Composition’s Imagined Geographies

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Composition’s Imagined Geographies


In the article, Nedra Reynolds argues that the frontier is one of the most enduring metaphors for how we talk about writing and writing instruction, and it has helped shape the way that composition and writing studies has defined itself as a discipline — in fact, even when we use other metaphors, they are influenced by the idea of the frontier. (“Frontier” is a word for a new area that hasn’t been developed — in American history, the “frontier” was the wild west, outside of the civilization of the states.)

One of the points she’s trying to make with her discussion of the frontier, city, and cyberspace is that we usually ignore the material conditions (that is, the real, physical conditions) writers experience and how those material conditions connect to and affect their actual writing practices. She suggests we also need to think about how “time-space compression” affect writers and composition workers. 

Because this article is a bit long and a little dense, this activity is meant to help you comprehend the main points of the article. I’m also making it an assignment (not a discussion), since I know you’ll be working on your first mini-project. 

Note: While the bits about writing studies and composition as a discipline are important because they’ll hope you understand her overall argument, as a class, we’ll focus more heavily on a) why these metaphors work and why they don’t and b) what she means by focusing on the “material realities” of writers. 


1. Read the section called “Spatial Metaphors in the Discourse of Composition Studies,” and then explain, in your own words, how space is connected to the way we read and write. This can be a short answer. 

2. Read the section called “Geographic Literacy: Yet Another Crisis”. Explain the “crisis” she is pointing to (in just a sentence or two).

3. What is “time-space compression”? 

4. In the section called “Transparent Space” (and at the end of the previous section), Reynolds argues that we are losing sense of how important space is (by that she means the physical, actual spaces we inhabit), and she argues that losing that sense of space is dangerous: it leads us to thinking that there is a “single and objective sense of time or space,” and that every human thought and experience exists in that neutral space. However, according to Reynolds (and many feminists and cultural geographers), “divides are real, differences are material and concrete.” Explain in your own words an example or two from this section that explains what she means when she says “space is not neutral” and “differences are material”. 

5.  In the next few sections, Reynolds discusses what is gained by thinking of writing/composition as a frontier; and she talks about what thinking about writing as a frontier erases; then she talks about the city and cyberspace, including why people like thinking about writing and composition that way, but then what is problematic about that metaphor. In your own words, summarize, for each of these three metaphors, why each metaphor is useful why it’s problematic. 

6. What is Nedra Reynold’s recommendation for the future of writing studies? 

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