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_i know i shouldn't generalize, butÂ… :
b a rhetorical critique of ethnography in composition studies
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by Micheal Taber.
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University of South Florida,
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Thesis (M.A.)--University of South Florida, 2010.
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ABSTRACT: This thesis looks at Stephen North's 1987 claim of the limits of ethnography in composition research and looks at modern, published research studies to see how they have heeded North's warnings. In 1987 Stephen North claimed that the future of ethnographic methodology in composition research was doomed unless those who would adopt this qualitative technique understood its limitations. North argued that each ethnography is only valuable as an individual study, that individual studies are not cumulative towards some absolute and discoverable positivistic model of knowledge. This warning of the problem and limitations of modern qualitative ethnography was issued over 2 decades ago; how have we done? Does the modern composition researcher who uses ethnographic methodology heed North's warning not to generalize, or do they just tip their hat at North and do it anyway? But regardless of North's dire predictions and warnings, it is apparent that ethnography as a research methodology (in its many disputed forms) is here to stay in composition studies. This thesis provides a sample of research ethnographies published since North's 1987 warning and looks at the methodologies, narrative style, and theoretical conclusions used by some current researchers. By using a close rhetorical analysis which compares the language choices and theoretical positions of those well-received studies against the idea of the non-cumulative nature of ethnographic study, I will contrast what modern researchers say they will do versus what is presented within their published work. Using North's and others' claims on the limitations of generalizable knowledge and hypotheses-testing fallacies of ethnographic methodology for research in composition studies, this thesis first defines the research questions, offers a definition of methodological terms in context of rhetoric and composition research, offers a background of critique, and applies this critique to a sample of post-North published dissertations and monographs.
Advisor: Joseph Moxley, Ph.D.
t USF Electronic Theses and Dissertations.
: A Rhetorical Critique of Ethnography in Composition Studies b y Micheal W. Taber Jr. A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts Department of English College of Arts and Sciences University of South Florida Major Professor: Joseph Moxley, Ph.D. Meredith Zoetewey, Ph.D. Pat Nickinson, Ph.D. Date of Approval: March 5, 2010 Keywords: Methodology, Qualitative, North Beaufort, Brandt, Carroll, Thais s, Zawacki Copyright 2010, Micheal W. Taber Jr.
i Table of Contents Abstract ................................ ................................ ................................ ................................ ...... ii Introduction ................................ ................................ ................................ ................................ 1 Background and Context ................................ ................................ ................................ ............. 4 The Value of Critical Analysis ................................ ................................ ................................ .... 7 Research Methodology ................................ ................................ ................................ ................ 8 Definition of Terms ................................ ................................ ................................ .................... 9 A Study of One ................................ ................................ ................................ ......................... 1 4 A Study of Many ................................ ................................ ................................ ...................... 2 0 Alternative Discourse ................................ ................................ ................................ ................ 2 6 ................................ ................................ ................................ 3 3 Where Are We Now? ................................ ................................ ................................ ................ 3 9 Bibliography ................................ ................................ ................................ ............................. 4 3
ii : A Rhetorical Critique of Ethnography in Composition Studies Micheal W. Taber, Jr. ABSTRACT This thesis looks at Stephen North's 1987 claim of the limits of ethnography in composition research and looks at modern, published research studies to see how they have heeded North's warnings. In 1987 Stephen North claimed that the future of ethnographic meth odology in composition research was doomed unless those who would adopt this qualitative technique understood its limitations. North argued that each ethnography is only valuable as an individual study, that individual studies are not cumulative towards so me absolute and discoverable positivistic model of knowledge. This warning of the problem and limitations of modern qualitative ethnography was issued over 2 decades ago; how have we done? Does the modern composition researcher who uses ethnographic method predictions and warnings, it is apparent that ethnography as a research methodology (in its many disputed forms) is here t o stay in composition studies. warning and looks at the methodologies, narrative style, and theoretical conclusions used by some current researchers. By using a close rhet orical analysis which compares the language choices and theoretical positions of those well received studies against the idea of the non cumulative nature of ethnographic study, I will contrast what modern researchers say they will do versus what is presen ted within their published work. hypotheses testing fallacies of ethnographic methodology for research in composition studies,
iii this thesis first defines the research questio ns, offers a definition of methodological terms in context of rhetoric and composition research, offers a background of critique, and applies this critique to a sample of post North published dissertations and monographs.
1 Introduction In 1987 Stephen North claimed that the future of ethnographic methodology in composition research was doomed unless those who would adopt this qualitative technique understood its limitations. 1 N orth argued that each ethnography is valuable only as an individual study and that the unique variables of each study prevent any attempt to accumulate multiple ethnographies in order to build a positivistic model of knowledge. Simply put, a researcher can not study a single individual or a group of individuals and then generalize the observations; what This critique of ethnography was issued over two decades ago and now this study asks how we have done. When contemporary composition researchers use ethnographic methodology, do they Many compositionists, such as Keith Rhodes, Robert Brooke, Gwen Gorzelsky, Wendy Bishop, and Ralph Cintron, are continuing the critique of ethnography or are at least calling for a investigation is crea ted through the interactions of research design and researcher and that is enveloped in self reflective and critical thought, many composition researchers have taken to ethnography in full force with varying degrees of succes s. Even while accepting the premise 1 In her recent publication with Brian Street, On Ethnog raphy the esteemed ethnographer Shirley Brice Heath feels that reliability, replicability, and validity h quantitative research, Brice and Street lay out a complex blend of approaches and tools to reject such dialectic. As she notes, while intriguing and provocative, this separation of ethnography from qualitative research is not a universal (or even standar d) concept (29, 45).
