Demystifying Interactions With Writing



Discourse always has to come from somewhere. Thus, it is always dependent on some form of authority. It's valid to believe that the concept of authority can trap students or any developing writer into believing that, when it comes to writing, there is a singular right answer or a type of answer that is being baited through tasks and further editing. While I do believe this is the case and that authority plays a significant role, I do not buy that it is the only factor. Helen Rothschild Ewald details in her essay, "A Tangled Web of Discourses: On Post-Process Pedagogy and Communicative Interaction" that while a post-process approach to writing instruction can work, there are several conflicts regarding how to apply them.


Ewald reviews postmodern conversations and struggles regarding the terms agency, perspective, and value. I will assess each for my own purposes. I don't fully agree with all of her assessments in that I don't think all of them are timely or a fully accurate representation of the conflicts at hand, but I will parse out what I think can best be used here.


Agency


A writer has the ability to assume a level of authority, to be an agent who assists in the continuation and circulation of discourse, but what has come into question is how much agency an individual (whether they are a developing writer or student) has or should have. To what extent can a writer control their own movements within a discourse, especially if the discourse is limited or there is no existing conversation? Currently, I'm not sure where I stand on this.


A roadblock to answering that question is something that Ewald discusses, a series of foundational truths. According to post-process theory, these must have come from somewhere as well. Granted, it's possible for things that were understood to be true to be corrected over time, but changes to these "truths" as we know them are usually never instant. On a positive side, the more that these changes are explored, the more movement there is in a discourse, however small a change that may be. The question becomes not whether a writer, developing or otherwise, has agency, but whether they have the tools with which to display that agency.


Perspective


Perspective examines the relationship between writers and their subjects, and these can be determined by a multitude of factors. It can indicate biases, but while a bias can be indicated, it rarely means that information given isn't usable, even if it's used to indicate a flaw in reasoning (this comes from a conversation on why "bad writing" is useful). Usually, the factors that form perspectives, which Ewald states, are relationships with cultural diversity in all forms, quality of training, personal history, and method of discussing how these shape our knowledge.


Those categories are all relevant, and these factors can often determine a writer's relationship to topic knowledge. While it's not to state that one writer is less capable than another of producing substantive work, it can affect what people might turn to when looking for a source. For example, if someone is looking for material for a researched piece having to do with a scientific concept, they might find articles on a specialist in the topic they're looking into and results from recent studies on the same topic. This writer might evaluate some of the work of the specialist and find it to be dated, but possibly still usable. There are cases where a writer's relationship with a topic can be seen as invalid, especially when that relationship is based on a lack of information. A piece of writing that is based on a lack of information can be used, but will most likely be presented in a negative way and debunked, and there aren't a lot of people who want to be on the other side of a "what not to do" publication.


Value


Perspective, from what I can tell, informs value and both could go hand in hand. I've previously discussed this importance of writing and having intentions (which often stem from personal values). What Ewald appears to suggest is that values that are currently held in the teaching of writing, specifically post-process strategies, are not currently in the right place. However, I didn't fully understand her objective for this section.


In present day, it's common to suggest that all professionals, including but also beyond writers, write about and explore their values. Professionally, understanding a person's values can inform expectations of a job environment. In writing pedagogy, a student's values will determine the kind of agency they choose to take in their writing and will inform their stance on a topic as much as their perspective will. However, the instructor's values will largely inform how that student's work will be perceived. Again, there is dependence on authority.


There are some post-process theorists who will argue that writing cannot be taught as that would mean reducing it to something that can be codified. Ewald states that, on the other side, those stating that writing can be taught through the process approach restrict change. I question whether there is a teaching process in writing as opposed to a communication process. This is not a new idea by any stretch, but to an extent I defy that writing is taught in some respects and defy that writing is not taught in other respects.


Turning writing into a communication process changes the dynamic between teacher and student to writer and writer. In an ideal situation, the way this would be presented is developing writer to developing writer because the hope is that all writers seek to develop their skills. Mechanical skills can be taught. Expectations with regards to writing in one context or another can be taught. Organization can be taught Many other aspects of writing cannot be taught and should be discussed and, from what I understand, a genuine post-process approach would be largely communicative.


Ideally, a question of how to be a better writer would be replaced by a question of how someone can be better understood. To best answer that question, what would have to be answered is how that writer currently expresses themselves. What methods does that writer have at their disposal to express themselves? Does this writer know how to vary their expressions based on a given situation or do they have trouble expressing themselves in different contexts?


By no means is this an exhaustive list of questions, but my hope is that it accentuates my point that the act of writing is more often taught than discussed with developing writers and [for me] that's a more comprehensive way of explaining a source of strain on the relationship between the writer and what they write. These are difficult discussions to have because some developing writers may anticipate that there is a "correct conclusion" to draw in terms of one's own agency, perspective, and values and some moderators to these discussions might want to lead to their intended conclusion even if that's unintentional. On the other hand, a discussion that is entirely unguided might not be productive. I suggest, instead, being an active participant in these conversations and seek to develop in writing even as an "authority" whenever possible. This suggestion supposes an ideal situation, though, and cannot be considered a blanket approach for all situations.


Thank you again to all of my readers for your compliments and suggestions! If you would like to be a more active member of the Purposeful Prose community, you can become a member. Membership is entirely free and will allow you to "like," comment, and participate in my forum. If there's anything about writing that you would like me to research, your inquiry might turn into the subject of a new blog post or series!

I hope you look forward to next week when I will continue on my series about writer's block.


As always, I look forward to hearing your thoughts!


Sources:


Ewald, H. R. (1999). A tangled web of discourses: On post-process pedagogy and communicative interaction. Post-process theory: Beyond the writing process paradigm, 116-131.


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