Blog Post

DIY print cultures

Hi everyone,

My name is Jason Luther and I'm a 3rd year composition and rhetoric doctoral student at Syracuse University. I'm humbled and excited to be among such smart, thoughtful folks as a HASTAC scholar this year. Previous to my doctoral work, I directed the University's writing center for six years. As such, I'm interested in learning spaces and modes beyond the classroom -- places where writers especially work in dialogue with others and occasionally with themselves in embodied and online spaces. I've used my FT status in the program to explore self-publishing partically because that's how I came to be interested in writing myself. As a teenager I wrote, produced, and distributed zines in Buffalo, NY. Although participaory cultures tend to be associated exclusively with digial writing environments, I'm interested in those thriving print cultures that still exist despire and in accordance with digital spaces. 

The rub for me at the moment, is figuring the exigence of these sites for scholarship in writing studies. Why exactly would a dissertation on this matter? Or perhaps, how could it matter? I have a rich, multimodal site worth pursuing, but the exigence and questions for that study are a bit hazy. One faculty member in my program advised me to reflect upon what bothers me about the field and start there. When I do, I think about a few things.
First, I think about the need to explore literacy and writing as an ongoing and complex process — as networked, multimodal, and difficult to predict. My field has many theories and tools in place for these conceptions of literacy, but virtually no replicable writing studies of amateur writing cultures doing it. Moreover, some others in my field, I’m bothered by the tendency for scholars to equate “technology” with the digital. More explicitly, I wonder how “old media” and its meanings/uses get altered through a particular new media lens. How do codes and spatial templates like this site or Wordpress, for example, constrict the possibilities of form? How do digital technologies assist — as well as limit — the circulation of writing? Again, zine communities, which embrace a variety of modes for production and distribution, provide an interesting space for learning the nuances of our writing tools.
Second, I wonder if academics in general overdetermine their pedagogies; that is, in pursuit of our own relevance/professionalism, we place too much emphasis on curriculum, assessment, and instruction. As a ex-writing center director and continuing consultant and teacher I’ve been more attracted to true studio models of learning, where teachers/consultants create or restrict the conditions for various attempts at learning, but do not micromanage the interactions. How might a more responsive, ongoing syllabi, where readings are curated by students and occasions for writing/heuristics are co-constructed (to give a few examples), open up some of the possibilities for learning? My sense is that zine makers — as self-organizing communities — have a lot to teach us about the autodidactic functions of literacy.
Finally, for many years, when it comes to the way writing works more generally, I’ve been struck by ongoing tensions between structure and agency. That is, I wonder when or in what ways is writing the product of sociocultural forces and when is it the act of our own choosing. In what cases are those acts of our own choosing actually the product of structuring forces?
Taken together, I imagine a diss that studies the various spaces and moments of zine-making —  individual composers cutting and pasting in their rooms, writers and presses trading at zine fests, and interactions on online spaces like We Make Zines — to consider what a DIY praxis or self-sponsorship might teach us about multimodal composing and pedagogy. Two or the more compelling questions for me include: Why print and why now? What are the affordances of the medium in an era of Tumblr or Twitter? Secondly, how do self-sponsored zine-makers develop and learn multiple literacies? How can these be traced at the level of composition, production, and circulation?
Looking forward to connecting with folks about these questions and more.

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