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Biography 23.3 (2000) 538-542



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Wendy S. Hesford. Framing Identities: Autobiography and the Politics of Pedagogy. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1999. 207 pp. ISBN 0-8166-3153-0, $49.95 cloth; ISBN 0-8166-3154-9, $19.95 paper.

In the Preface to Framing Identities Wendy S. Hesford provides the reader with a metaphor for her book. She focuses upon the roles frames may take. Frames surround and imply boundaries, they both contain and focus the attention of the viewer. They also are the constructs that people or institutions use to identify and place themselves. In viewing a painting of framed "mirrors," Hesford tells us that Lillian Mulero's painted "mirrors" tell a story of autobiography, pedagogy, and the culture of the Academy. Hesford muses upon the self referential nature of these mirrors which in fact render the image invisible. She asks teachers-researchers to recognize how particular frames--theoretical, pedagogical, or otherwise--shape and limit the knowledge we produce. She states her goals (frames?) clearly: to investigate processes of self representation through those questions of power and agency at the center of the pedagogical project.

Hesford begins her exploration of cultural criticism initially from an autobiographical position. She crosses discipline boundaries to blend personal observations with cultural theory. In the chapter titled "Memory [End Page 538] Work," she begins with an analysis of a photograph of her great grandfather. She deconstructs, the photograph by shifting her own roles as author, great granddaughter, teacher, and social critic. The positioning of the photograph, once displayed proudly within the family home and now relegated to the basement, serves as a catalyst for Hesford to commence her family narrative in the context of progress. Through this story the author places herself and her family within this current ideological position, and then explores the processes of reframing the stories and the subsequent narrative trajectories. She tells us that as story teller she "cannot escape the contours of the framing apparatus of their historical impulses" (17).

Rather than encouraging homogeneous student responses, Hesford suggests that educators should look to developing students' abilities to reflect upon cultural narratives as a resource, and a means to understand the nature of student-teacher relationships and cross-cultural reading practices within classrooms: "pedagogies of autobiography must not simply be about having students integrate the personal into traditional classroom discourse; they must be about exploring with our students how identities are negotiated among conflicting and multiple discourses and how power is constituted and claimed rhetorically" (35).

To illustrate further the need to understand culturally placed narratives, Hesford places her arguments within the context of Oberlin College, and in particular, the position of women and students of color. She suggests that despite a physical presence, these marginalized groups remain marginalized in American society due to their continued response to dominant social and spatial relations within the Academy (38). She argues that there are pedagogical "blind spots"; for example, the belief that if women wrote about their own experiences, then the patriarchal constraints of the academy would gradually cease to intervene (41). Hesford, however, challenges this assumption. She argues that if the voice is not framed as socially produced and situated within structural and literary parameters of the Academy, it will continue to be relegated to the silenced or confined private sphere. Self knowledge is power, and Hesford argues that to know your own voice and where it comes from enables you to discover and use the power to establish yourself within existing institutions. She tells us that efforts towards curricular transformation will be more worthwhile if we begin to focus on the discourses of our students, who have been virtually absent from most institutional conversations designed to support multiculturalism (57).

The inclusion of her students' writings exemplify this very premise. Through her students' voices and her analysis of their words, Hesford [End Page 539] exposes a number of issues relating to the disempowered positions of marginalized students within a white dominant academy. Hesford believes we must openly acknowledge essentializing practices: "multicultural literacy is not simply a faculty with multiple discourses, but...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-1456
Print ISSN
0162-4962
Pages
pp. 538-542
Launched on MUSE
2000-06-01
Open Access
No
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