Writing and Literacies

The cluster is open to all researchers, educators and others with an interest in writing and its value in society, as well as its function for the development and maintenance of the individual and society. As a site for scientific inquiry into writing and its dissemination, the description and explanation of writing is primarily based on contemporary philosophies of the mind and body, such as distributed cognition, but not limited to any scientific paradigm. The main objective is to maintain a critical dialogue; theoretically, empirically and practically.

At a formative stage
The Writing and New Societal Literacies cluster examines writing as a craft and as a human invention for learning and participating in a literate society. In doing so, it seeks to understand the individual, social and material factors that shape writing and the processes involved. Part of this endeavor recognizes writing as embedded in affective and value-laden experience influenced by social norms and culture. Concurrently, at a societal level it recognizes three tendencies shaping writing and our perspective on writing as a activity for the development and maintenance of persons and a literate society: 1) the emergence of new information technologies, 2) globalization and the processes by which literate practices meet on a global scale and 3) the visual/pictorial turn in culture. All in all, the cluster aims to explore how all forms of writing commingle with human thinking and performance by studying the acquisition and use of writing by individuals, as well as the effects of societal influences on our interaction with writing.

The learning power of writing
In light of these societal developments and their seemingly powerful grip on the imagination — socially, politically and pedagogically — it may be worth re-emphasizing the learning power of writing for individuals and society. As R. D. Walshe (1987), one of the earliest scholars promoting the process approach to writing (Flower and Hayes 1981; Hayes 1996), says:
I promise throughout this day’s learning to handle with respect and pleasure humanity’s greatest invention, language, and in particular, when I reach for a pen or sit at a word-processor, to remember that I am about to use humanity’s second greatest invention, writing, in which I will take a language from the invisible mind and make it visible on paper where I can work on it with full attention until it becomes the best thinking, the best learning, of which I am capable.

In order to realize this value, the cluster may view writing as more than an individual activity, but a collective one requiring a diversity of approaches, not only to learn the craft of writing, but also to teach and study it. Thus in order to make Walshe’s (pace) invisible mind less invisible, the cluster may take as its starting point a view of the mind and body that recognizes thinking and imagining as a distributed and coordinated activity. From this perspective, writing is an activity between individual bodies and their social and material environments, which includes the text and the writing of texts, across different scales of time and space. In other words, there is a flow between the cognitive and affective aspects of human life and our social and material reality. Writing, as a process and product, emerges from these dynamics. With this approach, it may be proposed that the mind is made less invisible for the study of writing as well as related topics of literacy. Indeed, the study of writing may be enhanced by thinking about writing in connection with a broader scope of new societal literacies.

New societal literacies
Writing is one of the traditional categories of literacy along with the language activities of listening, speaking and reading. Recent additions include mediation and interaction. Mediation covers the linguistic activities between persons who, for whatever reason, are unable to communicate directly with each other, including translating and interpreting, as well as communication through media across space and time. Interaction is oral and written communication between persons. Recognizably, the traditional categories of literacy have always involved some aspects of mediation and interaction, but they seem to have taken on new significance with globalization and the rise of new information technologies. These societal developments naturally change the dynamics of manipulating written graphics and the interaction with new knowledge backgrounds and persons of different cultural backgrounds and assumptions of literacy. As these forces change the way we interact with texts and each other, it is significant to describe and explain their effects on persons and culture.

The third significant development in society related to literacy is the visual/pictorial turn in culture. As the visual becomes more accepted as a form of literacy, it is important to consider through inquiry how the increasing use of visual media affects our ability to engage with ideas critically in a manner that writing has traditionally served. By externalizing thought in written signs, in especially expository forms of writing and argumentative inquiry, we can examine the consistencies and inconsistencies of human thought and activity in a way that is fundamentally different than oral language. Due to the social dynamics of persons in groups, oral language tends to have a consensual bias, serving a socio-generative function. In contrast to oral language and other means of representation, such as the visual, writing, it is recognized, enables ideas to be scrutinized. Thus writing can be said to be critical for an open society that values human dignity, allowing for the development of persons and their individual expression.

Recognizably, on the subject of writing and literacy, and their relation and value to society, there are a number of perspectives to take. Therefore researchers and educators are welcome and encouraged to pursue their own interests, approaching the object of study using various methodologies. The following list of areas of study attempt merely to set the basis for a critical dialogue on writing and new societal literacies. This dialogue includes inquiries into writing from the acquisition of writing and its use to different processes and products, new forms of visual and digital literacies, as well as intercultural aspects of writing and engaging with ideas and others, in various societal contexts.

