Literacy Practices and Perceptions of Agency:
This book explores how people perceive their abilities and opportunities to read and write successfully when they perform literate identities. The perception of agency, not just whether a person is able to read and write but whether she or he perceives and feels able to read and write in a given context, is crucial in terms of how people respond to writing situations. Though some may consider agency difficult to define, it is a goal often articulated in research, on course syllabi, and in learning outcomes. It is important to investigate how individuals perceive agency, and what factors they regard as enabling or constraining their actions. At any moment there are many factors shaping agency and literate identities from social forces – history, material conditions, institutions, social roles, semiotics – to internal conditions – motivation, emotion, narrative, and memory. This book draws on interviews and observations with students in several countries to explore the intersections of the social and personal in regard to how, but also crucially why, people engage successfully or struggle painfully in literacy practices. If we can identify such patterns and moments we can, as teachers and researchers, rethink our approaches to teaching as well as intervene in the learning of individual students to help facilitate a sense of agency as writers and readers.
Writing Centers, Enclaves, and Creating Spaces
of Pedagogical and Political Change within Universities
I believe that rhetoric and composition faculty and programs can play a role in the conceiving of the future of the university that is both disruptive to corporate structures and standardization and more focused on learning and exploration. What’s more I maintain that such a role need not be limited to issues of writing pedagogy, but can address broader concerns of the nature of learning and the structure of the institution. Using the example of Writing Centers, which have grown to more than 1,400 in the U.S. in the last forty years, I am interested in how such programs, which often maintain significantly different visions of pedagogy as well as different political and institutional presences, can offer the possibilities for creating change in the larger university. I am drawing on Victor Friedman’s (2011) concept of “enclaves” to discuss how Writing Centers can draw on their pedagogical and participatory values and practices to work as agents of institutional change in universities. Both the approaches to teaching writing, as well as efforts to create a culture of writing and participation at the university, can generate a different conversation about literacy and education in university settings increasingly driven by ideologies of standardized assessment and commodification.