Composing Environments: The Materiality of Reading and Writing
Department of Writing and Communication
College English Association Critic
In her 1999 book, The Wealth of Reality: An Ecology of Composition, Margaret Syverson points out the stubborn blind spot we have in thinking about literate and other intellectual processes. "[W]e are not accustomed, " Syverson writes, "to considering the physical environment as an active participant in the learning situation" (188, emphasis added). This collaborative essay—which began as a panel at CEA 2015 in Indianapolis—assumes along with Syverson that though we are not always aware of it, material environments are primary and active agents that shape everyday literate activity. Our panel initially came together on this point. We shared curiosities about our students' composting environments: the objects, tools, beings, devices, and ephemera that gather around and found their reading and writing processes. Directing our focus to the "stuff" of literate practice, we discovered, necessarily entails perceptions and cultural assumptions about reading and writing: the ways, for example, that students imagine stark or necessary differences in self- and school-sponsored reading; the powerful presumption that we are irrevocably distracted; of the belief that "digital reading" is a monolithic endeavor, one defined by its media rather than its genre or purpose. Indeed, composing environments are populated by both materials objects and readers/writers' perceptions of themselves acting in space and time and through those objects . Just as feminist scholar Elizabeth A. Wilson insists on "the ongoing, mutual, constitution of mind and matter" (qtd. in Alaimo 5), so we believe effective English teachers in the 21st century must "make matter matter" in more significant ways in our classes.
Blewett, K., Morris, J., & Rule, H. (2016). Composing Environments: The Materiality of Reading and Writing. College English Association Critic, 78 (1), 24-44. https://doi.org/10.1353/cea.2016.0007