The Center for Writing Studies

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Rafters and skylights in the English Building

Brownbag Series


Faculty and graduate students are invited each academic year to participate in the Research-in-Progress Brownbag series. The series began in 2004 with CWS core faculty invited to discuss their current projects. Over the years it has expanded to include informal presentations by affiliated faculty, graduate students, visiting scholars, and other faculty members from across campus.

Brownbags run for one hour, including a question and answer session.

For the schedule of brownbag speakers, please see the Center calendar. For the archive of previous brownbag talks, see the past speakers page.


Fall 2016

Brownbags take place from 12-1 in English Building 107a.


November 15

Kyle Jensen (English, University of North Texas) - “Toward an Uncanny Writing Studies: Frederic Myers and Automatic Writing”

Traditionally, Frederic Myers is not listed among the most important theorists in writing studies. Yet, his research on automatic writing provides one of the most sophisticated and capacious engagements with how human consciousness, cognition, and writing technologies intersect. At the turn of the twentieth century, automatic writing was defined primarily in terms of spiritual mediumship. The medium would cede volitional control to a spirit guide who communicated messages from the great beyond by taking control of his or her writing hand. In an attempt to understand how this curious process unfolded, Myers began a seven-year study guided by a comprehensive evaluation of automatic writing case studies. Over the course of four extensive papers, he proposed a new theory of how minds non-consciously work on one another during the act of writing. In the process, he invented the termtelepathyand hypothesized a new theory of human cognition. In drawing attention to Myers’s path breaking writing research, this presentation advances three important arguments: [1] Myers’s research encourages the scholars to look for uncanny instances of writing research that exceed academic instruction in university systems; [2] Myers’s research participates in, and in substantive ways augments, ongoing debates about how writers affect one another; and [3] Myers’s research proposes a future for writing research and instruction by employing new technologies for studying the evolution of writing processes. In each argument, this presentation connects Myers’s automatic writing research to the historical debates that have shaped rhetoric and composition studies and thereby cultivates new ways of approaching its most foundational questions.


September 20

David Cisneros (Communication) - Coming out of the Shadows”: Genre, Affect, and Desire

Over the last several years, young immigrant rights activists have increasingly circulated written personal narratives as a political strategy. These written narratives can be found in anthologies such asLiving “Illegal”: The Human Face of Unauthorized Immigrationand in essays such as “My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant” published in theNew York Timesin 2011 by Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas. In these so-called “coming out” stories, immigrant activists narrate the emotional and life-changing experience of discovering their undocumented status and use the public disclosure of that status as a form of political and cultural agency. These writers often express grief over their lost sense of belonging, the fear and shame they feel about their legal status, and their sense of pride and power at disclosing this knowledge. This presentation focuses on written stories of immigrants “coming out of the shadows”—an activist genre that expresses and negotiates the affective and emotional economies of immigration, visibility, and citizenship. Analyzing several different kinds of “coming out” stories, I trace the genre’s rhetorical form and affective structure. Along the way, I develop an idea of genre based in affect/emotion, discuss writing as a technology of visibility and social mobility, and illuminate the way unauthorized immigrant youth are queering structures of feeling about national belonging and citizenship.



Spring 2016

All lunches are from 12-1 in English Building 107a - we're excited to see you this spring!

Brown Bag - Mark Dressman - March 9


Mark Dressman (Curriculum & Instruction) - Words and Pictures: A Peircean/Saussurean Framework for Multimodal Analysis

In this presentation I will demonstrate an approach to multimodal analysis based in a combination Peircean semiosis and Saussurean structuralism that is very different from the more prevalent approaches of Gunther Kress and his associates. A comparative analysis of two videos, one produces by Al Jazeera and one produced by CNN, will illustrate this new approach. In conclusion, I consider implications for conceptualizing relations between language and other modes of signification within multimodal texts.




March 23


Spencer Schaffner (Director of Center for Writing Studies/English) - Shame Parades

In this lunch-hour talk, I describe a portion of a book I'm working on about different ways that writing as been used to punish, shame, and humiliate people in public. I describe how, in a variety of contexts, written signs (often hung around the neck) have been used to shame and punish in social space. When people are made to hold or wear written signs in public, written language is figured as being able to create potentially transformative social anguish. We'll look at some of the messages in these signs, as well as the social actors and contexts in which the signs are created. In the talk, I describe how the signs are imagined to transform social realities via a relationship between two rhetorical mechanisms: mandated and associative speech.