Trajectories of Persons and Practices: Sociohistoric Perspectives of Disciplinary Development.

Chapter 8 | Conclusions and Implications

Conclusions: Navigating Tensions

Although the partial trajectories we have traced tend to foreground the synergies among heterogeneous practices, those interactions were also textured with tensions. That tendency to introduce both affordances and constraints to action is foregrounded in Scollon’s (2001a) analysis of the “partial” nature of practices, that they do not fit the action exactly, and thus they are always “doing and saying more and less than is intended by the users” (p. 121). In describing nexus of practice as “a complex network of both commensurable and incommensurable practices which produce fissures of contradictions for every person” (p. 80), Scollon made it clear that the notion of a nexus refers not just to the points of connection among elements, but to the overall pattern of linkages and incommensurabilities, to the affordances as well as the constraints that animate the network. Attending to the tensions as well as the synergies that texture nexus of practice is important because both figure prominently in shaping people’s disciplinary engagement and development. It is these patterns of tension and synergy that continually drive development and thus make pathways of disciplinary writing, learning, and socialization unique for each person.

The documented narratives we present here indicate that the interplay of heterogeneous practices often generated very visible tensions. In Charles’s case, what might appear to be nearly identical journalistic practices turned out to differ in fundamental ways, creating significant tensions between writing the news for his journalism course in college and his experiences with vernacular journalism. For Kate, the weaving of fan fiction into her graduate creative writing class, something she had done and indeed been invited to do in her undergraduate courses, ran contrary to her professor’s sense of the generic boundaries of creative writing. In Terri’s case, generating representations of “whole patients” created considerable tensions for her as a professional caregiver. But, for her, navigating that tension between different representations of patients, no matter how difficult that was, was better than the alternative of ignoring patients’ humanity altogether.

The documented narratives we present here also indicate that the interplay of heterogeneous practices often generated more subtle, but nonetheless powerful tensions. Charles’s drawing upon his use of statistics to invent and develop news stories for New Expression enhanced the analytic arguments he crafted for First Year Rhetoric in a number of ways. But, in orienting him toward statistics to support his arguments, it also perhaps kept him from exploring other means of developing and supporting his arguments, a key focus of the course. Drawing upon discourse from his sports journalism stories enhanced his writing for kinesiology in key ways. But, in attuning him toward topics related to baseball, doing so also directed his attention away from other topics.

Consider the impact that Kate’s participation with fan activities had on her engagement with English studies. Kate’s drawing upon her participation with fan activities certainly deepened and enriched her engagement with English studies in a number of key ways. But, there are also a number of subtle ways that it limited her participation as well. The three composition studies classes Kate took while in the graduate program, for example, were designed to help MA students develop a breadth of knowledge about the field. Kate’s seminar projects in two of those courses focused tightly on fan fiction. Although it does complement multiple facets of composition studies, the emphasis on fan fiction may have narrowed her attention to those areas obviously and overtly related to fan fiction, and thus kept her from traversing the disciplinary terrain from other angles.

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