Lecourt and Barnes – Writing Multiplicity: Hypertext and Feminist Textual Politics

Lecourt, Donna, and Luann Barnes. “Writing Multiplicity: Hypertext and Feminist Textual Politics.” Feminism and Composition :A Critical Sourcebook. Eds. Gesa Kirsch, et al. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2003. 321-338. Print.

In this chapter, originally published in Computers and Composition (1999), Donna Lecourt and her graduate student at the time, Luann Barnes, explicated their theory of feminist textual politics and how hypertext has the potential to enact it in the writing classroom. They argued that “social transformation is best executed by disrupting the gendered nature of writing. Because of hypertext’s ability to express multiplicity and multivocality, the two asserted that it could be used in the classroom to achieve two interventions:

“(a) the disruption of the contexts and communities that force the author to accede to masculine ways of knowing, and (b) the deconstruction of the author as a single, unified self who suppresses alternative perspectives and gendered ideologies.” (322)

The key problem, for the authors, is the type of voice, authority, and logic that writing produces (322). The implicit argument here is that the textual form not only creates the content, but that it also shapes the identity of the author. Lecourt and Barnes cited Janis and Richard Haswell’s concept of gendership to further explain: “‘the image of a writer’s sex interpretable from text and context. It can be conceived of as the gender dimension of the ‘implied author’ imagined by the reader’ (p.226)” (322). In light of gendership, then, they asserted that academic genres are connected to masculine ways of knowing and knowledge production and work to silence the “feminine.” To counteract this phenomenon, they advocated for a textual politic: “a direct intervention into the ideology of writing spaces” (323) that allows for inquiry into specific acts of reading and writing as well as challenge narrowly focused practices writing and knowledge-making that they identified as being phallocentric.

To this end, the authors described Barnes attempt to create a hypertext that could call attention to the politics of textuality. In doing so, they of the limitations to working with hypertext, or any media for that matter, is the constant need for remediation and attention to genre. They wrote:

“Venturing too far outside academic and cultural acceptability risks not only not being read but also the material results of grades, authority with the graduate students with whom [Barnes] works as a programmer, and her colleagues, teachers, and supervisors within the department… As such, even hypertext cannot escape the mechanism of ethos orchestrated by academic context. Knowing that others would eventually read this text construct a concern that Barnes not be seen as inappropriate; such a concern for self-presentation is difficult to resist, particularly for students.” (333)

Barnes and Lecourt also concluded, as they has anticipated, that hypertext and rhetorical literacy are not sufficient to achieve the goals of textual politics, but that other interventions that fall under the category of critical literacies would have to be incorporated in their writing pedagogy as well:

“Our analysis highlights many limitations for hypertext’s ability to enact a textual politic, including its inability to escape the logocentricism of writing, its immersion within the discourse context, and the new mechanisms of reader control it introduces… As Barnes’ continual concern with reader dislocation reveals, the disruptive potential of hypertext alone will not create an awareness of multivocality in a reader.” (336)

One example they offered for how to work against some of these challenges is to engage student in continual peer review of the hypertexts they are creating.

The concluded that despite the challenges hypertext is still valuable in the composition classroom:

“Whether the texts produced for class actually enact a textual politic seems less important than what students may learn in the process – the need to interrogate the discursive grounds for achieving authority such that they can write differently in the other contexts which would silence both their alternative voices and the challenges those voices might make to the context’s idoelogy.” (337)

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Berkenkotter and Huckin – Genre Knowledge in Disciplinary Communication: Cognition/ Culture/ Power

Berkenkotter, Carol, and Thomas N. Huckin. Genre Knowledge in Disciplinary Communication: Cognition/ Culture/ Power. Hillsdale, N.J.: L. Erlbaum Associates, 1995. Print.

In Genre Knowledge in Disciplinary Communication: Cognition/ Culture/ Power, the authors outline their theory of genre knowledge from a sociocognitive perspective and then further explicate how it works through several case studies featuring different forms of academic discourse, including scientific journal articles, academic conventions, and graduate school writing assignments.

