This week in my advanced methods course we read the first 4 chapters from Angels Town: Chero Ways, Gang Life, and the Rhetorics of Everyday (1998) by Ralph Cintron. Though I hadn’t heard of Cintron before this semester, I’ve been anticipating this book since the syllabus was distributed in January because (1) we’re breaking it up over two weeks of the semester and (2) other members of the program have lauded it in passing. Obviously the book carries some weight. So what is that weight?
What’s striking right from the preface is Cintron’s reflexivity. Cintron combines critical ethnography with rhetorical theory to provide a thick portrait of a Latino/a neighborhood in Chicago and extends that portrait to a larger commentary on the relationship between representation, power and language in everyday life (note to self: read de Certeau). As he notes early in the preface, “one of the book’s controlling questions is How does one create respect under conditions of little or no respect?” (x). He admits the problem in answering this question, reducing the method of fieldwork to “the difficulty of finding the truth inside the lie, the lie inside the truth” (xiii).
Cintron spends the first chapter examining this problems of ethnography and representation by recalling his own background as the son of a Texas farmer, defining the true field site as the text that is constructed by the ethnographer, analyzing the power of the researcher through the interplay of ethos and logos, etc. But what struck me most about the intro is its inductive approach. When Cintron narrates his data-collecting process — 300 pages of notes, 91 tapes, 100+ documents in one round and then a slew more in yet another round years later — and then we see how he arranges that data by navigating specific moments with Don Angel, Valerio, and others alongside his own interpretations, I get the sense of how messy and chaotic this project must have been. Although Cintron isn’t always explicit in connecting his dots, the reader certainly benefits from what must have been a rigorous revision process.
A couple of questions for me as I read through these chapters:
- Last week as we read and discussed an anthropology of writing (AOW), we heard perspectives about how an AOW studies so-called mundane sites like the workplace; this is different from ethnographers of the early and mid 20th century who studied othered, exotic sites and cultures. In chapter 2 of Angel Town, Cintron take up the question of romanticizing the subject: “For those who read and write ethnographies, the fieldsite is an ethnographic trope that generates both the spell of the exotic (romance) and resistance (science) to that spell” (16). Cintron tries to address this contradiction by studying a mundane map of Angeltown that “deflates the exotic and, in so doing, amplifies it” (16). As a researcher interested in studying a site that has shaped my own identity (self-publishing) I worry that I might fall prey to the romance Cintron evokes in this chapter. When we study material and subjects near and dear to us, then, how do we balance the romantic with the scientific? Does Cintron succeed in chapter 2 and throughout Angels Town?
- A CCC review of Angels Town called my attention to Cintron’s move to construct metaphors from his data. This made sense to me given the inductiveness of his project. But is his reading of data too figurative? That is, does he ever make too much of certain details (his reading of Valerio’s obsession of cars, for instance)? Is his rhetorical reading of certain instances of everyday life in Angeltown paradoxically too sweeping?
- Finally, given that Cintron’s fieldwork is now 20-25 years old, how might our privilege of distance help us assess the significance of this work in terms of cultural anthropology and writing studies? What do we need to take from this for our own work, and what needs to be left alone?
This week I’ve been knee-deep in ethnographic studies, compiling a bibliography on zines and self-sponsored writing. Depending on how you define ethnography, I’ve been hard-pressed to find any other method at work except historical analysis. Granted, some of these studies are more empirical than others, but pretty much every one of them has used a combination of textual analysis, interview, and observation (with some more emic in their perspective than others). Interestingly, in the intro to one of the least transparent studies (yet unarguably the most influential), Notes From Underground (1997), Stephen Duncombe illustrates “the anxiety of authority” that Patricia Sullivan identifies in “Ethnography and the Problem of the ‘Other'”:
Still others will be disappointed that I’ve written a book on zines at all. Isn’t this just another exploitation of zines, “selling out” the underground to the above-ground world? Perhaps. But alternative culture has already been discovered — the more important question is who will represent it and how. The ways in which I explore and explain the world of zines certainly bear the mark of my theoretical interests and political concerns, but I’m of the world I write and my concern for the underground runs deeper than its status as this (or last) season’s cultural exotica. More important, I’m a conscientious observer and a careful listener. And I believe that what zinesters have to say and what zines represent are too important to stay sequestered within the walls of a subcultural ghetto. (20)
Duncombe justifies his ethics by adopting the emic perspective of charitable participant-observer. And yet at the end of Notes he argues that as long as zines cling to a negative identity — an identity always at odds with but also attached to a dominant consumer culture — they will be politically ineffective. In fact, in a new afterward for the 2nd edition (2008) he accuses print zines of being little more than “an exercise in nostalgia,” characterizing zines as a bohemic ghetto (212). Of course Duncombe also lauds zines throughout Notes, but readers are left wondering how zinesters themselves — especially the thousands who still practice zine-ing — feel about this characterization of them.
