#cwcon 2016

Here’s the slide deck and script for my #cwcon 2016 talk, “The University Library as Junk Shop: Visualizing DIY Composition.”


4C15: “No More ‘Moneypeople’: Politicizing Multimodality Through Zines”

Below is an approximation of the talk I gave at my CCCC panel in Tampa last week, called “Meaning Is In the Making: Three Responses to Shipka & Her Response”. You can view the slidedeck here. Special thanks for co-panelists Frank Farmer and Kristi Prins, and an extra special thanks to our respondent, Jody Shipka.

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[slides 1-2]

4Cs is a annual reminder that the most intriguing aspects of Jody’s work can be gleaned from her own composing practices, where she makes meaning by experimenting with [slides 3-6] forgotten technologies and alternative archives, purchased through dedicated Saturday afternoon visits to Maryland junk shops, flea markets, estate sales, garage sales, and thrift stores which then get reassembled in her house, then edited through film and circulated via social media, journals, workshops, and, of course, national conferences. Her work gives objects a memorable, visceral afterlife through accumulation, curation, resuscitation, and remediation. [slides 7-8] In her Inhabiting Dorothy project, for example, she [planning to ad lib briefly here based on your panel]. In this paper, I’d like to align myself with Jody’s gestures to reuse materials, but apply this as a communicative practice that is more political than has been discussed in her work.

The act of reusing materials seems powerful to me because it employs an aesthetic and politics that Adela Licona has called second order consumption — an oppositional process that “disrupts the capitalist imperative and circuits of production and consumption that rely on the individual to value the new, the first, the singular, and the latest, including planned obsolescence” (153n60). I realize Jody’s intention isn’t necessarily to promote second order consumption when she criticizes our tendency to equate multimodality with digital texts, tools and processes. After all, first order consumption is being showcased right now through this machine — and Jody herself uses programs like Adobe Premiere Pro, and equipment, like iPads to make her films. And yet, defining multimodality beyond the digital encourages an awareness of second order consumption — to look to our own embodied histories, experiences, and traversals, as well as to our search engines and applications for the available means. As she argues in a 2012 film for Enculturation, “research is a lived process.”

In short, Jody has both theorized and demonstrated throughout her work that all communicative practice is multimodal. That is, following Paul Prior and Jason Palmeri, she argues that multimodality is not a genre or a certain kind of text, but a “routine dimension of language in use.” In her essay “Including, but Not Limited to, the Digital” she echoes an emphasis originally laid out in her book, Toward a Composition Made Whole, that multimodality should call our attention to systems of activity that lead to meaning-making. She explains how multimodal production is a “complex and highly distributed process”  that accounts for “the role that texts, talk, people, perceptions, semiotic resources, motives, activities, institutions and so on play in the production, reception, circulation, and valuation of” things — whether they are printed texts, digital films, material objects, machines, or other hybrid forms not yet imagined (75). Hence, rather than ask students to respond to assignments with specific, genre-driven products, Jody’s courses emphasize a variety of possible rhetorical and performative multimodal accomplishments — “things” that are not restricted by representational systems that were denied or made available to them by their instructors. Time permits me from fully explicating some of the rich examples from her classroom, but in short, Jody’s students make a wide variety of things — objects like ballet shoes, garbage cans, and shirts [slides 11-13].

In the time I have left, I want to quickly offer a multimodal accomplishment of the public kind by looking at zines self-made, self-circulated, do-it-yourself print publications that obsess about something, whether that “thing” is punk music, anarchism, bisexuality, Thai food, dishwashing jobs, murder histories, or something else. Before I theorize a bit about the multimodality of zines, I thought I’d illustrate what zines are and what they can do through an example of my own zine, Hotdogz.

I’ve been waiting to make a zine about parenting for a while and so I began Hotdogz knowing that Cs would be a useful occasion to connect my complicated experiences with Florida to the state’s broader social history. But instead of beginning with my own writing, I started making issue 1 with “F 319” — the Library of Congress letter and number most relevant to Florida history. Because zines are a visual medium, I found the relevant shelves in our university library and sat and fumbled through the books, pulling titles off the shelf and marking intriguing passages and pictures [slides 18-22], which I then scanned using one of dozens of photocopy machines in the library. Meanwhile, I gathered family images from my computer files and Flickr account. Knowing that I would eventually make photocopies of my zine, I used Photoshop to adjust my images from color to halftone black and white [slides 23-31]. In between these processes, I read a few chapters from the edited collection, The History of Florida and took notes on the facts and stories from Floridian history that struck me; I also began to narrate my familial history as simply as possible. I then downloaded and imported a free comic book font into Pages and printed these with my images on my aging laser printer.

