Style, substance, audience: A qualitative study of the use of a queer text in three composition courses
According to Deborah Britzman, a queer pedagogy enables a destabilization of identity, a destabilization of various socio-cultural and economic norms, and recognition that language reflects current dominant socio-cultural ideologies. While queer pedagogies have been applied to courses in various disciplines and queer texts and readings have been presented within a range of literature courses, the role of a queer text in the composition classroom bears further examination. To answer the question, "What purposes can be served by using a queer text in a composition course?" I conducted qualitative research, using interviews, observations, and textual analysis in three first-year composition classes as three teachers and nine students read, discussed and wrote about Eli Clare's text, "The Mountain," for the first time.
The language and style of the text disrupted assumptions about how texts should function and exposed students to stylistic techniques they challenged, critiqued or used to achieve specific rhetorical effects of their own. Students had a stronger sense that authors make specific choices and that those choices affect how an audience reads a text. However, students' and teachers' enactment and understanding of academic norms may contradict the possibilities presented by a queer text like Clare's. Understandings of academic discourse based upon an ethos of certainty tend to work against the destabilization of identity and the questioning and uncertainty Clare's text fosters.
While queer scholars claim that certain pedagogical approaches to texts reflect and encourage a queered understanding of identity norms and knowledge, critics of queer theory express skepticism about its applicability with undergraduate students. This study illustrated that a queer text can enable composition teachers (even those unfamiliar with queer pedagogical techniques) to enact goals those of us who teach and study composition value, including: reading texts for multiple purposes; extensive use of revision; experimentation with substance, style and audience. Yet, the study also demonstrated that we need a better understanding of how and why a queer text works (and how to communicate that to students), a better understanding of what constitutes academic writing and more self-reflection about how identities shape and are shaped by socio-cultural and discursive ideologies and material reality.
0279: Language arts