Theorizing Writing in Digital Spaces: From Romance Genre to the “Secondary Orality”

These are my rough notes, nearly liveblogged (posted as soon as I had access to WiFi in the lobby).

  • Paul Rogers and Andrea Lunsford, “Writing Lives in a Digital Landscape: Investigating the Boundaries between Extracurricular and Academic Writing in Higher Education”
  • Stephanie Moody, “Virtual Relations: Exploring the Literacy Practices of a Romance Genre eCommunity.”
  • Wendy Brownson, “New Media Literacy within an Era of Secondary Orality.”
Rogers and Lunsford, “Writing Lives in a Digital Landscape: Investigating the Boundaries between Extracurricular and Academic Writing in Higher Education”


Discuss borders between academic literacies and the kind of literacies students use in their lives outside of school on a daily basis. Noted that the popular media present the notion that today’s young people have been dumbed down by technology (“Why Johnny Can’t Read 2.0”).

Academic writing is twofold; it’s student work and it’s also the work professionals do. Noted the enculturation/apprenticeship aspect of writing in the academy. The academic writing is only a part of the apprenticeship.

Considers calling academic writing “scientific writing.”

Scientists writing for scientists; scientists writing for non-scientists; non-scientists writing about science

Academics writing for academics; academics writing for non-academics; non-academics writing about academic topics.

Generally speaking, students more engaged in affective writing than academic writing.

Janet Enig (1971) noted students were much more likely to revise their “self-sponsored writing” than their “school-sponsored writing.”

Lunsford’s longitudinal studies about students’ writing lives – not just their academic work.

Rogers quotes a student who says profs don’t ask enough – this student praised a prof who once said “…and I need you to change the world on top of that,” which the student found an inspiring connection between the class and the real world.”



Noted a student’s website that on cleft palates in the third world; this student’s website was not part of any class project, but Lunsford says it could have been. She also showed a poster this student designed for a charity walk; and a brochure.

Another student’s activist website; her group forced the school to raise the wages of laborers three times in four years, but she was uninterested in talking about her writing unless it was deeply connected to her outside work.



Mentioned student blog, “Fifty Car Pileup,” showed archive demonstrating this student’s “sustained discourse” and zoomed in on one post to walk through Lunsford’s definition of academic writing (authoritative, review of known/new, relevance to peers, logic, etc.)



Ending with implications

  1. These blurry borderlands (between academic and public) don’t have to be murky and unhappy places to be. You can be both/and
  2. Even as the extracurricular is impinging on the academic, you will see that in academic journals the writing is getting a little less formal; areas are influencing one another.
  3. New media and technology are helping to blur these boundaries even more, making this liminal space more habitable. “People who say students are not writing or reading are just insane.” They are writing and reading on the run, but they are reading and writing more than ever before. Gaining ambidextrous abilities to shift between registers, styles, audiences, etc.
  4. Extracurricular work is audience centered; they are honing right in – does that filter into our assignments?
  5. Outside class, their work is collaborative; authority and authorship is distributed. How often do students get that chance in the classroom?

What of the old literacies are absolutely essential, that we need to keep? How can we balance that with the needs and benefits of new literacy? Ended with a call to “wrap our arms around” both the old and new literacy.


Stephanie Moody, “Virtual Relations: Exploring the Literacy Practices of a Romance Genre eCommunity.”

Starts with Jenkins, Convergence Culture; 21C media theories observe that new media doesn’t kill old media; each old medium is forced to coexist with new, leading to convergence rather than revolution. Old media are not being displaced, but their functions and status are being shifted.

How digital spaces are changing the we read romance fiction; more communal, elastic, participatory. Romances are “the most widely sold books on the market,” and a stigmatized practice; etexts have made it easier to purchase and “hide” their romance reading; offers an example of Gee’s “affinity space” that encourages participants to actively share knowledge and engage with multiple literacy practices.  Online spaces lead authors to buy backlists, to automatically buy an author’s next work, to purchase hard-to-find books, etc.

Focuses on the websites of Jennifer Crusie (contemporary) and Elisa James (historical). Focusing on the kinds of literate practices made possible by theses spaces.

Example – Crusie is writing a plot point involving a car breaking down, and asks for mechanically inclined readers to provide details for the scene.  Participants in the forums are sharing daily events; they feel ownership in the next novel; legitimizes romance reading as a shared, intellectual, communal activity.

Elisa James uses Facebook. Even posts video clips answering questions.  Shows a very detailed website for “registered readers,” with bonus content in the form of Easter eggs, extra chapters, places where she rewrites a scene from a different point of view.  [This is obviously a response for fan-fiction.] Moody notes that participating in the Facebook page requires the reader to “Like” the page, which creates an advertisement on your Facebook page.

Moody notes that the Facebook and blog platforms concretize Jenkins’s observation that the producer/consumer relationship is more complicated.  Does the informality and ease of status updates erase, or emphasize the power relationship?  The Crusie “Popcorn Dialogues” involve the community agreeing to watch a particular movie, then Crusie and a friend post a podcast with their commentary, a practice that commodifies the practice of “hanging out” with friends.


Wendy Brownson, “New Media Literacy within an Era of Secondary Orality.”

Opened with Ong’s Orality and Literacy, and carefully walked through the nature of orality. I’m not sure this audience needed such a detailed explication of Ong, but it was perfectly clear.

  1. Oral is additive rather than subordinative
  2. Oral is aggregative (“the beautiful princess”) rather than analytic (casts off cliché)
  3. Oral is redundant (keeps main point in focus) rather than linear
  4. Oral is conservative (preserves communal knowledge) rather than speculative (writing frees the mind of this memory work)
  5. Close to human lifeworld rather than neutral/factual
  6. Agonistic rather than disengaged
  7. Empathetic/participatory (method acting) rather than objective.
  8. Homeostatic (in flux; wholly in the present) vs definitive (fixed meanings)
  9. Situational vs. Abstract

Then followed up with a detailed application of each of these nine items to blogs… and then briefly displayed a grid that added a column for books. Again, I’m not sure this audience needed that level of expository detail. Once she displayed the resulting (very complex, very print-oriented) grid, she stopped — leaving me wondering what research or theoretical implications follow from her observations.


During the Q&A, Rogers noted that students are more worried about changing their topics than profs should be; we are willing to bend the assignment in order to ensure engagement, and exactly how they engage is less important.

While collaborative work is valuable, students bring baggage to the classroom and feel that profs assign group work when the prof can’t think of anything else to do.  Lunsford suggests “community writing class” where the students collaborate to serve the community; the outside engagement makes a big difference. Lunsford recalls her need to back up and be very specific about why we are doing the assignment, what’s the payoff; because we have seen the benefits of the various assignments, we don’t always slow down and clearly articulate those benefits.