Canagarajah – A Geopolitics of Academic Writing

Canagarajah, A. Suresh. A Geopolitics of Academic Writing. Pittsburgh, Pa.: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2002. Print. Pittsburgh Series in Composition, Literacy, and Culture.

In this text, A. Suresh Canagarajah used ethnography of literacy along with empirical methodologies, such as discourse and textual analysis to explicate the geopolitics surrounding academic knowledge production both in the West, which positions itself in the center, and the Third World, which he argued is constrained to the periphery. Because of his position as a member of both communities he was able to describe his dilemma of trying to straddle the two discourse spaces. From this experience he contextualized the tensions between not only the “center” and “periphery,” but also between print media and talk, literacy and orality, dominant discourses and  vernacular – and how these factors along with power, material conditions, and genre conventions contribute to inequities regarding knowledge production and what he calls the geopolitics of academic writing. His main focus was on the conventions leading to the publication of the Research Article (RA) in the West because of the professional capital it carries in terms of producing “new” knowledge and helping scholars achieve tenure and promotion. For Third World academic communities, such as in Jaffna, Sri Lanka, he highlighted the importance of other forms of knowledge production, such as speaking engagements, verbal discussions, and publications in local publications.
Of his positionality as a researcher he stated:
“Though I claim to represent scholars from the type of background described above [periphery], my critical insights are enabled by my work experience in some American university settings as well. My membership in the academic communities of the center and the periphery has oriented me to the differences in literacy practices of both circles and provided a peculiar “double vision” that informs the discussion in this book.” (11)
Canagarajah was also candid regarding how his position also led to his standpoint be questioned by “periphery” scholars: “It is because I moved to the center that I am able to publish about the scholarly deprivation and exclusion I suffered while teaching at UJ, but in the process of moving my status has status has changed, calling into question my ability to represent my periphery colleagues” (11).
If we were to answer Spivak’s question “Can he subaltern speak?” based on this text, the answer would be no, because 1) although Canagarajah effectively portrayed the ways in which periphery scholars are silenced through Western academic writing textual and publishing conventions, periphery scholars are likely to enjoy more voice than their counterparts outside of the academy, but then also because 2) once periphery scholars begin to gain voice outside of their local circles of influence, which occurs only through varying degrees of using Western conventions they are no longer fully periphery, nevertheless subaltern. Then, 3) while speaking, or orality is valued in Third World and periphery communities within the “center” as a primary form of knowledge production, according to Canagarajah, he argued that periphery scholars are forced to utilize print media and its conventions in order to produce knowledge that is viewed as valuable and circulated.
Despite these conditions, Canagarajah argued that there are changes that both “center” and “periphery” academic communities must make in order to create more democratic knowledge production practices. One such adjustment that Canagarajah suggested “center” journals make was to establish a common bibliography format so that periphery scholars without word processing and print capabilities would not have to retype whole bibliographies or manuscripts to tailor it for submissions to different journals. On the other hand, Canagarajah encourage Third World scholars to continue to engage with center journals and ways of producing knowledge and avoid staying local, though, he emphasized they should not abandon local literacies. He argued that these moves toward changing the geopolitics in academic writing benefit both the “center” and the “periphery”:
“The more democratic the process of knowledge production, the more significant the progress. Paradoxically, therefore, the center academic institutions themselves impoverished by their hegemony. It is important to realize that the damages in knowledge production are not limited to periphery communities.” (254)
“It is worth repeating that the democratization of academic communication can make a critical contribution to center communities themselves… An engagement with local knowledge from periphery contexts can help enrich, expand, and reconstruct mainstream discourses and knowledge. In fact, the clash of diverse perspectives is valuable for its own sake: it affords an opportunity to reexamine the basic assumptions and beliefs of a community.” (303)
In his conclusion, Canagarajah reiterated that his intention was not to lower standards, but to expand and enrich them:
“This is rather an attempt to deconstruct the bases of “excellence” in published scholarship and knowledge construction. This is an argument for changing the relationships in the publication networks so that we can reconstruct knowledge – and presumably conduct international relations – in more egalitarian and enriching terms.” (305)
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Kynard – From Candy Girls to Cyber Sista-Cypher: Narrating Black Females’ Color-Consciousness and Counterstories in and Out of School

Kynard, Carmen. “From Candy Girls to Cyber Sista-Cipher: Narrating Black Females’ Color-Consciousness and Counterstories in and Out of School.” Harvard Educational Review 80.1 (2010): 30-53. Print.