Similar to Jody’s process for making films and her students’ processes for their projects, zines often take, borrow, and remediate from everyday materials. Mine came from the library and my own photos, but they could have just as easily come from printed matter found in junk shops, garage sales, or through Google Image. However, unlike the multimodal accomplishments articulated in Jody’s examples, the guiding force for making zines isn’t performance or interanimation but circulation; that is, although the epistemologies of our communicative practices are similar in our view of research as a lived process, success for a zine is determined by the rhetor’s ability to anticipate what happens after the prototype is built: how, where, and to whom the zine be distributed. This is facilitated by two critical encounters — one material, one cultural — that influence the goals and choices made in the production process: the copy machine and the stranger.

For example, in terms of materiality, not only did the copy machine dictate how my images would reproduce, but [slide 36] I chose to make my zine a fourth of the size of a letter sized sheet of paper since I could make 50 copies of a 24-page zine using only 150 sheets of doubled-sided paper. In other words, I could reach more people with less resources if I worked with less space. I then spent 3 late hours in my department’s copy room, printing, collating, cutting, folding, and stapling issue 1. And, of course, as a cultural encounter, Cs provided me with the temporal and spatial occasion to circulate a zine to you, strangers, all of whom will judge me on the appropriateness of the occasion, my awareness of kairos.

In their book The Available Means of Persuasion Sheridan, Ridolfo, and Michel suggest that “kairotic inventiveness” plays an essential role in public rhetoric since it not only requires an understanding of how composition anticipates circulation, but also how kairotic determinants — time, space, channels — are often beyond the rhetor’s control. This has particular importance for public pedagogies that make use of multimodal forms as the material and cultural contexts of those forms limit the available means for production and circulation. As Sheridan, Ridolfo, and Michel put it,  “rhetorical theory has yet to confront the full implications of taking circulation into account” (61) realizing that it is at least partially “constitutive of rhetorical composition” (67; emphasis in original); this gap in our theory is reflected in our multimodal pedagogies.

For example, when I ask students to make zines in my undergraduate classes they fully immerse themselves in the production process — [slides 40-43] cutting and pasting covers from old copies of Seventeen, remediating their nonfiction through comics or handwriting and type, scanning old children’s books from the library to use as backgrounds, and even sprinkling glitter throughout. But sometimes when I remind them that the photocopy is what’s really important for zines, they seem a bit disappointed. For some of them who are used to the ethos of professional magazines, black and white just isn’t what they envisioned; if they want a color cover or stitched binding, for instance, they have to find a way to reproduce that effect 20, 30, or even 50 times. Some students do vouch for color copies, but even then they have to significantly reduce their print runs if they want to stay within a reasonable budget. The printed copy is the reality that part of circulating one’s work means loosing control — that it means coming to terms with kairotic determinants that bring rhetorical agency in sharp relief. They learn that to publish is ultimately to commodify writing and that the available means of production and mediation are based on their own resourcefulness and capital.

While it is true that Facebook posts, retweets, blog entries, and wiki edits constitute other ways in which students engage textual reproduction (and they do this for me too), new media can sometimes obscure the material aspects of circulation. I can create a blog in no time, but who will read it? When it comes to distribution, zines don’t work through bots or analytics. They are either seen or they’re not. Hence, putting all those copies to public use is part of the multimodal work of zines. For this reason, I’ve pushed students to organize, curate, and publicize zine festivals hosted on campus where they can distributed copies of their work to strangers. On Tuesday, for instance, my students made the decision to [not sure what they decided yet — put I was pushing for a public festival like my Spring 2013 students did!]. When my students did this in the Spring 2013, they circulated their work for more than 30 strangers made of writing professors and the friends of their classmates.

As Sheridan, Ridolfo, and Michel argue in the introduction to their book, when the field brings multimodality and the public turn together, it can more clearly see the importance of who has — or does not have — the available means of production and mediation. In other words: “who owns culture” (xvi; emphasis in original) becomes a paramount concern.  This extends — but also politicizes — Jody’s arguments that multimodal frameworks should be “engineered to underscore the interconnectedness of systems of production, distribution, reception, circulation, and valuation” (77). DIY and zines have historically pushed the politics of this interconnectedness, always aiming to minimize or altogether eliminate “moneypeople” — what Mary Sheridan has dubbed “corporate intermediaries” — from their systems. Although their content isn’t always political, the anticipation of circulation in the material production of zines renders these intermediaries — human and nonhuman agents alike — more clearly.

Even as zines limit the available “representational system” to printed objects, the ecology of their multimodality — their original obsessions, their remediated scraps, their changing of hands — are worth exploring, not in spite of the late age of print, but because of it.

Zine Re/production: Part I

Note: This is the second of a five-part workshop I am doing for a class on community writing this semester.

