06 November 2009

In Anguish

Failed Seduction and Class Affect

More words that encapsulate my final reflective piece for class.

I've been reflecting quite a bit (by hand, in pen, in a notebook) on why my potential participants didn't respond to my queries. I wondered if it was the medium--through email for most, by phone for one--or the timing. It is a busy time in the semester, and the last thing a first-year student needs is another task to complete.

Or maybe it's that, for all of my posturing as "one of them" by outing myself in the introductory email, I created this paradigm of institutional sincerity that wasn't authentic.

The women were all part of a UT program that assists at-risk students. Most of them, I am told by the registrar, come from working-class or blue-collar families who can't afford the rising costs of higher education. Sounds familiar. Sounds like my story.

So I pitched the project as one of co-creation. They would work with me--really just one of them, a few years later--on establishing the parameters of the project. I learned quite a bit from Sharon Miller's article on betrayal. Tony was invited to be her co-researcher, and he took that role to heart.

What I totally discounted was emotion. The emotional baggage inherent in such a project. I nodded to my discomfort in asking women to plumb their experiences where there might be pain, and I alluded to the fact that I would have to win their trust.

Qualitative research is a believing game. It's a faith-based enterprise. They have to trust me, have faith that I won't, as Thomas Newkirk asserts, give out the "bad news." But my participants' lack of response is a response itself. Their silence tells me more about my project than any verbalized critique.

I think it's that, as much as I posture as one of them, they see the informed consent and my position in the university as masking my working-class roots. I am, by proxy, still always and ever a representative of UT. And UT is an institution that they may have a tense relationship with. I can empathize.

So some questions to guide me as I reflect on what might be seen as a wholly productive failure: What is their silence achieving rhetorically? Can I postulate without contacting them to ask? Did I not perform working class authentically enough, or is it that the digital age has made face-to-face communication uncomfortable? Are these even questions I should be asking? Why isn't there a space on the IRB form D (Termination of Project) for "Project could not be completed because students resisted the social structures implicit in the project"? Is their non-compliance only a symptom of their age? If so, why did two of them work to contact me?

With all of our talk of coercion, the bounds of DP, and how my attitude toward qualitative research in general has changed since September, I'm inclined to be okay with the messiness of this potential article. Lack of messiness is one of the points I critiqued in Reynolds, so I should definitely embrace the experience in all of its contradictions and ambiguity.

30 October 2009

Failed Seduction

I wanted to post on another topic today, since I've been in a sort of psychic meltdown since last Tuesday.

You see, I overestimated my persuasiveness. I thought I could convince 18 year olds to give up their free time to interview with me. I had very high hopes friends.

Instead: no dice. Two contacted me back. The rest are maintaining radio silence. I've contacted them three times, which to me constitutes on-the-edge-of-coercion. I am reminded of Thomas Newkirk's "Seduction and Betrayal in Qualitative Research." Sharon Miller addresses this same phenomena in "Lessons from Tony: Betrayal and Trust in Teacher Research." Miller asks, "But how far should we go to capture the data that we think we need?" Do we betray our students? Miller did. I think I could have certainly continued to seduce these women into participating in my project: more money, fewer interviews, a revised personality that reads more like a peer, less like the Assistant Director of Composition.

But this project is to be my first, and I can't stomach the psychological resistance. I can't stomach countering this resistance. I refuse to chase and coerce and woo and seduce and reward and possibly betray. My stance is from an ethics point, but it's also logistical. There's just not time to that convincing.

So I'm back to a proverbial square one. I've started my background reading for my new project on writing instructors who self-identify as working class or blue collar. Specifically, I'll be looking at graduate students (as opposed to lecturers or professors) because graduate school is the place where we're taught to be professionals, where we're led to construct our persona as a representative of the academy. So I'm reading Villanueva, Mike Rose, Giroux, Bordieu, collections of working-class academic autobiographies, Ira Shor, Alison Jagger. But I'd like to write up my experience with the failed project as my reflection piece this semester, especially as it relates to positioning and reflexivity. I think that's the kind of artifact I need (and is one that has the potential to turn into a co-authored article one day!).

That Sharon Miller article is here: http://www.nwp.org/cs/public/print/resource/149. Newkirk is in Mortensen and Kirsch, Ethics and Representation in Qualitative Studies of Literacy (which I'll have to recall soon if you have it. Let me know!).

