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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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.

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).