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Opel and Rhodes. User-Centered Design in the Writing Classroom. C&C, in press. Posted 09/09/2018.

Opel, Dawn S., and Jacqueline Rhodes. “Beyond Student as User: Rhetoric, Multimodality, and User-Centered Design.” Computers and Composition (in press) (2017): xxx. Web. 10 Aug. 2018.

Dawn S. Opel and Jacqueline Rhodes write about the complexities that arise when rhetoric and composition incorporates the principles of user-centered design (UCD) into pedagogical methodologies.

Interest in UCD follows from the work of scholars on usability in technical communication, who, the authors note, have addressed the concept of usability as a process of “design and testing of digital technologies” (1). Because technical communication shares affinities with rhetoric and composition, concepts like UCD have migrated into writing pedagogy (2). Opel and Rhodes are concerned that this migration has been accepted uncritically and urge a closer look at how UCD can best enhance the values and goals of current rhetoric and composition theory and instruction (3, 7). They offer a heuristic for adopting UCD to the composition classroom.

According to Opel and Rhodes, industry has incorporated UCD into the larger construct of “user experience” (UX), a term that draws on a number of fields, including market research, branding, psychology, anthropology, library science, software design, and graphic arts, as well as others (2). Technical communication scholar Michael Salvo advanced an early definition of UCD as “a process of collecting data from users, creating feedback in the form of information, and then delivering that information to designers” (qtd. in Opel and Rhodes 2). Writing more recently within the field of UX, Jesse James Garrett offers what the authors call an “extend[ed]” notion of UCD as “the practice of creating engaging, efficient user experiences” (qtd. in Opel and Rhodes 2). The authors see this latter approach as more concerned with making room for user input during design (2).

Opel and Rhodes see problems with such efforts to import UCD into rhetoric and composition because of differences in the underlying philosophies and theoretical approaches. They note that many of the fields from which UX, and by extension UCD, draws are “positivist” in nature, valorizing universal optimal designs (3). The authors cite scholarship from composition scholars acknowledging disjunction among three “competing mentalities” (Keith Garrison, qtd. in Opel and Rhodes 3): “the scientist, philosopher, and rhetorician” (3). This competition makes an affiliation between the positivist bent of UCD and the de-centered, constructivist values of composition problematic (3).

Opel and Rhodes write that a too-facile adoption of UCD principles can ignore the distinction between “user” and “learner” (4). The authors suggest a comparison with the approach taken in engineering pedagogy, which has assimilated tenets of “learner-centered design” (LCD) from the field of education (3). Resembling composition’s concept of active learning, LCD brings into UCD the components of “role-playing, case-based learning, project-based learning, and reflection” (3).

The authors advance their discussion of concerns about UCD in composition by exploring their understanding of rhetoric as ethics. They note that “the concept of UX has emerged in disciplinary conversations, bridging rhetoric, the digital humanities, and UCD” (4). Citing Jesse Stommel’s work on the digital humanities, the authors contend that the goal of this field is “not the creation of an effective system,” but rather “a purposeful breaking” (5) that functions as “an ethical interrogation, if not intervention” (4) into any system that purports to erase cultural differences (5). Arguing that rhetoric is about the relations within a system rather than the structure of the system itself, the authors draw on Kenneth Burke’s claims that all choices and actions have ethical consequences and result from the ethical decisions made by agents (5). In the authors’ view, “Designers, writers, users, and readers, then, can act . . . for ethical or unethical purposes” (5).

From this perspective, compositionists who import UCD into classroom practice have an ethical responsibility to interrogate what the authors see as “an ethic of expediency and efficiency” (6; emphasis original) that arrives via the industry-based vocabulary in which actors’ decisions are “tied inextricably to accumulation of capital” (4). Opel and Rhodes write that compositionists can too easily become like “contemporary UX professionals, who conduct research on consumers/users, rather than design in concert with users . . . in participatory design frameworks” (6).