Theory Hope and Feminism

I'm working on my review of Reynolds's The Single Woman, and I found it necessary to revisit Stanley Fish's "Anti-Foundationalism: Theory Hope, and the Teaching of Composition" (1987) to ground my review in Fish's skepticism. Fish asserts that "questions of fact, truth, correctness, validity, and clarity can neither be posed nor answered in reference to some extracontextual, ahistorical, nonsituational reality, or rule, or law, or value; rather anti-foundationalism asserts, all of these matters are intelligible and debatable only within the precincts of the contexts or situations or paradigms or communities that give them their local and changeable shape" (344). Reynolds relies of Fish's "theory hope" to carry her discussion of the politics of being single, though she does work to situate it "on the ground" and in the discourse of the women she interviewed. This point, I feel, is the one that draws the line between expansive critical theory as it's housed in the Humanities and theory as it exists in Educational Psychology. The first is ethereal, sometimes ephemeral; the second is lived. This point may be followed with a "Well, of course," but hang with me.

In 2003, Fish's article, "Theory's Hope," posited that "truly effective theorizing occurs within disciplinary contexts and in response to the urgent questions those contexts have precipitated." (The article can be found at http://criticalinquiry.uchicago.edu/issues/v30/30n2.Fish.html.) Theory hope, then, lies within disciplinary paradigms.

What I'm finding in Reynold's book is that she's writing against the non-history of research on singleness as she tries to (maybe imperfectly) set up this dichotomous relationship between single and not-single, alone and not-alone. She pivots to research on and with single women by using research about other types of women or by utilizing even more imperfect models of previous research on single women which she then critiques as both incomplete and misogynist. Some of the studies she uses as models, such as Giddens (p. 10), pits "ordinary women against feminist thinkers," a reproduction of the dichotomies she's working to explore/explode (but supports with the alone/not-alone approach).

Of course Reynold's findings seem to produce a continuum of aloneness, a counter to the alone/not-alone binary, but she enters the project with a full investment of theory hope, with the belief that her disciplinary theories will carry her project forward, scaffold it with understanding, and give it some relevance outside the local.

Maybe it's that The Single Woman was a dissertation and wasn't fully revised to NOT sound like a dissertation, but this all-in adoption of feminist models felt decidedly unfeminist to me in its adherence to strict disciplinary bounds and its use of foundational theories. I'm not assuming that feminist research must always create new models of communication or new methods of inquiry; however, Reynolds begins to hint at the Politics of Singleness without working much to counter these politics, besides through those broad concepts of "understanding" and "recognition."

20 October 2009

Collaboration? More like CollaborAWESOME

Okay, okay, okay. Call me a suck-up. But I have to say that I'm really lucky to have the group members I have. (That's Lu, Meg, and Tammy.) I'll be honest: When we first started on this group project, I had major misgivings. Despite my assertion that English studies should look at collaborative projects with the same eye as single-authored ones, despite the fact that most of my mentors co-author research projects, books, and articles, despite my service as project manager on one large-scale study, I still entered the DA group project with dread. It was very Clint Eastwood: I work alone.

But I've learned so much by just talking about ideas and by working together to form coherent, cohesive theses. We've met in person three times, and we add to our g-doc almost daily. We're able to share ideas and bounce prospects off one another. It's such a different experience from the single-authored studies I've done, and it's different in ways that are beneficial. I've learned that texts can be read in so many different ways and that I don't have all the answers. (Duh. I know. But remember that I'm from a field that glorifies the isolated, suffering author and that I've been taught to latch onto my ideas with a commitment and righteous fury unlike any other. At least in the old-school led classes I've had.) To be a part of a group where each member is thoughtful, intelligent, and diligent is an eye-opener.

I'll definitely seek out opportunities to collaborate in the future. (So, Tammy, if you ever need a co-author for your graffiti project, drop me a line! That would be fun!)

14 October 2009

(Hard) Work

I was revising my prospectus on Tuesday when it hit me: This isn't a prospectus anymore. It's a chapter. Sixty pages is a chapter. Imagine my surprise. So I promptly emailed my diss advisor: "I've decided to narrow my focus. I know you'll be happy."

