Friday, April 5, 2024

Writing and Identity, Chapter 1

Roz Ivanič (1998) Writing and Identity: The discoursal construction of identity in academic writing. John Benjamins Publishing Company, Philadelphia.

Summary of Chapter 1: Introduction

Ivanič introduces herself and her reasons for writing this book, which will be about the “social struggles in which the self is implicated through the act of writing” (2); as she nicely summarizes her thesis:

Writing is an act of identity in which people align themselves with socio-culturally shaped possibilities for self-hood, playing their part in reproducing or challenging dominant practices and discourses, and the values, beliefs, and interests which they embody. (32)

She will explore this topic through case studies involving “mature students” entering higher education over the age of 25; she argues that the particular challenges faced by such students in constructing an academic identity provide “crucial moments in discourse” (5) which reveal the workings of identity construction through [articulation], more generally. Much of this introduction is a brief review of the various terminologies that have been used to discuss identity, self, “persona,” etc. in various disciplines; the key points of which will be returned to in more depth in future chapters. Taking a departure from Goffman’s Forms of Talk she delineates four subjects she will be focusing on: 1) the autobiographical self; 2) the discoursal self; 3) self as author; and 4) possibilities for self-hood.

The first, autobiographical self, is “the identity which people bring with them to any act of writing, shaped as it is by their prior social and discoursal history” (24); this involves also interpretation or the representation of their past, to themselves. This is Goffman’s “writer-as-performer.” The autobiographical self is not necessarily conscious, nor often clearly available from the text itself. (I am reminded of an introduction to Plutarch’s Lives which I was recently reading, in which the author scours Plutarch’s writings for any biographical information, and has to admit that the few elements that could be scraped together might well be fictive.) Her research questions in regard to the autobiographical self are (25):

a. What aspects of people’s lives might have led them to write in the way that they do?

b. How has their access to discourses and associated positionings been socially enabled or constrained?

c. More generally, how does autobiographical identity shape writing?

The second, discoursal self is “the impression – often multiple, sometimes contradictory – which they consciously or unconsciously conveys of themself in a particular written text,” that is, “constructed through the discourse characteristics of a text. This is Goffman’s “writer-as-character.” Her research questions on this self are (25-6):

a. What are the discourse characteristics of particular pieces of writing?

b. What are the social and ideological consequences of these characteristics for the writers’ identities?

c. What characteristics of the social interaction surrounding these texts led the writers to position themselves in these ways?

d. More generally, what processes are involved in the construction of a discoursal self, and what influences shape discoursal identities?

The third, self as author, regards the writer’s development of an authorial voice, not to mention of “authoritativeness,” particularly in the case of academic writing. In the case of Ivanič’s mature students [or for my purposes, non-academic autoethnographers], she notes that “the writer’s life-history may or may not have generated ideas to express, and may or may not have engendered in the writer enough of a sense of self-worth to write with authority, to establish an authorial presence” (26). [Thus there is an intersectionality to the development of authorial voice, of the confidence to feel that you are the one to write about this in this way]. Her research questions here (27):

a. How do people establish authority for the context of their writing?

b. To what extent do they present themselves or others as authoritative?

To these three aspects of writer identity is appended the fourth subject, which is “possibilities for self-hood in the socio-cultural and institutional context,” in other words, what sorts of identities, positions, etc. are culturally available for writers to adopt or adapt. She discusses the term “subject position,” but prefers the term “positionings” to emphasize that this is a process; though at the same time she does not want to present “a rather cosy, over-optimistic picture of unlimited alternatives” (28), and so will use both “position” and “positioning,” depending on which aspect of [the conduct of conduct] she wishes to emphasize. She lists the following research questions on this subject (29):

a. What possibilities for self-hood, in terms of relations of power, interests, values, and beliefs are inscribed in the practices, genres, and discourses which are supported by particular socio-cultural and institutional contexts?

b. What are the patterns of privileging among available possibilities for self-hood?

c. In what ways are possibilities for self-hood and patterns of privileging among them changing over time?

Besides Goffman, she references Foucault’s technologies of the self; a glance at the bibliography suggests key interlocutors will be Fairclough, Bakhtin, and Halliday, among others.

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