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Bailey & Bizzaro. Research in Creative Writing. August RTE. Posted 08/25/2017.

Bailey, Christine, and Patrick Bizzaro. “Research in Creative Writing: Theory into Practice.” Research in the Teaching of English 52.1 (2017): 77-97. Print.

Christine Bailey and Patrick Bizzaro discuss the disciplinarity of creative writing and its place in relation to the discipline of composition. They work to establish an aesthetic means of interpreting and representing data about creative writing in the belief that in order to emerge as a discipline its own right, creative writing must arrive at a set of shared values and understandings as to how research is conducted.

Bailey and Bizzaro’s concerns derive from their belief that creative writing must either establish itself as a discipline or it will be incorporated into composition studies (81). They contend that creative writing studies, like other emerging disciplines, must account for, in the words of Timothy J. San Pedro, “hierarchies of power” within institutions (qtd. in Bailey and Bizzaro 78) such that extant disciplines control or oppress less powerful disciplines, much as “teaching practices and the texts used in schools” oppress marginal student groups (78). A decision to use the methodologies of the “dominant knowledges” thus accedes to “imperial legacies” (San Pedro, qtd. in Bailey and Bizzaro 78).

Bailey and Bizzaro report that discussion of creative writing by compositionists such as Douglas Hesse and Wendy Bishop has tended to address how creative writing can be appropriately positioned as part of composition (79). Drawing on Bishop, the authors ascribe anxiety within some English departments over the role of creative writing to “genre-fear,” that is, “the belief that two disciplines cannot simultaneously occupy the same genre” (79).

They recount Bishop’s attempt to resolve the tension between creative writing studies and composition by including both under what she called a de facto “ready-made synthesis” that she characterized as the “study of writers writing” (qtd. in Bailey and Bizzaro 80). In the authors’ view, this attempt fails because the two fields differ substantially: “what one values as the basis for making knowledge differs from what the other values” (80).

The authors see creative writing studies itself as partially responsible for the difficulties the field has faced in establishing itself as a discipline (79, 80-81). They draw on Stephen Toulmin’s approach to disciplinarity: “a discipline exists ‘where men’s [sic] shared commitment to a sufficiently agreed set of ideals leads to the development of an isolable and self-defining repertory of procedures” (qtd. In Bailey and Bizzaro 80). The authors elaborate to contend that in a discipline, practitioners develop shared views as to what counts as knowledge and similarly shared views about the most appropriate means of gathering and reporting that knowledge (80).

Creative writing studies, they contend, has not yet acted on these criteria (81). Rather, they state, creative writers seem to eschew empirical research in favor of “craft interviews” consisting of “writers’ self-reports”; meanwhile, compositionists have undertaken to fill the gap by applying research methodologies appropriate to composition but not to creative writing (81). The authors’ purpose, in this article, is to model a research methodology that they consider more in keeping with the effort to define and apply the specific values accruing to creative writing.

The methodology they advance involves gathering, interpreting, and representing aesthetic works via an aesthetic form, in this case, the novel. Students in nine sections of first-year-writing classes in spring and fall 2013 responded to a “creative-narrative” prompt: “How did you come to this place in your life? Tell me your story” (84). Students were asked to respond with “a creative piece such as a poem, screenplay, or graphic novel” (84). All students were invited to participate with the understanding that their work would be confidential and might be represented in published research that might take on an alternative form such as a novel; the work of students who signed consent forms was duplicated and analyzed (84-85).

Data ultimately consisted of 57 artifacts, 55 of which were poems (85). Coding drew on the work of scholars like K. M. Powell, Elspeth Probyn, and Roz Ivanič to examine students’ constructions of self through the creative-narrative process, and on that of James E. Seitz to consider how students’ use of metaphor created meaning (85, 86). Further coding was based on Kara P. Alexander’s 2011 study of literacy narratives (86).

This analysis was combined with the results of a demographic survey to generate six groups revolving around “[c]ommon threads” in the data (86); “personas” revealed through the coded characteristics divided students into those who, for example, “had a solid identity in religion”; “were spiritually lost”; were “uncertain of identity [and] desiring change”; were “reclusive” with “strong family ties”; were interested in themes of “redemption or reformation”; or “had lived in multiple cultures” (86). This list, the authors state, corresponds to “a standard analysis” that they contrast with their alternative creative presentation (86).

In their methodology, Bailey and Bizzaro translate the “composites” identified by the descriptors into six characters for a young-adult novel Bailey developed (88). Drawing on specific poems by students who fell into each composite as well as on shared traits that emerged from analysis of identity markers and imagery in the poems, the authors strove to balance the identities revealed through the composites with the individuality of the different students. They explore how the characters of “Liz” and “Emmy” are derived from the “data” provided by the poems (89-90), and offer an excerpt of the resulting novel (90-92).

They present examples of other scholars who have “used aesthetic expressions in the development of research methods” (88). Such methods include ethnography, a form of research that the authors consider “ultimately a means of interpretive writing” (93). Thus, in their view, creating a novel from the data presented in poems is a process of interpreting those data, and the novel is similar to the kind of “storytell[ing]” (93) in which ethnography gathers data, then uses it to represent, interpret, and preserve individuals and their larger cultures (92-93).

They continue to contend that embracing research methods that value aesthetic response is essential if creative writing is to establish itself as a discipline (93). These methodologies, they argue, can encourage teachers to both value aesthetic elements of student work and to use their own aesthetic responses to enhance teaching, particularly as these methods of gathering and representing data result in “aesthetic objects” that are “evocative, engage readers’ imaginations, and resonate with the world we share not only with our students but also with our colleagues in creative writing” (94). They argue that “when the ‘literariness’ of data reports [becomes] a consideration in the presentation of research,” composition and creative writing will have achieved “an equitable relationship in writing studies” (95).