As an alternative for composition instruction, the authors propose a “theory+play” methodology that sees students as active participants in design, simultaneously recuperating the emphasis on “learner” that “user” tends to elide (7). In this view, multimodal composition, as understood in the field, offers scope for play in that it provides opportunities for “remix and mashup” (6) that accord with the idea of play as defined by Jody Shipka: a process of “purposeful choosing, adaptation, and material flexibility” (qtd. in Opel and Rhodes 7). In such play, the authors contend, actors can ask “what-if questions,” imagine new “realities,” and explore how choices constrain and enable action (7). This approach, in the authors’ view inherent in multimodality, “emphasiz[es] agency rather than reception on the part of students” (7).

Consonant with the emphasis on play is the concept of “speculative design,” which moves from a product intended to meet a predetermined goal to a process that explores what is possible, with the focus more on the “discussion” than the product (7).

The authors note that it is common to think of design as “problem solving” (9). They address, however, the issue of what happens when the problems faced by cultures today do not admit of solutions. In this respect, they argue for rhetoric understood as “embodied, relational, ethical, and playful” (7). They draw on Burke’s comic frame as a foundation for such rhetoric, in that it “insists on the continued responsiveness/responsibility of interactants” (7). Multimodal play, then, constitutes a rhetorical act in which students take responsibility for their purposes and choices and the consequences of their activities as “co-creators/designers of discourse operating in complex public spheres” (8).

The authors’ heuristic for incorporating UCD into the classroom provides seven tenets. Several of these address the need for interrogation of “industry rhetoric” as it extols “expediency, efficiency, engagement” (8). Other principles ask for examination of factors like “the cultural systems of normativity” that commonly drive design when it is seen as problem-solving (8).

Opel and Rhodes suggest that these principles follow from a view of design as an act that recognizes its rhetorical nature and that further takes on the inevitable ethical component of all rhetorics as, in Burke’s formulation, “rhetoric,” “persuasion,” and “meaning” (6) are inextricably linked to the purposeful acts of intentional agents. For Opel and Rhodes, UCD that truly positions students as co-designers can enable students to understand their responsibilities within such roles.


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Lynch, Paul. Writing as Spiritual Exercise. CE, July 2018. Posted 08/17/2018.

Lynch, Paul. “Shadow Living: Toward Spiritual Exercises for Teaching.” College English 80.6 (2018): 499-516. Print.

Paul Lynch writes about a state of mind experienced by some seasoned writing teachers that he equates with Thomas Newkirk’s “emotional underlife of teaching” (qtd. in Lynch 500). Drawing on Paul Kameen’s depiction of this state of mind in Writing/Teaching, Lynch describes it as a point at which a well-developed set of teaching practices ceases to make classroom practice meaningful (499-500).

Further exploring this phenomenon, Lynch considers Bill Readings’s contention in The University in Ruins that teachers who see themselves as a “rhetor rather than magister” find that their “mastery” of teaching practice may not mesh with the need, as a rhetor, to “redefine pedagogy as ‘a relation, a network of obligation” rather than as a platform from which to dispense knowledge (qtd. in Lynch 500; emphasis original). Recognizing the contradictions between the accumulation of professional expertise and an understanding of teaching as relational leads, in Lynch’s view, to questions like Kameen’s “What am I doing here?” In Lynch’s view, teachers cannot easily resolve this contradiction and should consider instead, in Kameen’s words, “living in the shadow of [the question’s] imperative” (qtd. in Lynch 501; emendation in Lynch).

Central to the kind of mastery composition specialists commonly value, Lynch proposes, is faith in reflection as a means of becoming a critically aware teacher. Citing Kathleen Blake Yancey’s discussions of reflection, Lynch writes of the assumption that reflection can aid teachers just as it can students by allowing them to “consciously and therefore critically reflect on their own success and failure with an eye toward improvement” (502). Such reflection commonly involves exploring one’s experiences through writing. Donald Schön, in The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action, further develops the view that by combining “technical knowledge and practical experience” (503), experts like teachers can assemble a set of responses to the problems they encounter.