He's happy. He's been telling me to focus for three years.

See, I bring so many assumptions to my research: that these women will undergo family challenges like I did, that they'll have their identities challenged in ways that connect to their college experience, that it's all struggle, struggle, struggle. Because that's my experience, and well, why wouldn't they?

I am still learning.

**sigh** What I am interested in finding out is how they conceive of this term "work," especially "hard work." I think the idea of what counts as "hard" work changes as we move through life. I'm interested in hearing how these women consider work, what counts as work, and who cares.

Now, though, since the interview process will start in earnest soon (I haven't yet contacted the participants, but I will tomorrow and Friday for introductions next week), I wonder if I shouldn't make private my thoughts about it. What do you think? It seems detrimental to my project to blog about it in such a public forum. Dr. Paulus?

I have established a Blackboard org site with a blog function, and I plan to blog along with my participants. Good idea? I'm interested in this idea of collaboration and co-construction of experience (not just the first-year experience, but the research and writing experience, which is one of the reasons I like looking at FYC classes).

Thoughts, anyone?

05 October 2009

Vulgar Competence

You know the kind: learn a few terms and all of a sudden they're "part of the crowd." Sometimes I feel like I posture this way for my students, sometimes in grad classes, sometimes with professors, though all of these identities become more salient as I enact them. When I was personal training, I'd tell my clients to "fake it until you make it." They'd show up at the gym in their athletic gear (I had a rule that each person must own at least one "nice" coordinated outfit that made them look like an athlete), with their water bottle, their workout plan, and a list of goals for that week. Over time, these people who said that they would never consider themselves athletes or even gym rats would own that identity and accept it as one they could enact with confidence.

Wow, is academia just like that. Just use the words and the posture and the clothes and the inflections until you "get" wherever you're going. But getting assumes linear travel. Going assumes movement. Movement assumes leaving behind. Which circulates back to my diss (as most things do).

I haven't been actively avoiding blogging. I have enough to say to blog on the daily. I did, however, take a bit of a respite from work, spent some time on a beach somewhere, came back with an inner-ear issue and monumental vertigo. You haven't lived until you've been barreling down a rooty, wet decline on a mountain bike at maybe 10 miles an hour, and the vertigo hits. Pretty amazing.

But even more amazing, right before I left for my coastal ear-infection jaunt, I received 30 UT student IDs from the registrar. When I came back from said vacation, I had received 15 responses. (edit: now 16!) Our discussion in class has me a bit gun shy about coercion, but I do have to follow up with the list at least once. I'd love to share their open-ended comments, but I can't. Let's just say that they were overwhelmingly positive.

With all that said, I'll join the ranks of people who enjoyed reading Rapley. I like the Research Kit books, which my friend calls the Flick Series (after Uwe Flick). I like that name better: let me go get my Flick book now. Anyway, I found chapter 6 to be especially helpful as it outlines the various methods of analysis scholars can take in approaching a text. I am most interested in the lexical analysis, and I think my team members are interested in the some of the other approaches (like turn taking).

Things are moving right along! Who else is in Advanced Qual next semester? Am I the only one taking it?

22 September 2009

I revise. I will revise. I have revised. I will have revised.

Oh prospectus.

So while I'm waiting for the registrar to get me my list of IDs, I digitized my survey for my participants. In a perfect world, I would distribute each in person, shake the hand of my potential participant, and thank them for their time. Instead, I had to go to SurveyMonkey. Bah. However, I do think with my population's own time crunches (I remember being terribly busy as a first-year student, or at least feeling terribly busy), they may be more likely to respond if it's digital. We shall see.

In the meantime, I'm burying myself in my prospectus in the hopes that it'll suddenly, magically clarify. I've made SO MANY assumptions that I didn't realize were assumptions until I was called out. (What do you mean? It isn't obvious that class is a cultural marker primarily free from theorizing? You want what? PROOF?) I found out that I've been doing the same thing I've accused others of doing: blind assertion, scant evidence, because-that's-the-way-I-want-it support. It's really no different than the collapse of productive discourse we were talking about last week. I'm still not optimistic about its return.

