College Composition Weekly: Summaries of research for college writing professionals

Read, Comment On, and Share News of the Latest from the Rhetoric and Composition Journals

Leave a comment

Beare and Stenberg. Emotion and Publication in Rhet/Comp. CE, Nov. 2020. Posted 01/15/2021.

Beare, Zachary C., and Shari J. Stenberg. “‘Everyone Thinks It’s Just Me’: Exploring the Emotional Dimensions of Seeking Publication.” College English83.2 (2020): 103-26. Print.

Zachary C. Beare and Shari J. Stenberg investigated the emotional experiences of academics in rhetoric and composition who were developing and submitting material for publication. The authors recruited at research-intensive institutions listed in the Consortium of Doctoral Programs, interviewing three assistant, three associate, and three full professors, with one addition who contributed in writing (106). Interviewees ranged across a number of specialties and research areas. Though specific demographic information was not requested, the interviews indicated “a diversity of intersectional identities” (107).

The authors explain the analysis of their data as a qualitative, collaborative, “iterative, multicycle process” (107). Among the data collected were “contextual cues” suggesting emotional responses, including, for example, “charged language” (107).

According to Beare and Stenberg, the role of emotion as central to writing, to the teaching of writing, and to the lives of academics in general has become a research focus in higher education (103). Although much attention addresses “burnout,” the authors cite a study by Robert H. Stupnisky et al. indicating that while faculty appear to have developed strategies for handling emotions centered around teaching, research concerns trigger “more anxiety, guilt, and helplessness” (qtd. in Beare and Stenberg 103).

Threads of research, the authors report, can be traced to work by Alice G. Brand in 1985 and Lynn Worsham in 1998. These projects led to recognition that emotion is “socially scripted and imbued with power,” with some emotions deemed appropriate in certain contexts and others culturally discouraged (104). The authors integrate this research with the concept of the “habitus” developed by Pierre Bourdieu, which denotes “acquired patterns of thought, behavior, and taste that correspond to social position” (105). The authors argue that faculty engaged in research are encouraged to adopt a “valorized ‘emotional habitus’” that rejects emotions like anxiety, frustration, anger, or self-doubt (105). The academic writer, the authors write, feels pressured to project rationality and emotional control as marks of an “advanced writer” (105).

Beare and Stenberg extend their discussion of emotional habitus to the concept of “belongingness,” contending that a sense of belonging is an important component of emotional experience (108). In this view, belonging accrues from a sense that one’s individual emotional habitus accords with that approved within one’s community, resulting, in Bourdieu’s words, in “a sense of bodily comfort and ease.” In Bourdieu’s framing, to feel that one belongs can mean having “a feel for the game,” in that one understands accepted behaviors and interactions (qtd. in Beare and Stenberg 108).

The authors write that career status impacted faculty members’ emotional responses to the pressures of publication (107). Pre-tenure participants consistently expressed “feelings of depression and anxiety” (108), often linking them to time issues, such as a feeling that they weren’t doing enough or weren’t meeting the pace necessary to assure their belonging in the field (109). In the authors’ view, these respondents compared themselves to “an idealized, ‘inside’ subject, who is confident and certain of their contribution” and who might reflect effects of gender (109). These faculty worried that their insecurity further exacerbated the difficulties presented by their research and writing efforts.

Participants no longer facing tenure pressure evinced less concern about time (110), feeling freer to let projects develop at their own pace. These interview subjects also reported a shift in their attitude toward the review process. Rather than feeling under pressure to accede to every demand, associate and full professors reported learning to assess the quality and relevance of reviews (111). In fact, as they became reviewers themselves, Beare and Stenberg state, these faculty found themselves able to contribute to the rules of the implicit “game” and to valorize reviews that represented “a less emotional and more collaborative, problem-solving, communal practice” (112-3).