Lynch turns to critiques of reflection as a means of resolving the problem of the “emotional underlife” teachers may encounter. From Kenneth Burke he takes the concept of “trained incapacity” to argue that a teacher faced with a loss of faith in his or her professional practice may resort to reflection as an attempt to increase mastery, which may make responses to complex relational engagements “automatic” (Schön, qtd. in Lynch 504) and, in Lynch’s view, a grounds for “boredom, burnout, and breakdown” (504).

Casey Boyle similarly suggests that reflection as commonly understood “operates on a destructive subject-object distinction” that assumes that people can separate their “agency” from the environment in which it is created and perpetuated, examining their actions rationally to improve them based on technical assessments of success (505). Lynch also draws on Robert Yagelski’s views, in Writing as a Way of Being, that written reflection as often practiced sees writing “simply as a way to record and express one’s experience,” whereas writing can also be viewed as “an experience in and of itself” (507).

Lynch proposes that the feelings expressed by Kameen and Newkirk “cannot be addressed by a reconsidered lesson plan or a revamped pedagogy” (507); indeed, in his view, resorting to these strategies compounds the problem. He suggests instead the use of writing as a form of reflection as experience that he calls “spiritual.” Spirituality, in his view, need not be specifically religious but can serve as a way of “liv[ing] in the shadow of questions that do not seem amenable to reflective thinking” (507-08) and thus avoiding the need for control that may lead to “demoralization,” defined as a feeling that, for the teachers in question, moves beyond frustration that old ways no longer work to an awareness that “they’ve lost any sense of which ways might” (505).

Lynch draws on Foucault to propose a regimen of “care of the self” (qtd. in Lynch 508) that includes “practices through which subjects might shape themselves” (508). This self-formation addresses character through, in Debra Hawhee’s words, “intensive attention and discipline, painful repeated exercise” (qtd. in Lynch 509). Among the exercises that promote self-re-shaping is a form of writing related to the development of “[p]hilosophic wisdom,” which, for Lynch, is not about acquiring topic mastery but rather “a matter of living a certain way of life” (509). This view counters the view that Lynch, via Foucault, attributes to Descartes, in which the self can be held apart from the knowledge it acquires, with the result that the knowledge does not affect “the structure of the subject itself” (qtd. in Lynch 510).

Similarly, Lynch cites the philosopher Pierre Hadot, for whom the “study of philosophy in the ancient world was more concerned with how the student lived than with what the student knew” (510). As an example of how writing furthered such a “spiritual program,” Hadot and Lynch reference the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, which they present not as exercises to portray experience but rather to engage more deeply with it (510-14). The spiritual exercise of writing for this purpose allows Aurelius “a chance to examine his conduct” each day (511) and to prepare himself for “the challenges of . . . daily living” (512). Aurelius’s view, quoted by Lynch, is that

The art of living is more like the wrestler’s art than the dancer’s in this regard, that it must stand ready and firm to meet whatever happens to it, even when unforeseen. (512)

In order to develop this stance, Lynch proposes, philosophical wisdom requires engaging rather than lamenting “the writer’s daily struggle (shadow boxing) against himself” (512). Lynch sees this kind of self-formative writing as important in the effort of “dwelling within a network of obligations,” which teachers must accept if they are to survive their encounters with the emotional underlife (512).

Contending that more experienced and capable teachers are among the most prone to confront this emotional quandary, Lynch concedes that reflection as most often understood can increase knowledge, but argues that knowledge alone is not sufficient (513). The kind of written reflection as spiritual exercise practiced by Aurelius and other philosophers, he asserts, can offer a way “to practice interdependence” rather than increase control (513). He argues that such exercise may bolster what Hawhee calls “a pedagogy of association” (qtd. in Lynch 514), that is, a pedagogy based on relationship and obligation:

Why would our students want to associate with us? And how will we be formed by the association? These are the kinds of questions that we might answer by practicing writing as a spiritual exercise. (514)


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Mays, Chris. Fact and Fabrication in Creative Nonfiction. Mar. 2018. Posted 04/04/2018.

