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In Conclusion…

My friends had a running joke about our high school English classes. “With J.D.S. [my high school] English you just get really good at writing the same essay over and over again.” I thought the joke was amusing but did not really understand it until last semester in my composition one class, when we wrote a research paper using the Young Scholars in Writing journal as a genre. I modeled my paper after an author who, for her essay, examined environmentalist rhetoric through the lens of an established framework. I basically wrote the same essay, and even used the same framework that this author had used. Yet I analyzed a different artifact and somehow my essay managed to have enough differences to make it unique. Then I used this same structure to write a research paper in my composition two class, this time building my own framework and analyzing yet another artifact. It was at this moment that I fully understood my friends’ joke: I had, as the joke dictated, gotten really good at writing the same essay. But this was not all that I learned to do as a writer. Over the past semester I learned more than simply how to cleverly guise writing the same essay for different assignments.

Learning about writing has changed how I think about and how I interact with my surroundings. One of the most important skills I will take away involves understanding my own writing process and applying it to novel situations. No longer will I tell myself that an assignment is impossible because I am struggling to complete it on day one. I will no longer try writing to reinvent the wheel with every paper I write, now that I understand writing as entering a conversation. Today I know how to use social media more intelligently: for example I used twitter to find out when there would be girl scout cookies for sale in front of the student union. Additionally I now almost automatically think about the social context of a Facebook post before commenting on it. Analyzing Social context is a skill applicable to more than just Facebook. Thinking about the surrounding context of a question on my calculus final examination would make the solution easy to see. Often times the hardest part of solving a math problem is figuring out where to start. Thanks to my writing knowledge I would think about what topic the question was testing, a.k.a. the social context, and it was near smooth sailing from there (minus some bumps in the road with actually performing complex mathematical calculations). These are just some of many examples that demonstrate the new me: more aware, articulate, and intentional with my writing.

Today I am not the writer I was even last year. I am now able to develop more complex ideas in my head through writing. For example, with my recent development as a writer I have been able to say something meaningful and insightful about the concept of identity. The conclusion from my academic synthesis paper reads:

“Although none of the sources explicitly state it, a synthesis of the sources illustrate identity as something that is neither completely internal and belonging to an individual, nor completely external and belonging to a culture. Individual identity is formed during the sometimes active and sometimes passive process of mediating and synthesizing between cultural and personal perspectives.”

This thesis has, at its heart, a complexity I have not previously been capable of. The best part is that this comes from synthesizing three sources; imagine if I had more time to work and more sources to synthesize! This example from my most recent paper illustrates how I see myself as a writer today. I am a writer who is self-aware. I know how I work best and have an understanding about how my thought process incubates ideas over the long term. I am an active and conscious writer in my everyday life, incorporating elements of writing into conversations with people, interactions with social media, and learning and applying knowledge in my classes.

The knowledge I have gained in this class will stay with me even into my future career as an engineer. Engineering is at the intersection of writing and science. Think for a moment about the iPhone. Engineers designed it with a particular audience in mind. This audience demands simplicity and elegance above almost all else. Had the iPhone been designed for military use it would probably exchange beauty for durability. In fact I think almost anything an engineer designs is governed as much by the demands of the customer (the audience) as they are by the laws of physics. This semester has taught me how to better contextualize and respond to these demands, adding an essential tool to my engineering toolkit.

The American Salad Bowl. Ingredients: 300 Million People,1/2 Cup of Visual Discourse, and 1 Heaping Cup of Rhetoric

In U.S. history America was originally thought of as a melting pot: a place where many cultures and ethnicities would melt together to form a uniform, ‘American’ culture. Then the school of thought changed to reflect a different concept, that of the salad bowl. It was expected that people of all cultures would adopt some ‘American’ culture in their lives, but would maintain their unique culture. America as a whole then would be a diverse community of individuals proudly displaying their unique cultures.

The concept of the melting pot can be seen best in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area. My dad worked at INOVA Fairfax hospital in northern Virginia. He described his office as “the U.N.” because he regularly saw a buffet of different cultures, religions, and ethnicities: Indian, Hispanic, African American, Mulsim, Christian, Gypsi, Jewish, Saudi-Arabian, Pakistani, and more.

But if these people all had the same skin color and dressed the same, my dad would of had no idea he was in such a diverse place. Their identities would not have been as proudly expressed to nearly the same extent with verbal rhetoric alone. I think this demonstrates the need need for visual discourse in establishing one’s identity, and I think that this examination of visual discourse should be considered by sociologists as well.

