Power Carter – “She Would’ve Still Made That Face Expression”: The Use of Multiple Literacies by Two African American Young Women

Power Carter, Stephanie. “”She Would’ve Still made that Face Expression”: The use of Multiple Literacies by Two African American Women.” Theory into Practice 45.4 (2006): 352-8. Print.

In this article Stephanie Power Carter advocates for a multiple literacies approach in education. She argues that teachers who use a more traditional (autonomous) literacy approach are more likely to view underrepresented students as “powerless, failing, struggling, and/ or having low literacy abilities,” whereas teachers using multiple literacy approach were more likely to interrogate power relations, understand students of color’s use of multiple socio-cultural frame and create spaces of agency within the classroom. While Carter Power does not present any evidence to prove that the use of a multiple literacies approach could achieve these outcomes, she does present enough evidence to show the detrimental outcomes for Black girls in her study when an autonomous literacy approach was used.

Power Carter uses two examples of classroom interactions between two African American students in a High School British literature class. Through Power Carter’s examples we can see that Pam and Natonya use nonverbal communication such as “eye squinting” and eye contact in their British literature classroom to combat its hostile and oppressive environment, and to support one another. Power Carter argues that because the teacher is focused on autonomous literacy, reading and writing in particular ways that typically favor Eurocentric, male, upper-class ways of knowing, she is unaware of the multiple literacies that the girls use, misunderstands them as “passive”, uninterested in learning and succeeding, and at times disruptive. These Black girls are stripped of their power inthis scenario:

“A traditional view of literacy also fails to take into consideration that Pam and Natonya are not powerless, sitting and waiting passively. They are acting, interacting, and reacting to their environment in ways that protect them and affirm their cultural ways of knowing and meaning making.” (356)

Power Carter points out that these epistemological differences have serious consequences for underrepresented students, such as Pam and Natonya. The negative perceptions of Black girls’ literacies, such as speaking with increased volume and passion, results in othering and can foster inequitable treatment and low expectations for Black girls (353). These nondemocratic and colonial pedagogical practices leave students like Pam and Natonya more vulnerable than other students and more susceptible to failure:

“When educators do not take into consideration the multiple literacies that ultimately influence how students make meaning of the world around them and are part of their everyday lives and experiences, we run the risk of dismissing their academic potential and relegating them to a dismal future that labels them as struglling, low performing, and unmotivated… it is important that educators value alternative interpretations within the classroom context and include multiple perspectives and multiple voices in curriculum planning.” (357)

Power Carter’s study elucidates the ways in which the use of multiple literacies of students and a multiple literacies approach on the part of teachers is rhetorical.

“Don’t Sweat the Technique”: On Spinuzzi’s Rhetorical Research Approach

Spinuzzi, Clay. “Lost in the Translation: Shifting Claims in the Migration of a Research Technique.” Technical Communication Quarterly 14.4 (2005): 411-46. Print.

“Don’t sweat the technique.”  -Rakim

While I’m sure Clay Spinuzzi has never met Hip-hop legend Rakim, it seems fitting that they rendezvous in this post. Spinuzzi’s claim that as researchers, particularly in comp/ rhet and technical communication fields, our emphasis should be more on technique and its rhetoricality as opposed to rigid and limited views of method. In essence, he urges us to not “sweat the technique,” (Rakim’s terms) but to embrace it or them and employ as needed in response to one’s context and rhetorical situation.

To clarify, Spinuzzi makes his distinction between method and technique by stating:

“Whereas a method (from methodos, way of inquiry) is a way of approaching a problem within a particular problem domain, a technique (from techne, art of knowledge applied to making things) is a step in implementing method – an investigative tool that might be deployed in various methods.”  (413)

Spinuzzi uses prototyping as his technique of choice in this article and “translates” this technique to apply to four different contexts with varying socioeconomic environments, power structures, and goals. For Spinnuzi, translation is the process in which a technique is made flexible, while still retaining enough coherence  (416). This process elucidates the ways in which research techniques are rhetorical and “adapted to the locally grounded and contingent arguments we make, even as those techniques are presented as stable and unchanging building blocks” (413). Spinuzzi’s argument that research must be approached as rhetorical aligns with Johanek’s (2000) view that not approaching research in such a way “ignores the very thing to which we claim to be rhetorically most sensitive: context” (88).