In her article, “From Candy Girls to Cyber Sista-Cipher: Narrating Black Females Color-Consciousness and Counterstories in and Out of School,” Carmen Kynard, assistant professor of English at St. John’s University, takes the reader on a journey through time, place, and space. Kynard’s stated goal is to use multiple narratives that explore how digital technologies offer hush harbors for Black female college students’ social and literacy practices in what she describes as “digitized Candy Girls” (33). The phrase Candy Girls, originally adopted from the popular 80s New Edition song, described Kynard’s clique of African American girls that she attended school with and navigated various issues of Black girlhood with.

Kynard described her approach as an “unhushing narrative methodology” (48), rather than an ethnographic one, in her research because she was an active agent in the cipher’s (group’s) sense making, decision making, and survival making” (48). Kynard used narrative to “unhush” and disclose the ways in which the “hidey spaces,” or hush harbors that she and the Black female students in the cipher formed. These spaces contradicted and challenged traditional notions of literacy where the purpose of literacy is understood solely as a means to achieve money and power.

Kynard argued that her use of groups or ciphers also worked against “isolationism of Black women, and unhushing methodology works against the isolating of researcher and participant” (48). The unhushing narrative methodology “(re)values black radical female subjectivity” (48).

These methods serve a rhetorical purpose because by strategically making the private public, Kynard sought to move a deeper understanding of their hush harbor as a site for “new political lenses into, and therefore struggles against, schooling’s processes of ethnic cleansing” (48). This is no doubt necessary in light of the fact that the rest of the institution failed to “recognized” the cipher members or their activity. Kynard defined the urban, youth term “recognize” as being about “publicly acknowledging what is going on and who the central perpetrators are” (48).

“It is worth saying again: no one in the department where I met the sistas in the cyber cipher noticed their displacement or talent; nobody recognized. It didn’t have to be that way, and it can’t be that way if we intend to really dismantle the race, gender, and class hierarchies of educational institutions.” (48)

Through her unhushing narrative, Kynard shows the various ways that Black women in postsecondary educational settings assess their contexts and their positioning within them and seek to employ and/ or develop community literacy skills in order to survive and potentially thrive in in-school contexts.

Barton – Vernacular Writing on the Web

Barton, David. “Vernacular Writing on the Web.” The Anthropology of Writing :Understanding Textually Mediated Worlds. Eds. David Barton and Uta Papen. London; New York: Continuum, 2010. 109-125. Print.

This chapter, “Vernacular Writing on the Web,” from Anthropology of Writing: Understanding Textually Mediated Worlds examines characteristics of vernacular writing in online spaces, specifically the photo sharing site, Flickr. Vernacular writing, such as graffiti, has typically been identified and analyzed in face-to-face environments; however, due to increased technological development and globalization vernacular writing is also taking place in the form of computer-mediated-communication online.

David Barton provides the following definitions/descriptions for his reader:

Vernacular literacy practices: local, every day literacies, often “voluntary, self-generated and learned informally;” not under the governance of the formal rules and procedures of dominant social institutions and associated literacies. These practices can also overlap and be intertwined with dominant literacies. These practices draw upon and contribute to “local funds of knowledge” and are linked to self-education and local expertise.

Vernacular Writing: “that ‘which is closely associated with culture that is neither elite nor institutional, which is traditional and indigenous to the diverse cultural processes of communities as distinguished from the uniform, inflexible standards of institutions’ ([Camitta,] 1993:228-229)”. Not tied to a particular language.

Vernacular Language: local languages associated with traditional and indigenous cultures and can be seen in contrast to dominant, colonial languages, such as English and French.

Because of the ways in which technologies have changed the ways that people “can be” in the world, including writing, Barton is interested in examining the impact of the social media site Flickr on vernacular writing. In this care, the function of Flickr, primarily visual, is similar to that of graffiti, which allows for a focus on how the writing takes place instead of a sole focus on  the meaning of the text.

Barton had to adapt, or as Spinuzzi might say translate existing methodologies and develop new approaches to analyzing vernacular writing for the internet study. Barton describes the study as multi-method consisting of five “interlinked” sources of data: 1)the initial study of 100 Flickr members’ sites, 2-3) tw0-stage online interviews with 30 Flickr users (starting out general and leading to specific questions re: at least 100 of their photos), 4) sites of Flickr users of other languages, including French Norwegian and Greek, as well as, 5) autoethnographies from Barton and Lee  based on their own Flickr activities. Here we can see Barton’s desire to capture data related to global communication resulted in his focus on multilingual activity on Flickr.

