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

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

Addressing Writers' Histories

The interplay among seemingly disparate literate activities has been theoretically questioned by a number of scholars (Dias, Freedman, Medway, & Pare, 1999; Freedman & Adam, 2000; Russell, 1995). In their comparative study of writing in university courses and matched workplace settings, for example, Dias et al. (1999) argued that textual artifacts and practices situate writers in such different cultural, social, and institutional contexts that undergraduates and workplace professionals essentially write in and for entirely different worlds. “We write where we are,” the authors claimed; “Location, it would appear, is (almost) everything” (Dias et al., 1999, p. 223).

However, scholarship addressing the sociohistorical dimensions of writers’ activities has acknowledged the importance of the linkages between writing for seemingly different contexts. Chin’s (1994) analysis of graduate students learning to write the news for a professional journalism program argued that writers’ personal and social histories prominently inform their representations of, and engagement with, the sociomaterial conditions of the present rhetorical situation. For the journalism students in Chin’s study, writing the news for their graduate coursework was prominently informed by their previous histories with writing the news for publication or media organizations, particularly in terms of their investment in writing news stories for their courses compared to writing stories that could result in publication. Based on her analysis, Chin (1994) argued that to situate literate activity solely within the immediate here and now environment of composing “may not capture the complex networks of trails, missteps, detours, backtracking, and sideways movements writers may actually make in composing any text” (p. 473).

We present here a documented narrative (Becker, 2000; Prior, 1998) that partially traces the intertextual and interdiscursive chains linking Charles’s vernacular journalism into the writing for three different classes during his first two years of college, including an introductory journalism course. We chart the synergies and conflicts that arise from Charles’s interweaving of vernacular journalism and the literate activities of rhetoric, kinesiology, and introductory journalism, and argue that those interplays prominently shaped his path toward a career as a journalist. The chapter also asserts that repurposing discourse from his vernacular journalism provided Charles with a means of creating, maintaining, and promoting the African American identity he claims for himself at a predominantly white university.

In the next section, we briefly outline Charles’s engagement with vernacular journalistic writing. We then elaborate on his efforts to link elements of that literate activity with the writing tasks he encountered in three of his undergraduate courses.

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