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

Introduction to the Co-Authors

Here, we introduce ourselves through brief videos and individual reflections on experiences that provided some key insights about writing that would eventually lead each of us to consider how much of the richness of literate life has largely been written out of traditional accounts of disciplinary writing, learning, and enculturation. Following a brief video introduction, Kevin narrates how an encounter with a passage in Prior's (1998) Writing/Disciplinarity opened his eyes to how profoundly people's lives are animated by texts of all kinds. After his brief introductory video, Joe describes how designing graphics with new media illuminated the laminated nature of literate activity across disciplines and representational forms.

These experiences, and the insights we took from them, would set us both on converging pathways toward exploring the pressing questions that are at the heart of Expanding Literate Landscapes: How best might we represent the richness and variety of textual lives without flattening them out or setting them aside? How might we keep that richness and variety alive in our understanding and representations of disciplinary development?

What we have learned from working collaboratively through all the possible responses to those questions, and through the process of enacting the responses we ultimately settled upon, will stay with us for quite some time. We're certain that the insights we’ve gained will continually help us to see disciplinary literacies and learning anew by challenging our perspectives of what writing is and how it works in the world, and of how it develops and how that development might best be supported.

Kevin Roozen, Ph.D.
Associate Professor and Director of Composition
Department of Writing and Rhetoric
University of Central Florida

Video Transcript

One of the most generative insights about writing I encountered early in my graduate work was Paul Prior’s (1998) comment in Writing/Disciplinarity urging us to understand literate activity as “cultural forms of life saturated with textuality,” as life “strongly motivated and mediated by texts” (p. 138). This brief but telling phrase really pushed me to consider, and to take seriously, all of the many ways our lives come to be shaped by genres of all kinds and in a variety of guises: The lists I jot on the small notebook I carry in my wallet as I plan my day or prepare for a visit to the hardware store; the maps, in hard copy, digitized on my GPS, and represented in my memory that I interact with as I hike in the national forest or drive to an unfamiliar part of town; the quote from the Tao Te Ching pinned to my office wall that I look at from time to time; the pages of sheet music my daughter and son act with and gesture around as they sit for their music lessons and practice their instruments at home; the drafts of chapter and article manuscripts I carry in my book bag and revise at the kitchen table; the emails I read and compose to communicate with family and friends and for my teaching and administrative work; the diagrams and instructions I used to assemble my children’s trampoline and basketball goal; the websites that my family browses to find out which medicine our cat needs; the paperwork my wife and I navigate to register and insure our cars; the comments and images my wife posts on Facebook. And all of this is but a tiny slice of the textualities that compose my literate life.

Prior’s phrase also pushed me to recognize the elegant complexity and resourcefulness animating even the most seemingly mundane of those textualities. Acting with texts, no matter how simple, involves employing multiple practices and multiple people, interacting with and across multiple texts and semiotic modes, and extending intertextual and interdiscursive pathways. All of this is typically quite fluid and accomplished with a tacit awareness, but it is nonetheless very complicated work. The practice of jotting notes on the small pad in my wallet, for example, started for me with a job I held in my early twenties at an outdoor power equipment store. Much of that work involved taking in equipment to be repaired and ordering the necessary parts, and I needed a place to write down part numbers and model and serial numbers and make quick notes to myself. The notes I made were traces of a whole host of activities initiated by talking with customers, often in multiple languages and accompanied by a great deal of looking and pointing at the piece of equipment as we tried to determine what was broken or missing. Those interactions were typically followed by a lot of staring at schematics, either on microfiche or on the dusty pages of a parts manual, to identify the specific part or parts needed for the repair, and creating a request for the part and a work order to have it installed. In a sense, making those quick notes on the pad in my wallet was at the center of a great deal of textual work, as tacit as it was at the time.

Throughout my doctoral studies, the notion of life saturated with texts lead to a kind of dawning awareness of how much of the variety and richness of the literate landscape was missing from our accounts of writing and learning, of how even the most lengthy and detailed accounts of writing and learning tended to focus very tightly on some facet of people’s lives, typically writing for a particular disciplinary domain, for school itself, or perhaps for work, and yet in doing so tended to leave fuzzy the rest of their richly textual lifeworlds. One of my first attempts to communicate this awareness using the full range of semiotic resources animating the textualities of literate life came in the form of a sixty-second video project I was invited to produce at the 2011 Digital Media and Composition (DMAC) Institute. Borrowing a passage from Linda Brodkey (1987) and a few of the sample texts collected from the case studies I had been following, some of the same texts you’ll encounter in the chapters of this book, and using some of the techniques introduced during the first few DMAC sessions, I attempted to marshal an argument for a broader vision of the textualities saturating our literate lives. You can view the video I created below.

