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Review of  Writing Games

Reviewer: Charlotte Brammer
Book Title: Writing Games
Book Author: Christine Pearson Casanave
Publisher: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Ling & Literature
Issue Number: 15.2130

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Date: Sat, 17 Jul 2004 23:40:25 -0500
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

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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