Moving, Slowly: Transnational Composition

By Bruce Horner, Ph.D.

(An entirely, if also necessarily, partial “beginnings” narrative of the Transnational Composition SIG)


Bruce Horner, Ph.D. Transnational Composition Ex Officio

In 2008, when I decided to propose a SIG meeting (for the 2009 CCCC), I was responding to growing pressures for and interest in reimagining composition studies from a transnational perspective: it increasingly seems to have made less and less sense to more and more people to maintain CCCC’s largely parochial focus on the US (with Canada consigned to mere “also” status) in light of all the phenomena identified with “globalization.”

The original 2008 proposal states simply that the SIG would explore:

transnational relationships between ways of teaching and studying postsecondary writing at particular locales, informed by ongoing research on literacy work across the globe [and would provide] a forum for exploring ways to expand the conceptual horizon of U.S. teachers and scholars of college composition and those teaching postsecondary writing in Canada, Mexico, the U.K., Australia, New Zealand, and in Eurasia, Africa, and Central and South America, and for addressing concerns about the roles and responses of university-level writing teachers in the spread of Standard Written English accompanying global economic and geopolitical relations.  There is growing interest among those attending CCCC in looking beyond national borders to understand writing and its teaching, and growing concern among CCCC participants about the global circulation of particular ideologies of writing and literacy and their instruction.

This SIG explores questions resulting from these interests and concerns: Which language(s) are students (and scholars) being asked (and taught) to use when writing?  How? According to which set(s) of standards?  Why?  What relationships are being negotiated by literacy practices and literacy workers between the languages of former colonizers and indigenous languages, and between particular varieties of English emerging on the ground and those with institutional authorization?  How might composition teachers and scholars respond appropriately to the development, or calls for the development, of a “lingua franca” form of English?

By sharing various approaches to postsecondary writing instruction and practice taken by different nationalities and research on literacy work in a variety of locales across the globe, this SIG will also explore the ways in which forms of writing instruction, beliefs about writing, and literacy practices encouraged in one locale do, and might ideally, interpenetrate writing instruction, study, and literacy work in other locales.

In retrospect, it’s telling, and humbling, to see how US-focused the proposal itself remained in the presumed identities of those being addressed.  That has changed.  It’s also telling that one residue of that US-centricity is the term “composition,” whose specific meaning in the US does not carry well transnationally, but that remains in the group’s name.  And it’s telling as well that the trajectory of my own interest in pushing beyond US English only strictures in composition—represented by my 2001 College English essay on SRTOL and by the 2002 CCC essay John Trimbur and I co-authored on “English Only and US College Composition”—would take 6+ more years before I felt prompted to propose the transnational SIG.  Such is the slow pace of change.   But it’s heartening that at the first (2009) meeting, not only did many people show up, but they immediately questioned the term “composition” as problematic, and it’s been so ever since.

It’s taken another five years after that first, 2009 meeting for the group to feel established enough to attempt standing group status.  Before then, I was running the SIG on a figurative shoestring, reproducing and submitting each year a proposal for the SIG, with different speakers invited and issues being raised, but largely reflecting my own idiosyncratic interests and knowledge.  I was also, on a shoestring, running the SIG Listserv, which was largely moribund except just before and after each CCCC, and was used largely as a means of announcements of conferences of possible interest and for the SIG itself.  This stands in sharp contrast to the lively and frequent postings on the current Facebook page, which currently has over 500 members representing at least 30 different nationalities and localities.  (The Listserv still exists but duplicates the Facebook group in many respects.)

In 2013 an opportunity arose for our SIG (along with others) to have two meetings: one open meeting at noon on a Thursday in addition to the more ordinary meeting (also open) on Friday.  This proved to be a watershed moment.  I went to chair the Thursday noon meeting room expecting to spend my time there alone, reading student papers.  As it turned out, about fifty people were in attendance, all full of interest and ideas.  That led to more people attending the Friday meeting and then the push in 2014-15 for standing group status.  (I recall that at the 2014 meeting, I was attempting simultaneously to chair the meeting and take notes on the discussion—a painful if striking illustration to all attending that we needed to move beyond the shoestring model.)

It merits emphasizing that the SIG emerged roughly simultaneously with other developments at 4Cs to adopt a transnational perspective, including the institution of the globalization committee and its efforts to sponsor more transnational perspectives, and Christiane Donahue’s preconvention international research forums, as well as the efforts of many individuals in their research, teaching, and their lobbying for enabling more transnational interaction, for example through providing better internet access and “virtual” participation.  These efforts continue, and need to continue, in order to break with the US parochialism of CCCC.

All that said, and in order to further such efforts, I’m delighted to see the group’s standing status and to see it now growing in numbers, work, and achievements.  In concert with the CCCC Committee on Globalization and the Wednesday International Research Network Forums, a transnational perspective on composition/postsecondary writing, a transnational population of students, teachers, and researchers, and transnationality in communications and scholarly and teaching interactions are increasingly, if sometimes frustratingly slowly, coming to be recognized as the norm, rather than deviation from the norm.  This is progress. It’s an emerging process.

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