Session C ~ Differential Makings: Enacting Theories of Raced Experience in Digital Writing Research and Pedagogy

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Review by Erin A. Frost

Panelists
Douglas Walls, University of Central Florida
Stacey Pigg, University of Central Florida
Kendall Leon, Purdue University

This panel focused on methodologies for working in complex writing and research situations wherein participants are embodied or enculturated differently than researchers. Panelists discussed the creation and deployment of methodologies that reflect and facilitate diverse audiences’ epistemic practices, methodologies that resist the impulse to reduce or “clean up” the research process.

Douglas Walls, University of Central Florida
“‘Messy’ Research: How to Listen and See the Mess of Access Enacted”
Douglas Walls argued that “access” is usually understood at Computers & Writing as having to do with the digital divide or having to do with cultural contexts of use. In an effort to complicate the meaning of “access,” Walls suggested that we need to interrogate the sociocultural divide between students and teachers because thinking of access in this binary way can too easily cover over important messiness or complexity. For example, writing teachers will recognize a common narrative about students not wanting to write, but this clean narrative is complicated by recent laws criminalizing text messaging while driving and bans on laptops and cell phones in classrooms, which clearly demonstrate that writing is something students very much want to do. Walls suggested that our methodologies—and our tendency to use them to clean up our research results—have much to do with our fascination when students prove to be able, highly technological writers; creating space for messiness in our methodologies, then, can trouble the field’s conventional narratives around student writing.

Walls pointed out that a typical pedagogical research project might consist of stages involving an interview, a write-up, a clean-up—that is, a place where tension in results is minimized—and, finally, publication. He said the question this leads to, then, is: “How do you deal with all that mess and still clean it up enough to get published?” We frequently theorize access by looking at what we recognize rather than what our participants recognize; our job, as both teachers and researchers (and writers), is to create coherence. Allowing for messiness runs counter to this trained drive for coherence, but Walls argued that working against this impulse is worthwhile. Walls revised the model described above by forgoing the “clean-up” phase in favor of recognizing productive tensions.

Walls gave examples of this messy methodology in practice. One participant pointed out to him that access is a two-way street; if you can access, you can be accessed. Further, only a messy methodology can acknowledge the existence and consequences of a “slightly racist” post or other similar microaggressions. Likewise, messy methodology helps make clear that access to tools is easy, while access to the networks that live within those tools is far more challenging.

Belief in a clean digital divide, Walls argued, does not help us listen to theory-building practices. Rather than accept an easy understanding of access, we should show the mess. We should design methodologies that recognize and value contradiction.

Stacey Pigg, University of Central Florida,
Kendall Leon, Purdue University
“Operationalizing Conocimiento: Enacting Chicana Rhetoric in Computers and Writing Pedagogy and Research”
Stacey Pigg and Kendall Leon began their co-authored presentation (in which Leon participated via pre-recorded video addresses) by drawing on the work of Coco Fusco as well as numerous Computers & Writing scholars to argue that understandings of the web as inherently neutral, equal, or democratic can contribute to the invisibility of practices of domination and privilege. In other words, the web is fully capable of perpetuating embodied inequity. At the same time, such inequity is sometimes less apparent than it might be in other venues. This reality means that Computers & Writing scholars have a particular obligation to pay attention to the ways in which web-based work can be suspect. Pigg and Leon take up Chicana and mestizaje rhetorics, in particular the work of Gloria Anzaldúa, to theorize ways to move out of everyday technology practices that reinforce the invisibility of problematic web-based practices.

Pigg and Leon pointed out the timeliness and importance of drawing on Anzaldúa by incorporating Chela Sandoval’s argument that Third World women’s work is often read as something for particular populations rather than as a methodological framework in its own right. Further, they used Stuart Selber’s conception of functional, critical, and rhetorical literacies to demonstrate how a methodology operationalized out of Anzaldúa’s work can help digital writing researchers to do work with technologies while thinking about the ways that those technologies themselves shape research practice.

Pigg and Leon drew this methodology out of Anzaldúa’s explanation of the path to conocimiento (knowing) in the essay “now let us shift,” which was published in This Bridge We Call Home: Radical Visions for Transformation. First, though, they discussed how Anzaldúa’s influence was important to their methodological process in previous research projects, and yet they nevertheless struggled to include her. Because of this struggle and ultimate omission, they felt an obligation to return to Anzaldúa. They emphasized the importance of taking time to do this work; they saw it as an important and necessary revisiting, and it was out of this revisiting that this presentation was developed. Further, they argued that this methodological approach can help digital writing researchers to do immediately relevant work.

Anzaldúa introduces seven steps—which function recursively—for arriving at conocimiento in her “now let us shift” essay, which Pigg and Leon summarized as follows: rupture, in between-ness, detours/dis-identification, remembering, recomposing, connecting, and networking. For the sake of time, the authors focused on the first two steps:

  • Rupture is conceptualized as a fracturing that provides space for new growth; it is an end that is a beginning. Anzaldúa introduces the concept of rupture with the metaphor of an earthquake, suggesting that it takes a great force to move the things that have always been assumed out from under a person so that they might be forced to face a new landscape, new possibilities.  In the context of the classroom, Pigg explained, rupture might be achieved by asking digitally adept students to disconnect for a short time, focusing instead on other ways of learning.
  • In between-ness, or liminality, occurs in a space Anzaldúa calls neplanta. Neplanta is an intellectual space for critical self-reflection, a place where a student might question the cultural ideals she was raised with. Leon explained that all seven stages of conocimiento might occur within neplanta, and that the goal of this critical self-reflection is not cohesion but rather an ability to question everything and, perhaps, to embrace conflicting identities. For example, Leon said, the concept of neplanta has been invaluable to her in mentoring graduate students to slow down rather than constantly pushing to master and incorporate into their teaching the newest technology.

Pigg and Leon ultimately argued that a methodology operationalized out of Anzaldua’s seven steps to conocimiento has the potential to help us think through what rhetorical computer literacy looks like and what various approaches to writing with technology can embody. As taken directly from Pigg and Leon’s presentation, conocimiento offers digital writing scholars:

  1. A technology—a process of making a method—for ‘transforming perceptions’ and therefore ‘conditions of life’
  2. A theoretical apparatus that deconstructs the human/nonhuman binary without losing humanity in an autonomous disconnected subject
  3. An embodied and holistic process of making and of healing”

Pigg and Leon ended by noting that this presentation was based in theory, and that they did this purposefully and avoided a move toward action in order to honor the theory. In this way, the presentation is itself an embodiment of the methodology Pigg and Leon derive from Anzaldúa’s conocimiento.

Erin A. Frost is a graduate assistant in the Department of English at Illinois State University. She is pursuing a Ph.D. with specializations in technical communication, rhetoric/composition, and women’s and gender studies.

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