Today we’re going to build from making a mini-zine to something more complex. Today’s zine will be especially different because I’m also going to introduce you (in small groups) to the copy machine, where we can experiment with some basic reproduction techniques. But first…

1. Reflect on your experience making a mini-zine.

Last week you made a mini-zine in about 90 minutes, which allowed you to experience the entire process of zine-making: thinking up an idea, marking pages, making and folding multiple copies, and distributing them all over campus. So I’d like to start today reflecting on both the excitement of that process, but also its challenges. In short, what did you learn from making a mini-zine? And did you see Sara in the Daily Orange today?

2. Know the design-cost ratio.

While hardly scientific, DIY bookmaking essentially works on a simple tradeoff principle I’ve called the design-cost ratio. That is, the more you invest in the design of your book or zine, the more costly it will become — either in terms of $, labor, or time. At the same time, the more you invest, the wider your reach and more likely your zine will stand out among others.

design-cost ratio

I think of this, then, in terms of variables.

On the design side you have:

  • paper — size, color, weight
  • marks — cut & paste (collage, pen & ink, etc.), digital (typography, images, etc.), colors, margins, etc.
  • folds — landscape, portrait, middle, accordion, etc.
  • bindings — stapled, stitched, rubber bands, taped, ringed

On the cost side, you have

  • # of pages
  • # of copies
  • access to tools
  • methods of reproduction
  • means of distribution

These are just some of the things you need to think about when you decide to make a zine.

3. Basic tools.

I’ll introduce you to some of the tools we have available, although it should be obvious that there are many, many more than is represented here.


4. Practice.

Take the rest of our time together to look at the handout I distributed on the standard 1/2 page zine, the micro mini, and making copy-ready masters. Then start experimenting with prototypes. After 15 minutes or so, I’ll start taking some of you to the copy machine to show you how your prototypes will look when photocopied and in book form.

Unexpected: Positive affective energies

UPDATE (3/31): The Syracuse U student paper, The Daily Orangeran a story on HappyCUSE on March 31, 2014, including a brief quote by yours truly.

I ran this workshop for a 400-level community writing class yesterday and it went pretty well. It took longer than I imagined (about 90 minutes as opposed to the 60 originally allotted), but the variety of mini-zines that came out of this workshop was impressive. I copied their zines while they moved on to another activity with the instructor (this is a 3-hour class) and dropped off the pile of 100 unfolded zines before I left.

Most useful to me was to discover yet another way to experiment with experiential circulation, but without dedicating an entire unit or course to DIY or zines. I didn’t say much to the students in terms of what they could(n’t) or should(n’t) write about. I only suggested that if students were stuck, that they could imagine where their zines might be shopdropped; that is, by imagining the possible publics who might read their zines, they could think of the various messages they wanted to circulate. The original plan was to exchange multiple zines in class and work together to shopdrop all 100 zines around campus. The exchange also made it so that if they did have ideal drop sites in mind, they could make them explicit through their content (a zine with a card catalog number on it for example, might suggest placement at the library). 

Also interesting was the fact that students improvised a range of tools and invention strategies when they were asked to physically make a zine. Some used stats or images they got from their smartphones and copied them with pens; some ran downstairs to grab a newspaper to cut and paste using the scissors and glue stick we brought; others dug in their bags for different sized pens or used ours; and yet others still  simply talked through their ideas in groups.

At least one writer took it to a pretty amazing, and surprising extreme, shopdropping more than the expected five zines around campus:

Over the last 10 hours, @happyCuse has tweeted over 45 times and gained 62 followers by shopdropping what appears to be at least a dozen zines all over campus. And while I assumed shopdropping was a critical act of dissent, it was interesting to me that @happyCuse circulates what Catherine Chaput would call positive affective energies: “pathways that invite human connectivity and constitute knowledge as an ongoing, creative pursuit” (22). Folks who found the zine must have seen the hashtag and handle because they tweeted back once they’d found the zines. This is the kind of exchange that happens all the time in zine communities, but I didn’t think it could approximated in such a short workshop.

Anyway, I’d love to explore this connection further in the future, and think about shopdropping as a teachable, everyday circulatory practice, but for now, I’m simply going to accept the unexpected and look forward to the second workshop next Monday.

Shopdrop a mini-zine

Note: This is the first of a five-part workshop I am doing for a class on community writing this semester.

By way of an introduction to the grit of zine-making, we’re going to try to make a mini-zine in under 60 minutes. We’ll exchange these zines in class and it will be up to each of you to distribute these zines by way of shop-dropping (AKA droplifting), a form of culture jamming. You’ll be able to drop your zines and others in a number of places on campus or in Syracuse.

1. What’s a zine?

Let’s let nicki sabalu help us answer that.

