transnational literate lives in digital times: chapter 3.1

cultural designs for writing digitally: from Urbana, Illinois, and afar
Gail E. Hawisher, Cynthia L. Selfe, Patrick W. Berry, Maria Lovett, Shafinaz Ahmed, Sophie Dewayani, and Yu-Kyung Kang

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Coauthors Sophie, Yu-Kyung, and Shafinaz. Click on image for an introduction from Gail <transcript>.

Introduction to Chapter 3

“The global turn necessitates new collaborations and frameworks, broader notions of composing practices, critical literacies that are linked to global citizenship, a reexamination of existing protocols and divisions, and the formation of new critical frameworks in the light of a changing world.” —Wendy Hesford, 2006, p. 796

In the 2010 “Globalization, Guanxi, and Agency: Designing and Redesigning the Literacies of Cyberspace,” Hawisher and Selfe discuss how the two chapter coauthors—Lu Lui, of the People’s Republic of China, and Yi-Huey, of Taiwan—deploy digital literacies and their knowledge of English as they live out their daily lives in a variety of technological and cultural settings. In the years in which we’ve worked with Lu and Yi-Huey, we’ve watched as they've very effectively designed and redesigned their literate practices to meet the changing challenges of the “information age” (Castells, 1996), sometimes relying on guanxi—“social relationships or social connections” (Yang, 1989, p. 35)—and sometimes relying on their own resourcefulness and cultural understandings as they build literate networks across the globe. Obviously, these women are not alone in crafting global networks. Nor are they alone in bringing together digital literary practices shaped not only by themselves, but by the global contexts they inhabit.

In this chapter, we turn to three graduate students with transnational connections—Shafinaz Ahmed from Bangladesh, Sophie Dewayani from Indonesia, and Yu Kyung (Yuki) Kang from Korea—and learn about their literate lives, within and outside of school, as they make their way across academic and cultural landscapes. As in the previous chapters, we focus too on developing a research methodology that uses digital tools for collecting and presenting our research on literate practices. Throughout the chapter, we pay special attention to this emerging methodology that encourages participants to use video cameras or other digital tools to record interpretations of their writing processes. In other words, as we tried to show in the last chapter, we are interested as researchers in our own use of digital media for collecting interviews and presenting the research itself—but beyond this, we are also committed to putting digital tools in the hands of participants and coauthors for their own research on literate activity. We extend here our use of digital tools by incorporating video cameras into our pedagogical approaches. Through our asking these graduate students to take up video cameras for use in Gail Hawisher’s graduate seminar to capture their own writing processes over the course of a semester, they produced literacy narratives that tended to reveal aspects of their cultural grounding that we had not detected in the narratives of the earlier Literate Lives (2004). As part of the graduate students’ final project, each coauthor shared a camera with another classmate while also learning the ins and outs of editing with iMovie, and the students included the videos they crafted in their digital portfolios for the class.

In addition, in this chapter, we look at issues of design as they connect with notions of identity when focused on “literate activity,” which, in the words of Paul Prior (1998), is "not located in acts of reading and writing, but as cultural forms of life saturated with textuality" (p. 138). As Prior goes on to state, “Given this perspective, it becomes particularly important to examine the concrete nature of cultural spheres of literate activity (p.138).” In collaboration with the research participants, this approach has been our goal as well.

The framework we’re attempting to construct also relies on Gunther Kress’s (2000) concept of design in the sense that “Design sets aside past agendas, and treats them and their products as resources in setting an agenda of future aims, and of assembling means and resources for implementing that” (pp. 160-161). This focus on the future associated with the concept of design is central to the thinking of Kress and his New London Group colleagues. As they remind us, we negotiate our ways of being in the world by looking not to the past, with its emphasis on critique, but rather to a future in which people demonstrate a dynamic sense of agency and view themselves and their environment as interactive and connected (Cope and Kalantzis, 2000; Cooper, 2011). As Bill Cope and Mary Kalantzis (2000) state, we use “…design in the sense of an active, willed, human process in which we make and remake the conditions of our existence, that is, what ‘designers’ do. Design, therefore, refers both to structure and to agency” (p. 203) and takes center stage in 21st-century literate lives and identities across the globe.

