You never know, at the start of the semester, when the pivotal moments of a class are going to take place. You design a syllabus, choose readings, and hope for the best. But in every course I teach there always seem to be moments that resonate for most of the people involved and keep coming back into the conversations in one form or another. I can’t plan for or predict what they’re going to be, because these moments have to emerge out of the distinctive interests and personalities of all the people in the course. Sometimes these moments aren’t even the things I find most interesting, but you have to recognize and ride the waves of the class.
This fall, in my Composing Identities graduate seminar, one of the moments that has had that kind of pivotal effect in the course was the week when we talked about agency in terms of material conditions – but specifically it was the readings and discussion about location and mobility. We read work by a number of people – Kate Pahl, Eli Goldblatt, Robert Brooke, Cathy Burnett – who are exploring the importance of space and location in regard to how literacy practices develop and are perceived. While all the discussions of materiality (and the tension with immateriality) in terms of literacy practices were useful, the questions about location and mobility sent a charge through the course and keep coming up as we read other texts. How does location, and the perception of who you are in a location, shape a sense of identity? How does location the literacy practices you can engage and, just as important, shape the way you feel you can engage in those practices? How does mobility – both on the scale of moving to a new location or on the scale of moving around your community, shape literacy and identity in ways in which we’ve not explored sufficiently? How are stories shaped by place, and then how do those stories shape our sense of identity and writing? How do issues of transnationalism reshape these conversations and concerns? And how does the virtual mobility afforded by digital media add a new layer to these questions?
Clearly we’re still just exploring here. but the discussions have pushed me farther into this area of thinking about literacy and agency and I’m all the more excited to get further into it. I was interested before, but grateful for the unexpected pivot.