Tuesday, January 19, 2010

My Word!: Chapter 2

So I'm on to Susan Blum's second chapter entitled, "Intertextuality, Authorship, and Plagiarism." As the title suggests, there are a number of ideas in this chapter, but the one that I find most interesting relates to how students value and use quotes or citation in their social communication and their differing view of academic citation.

Blum posits, "that rather than being entirely ignorant of the principles of citation, students are often aware of them but do not entirely accept them" (29). It would seem that students intuitively know that, as Blum quotes Mark Rose (one of her primary sources on the history of the legal framework of authorship), "Copyright is not a transcendent moral idea, but a specifically modern formation produced by printing technology, marketplace economics, and the classical liberal culture of possessive individualism" (35).

This framework is being transformed by digital technology in much the same way as print technology helped to form it in the first place. This transformation is revealed in the ways that students use quotations in their social circles. The sources for their quotations are not books, but rather television shows, movies, and music. These sources are not, however, often attributed.

The source of the difference is that knowledge of the references is assumed. In fact, it is what marks you as part of the "in group." Quotations become a shorthand for a shared experience. More academically, they are metaphors, in some cases, for entire situations or conversations. And often, as the students in Blum's book point out, it's fun and humorous.

What Blum calls "[s]hared unspoken recognition of the source" is a very similar phenomenon to what students from countries like China bring with them. Students from similar academic cultures often struggle with our citation expectations because attribution is seen as unneccessary and even insulting to your readers and the source. The words of the masters are used precisely because they come from the masters and it is assumed all informed readers know their source. To document those sources would be like me saying to you, "Hey the sun is out. You know about the sun, right? That big orange disk in the sky that sheds light and heat?" You'd think I was joking or making fun of you.

Blum ends the chapter by reiterating how students' social use of quotes differs from their attitudes about and the requirements of academic quoting. She talks about how the joy of social quoting comes from the shared influence of the source. "And when it is shared," she concludes, "there is no need to cite explicitly" (58).

I find it interesting that use of quotations in these social contexts is a form of inclusion. This actually mirrors much of the point of academic citation. The difference is that there is an opposite value assigned. In the social situation, not quoting invests value because it's a nod to the shared experience while in the academic sense citation adds the value, ironically, for the same reason. This suggests that the value of academic citation can be communicated.

I think this is a great opportunity to talk to students about the rhetorical context of academic writing. There is a kind of academic joy in sharing sources, but because we can't be certain who will read our work once it is published, even in the classroom, we must account in our writing for those readers who might not share the context or experience. This is why when we quote in writing, the reader who is familiar with our source has one experience of our work (a feeling of inclusion and being "in the know") and the reader who does not share the experience of the source has another (the feeling of exclusion and perhaps a sense that the writer is "putting on airs").

According to Blum, students already have an intuitive sense of the limitations of text. It's one of the reasons they don't quote from texts as much as other media -- because they can't be sure it's a shared experience. Our job, then, becomes to show them how to share the experience. This shared desire to share experience is at the heart of quotation in both social and academic contexts. Motivating students to cite properly should be relatively easy once we can show them this similarity. Then, of course, we need to show them how. That seems an easier step if they understand the why.

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