Additionally, Bruno Latour’s notion of “assemblies of things” and “attachment to things” applies here to identity formation. As he notes, “when we are focused on things, we are actually focused on ourselves” (Prieto and Youn, 2004), and according to Latour, things lead us—or, more precisely, the attachment of things leads us—to draw connections to other people, places, and attachments that may not automatically be evident in the things themselves but rather are evident in the “different ways of gathering things together" (Prieto and Youn, 2004). Throughout the writing process videos presented here, participants collect and feature objects that connect with their literate activities in both the old and the new places in which they dwell and write. (See also Bertram C. Bruce, 2008 and Bruno Latour, 2005.) We begin, then, by discussing efforts to incorporate multimodal composing into teaching and research in hopefully significant ways. Then, with coauthors Shafinaz Ahmed, Sophie Dewayani, and Yu-Kyung Kang, we point to how digital media can offer new images of the dispersed, networked character of writing and learning. We explore how video, sound, and still and moving images might inform our understanding of literate activity when these tools are put in the hands of writers themselves. Overall, we argue for the use of video and other digital media as tools for reflection, research, and representation of literate activity in this early part of the 21st century.

Hawisher's 2006 graduate seminar

Getting ready for the official photo:
students in Hawisher's 2006 graduate seminar

Let’s now turn briefly to teaching and the authors’ attempts to fold the use of video and multimodal composing into an introductory graduate writing studies seminar. The thinking that informs this pedagogical move is the increasing realization that writing (alphabetic literacy) often represents only a portion of the meaning writers might want to convey; that literate practices need to embrace a full range of modes and media (alphabetic, photographic, videographic, sonic); and that video, and multimodal composing more generally, can encourage students to write, learn, and reflect while becoming video authors and designers. Usually, the introductory graduate class in writing studies begins with drawing—quite literally—a representation of each of our writing processes on overhead transparencies. The goal has been for graduate students and faculty members to become more aware of the fact that writing doesn’t consist only of the physical and cognitive acts of writing but is, in fact, woven into a complex set of everyday activities.

Drawings of writing processes

The overheads customarily demonstrate, as they do here, the many activities in which writers often engage: the extensive reading many do, the anxiety and angst they feel, the resources they gather, the pressure of time and deadlines, the sleeping in which they often indulge, the behaviors that sustain their efforts (e.g., drinking coffee, washing dishes, vacuuming floors, jogging and other exercise) alongside the decisions they make as their writing slowly emerges. With the emphasis on multimodal composing, the graduate students still drew their writing processes at the start of the semester but then, inspired from observing Maria Lovett’s Writing with Video course (Lovett and Squier, 2009) and her advocacy for video as a rhetorical narrative medium, we asked them to complete the following assignment: "You should attempt to capture a representation of your writing processes on camera. You do not have to video yourself, but you do need to try to represent some of the thinking and processes you experience as you approach and carry out a writing task." To a great extent, the graduate students have taken up this new multimodal challenge in ways that are, unsurprisingly, more complex than their initial overhead drawing, on which they worked for only a single class. Much of the elaboration of the overheads came through the class’s oral presentations of their writing processes, whereas with the digital approach all elaboration happened in the video itself. Nevertheless, in many respects, the videos seemed richer in the various and often complicated cultural practices they indexed as connected to their writing processes. As we viewed the videos, we came to believe increasingly that

“Digital video representation easily foregrounds what print seems to easily elide, that writing is embodied-activity-in-the-world, that it is consciousness in action, that it is saturated with affect and identity, that it is social as writers interact with others (people, sometimes animals, and even things).” (Hawisher, Prior, Berry, Buck, Gump, Holding, Lee, Olson, & Solberg, 2009, pp. 260-261)

But, at the same time, we hasten to add that video, like print, presents ethical challenges by privileging certain information over other material, and that we need to seek ways in which we might address these particular challenges.

In the videos that follow, you will see Shafinaz Ahmed’s, Sophie Dewayani’s, and Yu-Kyung Kang’s video representations of their ways of writing and being in the world. The first is Shafinaz Ahmed’s video, titled “Born in a Dish.” We should emphasize, too, that none of the women had ever made a video before and that all three, like other participants in the study, had promising but sometimes difficult experiences as they sought to develop transcultural academic and digital literacies that accommodated their graduate work.

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