Exploring cultural-historical methodological approaches to research on discoursal identity construction of student writers across social justice education programs

3.4 Transformative agency
Paper presentation on PhD Day
2:00 PM, Monday 28 Aug 2017 (30 minutes)
Studies of students writing within academic discourses look at how students are socialized into (or away from) particular practices and communities (see Bartholomae, 1985; Berkenkotter & Huckin, 1995; Bizzell, 1982; Prior, 1998). Research on students’ discoursal construction of identity through academic writing points to institutionally circumscribed and regulated meaning-making (Lillis, 2001) but also recognizes the possibility of struggle for alternative constructions of self (Ivanic, 1998). This line of inquiry is valuable for educators who wish to create spaces for learning grounded in an understanding of how students – as whole human beings with complex lives – develop in the context of programs, and vice versa; it is important to undergird our educational programs and reforms with our understanding of the part institutions (made up of individuals) play in continually recreating societies by affording and constraining identities, and how seemingly totalizing forces are actually perpetuated. These programmatic goals are grounded in sociocultural views of learning as becoming (Lave & Wenger, 1991; Beach, 1989) that stress the development of the student as a subject (Gonzalez Rey, 2003) and argue for school as a place for making people, for being and becoming (Packer, 2001). However, studies of writing and identity situated in school contexts, typically constrained to segmented curricular programs (Nowacek, 2011), contrasted as they often are with studies of workplace literacy (Dias et al., 1999), risk constructing artificial barriers between the classroom and the world, precluding a holistic view of writers’ identity formation crucial for programs and pedagogies aimed at development. Social justice education (SJE) oriented programs, with their focus on culturally relevant pedagogy and critical attention to evaluating and changing interlocking systems of discriminatory institutional structures and cultural practices, provide a key research site to contribute to and extend conversations about writing-mediated identity formation because they are places where we invite students to juxtapose their academic world with other social worlds. At Ph.D. Day’s plenary session on cultural-historical approaches to methodology, I hope to discuss, via dialogue paper, my multisite, ethnographic exploration of writers' identity construction as it is facilitated by mentorship across a range of formal and informal SJE programs.
University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign
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