2 The tendency to generalize and to try and build objective knowledge is exactly what North (and now others) warns is at least the misapplication of the term ethnography and at worst an academic, pedagogical, and epistemological fallacy. participating and observin g a unique, individual, phenomenological experience to generalizing and hypothesizing for multiple communities well beyond what Clifford Geertz and then Stephen one time, one necessarily true for communities beyond. When a composition researcher observes one student or one classroom, that observation comes from that community and should not be applied to all college freshmen, f or example. And it is not only the tendency to generalize that should be reviewed in modern qualitative composition research, but also the goal of the ethnography to begin with. In 1987 North noted a Case Study Research 3) and a descriptive but not proscriptive process (Heath 14), commonly understood as phenomenological, there can be a tendency to allow theory con tinues to today. When conducting research, are contemporary qualitative researchers in composition following traditional social science methodologies of hypothesis testing or the more humanistic and cultural relativistic mode of hypothesis generating? Do t hey observe a community to develop (and possibly test) theory unique to that community, or do the observations simply match a preexisting set of conditions of an existent theory? Is the schema that drives the research The questions of generalizing and hypothesis testing are inevitably intertwined; the application of theory (theory of knowledge, theory of pedagogy, theory of community) to a
3 qualitative study can lea d to a positivistic statement of generalized and objective knowledge. This thoroughly discredited in recent and ongoing research in critical anthropology, crit ical legal to generalize and to try to build objective knowledge is exactly what North (and now others) warns is at least the misapplication of the term ethn ography and at worst an academic, pedagogical, and epistemological fallacy. This study looks at how four contemporary composition scholars navigate this potentially treacherous divide; can they share and contribute knowledge to the field of composition but construct it in a way that will comply with institutional pressure for quantitative data? Is successful ethnography a pass/fail or is there a new rhetoric and alternative discourse for contemporary composition researchers?
4 Background and Context In 1987, as the field of rhetoric and composition studies was making a shift to academic legitimacy through the increase of research and theory, Stephen North published The Making of Knowledge in Composition: Portrait of an Emerging Field In this examination of c omposition studies 2 North describes a triad of disciplinary knowledge makers that have the most promise for substantiating the field. North describes the practitioners, the scholars, and the researchers, with the ethnographers holding a unique transitory position somewhere between the researchers and the practitioners. North is not optimistic about the future of ethnography in composition. Among his multilayered warnings of ethnographic research, one of the most poignant and specific concerns is about the investigation: the difficulty of somehow extending the findings of an investigation in any one (141). This concept denies a nave view of classroom, dorm room, or single site research as a community from which positivistic data can be gathered, and speaks t o the complexity of the motivations and understandings of research participants. A decade later, Kay Losey reflected on these theorists, practitioners, and researchers is that ethnographic study may have value, but that value is context specific and therefore cannot produce generalizable knowledge that can be extended to other contexts. Losey admits her own mistakes in as sumption, saying: 2 proper
5 predictions and warnings, it is apparent that ethno graphy as a research methodology (in its many disputed forms) is here to stay in composition studies. I assumed that indeed the classroom had a single culture. Instead, I came to recognize that the classroom was composed of a number of smaller communities, each with its own culture. Obviously, there were teachers and students. There were also men and women. There were Mexican Americans, Anglo Americans, Portuguese Americans, Asian Americans. Some people spoke English as their first language. For others, English was their second or third language. The classroom I studied had a number of di fferent communities with a number of different perspectives. (86) As a result of this non generalizable knowledge that each specific ethnography produces, North also concludes that ethnography can produce should not enter field research with hypotheses or try to come away with grounded hypotheses to be dev (121). For a variety of reasons that have been supported by each of the methodological approaches, ethnographic research cannot produce generalizable knowledge and should only generate hypotheses (that accordi ng to North will only In the 20 years since North first declared his position, ethnography has remained a popular research methodology within composition studies. In The Making of Knowledge (1987) North reported that only 2000 pages of books, articles, thesis, dissertations, and papers had been produced on the subject. In 1997, Kirklighter et al. used the ERIC and MLA databases to
6 determine that there was an increase to 5300 pag es between 1987 and 1995 (viii). Using the same criteria, my research shows that between 1987 and 2009 there are now over 3500 individual documents Using the ProQuest database, I found that from 1987 until 2009 there were 552 theses and/or dissertations u sing ethnographic methodology to explore composition or writing with over 225 of these in the more recent 2001 warnings, it is apparent that ethnography as a research methodology (in its many dispu ted forms) is here to stay in composition studies.
7 The Value of Critical Analysis Critical analysis by definition requires pointing, picking, and doubting. This is easy to misread and mistake for judgment and condemnation. I applaud the efforts of all of t he authors, researchers, and practitioners represented in this analysis and indeed find much of their work useful and beneficial to my own profession and teaching. But it is precisely because of the value of the work of composition researchers that I am ho lding the bar so high. For as North said: Practitioners need to defend themselves to argue for the value of what they know, and how they come to know it. For that very reason, though, they need to be more methodologically self conscious than any of the other communities: to know the limits of authority the other modes of inquiry can claim, on the one hand; but to know the limits of their own, as well, and work within them. In that direction, and not in any sort of methodological masquerade, lies the basi s for a genuine credibility. (55) So with all of these warnings and critiques and all of this research being done, I felt it was important to look at specific studies that have been published since 1987 to see how they measure against a postmodern underst anding of the limitations and value of ethnographic methodology. To examine the rhetorical choices made by the authors adds importantly to understanding the context for those choices and allows the reader to evaluate the contribution of knowledge more thor oughly.
