Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Holding onto Agency


My favorite quote from the scene here is when Snoop gets in the car and explains, “Man said if you wanna shoot nails, this here’s the Cadillac. He mean Lexus, but he ain't know it.”

Despite the curse words, I plan to show this clip to my students this fall so I can introduce them to my research and my teaching objectives.

My students come from all over the place, and this makes some of the workshop sessions very exciting. The cultural divide is clearest when they are trying to explain or persuade. While that is interesting, what I really want to dig into this year are the relationships of perceived power during these exchanges.

In my summer reading about diversity in the classroom, all of the composition people are concerned about the relationship between 'fringe students' and the academy. A fringe student can be one of many types of student - first in the family to go to college, a minority, an EFL student, etc. The academics are worried that the overwhelming force of the academy will wipe out anything unique such a student might bring to a discussion. It's a very real problem, but in my classroom something more interesting is going on.

My students have fairly fixed ideas about each others' countries, cultures, and their places in the world. This means that when the expository essay of an Azeri student is workshopped by a Swede, the relationship between reader and writer is very complex. The expectations of the academy become just one element in a much more complicated exchange.

So, in a more explicit manner than in the past, I want to focus my students' attention on the cultural differences they deal with when presenting expository or persuasive texts to each other. I want them to notice when/how they jump from one style of communication to another. I want them to discuss who they feel is in control of a given discussion. I want them to learn how to navigate between different styles of communication without ever losing their sense of agency. You can see Snoop doing just that in the clip above.

Call it code-switching, code-meshing, negotiating World Englishes, or something else. I believe the skill is only going to become more relevant in the future. So I'm excited to take advantage of the unique make-up of my composition classroom.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Summer Break

I'm traveling and writing this summer. Working on a research paper, the novel, and PhD applications. So not much excitement to report, but here is an old video about the most popular Hungarian summer vacation spot, Lake Balaton.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Gazprom's New Venture


Teaching at a business school means it's helpful when one of the biggest corporations in the region makes a ridiculous mistake that inadvertently drives home the basics of Composition Studies. But it isn't always pretty.

One of the things I strive to teach in my classroom is this: Effective communication starts by attempting to understand your audience and then crafting a message that is appropriate for them.

When Gazprom announced its new venture in Nigeria, the executives in charge failed to anticipate how a global audience might react to the name Nigaz.

Nigaz is the name of the new Russian-Nigerian oil firm.

I thought maybe the Daily Mail article was a joke, but here's the BBC report.

I'm not outraged or angry. I don't think the naming was motivated by racism.

In a way, I'm happy about the misstep. This firm's name will make an excellent real-world example of how a writer's intentions can be obscured by the reader's frame of reference. Thanks, Nigaz.

(And thanks to Dan for spotting the story.)