The Center for Writing Studies

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Special Field Exam: Sample Rationale

Computers and Composition: Interdisciplinarity and Technology - Joyce Walker

As a scholar in Writing Studies I plan to take full advantage of the interdisciplinary nature of my field. My interests correspond with work in a diverse range of disciplines, including Art and Design, Sociology, Media Studies, Computer Science, and Cultural and Race Studies. As a result, my readings and research must draw from a diverse range of material. My central goal as a scholar is to better understand the ways that people use various media to develop and communicate identity. My dissertation will examine the concept of conversation as it relates to the traditional methodologies and goals of research in writing studies. Additionally, I wish to consider the possibilities technology might offer for creating online conversation--spaces in which the researcher and the subjects reflect on and learn from one another. My aim is to construct online spaces within which both group and individual are represented, and to consider how such spaces might challenge our paradigms of research and research writing.

One primary goal of my research is to relate work from other disciplines to the field of writing studies. My first category (Theories of Language, Writing and Textuality) includes a range of texts which will help me in this effort. Some titles deal with composition and rhetoric or writing studies in a comprehensive manner while others are theoretical texts, such as Kenneth Burke's Counterstatement, which scholars in writing studies, particularly in the area of online communication and technology, use to support and define their research.

Within the field of Writing Studies many scholars focus on issues of technology and writing. Hypertext, hypermedia, listservs, discussion groups, and webs are all sites of interest for these scholars, as well as for my own work. The texts in this second category (Technology and Online Communication) have been selected because they fit one or both of the following criteria: 1) They deal with issues of technology which relate specifically to writing studies, or 2) they are texts which deal with the development and/or use of various types of online communication media in academic or business settings.

Because my primary research interest is in the ways that human beings communicate and develop identity through various media, I have found ethnographic research (in sociology, anthropology, speech communications, and writing studies) to be a valuable tool. My third category (Ethnographic Methodologies) includes texts which reflect not only current ethnographic work in various fields, but particularly works such as Trihn T. Minh-ha's Women, Native, Other and Laurel Richardson's Field's of Play, which question and challenge notions of observer/author control and authority. As ethnographic practices undergo scrutiny and change in these fields, I find that researchers touch upon many areas of interest to me, including processes of community-building, storytelling practices, and the problems of interaction between the researcher and research subject. These particular interests are dealt with more specifically in the fourth category (Identity and Self-Representation) which includes text more specifically related to issues of identity. While this category does include ethnographic research, I have also drawn texts from diverse sources, including Legal Studies, Cultural Studies, Race Studies, Feminist Studies, Sociology, Speech Communication, and Writing Studies. The common thread among these diverse texts is the effort to explore and understand the ways that identity and self-representation are defined, altered, and communicated by groups and individuals.

My final category (Image Design and Alternative Literacies) has been developed as a direct response to my work in online environments. The importance of non-alphabetic text in online communication is an area which writing studies scholars are only beginning to explore. However, still images, animations, video, and sound are an increasingly vital part of online communications. The texts that I have chosen for this category reflect issues of technology and design--the making of meaning through non-alphabetic structures and artifacts. They are primarily centered around online spaces, but also contain more general information and theory from the field of Art and Design.

Taken together, the five categories within my field represent an interdisciplinary approach to research on the reciprocal relationship between computer-mediated communication and face-to-face interactions, recognizing the complex interdependencies. My dissertation will focus specifically on the ways that individual and group identities both influence and are influenced by these types of communication.