Video Transcript

The video is not nearly as smoothly produced as I wanted it to be, but as an initial attempt I think it started to capture my growing sense of the need to pay close attention to the wide range of textual activities that permeate people's lives, to how the terms we use to describe those textualities can often limit that vision, and to the possibilities for representing the richness of those textual forms of life.

Joe Erickson, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Department of English
Anoka-Ramsey Community College

Video Transcript

One of the most generative insights I've had about writing occurred during the first class I took toward my undergraduate information design minor in what was then called the department of composition (now, the department of Writing Studies) at the University of Minnesota Duluth. I had truly enjoyed the literature classes I had taken for my major in English, but I also found myself craving something more hands on, or—dare I say it—practical, which prompted me to pursue the department's newly-formed minor in information design.

That first course, Practical Graphics, was taught by Craig Stroupe, a professor whose teaching and scholarship caught my attention as an undergraduate. Stroup’s class drew upon several disciplines including technical writing, graphic design, literature, and cultural studies to help students analyze, design, develop, and write about visual texts. We learned how to use software to create and manipulate digital graphics, and we studied professionally created graphics to help us see how visual information can tell stories, impact decisions, and represent complex moments in history.

While struggling to learn how to use digital tools like Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, and Microsoft Excel to create graphics, I began to realize that the process of generating a meaningful graphic text was similar to the process of writing a carefully planned literary analysis essay or an argumentative research essay, tasks that I had performed countless times before in other classes. Composing with something other than Microsoft Word (a writing tool so common to my writing process that its impact on that process went essentially unnoticed) revealed to my conscious thinking what was previously only a tacit understanding: composing really is a process, and the tools we use are part of that process. This realization allowed me to draw upon skills I had long practiced in other classes to help me perform my work in Stroupe's class.

One of Stroupe’s first assignments for the course really awakened me to the lamination of seemingly disparate activities. The task asked us to choose an existing narrative story and then retell it using geometric shapes and colors as our primary expressive modes—sort of like a children’s picture book—on a series of digital slides assembled into a brief slideshow. Drawing upon my previous literature coursework, I chose to retell Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “The Raven.” The short video below presents the result of my efforts:

It was while working on this task that I initially began to realize how seemingly different literate activities came to be entangled with one another. As I read and reread the poem and worked to translate its meaning in a visual medium, it dawned on me that I was working within one sphere of understanding (literature) while looking outward to a new sphere of understanding (new media). My ability to perform well on this new literate activity was dependent upon my ability to effectively analyze the poem. As such, the literacies I had attained in my literature classes served as a kind of scaffolding that supported my literate development in this new world. It’s also important to note here, too, that the work of carefully analyzing Poe's "The Raven" in order to translate it to a visual medium enriched my reading of the poem. The analytical demands of translating the poem from a verbal medium to a graphic medium forced me to scrutinize the poem at a level that I had never reached before, and it forced me to look at the poem from a visual perspective, which is something I had definitely never done before. Experiencing Poe's poem from this new perspective with such intense effort deepened my thinking about it. As such, the process of bringing these two literate activities together not only helped me develop literacies in a new domain, it served to enrich my existing literacies as well.

It also struck me that the literacies I was developing as a literature student had relevance outside of studying literature, and that was absolutely thrilling to me. The excitement that this realization ignited in me, not to mention the newfound confidence it inspired, served to focus my attention on the intersections of literacies—those moments when people find themselves drawing upon what they know to come to terms with what they don’t quite understand. My fascination with the various literacies people bring to bear on their literate engagements has served me well as a teacher helping new students learn academic writing in first-year composition or helping advanced students learn HTML in upper-division new media writing classes. In addition to fueling my enthusiasm for studying literacy in all of its entangled manifestations in our increasingly media-saturated world, it also serves as a continual reminder to acknowledge and value the literacies my students bring to class, to consider how they might be redeploying more familiar literacies to develop new ones, and to think hard about how I can help foster those kinds of redeployments.

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