Perhaps an even more problematic example is Fanzines (2010) by Teal Triggs, who has been accused of printing zine covers without the permission of the authors or barely dialoging with her research subjects at all, a problem that led her to get several facts wrong in her book. While Triggs employs a purely historical/textual analysis in Fanzines, if the accusations are true, this is not only a legal issue for the zine community, but an ethical one that puts folks like me — potential researchers of zine communities — on notice. At the very least, perception is reality and zinesters have good reason to doubt the intentions of academics who are interested in speaking for them. Luckily, as Janice Radway has recently argued, many zinesters are also academics and librarians (like Jerianne at Underground Press) so they’re not completely divided communities.
In any case, the ethics of ethnographers are taken up by several readings this week and I’d like to focus on two widely cited essays in particular from Ethics and Representation in Qualitative Studies of Literacy (1996): Tom Newkirk’s “Seduction and Betrayal in Qualitative Research” and Patricia Sullivan’s “Ethnography and the Problem of the ‘Other.'” Both advocate for a more critical understanding of ethnography, especially those that “study down” (e.g. examine the literate practices of those with less power), but represent slightly incompatible views of how to mitigate the ethical problems such qualitative work engenders.
For Newkirk, the problem is informed consent: how to make research subjects aware that the information they provide could render them negatively — as racist teachers, bourgeois professionals, or unethical citizens. For Sullivan, a research project should “ultimately aim to benefit those whose voices, texts, and circumstances make [our] understanding possible” (98). For Newkirk, ethnography should allow for (and probably require) some bad news; Sullivan, on the other hand, is less comfortable with those conclusions, seeking to not just inform subjects of their representation, but to include them in actively constructing it. For Sullivan, self-reflexivity — “the explicit rendering of one’s own theoretical and political assumptions and beliefs as well as one’s experiences and emotions in the process of fieldwork — isn’t enough. Power-sharing discourse should be present throughout the research process where, “[p]articipants are involved in framing research questions, collecting and interpreting data, commenting on, and sometimes in, the final text” (109).
This is perhaps where Sullivan and Newkirk are incompatible. While Newkirk argues for dialogue with participants within the process — especially with the consent agreement and “interpretation of problematical situations” during data gathering. Sullivan, though, would give participants more agency than this, involving them from the get-go when framing research questions and deciding which data is relevant data. I wonder, though, if Sullivan is painting too idealistic a picture of the research process. I wonder this partially because I can’t imagine wandering into a zine convention on onto an online zine community and asking them what questions should be asked. I’d receive empty looks or snide rebuttals. After all, if I don’t know what I’m looking for, then why am at that site.
One study I’ve encountered through my bib that does emulate an ideal research practice is Katherine Schultz’s “Looking across Space and Time” from RTE in 2002. In that fairly influential study, Schultz uses multi-site ethnography to understand the literacy practices of high school students across contexts, in school and out. From her data analysis, Schultz find three themes from out-of-school writing: “(a) writing was largely a private practice they kept separate from their school lives, (b) writing was used to take a critical stance, c) writing was a bridge between their homes and school worlds” (368). One of the major and important conclusions to evolve from this last pattern is that once students graduated, they stopped writing out of school. Part of what I liked about this study was Schultz’s narration of how she triangulated data with her student participants even as she helped cart them back and forth from school to job in her car: “I showed the findings to the research participants to determine if the findings seemed valid from their perspectives” (367). And when she discusses the teachers in the study, she characterizes them as thoughtful and relevant. In fact, one implication of her findings is that school sponsorships of literacy have an indirect effects on self-sponsorships of literacy.
