. . . Read, Speak and Write Oneself into the Possibilities of Different Discourses
Millard’s (1997) research illustrates the great variety of reading practices that young people engage in both within and outside school. In this respect the third task that Davies urges is that we should read and speak ourselves into the possibilities of different discourses and contexts. We might, for example, ask what a cyborg conceptualization of experience means for our sense of identity. Or what conceptualizations of postcolonial difference mean for a becoming feminism. Or indeed what kinds of future feminist politics can be envisaged that are based on a conceptualization of care as an ethic or care as work. In addition, we might also write ourselves into different discourses and contexts.
A focus on authorship in postmodern enquiry has illustrated how researchers shape meanings in the presentation of their findings. Atkinson (1990) illustrates how the believability of the research report is not a given that just comes with the data. It is formed through the researcher’s use of a variety of literary devices and narrative strategies that depict rhetorical figures, use descriptive vocabulary to evoke the scenes within which these characters live their lives and which rely on the selection of appropriate illustrative material. Nevertheless, authorial authority is never guaranteed. Poststructuralism has challenged the idea that there exists ‘a single, literal reading of a textual object, the one intended by the author’ (Barone, 1995: 65). Although some readings are certainly more privileged than others, interpretation cannot be controlled. Readers bring their own knowledges, experiences, values and meanings to the text. This means that as author I cannot guarantee the authority of my words.
The focus in postmodern scholarship on these issues has brought a greater consciousness of narrative devices and strategies of persuasion in the dissemination of research. This heightened consciousness may of course lead to attempts to reinforce researcher authority through becoming more expert in the various techniques of writing. Yet this heightened consciousness has also led researchers to take more risks and to become more ‘playful’ in the styles that are used for written dissemination. One of the purposes of this playfulness has been to open up and make more explicit how knowledge is constructed through research. For example, Perriton (1999) uses two, unequal, columns that separate first and third person pronouns. The authoritative voice of the third person mirrors the personal voice of the first person to convey that they are the voices of the same author. Yet the greater space given to the third person discussion replicates how ideas of the neutral researcher continue to predominate.
However, within the research methodology literature the issue of writing is either ignored or is considered primarily in technical terms of, say, style, format, writing drafts and thinking about potential audiences. Perry (2000) notes that educators have paid very little attention to the role of writing in the development of critical consciousness. A standard view of writing is that this is an act of transcription of one’s thinking where one needs to engage in the act of thinking prior to putting those thoughts onto paper. In contrast Perry’s central point is that writing is thinking. One not only becomes conscious of one’s thinking through writing but writing shapes and transforms our thinking. As with critical literacy more generally, Perry’s work is strongly influenced by Freirean pedagogies. Perry argues that it is necessary for learners ‘to become aware of what it means for them to write in order to establish a new relationship with writing’ (ibid.: 186). This means that learners need to engage in a variety of ‘risk-free’ writing tasks that include
focused and unfocused freewriting, sustained exploratory writing to discover what they know and think about topics and issues, loop writing to discover the depth of their thinking on topics/issues/events not apparent at the outset of the writing [and discussion of] the politics and the power of language use in and out of the academy. (ibid.)
With some similarity to Perry, Lillis’s (2001) research into critical literacy and student writing is focused on what she describes as the essayist literacy that is required of higher education students. Lillis notes that ‘social and personal identity are bound up with ways of meaning making in fundamental ways’ (ibid.: 169). She suggests that the following questions are central to understanding the effects of this.
These are: ‘What kinds of identities are privileged through existing practices? How can traditionally excluded identities be foregrounded and including in teaching, learning and meaning making? What kinds of identities do we want to encourage in higher education, and why?’ (ibid.). Of course, we might want to extend Lillis’s questions to other spheres and domains and to both writing and reading.