Even for more secure faculty, the sense of belonging could be affected by responses to their preferred research areas and modes of presentation. “Tim” expressed frustration that the field seemed resistant to work that is “too curricular, too classroom-based” and to language that “state[s] things simply and directly” (qtd. in Beare and Stenberg 114). Others noted apparent discouragement of work with autobiographical or first-person approaches (114). “Nora” argued that with regard to research, the field seems to prefer work that builds on prior, established research rather than work that takes on new issues (114-15). The authors write that such frustration is a move beyond “assimilation” to a willingness to “question the criteria for belonging in the field” (114).

Asked how they translated their emotional experiences into mentoring for their own graduate students, respondents noted in that graduate school, students are supported and often praised for their work, while reviewers for publication “are looking for the area where your argument falls apart” (115). Many supported advice to make failure much more visible, for example by sharing their own rejections, so that rejection becomes a normal and possibly productive part of the process (119).

Interviewees also noted that graduate school did not prepare students for the amount of revision demanded. Interviews suggested that although students receive feedback on seminar papers, they seldom actually revise them (116) and perhaps, in an environment of diminishing financial support, often graduate with dissertations that could be usefully revised (117). Participants recounted sharing their own revise-and-resubmit experiences so students would understand publication expectations, and also noted encouraging students to submit work earlier rather than waiting for “perfection” with the understanding that revision would inevitably be required (119-120).

In general, participants suggested that mentors could do more to teach “high-performing students how to deal with disappointment or failure” (“James,” qtd. in Beare and Stenberg 118). The authors dispute the idea that the pain of rejection or negative response ever disappears. However, participants indicated that developing strategies for dealing with these inevitabilities and the ensuing emotions was an essential part of persevering in the field. “Tim” suggests that believing in one’s work and considering it “worth the time and energy” can help a writer return to a project even in the face of troubling emotions (qtd. in Beare and Stenberg 120).

“James” calls for attention to “self-care,” in particular what the authors encourage as a practice of “community-care” (121), arguing for a systematic reform of working conditions that drive negative emotions throughout higher education (121). An ethic of community care, the authors write, would foreground “radical listening, empathy, [and] vulnerability” (122). Such an ethic, they contend, could diminished the sense common among academics that they are anomalous failures within their communities and must face the challenges of their field alone (122).

Leave a comment

Staley and Leonardi. Teacher Education for Gender and Sexual Diversity. RTE, Nov. 2016. Posted 01/04/2017.

Staley, Sara, and Bethy Leonardi. “Leaning In to Discomfort: Preparing Literacy Teachers for Gender and Sexual Diversity.” Research in the Teaching of English 51.2 (2016): 209-29. Print.

Sara Staley and Bethy Leonardi present the results of a literacy methods course for preservice English language arts teacher in which practices for supporting LGBTQ students were foregrounded. The authors argue that the “disturbing number of lives lost in recent years among youth who identified or were perceived to identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning” demands attention from educators who have failed to address “the resounding silence around gender and sexual diversity (GSD) . . . that has long pervaded teacher education” (209). The authors contend that LGBTQ students often report feeling that “school was often an unsafe place” (209). Staley and Leonardi discuss the results of a curriculum designed to help novice teachers make their classrooms more welcoming to such students.

The course was piloted in Fall 2012 and the study conducted during the Spring 2013 semester at a large public university in the Mountain West (214). Students in the course were about to commence student teaching (215). Primary data consisted of transcripts of
“two whole-class fishbowl conversations” conducted during weeks 4 and 16, and a blog that students began working with in week 4 (216). The researchers provided specific prompts for the blog. Of the seventeen students in the course, sixteen agreed to participate; three were eliminated as data sources because they contributed only minimally in the assigned venues, so eleven who self-identified as female and two who self-identified as male participated (215).

The researchers, both doctoral students, co-designed the course and the study (215). Staley was the “lead instructor” and Leonardi a “participant observer in three class sessions” as well as a facilitator of various components of the course (215).