 


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Cohn, Jenae. “Devilish Smartphones” and Students’ Online Practices. C&C, Dec. 2016. Posted 11/10/2016.

Cohn, Jenae. “‘Devilish Smartphones’ and the ‘Stone-Cold’ Internet: Implications of the Technology Addiction Trope in College Student Digital Literacy Narratives.” Computers and Composition 42 (2016): 80-94. Web. 01 Nov. 2016.

Jenae Cohn analyzes student attitudes toward online and social-media interactions, arguing that student “skepticism about how social media impacts their relationships and literacy practices” (91) has not been adequately studied in computers and writing research (83). In general, Cohn states, composition theorists and instructors believe that online media should be included in writing curricula but have not taken into account how students themselves see their use of digital communication and literacy tools (91).

She examined 75 “digital literacy narratives” from first-year students at a large California research university with a majority Asian/Pacific Islander or White population. She found that 35 of the 75 students preferred face-to-face “embodied” interactions over digital ones while another 15 were “ambivalent” (82).

Keyword searches revealed the prevalence of the “addiction” trope when students discussed uncertainty about their online activities (82). While “addiction” was not the most common keyword (most common was “technology,” followed by “computer” and “Facebook), Cohn states that it was the most common word with a “clear affective charge” (82). Cohn details case studies of four students whose narratives about their use of social media employed the “addiction” trope (82).

Cohn explores the possibility that adults have created and spread the trope that teens are addicted to social media and notes as well that “addiction” is one of a set of powerful “popular tropes” that permeates discussions of media use (91). She argues that the adoption of this trope by the student writers reflects a true student concern rather than a effort by adults to, in the view of danah boyd, “gain control over a space that teenagers have claimed for themselves” (cited in Cohn 83).

Similarly, Cohn reviews criticism of the literacy narrative as a possible invitation to students to produce attitudes that they think mirror their teachers’ views of social media use as an interference with more serious writing (85). She contends, however, that taking the narratives “at face value” provides insights into how “myriad ideological influences” have impacted student views (85). She hopes as well that her own digital literacy narrative assignment will allow her a glimpse of how students who are presumed to be “‘digital natives’ . . . actually see themselves” (84).

In her view, her examination of these narratives suggests that the students she studied have accepted a common assumption that face-to-face interaction is inherently better than mediated communication like the kind required by social media (84). In this kind of narrative, Cohn writes, the shift to a “new technology” entails what Marita Sturken and Douglas Thomas characterize as a sense of “loss of connectivity, of intimacy, of desire, of authenticity in some way” (qtd. in Cohn 85; emphasis original). Moreover, according to Cohn, students see digital and “embodied” communication as binaries, generally rejecting the possibility of overlap (84).

Examining especially narratives that focus on cellphone use, Cohn distinguishes between two types of addiction narratives. In her view, the “distraction” narrative presents virtual communication as functioning to extract users from “real” experience, substituting less authentic relationships (88). As an example of a student’s concerns about cellphone use, Cohn presents “Lisa,” who, on a trip to London, decided that her desperation to stay connected online left her unable to remember any details of her London experience. Only after curtailing her phone use did Lisa claim to able to participate in what she saw as the “normal” life superseded by her phone use (86-87).

Cohn notes Lisa’s “clear bifurcation” (87) between her digital life and her embodied one. Recalling the trip, Lisa does not mention any use of her phone to take pictures to help her recall events. Cohn suggests that a cellphone might also have allowed a student like Lisa to share pictures with friends in an embodied social setting (87).

“Jack,” author of another “distraction” narrative, also laments the power of the phone to interfere with what he casts as “normal” life (87). Thinking he would use the phone for schoolwork, he claims that he soon found himself playing games and listening to music. Jack ultimately settles into a more nuanced view in which his inability to stay away from the phone “sham[es]” him (88) but also in which he tacitly acknowledges the usefulness of the phone for maintaining connections (89). Cohn posits that Jack is “nostalg[ic]” for a life without the rhetorical complexities imposed by digital communication; Jack insists on the importance of maintaining a sense of an embodied self not entangled with his online persona (89).

Cohn emphasizes the degree to which these two students saw themselves as completely passive before the power of their phones to distract them (88). Authors of the second kind of addiction narrative Cohn analyses, the “loner” narrative, also tend to see themselves as controlled by the technology and “pathologiz[e]” cellphone use (90) as a deviation from what they see as the normalcy of embodied life (89-90). In this kind of narrative, virtual interaction actually threatens normal existence (89). “Loner” narratives present the availability of cellphones as a temptation to “avoid face-to-face interactions” (89) and to “compensate” for “shy behavior” that is seen as “a source of shame” (90).

“Carly” sees herself as addicted to texting because she finds it emotionally easier than face-to-face interaction, while “Albert” describes himself as unable to articulate verbally in a classroom, isolating himself instead in a darkened room where he addictively communicates with strangers online (89-90). Both of these students arrive at a conclusion that virtual devices have benefits but that fellow students should seek “balance” (89). According to Cohn, they continue to endorse the view that “fluency in face-to-face interactions is more normative than fluency in online interactions” (90).

Cohn argues that writing teachers should teach critical literacy before assigning literacy narratives so that students can be more aware of how popular tropes can influence their conclusions about their literacy experiences (91). She notes that teachers should be alert to the ongoing rhetorical framing of literacy practices so that prompts can elicit more nuanced observations and attention to how different communication modes can accord with the exigencies of differing contexts (92). The article provides specific suggestions for classroom activities that can help students see both the distinctions and overlap among the different communicative practices they employ and can encourage them to value a wide range of skills (92).