The idea that literary practice constructs identity is not new. Especially as of late, much research (Gibson, Marinara, Meem, 2000; Canagarajah, 2006; Rosenblatt, “Transactional Theory”) has been concerned with the ways writing as well as writing instruction can impact both the development and the construction of identity–meaning the characteristics associated with the way one performs actions and with the way one is (ex, gender, race, socioeconomic status, etc.). To date, most aforementioned research has focused on the creation of identity through literary and communicative practices in traditional learning spaces such as the classroom and the written document–8’’ x 12’’ Word sheet. How new digital mediums and online spaces can contribute to the construction of identity is a topic of emerging academic interest. More, the literacy practice and the quality of it that occurs in these new online spaces is a subject of some controversy. Still, with the rise of new digital media and with its growing ubiquity, some researchers have found it prudent to explore the medium’s applications, particularly how the emergent literacy practices occurring in online spaces can assist in the development of and creation of individual identity.
In “Online Fan Fiction, Global Identities, and Imagination”, author Rebecca W. Black performs a three-year ethnographic study in which she explores how participation in an online fan fiction community helped three ELL participants–Grace, Nanako, and Cherry-Chan– develop English literacy and social practices that contributed to the construction of their cosmopolitan identities both online and outside of the digital sphere. More, Black’s research sought to explore how online spaces and the globalized communities that inhabit them can serve as models of social and communicative practice, the creative and imaginative approaches that shape the participatory culture of these spaces having possible applications outside of digital space. The idea that the participatory culture and practice of online spaces can better inform community and civic action beyond is also discussed in work by Henry Jenkins et al. (2006) While Black’s research expresses interest in the possibility of online spaces being models for civic imagination, it concerns itself more with the construction of identity within the community context of Fan Fiction.net (FFN; a website where participants from across the globe can write stories/create works based upon another existing media canon). Participation in communal, online activity by study participants that took place outside of FFN was also considered in the scope of this research.
What Black found was that while Grace, Nanako, and Cherry-Chan all certainly used fan fiction and participation in the fan fiction community as a, “means of developing their English language abilities”, use of each participants’ native language within a written work was also scene as valuable in the community, allowing them to both retain and to develop their transcultural/transnational identities, something not always possible in the traditionally monolingual classroom. (419) Black states that participation in this online community allowed Grace, Nanako, and Cherry-Chan, “…to leverage a diversity of resources, including their Asian backgrounds, as they developed identities as powerful language users.” (420) In addition to this, the collective imaginary of online communities allowed the participants of this study to explore language, knowledge, and communication as collaborative, networked entities, created by users. This heightened awareness of culture being a social construct that can be developed through the participatory culture of online spaces is another topic explore by Jenkins et al. In both Black and Jenkins et al.’s work, this new awareness of ideas, perspectives, and other community members’ contributions serves to better inform literacy practice, the co-construction of knowledge serving as a way to return agency. Black contends, “For Grace, Nanako, and Cherry-Chan, media content coupled with networked technologies served as an active resource for emergent forms of social action and agency that were closely tied to their local contexts and daily lives” and that, “…all three young women creatively employed language to create linguistically hybrid texts that indexed their transcultural identities and signaled their affiliation with a cosmopolitan audience.” (422) Essentially, participation in online communities and culture facilitated an acquisition of language and literacy practice that in turn assisted in the development of individual identity.
The influence of new digital media on learning and meaning-making is a particularly interesting topic. Much has been said and speculated about the negative impacts of new media on learning (a quick Google search on “Millenials” reveals many such views, the rise of new digital media commonly correlated). Research like Black’s that seeks to explore applications of digital media to the learning process and that seeks to discover ways in which new media can help facilitate and inform better practice puts into perspective the overarching bias. Perhaps digital media is detrimental to some learners and learning but not researching new digital media’s possibilities can keep valuable information about best practice and about specific concerns such as how it can facilitate in identity construction out of the public sphere of knowledge, which detriments all learners and learning. If anything, Black’s research emphasizes how online spaces can serve as platforms that can be used to bring communities together to better serve and engage the individual. As new media continues to develop, it will be interesting to see how theory around the develop of identity evolves as well as the place of imagination in the development of culture and community.
Black, Rebecca W. “Online Fan Fiction, Global Identities, and Imagination.” Research in the Teaching of English, vol. 43, no. 4, May 2009, pp. 397-425. Jstor, chrome-extension:// bjfhmglciegochdpefhhlphglcehbmek/content/web/viewer.html?file=http%3A%2F%2Flibrary.kean.edu%3A2083%2Fstable%2Fpdf%2F27784341.pdf%3Frefreqid%3Dexcelsior%3A8637c8a7c7512d3cfa4b668556e9db82. Accessed 2 March 2018.
Canagarajah, Suresh. “The Place of World Englishes in Composition: Pluralization Continued.” CCC, vol. 57, no. 4, 2006, pp. 586-619.
Gibson et al. “Bi, Butch, and Bar Dyke: Pedagogical Performances of Class, Gender, and Sexuality.” CCC, vol. 52, no. 1, 2000, pp. 69-95.
Rosenblatt, Louise M. “Writing and Reading: The Transactional Theory.” ENTER FOR THE STUDY OF READING A READING RESEARCH AND EDUCATION CENTER REPORT, Technical Report No. 416, pp. 1-18.
Jenkins, Henry et al. “Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century.” Building the Field of Digital Media and Learning, 2006. chrome-extension://bjfhmglciegochdpefhhlphglcehbmek/content/web/viewer.html?file=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.macfound.org%2Fmedia%2Farticle_pdfs%2FJENKINS_WHITE_PAPER.PDF. Accessed 2 March 2018.
Hypothes.is: Check out my annotations on this week’s reading~