I am also interested in this connection between American ideals and discourse patterns. I think the wholesale adoption of the terms pro/con has structured how we think about issues, and we're working in FYC against these simplified answers to posit opinion as usually existing on a continuum somewhere, rarely to live at one extreme or the other. I blame 24-hour news and Internet info bytes. People so often complain that they get "bored" before they're finished reading, so they don't continue. If it's not packaged in easy-to-understand 30-second soundbites, they don't want it. Thus, they don't fully explore any topic. Maybe that's why this prospectus revision feels so painful: I'm deeply engaging with just a few major ideas (too many, if you ask my committee), instead of sliding along a bunch of ideas very quickly. I didn't think I was a member of this newly digital, newly distracted (ahem, conference anyone?) culture.

You've met those students: they google a few terms and make an argument. They visit two or three sites and suddenly have a full understanding of an issue. That's what we're rallying against in FYC. A few googled terms does NOT a strong argument make. In concert, an undertheorized prospectus full of assertions and unquestioned terms does NOT a successful prospectus make.

18 September 2009

Entitlement Epidemic

subtitled: Why I am Not Optimistic about the Rise of Productive Discourse

sub-subtitled: Having Your Opinions Echoed By a Screaming Crowd Validates You! Try it Today!

sub-sub-subtitled: Narcissism is Patriotic.

Ruben Naverette

SAN DIEGO, California (CNN)
-- Thanks to Joe, Kanye, Serena, and other misfits, a lot of people are talking about how society is undergoing a rash of rudeness.

That's not completely accurate. It's more like a rise in self-centeredness.

Among the self-centered: Congressman Joe Wilson, rapper Kanye West and tennis star Serena Williams. But this phenomenon isn't limited to celebrities and previously anonymous backbenchers in Congress basking in their 15 minutes.

There are many people out there, in all walks of life, who think they're more significant than they really are. Plagued with an exaggerated sense of self-importance, they feel entitled to do whatever they want, whenever they want to do it no matter whom it hurts.

The self-centered rarely think about the consequences because they're too busy claiming what they see as their rightful place in the spotlight. And when they're criticized for letting their narcissism get the best of them and face the wrath of their colleagues or the disapproval of their fans, they might apologize. But, even then, they often don't do a very good job of it because their heart's not in it.

They don't feel genuine remorse but they've been told by their press secretaries and publicists to fake it as best they can as part of the damage control. They mouth the words because they consider it to be in their own best interests. It's always about them.

South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford made matters worse at home by apologizing for an affair with someone he called his "soul mate."

Singer Chris Brown -- who began performing community service in Virginia this week in connection with his sentence for assaulting his then-girlfriend, singer Rihanna -- publicly apologized for the abuse and then played the victim when Oprah Winfrey criticized him.

So how did this virus of self-centeredness get in our national bloodstream?

Some in the media blame the coarseness of talk radio and the Internet where the most extreme voices are the loudest and where people tune in not to hear different points of view but to have their own views validated. That's no picnic for those of us who won't be boxed in. I've had liberals comment on this site that, as someone who sometimes voices conservative opinions, my column belongs somewhere. But, when I recently hosted a radio show, and expressed liberal views, an angry caller protectively informed me that "AM talk radio is for conservatives."

Others blame the look-at-me-I'm-so-special culture bred by egocentric social networking sites such as Facebook, My Space, and Twitter. With thousands of "followers" caring enough to take time from their own day to shadow you through yours, is it any wonder that the followed are getting big heads as they "tweet" what they had for breakfast?

But I'm old-school. I believe that what matters most is not what happens at your computer but around your dinner table. When we consider the reasons for this rash of self-centeredness, I think most of it comes down to just one thing: bad parenting.

Americans have reared at least one generation of kids, or maybe two, to think of themselves as the last bottle of soda pop in the desert. We said we were building children's self-esteem so they could be successful, but it never occurred to us that giving kids what psychologists call "cheap self-esteem" could do more harm than good by making our kids think they're 10-feet tall and bulletproof when they're neither.

Besides, what many of these parents were really doing was feeding their own egos; by telling your kids they're special, it confirms that you're special for having such special kids. Isn't that special?

Experts who study the generations say that, thanks to reliable birth control and legalized abortion, the last couple of generations have been the "most wanted" in American history. When they arrived, we drove them around in minivans with signs that broadcast: "Caution: Baby on Board." And when they went to school or summer camp, we made sure everyone got a trophy so no one got their feelings hurt.