8 Research Methodology hypotheses testing fallacies of ethnographic methodology for research in composition studies, this thesis first defines the research questions, provides a definition of methodological terms in context of rhetoric and composition research, offers a background of critique, and applies this critique to a sample of post North published dissertations and monographs. Finding good ethnographic studies is a challenge, regardless of their popularity as a research methodology. So much has been written, ala North, about the critique of how (and if) ethnography should be done in composition studies, that traditional search engines return more critique than sub stance. MLA bibliography, CompPile, Google Scholar, Rebecca Moore Finally to choose studies for this thesis, I turned to the WPA listserv to ask my peers and the p rofessional community of compositionists for a recommended list of top ethnographies done in the field within the last ten years, and then I sorted through the recommendations before finally settling on my top four choices represented here. This study will look at 4 of the most recommended research ethnographies published choices and theoretical positions of those well received studies against the idea of the non cu mulative nature of ethnographic study, I will contrast what modern researchers say they will do versus what is presented within their published work.
9 The 19 th century colonialist/anthropologist is a fitting allusion to the positivistic knowledge that is often potential and always controversial in ethnography. Definition of Terms The field of composition research works with theory, research methodology, and practi cal applications of ethnography, so a critique of this field must first contextualize many of the terms that these disparate but related areas of knowledge use and work towards defining how they will be used within the study. Qualitative research is a ter m that, like many now used in composition research, is largely borrowed from the field of critical anthropology. Clifford Geertz, James Clifford, and George E. Marcus are some of the most important characters both for a traditional definition of this term as well as how it might be applied to postmodern research, and Stephen North listed the various synonyms for this type of research methodology as it commonly phenomenologic al, hypothesis generating (as opposed to hypothesis testing), participant observation, micro As defined, within the body of qualitative research one of the most celebrated (and critiqued) methods is ethnography Geoffrey Cross defines its observation, documentation, and interpretation of composing activities and their correlate meaning in natural settings, such as classrooms and governmental offic been applied by composition researchers makes it difficult to define; in fact that lack of methodological clarity is much of the basis of his argument for the limitations of ethnogra phy. He investigators go into a community, observe (by whatever variety of means) what happens there,
10 and then produce an account which they will try to verify o r ground in a variety of ways of methodology is difficult to standardize and enchanting because the profession has sensed otherwise elusiv th century colonialist/anthropologist as a metaphor for the modern composition studies researcher who goes in undergraduate. This is a fitting allusion to the positivistic knowledge that is often potential and always controversial in ethnography. P ositivistic knowledge as it applies to composition research compared to the more phenomenological approach of isolated and contextual outcomes that are positivistic approach. Although ethnographers would tend -despite so much of our criticism -Post positivistic knowledge can also be seen in relation to postmodernism ; knowledge is no longer clearly containable in a single philosophy; it is always contextual, and the tools of examination themselves are to be constantly critiqued and exam ined. Postmodernism in standardization and assessment found on many univer standards, standardized testing, common syllabi, assessment, and outcomes [that can] become intentioned composition researchers to do
11 research on a limited scope to test previously established (and published) theories and then, at the 3 With a nod to When the data gained from such a finite moment in time is misappropriated to represent other communities beyond that specific moment, the term generalizable knowledge can used. North addresses this also as accumulative knowledge and he compares the value of a clinical (and therefore positivistic) research canon to the non accumulative nature of ethnography. North sees a clinical canon of knowledge forming first through a series of individual research stories, and then by a connecting of these individual st ories to form a paradigmatic truth. From a positivistic position, knowledge is discoverable, absolute, and verifiable. Therefore in an ethnographic study, once this knowledge has been discovered by way of testing a theory or hypothesis successfully, this k nowledge can be generalized to apply to a larger public; generalizable knowledge becomes a paradigm. But qualitative research and the narratalogical approach and thick description of ethnography often resists and runs counter to such a paradigmatic form of knowledge making. Even though noted ethnographer Shirley Brice Heath view that all ethnographic research is inherently interpretive, subjective, and parti paradigmatic reality to close in on, the phenomenologically based Ethnographers [can only collect] multiple versions of what is held to be rea we have a definition of ethnography as non accumulative, non generalizable knowledge. 3 Compositi on Studies makes this point more succinctly by suggesting that hypocrisy exists due to a lag between research/theory and practice/pedagogy that is largely a result of institutional pressure. See also Kristi
12 Keith Rhodes, among others, critiques the misapplication of ethnographic methodology in composition studies for its tend lack of the potential to create new (and discipline and situational specific) theory, but also bec (Merriam 3). Composition ethnographies that are hypothesis testing risk biasing the researcher into taking note of or including only those data that support the exi sting theory. This is intricately tied to the positivistic and dated colonialist idea of the research study participant who must measure up to a standard imposed by non specific contextual theory, or as Rhodes puts it: The inquiry becomes less a question o how benevolently this last question is framed, it reeks of early anthropology that s paternally. (28) Largely as a result of the postmodern and post positivistic movements, one alternative oriented research which forwards a phenomenological epistemology and is rooted in a soc The autoethnography is one term now used for this self aware researcher who combines personal narrative with objective description. This genre of ethnography posits that composition write with an attempt of full disclosure about context of the researcher, the participants, the existence (or not) of pre study theory, the methodology used, the critique of the participants, and anything else that could be seen as othering the subjects or biasing the data. Keith Rhodes thnography: psychography
13 I will use the above vocabulary in an attempt to rhetorically analyze the su bject studies I limitations of ethnography. Over 20 years and countless studies and critiques later, my question is do we have any better idea of what ethnography is i n the field of composition research?
