Our return to the group classroom discussion was a return to the familiar. We are all graduate students and the monochromatic classroom walls and functional furniture feels homey in its own sad way. At the tail end of our workshops, interviews, and hours of transcription, we were ready to settle into theory, something easier to understand sometimes than our own dispositions as novice researchers.
The thing is, we were not the same students who occupied these chairs at the start of the course or even weeks ago. The distance between us and the research theories we study from books had diminished. In our initial discussion we returned to an early conversation about digital technology and the ethical implications of using public discourse in research. The conversation was now less abstract and more personal.
One classmate reminded us of the Internal Review Board’s (IRB) somewhat lenient position on public discourse while we discussed Aaron Hess’ chapter titled “Rhetoric, Ethnography, and the Machine” in Field Rhetoric: Ethnography, Ecology, and Engagement in the Places of Persuasion. We then pondered our own positions on analyzing public technology:
One of our lively discussions was sparked by “Rhetorical Cartographies,” a chapter describing three geographical areas of Omaha and the associative discourse and impressions of each. The authors’ assert that places “are dynamic places-in-process, wherein embodied and emplaced performances select, reflect, and deflect place through the experiences of those who interact with the place” (Senda-Cook, et al 98). This resonated with us in our examination of UWM graduate students and how they contribute to and shape our dynamic campus.
One classmate mused about linguistic boundaries and how certain spaces impose language or linguistic boundaries. We had initially discussed place and even gentrification of places as physical, but she prompted us to think about gentrification of language, asking, “when we try to ‘clean up’ places physically, are we also ‘cleaning up’ language, and If so, at what cost?”
This colonization of language is something we even recognize in some of our interviewees’ contributions. It’s something that we as teachers, professional writers, and graduate scholars have sometimes experienced in our own self-censoring. One classmate stated, “I didn’t have the best education. I went into the military and then to college where I tried to shape my linguistic and community identity. Sometimes I think about what was lost in that process.”
Perhaps it is our own experiences that we see reflected back at us more clearly now. We talked about feeling attached to our participants when we transcribed the interviews. One classmate described her feelings of empathy as she slowed down the voices during the transcription process and heard inflection. “I heard insecurity and struggle in places,” she said. That connectedness made it hard to not jump in and share our own stories of triumph and struggle while interviewing participants. It made us grateful that we were privy to stories and cognizant of our own positionality as researchers. Our initial project idea elicited skepticism, confusion, frustration, and enthusiasm. Now, however messy and imperfect, it finally feels like our own. --WP