Even though I think this is an ethical study, it makes me wonder what kinds of decisions she had to make throughout the process. Did she show her work to the teachers, who more or less have a back seat in the study? I wonder what other example studies in the field are useful for discussing Newkirk, Sullivan, and others this week. Thoughts?
At the end of his book, Robert Stake characterizes the essence of qualitative research as innately limited to the specific:
“It has been important to learn that how the thing works in several small situations does not aggregate to solving a big-thing problem. Answers to macro problems call mostly for study of macro situations. Answers to micro problems call mostly for study of micro situations” (216).
However, for Purcell-Gates, Perry, and Briseño (“Analyzing Literacy Practice: Grounded Theory to Model”), aggregation of these small situations is the rub — perhaps not to solve a “big-thing problem” (such as illiteracy or social reproduction) but at least to perform replicable, cross-case analyses for “(a) the desire to reach for greater generalizability than that afforded by a single case and (b) to deepen understanding and explanation” (451, emphasis in original). The authors develop a theoretical and methodological model with the Cultural Practices of Literacy Study (CPLS), that collects specifically-coded ethnographic data from numerous sites, enters them into a database, for the purpose of more sophisticated theories of literacy that might lead to more effective pedagogies for “historically marginalized groups.”
Drawing from New Literacy Studies (NLS), the theoretical framework assumes that literate practices need to be “situated within social and cultural contexts and within relationships of power and ideology” (441). The researchers’ codes reflect this framework as they aim to document the context and the practice of the literacy events they observe. For example, they code a subject’s “social activity domain” based on the tokens of data observed (as folksomatic) in context (i.e. a person doing homework at a football game would be coded as SCH — schooling). Using genre theory as a guide, they code “text types” (e.g. novel) and “text forms” (e.g. book), the former nested within the latter.
Honestly, though, I found the examples of the coding scheme confusing. For social activity domain, they give the example of taxi driver reading the newspaper. Because he’s reading it while waiting in line for his fare turn, they coded it as Work. A paragraph later, however, they explain that they always “considered the nature of the activity, irrespective of where it occurred” when coding. Who’s to say the newspaper reading wasn’t serving some civic purpose (CIV) or communal one (COM)? Moreover, the authors locate social activity domain under literacy event codes, but then provide a figure on p. 450 that places “social activity” waaay outside the literacy event, rendering it unobservable according to NLS. My sense is that their coding scheme is an attempt to narrow the gap between literacy events — which are observable — and literacy practices — which are usually inferred, in order to more fully understand how literacy works in context of the subject (something that Theresa Lillis apparently attempts in our other reading this week). But despite reading this section multiple times, I’m just not sure.
The coding is obviously important as the authors aim to generalize from several ethnographic studies of various historically marginalized groups. The example research question given — “Does agency look different (is it instantiated differently) within different hegemonic contexts?” — leads to the conclusion that a more complex definition of hegemony (or more accurately hegemonies) is appropriate, given that resistance and appropriation of the historically marginalized are always situated. Although I didn’t think about this when I originally read the article, I now wonder about not only about the efficacy of such an aggregated approach, but also the ethics of it.
As Stake argues in the last chapter of Qualitative Research:
“I am not confident we serve the people we research well. How accurately do we read their need, their aspiration, their constraint? We are confident, sometimes overly confident, that the more we know about them, the better we tell their story. What is the evidence that the impoverished are empowered when we portray their impoverishment?” (202).
I suppose I wonder if this concern could be applied to macro qualitative research as well as micro? In exposing some of the hegemonies that historically marginalized groups have navigated, what is gained? The authors of argue that the third purpose of the CPLS is to design instruction that will “provide links between the literacy worlds of students and literacy instruction within formal educational contexts” (440), but how much of their research will actually support that goal? How much of it might actual objectify or homogenize “historically marginalized groups” under one rubric? I appreciated the sophistication of the CPLS and its goals (especially after discussing the potential and difficulty of the digital humanities last semester), but I did wonder if others had thoughts about both the possibility and the ethics of the database.