One person who has zeroed in on this is Jean Twenge, an associate professor of psychology at San Diego State University. Twenge has spent more than a dozen years examining generational differences. Her research includes comparing studies on the self-esteem of more than 60,000 college students across the country from 1968 to 1994.

As a result of this, and the feedback of hundreds of her own students, Twenge has written two highly informed books on our self-centered culture. This year, she put out, "The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement," with co-author and fellow psychologist W. Keith Campbell.

Twenge recalled the student who asked her to postpone a final exam because it interfered with his plans for a birthday outing to Las Vegas. She also heard from a person who runs a company in Minnesota who said it was not uncommon for employees to call into the office and say they were too tired to come to work.

In their book, Twenge and Campbell list the factors fueling the entitlement mentality. They include celebrity culture and the media, which teach Americans that they're entitled to be famous.

"Narcissism is absolutely toxic to society," Twenge told me when I interviewed her about her book a few months ago. "When faced with common resources, narcissists take more for themselves and they leave less for others."

And, as usual, diagnosing the ailment is easier than curing it. But cure it we must. Before we learn all the wrong lessons and come to think that the abnormal is normal, and the intolerable is acceptable. iReport.com: Why so many outbursts?

A friend who used to work in the Bush White House tells me that some Republican voters are already flooding the Congressional switchboard and pushing the idea of Joe Wilson running for president in 2012. No lie!

We had better work fast.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ruben Navarrette Jr.

17 September 2009

Doxa, not Daschund

Today, in class, it struck me that Big-D-Discourse correlates directly with the Greek idea of doxa. As in orthoDOXy, the idea of doxa relates to universal beliefs, popular opinions, namely, the cheap parlor tricks sophists made their money on.

Thus, we have a binary:


These relationships break down in my head, though, because I'm more of a relativist than Plato. (Natch.) However, I do think there's a connection here between Big-D-Discourse and doxa. Maybe it lies in the creation of cultural memory.

And when you throw in the concept of techne, or art and craft, as it compares with doxa and episteme (can you have a techne without episteme?), the waters muddy even further.

If I had to write a seminar paper for this class, it would be on doxa and Big-D-Discourse.

I'm still puzzling through the idea, and I think I'm probably too tired to write a coherent blog.

16 September 2009



Now I round out my committee, revise my prospectus, and turn it in to the grad office with an abstract.

Very much happiness!

15 September 2009

Big Fat Deal

I guess I don't see it.

We've been "talking"--if that's what the online back-and-forthing can rightly be termed--about the bounds of DA and whether or not they cross with SCIENCE! (cue Thomas Dolby.) I didn't participate much in the discussion because the scrolling ticker in my head flashed "So what? Big fat deal. What's so great about long-held and politically powerful communities of practice anyway?"

You see, I'm not normally combative.

What came to mind was Anne Ruggles Gere's introduction to Into the Field: Sites of Composition Studies. She foregoes the typical "let's fill the gap left by edu psych/psych/etc." metaphor to suggest that Composition Studies (of which some are DA based) is more of a "restructuring" of methods and concepts from other disciplines, not a stopgap.

Gere writes, "The bridge-building metaphor, which has served composition for several decades, can be used to describe much of the history of composition studies. One early intellectual association, between composition and educational psychology, accurately demonstrates composition's unproblemitized adoption of methods and values from another field." Gere suggests "deconstructing received boundaries" to "accommodate a more complicated relation, one that refigures both educational practices and scholarly research" (3-4). Well, so what? What's this blah blah posturing of Composition Studies (of which, I reassert, some are DA based) as a restructuring, not a linking between more "reputable" disciplines mean for us in class?

I'll tell you what:

1. Gere suggests--and I agree--that to call for disciplinary relevance vis a vis established methods and concepts often results in reductive and/or incomplete methods and concepts. BECAUSE THEY ARE OFTEN INCOMPATIBLE SYSTEMS.

