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Noguerón-Liu and Hogan. Transnationalism and Digital Composition. RTE, Feb. 2017. Posted 07/06/2017.

Noguerón-Liu, Silvia, and Jamie Jordan Hogan. “Remembering Michoacán: Digital Representation of the Homeland by Immigrant Adults and Adolescents.” Research in the Teaching of English 51.3 (2017): 267-89. Print.

Silvia Noguerón-Liu and Jamie Jordan Hogan present a study of the use of visual elements, including digital images and information, by adults and adolescents from immigrant communities as they constructed documents reflecting their transnational identities.

The authors worked with two women and two middle-grade students with ties to the Mexican state of Michoacán. The women were participants in three semester-long sessions of a “digital literacy program for immigrant adults” designed for parents of children in a largely Latinx community; the seventh-graders were enrolled in a “digital story-telling program” meant to help them succeed in U.S. classrooms. Both programs were located in a small Southern city (272-73).

Noguerón-Liu and Hogan applied three theoretical concepts. Transnationalism theory allowed investigation of how “individuals maintain multiple social networks and links to both their home and host communities” (269). They examined multimodal production through “critical artifactual literacies” that featured how the objects and material practices in which composition occurs affect the writing process through the various “affordances” offered by different “modes”; this study focused on the mode of images (270).The study further addressed the use of images and digital modes in the genre of testimonio, “a first-person narrative told by the protagonist and witness of events, usually recorded by an interlocutor,” which features a call to action (271-72). Throughout, the authors used a “participatory approach,” in which they worked side-by-side with the women and students to consider how the writers made choices and constructed meaning from the available resources (271).

A goal of the study was to assess “how transnational ties shaped various aspects of the digital writing process for all participants” (276). The authors argue that their study’s intergenerational focus usefully complicates common views that immigrant adults maintain the “cultural heritage” of their home communities while children develop more “hybrid practices” (270). Noguerón-Liu and Hogan found that the differences between the adults and adolescents they studied were more complex than generally assumed.

Interviews and results of focus groups were coded to investigate how participants maintained transnational ties, while coding of “field notes, interviews, and writing samples” permitted examination of how visual media “elicit[ed] discussion” during the composition process (275-76).

A major distinction revealed by the study was that the adults concentrated on sharing cultural information and revisiting memories while the adolescents focused on worries about safety and violence (278, 284). “Diana” created materials depicting church activities and “Mireya” elaborated on a mountain setting near her hometown that she wanted her daughter to see. In contrast, “Jackie” seemed caught up in the story of a bus accident that made her worry about her family’s safety, while “Diego” collected videos and references to drug-cartels and police corruption in his hometown (277-78).

Another important aspect of the study was the degree to which search-engine algorithms influenced participants’ options and choices. Searches foregrounded images from news reports, which most often showed violent events from the towns. Mireya abandoned digital searching for images because she considered violence irrelevant to the values she wanted to convey (280). After this experience, Noguerón-Liu and Hogan discussed options for reducing exposure to violence in the middle-grade sessions, but were unable to find completely satisfactory filters that still gave the students the information they needed (280).

The authors found dealing with emerging images of crime and violence a challenge in their roles as mentors and co-composers. Diego drew heavily on available videos of men with guns to ground his concerns about drug-cartel power in his community, and the researchers found themselves “interject[ing] [their] own assumptions about conflict” as they facilitated the students’ efforts (281). They found themselves among the interlocutors for participants’ testimonio about their experiences, ranging from witnessing miracles to reporting violence (283). This role required the researchers to “negotiate [their] own biases and concerns about crime-related information (which aligned with the concerns of adult participants) and the urgency in adolescents’ accounts about the danger their relatives faced back home” (283).

Noguerón-Liu and Hogan stress the diversity and agency that participants displayed as a result of their varying experiences with transnational networks. The two adults made specific decisions about which images they considered relevant to their purposes, consciously avoiding depictions of violence. Noguerón-Liu and Hogan caution that the prevalence of images of violence arising from news stories accessed by search engines can obscure other features of immigrants’ home communities that the immigrants themselves wish to foreground (286). At the same time, the researchers’ experiences as interlocutors for testimonio led them to argue that “transnational practices should not be reduced to symbols or folkloric dance, but can be expanded to include the solidarity, concern, and healing connecting individuals to their home countries” (286).