In addition to necessarily being responsive to context in a rhetorical approach to research, this approach also allows us as researchers to reflect on and assert our own agency because we have to consciously and rhetorically adapt our approach for our research projects (414).

Spinuzzi uses Latour’s (2004) breakdown of social power and action to explain a research technique as a token that can only be “moved” and effective when it is translated to fit the new context and goals of the stakeholders (both human and nonhuman).

Lest all of this seem very abstract, the four case studies that Spinuzzi presents work well to illustrate the numerous adaptations made by researchers and other stakeholders in order to use the prototypes in very different contexts. While the details of the particular case studies are not particularly interesting to those working outside of technical communication, or labor movements, the take-aways inform both research methodology and pedagogy.

For one, Spinuzzi makes a strong case, in my opinion, for research to be viewed as rhetoric wherein the research components are arguments, but in my case he was already preaching to the choir. In this light, instead of learning research methods the focus should be learning research argumentation and instead of doing research to researching rhetorically. With this understanding, although Spinuzzi does not address this, we can view the composition process as well as the research process rhetorically. This reinforces the notion that research documents, although they need not be grounded in social science, need to be conceptualized and written about persuasively (Smagorinsky 2008) and that we need to consider all available means when contemplating methods and methodology (Barton 2000, Johanek 2000).

The key to researching rhetorically is remembering our agency as researchers and that our research approaches, must be just that– ours – because they in-and-of-themselves are our arguments, and that we make and structuring the arguments we use (441).

The end result of employing rhetorical research skills behind the scene, such as translation, is the appearance of a smooth and seamless research technique; no sweat.

With this in mind, I wonder why this rhetorical approach to research hasn’t been a given in Rhet/Comp?

What ideas, possibilities, concerns, and questions does this approach raise for the scholarly work you want to pursue?

Stake – Qualitative Research: Studying How Things Work

Stake, Robert E. Qualitative Research: Studying How Things Work. The Guilford Press, 2010. Print.

In Robert Stake’s Qualitative research: Studying How Things Work, one could say that Stake’s “research question” is “what can qualitative research tell us about how things work, particularly as it relates to how the actions of people make them work? And how does qualitative research provide this information? A sub-question would then be “how can researchers best utilize these qualitative tool in their own studies?”

Early on Stake makes the distinction between quantitative and qualitative research, although he admits there are elements of each in the other, by stating that quantitative thinking relies heavily on outside knowledge, linear attributes, measurements, and statistical analysis as opposed to qualitative thinking based on human perception and understanding (11).

Two of the most important methodological differences between qualitative and quantitative research respectively is the difference between (1) aiming for explanation and (2) aiming for understanding, and the difference between (1) a personal role and (2) an impersonal role for the researcher (20). In addition, to qualitative research being personalistic, Stake identifies three other characteristics: interpretive, experiential, and situational (15). He gives a standard list of the most common methods of qualitative research – observation, interviewing, and examination of artifacts.

Overall, there were four significant features of qualitative research that I took away from Stake’s primer:

1-     Qualitative research is all about the microresearch and microanalysis

Most qualitative studies prefer to take a close-up view on individuals, or neighborhood groups, for example, as opposed to world cultures. These close ups allow for “rich” and “thick” Geertz (1993) descriptions. Stake cites anthropologist Clifford Geertz for his concept of thick description, which has become a staple in qualitative research, as descriptions that offer “direct connection to cultural theory and scientific knowledge” (49). Another methodological advantage of qualitative research and microanalysis can be found in comparative study designs. While, Stake asserts that macroanalyses run the risk of “reducing complex [cultural] differences to stereotypes” (28) qualitative inquiries have the potential to combat stereotypes by “emphasizing a particular experience, dialogue, context, and multiple realities” (28).

2-     Qualitative research is not concerned with “causes,” but comparisons and correlations.

