Saturday, February 19, 2011

Some publications by Berkenkotter et al.

Here are a couple of sources that I love. I find these studies very stimulating and inspiring, I guess because they are ecological. I hope you enjoy them too.

Berkenkotter, C., Huckin, T. N., & Ackerman, J. (1988). Conventions, conversations, and the writer: Case study of a student in a rhetoric Ph. D. Program. Research in the Teaching of English, 22(1), 9-44.

Abstract: This report describes one writer's attempts to master the reading and writing tasks required of him in his first year in a rhetoric doctoral program, an undertaking characterized here as achieving specialized disciplinary literacy. The investigators used participant-observer and case study data collecting techniques, then analyzed the data using a combination of qualitative and quantitative measures. From the analyzed data the researchers reconstructed the process through which the student became familiar with new subject matters and unfamiliar rhetorical and linguistic conventions. The findings suggest that achieving disciplinary literacy requires that the writer be able to integrate procedural with substantive/declarative knowledge . In this case, the student's knowledge of appropriate discourse conventions with his developing knowledge of a disciplinary community's issues and research methodology.

In this article, the authors investigate the socialization process of a graduate student and
his attempts to become a competent participant in his discipline by finding a balance
between his previous experience and the expectations of his new discourse community.
More specifically, the study investigates a graduate student’s developmental process of
disciplinary literacy in a rhetoric doctoral program by examining the literacy tools he is
exposed to and those he produces as part of achieving membership in his new discourse
community. The methods used in this case study are text analysis, interviews, and self
reports. The findings of this case study suggest that
  • Writers do not enter their new discourse communities as blank slates but rather they make use of their previous experience, which may be turn out to be a resource or an obstacle (p. 16).
  • There is a close relationship between “disciplinary-based thinking and writing” (p. 18).
  • Being able to write for a discourse community requires knowledge of what to write as well as how to convey that information appropriately (e.g., choosing appropriate register) (p. 18).
  • Writing in a discipline requires knowledge of both content (domain) and form (p. 19).
  • Learning genre knowledge is not a linear, or smooth, process (for example, on page 27, the authors write about “selective relaxation of constraints”). 
Here are a couple of things that I find worth mentioning about the study.

Different from most articles I have read so far Berkenkotter et al. are interested in answering the question how rather than what of genre knowledge. In other words, rather than focusing on what is to be learned, such as cohesion, the authors investigate how genre knowledge is learned. To use second language writing concepts, the authors examine the process in conjunction with the product.

Rather than using a corpus for the discourse community, the authors choose a corpus that consists of what the graduate student is exposed to. Thus, the baseline from which the student is evaluated is not the entire discourse community but rather what he is familiar with (for example, the readings for his classes and the publications of his professor) and his previous texts. I have never seen a study like this before. Usually the researchers choose what is to be selected for the corpus. I think this approach adds ecological validity to this study.

Berkenkotter et al. use both qualitative and quantitative research methods.

Berkenkotter, C. & Huckin, T. N. (1993). Rethinking genre from a sociocognitive perspective. Written Communication, 10, 475-509.

Abstract: This article argues for an activity-based theory of genre knowledge. Drawing on empirical findings from case study research emphasizing “insider knowledge” and on structuration theory, activity theory, and rhetorical studies, the authors propose five general principles for genre theory: (a) Genres are dynamic forms that mediate between the unique features of individual contexts and the features that recur across contexts; (b) genre knowledge is embedded in communicative activities of daily and professional life and is thus a form of “situated cognition”; (c) genre knowledge embraces both form and content, including a sense of rhetorical appropriateness; (d) the use of genres simultaneously constitutes and reproduces social structures; and (e) genre conventions signal a discourse community's norms, epistemology, ideology, and social ontology.

Berkenkotter, C.& Huckin, T. N.  (1995). Genre knowledge in disciplinary communication: Cognition, culture, power. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum. 

Berkenkotter, C., Huckin, T. N., & Ackerman, J. (1991). Social context and socially constructed texts: The initiation of a graduate student into a writing research community. In C. Bazerman and J. G. Paradis (Eds.). Textual dynamics of the professions: Historical and contemporary studies of writing in professional communities (pp.191-215). Madison, WL: University of Wisconsin Press.

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