2. Therefore, I propose that disciplinary quibbles and whether or not DA (or Composition Studies) "count" as Big-S-Science serve to highlight only the differences between the two paradigms while eliding the commonalities. As such, I'm not sure debating the definition(s) of Science (which are both rarefied and hegemonic) any further is the best course for getting us really debating the intricacies of DA as a method and product of inquiry. After all, if we're so busy clamoring for disciplinary credibility (through our affinity, however scarce, to SCIENCE!!!), we lose sight of the rich methods and methodologies of the field. (And I understand that the word "field" used here, in this way, is ideologically laden, but I'll leave it for now. Maybe we can back-and-forth about it post-prospectus-defense.)

3. Therefore again, I propose that we assume that DA is a Science in its own right, as defined by practitioners in the field (a process very much like the Scientific Revolution, a process of trial and error, disciplinary best-practices establishment, failure, success, etc.) based on its rigor, adherence to common method, and other factors which I cannot recall but should be able to.


Long post. More later and less obnoxiously.

08 September 2009

Sick and Tired

No. I've just been both sick and tired. And neglectful of my blog.

I met with the registrar on Thursday to work out a plan to get the student IDs of women who I can survey for my diss. I'm panicking a little because the delay (I guess someone didn't get my email two weeks ago, which isn't surprising, considering Tmail). I can't stop thinking that I'm already a full month behind on my diss. I think the whole "let qual research evolve!" philosophy is so much easier when you're not staring down the barrel of job interviews in a year.

Anyway, it's all to say that I was really intriged by our 531 class last week. I meant to talk about the differences in audience addressed and audience invoked; audience and genre theory are passing interests. How interesting that neuroscientists are appealing to classroom teachers! Distraction isn't a behavior issue, but a brain chemistry issue. I keep thinking of the (cue music: dun dun duuuuun) rise of prozac in the 1990s. Though the content of the brochure wasn't really our focus of discussion, I was intrigued (as one of the few non-edu people in class) by this "brain-based approach." Is that what it's called?

Anyway, I look forward to another productive discussion on Thursday. I am enjoying Single Woman immensely. My English 102 class revolves around body politics, so this book would fit right in.

02 September 2009

Work? What's that?

I'm really intrigued by the idea of the construction of language through discourse communities. I think that's at the heart of what our two readings (Discursive Psychology and Discursive Constructionism) are getting at. I had started to formulate a post in my mind that involved my past-life as a personal trainer and how we define such nebulous terms like "fat" and "fit" and "workout" and "goal." However, since I've had the Swine Flu (that's right) for three days, I've fallen miserably behind on my work. This morning, on the phone, my mom mentioned that the flu doesn't keep a schedule. But my work does. And that schedule is largely inflexible.

See, she comes from a discourse community where "work" is something you have to show up for Monday through Friday, sometimes the infrequent weekend, and once you're home, the "work" part is done. I should also mention that these definitions of work are class-based, as we self-identify as working class. Thus, work is primarily physical. It makes you tired, gets you dirty, and at the end of the day, you can relax knowing that you've exhausted your body.

But my work isn't physical (usually). My work is isolated. It's quiet and usually operates on longer-termed deadlines. I sometimes don't move from my office chair for hours. (In truth, it feels like I've been sitting here since 2004.) But my work--and most of the work in academia--operates on a self-guided plan; that is to say, no matter when we work, we must have certain projects (books, articles, teaching notes) completed by a certain time. That structure makes it feel like our jobs are 24/7/365. I mean, honestly: Who's taken books on vacation to "catch up"? Who's edited articles in the airport? Who's graded papers in the car? Yeah. Me too.

My work is middle- to upper-class in that I don't get dirty, risk on-the-job injuries like other trades, or "answer" to some boss. (That last part is controversial, but I'll leave it for now. I'm a grad student. I answer to everyone.) I read and write and grade, and I am exhausted at the end of the week. My discourse community supports this exhaustion because they share a frame of reference. And though I ally myself with this "new" discourse community and its definition of work, I still maintain my ideologies as working class. It's a difficult negotiation, and one that I hope to explore both in articles and through my dissertation.

24 August 2009

Save the Date!

I'll defend my prospectus on Wednesday, September 16th, at 2:00 p.m. All congratulations or condolences can be sent to 310 McClung Tower.

What's a Text? And Who Cares?

A good weekend all around. Husband had a bike race in Chattanooga, and later that evening, I crashed into a sign warning people to watch out for baby deer. In the middle of the fun, Jonathan Potter reminded me that so many scholars are still firmly entrenched in antiquated definitions of text.