2. Can I see some examples?

Yes! Let’s spend 10 minutes looking at some I’ve collected over the last year or so. As you browse these in groups of four, consider some of these questions:

  • How would you describe the variety of these zines in terms of form (that is the way they are put together) versus their content (that is, what their rhetorical goals are)?
  • Who is the implied audience for the zine? Who are its readers?
  • Think about the different processes these makers used envision, collect, and circulate their zines.

3. How do I make a zine?

We’ll make zines throughout the next few Mondays, but for today we’re going to take a stab at making a mini-zine. We can thank Sassyfrass Circus for helping us with this.


Take 30 minutes to follow the instructions above. In terms of content, think about the various places and audiences this zine might travel to. Or imply a specific space (i.e. the library) with your content.

4. Copy and distribute!

If we have time today, we’ll copy, fold, and cut these in class. Next, we’ll exchange them in class and discuss potential places for distribution. If we run out of time, we’ll bump this to next week’s workshop.

Selber’s Multiliteracies for a Digital Age

Stuart Selber’s Multiliteracies for a Digital Age (2004) develops a tripartite approach for teaching computer literacy, drawing from: (1) the functional approaches that treat students as users of tools, (2) critical approaches that treat students as questioners of cultural artifacts, and (3) rhetorical approaches that treat students as producers of hypertextual media (25). A key problem for Selber is reinserting a humanist, or what he calls “post critical” (3), edge into the more positivist orientations of digital work — stances that too often “consider technology to be a self-determining agent” (8). This instrumental view of technology (a term borrowed from Haas and Neuwirth) views technology as neutral and leads two problematic perspectives in English departments (and other depts imbued with liberal humanism): they either jettison everything tech because hermeneutics and close reading is their business, or embrace it but only as a handmaiden to the larger agenda of textual study.

MFDA is broken into five chapters: Chapter 1 outlines the recurring problems with computer literacy as currently articulated and deployed at universities; the middle three chapters sketch functional/critical/rhetorical approaches to literacy; the last chapter, Chapter 5, addresses the implementation of said approaches both across a program (i.e. one class per approach) and within individual courses (i.e. one assignment/unit per approach). Within each of the middle chapters, Selber provides helpful parameters for each approach. For example in Chapter 4, on rhetorical literacy, he considers how persuasion, deliberation, reflection, and social action all might play a role in teaching students how to design interfaces using a “thoughtful integration of functional and critical abilities” (145). In general, this is a praxis-oriented book and a text I’ll go back to when it comes to rethinking and/or developing curricula on digital writing.

I won’t dedicate too much space to my personal connections to the book, but there is one I want to mention. Selber begins Chapter 4 by introducing Johnson-Eiola’s discussion of production/connection from his article “Negative Spaces: From Production to Connection in Composition.” By emphasizing connection in our classes, J-E informs us, writers might “write with fragments,” focusing on “reorganizing and representing existing (and equally intertextualized) texts — their own included — in ways that are meaningful to specific audiences” (135). This reminds me of the difficulty in focusing on both — production and connection, or composition and circulation (see George & Matheiu) — and how important it is to consider shorter forms in curricula that want to do both. For example, in my DIY Publishing course last spring, asking students to produce a zine in 5-6 weeks privileged form(s) and arrangement, but it didn’t leave much time for content and the sort of inventive work that might help with it (actually, the same can be said for other aspects of the course, including our work with new media). Thus, it is important to be open to short forms and visualization, and other ideas of connection and curation so teachers have time to support students who have trouble making objects and texts.

In terms of how this book aligns with others I’ve read from the list, Selber, while critical, is interested in working from within institutions, offering a different approach than someone like Sharon Crowley, for whom the entire institutionalization of universal requirement of FYC is the essence of the discipline’s problem. That said, while Crowley critiques the entire structure, she is also clearly writing from within it. And what I appreciate about MLDA is its ability to use theory to richly qualify the recommendation it makes about practice. This seems necessary since Selber’s audience is broader than the traditional comp/rhet crowd — a strength and a weakness of the book. A strength because it is able to articulate a broad rhetorical vision for computer literacy to a wide camp of folks (English profs, deans, even students); however, at times his “heuristics,” although always carefully qualified, still feel too prescriptive. Certainly someone like Byron Hawk, who argues for a more ontological, vitalist approach to composition would take issue with both the structure and the tone of some of Selber’s recommendations.

Finally, MLDA would be a useful book for approaching exam questions about critical pedagogy/literacy, humanistic approaches to technology, discussions on the role of heuristics in the field, the purpose and function of composition, local v global curricula, self-reflexive methodologies and praxis, or conversations about the view of tech as tools.

Mortensen’s “Analyzing Talk about Writing”

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.)

Writing discussion clusters

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?