I was going to do a detailed summary of Bazerman’s “Theories of the Middle Range in Historical Studies” (Written Communication, 2008), the most fab read for CCR 635 this week, but hot damn if Tim didn’t knock this out of the park already. Instead, I’d like to focus on the piece Tim and my fellow bloggers didn’t address in their posts this week (being late to the game affords me such perspective): Peter Mortensen’s “Analyzing Talk About Writing,” one of five selections we read from Kirsch & Sullivan’s landmark 1992 book, Methods and Methodology in Composition Research. The piece is worth revisiting because (a) it’s a bit of messy read, and (2) its arguments have important outcomes for writing instruction (as opposed to curricula or assessment), including writing centers.
Mortensen’s chapter aims to provide an complicated exploration and critique of the methodologies of discourse analysis in composition studies. For Mortensen, talk about writing, or “conversation in which speakers attend to text or the processes of creating text” (105), is limited because any representation of such talk about writing in research “cannot begin to capture the texture of what people say when they discuss a piece of writing in progress” (106). Thus, inquiries into talk about writing fundamentally lead to a rhetoric about how talk about writing works within any given site. This sets up Mortensen’s own methodology — rhetorically analyzing various studies of discourse analysis to see which arguments are un/persuasive and why.
He begins by identifying three ways of analyzing talk: conversation, pragmatic, and functional analyses. With conversation analysis, researchers “attempt to make sense of talk from the perspective of its participants.” And yet those perspectives are complicated by something called “intersubjective understandings,” meanings negotiated between subjects that extend beyond the immediate talk observed by the researcher. In some cases the researcher knows the context; in some cases, not. But because of intersubjectivity, it is important for researchers to be explicit to readers about their level of familiarity with the subjects: the extent to which they knew why the subjects were speaking, their communicative goals, etc. Mortensen then analyzes a study 1987 by Freedman and Katz (from this edited collection) that looked at talk in writing conferences. From this study, Mortensen identifies two methodological problems with conversation analysis. First, conversational analyses have the burden of identifying who defines “normal” in a conversation — the participants? the researcher? If it is the participants, then the researcher should develop a method to triangulate findings. In the Freedman and Katz example, Mortensen suggests gathering the teacher and students’ interpretations of the conversation, which would have validated or challenged the researchers’ analysis. This would also insure that they “respect the agency of their subjects and not cast them as purely ‘resources'” an argument he makes later in the chapter.
A second problem Mortensen raises is that a strict structural analysis of turn-taking (looking at adjacency pairs, for example) isn’t valid without taking the conversation’s context into account. He cites Irene Wong’s examination of the negotiability of content per topic in a given conversation. (She found, for example, that in tech writing courses teachers were more willing to negotiate certain genres that were more alien to them, but asserted authority when they were more confident with content.) While Mortensen reasserts that “it impossible to render an accurate transcription of a conversational exchange” (111), detailed transcriptions of conversations, complete with nonverbal utterances, is essential to conversational analyses.
While conversational analyses examines how meaning is negotiated by participants through conversation, other methods of analyzing talking — pragmatic analysis and functional analysis — suggest a more taxonomic approach where conversational codes and rules are prescribed prior to conversation. Specifically, pragmatic analysis prescribes rules for “what normal conversation ought to be” (112) and is influenced by H.P. Grice’s “cooperative principle” which provides a rubric of sorts as to how conversation can be “maximally efficient, rational, and cooperative.” Although Grice’s principles prescribe behavior, pragmatic principles are useful for describing utterances (and apparently folks like Marilyn Cooper have used them with student papers). The difference between pragmatic analysis and conversational analysis is that the latter is “far more circumspect, and sensitive to local ethnological norms of talk, in their formulations” (Toolan qtd. in Mortensen 113).
But Mortensen doesn’t discount an approach that is “constitutive and prescriptive,” one that “assumes that conversations appear orderly and coherent because speakers are predisposed to agree on the rules that govern what units can be combined to make well-formed utterances” (113). Functional approaches ignore negotiation and assume an ideal conversational experience where participants share the rules for discourse to the extent that they “strike simultaneously the same mental chord in their listeners’ mind and their own (114). While Mortensen’s definitions aren’t very clear to me, his example of Gere and Abbott’s study of high school conversation groups is illustrative of functional analyses’ methods. In their study they use a taxonomy of utterances based on function that allow them to quantify talk. While “meaning is not openly negotiated,” with a functional analysis, context needs to be accounted for in exchanges.
