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

Chapter 8 | Conclusions and Implications

Implications for Conceptualizing and Mapping Disciplinary Development

This study contributes to mapping some theoretical ground toward a more fully dialogic perspective of disciplinary writing, learning, and socialization. Dominant conceptions of disciplinary writing expertise emphasize the vertical dimension of development, both in terms of the kinds of knowledge that writers need to acquire and how writers arrive at that knowledge. From the dominant perspective, disciplinary writing expertise is understood as consisting of knowing the discourse community, the subject matter, the genres, the rhetorical strategies, and the writing practices and processes of a particular disciplinary domain. Disciplinary writers are understood as acquiring those types of knowledge through increasingly deeper, fuller, richer participation within that disciplinary world.

But, as the narratives of Charles, Kate, Lindsey, Terri, and Alexandra suggest, in focusing so intently on the vertical dimension, conceptions of disciplinary development have tended to overlook the horizontal dimension, the array of other, often seemingly separate literate activities writers are involved in, and how participation in those engagements shapes their disciplinary writing, learning, and socialization and vice versa. Dominant conceptions of development overlook, in other worlds, the interplay of both dimensions, how writers draw knowledge and abilities from the horizontal dimension into the vertical (from other literate engagements into disciplinary ones) and pull knowledge and abilities from the vertical dimension into the horizontal (from disciplinary engagements into others).

From this perspective, disciplinary development is not driven solely by knowledge of a focal disciplinary world, but by knowledge of subject matters, genres, rhetorical moves, and writing practices and processes from a heterogeneous array of literate engagements. Or, to say this in a different way, disciplinary writing expertise is not just a product of people’s history with the subject matter, genres, rhetorical moves, and writing practices and processes readily associated with a focal disciplinary world, but also simultaneously their histories with those aspects of their other textual engagements as well. Viewed in this manner, writers are understood as accumulating such knowledge not solely from a vertical progression from the periphery of a particular disciplinary territory toward some more central position, but along historical trajectories that traverse an entire expansive literate landscape, that continually circulate through the vertical to the horizontal and back to the vertical and then back again to the horizontal, and on and on.

Based on our analyses of the writing and learning of Charles, Kate, Lindsey, Terri, and Alexandra, we argue for a conception of development that treats disciplinary persons, practices, and social worlds as profoundly heterogeneous, that sees disciplinary writing, learning, and socialization as emerging from the dynamic, ongoing inter-animation of the vertical and the horizontal and the laminated heterogeneities such interplay occasions. Rather than positing disciplinary practices, identities, and worlds as homogeneous and unified, we argue for a view of disciplinary development that emphasizes heterogeneous practices and identities in heterogeneous spaces, and thus that attends to the multiplicity, the lamination, inherent in all disciplinary interaction.

Attending to the laminated heterogeneity of persons, practices, and social worlds is crucial for generating richer, fuller accounts of disciplinary writing, learning, and enculturation. Had we not recognized and examined Charles's experiences with vernacular journalism as we explored his school-based writing, we would have been tempted to conclude that his writing and learning in First Year Rhetoric, Kinesiology, and Introduction to Journalism was shaped entirely by the instruction he encountered in those classes. Had we dismissed Kate’s fan activities, we would have been tempted to view her engagement with English Studies as being driven solely by what she learned from her disciplinary coursework from high school through her MA program and beyond.

Because the heterogeneity of disciplinary action results from the situated weaving, unweaving, and reweaving together of histories of persons, practices, and spaces into functional systems, how such histories are configured and studied is a crucial issue for understanding disciplinary development. Rather than figuring historical trajectories in terms of a vertical progression from the periphery toward a more central location within a unified, bounded disciplinary space, we argue for a perspective that conceptualizes the histories of persons and practices as traversals across multiple timescales and multiple nexus of practice, and thus as pathways that flow into and emanate from people's disciplinary engagements. From this perspective, the histories of disciplinary persons and practices are understood as extending far beyond the assumed borders of a particular disciplinary world and into the expansive and ever-expanding lifeworlds people navigate. Along such histories, persons and practices circulate continually from people's expansive literate lifeworlds into their disciplinary activities, and then back again into their lifeworlds and then again into their disciplinary activities, being repurposed and semiotically remediated as they go.

It is important to emphasize that from a sociohistoric perspective, these historical trajectories do not merely follow the movement of persons and practices across seemingly unrelated activities, but trace the development of persons acting with practices as they are transformed and remediated semiotically across sites of engagement. In other words, rather than just making visible the flow of persons and practices across space, time, and representational media, sociohistoric perspectives invite us to understand those trajectories as pathways of development, as histories of ontogenesis. In this sense, reworkings across engagements do not just serve to transfer or transform identities and practices from some previous activity to meet some new demand in the present, but also prepare them for different, perhaps even more complex uses in the near or distant future.

From this perspective, disciplinary identities are not constructed solely through participation with a focal disciplinary world, but rather are continually produced along a history of participation that stretches across multiple engagements and thus are shaped by the synergies and tensions of multiple nexus. In other words, disciplinary identities develop by continually circulating through disciplinary spaces and people's other engagements, and being textured with their participation in the social worlds they have encountered. Had we neglected to trace Lindsey's history through her encounters with graphic design and literature, we would have been tempted to conclude that her sense of herself as a creative writer was forged solely in the instruction and interactions with texts and persons she encountered in the graduate creative writing course. Had we not mapped Terri's histories of participation with the wealth of literate activities that texture her lifeworld, we would have concluded that her identity as a nurse was simply the product of her nursing classes and her long employment as a health care professional.

From this perspective, the practices that animate disciplinary engagements are not taken up through people's engagement with a focal discipline, but rather are continuously acquired along lengthy historical trajectories of use stretching across multiple timescales and activities. In other words, practices develop by continually circulating through disciplinary worlds and people's other textual engagements, all the while being shaped and reshaped by the multiple uses to which they have been put. Had we not traced Alexandra's engagements with tables for her video gaming, scheduling, creating fan novels, and solving logic puzzles, we would have been tempted to conclude that her ability to act with tables in ways valued by engineers was solely the product of what she encountered in her engineering course and the associated lab.

Ultimately, the analyses of these five co-researchers argue for a perspective that locates disciplinary development in relation to, rather than in isolation from, people's expansive and ever-expanding textual landscapes. Adopting such a view pushes us beyond merely acknowledging that people participate in a wealth of literate activities toward the fuller realization that those activities are intimately implicated in their disciplinary writing, learning, and socialization, and likewise that their histories of disciplinary participation animate their broader literate lifeworlds. In resisting the tendency to view writing and learning according to the view offered up by a focal disciplinary territory, such a perspective makes visible the richness and variety of people's textual landscapes and the complex work they do in composing their literate lives.

8.02.06 « PREVIOUS | NEXT » 8.04