If discourse analysis is the systematic and rigorous study of language in use, and if consumers are tending towards imagistic symbol trading, then why isn't DA getting on board with less traditional types of analysis? According to Potter, "While we can watch television with the sound turned down, and flick through the daily newspaper looking just at the pictures, our entertainment and cultural life is massively dependent on what the actors are saying and what the newspaper stories tell" (2007, p. 607). DA has fought for legitimacy alongside other qualitative methods (though DA seems to carry more signs of quantitative than other approaches), and considering this status, it seems that practitioners should look outside the borders of what constitutes a text and what constitutes discourse (and who gets to say). Can we conduct a discourse-based analysis on an exchange of images? How about discourse that is text on one end (English 101 syllabus) and oral on the other (student's impression of 101 syllabus). Must both parties be able to "speak back" in real time to constitute discourse? (Yes, in most definition of DA there must be an interlocator and a perlocator, as dialog is exchanged.) What about our discussion in class on using video?

So the field moves slowly in accepting definitions of text, much like it does in its definitions of academic texts. For example, I am interested in ethnopoetics and its inclusion in my dissertation. Gee's method as outlined in Burck ("Comparing qualitative research methodologies for systemic research: The use of grounded theory, discourse analysis, and narrative analysis) offers ethnopoetics as just another mode of analysis (REMINDER: get Gee article before prospectus defense). However, I see ethnopoetics as a viable product of analysis, not simply a tool for reckoning.

This is where my opinion differs from that of a number of hiring committee's. The single-author text is still the "best" kind, according to a kind-of-recent MLA article. But I see what we produce in classes such as 531 and also as production of Discourse Analysis and Narrative Analysis as collaborative, reciprocal in many cases, and polyvocal (as through the use of narrative and ethnopoetics).

If we can't change our departments, how can we work toward building a subfield that makes room for these kinds of texts? Maybe it's only in English that the single author is still the only author of consequence.

17 August 2009

Day 1: Or Day Minus 1: Before the Fall

Before the fall of the year, that is. Not, you know, the other fall.

Anyway, I've started this blog because I've also started my dissertation, which will be a narrative inquiry into the experiences of first-generation women from Appalachia in the first-year writing classroom. Random modifiers? No! From my experience teaching first-year students and from the research (esp. Pascarella's How College Affects Students), the first year is a watershed moment in a young adult's life. As such, I'd like to explore how these women from a stereotypically "traditional" region of the United States work to incorporate the more "progressive" views of higher education, as they are filtered through the writing classroom.

But why writing?

1) At the University of Tennessee where I teach, FYC is one of the smallest first-year classes around. History of Rock, for example, has upwards of 500 students. We are capped at 23.

2) Students are often asked to redefine or more firmly define their worldviews in English 101 and 102 through critical thinking and critical writing exercises.

3) The FYC class offers a diversity of students, which would bring into relief "contact zones," via Pratt, especially if I consider my first-gen women as coming from smaller, enclave communities in Appalachia. (However, Knoxville is considered more urban, and the idea of the Urban Appalachian is almost as much of a myth as the idea of the Appalachian Academic.)

But why a blog?

The purpose for this blog is twofold:
1) I wish to reflect on my researcher standpoint throughout the process. This metacognition is advocated by many qualitative researchers, such as Watt (2007).

2) I am taking a class--Educational Psychology: Discourse Analysis in Educational Environments--this fall and must keep a research blog about my findings for class.

I have made contact with the Vice Provost at UT, who I consulted with back in March. Her dissertation was also a narrative study of first-generation Appalachian students, so I feel that I have many points of entry. I've ordered the digital voice recorder. I've purchased filing cabinets. I've warned my officemates that stacks of paper will soon appear in South Stadium Hall 331.

I'd be lying, however, if I didn't admit to some nervousness about the scale of the project. A few times, I've caught myself wishing I'd chosen a straight text-based diss to simply the process. But my heart is in qualitative inquiry, and I have to go into this project believing that the rewards outweigh the risks. So a mantra: It's worth the stress. It's worth the worry. It's worth the stress. It's worth the worry.

It's on, narrative inquiry. It's on.