Composition and Cultural Studies: Subtle Connections

For once, I finally feel at home in one of our readings for this class. The chapter on “Cultural Studies and Composition” in A Guide to Composition Pedagogies is precisely the kind of theory I am familiar with. The mention of familiar theorists such as Henry Jenkins, Homi Bhabha, Michel de Certeau, Stuart Hall, Dick Hebdige, and Gayatri Spivak felt much more familiar than the majority of our readings introducing new names and unfamiliar narratives of composition theory.

And yet, as this chapter highlights, cultural studies seems to pervade composition studies rather than being a radically different set of theories in itself. Many of the readings we have already done in this class, such as Min-Zhan Lu’s “Professing Multiculturalism” and Victor Villanueva’s “Memoria is a Friend of Ours,” along with several composition-studies theorists like Trimbur, Lunsford, Matsuda, and Flower, are mentioned throughout this chapter. It would seem, then, that cultural studies is a field that has greatly influenced composition studies.

I found myself making connections to previous readings not specifically mentioned throughout this chapter, too. For example, Trimbur’s “Consensus and Difference in Collaborative Learning” seems in many ways a product of cultural studies; his focus on dissensus may be read as an attempt to bring in marginalized voices to academic conversations and to collaborative learning projects. This endeavor would seem to fit in with the public turn of composition, particularly in relation to “a series of historical and contemporary studies of the literacy practices of marginalized or previously ignored groups” (George, Lockridge, and Trimbur 100). Any of the feminist readings we’ve done relate to cultural studies, some of them as examples of or discussions of activist rhetorics (Ritchie and Boardman comes to mind most readily).

But what is perhaps most interesting in this chapter, which is but briefly touched upon, is the “prevalence of the digital narrative in composition studies” which “might offer one of the strongest connections between composition and cultural studies” (George, Lockridge, and Trimbur 100). Jenkins is an apt theorist to evoke in this particular discussion, but he is by no means the only one to call upon when discussing new media and composition studies. The book Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Age of the Internet is a collection of essays on fan studies, edited by Karen Hellekson and Kristina Busse, that explores the connections between composition and new media through several sub-fields of cultural studies. Rather than delve into that particular book, I would like to use the title alone as a jumping off point for some questions:

1. Is fan fiction an area worth exploring for composition studies? What new insights might studies of fan fiction bring to the field?

2. What other ways might we explore interactions of new media and composition? (This is obviously jumping the gun a bit, as we will be reading about new media and online writing in a few weeks. However, I think it is a question worth bringing up now, given the brief attention paid to it in the Cultural Studies chapter.)

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One thought on “Composition and Cultural Studies: Subtle Connections

  1. Amber: the short answer to question number one is that comp studies specialists do study fan fiction. It’s just one of many areas/objects of analysis. Fan fic isn’t at all outside the purview of writing studies . . . because writing.

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