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Editorial: Writing across: Tracing transliteracies as becoming across time, space, and settings ARTICLE INFO
Keywords: Writing Transliteracies Learning Semiotics Dialogic theory
This editorial introducing the special issue, “Writing across: Tracing transliteracies as becoming across time, space, and settings,” argues that research and theories on writing have too often focused on writing in, whether writing in particular physical locations (writing in a classroom, in a workplace) or writing in more metaphorical or virtual spaces (writing in a discipline, in an online community). The articles in this special issue focus on theory, methods, and cases of writing across. The transliteracies perspective we take involves not only attention to how writing travels, but also to the fact that writing is a synecdochal (part-for-whole) representation of the full semiotic activity that necessarily is entangled in any act of writing. Finally, we argue in this editorial that it is crucial to view writing across as not just about communication or representation, but as the ongoing becoming of both people and sociomaterial worlds.
Studies of writing activity and development have typically been anchored in particular settings, characterizing student writing in a class or (less frequently) in an online, community, workplace, or home setting. Although such studies can provide close analysis of how situated activity shapes the practices and outcomes of writing, they tend by design to construe writing and the identities of writers as fixed in the given setting and to take a mono-modal perspective that backgrounds or ignores other semiotic resources. Such approaches domesticate literacy's indeterminacy by labeling, categorizing, and otherwise theoretically fixing literacy practice to a text or set of texts in a particular setting and time. A view of writing across is, we argue, very different from dominant views of writing in. Even research approaches to writing development that take up comparative frameworks—one person to another person or a corpus, or one classroom to other classrooms—have typically reified literacy practices and social contexts as cleanly bounded, relatively stable, and quite isolated. These territorial interpretations of writing and social formation have also led to the widespread view that transfer of learning is very difficult (Yancey, Robertson, & Taczak, 2014) rather than seeing ontogenetic continuity as inevitable, as axiomatic to any dialogic theory of meaning and human becoming (see Linell, 2009). Extending Voloshinov's (1973) argument that language is a “fundamentally historical phenomenon” (p. 82), we start from a dialogic semiotics that sees all activity as dispersed, laminated, historically unfolding materialities. This view necessarily decenters textual artifacts as the a priori object of study in research on writing. When writing is not only situated, but also mediated, dispersed, and deeply laminated (e.g., Prior, 1998; Roozen & Erickson, 2017), it necessarily involves the whole person's historical being-in-theworld (not fractionated and isolated identities), emerges out of fully embodied semiosis (not isolated modal fragments), and involves acting-with many other people (present, past, and future) as well as with varied semiotic-material resources. As people compose across timespaces, they are building—and building from—semiotic chains of mutually informing activity (Prior & Hengst, 2010). Encouraged by calls for expanding our theoretical and methodological toolkits for tracing across scales the emergent development of both literacies (e.g., Pahl, 2007; Prior & Shipka, 2003; Roozen, 2009; Stornaiuolo, Smith, & Phillips, 2017) and learning (e.g., Erstad, Gilje, Sefton-Green, & Arnseth, 2016; Lemke, 2000; Ludvigsen, Lund, Rasmussen, & Säljö, 2011; Ludvigsen, Rasmussen, Krange, Moen, & Middleton, 2011), the articles in this special issue suggest what comes into view when we unmoor the typical fixed gaze of research that depicts literacy as a social practice located in the immediate details of situated events and settings (Smith, Hall, & Sousanis, 2015). Instead, we begin with the critical question of how writers write and become across contexts, across activity systems, across practices, across identities, across semiotic modes, and across the moments that add up to (re)make both the person and social life. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.lcsi.2018.07.002 Received 22 December 2017; Accepted 5 July 2018 2210-6561/ © 2018 Published by Elsevier Ltd.