Stake cautions qualitative researchers to refrain from using “because” and simply state what is:

“The qualitative researcher uses some of the words of causal connection, verbs such as influences, inhibits, facilitates, and even causes, but (if done properly) makes reference to the limited, local, and particular place and time of the activity. Even then, the qualitative researcher usually tries to assure the reader that the purpose has not been to attain generalization but to add situational examples to the readers’ experience.” (23)

3-     Qualitative research positions the researcher as an instrument that produces interpretation and data

 “For qualitative research, as indicated earlier, the researcher him- or herself is an instrument, observing action and contexts, often intentionally playing a subjective role in the study, using his or her own personal experience in making interpretations. The quantitative researcher makes methodological and other choices based partly on personal preference but usually tries to gather data objectively rather than subjectively.” (20)

Stake admits that the subjective nature of qualitative research is seen by critics as a weakness. However, Stake not only rejects the claim that subjectivity is necessarily sign of failure, but esteems it as essential to the process of gaining a better understanding of the human experience (29).

It is only through this subjectivity, that researchers can enact “empathetic inquiry” or Candib’s (1995) “connected knowing” whereby they can empathize “look at things closely, becoming sensitive to, even vicariously experiencing, the feelings, thoughts, and happenings” (46) as a part of their research process.

4-     A qualitative research project (design, methods, analysis) must be driven by and circulate back to one or more clearly articulated research questions

Stake argues that research questions should be a top priority for qualitative researchers. Not only does he claim they are more important than (and should be formulated prior to) research methods, but that choosing a research question (or two or three) may be among the most important choices we will make in our academic lifetimes (77). After research questions are chosen that are in need of microresearch and microanalysis, methods and lit reviews can be constructed, data can be gathered, and analysis and synthesis can commence, all the while circling back to the research question(s) to stay on point. Whew!

Stake’s approach to qualitative research in-and-of-itself does not seem particularly radical or earth-shattering. With that said, the style of the book with so many different examples was a bit overwhelming. I did appreciate his attempt to make the subject more interesting and the reading more like a journey. The rhetorical questions did remind me a bit of Blues Clues and Dora the Explorer : ). This may also because I am loopy with the flu. With that said I imagine some of Stake’s charts will come in handy during my future research, but some are a bit too rigid and formulaic for my taste. I am curious to know how and to what extent others see themselves using Stake’s approach to qualitative research in the future. Do tell…

Chamoiseau – Solibo Magnificent

Chamoiseau, Patrick. Solibo Magnificent. New York: Pantheon Books, 1988. Print.

The story of Solibo Mangnificent composed by Patrick Chamoiseau is an example of oraliture in that it combines the devices of both orature and literature. The “telling” of the story uses oral devices throughout the story, but then in the second section “After the Word: Document of the Memory” we are given a fuller “telling” of the story that approximates the way Solibo spoke with the people the night of his death. Here Solibo speaks of a place after death without French colonization; without “Arif-France, no bekes plantations or factories, or big stores (172).

In the third section, “Bringing the Word,” Rose-Myriam Réjouis gives the afterword supplying a greater context to understand Chamoiseau’s work. Réjoius helps the reader to understand Chamoiseau as the “word scratcher” making way for a “new” story writing now that Solibo, oral Créole expression is dying/ dead (177). She concludes that “Chamoiseau’s text is thus a tale about the birth of his own linguistic creativity (181); one that explores the plurality of voices – Créole and French and oral and literary.

Chamoiseau also charts out new territory by writing in his own invented language, one that neither those from Martinique of France speak, Fréole (a hybrid of French and Créole).

Composition as Methodological Flat-leaver

Flat-leaver: (n) A person who leaves a group of people to go with another group, without excusing or dismissing her/himself. Or in this case it may be a field/ discipline…

Haswell (2005) argued that both NCTE and CCCC initially sponsored empirical research and later “radically” unsponsored/ flat-left it.