The authors opened the text by stating the importance of Genre Studies to academic disciplines:

Genres are the media through which scholars and scientists communicate with their peers. Genres are intimately linked to a discipline’s methodology, and they package information in ways that conform to a discipline’s norms, values, and ideology. Understanding the genres of written communication in one’s field is, therefore, essential to professional success” (1).

Despite the importance of genre to all disciplines, including Composition and Rhetorical Studies, at the time, Berkenkotter and Huckin claimed that very little work informed by case research with insiders had been done regarding genre in rhetorical studies (2). Their research, based on eight years of rhetorical and linguistic analyses of case study data that foregrounded individual writers’ language-in-use, argued for the importance of focusing on the ways in which writers use genre knowledge (or fail to do so) as they engage in various disciplinary activities (i.e. negotiating revise and resubmits with reviewers, or judging conference proposals) (3). Their thesis was “that genres are inherently dynamic rhetorical structures that can be manipulated according to the conditions of use, and that genre knowledge is therefore best conceptualized as a form of situated cognition embedded in disciplinary activities. For writers to make things happen… they must know how to strategically utilize their understanding of genre” (3). In other words, genre knowledge for scholars (and everyone else) is an available means of persuasion.

Through their grounded, predominantly inductive approach they developed their theoretical framework consisting of the following five principles:

  • Dynamism – genres are dynamic rhetorical forms that develop from actors’ responses to recurring situations. Genres change over time in response to user’s sociocognitive needs
  • Situatedness – genres develop fromand are a part of user’s participation in communicative activities
  • Form and Content – genre knowledge embraces both form and content, including a sense of what content is appropriate based on the particular purpose, situation and time
  • Duality and Structure – as users draw on genre rules they both constitute social structures and reproduce them
  • Community Ownership – genre conventions signal a discourse community’s norms, epistemology, ideology, and social ontology (4).

Through the case studies presented in the text it s clear that at the same time genre knowledge can help users execute more rhetorical savvy and enact agency, its use can also reinforce rigid structures and perpetuate gatekeeping. This can serve as a hindrance to newcomers to a genre, such as doctoral students as evidenced in chapter 7, a case study on former Carnegie Mellon University’s Rhetoric program doctoral student John Ackerman (AKA “Nate”). While the study argued that over the course of several years of enculturation in the program Nate shifted from using genre conventions that identified him with his previous community and began to use those most suitable to his discipline, the study also highlighted tensions when individuals are faced with using academic discourse: “The linguistic analysis we did on Nate’s texts show clearly that he had difficulty switching from the one mode to the other. Although informal, expressive writing appears to help writers explore new ideas, it also may deter them from expressing these ideas in the highly explicit, cohesive, hierarchical style expected in formal expository prose” (142). The authors cited Chafe’s argument that in informal speech, writers also focused on their thoughts and feelings – this clearly went against the genre’s conventions. It is clear that in Nate’s example the issue was not a lack of clarity on his part, but one of genre violation on his part and gatekeeping on the part of his department, university, and perhaps discipline.

This issue of conformity to academic genres is addressed in chapter 8, as well, but from more-so with regard to the schooling of children. The authors use scholarship on teaching academic genres in the UK and Australia to question U.S. approaches. While acknowledging the power and privilege differentials between white and nonwhite students in the U.S. and abroad, their review of the literature showed a tentativeness with regard to a solution. They argued that the solution is not as simple as teaching genre knowledge in the classroom and cited Kress (1987, “Genres are cultural constructs, they are as culture determines. Challenging genres is therefore challenging culture” (159).