In addition to providing sketches of these three approaches to discourse analysis, Mortensen outlines poststructural perspectives from Derrida, Phelps, and Susan Miller. Interrogating both the primacy of writing (over speech) and prior conceptions of subjectivity, “the writing subject demands that we attend not only to inscription, or to the moment of inscription, but also to the panorama of human activities that condition intention and interpretation” (118, emphasis mine). Mortensen argues that we can address such panoramas by viewing dialogues as intertextual and intersubjective. Intertextuality is the notion that “all texts are related through the references they make to one another, whether subtle or obvious” (118). Intersubjectivity seems to suggest that social worlds are co-created through communication, through language. As Mortensen puts it “the social structures that shape human relationships are held to be prior to the construction of individual minds” (in other words there is no “self” prior to others) (120).
Mortensen ends the the piece by highlighting some of the gaps in research in talk about writing, Namely:
- Many studies of talk about writing have acknowledged intersubjectivity since negotiation in conversation is proof that we are endlessly working through social structures (Seinfeld immediately comes to mind). These studies have looked at how people talk about writing. However, fewer studies have looked at “the influence of talk on a particular piece of writing, and vice versa” (121, emphasis original). The few studies that have been done on this question, argues Mortensen, are interesting because they “yield unexpected findings” (note that “unexpected findings” seems to be the golden standard when it comes to research goals — see Bazerman this week).
- Research on talk about writing have been limited to school settings — primarily secondary and post-secondary classrooms. Research at workplace sites or in other settings might yield interesting (unexpected?) findings.
- Sociocultural factors like race, class, gender, etc. haven’t been satisfactorily accounted for in studies of talk. Marginalized subjects, in particular, will require new methods since researchers, according to Mortensen, obviously “identity with the dominant culture” (123) and will distort findings.
Mortensen concludes by arguing that any “research on talk about writing creates ‘fictions’ that relate the researcher’s experience of the phenomenon under study” (123). To make such fictions ethical, then, Mortensen argues that subjects should play an active role with respect to the research (hence his criticism that Freeman and Katz do not ask their subjects to weigh in on their conversational analysis). Although Mortensen doesn’t mention it, this perspective seems to be an illustration of the reflexive feminist research methods Sullivan, Schell and others have argued for (and Barton critiques). He leans on Haraway to legitimize the argument that “researchers must respect the agency of their subjects and not cast them as purely ‘resources’ from which to approximate knowledge for reproduction” (124).
Looking back more closely at Mortensen, seeing how he calls all studies fictions, I now wonder if he believes that empirical studies are even possible. He gives pragmatic and functional analyses praise, so I think he deems them worthy pursuits, yet his critique at the end of this piece makes me wonder how serious he would take empirical (more positivistic) studies.
He also doesn’t seem to address how a better understanding of talk about writing might affect pedagogy. For me, talk seems to be one of the most important — if not thee most important — means to improving writing instruction. And yet studies of talk about writing don’t seem to get taken up in CCC (I admit this is shaky assessment on my part). Have we adequately focused on instruction (as opposed to assessment or curriculum)? When we talked about writing pedagogy last semester in CCR 632, it seemed like we focused an awful lot on the “what” of the classroom and not so much the why or how. How do we structure our class discussions, for example, so that we break the initiate-respond-evaluate triplet Hugh Mehan found in 1979 and that still dominates our classrooms? What studies have we published on the affect of student-led discussion on their writing? I ask this because in WRT 205, I’ve long tried to use principles of academic writing to teach students how to write discussion questions. (See handout below.)
Perhaps this also interests me because in its rawest form, writing centers only have talk, they only have instruction to work on in their ongoing development. Consultants don’t design assignments, syllabi, or curricula and they certainly don’t assess writers. How does the writing center site affect talk about writing?