14 A Study of One College Writing and Beyond: A New Framework for University Writing Instruction published in 2007, presents an argument for why and how to change the writing curriculum for freshmen compos ition as well as throughout other college level venues such as writing in the discipline or writing across the curriculum programs, teaching training programs, mentor, a writing program administrator, and a researcher, she has an opinion on why this is so. She then uses a longitudinal study to illustrate this opinion. B eaufort primarily picks two principal reasons why writing instruction is not working, or institutional isolation, problem, as she defines it, is that freshmen writing courses are not related to any other field of study, that this creates a false social context (and audience) for the student, and that only creates a eaufort claims that students are not learning that concept at all, much less learning to apply and navigate it. The second major problem with the university writing curriculum, according to this study, is a lack of, or often a negative, transfer of learning skills (11). Beaufort feels that freshmen writing courses are often taught with a set of general writing skills that (mis)leads
15 student writers into thinking that what they learn about writing in freshmen comp will the Beaufort lays out this theory of why university writing instruction does not work in its current form over a longitudinal (six year) case study of a single student writer followed fro m his freshmen writing courses to his double major courses and into his professional engineering nt than story, a case for a re conceptualization of writing instruction at the post contains one story and one argument (although which came first is unclear). The author then audiences: those that lament about Dick and Jane, such as business leaders and professors in disciplines outside of composition; those practitioners within the field of composition, who she hopes to p been listening to the practitioners who have to deal with it) all in an e theory building regarding developmental processes of writers [and to] develop a composite of (26). The two stories that Beaufort tells ar e given to the reader in the form of chapters that discuss the dilemma of freshmen writing (ch. 2), compare writing for composition and history (ch. 3), mark the change when writing specifically as a history major (ch.4), and a chapter that compares writin g in the major of engineering for school to writing as a professional engineer (two years after graduation). The last chapter reveals the explicit theory and solution that Beaufort connects to the ethnography, followed by an epilogue of an interview with T
16 As a reader, I do not feel drawn into a text; instead I see sound bites of interviews that serve a narrowly defined purpose. composition instructor ten years after the study was done in an attempt to hear her voice more definitively. Lastly Beaufort adds appendixes to be thorough and complete, including a sample syllabus that follows the theory presented in the wor detailed discussion of the research methodology that Beaufort used. So is this an ethnography at all? This might seem a harsh and troubling question given that Beaufort herself calls it one (albeit blended), b ut when understood under the light of the descriptions of ethnography by North and others, it is a fair question nonetheless. She lays out her methodology with precision: she observes one student over six years. More specifically she interviews and collect again two years after graduation; so no, they were not six continuous years of observation but rather there were six data sources that were gathered over that time frame. Beaufort had interviews with Tim, critiqued 26 in the respective fields of study, and she observed 12 of for the knowledge domains that compromise writing expertises, as well as heuristics for If the reader starts missing the narrative style often found in ethnography (think Mike Rose), and this is where many see the strength of the methodology as decidedly non clinical, too of his teachers, but we do get short paragraphs of their voices when they help serve the point or issue bein g discussed. The descriptions that are offered are brief and concise, but they often come
17 ty in the US in the mid ean to suggest that Tim is not quoted enough in fact quotes from Tim do fill much of the middle chapters of the book but it is that the entire book is (Branscom instead I see sound bites of interviews that serve a narrowly and as an adjunct turned The rhetorical choices made by Beaufort furth er my suspicion of descriptive analysis with epilogue. Ten years aft conducting ethnographic research but ignoring the story telling aspect often praised as its strength. So is this an ethnography? North would say yes and no (and for him that methodological the suggested outline of ethnographic inquiry: 1. Identifying Problems: Finding a Setting 2. Entering the Setting
18 3. Collecting Data: Inscription 4. Interpretation: Identifying Themes 5. Verification 6. Dissemination (North 284) gener alizable, it would be difficult to defend a single case study that purports to change the writing and tutoring curriculum for an entire country. Beaufort tips her hat at such critique with of a single case study to highlight the need for change in university writing instruction makes the entire work read not as an ethn ography but as a metaphor. in context power of a phenomenologically based Ethnography; to say that what she reports is an interpretation of what the [participants] f then the researcher also wants to speak beyond her subjects to bring in her own voice and others. conducted again Beaufort does this sort of interjection, such as when describing the scene of the freshmen case study that uses a mixed methodology to test (or at least illustrate) a theory.
19 I argue that this is something far different from what theorists such as North were debating over 20 years ago. So I ask again, is this an ethnography? I argue that this is something far different from what theorists such as North were debating over 20 years ago. Perhaps it is better to understand ods that moves (Beaufort 26), then it could explain a study that inductive, data driven approach to theory paradigmatic. Bransco mb sees hope in this mixture and an evolution (largely thanks to the aware of the criticism (such as mine) that would follow, but feels justified in her methodology with a sense of commitment and (perhaps) desperation: You may ask me what qualifies me to set such a bold agenda for a single book, the spirit of numbering my days, I am willing to write this now. I hope that teachers, researchers, administrators, and publishers will be willing to listen and continue working with me on the agenda I set forth in this book. (Beaufort 7) As Anne Beaufort wri a practitioner contributing to the making of knowledge; North might even forgive her because of that
20 A Study of Many Published by Cambridge University Press, benefiting from a grant from the National Council of the Teachers of English, and owing personal thanks to a long list of prestigious nam es Literacy in American Lives has about as much ethos by the time the reader has gotten through the introduction as a study in composition can get. Published in 2001, this longitudinal study of 80 people (from ages 98 to 10) and the role of literacy in their lives during the last hundred years is an impressive learning and especially at the ways that Americans have faced the escalating pressure to provide (Brandt 2). To attempt such an outcome, Brandt did years 4 of research in the form that she refers to story research, which is a loose confederation of historical, bag of methodologies works in many contemporary composition researchers, is aware of the criticism of ethnography and tries to distance her work from the apparent we aknesses or limitations of ethnography: Ethnographic descriptions do not often speak directly enough and in a sustained way to the histories by which literacy practices arrive or do not arrive in local contexts, flourish or not in certain times and locales Nor do they often invite a search for the interests beyond those of the local users that hold literacy practices 4 Brandt never does specify exactly how many years these in depth interviews and the following research took, other confirms years that would equ ate to a longitudinal study.
