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

Chapter 8 | Conclusions and Implications

Conclusions: Representing the Semiotic Richness of Literate Lives

Representations are always partial. They always involve some sort of reduction and simplification of the phenomenon being represented. The same is true of the documented narratives we have offered here. As much as we have tried to offer viewers a sense of the richness, variety, and complexity of these co-researchers’ literate lives, we realize that the narratives we’ve assembled only provide a glimpse of their fuller literate lifeworlds and the semiotic resources they act with. Clearly, representing literate lives in ways that do justice to their richness and variety is no easy task.

The semiotic richness of these co-researchers' literate lives invites careful thinking regarding the consequences of a priori decisions to focus narrowly on people's actings with any single form of representational media. Scollon (2008) writes that configurations of “[t]ime and space have important consequences for practice and so the characterization of an action within a specific timescale entails much in the way of other practices and actions which are tied into the action to which we are directing our attention” (p. 236). The same can be said of characterizing action with respect to particular configurations of representational media, which has important implications for generating accounts of disciplinary writing and mapping developmental histories of identities and practices.

Consider, for example, how attending to a single type of representational media can occlude people's engagement with other types. The narrative of Charles offered in Chapter 3 focuses heavily on the series of prose texts associated with his multiple engagements with journalism, including news stories he read and wrote and surveys he compiled and distributed. And yet, Charles’s experiences with those texts also extended into a wealth of other representational media he acted with. His interactions with his great-aunt and -uncle, with the editors at New Expression and the Daily Illini, and with the people he interviewed for his stories involved a great deal of talk. The essay of Charles’s published in the Chicago Weekend Defender and many of his published stories incorporated visual images, and Charles indicated that he often played an active role in selecting those images and incorporating them into his stories. In addition, Charles’s engagement with the news and sports journalism involved watching television programs and accessing online news content, not to mention his daily lived experiences as a person in the world. Clearly, Charles’s literate life involves acting with a wide range of representational media both simultaneously in situated sites of engagement and across multiple chains of activity in ways that we have only begun to represent here.

Even with explicit attention to a broad range of representational forms, some types can be relegated to the periphery. The narrative of Alexandra’s acting with tables offered in Chapter 7 addresses a wealth of semiotic forms, including prose texts, digital images, and the lived embodied experiences of using tables, including the simultaneous use of multiple representational media. And yet, even as it addresses a wide variety of representational media, this account really only begins to capture the richness of the semiotic resources at play in Alexandra’s acting with tables. The interactions with her family involved a great deal of talk around the tables being used as well as inscriptional gestures, perhaps ones linked to the ones we glimpse in that chapter's video clips. The same is true of the interactions with her professor and teaching assistants and the group of peers she worked with for her projects in the engineering course. Alexandra’s comment about listening to her playlist as she worked on her fan novels points to the strong role that music played in inventing and producing those texts and possibly as she designed some of the artwork for those novels.

Beyond occluding the rich variety of representational forms that animate situated sites of engagement, focusing on people's use of any single form can also sever the historical trajectories that people-acting-with-practices trace through the world. Consider, for example, how characterizing Lindsey's physical manipulation in terms of acting with graphic representations would configure the history mapped in Chapter 5. As a result, we would likely miss the connection between Lindsey's graphic design and her study of literature, a vital link in the developmental history of that practice.

Consider as well how characterizing Kate's fan engagements solely as digital activities would configure the history we traced on Chapter 4. Such a move would focus attention on the more visibly computer-mediated aspects of that work, especially her writing and the digital images she created. But, it would likely overlook the linkages she forged with her activity for English Studies, which tended to revolve around her blending of hand-illustrated representations of fan content (e.g., the drawing of her favorite characters used in her version of Everyman, the watercolor of the Amazon Quartet depicted in her "Juno" poem, and the quick sketches of Beowulf and Unferth and figures from Spy vs. Spy that animated her graduate coursework and exam preparation) with the written work for her courses. In focusing so intently on the digital, we would likely never realize the ways Kate's fan art contributed to her reading and analyses of canonical disciplinary texts.

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