Cultivating Potentials for Social Change Through Writing Center Talk

Community Writing Assistance, Events, Satellite Locations, Social Justice Committee / Sunday, April 4th, 2010
image002 This week I invite you to join in a discussion I’m facilitating through the Madison Area Writing Center Colloquium. On Tuesday, April 6th (5:30-7:00pm, Helen C. White Hall 6176, the University of Wisconsin-Madison), I’ll be facilitating a workshop titled “Cultivating Potentials for Social Change,” and throughout the week, I’ll be responding to and inviting readers to discuss these questions:
arrowPoint Why do you value writing center conferencing, and what do you see as exciting possibilities in this talk?
arrowPoint What might “social change” look like in a writing conference?
arrowPoint Have you, for example, through writing center conferencing, built a cross-racial relationship, come to better understand and redistribute power, come to think more critically or with commitment about issues of injustice and equity?

My research is aimed at identifying and documenting empirically social change as a process, occurring in the moment, through talk about writing. Based on close analysis of interaction, I suggest strategies for cultivating social change in our teaching and tutor education.

Although social change is often thought of in terms of large-group efforts and wide-reaching social movements, I see that there is potential for making change through sustained and deeply intimate interactions as writers work together over time. This process of social change arises in talk about writing, which invites views into writers’ everyday circumstances and allows writers to practice more equitable ways of interacting with others.

In this sense, writing collaborations can be understood as occasions with the capacity for social change, for tapping into at least three potentials: (1) raising critical consciousness, (2) restructuring power relations, and (3) developing affiliative relationships-all of which emerge as writers identify with and come to understand others’ lived experiences and material realities.

For the colloquium, I address the potential of building affiliative relationships, which may arise when writers develop close, collaborative relationships, if not friendships, through storytelling and caring for each other over time. To hone in even further, I describe just one way I see writers enacting this potential, and that’s through what conversation analyst Gail Jefferson calls “troubles talk.”


At the colloquium, I’ll present a case study of just one tutor and writer’s relationship to illustrate how I’m analyzing hours of videotaped writing conferences I’ve recorded in three sites: our campus writing center, a satellite of the writing center housed in the Multicultural Student Center (MSC), and the Community Writing Assistance (CWA) program in the public library.

Through this blog, I hope we can continue the conversation started during the colloquium, and if you’re in Madison and are interested in attending a future colloquium, consider coming to the next scheduled event: Tuesday, April 27, 2010, 6:00-7:30pm, Sarah Johnson, Field Trip to the New Madison Area Technical College Writing Center.

You can also learn more about the Madison Area Writing Center Colloquium online through the web page:

I look forward to continuing the conversation and hope to see you at a future colloquium event!

Beth Godbee
Writing Center Instructor

One Reply to “Cultivating Potentials for Social Change Through Writing Center Talk”

  1. I like thinking about social change as good teaching. My impression is that writing center instructors and teachers more broadly can fall into the trap of being emotionally and even intellectually distant from students. I believe that the procedural model of “student comes in, teacher fixes problems, student learns” re-enforces an imbalanced power relationship and hinders our engagement with the thinking and ideas from the writing being discussed.

    As example, I have worked pseudo-collaboratively with my supervisors on written documents at work. This power relationship (boss-employee) forces me into passive voice and restricts my comments to those I believe will be palatable to the supervisor. My most productive collaborations have been those in which we could find ways to circumvent or overcome this power imbalance. Restructuring power relations usually involves the supervisor being very aware of the power dynamics and finding ways to instill confidence in me that my comments will be well received – and this always seems to involve building a closer relationship.

    In some sense, a teacher is a “boss” for purposes of evaluation. Tutors have other power dynamics on their side: they are in charge of the session, are more comfortable in the space being “home turf”, are being compensated for their time, and are viewed as the expert. I’m really excited about strategies for restructuring these relationships to deepen the engagement with ideas during the occasion of talk about writing.

    I believe that restructuring power relations is social change in the moment. Is there research showing that interactions with more level power dynamics (illustrated by active voice, affiliation, open contradiction, etc) result in better teaching and learning? My experience reflects this result, but I’m curious about the research more broadly.

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