21 in place, give them their meaning, or take them away. Nor do they often fully address the mixed motives, antipathies, and ambivalence with wh ich so much literacy is learned and practiced. (8) time and, even though she is aware of the phenomenological nature of conducting interviews and relying upon memory and situation as primary source data, she seeks to conduct research interview with a particular person at a particular time but asking them to reflect on their entire lifetime. The analysis of the data resulting from these case studies and interviews is viewed though or abstract, who enable, support, teach, and model, as well as recruit, regulate, suppress, or withhold, literacy literacy as an sees it, the history of literacy in America is directly connected to the ebb and flow, indeed the to industrialized past to the information economy present where literacy itself is regarded as a raw material and commodity (171). The book is developed over six chapters, and while Brandt draws upon her interviews of osen for the clarity and robustness with which they in the form of a deep description of 2 case participants in each of the main chapters, which have been or developing as a result of the process of collection and analysis from her wide variety of 80
22 Although each of these observations are significant and far reaching, perhaps the most proactive and challenging is the call to public policy to pedagogy literacy needs to be addressed in a civil rights participants (22) 5 ing rural economy in the agrarian Midwest to the rising standards for literacy, from the effects of being outside many educational and economic opportunities of African Americans to an exploration of literacy as a product in the 21 st century. In each of these sections, Brandt more or less sticks to a pattern of introducing the theme of the chapter, offering extensive quotations from the participants (most often two exemplar participants 6 ), then giving extensive commentary to connect a wider social historical context of the nation during the lifetime being discussed in order to draw the parallels between economic and literacy learning factors. Brandt concludes with a series of four grand observation s as a result of her research. Although each of these observations is significant and far reaching, perhaps the most proactive angles policy to pedagogy lite though much of public education in America was founded on the idea of creating productive inform beyond the 5 data was collected is important in the evaluation of hypothesis testing versus hypothesis building. As a further coincidental naming convention (215). 6 There is an exception to the convention of using a single pair of exemplars when Br andt examines a single family of four generations, and most notably in the chapter that deals with African American experience of literature where she uses smaller quotes from a wider variety of participants.
23 needs of the market the value of all the pluralistic forms of lite is evident as a result of listening to (and telling) the life stories of her participants. This book is tough to judge on the criteria I have established for ethnography. On the one e lives of her participants, the stories she tells, and the extensive quotations where the participants tell their own stories, well that just feels more like ethnography. Each of the exemplar cases that Brandt uses comes with an overwhelming amount of pat hos and their stories are moving and often inspirational; I feel like I know these people after having read about them. But on the other hand, I am reading about a small number (we do not hear 80 voices in the published report) of individuals that are all from the same geographic area 7 ; we are relying on their memories and deep subjectivity, to then not only talk about literacy in America (after all, the title is not Literacy in Some American Lives ), but to suggest what we should do about it as an entire na (52); the legal sounding resonance of those words speaks to the overtly paradigmatic position Brandt is putting these people into. aware autoethnographic position in her willingness to admit the problems and limitations of her study. The seemin gly required mea culpa that qualitative research demands is detailed throughout the only or even the most typical and almost every narrative (12,12,16,36,58, 109). But even within her apology, she manages a 7 ntral Wisconsin, virtually all of them in the county surrounding the
24 fail to no tice myself are indelibly present in (and absent from!) this presentation, there (and not what I am trying to do, but the honest and up front way in which Bra ndt gestures to her critics is telling of the state of qualitative composition research today. Like the desperation and frustration researcher who feels she has something valid and worthwhile to say, all the while knowing that the pressures as though she wants to tell a story, but is restrained by the demands of academic scienti sm (See Yager 42). Even though Brandt is careful to not call this work an ethnography 8 it certainly reads as changed over the last century and how have rising exp ectations for literacy been experienced as as it has been lived Then, and th is is the really important point for me, she uses phrases of introduction or explanation, vivid narration, and extensive quotation to let the participants tell their stories. Although we rarely perceive the researcher or interviewer 9 Brandt creates a collaborative feel to Once the participants have told their very personal narrative, 8 Many qualitative researchers seem to distance themselves from the term ethnography, likely as they are aware of the overwhelming criticism. Keit (Rhodes 35). Brandt moves around labels by suggesting h inquiry. 9 A limitation that Brandt also recognizes and points out (213).
