Green & Lee, “Writing Geography: Literacy, Identity, and Schooling”

Green, Bill, and Alison Lee. “Writing Geography: Literacy, Identity, and Schooling.” Learning and Teaching Genre. Ed. Aviva Freedman and Peter Medway. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1994. 207-24. (18 pages)

The central concern of Green and Lee is the concept identity-work: “the logic and politics of identity, and hence the ways in which various curriculum identities are constructed and maintained—specifically, those associated with school-subjects and what can be called subject-individuals” (208). More specifically, the authors look at the ways genres within particular school subjects are—like all things under the purview of rhetoric—tethered to “politics and problematics of gender, among other forms of social difference and power” (208).

The authors specifically look at two representative cases of writing in a Geography course: Robert who represents a masculine approach and Kathryn who represents a femine approach. The subject matter of Geography, according to the authors, is particularly demonstrative of a positivist, scientific pull in literacy pedagogy. As the authors write, despite the literacy pedagogy of Geography embracing linguistic analysis to assess and teach writing, it does not adequately account, explain, or address “the full curriculum implications of a critical literacy pedagogy” (211). Robert’s text, for example, provides a “more appropriate and successful generically” composed text—a masculine approach to writing that seems to align with the likewise masculine literacy pedagogy of Geography, i.e. positivist scientific writing that simply presents the facts. In other words, “the text functions rhetorically to present the world itself as transparent and immanent” (212). Kathryn, on the other hand, embraces “the realization of interpersonal meanings or the negotiation of meanings among interactants in an exchange” (212). This feminine approach is notably communal or social in that it invokes writer and corresponding readers. In this way, Kathryn’s direct address to readers positions and produces the reader “as interlocutor and partner in dialogue” (215). In such a way, Kathryn herself—being part of the dialogue—finds such composing to have “consequences for a notion of ‘self’” (214).

Thus, with these consequences for self, the genres that are reproduced within particular fields of study likewise reproduce particular kinds of identities: “We are concerned to understand how subjects are positioned and position themselves in discursive-disciplinary fields, in and through their textual practice, and hence how specific social identities are constructed out of available cultural and semiotic resources, something which includes but is not limited to individual identity-work” (219).

In their concluding remarks, Green and Lee lay out implications for this kind of understanding of genre and school subjects rooted in Western ideas of positivism and science. As they write, writing within, say, Geography would require writers to “consent to (rather than resist) the performance, display, and resultant (re)production of official curriculum versions of geographical facts and interpretations and hteir associated forms of textuality. It also necessarily means to suppress whatever does not fit ino that category” (220). For women and girls—or those working within a feminine lifeworld—successful navigation within Geograph would require a “’performance of objectivity’ in contradiction to other dominant and perhaps other significantly internalize notions of themselves in their world” (220). What the authors then suggest is to “adopt various authoritative positions within a discourse or subject area field, yet not assume ‘identity’ with these positions” (221). The concern, then, seems to lie with students’ ability to take some control over their own, internalized notions of self while also operating within a discipline that may work counter to those notions.

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