LINGUIST List 15.2130

Thu Jul 22 2004

Review: Applied Linguistics: Casanave (2002)

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  1. Charlotte Brammer, Writing Games: Multicultural Case Studies ...

Message 1: Writing Games: Multicultural Case Studies ...

Date: Tue, 20 Jul 2004 21:38:31 -0400 (EDT)
From: Charlotte Brammer <>
Subject: Writing Games: Multicultural Case Studies ...

AUTHOR: Casanave, Christine Pearson 
TITLE: Writing Games
SUBTITLE: Multicultural Case Studies of Academic Literacy Practices in 
Higher Education
PUBLISHER: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
YEAR: 2002
Announced at

Charlotte Brammer, Samford University, Birmingham, Alabama, USA

As the name implies, the text is an extended explication of the
''game'' aspects of writing. Casanave is unapologetic about the
seemingly flippant use of this playful metaphor because it may help
writers, particularly ''novice academic writers ... see the strategic,
convention- based nature of writing and thus to appreciate their own
agency in choosing how to play'' (p. 6). In the Preface, Casanave
states that one of the text's purposes is ''to portray issues and
actors in such a way that readers can relate them to issues and
experiences in their own lives'' (p. xv). Readers who are also
writers, perhaps especially those who are involved in higher
education, will relate to the issues and individuals presented in this
text. While the text focuses heavily on writers for whom English is a
second language, first language writers will also identify with
several issues raised in the text, including notions of language
appropriateness, social acceptance, and intellectual identity.

Casanave opens the text with a discussion of frames, specifically she
explains her rationale and method for framing the text overall and the
cases within each chapter. She notes that two ideas guide the book:
(1) ''academic writing is a game-like social and political as well as
discoursal practice that takes place in communities of practice,'' and
(2) ''writers' practices and identities in academic settings change
over time'' (p. 1). The author takes time to explain each of these
concepts, noting that the concepts are both ''common sense'' and
academically situated, especially within English as a second language
(ESL), English for Academic Purposes (EAP), and composition
studies. She builds from the work on situated practice of Etienne
Wenger (1998)and Sherry Ortner (1996), stating that writers are
influenced by their communities of practice. As Casanave paraphrases
Wenger (1998), ''people's identities are shaped by a variety of
factors, including fundamentally how we participate in a community's
practices and reposition ourselves from the role of newcomer on the
sidelines of a game to the accomplished player's more central place''
(p. 21).

Another element to Casanave's framing involves Pierre Bourdieu's
symbolic capital, particularly as it applies to academe. As newcomers
become more adept in their positions, they acquire greater symbolic
capital (e.g., advanced degrees, publications, tenure, international
recognition), which in turn affects their positions within the
community of practice. The seemingly simple accrual of symbolic
capital and community membership is made complex through the
multiplicity of memberships, labels, and internal versus external
perceptions through which identities are created. As Casanave
explains, ''identities are never unitary, but always multiple''
(p. 10). A given individual may be both an expert and a novice, an
accomplished musician and an inexperienced academic. From this
theoretical base, Casanave probes how literacy practices are taught
and learned in higher education.

Chapters two through six introduce background research and relevant
studies about different groups in higher education, from
undergraduates (Chapter 2) to published professors (Chapter 6). The
detailed introductions are followed by case studies, some of which are
original, but most of which are revisited from existing research,
albeit with new theoretical lens and purpose. Readers who are familiar
with Casanave's research will enjoy hearing an update from
''Virginia,'' a PhD student who left after one year of graduate school
only to complete her doctoral work later at another university. Each
chapter closes with ''reflections'' that go beyond simple summations
and raise questions for further research, discussion, and
contemplation. For example, at the end of chapter two which explores
the literacy practices of undergraduates, Casanave writes, ''What
strikes me about all of these cases is the asymmetry between the ways
that teachers seem to perceive their worlds -- full of complexity,
detail, and purposeful rhetorical practices -- and the confusion yet
relative lack of complexity in students' perceptions ... I think in
some sense teachers of EAP want students to quickly become like us
...'' (p. 80). As teachers, we are eager for our students to join the
community of practice and to move beyond the level of novice; we may
be so eager that we forget how long it took us to attain our level of
participation within the community of the academy and thus are
impatient with the learning curve of our students, whether
undergraduate or graduate, as well as new colleagues.

The concluding chapter, aptly titled ''The Paradoxical Effort After
Coherence in Academic Writing Games,'' reiterates the text's purpose:
to create ''coherence'' from the author's past research and to do so
in a way this is relevant to her larger community of practice,
academe. In summary, Casanave wrote, '' All the themes -- writing as a
game-like practice, more general theories of practice, issues of
identity, transition, and enculturation -- reflect the idea that
people who write in university settings are all trying to create a
sense of order in their worlds'' (p. 256). Throughout this collection
of case studies, from her own research as well as that of other
researchers, Casanave demonstrates how newcomers, whether
undergraduates or experienced professors, must acclimate themselves to
the social, political, and linguistic norms of the community. In the
process, these newcomers recognize and exercise their own agency by
choosing whether to negotiate the community's expectations (some
electing to leave, as ''Virginia'' did) and, if they so choose, how to
navigate through (perhaps despite?) the rules.

This book provides a good overview of learning to write in higher
education. While several studies have addressed learning to write in
various professions (e.g., engineering: Winsor, 1996; business: Katz,
1998a, 1998b), relatively few have addressed writing within higher
education beyond the undergraduate level. Thus, this book is a welcome
addition to professional literacy studies. Many graduate students in
US schools, whether native and non-native English speakers, will find
this text helpful in assessing the ''writing games'' they are involved
with. Anyone interested in literacy studies will also find the book
useful for its comprehensive bibliography (some 15 pages). Overall,
Casanave gave her readers exactly what she promised, an extensive
review of ''academic literacy practices in higher education.''


Katz, S. (1998a) Part I -- Learning to Write in Organizations: What
Newcomers Learn About Writing on the Job. IEEE Transactions on
Professional Communication 41.2. pp. 107-115.

Katz, S. (1998b) Part II -- How Newcomers Learn to Write: Resources
for Guiding Newcomers. IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication
41.3. pp. 165-174.

Winsor, D. (1996) Writing Like an Engineer: A Rhetorical Education.
Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.


Dr. Brammer is Assistant Professor of Communication Studies, Howard
College of Arts and Sciences, Samford University, Birmingham, Alabama.
Her research interests include writing pedagogy, technical and
professional communication, and sociolinguistics.
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