Mays, Chris. ‘“You Can’t Make This Stuff Up’: Complexity, Facts, and Creative Nonfiction.” College English 80.4 (2018): 319-41. Print.

Chris Mays explores the creation of meaning in writing through an examination of the relationship between “fact” and “fabrication” in the genre of creative nonfiction (321). He links this analysis to a 1985 article by Jim W. Corder arguing that adherence to the “narrative” each of us creates to structure our lives makes it difficult to “accommodate . . . differences” we encounter with others’ narratives (319). Mays finds an illustration of this difficulty in debates over factual accuracy in creative nonfiction.

Mays argues that writing in general excels in giving an impression of representing facts in “straightforward” ways, often appearing most praiseworthy “when a writer ‘just tells it like it is’ . . . or writes in ‘plain language’” (320). Any “simplicity” thus created, Mays contends, masks writing’s “own incredible complexity” (320). Ultimately, in Mays’s view, the power of writing to make the meaning it creates appear straightforward and uncontestable, while hiding the process through which that meaning was produced, leads to the kind of insularity Corder describes (321, 337).

Mays approaches the issue of meaning in writing through genre theory. He reports scholarship on genre that depicts genre as a categorization that “organizes writing into recognizable forms” (326); quoting Carolyn R. Miller, he portrays genre as the “form” of writing that “shapes the response of the reader or listener to substance by providing instruction . . . about how to perceive and interpret” (qtd. in Mays 324). Genres, he writes, tend to look “stable” but are actually in constant flux, with the result that readers respond to representations of facts differently when they encounter them in different genres, which themselves are responsive to different contexts (325):

[F]acts emerge out of genres, and how the boundary lines of fact and fiction are drawn is dependent on the genres in which one is observing the facts. (325)

For Mays, looking at creative nonfiction as a contextualized, fluid genre illuminates how genre assumptions affect attitudes toward facticity particularly because the history of this genre reveals ongoing tensions over the degree to which authors of creative nonfiction deal with “facts” versus “subjective experience” (321). Mays finds that, even though writers in the genre acknowledge the subjectivity introduced by literary techniques, definitions of creative nonfiction emphasize its allegiance to facts (321, 324). He argues that the tension inherent in the genre is especially useful in revealing how concerns about the facticity of writing “shift the focus away from the complex mechanism by which all facts are created and maintained” (326), thus illustrating an important feature of writing itself.

To explore these issues, Mays dissects controversy over the use of facts in the satire of David Sedaris. He analyzes the critique of Alex Heard, who condemns Sedaris’s use of elaboration and apparent invention as violations of what Heard sees as a sacrosanct obligation of writers of creative nonfiction: not to “make things up” (qtd. in Mays 329). Other respondents defended Sedaris as engaged in telling stories in which fabrications lead to “composite truths” valuable in themselves (328, 335). Mays’s interest revolves around the degree to which the criteria applied to Sedaris are “extremely passionate” (328) and “rigid” (327). He argues that the negative critics of Sedaris create inviolate genres that they believe are stable and judge the handling of facts by these rules (330). “Observers” of the creative-nonfiction genre, he writes,

often just do not perceive that there are different ways of drawing genre boundaries and intensely defend the singularity of their views. (328)

For Mays, this reaction to fact within the genre, which he depicts as widespread (321), sheds light on the tendency to forget that writing as writing is always, in Kenneth Burke’s terms, both a “selectio[n]” and a “deflection of reality” (qtd. in Mays 338; emendation in Mays). Mays contends that writing disguises the process of selection that generates a multiplicity of “facts” (329).

Mays further argues for the contextual nature of facts by noting that although “community influence” (330), for example that of the community of creative nonfiction writers, may affect decisions about what counts as an acceptable allegiance to facts, even writers within the community still generate bounded genres that drive their attitude toward the representation of their material. Writers in the genre may contend that Sedaris’s exploitation of subjectivity shirks what Heard calls the “ethical requirements” of fidelity to reality in order to sell more effectively (qtd. in Mays 330), yet Mays also cites memoirist William Bradley, whose criteria recognize “different kinds of truths” (331), and the controversy surrounding Mike Daisey’s depiction of working conditions at Apple facilities in China. Daisey asserted that his genre was “theater,” not “journalism,” and thus his problematic representation of the conditions he reported was justified (333-34).

