My scholarship is situated at the intersection of writing center studies, spatial rhetorics, and multiliteracies. The overarching question that sustains my research seeks to critically interrogate writing center orthodox practice. Historically, writing center research has been lore based, emerging from a place of practicality and necessity, and practices that emerged from this scholarly trajectory have, in many cases, become writing center doctrine. My research pushes against that doctrine, joining scholars such as Jackie Grutch-McKinney and Nancy Grimm in questioning aspects of writing center work that are often taken for granted. Especially relevant to my research are questions of writing center design. Writing centers have traditionally worked with composers of alphabetic texts, though increasingly, both students and professionals are expected to demonstrate a range of multimodal literacies; supporting multiliteracies is often the purview of the writing center. There is still considerable debate in the field about what a “multiliteracies center” might look like, though it’s clear from the research of Nedra Reynolds and others that design impacts use. I seek to explore how the conceptualization of a writing center, especially in terms of design, influences how we work with multimodal composers. How does spatial rhetoric invite or discourage different types of discourse? How do the spatial assumptions we make about writing center design support or impede multimodal composers?
Rather than studying existing self-identifying writing center spaces, I look at other collaborative work spaces as a way to rethink writing centers. I use Mannay’s “making strange” approach through ethnography as a way to interrogate writing center design and spatial rhetoric from new perspectives. Scholars who take up questions of writing center design as it relates to multimodal composition include Russell Carpenter and David Sheridan, and I build on their work by exploring composition spaces beyond the academy. Last spring, I completed ethnographic exploration collaborative space use in a trapeze studio. The resulting paper, entitled “Of Tutors and Trapeze Artists: Exploring Doxology in Writing Centers,” tested four aspects of writing center doxa and offered four instances of heterodoxa as counterpoints based on the ethnographic data I collected. This approach, while unconventional in writing center research, allowed for a fruitful reimagining of what a writing center space can be or do. Building upon this pilot study, my current research takes place in a non-academic, professional coworking space.
Coworking spaces are shared offices, often populated by freelancers and contract employees in creative fields such as design, writing, and web development. Coworking spaces allow for both independent work and collaborative partnerships. In my current study, I seek to explore how these professionals, composers across modes, interact within a space, how they shape that space, and how that space shapes their interactions. I use ethnographic methods to gather data and then analyze using a grounded theory approach. I hope to better understand the different ways creative professionals interact with one another, interact with their space, and shape their space. Additionally, I seek to discover how the space encourages or discourages different types of interactions.
Space is never neutral; space has agency and power. Considerations of spatial rhetoric are fundamental to writing center research and beyond. While my focus is considering the rhetoric of space when designing a center that supports multimodal composition, this kind of research is relevant to the design of collaborative work spaces both in the academy and in industry. Moreover, because the ways we consider design influences who feels invited into the space as well as what people feel permitted to do or discouraged to do, considering carefully the rhetoric of space has implications for accessibility and social justice.