I-Writing: The Politics and Practice of Teaching First-Person Writing

I-Writing: The Politics and Practice of Teaching First-Person Writing

I-Writing: The Politics and Practice of Teaching First-Person Writing

I-Writing: The Politics and Practice of Teaching First-Person Writing

Synopsis

In this ethnographic study of the teaching of writing, Karen Surman Paley reveals the social significance of first-person writing and the limitations of a popular taxonomy of composition studies. Paley looks critically at the way social constructionists have created an "Other" in the field of composition studies and named it "expressivist".

Paley demonstrates the complexity of approaches to teaching writing through an ethnographic study of two composition faculty at Boston College, a program that some would say is "expressivist". She prompts her colleagues to consider how family experiences shape the way students feel about and treat people of races, religions, genders, and sexual preferences other than their own. Finally, she suggests to the field of composition that practitioners spend less time shoring up taxonomies of the field and more time sharing pedagogies.

Excerpt

Robert Emerson and his coauthors write, “Ethnographic research involves the study of groups and people as they go about their everyday lives” (1). My book is grounded in a semester-long ethnographic study of two female writing faculty at Boston College, a young African American doctoral student and a Jewish, middleaged, white lecturer. Transcripts of their classes, one-to-one student conferences, as well as interviews with participants, based on twentyeight sixty-minute audiotapes, allow me to triangulate the empirical data.

Emerson and his colleagues tell us that field notebook entries of subjective reactions deepen the “'analysis-in-description'” (106). They argue that “the ethnographer's task is to write description that leads to an empathetic understanding of the social worlds of others” (72). the purpose is not to judge or to display “a better-thanthou attitude” (72). Yet the reader will find in my work that there are judgments and that at times I am critical of the teachers. One of the strategies I was taught in working as a family therapist was to make the covert overt. Apparently not having fully let go of my former career, I occasionally intrude into the sites of my inquiry. As Clifford Geertz tells us in his book Works and Lives: the Anthropologist as Author, “It may be that in other realms of discourse the . . .

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