Mays ties the question of how facts are made to the classroom by referencing “the oft-made demand for a focus on plain facts in first-year writing” (336). This demand, in his view, can be attributed to an ongoing hope for “perfect writing” that fully represents reality (337). For Mays, such writing can never exist because “writers will never be able to fully control or stabilize what is truth, fact, or fabrication in their writing” (336). In his view, complexity theory suggests that problems arise because one’s construction of reality precludes the ability to perceive what is left out of that construction (332). The act of writing in itself creates complexity, which imbues writing with this characteristic blindness (332, 335). Thus, a section title asserts, “All Writing is Dishonest (and Honest)” (333).

Citing Bronwyn T. Williams to note that some reliance on facts is necessary for day-to-day living (325), and recognizing the challenge of a “workable” acceptance that all facts are contextual (332), Mays agrees with Jane Bennett that “recognit[ion] that . . . other divergent configurations exist, even if we cannot perceive them,” is “an ethical necessity” (333). He concludes that Corder’s exhortation to extend our awareness beyond our own narratives inevitably encounters the degree to which the creation of those narratives generates the very conditions that make moving beyond them so difficult (337). Mays argues for intensified awareness of the partiality of any written truth and of the degree to which a rigid insistence on facts can limit our appreciation of different kinds of writing and what this diversity can achieve (338).


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Coles, Gregory. Reclaiming Derogatory Labels. CE, May 2016. Posted 05/31/2016.

Coles, Gregory. “The Exorcism of Language: Reclaimed Derogatory Terms and Their Limits.” College English 78.5 (2016): 424-46. Print.

Gregory Coles explores the process by which derogatory labels and terms are “reclaimed” by the groups to which they refer in an effort to undercut the power of the terms.

He explores four specific examples, “black,” “queer,” “nigger,” and “faggot.” The first two, he suggests, have been largely reclaimed such that their derogatory force has been weakened if not completely eliminated. He resists calling the varied uses of the second two terms a “failure” of reclamation; rather, he argues that they have been reclaimed differently, delivering in the process a different message than words that have been more thoroughly rehabilitated (436).

He grounds his examination theoretically in Kenneth Burke’s concept of the “terministic screen,” in which the way we describe the world through our language choices frames it in particular perspectives that close off or obscure other ways of seeing and thinking. Reclamation, Coles contends, takes advantage of the possibilities of “terministic rescreening” (426).

Reviewing previous work on Burke’s theory, he argues that much of the scholarship on terministic screens considers this feature of language use “static,” with the impact of the screening effect fixed; this research also portrays terministic screening as something to be deplored and overcome (427). Coles, however, argues that Burke saw terministic screens as a ubiquitous component of language use. Moreover, Coles maintains, in proposing the possibility of “secular conversion” and “exorcism by misnomer,” Burke theorized a view of terms used in screening as open to reinterpretation and novel uses (427, 428-29). In fact, Coles suggests, citing Ann George and Jack Selzer, Burke encourages us to see this kind of rescreening as an active engagement with the possibility of changing social attitudes through redirecting people’s “attention” and thereby creating new perspectives (428).

In developing his application of terministic screening, Coles addresses Burke’s dramatism, which casts language as action rather than as description. Coles uses this view of language as performance to argue that “[r]escreening is an adjustment not of what a word means but of what a word does” (430; emphasis original):

Insults become compliments. Far-reaching prejudices become inconsequential jokes. Linguistic demons become innocent old coats. (431).

This process, Coles says, can take place through replacing the oppressive language. However, he finds this option unavailable for many victims of such language, who lack the power to control the dominant discourse. Rescreening becomes the other option, as users attempt to “reclaim [a] word by causing it to select and deflect different portions of reality” (430).

