In this post, I will discuss some of the theories and camps I align myself with. I very much see myself as a teacher-scholar and my work as interdisciplinary. Pifer calls teacher-scholars generalists, yet I disagree with the notion that generalists are a “jack of all trades, master of none” (185). To me, a thorough treatment of any subject requires drawing from a variety of interrelated fields. Interdisciplinary interests were what led me to rhetoric and composition in the first place. Rhet/comp helps me tie together interests in philosophy, politics, critical theory, linguistics, psychology, and the esoteric. The theory/praxis aspect of rhet/comp allows for experimentation with theoretical approaches in the classroom as well. Theory informs praxis and praxis informs theory, motivating me as a teacher-scholar to perform research, write articles, and experiment with new media.
Much of my research falls outside the dominant paradigm of rhet/comp and English Studies in the States. This is due to the fact that for the last decade or so I have been an independent researcher working outside academia. I have an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and researching. The limited canon of approved academic texts has never appealed to me. Throughout my life, I have followed my own research interests, without any care for whether what I was researching was trendy in academia or not.
SFL and Process Pedagogy
One of my major research interests is systemic functional linguistics (SFL). In this blog I have dealt with SFL and its application in multimodal discourse analysis, genre pedagogy, and critical discourse analysis in-depth. SFL challenges traditional conceptions of language, theories of knowledge, and teaching, especially the process approach to education that still holds sway in U.S. classrooms. This is not to say I do not align myself with the process movement; process pedagogy – the sequence of invention, drafting, revision, peer workshops – is indispensable to my teaching, yet I do have several, minor, epistemological contentions with process pedagogy that I believe have far-reaching consequences for understanding and teaching language.
My first contention with process pedagogy is the relegation of language to the ephemeral realm of the mind – cognition – and the conceptualization of language learning as an internal, inner-directed process of self discovery. Hyland argues, “Put simply, there is little systematic understanding of the ways language is patterned in particular domains” (Hyland 19). Leaving the study of language to cognitive scientists does little to help educators understand language in use within social context, making many teachers give up on language instruction entirely, seeing language as something so complicated it is impossible to teach. Secondly, by situating language within the mind, ELLs and Low-SES students who do not have the same experience with language as native and privileged students are seen as having something biologically wrong with them – the language deficit. Without focusing on explicit instruction, teachers are placed “in the role of well-meaning bystanders,” (Hyland 19). Implicit instruction can only foster tacit knowledge of language in the classroom. By focusing on process over product, the least experienced students are penalized for not grasping and performing the implicit demands of the teacher.
I would argue that comp/rhet’s reliance on Chomskyan, formal grammar has caused a backlash to explicit language instruction in the classroom, and that a functional language approach is, in fact, more rhetorical and effective. Process pedagogy’s aversion to Current Traditionalism is a negative reaction to formal grammar, rather than language instruction in general. In formal grammar, one is judged by the formal correctness of his or her language in terms of an ideal speaker, which is highly problematic and ethnocentric. Tracing the history of language back to ancient Greece, Halliday discusses the division of language to the philosophical-absolutist view of Plato and the descriptive-ethnographic view of the Sophists (23). The Sophist, ethnographic-descriptive view is not concerned with absolute correctness, but, instead, the ways in which language creates and shapes meaning, in other words, rhetoric (see PAB #1 for a full discussion).
As a researcher in rhet/comp, one of my goals is to find ways of integrating functional approaches to language into the field. Though there has been aversion to and lack of awareness of SFL, I try to persuade others in the field that SFL is, indeed, the rhetorical metalanguage rhet/comp needs to push the field forward. I am one of the few people in the States working in SFL, which can be lonely and exciting. I can only name a handful of researchers working in SFL here in the U.S. – Mary Schlepegrell, Jay Lemke, Luciana de Oliveira. What I see as innovative work is mainly coming from Australia and the U.K, which has prompted friends and colleagues of mine to jokingly ask: If you love Halliday so much, why don’t you move to Australia already? “Australia” by The Kinks seems to sum up my starry-eyed view of Australia, a wondrous place filled with functional linguists, beautiful beaches, and some seventy-two deadly species indigenous to the continent.
In regards to other theoretical camps, my work draws from philosophy and critical theory. I would align myself with Object Oriented Ontology and Speculative Realism, and philosophers such as Levi Bryant, Graham Harman, Nick Land, and Reza Negarastani. I also align myself with critical theorists such as Deleuze and Baudrillard. Within the critical theory/cultural studies debate, I place myself squarely in the critical theory camp because I believe only critical theory has the capability of exposing unequal power relations. Cultural studies often, unwittingly, can be used to solidify and perpetuate asymmetrical power relations.
My epistemological alignment is connected directly to the Objects of Study I have discussed. Currently, I am researching how students analyze and write about multimodal texts using SFL. I have been developing a tristratal approach, which utilizes SFL as a metalanguage into a framework integrating textual analysis, genre pedagogy, multimodal discourse analysis, and critical discourse analysis. This research is influenced by my personal agenda, which is to try and push the field of comp/rhet forward, in alignment with the innovative research going on internationally. I see comp/rhet in the States as extremely insular at the moment, dictated by a few influential academics, almost completely isolated from cutting edge research going on internationally. I believe my interdisciplinary, outsider approach to rhet/comp allows me to contribute some worthwhile research to the field. I would be more than happy if fellow researchers adopted some of my suggested approaches to SFL and multimodal analysis, so I could move onto other research topics and not be burdened to come up with a method for analyzing multimodal texts in the classroom all on my own.
Halliday, Michael. “Ideas About Language (1977).” On Language and Linguistics (2010): 20-38. Web.
Hyland, Ken. “Genre-based Pedagogies: A Social Response to Process.” Journal of Second Language Writing 12.1 (2003): 17-29. Web.
Pifer, Matthew T. “On the Border: Theorzing the Generalist.” Transforming English Studies: New Voices in an Emerging Genre. Ed. Lori Ostergaard, Jeff Ludwig, and Jim Nugent. West Lafayette, IN: Parlor, 2009. 179-94. Print.