Last week in CCR 635, Advanced Research Methods, we read and discussed a few frames in which to view empirical research in the social sciences (and in particular, writing studies). As I mentioned here last week, Smagorinsky’s Written Communication piece (2009) on the Method section and Hayes, et al’s second chapter from Reading Empirical Research Studies (1992) were particularly grounded. Before discussing Emig, then, I wanted to jump back and outline some of the definitions that Hayes, et al use in Section B of their second chapter on types of empirical studies. I used Bubbl.us here to help break this down (see image).
It doesn’t take a masters degree to figure out that Emig’s The Composing Process of Twelfth Graders is a case study, a kind of descriptive study, but what’s interesting about it is why it had to be one. According to Hayes, et al, it’s because descriptive studies are necessary when “the researcher does not have specific hypotheses to test” because “the domain is not yet well explored” (23). As Nystrand points out in “The Social and Historical Context for Writing Research,” Emig’s study is often the first plot in sketching a history of composition research in North America, even though it wasn’t necessarily the first empirical study. In the preface to Composing Earl Buxton of NCTE notes that Emig’s method emerged from an “adaptation of the case-study method” from Braddock, Lloyd-Jones, and Schoer’s Research in Written Composition. What seems significant about “Composing,” however, is such studies continued sponsorship from NCTE. As Nystrand argues, previous studies “were isolated and unsupported by professional networks and support systems, including doctoral programs training writing researchers and overseeing dissertation studies, as well as refereed research journals and professional organization special interest groups devoted to such research” (11). Both Research in Written Composition (1963) and The Composing Processes of Twelfth Graders (1971) were published by NCTE.
If the “characteristic outcome” of descriptive studies is to “formulate hypotheses,” (Hayes, et al) it would explain why Emig lists four “hypotheses” in the introduction to the study. At first I interpreted “hypotheses” as a traditional definition: as theories as to how these writers might compose going into the study (pre-data collection). However, as I read on (and revisited Hayes, et al), I understood them more as outcomes of the study, formulations for further research. So if I’m reading this correctly, then, the idea is that future researchers might conduct additional descriptive correlational or experimental studies to follow up on some of Emig’s findings. Like what?
In Chapter 7: Implications, Emig outlines some of the possibilities, including a similar study with a larger sample size and wider range of abilities (one of the weaknesses of this study is that all but two writers are good to exceptional — see bottom of page 29); a study comparing the composing processes of high school writers versus adults, longitudinal studies throughout a sample’s schooling, cross-cultural studies and others. But according to her, “the most promising aspect” of the study is the composing aloud protocol, the 6th dimension of a more or less linear process she uses as her mode of analysis throughout the study (a dimension that is, interestingly, “recursive”). On this dimension she argues for techniques that would allow for “finer calibration,” including the use of time-lapse photography or a stylus to track the starting and stopping motions throughout a writer’s process (96). Emig’s wish to use other technologies to mark the nonverbal actions of the writer to better measure this dimension of the process speaks to the difficulty of relying on such data (as a classmate mentioned last week, composing aloud is hard). It made we wonder if other studies have been done with cameras and electronic devices since this one to see how writers compose. (I imagine so.) It also made me wonder if anyone has captured data with eye-tracking devices used in usability testing.
Having the chance to read Emig’s study after all these years of secondary and post-secondary teaching and training made me realize the effect this study had on the process movement, whose theories have dominated 2 of the 3 institutions I’ve taught at (can you guess which one isn’t included?). See the table there for a summary of findings.
If there’s a weakness to these findings it’s the linearity of the modes and the binary of school v self (as Nystrand notes, “the social 80s” shed light on the weakness of cognitive models and their inability to conceptualize audience with any complexity).
Finally, I have to say I was relatively shocked by the tone of condemnation Emig takes toward teachers throughout the study and especially in the last section. For example, in the chapter about Lynn (her primo sample subject), she writes “there is the inescapable impression that Lynn is more sophisticated than her teachers, both as to the level of her stylistic concerns and to the accuracy and profundity of her analysis of herself as a writer” (73). On page 98 in the Implications chapter she also argues that a pervasive “teacher illiteracy” exists: that teachers don’t read contemporary work (a bunch of white dudes, plus Gloria Steinem is in her list), don’t write compositions, and, as a result, show students anachronistic models of writing and “truncate the process of composing”; teaching composition in America in the late 60s/early 70s “is essentially a neurotic activity” (99). As a result of this assessment, Emig argues for more reflexive (as opposed to extensive) writing, offering more generous opportunities for students to compose so that they spend more time prewriting and planning, reformulating, and talking with one another about their work. The implications, it seems, could be rewritten as tenets for the process movement.