The term “black,” Coles writes, carries a history of derogatory meanings. Its connotations of inferiority and undesirability framed the screen through which people of color were denigrated. However, Coles reports that the Ebony Fashion Fair that shifted attention from models’ clothing to their “performed ethnic beauty” and the “Black is Beautiful” movement allowed black people in the 1960s to redirect attention to new ways of understanding the word (432): “Although the definition of ‘black’ had not changed, its terministic screen had shifted, causing the discourse about blackness to change and black society to change accordingly” (433).

He also traces the path to reclamation of “queer.” For Coles, the derogatory force of this word lay in its insistence on the degree to which LGBT people diverged from the standards of the heteronormal culture they inhabited. Coles contends that members of the LGBT community were able to undercut the term by celebrating their difference and using it in contexts that emphasized the superiority of features of the queer lifestyle, for example through popular culture phenomena like the TV show Queer Eye for the Straight Guy (433). Such efforts changed “[q]ueer . . . from a derogatory term to a category term” (433-34).

Coles discusses limits on such reclamation, noting that some gay activists still find “queer” tainted with what Judith Butler calls “traumatic residue” (qtd. in Coles 434). Generational division over the use of such terms is one manifestation of the degree to which the acceptability of the term depends on context, so that, depending on who is using it and for what purpose and to whom, “the term may hold any of several meanings, or ambivalently occupy multiple meanings” (435).

In Coles’s view, whether derogatory terms have transitioned to category terms that non-group members can use in appropriate settings distinguishes terms like “queer” and “black” from terms like “nigger” and “faggot,” which are limited to in-group use (435). Coles finds it “too simple” to explain the difference by noting that the connotations of the latter terms were seen as much more negative than those of the more successfully reclaimed terms (436). He also contends that the role of such in-group use of such derogatory terms to signal solidarity does not fully explain the problem posed by the degree to which they have retained their unpleasant connotations even when used within the group (437-38).

To explore this question, Coles distinguishes between “redemptive reclamation,” in which users of “queer” and “black” retain the “semantic meanings” of the terms but convert those meanings to markers of positive traits, and “restricted redemption,” which may appear unsuccessful but in fact makes in-group use of the terms reminders of the history they carry, “challenging historical and ongoing prejudice by mockingly calling attention to it” (438). Moreover, according to Coles, the in-groups in question have successfully claimed the terms for such subversive use while denying them to out-group members, even those who would invoke their derogatory meanings (438). This restriction “may also serve as a testament to the unexpected power of the minority” (438).

Coles explores possible student reactions to discussions of various levels of reclamation. He argues that examination of these processes and the different results they produce can alert students to the power of language as an act and to the importance of context. For example, students understand how using an apparently derogatory term for a group within a group they belong to differs from the use of that same term by people who do not belong to the group (440). For Coles, Burke’s theories of dramatism and terministic screens can be used pedagogically to introduce students to these powerful performative aspects of language (440).

 

 

 


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Head, Samuel L. Burke’s Identification in Facebook. C&C, Mar. 2016. Posted 05/10/2016.

Head, Samuel L. “Teaching Grounded Audiences: Burke’s Identification in Facebook and Composition.” Computers and Composition 39 (2016): 27-40. Web. 05 May 2016.

Samuel L. Head uses Kenneth Burke’s concept of identification to argue for Facebook as a pedagogical tool to increase students’ audience awareness in composition classes.

Head cites a range of scholarship that recognizes the rhetorical skills inherent in students’ engagement with social media, particularly Facebook, and that urges composition specialists to take up this engagement with “very real audiences” (27) to encourage transfer of this kind of audience connection to academic writing (27-28, 29). Noting that, according to the National Research Council, new learning depends on “transfer based on previous learning” (qtd. in Head 28), Head contends that, while much scholarship has explored what Facebook and other digital media have to offer, “the pedagogy of transfer with students’ previous experience and prior knowledge of audience in social media requires more scholarly analysis” (28).

