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

Challenging Dominant Perspectives of Disciplinary Development

Some situated studies of writing and learning that have attended closely to the concrete, lived experiences of persons and practices in the world have offered a number of challenges to dominant perspectives by making visible the pathways of writing and learning that extend beyond the assumed boundaries of disciplinary engagements (Casanave, 2002; Chiseri-Strater, 1991; Prior, 1998; Prior & Shipka, 2003; Spack, 1993). For example, Prior’s (1998) detailed examination of one graduate student’s writing for American Studies illuminated how extensively those pathways can reach into the lifeworld. He traced the intertextual and interdiscursive chains of discourse that linked the student’s writing for a seminar paper in American Studies not only to course texts and lectures and conversations with the professor, but also to work for other seminars (including one in another discipline, history) as well as to other activities in the student’s life, including dinner conversations with her husband and encounters at local community events she attended.

Based on this tracing, Prior (1998) argued that fuller accounts of disciplinary writing and learning need to involve “much more extensive historical tracing of artifacts and practices” that would reach “inexorably into full cultural-historical lifeworlds of people and their communities of practice” (p. 274).

Prior and Shipka’s (2003) analyses of interviews with 21 undergraduate and graduate students and professors make visible an even wider array of discourses, media, and people that get recruited into disciplinary activity. Based on their analyses of the pathways of textual invention and production linking academic work and domestic activities, they argued for closer attention to “the lamination of the writer’s literate activity, the dispersed and fluid chains of places, times, people, and artifacts that come to be tied together in trajectories of literate action, the ways multiple activity footings are simultaneously held and managed” (p. 181).

Taken together, the analyses by Prior (1998) and Prior and Shipka (2003) point to the situated and dispersed nature of disciplinary writing, learning, and socialization. Although disciplinarity is mediated by and attuned to the texts, practices, and identities of a particular disciplinary activity, these studies also make it clear that other times and places, individuals’ pasts and possible futures, are central to disciplinary work. Or, as Prior (1998) stated, they offer a perspective of “writing and disciplinarity not only as activity situated somewhere, but as activity linked … to networks of other times and places and, thus, laminated with multiple activity systems” (p. 272).

Whereas dominant maps locate developmental pathways comfortably within discrete, autonomous disciplinary territories, these studies point to histories that do not fit inside such borders, that extend into the richly textual lifeworlds persons inhabit and continually traverse. In short, to echo Korzybski’s (1994) observation that “the maps are not the actual territory" (p. 61), these studies suggest that the actual territories of disciplinarity and individual developmental traversals through those territories are much different than those depicted by the dominant maps offered by discourse community theory.

Ultimately, these analyses suggest that we can continue to generate increasingly fine-grained accounts of disciplinary writing, learning, and socialization within the assumed borders of disciplinary worlds, but without careful analytic attention to the material histories that persons and practices trace through the world and the heterogeneities those histories generate, our maps will remain not only incomplete, but confused. Without close attention to those histories and heterogeneities, we’ll fail to understand not only how people traverse the assumed boundaries of everyday, disciplinary, and professional engagements to continually make and re-make those worlds, but also how they weave those engagements together to compose a literate life.

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