Sunday, April 17, 2011

Comp. Research's Greatest Hits

OK, here are my top ten readings from this semester:

10. My Freshman Year by Rebekah Nathan. Didn’t teach me much about Comp. Research, but it was a good introduction to ethnography by a pro, and utterly readable.

9. Rehearsing New Roles by Lee Ann Carroll.  Not a thrilling read, but certainly the kind of solid research that anyone could be proud of.

8. “Seduction and Betrayal in Qualitative Research” by Thomas Newkirk. I think it’s somewhat one-sided, as we have discussed in class, but it goes a long way toward exploding the myth of the omniscient researcher and research that has no effect on its subjects.

7. “Turning in upon Ourselves: Positionality, Subjectivity, and Reflexivity in Case Study and Ethnographic Research” by Elizabeth Chiseri-Strater. I thought this was a really good exploration of the position of the researcher, especially helpful for the beginning researcher who has not yet had time to work through these questions.
Bonnie Sunstein

6. “Culture on the Page: Experience, Rhetoric, and Aesthetics in Ethnographic Writing” by Bonnie S. Sunstein. Sunstein explores the three sides of writing an ethnography and how they interact.

5. “Ethnographic Practice as a Means of Invention: Seeking a Rhetorical Paradigm for Ethnographic Writing” by Robert Brooke. A chance to look over the researcher’s shoulder as he does field research and decides how to frame the resulting article (which we also read).  Our conversation with Brooke was a highlight of the semester.

Heidi McKee
4. Heidi McKee and James Porter “The Ethics of Digital Writing Research: A Rhetorical Approach.” Not only do McKee and Porter lay out many of the ethical problems inherent in digital research, they provide a casuistic heuristic with which to take them on. Great stuff, as was our chance to Skype with Heidi McKee.

3. “The Importance of Harmony: An Ecological Metaphor for Writing Research” by Kristie S.  Fleckenstein, Clay Spinuzzi, Rebecca J. Rickly, and Carole Clark Papper.  Our assignment this week was to write up two or three “take-aways,” for the class, and I’m going to use my top three readings as a framework for this.  The reason I chose this article as one of the three is its completeness.  It really does try to acknowledge as many aspects of writing research as it can in article format, and it situates them so neatly within the ecology metaphor. The authors recognize distinct entities within the research paradigm, as did Cross, but they go further and incorporate these entities, as well as other forces, into their vision of research as ecological system.  Their acknowledgement that research is not easy and neat is one that many writers make, but most researchers seem to end up with their own research being neatly wrapped up, even if no one else’s is.  These authors are fine with leaving some loose ends; after all, research should resemble the real world.

2. “Ethnography or Psychography? The Evolution and Ethics of a New Genre in Composition” by Keith Rhodes. I thought we gave this article short shrift in class, perhaps because it never really caught on in the composition community. We had so many questions about ethnography and its place in composition research, though, that I think this article deserves another hearing, since it deals with many of our questions.  Rather than claiming that a study is an ethnography and then redefining “ethnography” to fit what our study does, Rhodes suggests that we admit that we are not writing ethnographies, as they are defined by anthropology and other social sciences.  He proposes the term “psychography” for our discipline.  The difference would be in a heightened awareness of ethics, a consciousness of the research participant as empowered other, an acknowledgement that a class is not a culture, and an openness to hypothesis testing as well as hypothesis generating. Rhodes recognizes that the article calls for scholars to cross some traditional boundaries in their research; institutionalized academic writing conventions make it difficult to publish research outside the standard mold. Unfortunately, his prophecy of difficulties in adoption of his method seems to have been fulfilled, as few compositionists write in the genre called “psychography.”

Shirley Rose
1. “What’s Love Got to Do with It?” by Shirley K. Rose.
How do I love this article? It is about citation practice. I was able to cite it in my research proposal. And it has Burke! It was sort of a side-road week the week we read about lit reviews and citation practice, but with my research interest in sources and my love of all things Burke, reading this article was like meeting a long-lost relative! Rose chooses Burke’s terms “love,” knowledge,” and “authority” to inform her theory of citation. “Knowledge” refers to the facts we may have learned from a source; “authority” to the boost of our ethos when we can demonstrate we argue backed by well-known names in the field. But “love” is Burke’s idea of identification; by citing certain authors, we assume identity with them and put our own work into conversation with theirs. Rose points out that Burke uses familial terminology to describe this kind of relationship; in a way, the authors that we cite are our intellectual “ancestors” (42). 

Monday, April 4, 2011

Wrapping it Up

Heidi McKee certainly seems to be the expert on digital writing research ethics, so I look forward to our chance to interact with her during the next class period.  For this week, we read three of her articles, two written with James Porter (“The Ethics of Digital Writing Research: A Rhetorical Approach” and “The Ethics of Conducting Writing Research on the Internet: How Heuristics Help) and the singly authored “Ethical and Legal Issues for Writing Research in an Age of Media Convergence.”  This last article lays out some of the issues specific to new media: issues of representation (self, participant, and third-party), issues of informed consent, and issues of intellectual property rights.  The other two articles offer an approach to dealing with these and other ethical issues rhetorically. McKee & Porter suggest that the researcher identify two or more binaries that affect the question at hand, for example, the nature of the internet space where the material was originally posted (privateàpublic) or the personal sensitivity of the information contained in the posting.  It is then easy to identify the cases where no additional care needs to be taken (publicly posted, non-sensitive information) and the cases where informed consent needs to be carefully solicited (privately posted, sensitive information).  The borderlands between these two extremes is where the careful ethical reasoning needs to take place, in a process that McKee and Porter have developed from the now nearly forgotten theological technique called casuistry.

I’m going to pause here and respond to Dan’s blog.  I’ll start with ethnography.  Ethnography began as a way for a researcher to learn about a previously unknown or little known culture and to share that knowledge with others. When composition began to adopt ethnography as a research method, some of the parameters of the study were fundamentally changed.  No longer was the researcher travelling to a foreign land to describe new customs. Instead, the research was done in familiar communities. Once the element of alienation was removed (anthropologist “translates” strange culture for academic community), the effect was that ethnographies served to highlight the differences between communities (instead of us all being American, we are now Appalachian, Alaskan, Christian, Amish, Hispanic, etc. etc.). So it is difficult to generalize from studies whose purpose is to do the opposite of generalization. I’m going to go along with Dan on this one and say that I wish there were fewer ethnographic studies being done in rhet/comp; I don’t see their usefulness.  There is still a place for the literacy memoir (Lives on the Boundary), but beyond that… I don’t see it.

But research in general—I think that goes too far. I think Dan lists some problems and issues with research (not enough theoretical support, not enough practical application), but those problems can be fixed and aren’t intrinsic to research. Research with theoretical support, sufficient data, important research questions, and an ethical approach can yield important information for our field.  Without it, we’re all just guessing.  Where would process theory be without The Composing Process of Twelfth Graders? The solution isn’t to toss out research, it’s to do research the way it should be done.