25 Not only do these steps match the outline that North suggested for ethnography, but the organization of that outline suggests that the conclusion and theory building came as a result of the research process the very center of qualitative and ethnographic research. dual dynamic in the experiences of the people I talked with: the ways they have pursued lite racy verifies the data by historicizing the data and placing the narratives of her participants in context with the larger narrative of social/economic change in America, then does more interpretation and analy disseminates that data through publication. Not only do these steps match the outline that North suggested for ethnography (see above or North 284), but the organization of that outline suggests that the conclusion and theory building came as a result of the research process the very center of qualitative and ethnographic research. Literacy in American Lives actually suffers from some of the same drawbacks o f methodology as does College Writing and Beyond most especially a tendency to generalize data from paradigmatic case studies and go on to proscribe sweeping reform as a result. But the ways in which the layers of the work are laid down are so vastly diff erent that I want to believe in collaboration and narrative description that make me more confident. In the end, I would have to say that this work still falls s hort of the paradigm that North built (although it may be closer to what Keith Rhodes calls psychography 10 ). But there is definitely knowledge making going on here. 10 As mentioned above, Keith Rhodes sees this as a defendable appropriation and evolution of ethnography for the
26 Sometimes in the attempt to blend methodologies, the data is presented as the richest part of the research and indeed the reader must strain to hear the voices of the participants. Alternative Discourse So far in this survey of composition research some patterns are begin ning to develop. Although ethnography has been called storytelling (not always a derogatory phrase) and we often look for rich and vivid details and descriptions to draw us as readers into the research, that is certainly not always the case in many of thes e recent publications. Sometimes in the attempt to blend methodologies, the data is presented as the richest part of the research and indeed the reader must strain to hear the voices of the participants. That is certainly the case with the 2006 work by Chris Thaiss and Terry Mye rs Zawacki. Entitled Engaged Writers and Dynamic Disciplines contribution to theory on the growth of writers in and are also aware of being participant resear chers, or in to that end are not satisfied with only producing theory with their research; they also want to te type of writing ( 3). Although these questions are largely framed through the lens of WID and WAC writing programs, Thaiss and Zawacki offer many examples of the problem that can occur in fact define those terms in very different ways. It is worth noting that the authors are very careful and
27 substance by many that I think would have likely u Thaiss and Zawacki set about answering these questions through a longitudinal study 11 of 14 instructors in a variety of disciplines, 183 student responses to a survey, 6 student focus groups totaling 35 students, a s ingle individual student interview, results of a timed essay from 40 students, and assessment data from 12 departmental/college workshops on writing (25). All of of the (vi). Later I will refer to my disappointment of the text as a result of such a description, but here in the preface Thaiss and Zawacki outline their th eory and stories into five chapters. These five chapters are generally organized in a way that begins with theory and methodology, moves to findings and analysis, then finishes with a call for more research as well as offering specific recommendations fo r classrooms and program development. This organization is common to most of the qualitative research published in the composition field, as we have seen thus far, and the researchers are aware of the view of qualitative research as being mea culpa of the postmodern researcher in composition. based idea of the relationship b etween the study working to validate, or at least question, the academic assumptions of such individual in the composition field, and especially in the WAC/WID field, everyone believes that professors 11 Nowhere in the book do the authors call their study longitudinal. However at several points the timeline and efforts specifically to the public ation of Engaged Writers Dynamic Disciplines analysis will show this research does not fol low any individual or group over a given time span even though it
28 in other disciplines have no tolerance for such alternative or personal agency or voice and experimentation in While the research is driven by questions, those questions reveal a rhetorical purpose that is perhaps beyond systematic and empirical. Thaiss and Zawacki admit as much whe n they discuss to know how aware [professors in other the principal values of ethnography is to challenge the assumptions of existing research, or what for acceptable and even should be applauded. But the question is if this predisposition skewed the results, if the researchers found only what they were looking for. Chapter One deals with the primary research question(s) of trying to define what is academic and what is alternative writing within theoretical and scholarly contexts. Chapter Two purports to let the faculty talk for themselves about these questions, and Chapter Three continues (Thaiss vii) with the focus on how the faculty are actually teaching students to write. Chapter perhaps triangulating, the voices and opinions of the faculty, and lastly Chapter Five is for conclusions and implications of the study, as well as a call for further research. These final grand observations attemp writing (137) and then suggest twelve practices that institutions and instructors shoul d follow if As I suggested above, Thaiss and Zawacki seem very aware of some of the problems of the type of research they conducted. They know that this stud y was conducted on a single
29 of academic writing albeit partial that takes into account the motives of writers working within a local institutional conte we know this research has limitations but we are going to generalize anyway The researchers also know that even as they describe their methodology in detail, that qualitative research is l simply get messy due to the limitations of context and all the other problems that have been defined by North and others. While the research is never directly called an ethnography 12 Thaiss and Zawacki nonetheless group the problems with their research u to ignore those limitations anyway: Thus, while we are assuming such ethnographic limitations, we nevertheless believe that we can make claims about the contexts in which we conducted the investigation. In turn, we believe readers will find these claims relevant to understanding the contexts in which they work. (26) Take that, Stephen North. This s ort of treatment of the limitations but the desire to produce knowledge anyway continues through most of the book. When the 14 faculty members are discussed, for example, ersons for their disciplines although, as we will show, each could easily note either a formal center of their discipline in terms of ways of thinking, standards of evidence, and format, or a clear range of ly understand the second half of that sentence, the 12 A theme I discussed above and one critical to a study of current methodological practice.