Haswell (2005) seemed to be in agreement with Barton (2000) that the promotion of, or positive argument in favor of research methods that are reflexive and have dialogic relationships between researchers and informants can amount to a negative argument against empirical research methods. Thus, leaving Composition Studies with a dichotomy that is counterproductive, according to Haswell. He asked what the consequences of this methodological “warfare” may be for the field. Barton (2000) concluded that these types of argumentation limited the field by limiting the range of research methods seen as ethical:

“But the implication of this negative argument is that research that does not incorporate collaborative and reflexive design and analysis is (vaguely) ethically suspect. Unfortunately, research explicitly declaring its allegiance to the ethical turn far too often makes such negative arguments, presenting a narrow view of the field which implies that only certain methodologies incorporate ethical research practices.” (401)

Barton argued that negative argumentation works to reify a particular type of small scale case study type of methodological design as the ideal research design (402-403). On page 403, Barton (2000) listed three implications of Composition Studies’ move to privilege the collaborative, reflexive design over empirical models:

  1. Risks losing sight of the ethics of empirical frameworks
  2. By devaluing empirical research the field may lose its ability to ask certain types of research questions about oral and written language and the complexities of its production and interpretation in various contexts
  3. The field may also lose its ability to make the appropriate methodological choices for investigating problems of value which could have a trickle-down effect on the education of new practitioners in the field

Barton (2000) said that negative argumentation regarding empirical research could be countered by recognizing that not all composition research should be designed as collaborative and reflexive. She asserted that even some ethnographic studies could benefit by having more distanced relationships between the researcher and participants and remain ethical, especially ones that explore naturally occurring language events and pointed to her own research (“Discourses on Disability”) as an example (404).

In the battle of the methods, Barton (2000) argued that ethics could be a common factor in both non-empirical and empirical research and establish an area of conflict resolution: “The ethics of all research demand that subjects participate with full consent and that researchers present data in its full complexity, and the way that these standards are met by empirical studies needs to be better known in the field of composition” (405). She highlighted way that empirical and non-empirical research methods exist on a methodological continuum and could be used together in order to complement each other in a variety of investigations.

Despite all of these possibilities, Barton (2000), Haswell (2005), Roozen and Lunsford (2011), and Brandt (2011) agree that the field’s professional journals do not reflect the full methodological range equally.

“…during these two decades, NCTE/CCCC defined scholarship broadly but supported it selectively. More exactly, they have been hostile to one kind of scholarship while promoting the rest, with their exclusion of one kind and support of the rest growing more and more entrenched. Most crucial is that the kind of scholarship they are killing off happens to be essential to the rest they nurture. Define scholarship as broadly or diversely as they want, when essential nutrients are cut off, eventually the whole system will die. As when a body undermines its own immune system, when college composition as a whole treats the data-gathering, data-validating, and data-aggregating part of itself as alien, then the whole may be doomed.” (Haswell, 2005:219)

Brandt (2011) highlighted how the emergence of specialized journals within NCTE emphasized specific and separate pedagogical and research missions. She implied that the fields fracturing as evidenced by these journals s had an effect/ taught readers, researchers, WPA, and teachers how to think and be within the field. These texts piece together an interesting cycle where researchers give primacy to non-empirical research, publish it, devalue empirical research through explicitly through negative argumentation, or implicitly, readers pick this “sinks in” (Brandt, 2011) to the reader and the cycle begins afresh. Or does it begin with the reader? Surely it must be more complicated than my “chicken or the egg” metaphor. But understanding this cycle or just choosing a spot in it to disrupt the cycle may be essential to creating more methodological balance and using our full range.

“A number of disciplines have moved to incorporate both quantitative and qualitative work, but only a few disciplines, perhaps only our own, make use of the entire range of research methods from empirical investigation to humanistic inquiry. Composition has this range to offer, but this potential of our field is severely limited if, to repeat Lloyd-Jones, ‘the ethical badge of membership in our guild’ is not extended to ‘all that can be gathered (25).” (Barton, 2000:410)

Lorde – From “There is No Hierarchy of Oppressions”

From Homophobia and Education (New York: Council on Interracial Books for
Children, 1983)

I simply do not believe that one aspect of myself can possibly profit from the oppression of any other part of my identity. I know that my people cannot possibly profit from the oppression of any other group which seeks the right to peaceful existence. Rather, we diminish ourselves by denying to others what we have shed blood to obtain for our children. And those children need to learn that they do not have to become like each other in order to work together for a future they will all share.