Emig, Janet A. The Composing Processes of Twelfth Graders. NCTE, 1971. Print.
Nystrand, Martin. “The Social and Historical Context for Writing Research.” Handbook of Writing Research. Ed. Charles A. MacArthur, Steve Graham, & Jill Fitzgerald. New York: Guilford Press, 2008. 11-27. Print.
We’re kicking off CCR 635 with articles and book sections that provide invigorating overviews of empirical research, the methods section, and a review of recent texts in comp/rhet that attempt to capture the field’s seminal research. They are:
Anson, Chris. “Review Essay: A Field at Sixty-Something.” College Composition and Communication. 62.1 (2010): 216-228. Print.
Smagorinsky, Peter. “The Method Section as Conceptual Epicenter in Constructing Social Science Research Reports.” Written Communication. 25.3 (2008): 389-411. 23 Jan. 2012.
Young, Richard E. “Reading Research Papers.” Reading Empirical Research Studies: The Rhetoric of Research. Ed. Richard E. Young et al. Routledge, 1992. 11-40. Print.
Anson reviews the following tomes that were published in the latter half of the aughts based on their “historical reach,” “(inter)disciplinary breadth,” “international research,” and their ability to “take stock” of the field through reflective practice/observation:
Handbook of Research on Writing: History, Society, School, Individual, Text
Charles Bazerman, editor New York: Lawrence Erlbaum, 2008. 652 pp.
Handbook of Writing Research
Charles A. MacArthur, Steve Graham, and Jill Fitzgerald, editors New York: Guilford, 2006. 468 pp.
The Norton Book of Composition Studies
Susan Miller, editor New York: W.W. Norton, 2009. 1,760 pp.
Research on Composition: Multiple Perspectives on Two Decades of Change
Peter Smagorinsky, editor New York: Teachers College Press, 2006. 308 pp.
I know this sounds sophomoric, but I can’t help it: as I skimmed Anson’s review I was impressed at both the sheer amount of reading/refreshing he had to do to write such a short review and the disciplinary knowledge required to begin.
But the more practical pieces we read this week were Hayes, et al’s introduction (“Reading Research Reports”) to the terms and taxonomies of empirical studies and Smagorinsky’s argument for a more careful consideration of the methods section. Hayes et al breaks up their chapter into four handy sections:
- the format for the research report (abstract, intro, methods, results, discussion),
- types of empirical studies: hypothesis-testing studies (correlational and experimental) v descriptive studies (case study analysis, participant observation, and protocol analysis)
- modes of thought and argument in empirical research (including “common sources of alternative interpretations” re: stability, bias, researcher/participant effects, confounding factors, and faulty inferences)
- commonly used empirical measures (central tendency, variability, and correlation).
Because this chapter is rigid and loaded with relational terms (a rarity in a a theoretical program!), I’d really like to sketch these ideas and terms visually with bubbl.us sometime this week and repost.
Smagorinsky’s article, a wonderfully accessible essay which I had been hearing about for quite some time from J Lew, argues that greater care should be put toward the Method section of social science research (especially w/r/t the fields of literacy, education and comp/rhet). It should be essential to not only the product of the scholarship (in the sense that it would be publishable, replicable, or persuasive to its peers) but also its production (the process of its making). Smagorinsky, as former editor of RTE and and reviewer for nearly 30 different journals, finds a “lack of alignment” throughout most papers submitted to him to review. That is, the paper’s major sections — theory/literature, results, discussion — don’t add up. The Method section is the best place to start when it comes to research writing, argues Smagorinsky, because it is “the vehicle through which alignment” can be “systematically attempted” (405). “In particular,” he argues, “the outline of the analytic approach — for me, usually the articulation of a coding system — sets the terms for what I need to talk about means elsewhere in the manuscript” (406).