Thursday, October 27, 2011

CHAT Maps: Who Am I? And Where Am I Writing From?

On Tuesday, we mapped out how some of the lines of causality and detail within our essays.  Today, we're going to look at how we as fit within the scope of our writing - not just as writers, but as people located at a particular time and place in our lives.

Unit 3 / Mapping Writing - Mapping Yourself

Grassroots Writing Research Journal - A Metaphor for a Lifetime of Writing
The Grassroots Journal is very focused on the experience of learning to writing.  As a journal for students in which most of the articles are by students, it does a very good job capturing the perspectives of writers who are not yet established, individuals who are still actively working toward a personal understanding of the role writing will play in their lives.

The downside, though, is that we are not necessarily "experts" in the field of writing.  And yes, I could argue that there are no "experts" when it comes to writing, but that argument doesn't necessarily help us when we're actively learning.  If you've read Stephen King's On Writing, then you know that there are people out there who really know what they're talking about when it comes to writing.  There are people who have lived and breathed the written word for so many hours and years that it's somewhat terrifying to think about.

This doesn't mean we aren't qualified to write about writing - far from it.  Something to consider is the fact that there are many, many successful writers who are not themselves experts on writing.  Historians, astronomers, businesspeople, teachers, and many others are writers.  A quick look through the authors represented at Barnes and Noble will reveal mothers, athletes, teenagers, disabled veterans - people from every walk of life.  A look at the online communities of blogs and wikis will reveal an even greater variety.

You'll note that most writers rarely write about the art of writing.  This is representative of the fact that all of us know something about writing, but that few of us feel qualified to call ourselves "experts."  We are, however, experts of ourselves.  We know who we are as individuals - where we grew up, what we hope to accomplish in life, what we're afraid of.  These are important considerations for every writer, particularly in college.  As students, you are asked to write about subjects about which you don't know enough.  You are often asked to conduct research and begin "thinking critically" about subjects to which you've only been recently exposed.  As you advance in your education - especially if you go on to grad school - you'll have more freedom to choose your subject, but there will always be new material to learn and consider.

And here's the bad news - no matter how much you experience, how much you study, or how much you write, you'll never know all that you need to know.  This is why it's important to consider who you are in relation to your subject.  As you begin your research and continue your writing, this understanding of yourself will help you decide which research is important.

CHAT - Cultural-Historical Activity Theory
In centering ourselves, it helps to consider where we are in relation to the functions of our writing.  For this, we draw on Joyce Walker's article "Just CHATting" from a previous edition of Grassroots, which in turn draws on work by Paul Prior.  Our goal is to use Activity Theory to look at how writing functions as a social activity, and then to place that activity into a cultural-historical context.

We, as writers, are at the center of our own cultural-historical worlds.  Where we were born, what we believe, what we eat for dinner: these factors all affect who we are and what we'll write.  One goal with CHAT is to understand and account for this in our writing.  Although we are all subjective as individuals, we can make our writing more objective (albeit never completely objective) by accounting for our own limitations as subjective human beings.  With CHAT, we can examine the cultural expectations surrounding our work - the expectations that we are trying to meet not because we are writers, but because we are people using writing to communicate with others.

CHAT and Genre: Where Your Writing Fits
We start by examining how our writing fits in the world of social discourse.  There are seven aspects to consider, each of which helps define our ideas of genre.
  1. Production: How the writing is produced (e.g. online, in a book, with the numeric keypad on your phone)
  2. Representation: How we think about writing, how we prepare for it (e.g. through research, group meetings)
  3. Distribution: Who we give the text to (e.g. the teacher, our Facebook fans, magazine subscribers)
  4. Reception: How others use the text (e.g. to bake a cake, to enjoy an afternoon of quiet reading, to hear about that awful essay you just handed in)
  5. Socialization: The interactions of people and institutions as they use texts (e.g. the way you file taxes with the government by filling out an online form with tax prep software)
  6. Activity: The actual things you do while writing (e.g. buying coffee, sharpening pencils, asking a friend for advice on what to write next)
  7. Ecology: The environment in which we write, the physical limitations on production (e.g. Starbucks is far away, my cheap computer won't restart, forests are sacrificed to make paper)
In considering these issues, you can draw maps for how each one affects a given work.  Before beginning on your own articles, I'd like you each to draw CHAT maps for the Grassroots articles you've chosen from the current issue.

Note that there are two levels you can draw these maps for - first, for the type of writing that's being described in the article, and second for the article itself.  Which, do you think, is harder?  Why?

For the next part, I'd like you to draw CHAT maps for the articles you're working on.  This time, start with yourself.  Consider how you personally fit within each of the seven categories above.  Then look at how these aspects transfer to your article.

Unit 3 / Mapping Writing - Mapping Yourself


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