The analytic framework for the course and study involved a “queer theoretical perspective on the problem of heteronormativity in schools” that urges teachers to disrupt dominant assumptions that sexuality functions as a binary in which heterosexuality is normal and other forms of sexual identification are deviant (211). The authors contend that such an approach is preferable to standard anti-bullying programs that “locate the problem in individuals, rather than in institutional practices that encourage bullying and oppress on the basis of sex, gender, and sexuality” (212). Staley and Leonardi combine this approach with that of Kevin K. Kumashiro, who casts anti-oppression education in terms of “desire, resistance, and crisis” (213, italics original) and of Buddhist teacher Pema Chödrön, who encourages “leaning in” as a way of overcoming the resistance that can derail the process of “unlearning” long-held views about topics like sexuality (222; italics original). The authors define “leaning in” as “a moving toward discomfort, rather than away from it, and inquiry into what can be learned from such energetic responses as emotional pain, fear, and discomfort” (223).

These analytical perspectives led Staley and Leonardi to focus on manifestations of emotion in their data, as well as reactions to the course’s emphasis on the role of teachers in disrupting heteronormativity (217). They identified emotional responses as “discomfort,” “desire to disrupt,” and “desire to resist.” A recurrent theme in students’ responses involved “how” to further GSD-inclusive curricula; this marker was labeled “wrestling with praxis.” As a result of this coding, students were categorized as “dedicated disrupters,” “discomforted,” and “resistors” (217; italics original). The discussion centers on the “discomforted” because this group of eight students exhibited significant changes during the course (218).

The emotional shifts experienced by the discomforted students began with “shock,” “incredulity,” and “disbelief” as they confronted claims in the course readings that school environments were not uniformly progressive and that teachers were often not protected when they attempted to incorporate anti-oppressive curricula on GSD issues (218-19). The students became aware of their own lack of knowledge about responses to LGBTQ concerns in schools and the failure of their own educations as preservice teachers to address these concerns (219). The beginning teachers’ own experiences in grappling with classroom incidents in which they did not know how to disrupt heteronormative oppression led to a shift to “wrestling with praxis” as they began to search for viable tools to protect students (220).

Staley and Leonardi report that these searches and discussions led to positive results as discomforted students in their class began to be able to articulate “specific examples of actionable steps that literacy teachers could take to disrupt heteronormativity,” including recognizing the need to move beyond simply including LGBTQ-themed literature in the classroom (221). The authors note, however, that this increasing practical grounding did not alleviate the students’ sense that there were no simple solutions or “path[s]” they could consistently follow but rather that learning to address oppressive behavior in the classroom was a matter of “ongoing labor” (Kumashiro, qtd. in Staley and Leonardi 222).

The authors provide two examples of students who responded to the emotional crisis generated by unlearning familiar assumptions by “leaning In” to their discomfort. These two students “each began to frame their discomfort as generative and necessary—not as something to be resolved, once and for all” (222). These two responses emphasized the importance of considering mistakes as ways to move forward and of recognizing fear in challenging situations as a necessary component of acting in circumstances where there will never be clear answers (223-24).

Noting that language-arts teachers are especially well-positioned to bring GSD concerns into curricula, the authors call for a deliberate focus on these concerns in teacher education (224), so that teachers have tools that allow them to “move beyond inclusion” to active resistance to heteronormative agendas (224). They note that their own curriculum might have productively incorporated awareness of the necessary emotional journey in their course framework, recognizing and “celebrat[ing]” early “glimmers of leaning in” (225; emphasis original). Student teachers, they argue, will benefit from learning a greater “tolerance for discomfort, uncertainty, and ambiguity” (225). Further, they encourage efforts to engage prospective teachers whose cultural values, for example religious views, make grappling with GSD issues even more problematic than for others (225). The authors endorse the concept of leaning in to discomfort as a way to draw preservice teachers into the “ongoing labor” of anti-oppressive education.