The various sources of data in addition to the abundance of data within the Flickr sites themselves, such as: tags, titles, and photo descriptions provided a great deal of data for analysis. The examination of the specific features of Flickr also contributed to an understanding of how the medium also shapes the writing activity. Users:

  • developed new practices and carrying out older practices in new ways (in part due to the new medium of Flickr)
  • contributed to broader social practices; people relate to the world in new ways, i.e. seeking more”views” of photos

Barton found that vernacular writing on the web also contributes to  new understandings of vernacular writing:

  • Vernacular writing is not always self-sponsored, but can be sponsored by private companies like Yahoo, the owner of Flickr.
  • Vernacular practices online exhibit different values than dominant literacies do
  • Vernacular literacy practices on the web still learned informally and is integrated into everyday activities
  • Vernacular practices are typically valued less by society, but now they are valued more particularly by media professionals.
  • Vernacular practices have typically been seen as limited to the personal sphere, but are now public

These findings led Barton to conclude that not only is writing still central to daily life, but it is growing in importance due to the increase of multimodal activity on the internet.

In this chapter, we are only given the methodological approach, findings, and implications; Peter Smagorinsky might call this methods section superficial in some areas, i.e. data collection and reduction. However, I am not particularly distrustful of this study. Based on the best practices recommended by the authors we’ve read so far, I’m curious to know what you think Barton does well here? In other words, do you think this chapter “works” in explaining how vernacular writing on the web works? Why or why not?

Skilton-Sylvester – Literate at Home but Not at School: A Cambodian Girl’s Journey from Playwright to Struggling Writer

Skilton-Sylvester, Ellen. “Literate at Home but Not at School: A Cambodian Girl’s Journey from Playwright to Struggling Writer.” School’s Out: Bridging Out-of School Literacies with Classroom Practice. Eds. Glynda Hull and Katherine Schultz. New York: Teachers College Press, 2002. 61-95. Print.

In this chapter, Ellen Skilton-Sylvester, current Associate Professor of Education and Coordinator of ESL Programs at Arcadia University, uses ethnography to provide a contrastive analysis of a young Cambodian immigrant girl’s school and out-of-school literacy practices. This chapter was developed out of a larger ethnographic study of (Skilton-Sylvester, 1997) documenting the identities, literacies, and other educational policies that are part of the lives of several Cambodian women and girls in Philadelphia (65).

In “Literate at Home but Not at School,” Skiton-Sylvester focuses on the school and out-of-school literacies of Nan over the course of three years. The researcher’s fieldwork consisted of weekly tutoring sessions over a 3-year period with Nan and her cousins in either of their apartments (located in the same apartment building) focusing primarily on homework and structured around the needs of the girls in any given week (65). Over the course of time, Skilton-Sylvester says her relationship with the girls developed and their time together extended to include filed trips to local museums, parks, and Skilton-Sylvester’s apartment. The participants also gave her artifacts such as: drawings, painting, and writings as gifts, in addition to performing dances and skits, etc. for her. From these interactions Skilton-Sylvester took the themes that emerged from this data and later interviewed the girls about their points of view concerning  particular findings and issues. Skilton-Sylvester’s fieldwork also included visits to the girls’ school one year prior to beginning her study with the girls. These visits to the English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) classrooms and grade-level classrooms continued into her research with Nan and her relatives. Skilton-Sylvester is clear about her rationale to focus on Nan as her primary subject; stating that Nan provided the most dramatic differences between her in-school and out-of-school writing identities and products (65):

“Nan interests me greatly both because the resources she brought to school were often invisible and devalued and because I can imagine other possibilities when I see her out-of-school writing. In the right classroom, her enthusiasm for making meaning through print, pictures, and performance could have been a resource to build on in learning to use writing as a tool to do the social work of school.” (65-66)

Many of Skilton-Sylvester’s findings are derived because her scope included both in- and out-of-school contexts. For example, Skilton-Sylvester is able to conclude that the reason for Nan’s successful facilitation in her out-of-school literacy practices are rhetorical in nature and depend on Nan’s various rhetorical situations, particularly exigency and audience:

“I believe that Nan’s experiences with school writing in home and school contexts can be understood in terms of investment, identity, and the right to speak… What her out-of-school writing shows is that she could be incredibly invested in using and learning about the written word when she was granted the right to write and knew that there were those who really wanted to listen to her thoughts, experiences, and ideas.” (84)

Skilton-Sylvester found that when Nan was provided a meaningful purpose and an attentive audience in her ESOL classroom, Nan was able to claim the right to write within the classroom context. Therefore, Skilton-Sylvester concluded that bridges between out-of-school literacy and in-school literacy need to be constructed where they do not exist, which unfortunately is the majority of grade-level classroom contexts. Skilton-Sylvester’s study also makes an implicit argument for the expansion of valued literacy skills in school contexts that includes visual, oral, and performative literacies in addition to standard writing literacy practices, because Nan did achieve a degree of success in ESOL classrooms that sanctioned these broader literacy skills; however these broader literacy skills were not recognized in the grade–level classrooms.