In this passage Audre Lorde spoke specifically to the social intersections in which she stood: Black, lesbian, feminist, socialist, poet, mother, and interracial lover. However, her message is so profound and timeless that it can be extended to apply to a multitude of social realities to account for differences in ethnicity, age, class, geography, ability, etc.

Lorde emphasized that oppression regardless of it’s particular discrimination stems from the same place. She said, “I have learned that sexism and heterosexism both arise from the same source as racism,” and therefore, argued that they were all equally detrimental and deserving of equal and simultaneous resistance. Oppression, Lorde implied, knows no boundaries; if oppression against one group is allowed to thrive, it will sooner or later spread to oppress others. Consequently, no one can afford to pick particular battles:

I cannot afford the luxury of fighting one form of oppression only. I cannot afford to believe that freedom from intolerance is the right of only one particular group. And I cannot afford to choose between the fronts upon which I must battle these forces of discrimination, .wherever they appear to destroy me. And when they appear to destroy me, it will not be long before they appear to destroy you.

This is particularly significant as it relates to Hip-hop feminism, Black girlhood, and recurring manifestations of the cult of respectability in this generation of women and girls in Hip-hop culture because I am Black, female/ a girl (Brown, 2009), and socialized in Hip-hop culture.

Mitchell-Kernan – Signifying, Loud-Talking and Marking

Mitchell-Kernan, C. “Signifying, Loud-Talking and Marking (1972).” Signifyin (g), sanctifyin’, and slam dunking (1999): 309. Print.

In this text, Claudia Mitchell-Kernan highlights three features and practices of Black English and discourse: signifying, loud-talking, and marking. As a linguist and speaker of Black English, Mitchell Kernan was able to offer a more thorough and accurate account of Black English practices, and do so in a way that focused on the unique characteristics and strengths of the language. Most importantly, Mitchell-Kernan examined Black English as a language system in its own right, and not in constant comparison or in the shadow of the “standard” English.

Through analysis of her interactions with speakers of Black English, she derived her own explanations of Black language usage that were oftentimes similar to result that William Labov found in his research, but Mitchell-Kernan’s explication had a more nuanced and richer quality. This is evident in her description of the use of the word “nigger” in Black discourse based on  primary research she provided in the text:

“The use of the “nigger” in these examples is of interest. It is coupled with the use of code features which are farthest removed from standard English. That is, the code utilizes many linguistic markers that differentiate black speech from standard English or white speech. More such markers than might ordinarily appear in the language of the speaker are frequently used. Interestingly, the use of “nigger” with black English markers has the effect of “smiling when you say that.” The use of standard English with “nigger” in the words of an informant, is “the wrong tone of voice” and may be taken as abusive.” (322)

Mitchell-Kernan’s main focus seems to be giving a thorough treatment of Black English for the sake of understanding Black English, not for the purpose of using it to manipulating Black students into speaking in a socially sanctioned “standard” English like linguists, such as: Labov, Fasold, and Wolfram. This type of scholar, one with linguistic training and intimate knowledge and experience with Black English, is who Labov (1971) said was needed, but did not exist.

Troike – Receptive Bidialectalism: Implications for Second-Dialect Teaching

Troike, RC. “Receptive Bidialectalism: Implications for Second-Dialect Teaching.” Language and Cultural Diversity in American Education. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc (1972) Print.

In this article, Rudolph Troike discussed the pedagogical implications for optional receptive bidialectalism. Troike broke down the language acquisition process and acknowledged that speakers of one variation of a language oftentimes understand other variations even when they themselves cannot speak or write using that foreign variation. Troike argued that ignoring this aspect of linguistic competence can lead to faulty assessment and teaching strategies (92).

Troike suggested that students in the first grade and even earlier have more sophisticated understandings of different dialects and how they function socially. Troike encouraged teachers to consider that students first understand and process language before they have the ability to reproduce it. Troike also advised teachers not to mistake students’ lack of use of “standard” variations of a language as lack of knowledge. This approach to understanding speakers of nonstandard language varieties is both nuanced and respectful.

