Academic journal article Research in the Teaching of English

Examining Emotional Rules in the English Classroom: A Critical Discourse Analysis of One Student's Literary Responses in Two Academic Contexts

Academic journal article Research in the Teaching of English

Examining Emotional Rules in the English Classroom: A Critical Discourse Analysis of One Student's Literary Responses in Two Academic Contexts

Article excerpt

I don't think when [Glen] married Anney that it was his intention to abuse his daughters or abuse her daughters. I remember them describing him at first, and him being like very possessive and very quiet. And you know, I sometimes, I wonder what his childhood was like.

-Nina, age 16 (response to Bastard out of Carolina in an interview with Amanda)

Daddy, you're an ass fuck! That would probably be my cry. Damn you!

-Nina, age 16 (response to Bastard out of Carolina in a literature circle discussion)

Nina,1 a 10th grader, expressed these two, contrasting literary responses in grappling with Dorothy Allison's (1993) novel Bastard out of Carolina. In both cases, Nina discussed Glen, a character who sexually abuses his young stepdaughter, Bone. The first response was shared with Amanda, a researcher in Nina's classroom, in an interview where Nina discussed her interpretations of classroom literature. The second response comes from a literature circle where Nina and two peers discussed the novel outside the earshot of their teacher, DeAnn.

Current research suggests that emotional investment is essential for helping students critically engage in English language arts (ELA) learning (Dockter, Haug, & Lewis, 2011). Yet, scholarly conceptions of the relationship between emotion and response have thus far been limited. For instance, the role of emotion is rarely considered in responses like Nina's first one-a response that appears rational, scholarly, and interpretive. On the other hand, responses like Nina's second, with its intimate stance and intense affect, are seldom considered to be interpretive. Instead, they are viewed as emotional and personal and are judged in terms of the degree of their usefulness in moving students toward interpretation.

Common-sense assumptions evoked by Nina's responses arise from conceptualizations of the role of emotion in literature learning that focus chiefly on the affordances and limitations of personal response-a focus that reflects dominant theories of emotion as located in the individual (Boler, 1999). For instance, New Critics and formalists see emotional/personal response as distracting from textfocused interpretations of literature (Wimsatt & Beardsley, 1949). Conversely, simplified forms of Rosenblatt's (1995) reader-response theory (like those forwarded by many textbooks and mass-produced teaching materials) see emotional/ personal response as useful, but only inasmuch as it activates a reader's interest in particular textual themes. Finally, sociocultural response theorists and critical literacy proponents suggest that emotional/personal response should be troubled because it may limit a reader's ability to understand how characters are shaped by larger social and cultural forces (Appleman, 2009; Lewis, 2000; McLaughlin & DeVoogd, 2004). Tethered to the personal, emotion is conceptualized in each of these paradigms as something to be disregarded, leveraged, or challenged in an effort to move students toward literary interpretation. Moreover, when viewed exclusively as personal, emotion becomes peripheral to the central project of literary engagement.

In this paper, we offer a theorization of the relationship between emotion and literary response that is fundamentally different and, consequently, poses new questions that we argue more fully explore how emotion engages response. Following other scholars in English studies (Lewis & Tierney, 2011 ; Micciche, 2007; Winans, 2012), we propose that a sociocultural theory of emotion that disentangles emotion from the personal provides a new lens that reveals the central role of emotion in engaging students in literature learning. Within this theory, emotion is not something that resides in individual students, nor can it be leveraged, ignored, or gotten beyond. Instead, emotion is always already in the fabric of every classroom context. Given this view, we argue that neither of Nina's responses was more or less emotional than the other. …

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