30 willing to acknowledge and anticipate the scholarly reaction to their research, but since they are writi not prevent them from sharing such generalizations. For me, one of the strongest reasons to consider this as an ethnography (or at least judge it by those standard s) is in the language Thaiss and Zawacki use, especially in the preface, but also throughout the published study. As a reader, I was excited to see the authors describe their ions expressed in About Their Writing ize my misunderstanding and how each of these chapters uses amazingly few quotations to tell a ean to be so hung up on the narrative style of this study, but its impact on the value of the work of ethnography and phenomenological research is important. North said it well: But the primary text in an Ethnographic study, and its primary source of power Ethnographic interpretation derived solely from inscribed data, without recourse to actual events, is like literary criticism from reading notes, without recourse to the original text: it can be done, but at a price. (North 304, 05)
31 by going beyond the written surveys and essays and by conducting focus group interviews to get instead of thick descriptive stories or extensive quotation, the a uthors offer 10 generalized summarizations of student expectations which are then all contextualized with percentages of the 105). Contrast that clin participan ts seem to be only subjects of traditional, hypothesis testing research (Rhodes 28). Perhaps this methodological confusion can best be explained by a hypothesis purposed by the researchers themselves. As Thaiss and Zawacki try to define academic writing in relation to alternative rhetoric with three main criteria, they also (knowingly or not) discuss the struggle of the qualitative researcher in general and the ethnographer in particular: But in the academic universe the senses and emotions must always be s ubject to control by reason experience of poverty or family dislocation, but the academic writer must not stop with the appeal to emotion (what Aristotle called pathos ); the responsible sociologist must step back, almost as if he or she were a separate person, and place that emotional, highly sensual experience in a context of the relevant experiences of others and of the history of academic analysis of the topic. (emphasis original, Thaiss 6)
32 Th is all seems to be an optimism born out of frustration of the practical value of sharing what North defined as lore. Towards this, Thaiss and Zawacki seem to be forging their own alternative discourse for research in composition, an alternative that is sha red by many of the researchers I am studying. demands for positivistic and generalizable truth, these authors and practitioners have moved towards what Eric Bransc mixing and matching case studies, experimental designs, and discourse analysis (Branscomb 9). ly extended study, moderate thickness of description, small focus groups, collaborative separation of teacher and researcher roles, self conscious personalizing of all participant, and genuine concern for the dignity of the students and teachers being obse optimism born out of frustration of the practical value of sharing what North defined as lore. In defining an alternative academic discourse, Thaiss alternative forms and methodologies can perform rigorous and disciplined inquiry at the same time that they may be intended as such, I think that is a fitting th esis for the work they produced in this study.
33 In 2002 the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) added to their Studies in Writing & Rhetoric series the work of Lee Ann Carroll. Rehearsing New Roles: How College Students Develop as Writers is a four year longitudinal study of 20 students and their writing done at Pepperdine University, and according to Carroll, is a chance to discuss the subjects of that her to teacher, from one discipline to another, often have a broader view of writing in college than the On the first page of the preface, the reader discovers that the purpose of this study is to or two semester, first year course in writing cannot meet all the needs m being a death knell for FYC, Carroll uses this study to make recommendations to modify the traditional model of first year writing courses and to create more specialized upper level writing requirements, as well as to call for a new view of student asses sment strategies (118). well as from the data produced by this study, Carroll is prepared to make these recommendations to the field. But she is also aware of her one, true gospel of
34 these descriptions all work with a rhetorical purpose to persuade and convince the multiple audiences (xii) of both the quality of her research and the value of her recommendation s. Carroll quotes Segal, et al. saying that her goal, and perhaps the goal of any practitioner researcher doing or cooperation of the members of the communi her 20 participants, quoting from their portfolios gathered over the four year period, using first names consistently, quoting extensively and even going so far as describing the financial and employment status of a number of the students that she works with. Chapter One outlines the theory that Carroll will draw upon and gives a preview of this thick description by using four student profi particular student, along with photocopies of student assignments with instr uctor comments, and quotations from those assignments. Chapter Two discusses the particulars of the research methodology, and this type of close up and personal detail is continued in Chapter Three and Chapter Four before Carroll moves to her conclusions a nd recommendations. Grounded in a 1994 essay by Robert Crowson, Carroll determines that the goal of to measure human behavior e in order to capture the voice of her participants, Carroll uses a methodological approach that begins with comprising a panel of faculty from different disciplines to read or listen to the data from student interviews, having that generating a hypothesis as a result of the analysis of the data then looking for examples of the accuracy of that hypothesis within the data, then finally triangulating it all by comprising another panel and continuing the analysis (44).
35 The contrast of those statements illuminates the dilemma of using ethnography for publishable, to generalize, but I m ust. Carroll is, like all of the researchers in my analysis, careful to avoid calling this ethnographic or natur alistic we see emerging in modern qualitative research, Carroll sees the potential risks of this methodology as es to distance her work from any suspicion of generalization 13 this study based on a small sample of students to hands of any responsibility by claimi And yet with the frustration we have seen in other efforts to produce and share knowledge abou t the discipline of composition, one page away from the above hesitations and resistance is this hose statements illuminates the dilemma of nd dignity of each student is laudable and refreshing. Carroll describes a very personal experience with these 20 students: 13 While Carroll does not want to generalize, it is worth noting that the focus of this resistance is based on concepts of gender, ethnicity, and economic status more so than any concern to methodological purity. Throughout the section that discusses the potential weaknesses of qualita tive research, she seems sensitive to the fact that Pepperdine University is seen as an overwhelmingly conservative, white, wealthy institution. It is towards that image that her concern s of generalization are based more so than any phenomenological conce pt.
36 I came to know the students in our study in interviews and meetings over four years. On a small campus, our paths crossed in classe s and in the writing center. One of the students worked in our project office, two others spent a semester studying abroad with me in Florence, Italy. (34) The format she uses in each section to begin with general observations that group, categorize, and code the data are then offset by a later transition to the use of an individual name and example to tell the story. This format works for me. The vignettes of each student th at Carroll whose data came largely from a panel looking at portfolios a removal from the primary source Carroll remi nds us of individuality 14 arroll is clearly student resistance to meeting their idealized (27). But p erhaps as a result of that passion and a desire to be heard as a practitioner, Carroll begins to speak beyond the study. Throughout the study, Carroll identifies herself as a practitioner, a teacher, and a tutor the increasingly sophisticated field of composition 14 phenomenological iden tity (24, 27).
