Sunday, January 28, 2007

Identity & Culture

As I begin researching & writing my thesis, I'm trying to clarify a few things for myself. I've decided to write about ESL writing, because a) my MA program is a teaching writing program, b) I'm interested in teaching/researching ESL, and c) I've done a lot of reading about ESL writing so I have at least a decent grasp on the field. Here are a few scattered thoughts on what I'm doing right now.

- A few main themes of the project, at least what's been percolating in my brain:
- Reconciling the pragmatism of ESL writing (let's teach Ss how to succeed at academic writing in English in a U.S. (or wherever) context) with the myriad cultural/social issues surrounding it (why teach that, how much is culture involved in how people write, what is culture anyway, how do students actually feel about being involved in the system that demands that they write a certain way in a certain languages, and on and on)
- Looking at how L2 writers construct their identities/voice in writing, and how is that different from writing in an L1.
- Looking at what culture is and how students and teachers conceive of it, and how that affects the way L2 writing is taught, learned and practiced.
- How and what contrastive rhetoric (CR) is and where it fits on the pragmatically academic vs. pragmatically social/justice continuum.
- The rough abstract talks about a move from CR view of culturally situated/determined writing practices to a view of L2 writing that recognizes the construction of individual identity based on multiple language/social/cultural affiliations, but that might be apples and oranges. If this sort of distinction is to be made, it should probably be subtler.
- Somehow I want to bring up the notions of "language ego" and the creation of an "L2 identity" which I think I've read about in some second language acquisition books. This is brought up in a linguistic context but probably is equally relevant in a rhetorical context. I never progressed far enough in studying a foreign language to get to the point of acquiring, say, a "Spanish-speaking Self" in writing, but I'm interested in the idea*.

- I don't want this project to get too bogged down in metaissues, which I fear it easily could. There's a ton of writing from almost all angles, mostly sociocultural ones which are increasingly popular, that deals with why we teach ESL, how, who it privileges, and so on. That's all interesting, but I would rather dig into what actually goes on with students -- how and why they do what they do and how that can help teachers. I often joke that I'm going to have made my way through two years of grad school in a "Teaching Writing" program without ever learning how to teach writing. So although this project will pretty much have a sociocultural focus, I don't want it to spin off into an ultra-theoretical, head-in-the-clouds examination of culture and identity.

* "The Classroom and the Wider Culture: Identity as a Key to Learning English Composition" by Fan Shen is a really good article that talks about this and a few other related issues.

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