suresh. “Weaving the Text: Changing Literacy Practices and Orientations.” College English 82.1 (2019): 7-28. Print.

In a special issue of College English, “Reorienting to the Text,” Suresh Canagarajah’s guest editor essay explores the reference to “weaving” in the etymology of “text” to trace a progression of attitudes toward texts in academic and intellectual circles since the advent of alphabetic writing. He writes that these attitudes have tended to produce binaries like “orality versus writing,” “community versus artifact,” and “mobility versus stability,” among others (8). Approaches that Canagarajah groups under “modernist literacy,” he states, valued the second binaries in this list, while later orientations shifted the focus to the initial concepts (8).

Cautioning that the history of text is not a linear path to “an enlightened conclusion” (8), Canagarajah writes that modernist literacies result from what he calls the “Great Divide” that divorced oral and written communication, privileging the written because of its supposed “transparent meanings” and permanence (7). Under the heading “Autonomous Literacies,” Canagarajah discusses various approaches to text that focus on its claim to convey stable meanings across contexts to those able to receive those meanings (9-10). He sees this approach deriving from the Enlightenment’s “orientation to reality” because such an orientation “transform[ed] experience into manageable and abstract information” (10). Similarly, colonization worked to silence disruptive local or unsanctioned communication, and the need of religion to manage ideas required official language represented as incontrovertible (10).

Canagarajah points to the New Criticism as an example of adherence to this view of text as separate from author and context (10). However, in the 1970s, he writes, an “ethnographic bent” led scholars to challenge the claim that texts could produce meaning not influenced by the social circumstances in which they functioned (11). Scholars like Shirley Brice Heath produced work that Canagarajah classifies as “Social Literacies,” which examined how the diverse contexts in which language was both constructed and interpreted was shaped by a “text’s social functions” (11). Inherent in this literacy was a recuperation of spoken communication, which was seen as “complementary” to writing (11). Meanwhile, interest in “new literacies” deriving from multimodal practices drove attention to “vernacular” literacies (12).

Canagarajah writes that this social turn retained a view of the community itself as “homogeneous,” tending to respond to a particular “bounded object” like a text in uniform ways (12). Reaction to this tendency led to attention to the effects of power, even within communities, on the dissemination and uptake of texts (12). This turn advanced “critical literacy,” which, in turn, paved the way for the “social-constructionist orientation” (12).

Social-constructionism, Canagarajah writes, may have been equally sanctioned by the sense of loss of agency and control occasioned by late capitalism. The social-constructionist move to reduce the social, the material, and the effects of power to textual representation may have produced “greater order, coherence, and control over life” (13). This “textual turn,” as Canagarajah calls it, means that the force of the text itself is replaced by the interpretations with which it is received across divergent contexts. There is no constant meaning; power resides in the reader, whose ideology, in turn, is formed not by any exterior reality but by earlier texts: “That is, our knowledge and interpretations are a chain of unending texts” (13). As a result, texts are not seen as “reflecting social practices and material life,” but rather as “constructing” them (14; emphases original). Returning to the metaphor of weaving, Canagarajah writes that in this turn, society and text became interwoven so that complex social threads could be deciphered in texts, with the result that nothing existed outside text (14).

He characterizes a new turn as a “mobility turn” engendered by the degree to which world events “bled outside the text” (14). The need to address the reception and uses of texts by widely divergent communities across multiple borders led, in his view, to a rejection of the idea of “bounded communities” and to a conception of society as composed of “liminal contact zones” (16) where people with different ideologies and needs interact. The “traveling text,” in this view, can be appropriated endlessly, with consequent ethical implications for such repurposing (15-16). “Recontextualization” captures ways in which power-relations within contact zones can be revised as texts are taken up for new uses; “entextualization” refers to the ways in which speech can become text as it is taken up and embedded across divergent spaces (17): “It is as if the textual fabric gets rewoven with new threads every time people wear it” (17).

Canagarajah next examines a “material turn” that heralds enhanced awareness of the ways that context and physical objects have agency and impact the production of texts (18). In this view, texts are one object among many that construct meaning. Ancillary to this approach is the “recuperat[ion]” of “the agency of the textual artifact” itself as an object acting on contexts it encounters (17). Scholarship noted “performative” aspects of text/materiality interactions, with the activities involved in meaning making replacing the product as central to production and use (18-19). This emphasis, in Canagarajah’s view, underlines the “unpredictability” and expansiveness of texts in the world and reveals the ways in which experiences with texts are “mulitisensory,” with aspects that are “affective, aesthetic, imaginative, and social” (20).

Canagarajah notes the role of technology as a material actor, using the hashtag as an example of the kind of entextualization that emerges as meaning builds and shifts from activities within a “whole network working together” (21): rather than crediting a single author, such entextualization sees meaning as “coconstructed in the doing” (21). For participants, creating text becomes an “everyday practice” (22).

Such approaches to textuality, Canagarajah argues, call into view prior literacies that practiced texts as embodied and social and that were erased by Western culture (22). He uses his own Tamil heritage to explore how a single text, preserved orally, drew its significance from performance in varied settings across time: “The transcribed version was not the full ‘text’”; rather, the emotional experience engendered by encountering the text in specific material, social, and affective moments gave the text its meaning (23).

After summarizing the contents of the special issue, Canagarajah contends that movement from autonomous literacy to the fluidity and expansiveness of the material turn does not guarantee “more inclusive and democratic literacies” (26). The resources that permit coproduction of meaning, in his view, also serve interests that may wish to hide their own agendas. As a counter to this danger, Canagarajah argues that “critical intervention” remains possible because “[n]o one can control the weaving of the text” (26).