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University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Colloquium Archive

Daniel Perrin

Name: Daniel Perrin, Zurich University of Applied Sciences

Presentation Title: “Coming to grips with dynamics and complexity:
Methodological challenges to real-life writing research"

Date: October 25, 2012


Linguistics first considered written language, later focused on conversations as processes, and only then rediscovered written language from a process perspective. Whereas psycholinguistic research on writing focuses on key logging and eye tracking to analyze micro processes, such as planning, between linguistic units in experimental settings, sociolinguistics and applied linguistics relate writing practices in the field to social macrostructures and problems such as social diversity and change. In doing so, they understand microdevelopment as a methodologically accessible activity that stands for similar, but less accessible developments on higher levels and timescales.

In my presentation, I discuss the methodological potential of research frameworks in “real-life” writing research, focusing on newswriting as a field of application. After a short overview of four more traditional research frameworks in the research on newswriting, I focus on Dynamic Systems Theory (DST). I argue that DST fosters approaches appropriate to the complexity of writing in multi-layered real-world contexts. On the one hand, DST provides conceptual metaphors needed to understand why and how it makes sense to systematically analyze a world in which everything is connected. On the other hand, DST enables researchers to develop empirically grounded models of processes at the edge of chaos – processes such as dealing with time pressure, poor quality pictures and emergent ideas when writing a piece of news.

The presentation foregrounds DST’s potential for explaining the dynamics and complexity of writing processes in real-world contexts such as the domain of newswriting. I will refer throughout to a newswriting process by an experienced journalist about demonstrations in Lebanon, as a case of such real-world writing. On an empirical level, I exploit data from this Lebanon case to show that changing a single word in an emerging news text can mean reframing both the writing process and the text product. On a theoretical level, I draw on the Lebanon case to explain how and why DST helps researchers conceptualize and model the complexity of newswriting.