Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Reading :: Traditions of Writing Research

Traditions of Writing Research
Edited by Charles Bazerman, Robert Krut, Karen Lunsford, Susan McLeod, Suzie Null, Paul Rogers, and Amanda Stansell

In 2008, I attended the Writing Research Across Borders conference in Santa Barbara. It's an international conference, and I was very happy to make it and to see presentations from colleagues across the world. (I'll be going to WRAB 2011 in February.) The research was of high quality, the perspectives were many, and I gained insights into writing research in many different milieux.

This book features some of the best papers of that conference. Mine isn't in it - I presented on themes from my second book, which was in press, so I didn't submit the paper - but the book is full of short but solid pieces. It reminds me of some of the best conference proceedings I've seen in other fields (and made me wish that we had more conferences with proceedings in our own field). Like good conference proceedings, this book's short chapters hold well-developed and methodologically sound cases. Like good scholarly collections, the book relates these chapters well in thematic sections. It's like a scholarly tapas bar.

In this collection, you'll find studies on writing from China, France, Norway, Brazil, Portugal, Spain, Poland, Armenia, Colombia, Argentina, Spain, Australia, Canada, and the US. One chapter even examines how Chinese and Moroccan immigrants learn a Romance language in Catalan. US contributions are a large minority, but still a minority here. Studies ranged in methodology from ethnography to case study to discourse and text analysis to surveys, and involved both qualitative and quantitative analysis.

With a range that large, it's hard to pick out some standouts, but I'll try.

I really enjoyed the first chapter, Huijun's "Modern 'Writingology' in China," which chronicles how the Chinese approach to writing developed from the vernacular movement in the 1910s, through the Revolution and its Soviet-influenced approaches, to the more recent approaches influenced by the emerging market economy.

Speaking of the Soviets, I was touched by Cezar Ornatowski's "Writing, From Stalinism to Democracy: Literacy Education and Politics in Poland, 1945-1999." Ornatowski notes how ideologically centralized writing instruction was, including how it taught the genre of the "life story" as an ideological confession that students repeatedly had to write. Ornatowski takes us through the later transitions, showing how political changes were reflected in changes in writing instruction.

Maria Silvia Cintra's "The continuum illiterate-literate and the contrast between different ethnicities" describes a Brazilian ethnography about literacy. In the course of the ethnography, she examines the relationship between Bakhtin's discourse genres and Voloshinov's social psychology and ideology - two constructs that, she says, must be considered together (p.114).

Doreen Starke-Meyerring also takes up the topic of genres in "Between Peer Review and Peer Production," comparing academic peer review with wikis in terms of genre. Genres' dynamic structures are produced, she says, by internal conflicts between the residual cultural logic of their origins and the situations they must address (p.342).

Finally, in "Writing in multiple contexts," David R. Russell puts cultural-historical activity theory (CHAT) in dialogue with Schutz's phenomonology. This move, he says, lets us take into account a theory of multiple contexts on "both the social-psychological (subjective and intersubjective) plane and the sociological (objective and institutional) plane" (p.353). "The network is the context," he tells us, describing how the neat triangles of activity theory describe messy networks (p.354). He neatly pins this discussion to Schutz's understanding of a tool as a "thing-in-order-to" (p.355), and compares Vygotsky's and Schutz's "shared understandings about thought and action, communication and contexts, and situations" (p.356).

Overall, a really solid collection. If you're interested in examples of writing research from different countries, activities, and contexts, I recommend it.

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