The authors note that their study highlights the “limitations of digital files” in ways that should concern all practitioners of multimodal composition instruction (285). Individual images juxtaposed without context can influence interpretation. The authors point to the importance of keyword choice as a means of expanding the available material from which multimodal writers can draw (285).

Noguerón-Liu and Hogan contend that “a listening-and-learning stance in practitioner inquiry” will best support agency and choice as transnational students decide how they want to depict their homelands and their ties to them. Teachers’ “[n]ew ways of listening and seeing” will facilitate immigrants’ efforts to “reimagine Michoacán and other conflict-ridden regions in complex and hopeful ways” (287).

Hum, Sue. Racialized Gaze, Design. CE, 1/15. Posted 3/2/2015.

Hum, Sue. “‘Between the Eyes’: The Racialized Gaze as Design.” College English 77.3 (2015): 191-215. Print.

Sue Hum, associate professor of English at the University of Texas, San Antonio, examines the 19th-century political cartoons of Thomas Nast to argue that the assumptions, ideologies, stereotypes, and received knowledge of our social, cultural, and political environments constitute a “lifeworld” that inescapably influences our choices in designing visual messages. She focuses on the “racialized gaze” that, she contends, as one of the “habits of looking” (191) to which all design is subject, undercuts Nast’s efforts to ameliorate anti-immigrant attitudes and legislation directed at Chinese populations from the mid-1800s well into the 20th century. Her exploration of Nast’s activist visual rhetoric leads to a call for teachers and scholars involved in the analysis and production of visual rhetoric, particularly as it becomes a focus in English Studies classrooms, to become more alert to the degree to which the readily “available resources” provided by our “lifeworld” direct and constrain our choices in design (197-99).

Hum develops her argument along two axes. The first involves the “characteristics” of “sight” and “site,” which she sees functioning as verbs. Sight as a verb results in the use of visible markers to stand in for a range of judgments about the nature of an individual; visible characteristics take on the power of “facticity,” informing us of supposed truths about a person based solely on what she looks like (194-5, 199-201). “Site” uses these visible markers to incorporate individuals into a “homogenous group” that can then be located in an extant social and cultural hierarchy (195, 202-3).

The second axis is that of the “dynamics” of “authenticity” and “universality,” which Hum sees acting as nouns. Authenticity requires the use of visual detail to represent individuals in the ways that the contemporaneous culture views as accurate representations (195-96, 203-04). For example, Nast used elaborate, stereotypical indications such as flowing robes and long queues to establish the ethnicity of his Chinese subjects. Universality involves depictions that attempt to establish the shared humanity of different groups, for example, by attempting to evoke sympathy for the anguish felt by a bullied “coolie” in an 1869 cartoon (196, 205-08). This attempt to subsume specific cultures by incorporating them into the conception promoted by the dominant social order of what it means to be a fellow human, Hum contends, “elides the lived experiences of people of color by overlooking how differences are produced by histories of oppression and ideologies of exclusion” (196). Hum argues that these two dynamics function both simultaneously and at odds with each other. The care Nast took to mark his subjects as Chinese rendered them inescapably alien even as he hoped to show their commonality with the culture that characterized them as the “yellow peril” and a dangerous “horde” (195, 206, 204)

Thus, Hum writes, the “racialized gaze” invests the visible with the power of a truth that is in fact a product of the culture’s readily available beliefs and expectations. It focuses on markers of difference as statements about individuals and groups and in doing so, reinforces extant hierarchies and divisions even when meant to challenge them. Hum’s closing suggests that awareness of such tendencies can temper their power and urges scholars and teachers in English Studies to cultivate such awareness in the examination and production of visual rhetoric: “This historical inquiry offers students an understanding of the broad array of contextual decisions involved in producing images” and “highlights how well-intentioned designers, as a result of the perceptual habits of their time, may be blind to the ideological grammar, structures, and conventions of their lifeworlds. . . .” (210).