37 (xii). And she argues that her data supports, demonstrates, and examines that traditional work, not just f or her own case study, but for the field at large. Although she admits that she is not qualified to preach, it seems as though she is preaching to the choir: Some of the recommendations in this volume will be familiar to faculty already engaged in writing across the curriculum or in teaching strategies that promote active learning and critical thinking. However, I want to demonstrate how student data support these recommendations and elaborate on how they play out in that generates one. study, that Carroll leaves all pretense of a phenomenological study behind Although the from a single study of 20 students. Based on this study, require a core of general education courses should continue to require a one semester writing institutions to match what Peppe Carroll calls for a specialized one deleting any second semester writing courses to be replaced with a higher level writing course within the major discipline, and asks for a look at assessment through a lens of growth and development (qualitative) rather than through a single test or time based essay (quantitative). On what authority are these claims based? Because it worked for her: have learned from our longitudinal study, I have revised my own first year writing course and, Now this is (debatably) appropriate use of s uch single site qualitative research. They had a
38 But this was not a study that produced theory -it was too small and too unique it was a study that tested theory. question, they conducted research, they developed a hypothesis, tested it and refined it, then results of a 20 student study should be considered data that verifies or proves anything (beyond the original participants). ean to suggest that these claims are not useful, or that the six very practical and pragmatic pedagogical recommendations for instructors are not a significant contribution to practice; they are. But this was not a study that produced theory -it was too small and too unique it was a study that tested theory. In effect, there, that would be an excellent use of what North defined as lore. But when the conclusio ns of suc cess of students as they go about qualitative study can produce.
39 Where Are We Now? ork The Making of Knowledge in Composition is necessarily the Bible for all composition research, nor that the field has not or should not grow and evolve in the 20 years since its publication. However I will defen d my constant reference to that work for its simplicity, idealism, and comprehensiveness. Not many studies produced since have treated the entire field with such a useful (though contentious) taxonomy. It set a benchmark for measurement and categorical ide ntification that, along with its predictions, is still very useful deconstruct its idealism, by way of the research and theory produced since then, is also useful. Before I offer my overall analysis, I must admit the most obvious and most guiding limitation for my research is the potential for hypocrisy by using a limited amount of published ethnographic studies to make a generalized statement or judgment about the s tate of composition research. As I performed a rhetorical analysis on the specific studies I approached, I must also do a rhetorical analysis of my own work. While close reading is arguably a completely different methodology than ethnography, much of the b asis of critique of ethnography is specifically the power of the written word, the idea that knowledge transfer is complicated by rhetorical choices. Therefore my own research and study should accommodate that principal and be mindful of language that migh t suggest conclusions beyond the specific studies that I consider. I will speak to a trend that I see from the four works covered above, and it will be up to the reader to apply that evaluation as he or she sees fit. Likewise to the potential hypocrisy of generalizing, I must also be mindful of another of my criteria: hypotheses testing or generating. The studies chosen for my research were culled
40 from a list of recommendations by professionals in the field of rhetoric and composition. My only biases for th ese final selections were that a) the study used ethnographic methodology, b) the study was published, c) the study was written by a degreed academic, and d) the study was at heart a compositional study: its focus was on composition, literacy, and/or gener al writing skills. I did not knowingly choose studies that reinforced any hypotheses that these studies might succeed The fact that there is some value to ethnographic methodology in composition s tudies is a critique of all its methodologies. It is a hallmark of the field of rhetoric and composition to be critical and reflective, and my analysis ha s tried to acknowledge the good and the bad within those selected and published ethnographies. So where are we now in the field of published ethnographic composition research? If I were to paint a composite from the four works I studied, it might look som ething like this. A qualitative study in composition is likely a longitudinal one generally longer than one year of observation is required. Regardless of approach, the study is not likely to call itself an ethnography even though it may defend itself usin g such terms. This disclaimer of qualitative research limitations is a requirement, and the study may go so far as to admit that the subjects or participants are not representative of any larger body. There is a less comprehensive picture from how these s tudies approach the style of the ethnography. Some continue to use the deep descriptive writing style commonly associated with traditional ethnography, but some have subdued that affect in exchange for more quantitative language full of data and analysis. Likewise the voices of the participants are loud and strong in the works that I studied do tell a story, and storytelling even according to North is what ethn ography is all about. The rub, however, is in the ethos of who is telling the story.
41 Overall I see what is happening in these four studies as a change in composition research methodology and how the ethnography is used as a result of institutional pressure. For the researcher, I posit that the risk to cross a line is often too great. To go from describing what a group of participants is doing to telling why they are doing it is to cross a line saying that there is only one reason why; this is a concept that ignores the unique, individual, and phenomenological aspects of ethnogr aphy. When the ethos of the author of a study is that of the researcher, largely established through the lack of descriptive narrative and by having a strong proscriptive element to the work, then the story that is being told rhetorically becomes generaliz ed to apply to all people everywhere. However the rules change when the ethos is that of the practitioner. Although the same concept of non generalizing applies, the rhetorical choices open up a great deal. Whereas the researcher tends to College Writing and Be yond ) or Literacy in American Lives ). Overall I see what is happening within these four studies as a change in composition research methodology and how the ethnography is used as a result of institutional pressure. What Thaiss and Zawacky call an alternative academic discourse and what Keith R hodes calls psychography is indeed an amalgam of methodologies and an appropriation of agency for the practitioner largely in response to institutional pressure to publish generalizable, positivistic knowledge. Reacting to this pressure, the practitioner of which all of my four authors are who wants to share practical pedagogical advice, is forced to couch that advice in rhetorical ambiguity at best and falsely generalizable terminology at worst. While some might regard this strategy as an evolution of composition research, like North, I am concerned that it is a slippery slope unless
42 the reader contextualizes the research they read and fully understands the purpose of the language choices contained therein. These four published studies all add to the kn owledge of the field of composition, but it is important to understand that an ethnography should tell A story, not THE story, regardless of rhetorical style.
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