The concluded with a more comprehensive suggestion:

“It may be that a genre approach to the teaching of writing does not fit many language arts and composition teachers’ conception of their role, given their training, ideological loyalties, and professional allegiances. If this is the case, rethinking the training of language arts and composition teachers as well as the current curricula in language arts and university writing courses may be what is called for, should enough teachers and scholars see a need to bring about systemic, programmatic change.” (163) [Bold emphasis is mine]

Herndl – “Teaching Discourse and Reproducing Culture: A Critique of Research and Pedagogy in Professional and Non-Academic Writing

Herndl, Carl G. “Teaching Discourse and Reproducing Culture:A Critique of Research and Pedagogy in Professional and Non-Academic Writing.” Central Works in Technical Communication. Eds. J. Johnson-Eilola and S. Selber. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. 220-231. Print.

In this chapter, Carl Herndl argued for the need to have a more grounded theory of pedagogy in technical writing instruction based in his experience as a technical writing instructor and theories from Composition and Rhetorical Studies, Marxism, Feminist Studies, and critical pedagogy. Because education is not neutral, Herndl asserted that if we are uncritical in our research and teaching “our pedagogical practice will produce students who are ignorant of the ideological development of discourse and who cannot perceive the cultural consequences of a dominant discourse or the alternate understandings it excludes” (222).

Herndl cited Paulo Freire as the most familiar voice of radical pedagogy for writing theory. Several of Freire’s assumptions regarding critical pedagogy, including:

  • to be human is to develop a conscious recognition of your relationship to the social world and that educations can transform this relationship
  • to be oppressed is not only having your economic and political rights violated, but also to be submerged in what he calls a “culture of silence” by the misrecognition of your relation to the social and ideological
  • misrecognition is when you accept the practices and rationalities of your social position as natural and necessary rather than seeing them as ideologically constructed and politically interested; misrecognition leads people to accept and cooperate with an ideological system which oppresses them (223).

The goal of radical pedagogy, according to Herndl and Freire, is to bring students to consciousness where they neither accommodate nor merely oppose the social order, but can actively reposition themselves within it: “From this perspective, teaching a non-academic discourse without a careful cultural analysis reinforces the culture’s dominant ideological structures and makes cultural self-consciousness difficult if not impossible” (223).

Herndl theorized that individuals could use rhetorical and discursive action in order to come to a greater consciousness:

“That is, by recognizing and articulating the medium of their actions, they can affect the outcome of those actions. Thus education becomes a key process for either cultural self-recognition (Freire’s conscientizacao) or the reification of the structural properties as simply ‘the way things are’ (Freire’s ‘culture of silence’).” (224)

In his outline for a pedagogy for professional writing courses, Herndl suggested that instead of taking a theoretical approach, teachers need to begin working with a discourse and institution which is “palpable” to students. In accordance with this grounded approach, Herndl argued that students would more readily “recognize the connections between ideology, power, and discourse, and the value of resistance, if teachers started with a discourse that directly affected student’s lives” (229).

Within this model, difference is only accepted, but encouraged. Herndl drew on John Trimbur’s rhetoric of dissensus which argued that “collaborative learning can develop a ‘rhetoric of dissensus’ which leads students not to a conformity which reifies the existing social and institutional relations, but rather to ‘collective explanations of how people differ, where the differences come from, and whether they can live and work together with these differences’ (610)” (229).

Herndly asserted that a rhetoric of dissensus applied to technical writing pedagogy would benefit students:

“Once students see how these issues apply to their academic discourse, they can begin to apply the same understanding to the professional discourses they are entering. This rhetoric of dissensus does not condemn professional or technical discourse as ideologically incorrect, but it does allow students to recognize the ideological conditions and consequences of these discourses, and it provides a practical model of resistance.” (229)

More research is necessary, however, in professional and technical discourse in order to aid students in making the shift from discussing the
discourse of the university to analyzing professional discourses.

“Working from such reinterpreted and reconceived research, students and teachers can begin to explore the sources pf power and authority which condition their disciplinary and professional discourse. When it is successful, this pedagogy will allow students to participate in these professional discourses with a degree of self-reflexivity and ideological awareness necessary to resistance and cultural criticism.” (229)