Gallagher, “Staging Encounters”

Gallagher, Chris. “Staging Encounters: Assessing the Performance of Context in Students’ Multimodal Writing.” Computers and Composition 31.1 (2014): 1-12.

The backdrop of Gallagher’s approach to multimodal assessment hinges on his claim that composition generally, assessment particularly does not have a fully articulated theory of context. Despite context being an organizing principle within composition studies, taken up by many assessment researchers as integral to equitable assessment, the ways in which context is employed—defined as “the world” that surrounds a text—often instantiates two key problems: first, “it is not clear precisely what ‘the world’ around the artifact and its creation includes—or would not include” (2). Second, “it is not always easy to tell where a text—particularly a multimodal text—ends and where it begins” (3).

For assessment, Gallagher proposes an approach to multimodal assessment that “shifts our focus from the surround to how multimodal texts perform contexts” (3). His approach embraces the concept of interface, defined as “encounters between users of texts and the space in which those encounters occur” (3), while also shying away from assessment’s embrace of ecology—what he describes as another all-encompassing term to explain everything. For ecology, The focus is not typically on a single text.

Interfaces, described by Brooke as “imperfectly bounded encounters where users, technologies, and contexts intersect” (p 200, in Gallagher 5), participate in and also perform encounters and dynamic relationships between user and reader. In addition to Brooke, Gallagher also looks to Shipka and her embrace of multimodal compositions as providing students the capacity to perform such encounters; however, where Shipka separates the context of performance into separate texts like the SOGC, Gallagher unites the performance of context as constitutive of the text itself.

Gallagher categorizes the performances of context into (1) contexts of reception and (2) contexts of production. Context of reception, then, presents directs the reader to the goals of this production, defining the conversation within the contained space. Context of production, in addition to goals, also show the processes involved in creating this text. Again, demonstrating the process further defines the reception of it.

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