By Sari Pietikäinen, Alexandra Jaffe, Helen Kelly-Holmes, Nik Coupland
Sociolinguistics from the Periphery "presents a fascinating book about change: shifting political, economic and cultural conditions; ephemeral, sometimes even seasonal, multilingualism; and altered imaginaries for minority and indigenous languages and their users"
Date: Sat, 17 Jul 2004 23:40:25 -0500 From: Charlotte Brammer Subject: Writing Games: Multicultural Case Studies ...
AUTHOR: Casanave, Christine Pearson TITLE: Writing Games SUBTITLE: Multicultural Case Studies of Academic Literacy Practices in Higher Education PUBLISHER: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates YEAR: 2002
Charlotte Brammer, Samford University, Birmingham, Alabama, USA
As the name implies, the text is an extended explication of the ''game'' aspects of writing. Casanave is unapologetic about the seemingly flippant use of this playful metaphor because it may help writers, particularly ''novice academic writers ... see the strategic, convention- based nature of writing and thus to appreciate their own agency in choosing how to play'' (p. 6). In the Preface, Casanave states that one of the text's purposes is ''to portray issues and actors in such a way that readers can relate them to issues and experiences in their own lives'' (p. xv). Readers who are also writers, perhaps especially those who are involved in higher education, will relate to the issues and individuals presented in this text. While the text focuses heavily on writers for whom English is a second language, first language writers will also identify with several issues raised in the text, including notions of language appropriateness, social acceptance, and intellectual identity.
Casanave opens the text with a discussion of frames, specifically she explains her rationale and method for framing the text overall and the cases within each chapter. She notes that two ideas guide the book: (1) ''academic writing is a game-like social and political as well as discoursal practice that takes place in communities of practice,'' and (2) ''writers' practices and identities in academic settings change over time'' (p. 1). The author takes time to explain each of these concepts, noting that the concepts are both ''common sense'' and academically situated, especially within English as a second language (ESL), English for Academic Purposes (EAP), and composition studies. She builds from the work on situated practice of Etienne Wenger (1998)and Sherry Ortner (1996), stating that writers are influenced by their communities of practice. As Casanave paraphrases Wenger (1998), ''people's identities are shaped by a variety of factors, including fundamentally how we participate in a community's practices and reposition ourselves from the role of newcomer on the sidelines of a game to the accomplished player's more central place'' (p. 21).
Another element to Casanave's framing involves Pierre Bourdieu's symbolic capital, particularly as it applies to academe. As newcomers become more adept in their positions, they acquire greater symbolic capital (e.g., advanced degrees, publications, tenure, international recognition), which in turn affects their positions within the community of practice. The seemingly simple accrual of symbolic capital and community membership is made complex through the multiplicity of memberships, labels, and internal versus external perceptions through which identities are created. As Casanave explains, ''identities are never unitary, but always multiple'' (p. 10). A given individual may be both an expert and a novice, an accomplished musician and an inexperienced academic. From this theoretical base, Casanave probes how literacy practices are taught and learned in higher education.
Chapters two through six introduce background research and relevant studies about different groups in higher education, from undergraduates (Chapter 2) to published professors (Chapter 6). The detailed introductions are followed by case studies, some of which are original, but most of which are revisited from existing research, albeit with new theoretical lens and purpose. Readers who are familiar with Casanave's research will enjoy hearing an update from ''Virginia,'' a PhD student who left after one year of graduate school only to complete her doctoral work later at another university. Each chapter closes with ''reflections'' that go beyond simple summations and raise questions for further research, discussion, and contemplation. For example, at the end of chapter two which explores the literacy practices of undergraduates, Casanave writes, ''What strikes me about all of these cases is the asymmetry between the ways that teachers seem to perceive their worlds -- full of complexity, detail, and purposeful rhetorical practices -- and the confusion yet relative lack of complexity in students' perceptions ... I think in some sense teachers of EAP want students to quickly become like us ...'' (p. 80). As teachers, we are eager for our students to join the community of practice and to move beyond the level of novice; we may be so eager that we forget how long it took us to attain our level of participation within the community of the academy and thus are impatient with the learning curve of our students, whether undergraduate or graduate, as well as new colleagues.
The concluding chapter, aptly titled ''The Paradoxical Effort After Coherence in Academic Writing Games,'' reiterates the text's purpose: to create ''coherence'' from the author's past research and to do so in a way this is relevant to her larger community of practice, academe. In summary, Casanave wrote, '' All the themes -- writing as a game-like practice, more general theories of practice, issues of identity, transition, and enculturation -- reflect the idea that people who write in university settings are all trying to create a sense of order in their worlds'' (p. 256). Throughout this collection of case studies, from her own research as well as that of other researchers, Casanave demonstrates how newcomers, whether undergraduates or experienced professors, must acclimate themselves to the social, political, and linguistic norms of the community. In the process, these newcomers recognize and exercise their own agency by choosing whether to negotiate the community's expectations (some electing to leave, as ''Virginia'' did) and, if they so choose, how to navigate through (perhaps despite?) the rules.
This book provides a good overview of learning to write in higher education. While several studies have addressed learning to write in various professions (e.g., engineering: Winsor, 1996; business: Katz, 1998a, 1998b), relatively few have addressed writing within higher education beyond the undergraduate level. Thus, this book is a welcome addition to professional literacy studies. Many graduate students in US schools, whether native and non-native English speakers, will find this text helpful in assessing the ''writing games'' they are involved with. Anyone interested in literacy studies will also find the book useful for its comprehensive bibliography (some 15 pages). Overall, Casanave gave her readers exactly what she promised, an extensive review of ''academic literacy practices in higher education.''
REFERENCES Katz, S. (1998a) Part I -- Learning to Write in Organizations: What Newcomers Learn About Writing on the Job. IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication 41.2. pp. 107-115.
Katz, S. (1998b) Part II -- How Newcomers Learn to Write: Resources for Guiding Newcomers. IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication 41.3. pp. 165-174.
Winsor, D. (1996) Writing Like an Engineer: A Rhetorical Education. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER Dr. Brammer is Assistant Professor of Communication Studies, Howard College of Arts and Sciences, Samford University, Birmingham, Alabama. Her research interests include writing pedagogy, technical and professional communication, and sociolinguistics.