Skilton-Sylverster argues that it is educators that need to improve their literacy skills as well:

“Nan’s out-of school literacy resources — and those of many nonmainstream students in the U.S. schools — can be a foundation for school literacy if we are able to read the words and worlds that children bring with them to school and help them to engage in new and related words and worlds as they use writing to do the social work of school… we, as techers, have as much to learn from Nan as she from us.” (88)

If this is the case, and I agree it is, then this study also makes a strong case for critical pedagogies that can disrupt the uni-directional flow of knowledge.

Gorzelsky – Working Boundaries: From Student Resistance to Student Agency

Gorzelsky, Gwen. “Working Boundaries: From Student Resistance to Student Agency.” College Composition and Communication. 61.1 (2009): 64-84. Print.

In this article Gwen Gorzelsky shares her ethnographic study of an intermediate composition class successfully engaging in critical pedagogy. Situating her study in the research of Durst, Trainor, and Wallace and Ewald, Gorzelsky explores the line between privileging Composition Studies’ goals of critical pedagogy and students’ pragmatic needs.

Gorzelsky studies the pedagogy of Justin Vidovic and his respect of students’ boundaries along with the use of traditional classroom techniques such as Initial Response Evaluation. She suggests that the combination of these traditional and critical teaching strategies creates a “classroom ethos that strongly supports their agency – their ownership of their developing ideas and texts” (66). Gorzelshy concludes that those in Composition Studies should not “sharply prioritize” either critical pedagogy and it’s goals or students’ pragmatic goals:

I suggest that our professional responsibility is to enhance the greater good of those systems and their potential readiness for change, rather than to pursue isolated goals, whether our own or students’. In taking this approach, we forego critical pedagogy’s emphasis on revolution, which is inevitably linear and focused on a single goal, in favor of the kind of change that ripples throughout systems while keeping them in the balance needed to support life and growth (82).

Majors – “‘I wasn’t Scared of Them, They Were Scared of Me’: Constructions of Self/ Other in a Midwestern Hair Salon

Majors, Yolanda J. “‘I Wasn’t Scared of Them, They Were Scared of Me’: Constructions of Self/ Other in a Midwestern Hair Salon.” Anthropology and Education Quarterly. 35.2 (2004): 167-188.Print.

In this article Yolanda Majors applies the theoretical frameworks of critical discourse analysis, critical race theory, and Cultural-Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) to ethnographic data from an African American hair salon in the mid-West. In her analyses, Majors shows the ways in which African American women use African American women’s literacies and Black discourse practices to individually and collectively negotiate and create meaning, construct and read social texts, construct their own counter-texts that challenge dominant narratives and beliefs, and create dialogic spaces for themselves to engage in these practices.

She uses data from the salon that features a narration from Darlene who assumes several roles – “counselor,” “teacher,” “master stylist,” and “storyteller.” Majors focuses on the ways that Darlene’s narration of a social text helps her to forge her own identity in the midst of a cross-cultural interaction. Darlene’s talk reflect’s her racialized, gendered, and social class position.

The dialogic interaction created between Darlene, her employees, and her clients as she tells her storyis in line with Mikhail Bakhtin’s (1981) view of dialogicality where readers are considered authors and reading is a dialogue between a previously created text and a reactive text created by the reader (182). On this point, Majors says,

Such a perspective transforms the traditional concept of reading into a contingent dialogic process, in which the reader becomes a border-crosser in doing her/ his imaginary scholarship in the process of reading. (182)

Majors asserts that her analyses provides a insight as to how educators can make room for the literacies and discourse practices that African American women use in community-based settings in “academic” settings as well:

The identities people construct through their adoption of these language varieties are viewed as impediments to their academic learning – as personal skins to be shed in acquiring passports to success. This illustration of Shoptalk disrupts such assumptions and offers a more grounded view of the role of language variation in achieving literate skills (Lee and Majors 2003).