Teacher. Scholar. Fan. Feminist. Activist. 

On this page, I describe some of my past, present, and future scholarly projects.

The Dissertation: This photo, taken a million years ago, captures me presenting my dissertation at a poster session. I situated my dissertation on the intersection of fan fiction and composition studies. At the time this was relatively groundbreaking scholarship--inspired by the work of scholars like Rebecca Black, danah boyd, Deborah Brandt, James Gee, Henry Jenkins, and my advisors Anne Ruggles Gere and Elizabeth Moje--and my study of college students who write fanfiction for the television series House, M.D. continues to be cited in scholarship focused on literacy practices. Here is the abstract:

Exploring Literacy Sponsorship in the Digital Extracurriculum: How Students'                               Participation in Fan Fiction Sites Can Inform Composition Pedagogy          

This dissertation examines the fan fiction literacy practices of six college students in two sites, FanFiction.Net and LiveJournal.com, and argues for the importance of inviting into the classroom students' literacy experiences in the extracurriculum to understand how they reveal prior understandings of reading and writing that inform students' practices within the curriculum. These sites, as I propose college composition courses should also do, invite participants to share their experiences in other discourse communities and offer opportunities for participants to co-construct writing ideologies, in part through their focus on reflection and collaboration. This study also reveals contradictions, including conflicted definitions of "constructive criticism" and authors' desire for feedback and yet their resistance toward reading it or revising accordingly. 

This dissertation also demonstrates the value of using a framework of literacy sponsorship as articulated by Deborah Brandt, in combination with positioning theory, to interrogate how sites recruit, enable, regulate, and suppress (Brandt 2001) literacy and interactively position participants according to the circulating writing ideologies. The ideologies overlap significantly with those found in composition classrooms, including interaction, collaboration, constructive criticism, reflection, and correctness. Yet the ideologies also compete, as illustrated on one hand by the perceived importance of "correctness" in mechanics, reinforced by FanFiction.Net's Codes of Conduct, and on the other hand by the importance of what composition instructors consider "global" concerns, such as authentic depictions of characters and credible plotlines. I reveal how participants negotiate these writing ideologies, defining what constitutes "good" writing and "good" feedback by reflecting on their skills, experiences, and preferences as they design their profile pages and when they provide feedback on each other's stories.

The dissertation concludes by situating the study in conversation with the Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing designed by the Council of Writing Program Administrators. This research of online writing practices offers evidence of students demonstrating in the extracurriculum some of the "habits of mind" the WPA describes as essential to success in college writing. Finally, I suggest practical ways to use the extracurriculum, and specifically sites in Web 2.0, to help develop students' rhetorical knowledge, critical thinking, and knowledge of conventions.

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FanFic and/as Activism: Ten years later, I have remained at this intersection of fan studies and composition studies ever since, even as I've pursued other paths according to what is interesting (food studies) and what is interesting AND necessary (plagiarism studies). Given the high demands of teaching and service, I "publish" most of my scholarship as papers I present every year at national conferences and as documents and reports circulated internally at STAC. At the moment I'm working on a project I presented at the 2018 Pop Culture Association conference in Indiana: (Re)reading, (Re)watching, and (Re)writing The Handmaid’s Tale in the Trump Era: Examining the Intersections of Fanfic and Activism. Here is an excerpt:

Many fans and scholars have concluded that in Trump’s America, The Handmaid’s Tale is more              relevant  than ever. My project emerged out of questions I had about fanfic being written about both                the novel and the series. How does fanfic allow fans to articulate their fears? How, as they read, write,              and respond to fanfic, do they also attempt to process this dark new era? Does participating in fan                    fiction allow writers to use their literacy practices to resist the current political environment? This                    emphasis on reading and writing, especially for women, takes on even more significance given that                    women in Atwood’s novel are "banned from reading, writing, or congregating." 

Do fans see themselves as political and social activists?

Historically, fanfic has been understood as transgressive—in exciting as well as troubling ways. I                don’t mean to suggest that the fanfic emerging out of Atwood’s text is political in suddenly new ways,                but rather to examine how it’s political, and how it might function as a site of resistance during a                      particularly fraught political time.

