Concept 3: Writing Enacts and Creates Identities and Ideologies
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C o nc e p t 3 Writing Enacts and Creates Identities and Ideologies DOI: 10.7330/9780874219906.c003 3.0 Writing Enacts and Creates Id enti ties and I deologies Tony Scott An ideology is a system of ideas and beliefs that together constitute a comprehensive worldview. We make sense of the world around us through the ideologies to which we have been exposed and conditioned. Ideologies are both formed and sustained by a variety of factors, including religions, economic systems, cultural myths, languages, and systems of law and schooling. A common assumption in humanities theory and research is that there is no ideology-free observation or thought. Our conceptions of everything—gender identities and roles, people’s proper social statuses, what it means to love, the proper basis for separating what is true from what is false—are inescapably shaped by ideologies. To be immersed in any culture is to learn to see the world through the ideological lenses it validates and makes available to us. Writing is always ideological because discourses and instances of language use do not exist independently from cultures and their ideologies. Linguist James Paul Gee points out that those who seek to create any education program in reading and writing must ask a question: “What sort of social group do I intend to apprentice the learner into?” (Gee 2008, 48). This seemingly innocent question is actually quite loaded because it starts from the premise that there is no general literacy: literacy is always in some way involved in the negotiation of identities and ideologies in specific social situations. Vocabularies, genres, and language conventions are a part of what creates and distinguishes social groups, and thus learning to write is always ongoing, situational, and involving cultural and ideological immersion. This thinking represents a fundamental shift in how many writing scholars now see literacy education , from a view that is individualistic and focused on the acquisition of discrete, universal skills to one that is situated and focused on social involvement and consequences (see 1.0, “Writing Is a Social and Concept 3: Writing Enacts & Creates Identities & Ideologies   49 Rhetorical Activity”). Writers are not separate from their writing and they don’t just quickly and seamlessly adapt to new situations. Rather, writers are socialized, changed, through their writing in new environments , and these changes can have deep implications. For instance, when students learns to write convincingly as undergraduate college students in an introductory writing class, they enact that identity based on their reading of the expected and acceptable social norms. So in their writing, they might be inquisitive, deliberative, and given to founding their opinions on careful reasoning and research. In displaying these characteristics in their writing, they enact an identity in response to social expectations for who they are and what they should be doing. This social view of ideology in writing studies has been influenced by the work of Lev Vygotsky (1978) and Mikhail Bakhtin (1986). Drawing on research on language acquisition in children, Vygotsky described how external speech becomes internalized and then comes to frame how we think, self-identify, and act in the world. As we are immersed in discourses through reading and dialogue with others, we begin to name and understand through those discourses, internalizing the ideologies they carry. Indeed, language learning and use is a primary means through which ideologies are conveyed, acquired, and made to seem “natural,” without obvious alternatives or need of explanation. As ideological activity, writing is deeply involved in struggles over power, the formation of identities, and the negotiation, perpetuation, and contestation of belief systems. We can see obvious ideological tensions all around us in public political discourse: Do you use climate change or global warming ? Does the United States have an issue with “illegals” or “undocumented immigrants”? Perhaps less obvious but highly consequential examples are embedded in everyday writing. In writing in professional contexts, for instance, writers can gain credibility and persuasive power through showing they understand and share the beliefs and values that are commonplace, and markers of fuller socialization, within their professions . When lawyers write effective briefs, or engineers write technical reports, the genres, conventions, and vocabularies they use reflect the ideologies of their professions and settings. The research-driven shift toward this cultural, ideological view of writing creates tensions with the structures and practices that continue to prevail in many educational institutions. The first-year writing requirement , for instance, was historically based on the premise that writing is a universal skill set...


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Subject Headings

  • English language -- Rhetoric -- Study and teaching.
  • Creative writing -- Study and teaching.
  • Academic writing -- Study and teaching.
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