In Head’s view, among the skills developed by participation in social media is the ability to adjust content to different audiences in varied contexts (28). He offers Burkeian identification as a means of theorizing this process and providing practices to encourage transfer. Further analysis of transfer comes from work by D. N. Perkins and Gavriel Salomon, who distinguish between “low road transfer” and “high road transfer.”

Low-road transfer occurs when a learner moves specific skills between fairly similar environments; Head’s example is the use of cooking skills learned at home to a restaurant setting. High-road transfer, in contrast, involves using skills in very different contexts. This kind of transfer requires abstract thinking and reflection in order to recognize the applicability of skills across disparate domains (30). Burke’s theory, Head writes, offers a means of evoking the kind of reflection needed to facilitate high-road transfer from the very different contexts of Facebook and a writing class (30, 31).

Head reports on Burke’s identification as a means of persuasion, distinguishing between classical rhetoric’s focus on deliberate efforts at persuasion and the “subconscious” aspects of identification (32); without identification, according to Dennis Day, persuasion cannot occur (cited in Head 31). Identification allows communicators to show that they are “consubstantial” with audiences, thus “bridg[ing] division” (31). This process invokes shared values in order to win audience adherence to new ideas (32).

Head explores aspects of identification theory, including “cunning” identification in which the values shared between audiences are not genuine but are rather created to generate persuasive identification and therefore work to the extent that the audience believes them to be genuine (32). In particular, he notes analysis by George Cheney that discovers “three main strategies” in Burke’s theory: “[t]he common ground technique,” which focuses on shared aspects; “[i]dentification through antithesis,” or the establishment of a “common enemy”; and “[t]he assumed or transcendent ‘we,'” to create group allegiance (qtd. in Head 32). Current scholarship such as that of Tonja Mackey supports Head’s claim that components of identification inform regular Facebook interaction (33).

Head reports on Facebook’s algorithm for determining how users connect with friends. This process, according to Eli Pariser, creates a “filter bubble” as Facebook attempts to present material of interest to each user (qtd. in Head 33). Head suggests that students may not be aware that this “filter bubble” may be concealing more complex combinations of ideas and information; introduction to the theory of identification in the classroom may make them more alert to the strategies that both link them to like-minded audiences and that direct them away from more challenging encounters (33).

Postings by an anonymous “example Facebook user” illustrate the three Burkeian strategies pointed out by Cheney as they inform a Facebook timeline (34). This user establishes common ground by sharing photos and posts that reflect a religious affiliation as well as an interest in fantasy that connects him to many friends. He establishes a common enemy by posting and then collecting likes in opposition to “mandated health care” (34). Finally, he generates a sense of the “transcendent ‘we'” by appealing to group membership in a National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) experience (34). These examples, in Head’s view, demonstrate the degree to which identification is a natural component of Facebook interactions.

For Head, the transfer of this inherent identification to an academic environment involves explicit instruction in the theory of identification as well as reflection on the students’ part as to how these actions can be applied in more formal or novel settings. Students can recognize the strategies and moves that constitute identification in their own Facebook interactions and then can locate similar moves in other types of writing, finally applying them consciously as they connect with academic audiences (35).

Head contends that more teachers need to use platforms familiar to students, like Facebook, to teach rhetorical skills and awareness; he urges teachers to share their experiences with these media and to publish analyses of their findings (36). He reports that his own students enjoyed beginning their rhetorical curriculum with a medium with which they were already engaged, using their own work as a starting point (35). He concludes with a schedule of suggested assignments for making the tenets of identification visible in Facebook and transferring awareness of them to academic projects (36-39).


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Preston, Jacqueline. Composition as “Assemblage.” CCC, Sep. 2015. Posted 11/03/2015.

Preston, Jacqueline. “Project(ing) Literacy: Writing to Assemble in a Postcomposition FYW Classroom.” College Composition and Communication 67.1 (2015): 35-63. Print.

