Midterm Reflection – Unsettling My Thinking and Plotting New Trajectories

In thinking about what I have learned in conversation and over the course of our reading schedule, I have encountered both new information as well as new ways to think about concepts that I brought with me to this course (for a background on some of what I am bringing here, please see my first blog post). To break it down into its most basic components, the discussions and readings in this class have problematized/complicated some of the thinking about community literacies and their—I guess—relationship with communities of meaning / societal organization. The points at which this has taken place in my thinking are numerous, but this reflection will point to a few readings/conversation points/ideas that stood out in particular.

As I have mentioned in previous writings for this course, an early moment of unsettling for my thinking about community rhetoric and literacies took place during our reading of Geneva Smitherman’s Talkin and Testifyin’, particularly in relation to her discussion of “communicative competence”, which refers to reading knowledge and practices of literacy that allow people to “read”, “think”, “do” and “pivot” across a range of communicative contexts. When I originally discussed this idea, I’d mentioned Juan Guerra’s Language, Culture, Identity, and Citizenship in College Classrooms and Communities and its sine qua non concept of “rhetorical savviness”. At the time of that writing, I’d found myself asking: “What difference, if any, is there between Guerra’s concept of rhetorical savviness, and Smitherman’s concept of communicative competence?”

At the time, I suggested that maybe the difference was one of scope—a largely cosmetic one. While Guerra’s concept referred primarily to being able to pivot in one’s “reading and writing capacity” from one “community of meaning” (or institution) to another mainly as it pertained to bringing oneself into the college environment, I (maybe generously or presumptuously) decided that Smitherman’s idea of communicative competence spoke to using communication and “reading practices” beyond institutions.

Since then, my thinking about the difference between their concepts has grown more pronounced: If Guerra’s thinking was about helping students to survive the demands of the various environments and rhetorical situations they would find themselves occupying, Smitherman’s concept of communicative competence was about living—really—and dancing through the raindrops of a million falling particles of rhetorical circumstance, retaining a sense of self all the while.

I arrived at this (still living and still flexible) conclusion in part because of the reading we did in Keith Gilyard’s Voices of the Self: A Study of Language Competence. This is in part because unlike in Guerra’s work and perhaps more explicitly so than Smitherman’s—Gilyard tells us about rhetorics, readings, “writings” that are more liberally understood as agentive acts including speaking; deciding on names; finding a sense of self in terms of how we communicate. Acknowledging that we “read” and “write” our lives and navigate literacies that take place beyond papers or computers; these literacies exist in the way we hold our bodies, the way we understand consent, the way we read our environments and more; also as Gilyard demonstrates in his numerous stories about how institutions (namely schools) interact with him, it’s worth mentioning that literacies, which in some way take on lives of their own (fueled by the energy of human buy-in, conscious or unconscious) also read us, direct us, and attempt to write the course of our lives.

Thinking about speech and writing and reading acts as being connected to identity—which is touched on in the works of Gilyard and Smitherman and which I further explored in reading during the “Black Girl Literacies” section of our course (notably: “Talking With Attitude” and “How Do You Wear Your Hair”)—has in some way elevated my thinking about the possibilities of manifestation as they pertain to “non-standardized” literacies (recall that I was challenging this idea of the standard in my initial post about Smitherman; and here I am now, thinking a whole lot less about the insurmountability of that so-called “standard” and seeing it more as a series of literacy mechanisms which can in some ways be thought around and intelligently resisted).

Beyond that “standard”, as I’ve mentioned at various points in my contributions to classroom discussion, there may be endless possibilities for expression and literacies not yet “fully explored” (inasmuch as any literacy really can be). Looking ahead to what the rest of this semester will bring, may not come as too much surprise that I remain interested in exploring community literacies (like the “social club” models upheld by Black Woman intellectuals as described in Brittney Cooper’s Beyond Respectability: The Intellectual Thought of Race Women) as well as literacies of recovery—and their necessary interactions/negotiations with literacies of normativity as described by Pritchard in Fashioning Lives.

Where I’m most interested in examining these ideas (particularly as they relate to power, institutional response, etcetera) is the digital space—a so-called “wild west” zone that is so many different things at once, including: a space beyond the circuitry of being / normativity that weighs down our navigation of the real world, a space that contains alcoves which reify that “standardized” normativity, a site for literacies of recovery, and a sociological site of public participation which naturally invites surveillance that exists on and off the internet. Reading Digital Griots and Algorithms of Oppression will likely help me to investigate this idea and make it more concrete, but I’m still looking for sources and ideas to help me better understand the intersections of literacy, power, being and how these things take shape on “new” platforms.

One Reply to “Midterm Reflection – Unsettling My Thinking and Plotting New Trajectories”

  1. I am really enjoying the way that you are processing and situating these various approaches on the way to fashioning your own understanding and approach. I appreciated this sentence as a whole, and the latter half in particular: “If Guerra’s thinking was about helping students to survive the demands of the various environments and rhetorical situations they would find themselves occupying, Smitherman’s concept of communicative competence was about living—really—and dancing through the raindrops of a million falling particles of rhetorical circumstance, retaining a sense of self all the while.” I’m looking forward to seeing how Banks and Noble’s work on the digital aspects of these literacies inform your thinking.


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