Thanks to Spinuzzi’s Network, I’m making connections this week that I haven’t been able to make before. This is exciting to me because I’m realizing that all these things that I’ve been interested in since my first semester as a graduate student are actually all connected. Hooray! Breakthrough for Ryan!
For example, I wrote a paper during my first semester that essentially explored the advantages of a tutor asking tutees why they chose to use any particular word in their papers. I argued that by asking, “Why did you use that word?” that tutors could probe deeper into the minds of the tutees, which is really a way for the tutees to probe deeper into their own thoughts during a tutoring session. From there, when a tutee is able to delve deeper into his own thoughts, he can then add more specific details and vivid descriptions to his paper that will ultimately explain his thoughts more coherently to an audience. For example, from my experience as a teacher and tutor, if a student used the word “nice” to describe a situation, I would ask that student why he used that word. The student would then begin to investigate his thoughts and say things like: “the restaurant was nice because the servers were so polite and the dim lights created a relaxed, inviting atmosphere.” In this one example, we can see that the word “nice” in a student’s mind was actually connected to bigger, more complex thoughts. And in composition, we strive to get students to expand their ideas and write using more concrete language, which is what is elicited when a tutor asks a tutee why he or she used a particular word.
In that same paper, my thoughts were founded on the works of Vygotsky. What I didn’t realize then was that my interpretation and application of Vygotsky’s work was connected to what I would be doing now concerning genre studies and intercultural rhetoric. I found Vygotsky and read his works not because they were required readings, but because I wanted to find out more about this Vygotsky character that kept showing up in many of my required readings’ bibliographies. With that in mind, no one ever told me what activity theory was, and from what I read, Vygotsky wasn’t at that point using the term “activity theory.” So, to make a long story short, when I read Spinuzzi’s discussion of activity theory, all of a sudden I found myself connecting all these ideas that have been, at least consciously, unconnected. (On another note, this example shows why class discussions are so important. They help us to make connections from one line of thinking to another. On some level I wish someone had more explicitly explained activity theory to me so that my mind wouldn’t have taken so long to make these connections. But on another level, since I made these connections relatively on my own, I’ve been on some kind of intellectual high that is really personally satisfying.)
At this point in my post, I’ve gone over the 500-word limit, but I want to briefly highlight the connections that I’ve made between genre studies, activity theory, and intercultural rhetoric. Spinuzzi (p. 17) says, “I stress genre as a behavioral descriptor rather than as a formal one.” And, of course, he begins his discussion about genres by paraphrasing Miller’s definition: “Genres—which can be glossed as typified rhetorical responses to recurring social situations…” In his book, Barry Thatcher (2012) describes intercultural rhetoric as an effective lens for understanding “how deeply held, but hidden values structure a variety of activities, essentially explaining the why and what of social behavior” (p. 1). Already, from these quotes we can see connections. Simply put, I now see that intercultural rhetoric is a great theoretical lens through which to view genres. And the underlying theory that supports my thinking is derived from activity theory. Just like asking a student why he or she used a particular word, looking through the lens of intercultural rhetoric, we can interpret an individual’s or a group’s response to, interaction with, or application of a particular genre in a genre field and gain deeper insights into that individual’s or group’s more implicit, even hidden, cultural values. From those insights, we can then shape and approach communicative activities in more culturally competent ways that lead to more fruitful relationships and productive environments.