Jacqueline Preston advocates for a project-based model for composition, particularly in basic-writing classes. Such a model, she argues, benefits students in several important ways. It refuses the longstanding deficit approach that, according to Victor Villanueva, defines students who fall into the basic-writing population in terms of “illness” (qtd. in Preston 35); it allows students to draw on their histories, interests, and multiple “acquired literacies” (42) to produce writing that is rich in “complexity,” “relevancy,” and “contingency” (39); and it encourages students to view writing as an “assemblage” of many overlapping components, including personal histories; cultural, social, and political interactions; prior reading and writing; and many kinds of “rhetorical negotiation” (54).

Preston contends that composition still embraces a deficit model that sees its purpose as preparing underprepared students for future academic work. Such an approach, working with a narrow understanding of literacy, focuses on writing as a “technology of representation” (Raúl Sánchez, qtd. in Preston 38, 61n7), devoted to proficient communication that primarily serves as a “conduit” for information (43). This view requires that students’ lived literacies be dismissed as deficiencies and that composition itself be limited to fulfilling a service role within the limits of the university (36, 38).

In contrast, Preston presents a view of writing aligned with postcompositionist approaches that advocate seeing writing more expansively as the actual moment of “culture making itself” (40). She urges composition studies to embrace Kenneth Burke’s concept of “dialectical space” as the realm of the “both/and” in which “merger and division” bring together disparate assemblages to transform them into something transcendent.

Seeing writing through this lens, she argues, allows an awareness of writing as a process of “becoming,” a concept from Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari in which each act of assembly transforms previous knowledge and creates new realities (39-40). Drawing on Sidney Dobrin’s book Postcomposition, she argues that the view of composition engendered by the project model she describes enables engaging “the possibles” that “emerge on the edge of chaos” but that “strive toward becoming actuals” if embraced in a dialectical spirit (Dobrin, qtd. in Preston 54).

Preston presents the project-based model, which she traces to John Dewey and William Heard Kilpatrick, as a pedagogical method that can introduce students to this view of literacy. Her article is based on a twelve-month grounded-theory study examining the experiences of ten students and seven faculty (37, 61n11). In Preston’s program, basic writing is the purview of eight tenured and tenure-line faculty in “an independent basic writing unit” in which “constructivist approaches” have long been in place (41). Preston presents examples of student work in the course, focusing especially on a particular student who had entered college uncertain of his readiness but who successfully developed a fundraising and social-media plan to encourage the installation of bike racks in the city.

Her account of this student’s work contrasts his experience with the expectations he would have been asked to meet in a traditional argument curriculum (50-51). She recounts that his original proposal to “do a presentation to the Downtown Alliance . . . as a citizen” (student, qtd. in Preston 40) evolved as he learned more about previous work done on his idea and drew on his prior involvement in the bicycling community, including expertise and literacies he had developed through that background. In a more traditional approach, she argues, he would have gathered evidence and counterarguments but would never have had

a chance to come face-to-face with the inherent complexities of his writing project and to see “good writing” as a multifarious and contingent response to constantly shifting rhetorical, social, and political realities. (51)

Adoption of a project-based model, Preston writes, raises questions about the nature of “good writing” and “effective pedagogy.” The model, she states, does not completely dismiss the conventions and genre requirements common to more traditional curricula. As students compose many different kinds of texts, from a “well-researched proposal to a sponsor” to emails, interview questions, brochures, and video presentations, they not only incorporate conventions but, because of their investment in their projects, become “eager to know more about the conventions of particular genres and how best to use outside resources to appeal to specific audiences” (52). The model stresses the degree to which all writing is a situated assemblage of many different contingent components always open to revision rather than a representation of a stable truth (51).

Effective pedagogy, in this model, becomes pedagogy that resists practices that limit access; builds on and furthers students’ histories, literacies, goals, and interests; provides students with a richer sense of the possibilities writing offers; and “produc[es} writing that has consequence” (53). Important, in Preston’s view, is the model’s capacity for allowing students to “transfer from” their own experiences the material to support critical inquiry rather than insisting that the sole purpose of first-year writing is to enable students defined as underprepared to “transfer to,” that is, to tailor their work to narrow views of literacy as circumscribed by traditional notions of proficient college work (62n12; emphasis original).