• The cognitive dynamics of writing (Flower and Hayes 1981; Hayes 1996; Menary 2007, O’Hara et al. 2002, Kravchenko 2009)
• Writing-to-learn pedagogies (Klein 1999; Papadopoulos et al. 2010)
• The dynamics of L2 Writing (Chenoweth and Hayes 2001; Kroll 2003)
• Writing, education and becoming literate (Walshe 1987; Olson and Torrance 2009)
• Literate expertise (Scardamalia and Bereiter 1991)
• Writing and the literacies of mediation and interaction (Sáez 2002)
• The effects of the medium on writing (Haas 1996 and O’Hara et al. 2002)
• Writing, reasoning and the visual/pictorial turn in culture (Goody and Watt 1963; Elkins, ed. 2008)
• Writing, new media literacy and alternative writing types (Livingstone 2004; Davies and Shadle 2000)
• Affect, cognition and writing (Boice 1993; Brunning and Horn 2000; Pajares and Valiante 2006; McLeod 1987)

The bibliography-so-far

Boice, Robert. 1993. Writing Blocks and Tacit Knowledge. The Journal of Higher Education. Vol. 64. No. 1. 19-54.

Brunning, Roger and Christy Horn. 2000. Developing Motivation to Write. Educational Psychologist. Vol. 35. No. 1. 25-37.

Chenoweth, N. Ann and John R. Hayes. 2001. Fluency in Writing: Generating Text in L1 and L2. Written Communication. Vol. 18. 80-98.

Cowley, Stephen J. 2007. Editorial: The cognitive dynamics of distributed language. Language Sciences. Vol. 29. 575-583.

Cowley, Stephen J. (unpublished manuscript). Taking a language stance.

Davis, Robert and Mark Shadle. 2000. “Building a Mystery”: Alternative Research Writing and the Academic Act of Seeking. CCC. Vol. 51. No. 3. 417-446.

Elkins, James, ed. Visual Literacy. Routledge: London.

Flower, Linda and John R. Hayes. 1981. A Cognitive Process Theory of Writing. College Composition and Communication. Vol. 32. No. 4. 365-387.

Goody, Jack and Ian Watt. 1963. The Consequences of Literacy. Comparative Studies in Society and History. Vol. 5. No. 3. 304-345.

Haas, Christina. 1996. Writing Technology: Studies in the Materiality of Writing. LEA: Mahwah, New Jersey.

Hayes, John R. 1996. A New Framework for Understanding Cognition and Affect in Writing. In The Science of Writing: Theories, Methods, Individual Differences, and Applications. C. Michael Levy and Sarah Ransdell, eds. LEA: New Jersey. 1-27.

Klein, Perry D. 1999. Reopening Inquiry into Cognitive Processes in Writing-to-Learn. Educational Psychology Review. Vol. 11. No. 3. 203-270.

Kluver, Randy 2000. Globalization, Informatization, and Intercultural Communication. American Communication Journal. Vol. 3, Is 3. 1-14.

Kravchenko, Alexander V. 2009. The experiential basis of speech and writing as different cognitive domains. Pragmatics & Cognition. Vol. 17. No. 3. 527-548

Kroll, Barbara, ed. 2003. Exploring the Dynamics of Second Language Writing. Cambridge Applied Linguistics Series.

Livingstone, Sonia. 2004. Media Literacy and the Challenge of New Information and Communication Technologies. The Communication Review. Vol. 7. 3-14.

McLeod, Susan. 1987. Thoughts about Feelings: The Affective Domain and the Writing Process. College Composition and Communication. Vol. 38. No. 4. 426-435.

Menary, Richard. 2007. Writing as Thinking. Language Sciences. Vol. 29. 621-632.

O’Hara, Kenton P. and Alex Taylor, William Newman, Abigail J. Sellen. 2002. Understanding the materiality of writing from multiple sources. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies. Vol. 56. 269-305.

Olson, David R. and Nancy Torrance. 2009. The Cambridge Handbook of Literacy. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.

Papadopoulos, Pantelis M. and Stavros N. Demetriadis, Ioannis G. Stamelos, Ioannis A. Tsoukalas. 2010. The values of writing-to-learn when using question prompts to support web-based learning in ill-structured domains. Education Technology and Research Development. Published on-line.

Pajares, Frank and Gio Valiante. 2006. Self-Efficacy Beliefs and Motivation in Writing Development. In Handbook of Writing Research. Charles A. MacArthur, Steve Graham, and Jill Fitzgerald, eds. The Guilford Press: London. 158-170.

Sáez, Fernando Trujillo. 2002. Towards Interculturality through Language Teaching: Argumentative Discourse. CAUCE, Revista de Filologia y su Didáctica. No. 25. 103-119.

Salomon, Gavriel, ed. 1993. Distributed cognitions: Psychological and educational considerations. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.

Scardamalia, Marlene and Carl Bereiter. 1991. Literate Expertise. In Toward a general theory of expertise. K. Anders Ericsson and Jacqui Smith, eds. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge. 1991. 172-194.

Walshe, R.D. 1987. The learning power of writing. The English Journal. Vol. 76. No. 6. 22-27.


The coordinator of this cluster is Steven Breunig from the Institute of Language and Communication at the University of Southern Denmark. His research interests regarding writing include the materiality of writing, writing as a distributed activity and the affective aspects of writing influencing the process as a whole and its influence on individual fluency in learners.