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

Chapter Overviews

In the next chapter, titled Sociohistoric Theory and Methods, we describe the theoretical and methodological perspective that animates this book, a perspective that emphasizes the historical trajectories of practices and persons and the important role that those histories play in mediating literate action. Drawing on sociocultural theories of learning and socialization as the mediated production of both the person and society across heterogeneous times, places, and activities, we outline a theoretical lens that emphasizes how persons and practices come to be and act in the world. Methodologically, we present approaches to collecting and analyzing data in ways that account for the laminated natured of practice and identity, that trace the extensive historical pathways along which practices and identities are produced, and that keep alive the complexity of discursive action rather than reducing it according to the perspective offered up by any single disciplinary space.

The portraits of disciplinary writing, learning, and enculturation we offer in Chapters 3 through 7 vividly illuminate the dynamic interplay of multiple literacies that can inform disciplinary writing. These portraits offer analyses of disciplinary activity that begin with the mediated activity of persons in situated sites of engagement but also link this activity to broader histories of practice and identity that feed into and emanate from broader literate landscapes these learners inhabit. We offer these portraits in the form of documented narratives (Becker, 2000; Prior, 1998) that partially trace the sociohistoric and semiotic trajectories of discursive resources as they are repurposed and remediated across diverse multiple activities and representational media. In assembling and presenting our analyses in this narrative form, our goal is to offer a coherent account of disciplinary writing, learning, and enculturation without flattening out the richness, complexity, and dynamics of how literate actors and artifacts are continually taken up, transformed, recombined, and re-coordinated across space, time, and representational media.

We selected the documented narratives offered in Chapters 3 through 7 for a number of reasons. First, these histories flow into and emanate from different focal disciplines. Second, these histories run through very differently variegated literate landscapes, and in doing so allow us to highlight the richness and variety of people’s literate lifeworlds. Third, these histories involve a wide array of representational media, both in terms of multiple media and modes being deployed simultaneously in situated action and across chains of activity. Fourth, these histories address different periods of time in people’s lives; they unfold across very different timescales. Finally, these narratives illuminate the lengthy and complex histories of persons and practices that weave activities together.

Each successive trajectory we trace in Chapters 3 through 7 adds an additional layer of richness and complexity to a portrait of the densely literate landscapes people inhabit and that come to be entangled in their disciplinary writing and learning. Sequencing the trajectories of persons and practices in this order also allows us to represent our own developing understanding of mediated discourse theory through using it to guide data collection and analysis in one case study, then returning to the theory to write up results and later in preparation for another case study, and so on. This reflexive and reflective process allowed for an increasingly fuller and richer understanding of mediated discourse theory. In many ways, the increasingly sharper, finer focus on practice with each of the histories we present from Chapters 3 through 7 reflects our developing sense of Scollon’s (2001a, 2001b, 2005, 2008) theoretical approach to understanding and mapping social action.

Presenting the cases in this order also allows us to represent a developing understanding of the methodological approach to collecting and analyzing data suggested by mediated discourse theory. As with our understanding of the theoretical framing, our understanding of our methodological moves developed from collecting and analyzing data from the initial case, then understanding how those approaches shaped data collection in particular ways, then expanding and refining methods for later case studies, and so on. In many ways, the increasing attention to a wider variety of semiotic media and modes and to the increasing expansiveness of the histories we offer in Chapters 3 to 7 reflects our growing understanding of how methodological choices shape the conclusions researchers can draw from the data.

Chapter 3, Mapping Critical Connections: Exploring the Co-development of Vernacular Journalism and College Writing

Thumbnail image of CharlesChapter 3 examines the intertextual and interdiscursive chains linking one basic writer’s vernacular journalism into the writing for three different classes during his first two years of college. Assembled from images of sample school and non-school texts and video recordings of text-based interviews, the chapter charts the synergies and conflicts that arise from Charles’s interweaving of vernacular journalism and the literate activities of rhetoric, kinesiology, and introductory journalism, and argues that those interplays prominently shape his path toward a career as a journalist. The chapter also asserts that repurposing discourse from his vernacular journalism provides Charles with a means of creating, maintaining, and promoting the African American identity he claims for himself at a predominantly white university.

Chapter 4, A Lengthy Trajectory of Interplays: Interweaving English Studies and Fan Fiction

Thumbnail image of Kate's watercolorChapter 4 examines one graduate student’s history of weaving together her engagements with literary texts with her online fan fiction and fan art throughout high school, then an as undergraduate English major, then as a graduate student in an English studies program, and finally in her professional work teaching college composition. In addition to illuminating four interanimations of literary study and fan fiction as they are woven together, unwoven, and re-woven across a span of twelve years, the chapter also reveals the multi-mediated genres that texture these interweavings, including the meshing together of alphabetic text (in both print and digital form) with visual images (such as watercolors, like the one depicted here, and digital illustrations) and with other artifacts (such as dolls, jewelry, and costumes). Assembled from samples of Kate’s print and digital texts as well as images and artifacts from Kate’s fan activities, this chapter argues that Kate’s engagement with English studies is profoundly mediated by her engagement with fan fiction and vice versa.

Chapter 5, Doing 2-D Design, Arranging American Literature, Crafting Creative Writing: Resituating the Development of Discursive Practice

Thumbnail image of Lindsay's thought processChapter 5 maps the development of the invention and arrangement practice that a graduate student in education employs in the production of a creative multimedia text as this practice develops across her experiences as an undergraduate graphic design major creating visual images and later as a graduate English major analyzing literary texts. Woven from digital images of Lindsey’s multimedia, visual, and print texts and video and audio recordings of interviews, this chapter focuses tightly on the development of a particular discursive practice across seemingly disparate activities. Ultimately, the chapter argues that Lindsey’s ability to create successful texts for her graduate education class is profoundly enhanced by a textual practice she has repurposed and semiotically remediated from art and design and literature courses.

Chapter 6, Learning to See Patients: Resituating the Development of Professional Vision

Thumbnail image from Terri's multimodal videoChapter 6 explores the development of one professional nurse’s perception and understanding of patients in part through her extensive immersion in and engagement with texts and discursive practices associated with nursing but also through the written re-representations of patients that texture her poetry, science fiction novels, a religious devotional, and a multi-media video she created for the cancer survivors in her family. Working from sample texts from Terri’s experiences as a nurse and a nursing home administrator and her wealth of other writings and digital texts, the chapter argues that Terri’s “professional vision” (Goodwin, 1994) of patients emerges from the full ecology of inscriptions that inform her experiences with patients.

Chapter 7, Coming to Act with Tables: Tracing the Development of Inscriptional Practice

Thumbnail image from Alexandra's tablesChapter 7 situates the development of a civil engineering major’s emerging ability to act with the specialized tables, charts, and other inscriptions valued by engineers along a lengthy history that links together activities of solving logic puzzles, inventing and arranging fan novels, creating schedules, playing video games, and writing for an introductory engineering course. Coupling sample print and digital texts with video clips of Alexandra acting with inscriptions to accomplish these seemingly disparate literate activities, the chapter argues that Alexandra’s ability to act with tables in ways valued by engineers is enhanced by her encounters with such inscriptions in variety of representational media stretching back to her early childhood.

Chapter 8, Conclusion

The final chapter discusses the implications these portraits of disciplinary learning and writing at the confluence of multiple streams of literate activity have for writing instruction. The chapter outlines an approach to writing instruction that affords deeper, richer, fuller engagement with disciplinary texts and activities, and at the same time acknowledges the literacies learners bring to their disciplinary engagements and that they will need as citizens of the twenty-first century and as members of families and communities.

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