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Drawing on Massumi's (2002) account of rhizomatic worlds as radically emergent assemblage, Leander and Boldt (2013) critique the New London Group's (1996) focus on multilterate design as a sluggish structuralism where change (much like transfer) needs to be painstakingly teased out of fixed structures or built as new structure. As Massumi (2002) notes, “It is not enough for process concepts of this kind to be ontological. They must be ontogenetic: they must be equal to emergence” (p. 8). Massumi stresses that “conditions of emergence are one with becoming” (p. 10), an integration of action, communication, and becoming that is critical as it underscores that tracing writing across settings also means following emergent becoming across settings rather than following the movement of fixed texts, fixed practices, fixed people, and fixed contexts. Emblematic of this focus on across-ness and emergence, the notion of transliteracies expresses the need to take a dynamic approach to trajectories of material-semiotic entanglements. As Stornaiuolo et al. (2017) suggest: By deliberately attending to how people make meaning across interactions among people, things, texts, contexts, modes, and media, a transliteracies approach can foreground how people and things are mobilized and paralyzed, facilitated and restricted, in different measure and in relation to institutions and systems with long histories (p. 72). Similarly, Kell (2011) studies writing in motion, challenging the tendency both to anchor studies of literacy events and practices in place and to conceptualize scale as vertical relations of micro to macro. Taking a flat horizontal approach, she highlights the chaotic flows that become visible when tracing meaning-making, person-making, society-making activity across time, space, and settings. A transliteracies perspective is then not only about how texts and textual practices happen across contexts, but centrally about a host of entangled becomings—of people, artifacts (including texts), tools, semiotic practices, and social formations—in laminated assemblages (Prior & Schaffner, 2011). Methodologically, tracing how writing across is accomplished, learned, and socially transformed in practice remains challenging. As a heuristic for attending to how meaning making and power are intertwined in and distributed across social and material relationships, Stornaiuolo et al. (2017) suggest a set of “thinking devices” (Lotman, 1988)—scale, resonance, uptake, and emergence—to responsively trace unfolding phenomena. The articles in this special issue focus then on writing activity in motion, offering models for tracing writing as becoming across times, spaces, and social contexts through close attention to how compositional and communicative practices are both immediately situated and dispersed across deeply historical, heterogeneous networks. Attention to intertextuality and dialogics is central to the approaches taken in this special issue; however, critically, these analyses resist corralling intertextuality into named spatial-temporal-cultural boxes (e.g., in a classroom or workplace, between in-school and out-of-school practices). A focus on becoming as ubiquitous (as opposed to a narrower focus on just communication or just learning) leads us to stay alert to the emergent complexity of laminated being and acting as it unfolds. While several of the articles in this special issue trace complex developmental trajectories of writing across multiple sites and scales, others focus on single sites, but locate those sites in network flows and illustrate ways to stay alert to how flows are circulating across settings, thus fracturing the imagined unity of the site by opening up interdiscursive links to other times, places, people, and practices. In “A Flat CHAT perspective on transliteracies development” Anna Smith and Paul Prior draw together cultural-historical activity theory and flat ontologies to propose a Flat CHAT approach to transliteracies inquiry. Explored through two longitudinal case studies of writing development, Smith and Prior trace complex chains of becomings laminated in semiotic engagements across time-space scales. The first case illuminates the multiple, distributed, laminated streams of activities and interacting artifacts, beings, and histories that can be traced across an individual's writing development as she, Nora, becomes a biologist. Focusing on the practices of seeing, this case pushes on notions of timescale as Nora's becoming is traced not only across a lifespan, but also beyond to histories of practice from the 1700s. Complementing this telling, the second case focuses on development across laminated assemblages around an out-of-school organization, Urban Word NYC (UDub). Taking up the charge that assemblages are most visible in genesis and disruption, this case traces a generative disruption in the organization's programming across scales of practice. The case helps reorient from what is typically thought of as “context”– a fixed, stable, anchored unit of analysis–to a rendering of context as a distributed, emergent, and in-motion series of assemblages that nevertheless are recognizably patterned or typified. In “Coming to act with tables: Tracing the laminated trajectories of an engineer-in-the-making,” Kevin Roozen explores the ontogenesis of a family of practices (cf. Scollon, 2001) around the inscription and use of tables (e.g. schedules, data, playlists, etc.) for Alexandra, an undergraduate engineering student at a US university. Drawing on three years of semi-structured and text-based interviews, observation, and collection of texts reaching back into her childhood, Roozen uncovers a deeply laminated