With this in mind, Troike suggested that teachers not wait until the teenage years to introduce second dialects. In teaching dialects, Troike described teachers roles more as facilitators: “…and the task of the teacher should be seen as one of building on this knowledge to enable the students to make use of it in their own production” (95).

Contrary to viewing nonstandard dialect speakers from a deficit model, Troike insisted that students’ strengths be central:

“A satisfactory program should recognize and build upon students’ existing linguistic strengths, and where their receptive knowledge already encompasses standard forms, students should be given adequate practice in bringing these to the productive level.” (96)

Troike also maintained that this learning process need not be a one-way process:

Since a teacher can achieve greater rapport (not to speak of communication) with her students is she can understand them, it might well be desirable to devise materials to help teachers acquire an adequate receptive, if not productive, competence in the dialect of their students. Such an experience might, if nothing else, impart a greater respect for the students’ achievements, and an appreciation of the difficulties involved in learning to speak a second dialect.” (97)

Labov – The Study of Nonstandard English

Labov, William. “The Study of Nonstandard English.” Language: Introductory Readings. Eds. Virginia

In this article, William Labov argued for the need for linguists and educators to understand non-standard English variations, particularly “Negro” dialect. Like most other scholars who advocated for bi-dialectalism, Labov explained that teaching non-standard English speakers “standard” English would help them to be more upward mobile in society. According to Labov, understanding non-standard English varieties make for more efficient teaching of “standard” English.

Labov argued against considering Negro dialect as a self-contained language system apart from “standard” English. He maintained that through a careful examination of the grammatical processes and rules of both non-standard dialect and “standard” English, one would find they were closely related. According to Labov, the different dialects showed different versions of grammatical rules. For this reason, he advocated for understanding non-standard dialects within the context of “standard” English:

Any analysis of the nonstandard dialect which pretends to ignore other dialects and the general rules of English will fail (1) because the nonstandard dialect is not an isolated system but a part of the sociolinguistic structure of English, and (2) because of the writer’s knowledge of standard English.” (446)

 

Stewart – Sociolinguistic Factors in the History of American Negro Dialects

Stewart, W. A. “Sociolinguistic Factors in the History of American Negro Dialects.” Florida FL Rep (1967) Print.

In this text, William Stewart gave context for the pedagogical tensions related to “Negro” dialect in the English classroom. He framed the concerns and research efforts regarding Black language variations as base din a national commitment to improving the lives and potential for social and economic advancement of underprivileged and  “disadvantaged” groups. To this end, Stewart claimed that a host of professionals were seeking answers to the numerous language problems of the “Negro.” Stewart described an educational landscape where underprivileged children were seen an defective and less capable than their white counterparts. Stewart argued that   schools needed to be both capable and willing to deal with such “dialect-based problems” (417).
Stewart stressed the importance of giving the nonstandard English speaking students the benefit of an education in  “standard” English: “To insure their social mobility on modern American society, these nonstandard speakers must undoubtedly be given a command of standard English” (425).
In order to properly deal with these dialect-based “problems” Stewart advised applied linguists and teachers alike to recognize the validity and long standing history of Black variations of English:
“Once educators are concerned with the language problems of the disadvantaged come to realize that non-standard Negro dialects represent historical tradition of this type, it is to be hoped that they will become less embarrassed by evidence that these dialects are very much alike throughout the country while different in many ways from non-standard dialect of whites, less frustrated by failure to turn non-standard Negro dialect speakers into standard English speakers overnight, less impatient with the stubborn survival of Negro dialect features in speech of even educated persons, and less zealous in proclaiming what is ‘right’ and what is ‘wrong'” (426).
Once this is achieved and linguists and educators can communicate with eac other, Stewart claimed “the problem will then be well on its way toward a solution” (426). The assumption under-girding this entire text despite all of the “legitimacy” Stewart tried to bestow upon Black English, was that the language and the people that speak in are different and unequal in terms of value and social capital; they were a problem, a threat and needed to be mitigated.