Voice as Process

By Childers, Amy A. | Composition Studies, Spring 2006 | Go to article overview

Voice as Process


Childers, Amy A., Composition Studies


Voice as Process, by Lizbeth A. Bryant. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook, 2005. 160 pages.

Bryant achieves what has been sorely needed in the study of voice: the collection and analysis of real case studies from which are derived inductive insights into the construction of written voice. With a foreword by Peter Elbow, this book establishes Bryant as a knowledgeable voice incomposition studies. Bryant clearly places herself in the theoretical traditions of student-centered pedagogy, social constructionism, and postcolonialism (11) through the work of Mikhail Bakhtin, L. S. Vygotsky, Walker Gibson, Donald Murray, Gloria Anzaldua, David Bartholomae, Mary Louise Pratt, Wendy Bishop, Kenneth Bruffee, Peter Elbow, Patricia Bizzell, Ken Macrorie, Toby Fulwiler, Min-Zhan Lu and Mike Rose. Unlike Darsie Bowden who holds that voice is not a helpful theoretical term, Bryant argues that the concept of constructed voice as a border zone is very useful pedagogically to the writing teacher when focusing on process rather than product (7-11). Briefly, Bryant argues that teachers must give students room to experiment with voice, to construct a new voice that is appropriate to academic circles and yet still true to the individual. In all, this text is very useful, both pedagogically and theoretically. Bryant displays a thorough knowledge of the related compositional theory and applies her theoretical knowledge clearly to student case studies.

Her argument, as established in the introduction, rests on the methodological premise that case studies are as necessary to the study of voice-in-writing as theoretical discussions. In her studies, she discerns a tension between what she calls "home voices" and "school" voices, applying two of Elbow's voice categories, "dramatic" and "authority," to further characterize this tension (4, 9). Her goal is to document the progress of two students, Jason and Leah, who attempt to integrate these two (or more) voices into an acceptable, and individual, academic voice. Her methodology involves oral transcriptions of class discussion and written portfolios (9).

Chapter 1, "Disruptive 'Sexual' Voices in English 101," is an insightful and practical chapter that offers help to teachers who have been stymied by student resistance in the classroom. Bryant begins by narrating a class experience involving sexual innuendo. She decides that silencing the "inappropriate" language inadvertently silenced the class's construction of their new academic voices (16). She borrows from Mary Louise Pratt the phrases "pupiling"-student resistance and subversion-and "contact zone"-a metaphor for the discomfort experienced when home/colloquial/dramatic voice meets school/academic/authoritative voice (17,18). Bryant concludes that by speaking inappropriately, the students were attempting to join in the academic discourse by using the only critical voices they had (19). Instead of silencing, Bryant (and all teachers) could have maximized the teaching moment by discussing the linguistic role of "one-upmanship," "power relations," or "subversion" (20).

Chapter 2, "Jason's Voices," provides a clear example that Bryant's approach to teaching writing is beneficiai to students, and that the "contact zone" metaphor makes real sense in classroom behavior. Bryant introduces Jason, who combined sarcasm and political science. At this point in Bryant's teaching career, she had committed herself to encouraging her students' voices rather than silencing, allowing even vulgarism as part of the construction process. She notices in Jason's work the use of parentheticals, inserted personal comments, as explored by Arthur L. Palacas in "Parentheticals and Personal Voice." Jason struggles to include an academic voice in his colloquial voice, which often took the form of long lists (27). Jason balked at providing analysis or a thesis. Bryant concludes that it was her responsibility to give Jason the room to explore the distance between the two voices. …

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