array of ways that Alexandra has acted with tables: including the production of tables of data in her first-year engineering courses; the use of tables to solve problems in a second-year thermodynamics class; the production of weekly planning schedules for herself and her friends (a practice that began with her earlier home schooling in the family); the development of character profile, character schedule, plot and other kinds of tables for the eight fan fiction novels she has so far written; and the sketching out of tables to solve the logic puzzles she has been doing since she was seven years old. As Roozen argues, typical accounts of socialization into discourse communities would likely see Alexandra as just an engineer acting with tables for her studies and miss the many ways Alexandra is becoming across a multitude of chronotopic scenes and sites of engagement. In “Representations of students becoming as writers,” Allison Wynhoff Olsen and Jennifer VanDerHeide offer an analysis of writing as a verb—as multi-semiotic interactions chained together across events that occur in the classroom and experiences beyond the classroom. Taking up writing as becoming, the authors track emerging changes in students' participation in writing practices and expressions of writing identities. Reporting cases from studies of two high school English classrooms (9th grade Humanities and 12th grade Advanced Placement), Wynhoff Olson and VanDerHeide start with written artifacts and then use intertextual tracing and backward mapping methods to build representations of students' learning as becoming over time. Three of the cases highlight contexts beyond the classroom: Sue mentioning the influence of self-directed summer reading of Stephen King's On Writing; Bob 2
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seeking feedback on his writing at home from his older sister; and Mike noting temporal dialogics (how instruction at his previous school did not prepare him for Advanced Placement English and how he was motivated to improve his writing in preparation for a college course in his senior year). The tracing of Chloe's writing, the fourth case, stays within the spaces of the classroom, though across times and semiotics, which may itself mark emergent disciplinary practices that suppress representation of everyday influences. In “What's brought along and brought about: Negotiating writing practices in two high school classrooms,” Brent Goff and Ryan Rish report on separate case studies centered on English classrooms. Using microethnographic and intertextual analysis, Goff describes Jill's subtle resistance to the writing goals of Mr. Michaels for his 12th grade International Baccalaureate class. Interdiscursively grounded in her sense of who the strongest English students were, her skepticism that Mr. Michael's preferences would match those of IB examination graders, and her confidence honed as editor of the school newspaper, Jill incorporates only a few peers' comments from a multi-group (jigsaw) activity on literary devices and does not revise her initial claim. Rish describes his research in a rural high school's elective English class on science fiction and fantasy across genres and media (e.g., novels, comics, films, videogames). Using mediated discourse analysis, Rish traces how James and Beau took up Mr. Caton's assignment. Asked to write into each other's story worlds and share story elements (a practice the class generally avoided), the two collaborated to animate the other's ideas in the other's world rather than to enact joint authoring as intended. Focusing on what teachers and students alike brought along to their interactions as well as what was brought about through engaging and resisting the teachers' tasks, Goff and Rish see the classrooms as complex nexuses of practice and sites of non-linear becoming. In “Developing methods to trace participation patterns across online writing,” Alecia Magnifico, Jen Scott Curwood, and Jayne Lammers interrogate their early ideological and methodological frameworks (e.g., a focus on creators and content in online spaces) and limited attention to ancillary or meta-writing participation patterns (e.g., beta-reading, sharing, trading) for fanfiction feedback and interaction across online writing communities. Exploring how “a transliteracies frame reveals that a reliance on spatial constructs (affinity spaces) can also conceal the movement and interconnectedness in literacy practices across networks,” they offer an extended worked example of previous research in which they traced review interactions across two stories on two fanfiction sites, Figment.com and Fanfic.net. Critically revisiting their methods of coding and linguistic analysis (initially drawn from classroom studies of peer review), as well as the metaphors they had taken up to discuss their findings (e.g., drawing a path in a spiderweb rather than recognizing that “all the silk matters”), they describe how they shifted to an approach that traces complex practices of social communication across their data. Magnifico, Curwood, and Lammers challenge writing researchers to interrogate, innovate, and explicate, not only to disentangle themselves from dominant frameworks for studying writing that obscure “difficult-to-trace” practices as youth and their writing travel across online networks, but also to problematize standardized curricula and assessments that perpetuate fictions about learning and becoming as single, linear, novice-to-expert trajectories. In “Tracing networked writing in an online community through resonance maps,” Matthew Hall and Amy Stornaiuolo describe an exploratory multi-layered mapping they developed to trace emergent resonance and habitual intertextuality across