Trajectories of Persons and Practices: Sociohistoric Perspectives of Disciplinary Development. The Case Study of Charles Scott, Jr

Chapter 1 | Re-Mapping Disciplinary Writing, Learning, and Enculturation

Dominant Maps of Disciplinary Writing and Learning

Writing studies has long held an interest in how people learn the advanced literacy practices that they obtain in disciplinary settings, what Haas (1994) referred to as “the patterns of knowing about and behaving toward texts within a disciplinary field” (p. 358). Over the past three decades, situated studies of writing, learning, and enculturation throughout the college years and often beyond have examined the development of disciplinary practice and identity within the humanities (e.g., Beaufort, 2004, 2007; Berkenkotter, Huckin & Ackerman, 1988; Geisler, 1994; Herrington, 1998; Herrington & Curtis, 2000; Russell & Yanez, 2003), the social sciences and related professions (e.g., Casanave, 2002; Dias, Freedman, Medway, & Pare, 1999; Ivanic, 1998; Lillis, 2001; Prior, 1998), and the STEM disciplines (e.g., Beaufort, 2007; Blakeslee, 2001; Haas, 1994; Poe, Lerner, & Craig, 2010; Roth, 2003; Roth & Bowen, 1999; Tardy, 2009; Winsor, 1996).

This body of scholarship has outlined various kinds of knowledge that contribute to disciplinary writing expertise. Some of the earliest scholarship emphasized the writer’s knowledge of a discipline’s subject matter, discourse conventions, and scholarly conversations (e.g., Bazerman, 1981; Berkenkotter, Huckin, & Ackerman, 1988). Later studies emphasized the writer’s need to integrate the discipline’s declarative and procedural knowledge (e.g., Geisler, 1994; Walvoord & McCarthy, 1990). Additional studies highlighted the writer’s knowledge of a discipline’s discourse community (e.g., Bartholomae, 1985; Beaufort 1999), established genres (e.g., Berkenkotter, Huckin, & Ackerman, 1988; Artemeva, 2009), discourse conventions (e.g., Bazerman, 1981), rhetorical moves (e.g., Geisler, 1994; Haas, 1994), writing processes involved in accomplishing disciplinary tasks (e.g., Beaufort, 2004, 2007; Flower & Hayes, 1981; Perl, 1979; Sommers, 1980), and strategies for critical thinking (e.g., Beaufort, 2007). Scholarship focused on the STEM disciplines has emphasized the importance of developing fluency with creating, using, and transforming the wealth of inscriptions that animate the production of scientific knowledge (e.g., Goodwin, 1994; Haas & Witte, 2001; Latour, 1990, 1999; Latour & Woolgar, 1986; Medway, 1996, 2002; Roth, 2003; Roth & Bowen, 1999).

In addition to highlighting the types of knowledge that comprise disciplinary writing expertise, research has also outlined processes through which such knowledge develops. A number of studies have indicated that these types of disciplinary knowledge are acquired over a considerable period of time as people interact with members of that discipline while engaged in authentic practice (Roth, 2003; Roth & Bowen, 1999). Much of that interaction takes the form of instructional support aimed at scaffolding learners’ abilities to interpret and produce key disciplinary genres (Berkenkotter, Huckin, & Ackerman, 1988; Geisler, 1994; Haas, 1994). Over the course of the curriculum, instruction might focus initially on helping learners engage with introductory kinds of texts (i.e., introductory textbooks), but will gradually emphasize helping students act with more complex texts (i.e., research reports and published articles). Other forms of interaction include mentoring in sociocultural settings related to the discipline, such as internship experiences (Artemeva, 2009; Brent, 2012; Freedman, Adam, & Smart, 1994; Haas, 1994). It is through regular participation in these kinds of interactions over an extended period of time that people gradually acquire the knowledge and authority associated with mature practitioners who have full membership in the discipline.

In keeping with what Beaufort (2007) described as writing studies’ dominant metaphor of writing development, “one of writers moving from outsider to insider status in particular discourse communities or activity systems” (p. 24), the dominant stories about disciplinary development that have emerged from this body of scholarship locate writers and writing tightly within a particular disciplinary world. They depict newcomers entering an unfamiliar disciplinary territory and moving from the periphery toward some more central location. At the center are the core discourse, practices, knowledge, and values shared by all full members of the community. The description Winsor (1996) offered in her book Writing Like an Engineer: A Rhetorical Education provides one example of this perspective. Based on her study, she wrote that the four engineers-in-becoming she studied over six years,

learned to write like engineers by trying to function within the engineering community. As they operated within this community’s boundaries, they were gradually socialized into producing text that was acceptable to its members and thus gradually became members themselves. This socialization was accomplished primarily through interaction with experienced engineers and exposure to the texts those experienced engineers commonly produced. (p. 19)

Framed in the dominant metaphor, Winsor described newcomers acquiring the knowledge needed to act with texts in ways accepted by established members, and thus developing identities as established members themselves, through gradually fuller engagement within the boundaries of the community of engineers. From this perspective, disciplinary development is a fairly straightforward process of taking up the already-established genres and identities available within the well-policed borders of the discipline.

As existing studies of disciplinary enculturation attest, focusing so intently within the borders of a particular disciplinary world can certainly illuminate much of what is involved with disciplinary writing and learning. And yet, as Burke (1984) reminded us, “a way of seeing is also a way of not seeing” (p. 49).

While the dominant metaphor certainly foregrounds features of development that are salient from the perspective of a discipline, at the same time it also obscures the histories of persons and practices that lie beyond those assumed borders. We argue that those histories outside the supposed borders, the paths  people trace across lifeworlds, and that flow into and emanate from disciplinary sites, are vitally important.

Those histories, we insist, are the pathways along which persons come to be in the world. As Lemke (2005) wrote, “We make meaning along our lives’ traversals: across real and virtual spaces, across multiple institutions, genres, media, and semiotic systems. We do so in real time, across multiple timescales of action and activity, from the blink of an eye to the work of a lifetime” (p. 110). Those histories also form the very fabric of the social world itself. Highlighting the weaving together of trajectories, Latour (2005) noted that “any given interaction seems to overflow with elements which are already in the situation” but which come “from some other time, some other place, and [are] generated by some other agency” (p. 166).

To write the histories of persons and practices tightly within the assumed borders of a single disciplinary world offers a narrow conceptualization of writing, learning, and socialization and severs all the other histories of the person and their lifeworlds.

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