We have the absolute pleasure of hosting Jody Shipka in March at Eastern Michigan University. Several of the faculty at EMU have talked about Shipka’s work as “smart” and “important work on multimodality,” so I decided to buy her most recent book to host a couple reading discussions on campus before the visit. For our computers and writing course, we were assigned the first chapter out of Toward a Composition Made Whole, which I will discuss here.
The first chapter, “Rethinking Composition / Rethinking Process,” focuses mostly on setting up the idea of “a composition made whole.” She first explains it through the use of technology, but she reminds us that “a composition made whole requires us to be more mindful about our use of a term like technology” and all manners of stakes that are associated with the medium (20-21, emphasis in original). She also says, “As we embrace (or even reject) newer technologies, as we anticipate the way communicative landscapes might continue to change, it is also important to keep in mind the rich, material, multimodal dimensions of classroom practice, of learning, and, in fact, of living” (21). The reason why I quote her at length here is because this is an idea that is present in the entire chapter as she explores how technology has been used in classroom scholarship and pedagogy, as well as how writing and composition are used int he discussion. This chapter works through the history of composition studies, but not exactly in a way that is redundant of previous works. Instead, she looks into the suggestions made through scholarship for a more integrated approach to composition studies.
Much of this chapter is referencing scholars such as Sean Williams (2001), Geoffrey Sirc (2002), Lee Odell and Christina Lynn Prell (1999), Kathleen Yancey (2004), Douglas Downs and Elizabeth Wardle (2007), and several others that published in the last 20 or so years. Her goal is to show the dynamics of communication and the everyday use of multimodality pleading to “keep in mind the rich, material, multimodal dimensions of classroom practice, of learning, and, in fact, of living” (21). Her claim for a composition made whole is to “consider how they are continually positioned in ways that require [students] to read, respond to, align with–in short, to negotiate–a streaming interplay of words, images, sounds, scents, and movements” (21). She backs up this idea using a quote from Jewitt and Kress: “meanings are made, distributed, received, interpreted and remade…through many representational and communicative modes–not just through language” (qtd. in Shipka 21-22). Thinking about the dynamics of multimodality, she asks us to revisit the terms authoring, composing, composition, literacy, and writing. , many of which are touched upon, but not interrogated in this first chapter.
The rest of the chapter discusses the history of the composition field and the entangled discussions around the CCC’s name including communications and how the field should have aligned itself with communications. She goes through a series of “what if” scenarios, imagining what the field of composition would look like if scholars communicated and collaborated together with communications. The what if scenarios culminate in a list of questioning, but one that really highlights this discussion is one of the last questions: “What if our courses and research efforts attended to how social and personal motives, the body, historical circumstances, and the resources one has on hand impact both how and what one can do, mean, or understand?” (28). I think these are important questions to ask, and it is clear that Shipka believes that the alignment of the two disciplines would only enhance the work that students are doing, especially when it comes to making the multimodal composition “whole.”
This discussion around a composition made whole brings in many ideas, similar to those in ecological studies and Actor Network Theory where all things are connected and influenced by both human and nonhuman actors. Her interest in talking about technology in the more specific way, including all aspects of a classroom environment, would make the composition experience more holistic and genuine instead of the static, created genres of writing that are often associated with education. This first chapter sets up interesting points of contact with scholars and students alike when it comes to writing and composing, and I look forward to the rest of the book and her talk in just a few months.
Shipka, Jody. Toward a Composition Made Whole. Pittsburgh, PA: U of Pittsburgh, 2011. Print.