an international online writing community for youth called Write4Change, which was organized and moderated to support social justice writing. Arguing that typical methodological tools for tracking online interaction through clicks, usage meters, and mentions are insufficient to understanding the “less immediately discernable rhetorical moves that establish common ground,” Hall and Stornaiuolo mix connective ethnographic and visual arts methods to trace resonances—an analytic metaphor for the often subtle interdiscursive connections—that emerged among the young writers as they took up a weekly challenge “to find, compose, and/or remix posts related to what inspired them and tag those posts with a relevant hashtag.” After detailing their layered integration of social network and interpretive thematic analyses in mapping responses to this challenge, they analyze two key resonances that emerged around #inspiration. One was a theme, persistence, and the second, a practice–sharing of personal images. Hall and Stornaiuolo argue that the slow reflective process of visualizing the play of resonances across time, people and tasks among this online community threw into relief the fluid ways writing and semiotic practices move and mediate chains of activity and trajectories of semiotic becoming. In “Mediation and boundary marking: A case study of making literacies across a makerspace,” Ann Shivers-McNair explores makerspace inscriptional practices, from the programmed laser-cutting of material artifacts, to the texts that aim to manage that device, to the situated practices that emerge around this space. Drawing on a year-long participatory ethnographic case study, Shivers-McNair focuses making and materialities across this makerspace, considering how categories and boundaries are dynamically marked and how feminist and decolonial theories help illuminate “the becoming, un-becoming, and re-becoming of makers, literacies, tools, and relations across a makerspace.” Central to this account is what the CEO of this makerspace in Seattle, Washington captured in his mangled mantra “ready, fire, aim,” a trial-and-error engagement with the emergent material complexities of the lasercutter and the materials fed into it that sometimes led to actual fires in the machine. Tracing a few thick entanglements of disciplinarity, gender, textual and verbal instructions, and material technologies that emerge around making this makerspace, ShiversMcNair illustrates the need for relational notions like Barad's (2007) intra-actions, Ingold's (2013) correspondences, and Haas' (2012) refiguring of technology that reject notions of action as independent and contained in time and space, but instead recognize emergent boundary-making as productive in marking how “makers, things, literacies, spaces, tools, media, knowledges, and materials are made and remade through acts of making.” Finally, we deeply appreciate the engaged and insightful commentaries offered by Kate Pahl and Åsa Mäkitalo as well as their generative and generous responses to the articles in process. In “‘Writing across’ as a mode of research,” Pahl reads the special issue in relation to work in writing and literacy studies focused on writing with and becoming with, on mobile and nonrepresentational approaches that emphasize affect, emergence, and mobility. Taking the pulse of emergence and becoming where across-ness is developing, Pahl challenges writing researchers to tune into “the ‘now’ of research,” drawing up alongside and moving with writers amidst their complex, multifaceted becoming. In “Approaching writing and learning as interdependent processes,” Mäkitalo reflects 3
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on the special issue by highlighting ways that metaphors and theoretical framings fix and unfix units of analysis in research on writing, learning, interaction, and becoming. Thinking ethnomethodologically with the articles in the special issue about problems of fixing and how writing across calls for tracing trajectories and mobilizing movement, Mäkitalo invites us to attend to the way scholarly practices and institutions flow from our metaphors and theoretical frames while she also underscores our ceaseless need to both draw on and push against categorizations that always fall short of the full complexity of our unfolding worlds. All together this special issue makes a case for shifting, even in research centered on a single site, from a writing-in to a writingacross perspective, from a focus on learning writing as a single mode to a focus on writing as unavoidably entangled with dialogic semiosis and becoming. In our own research, however, as we have traced such complex, laminated, and dispersed flows of writing and becoming, and worked to develop methods to do so, we have realized that no linguistic or visual tools or methods can fully realize these theoretical aspirations. Every representation (however complex) ends up also deflecting other dimensions of the complexity we're grasping for. Thus, we argue that, as the authors in this special issue have strived to do, researchers must hew to persistent reflexive, and rigorous theoretical, attention to the limits of our representations at every step of data collection, analysis, and use in order to epistemologically and ethically speak of phenomena that are so relentlessly and chaotically unfolding. Paul Priora, , Anna Smithb, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 275 English Building (MC-718), 608 S. Wright St., Urbana, IL 61801-3668, USA b Illinois State University, Campus Box 5330, 232 DeGarmo Hall, Normal, IL 61790, USA E-mail addresses: [email protected]
(P. Prior), [email protected]
(A. Smith). ⁎
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