I am also motivated by current scholarship on the nature of fan activism and the suggested                    directions scholars pursue. For example, in their article “Fandom Meets Activism: Rethinking Civic                and Political Participation,” Brough and Shresthova note: "The study of fan activism can inform our understanding of contemporary collective action more broadly. We suggest four key areas for analysis: the relationships between cultural and political participation; the tension between participation and resistance in the context of fan activism; affect and the role of content worlds in civic and political mobilization."              

With this attention toward literacy more largely and fanfic specifically as activism in mind, in this talk today I will focus on my initial findings about what motivated participants to submit their story to a fanfic contest, how other participants responded to their story, and whether or not the authors saw their writing as a form of activism.

I go on to present my method for data collection and initial findings. My initial stage of participant recruitment involved reaching out to those who had made it to the Top 25 in Wattpad’s Summer 2017 contest. Here are some of the questions I posed to the participants:

  • What inspired you to write fanfic for The Handmaid's Tale (THT)?
  • What has writing fanfic for THT meant to you?
  • What themes or characters do you find yourself coming back to? What resonates for you when you're reading/watching/writing?
  • Do you see your writing for THT as a form of activism? Or do you see it as merely serving the purpose of entertaining others?

I present my findings, which reveal that indeed some of the participants saw their fanfic as something they would call "activism"--and indeed, I need to continue teasing out a shared definition of this word as I go forward. But some did not. One participant explained that he didn't see it as activism if only because the audience was so narrow; his story was not going to circulate beyond this fanfic community, and thus he felt like his work couldn't be seen as intervening politically or socially in any meaningful way. As I corresponded with these participants, I realized I must also be cautious going forward not to impose a political purpose that is not necessarily there. Another participant saw her work as nothing other than a way to build confidence in her writing skills and impress Margaret Atwood, who was judging the contest. She seemed reluctant to see her fanfic as a form of activism or resistance--even if I might see even her mere participation in the contest as a form of resistance, or even if Wattpad's contest itself positions her fanfic as political. Exploring such questions might require we have a discussion of not only what we mean by "activism" but also what we mean by "resistance," and what, exactly, is being resisted within these sites of literacy.

Stay tuned as I continue developing this project! 

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Book Series: I am also the co-editor, along with Dr. Charlotte Kent at Montclair University, of a new book series published by Peter Lang called Writing in the 21st Century: Interdisciplinary Approaches to Instruction, Practice and Theory. If you are interested in submitting a manuscript, please email me at sshultz@stac.edu. 

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Writing Places: I also position myself within the field of place-based studies, situated within the larger field of composition and rhetoric. Inspired by the work of Derek Owens, Nedra Reynolds, and other scholars writing about the importance of place, my co-authors Paula Mathieu, Tim Lindgren, and George Grattan--who were all at Boston College with me at the time--wrote Writing Places, published by Longman, because we realized there were not any textbooks that supported instructors' efforts to incorporate discussions of place. We describe in our preface: 

Writing Places invites students to develop writing skills through an inquiry into places from their past, present, and future. The act of place writing involves researching and writing about familiar locale as well as new ones via a range of inquiry methods and writing genres." Writing about place invites a variety of conversations, including conversations about gender, race, culture, technology, and the environment. Place-based pedagogies encourage students to become ethnographers, observing, listening, interviewing, researching the past and present, and placing themselves within larger social structures and ongoing civic debates. As students become attentive observers and participants in a variety of places, they also practice the writing skills critical to academic success."

The anthology combines an eclectic range of place-based essays written by professional writers, community members, and college students whose work spans geographic areas from the United States and beyond. As editors, we feel the range of writers from professional to student is important, not as a model/antimodel approach, but rather because it presents place writing from people of different ages and locations, at different places in their own lives and in their development as writers. 

In the second edition, we updated the readings, guiding questions, and activities so that the text remains relevant for instructors and students. The text continues to be used in composition classrooms across the country.







 

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