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Excavating perceptual landscapes: Re-imagining community inquiry in the composition classroom

Kevin Eric Ball, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


This dissertation argues that community inquiry offers a refined way of conceptualizing critical pedagogies within composition studies. Community inquiry, or close investigation and reflection on one's immediate context, analyzes the local alongside cultural studies as the intellectual work of the classroom, adding a local dimension to broader social critiques. In its “excavation” of local contexts, community inquiry counters the ways in which local and regional knowledge is erased and/or elided by current theoretical constructions of critical pedagogy that focus solely on national or broader cultural critiques. ^ My study examines three pedagogical sites in which community inquiry pedagogies have been applied—the Nebraska Writing Project Rural Institute at Henderson, two fifth grade classes at a culturally diverse public elementary school in Lincoln, and my own first-year composition classrooms at the University of Nebraska—in order to problematize current pedagogies that seek to make meaningful connections between the dichotomized “public” and “private” contexts of classrooms and communities. Drawing on my experiences as teacher, writer, and participant-observer within these sites, I explore the challenges for classroom theory and pedagogy in the exploration of local culture as well as the dangers of inquiry approaches that exoticize difference. At the heart of this study is the central question of what counts as knowledge in our culture.^ This project has implications for writing teachers integrating ethnographic or service-learning components into their courses. It also contributes to theoretical conceptions of writing classrooms by offering alternatives to conventional, standard curricula emphasizing content coverage and information dissemination and retrieval over acts of composing knowledge. Reconceptualizing critical pedagogy to include community inquiry engages issues of identity, diversity, and locality in relation to knowledge by making writing—and learning—meaningful to students on a local level. While it provides a much-needed local dimension to writing theory and pedagogies, this study also illuminates the crucial tensions between public education and higher education, and between schools and communities, that determine the kinds and sources of knowledge valued by American culture. ^

Subject Area

Education, Language and Literature|Language, Rhetoric and Composition

Recommended Citation

Ball, Kevin Eric, "Excavating perceptual landscapes: Re-imagining community inquiry in the composition classroom" (2000). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI9976974.