Greek Life at College: A Visual, Identity Focused Interpretation

Greek life was recently put on a halt at the University of Central Florida. This occurred after two fraternities were  caught acting in violation of UCF’s anti-hazing and alcohol policy. The university, in an official release, explained that they wanted to see a “culture change” within the greek community. Suddenly the greek community was at risk, and this got me thinking about my identity as a brother in the Sigma Nu Fraternity.

In the formation of this identity I experience life with my Sigma Nu brothers. We meet as a chapter every sunday, we hang out together, we socialize together with other sororities. We are in Sigma Nu because we share in the values and the vision for the fraternity. Together we shape individual identities within a collective identity. We are brothers, leaders, friends, contributors to the community, fun-seekers, trouble-makers, social-change makers, and many other identities.

This identity is a part of my life that I carry with me every day, but only a few times in the week is it my most explicitly displayed identity. Wednesday is Greek Day at UCF, and every Wednesday you will see me as well as all other greeks wearing their chapter jerseys. When non greek individuals see us in our jerseys the rhetoric of review instantly overcomes them, and they draw on their codes and assumptions about the greek community in general. They might look at us as involved campus members, as social elites, or as a bunch of alcoholics who glorify d-baggery. But the rhetoric of review changes, and can get more specific when other greeks see me in my jersey. No longer do I most explicitly show an identity as part of the larger greek community. Now what is important to my identity is what fraternity I am in; this shapes how I am ‘read’ by other greeks, especially the ones who do not know me. It is in this type of social context when stereotypes about individual fraternities might kick in. You might have heard some of them, but it would be inappropriate to say them on an academic research blog.

Why Does a Jewish Person Wear a Kippah?

Ever wonder why Jews cover their head? Is it a cultural phenomenon or a practice that has deep spiritual significance? Watch this video to learn the basics of this well-known Jewish practice. Then read the discussion following:

To paraphrase a part of the video, the spiritual significance that has been ascribed to the Kippah is that it reminds the wearer that G-d is above him. This physical reminder serves to allow him (and notice I did not say her, because this practice is traditionally only for men) to act more in line with Jewish thought and practice. But fascinating that the practice of wearing the Kippah is not a commandment from G-d!

The concepts of identity formation and expression, and of the rhetoric of review, play a key role in understanding the phenomenon of the Kippah. The wearing of the Kippah can be understood more as a cultural and rhetorical phenomenon that has also been ascribed religious significance. Historically speaking Jews started wearing the Kippah to separate themselves from non-Jews. As we learn from the video, non-Jews did not cover their heads, and Jews therefore covered themselves to create a significant separation from the rest of society. The rhetoric of review of the day would allow non Jews to instantaneously identify those with a Jewish identity by seeing a head covering, and Jews would be able to instantaneously identify those with a non-Jewish identity by not seeing the Kippah on their head. This was a long time ago, and the significance of the Kippah has shifted slightly since then.

Today the Kippah still serves its spiritual role: to remind the wearer that he is in the presence of the King of Kings (G-d). But culturally it’s significance has shifted slightly. The Kippah alone might not necessarily identify someone as a Jew. There are individuals of other faiths and cultures who cover their heads as well. Once I was waiting for a bus in Washington D.C. and I was wearing my Kippah. A kid, about eight years old, walked up to me and asked me: “Hey. You a Muslim?” The Kippah only expresses my Jewish identity in certain, but no longer in all cultural contexts.

To Schools of Thought: We Wear What We Are / We Are What We Wear.

It is important to examine the concept of identity in order to examine the role that religious artifacts play in identity expression, and to better understand the place for the rhetoric of review in identity expression. Hopefully these are terms you are familiar with by this point in my blog.

Identity and Agency in Cultural Worlds is a book that examines the concept and implications of identity within a cultural context. The author, Dorothy Holland, examines the ways in which identities are formed and how they shape social interaction. She underscores the importance of understanding identity formation as something that is fluid and ongoing, and that occurs within ‘worlds’ (worlds are basically social situations and groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and Fraternities). It is understood by the author and the discourse community to which she is writing that identity plays a significant role in social interaction. Two opposing schools of thought are used by the author to develop an analysis of, in short, the role identity plays in why people do what they do and act in the way that they act.

The culturalist approach views identity as something that is embodied in one’s self; it reflects the worldview that one has been taught in his or her upbringing. An individual then acts based on that worldview in any given social context. Take for instance the hijab worn by Muslim women. A woman would wear the hijab everywhere she goes in public, be it school, out in a social situation, or even in a job interview, because that is the identity that was ascribed, chosen, and then declared for all social contexts.

The constructivist approach is in stark contrast to the culturalist approach. With this view people analyze the context of a social situation and then take on the most situationally appropriate identity. People actively and intentionally position themselves within a social context, be it by class, social status, religion, etc. To do so they use verbal and non-verbal discourse to maneuver, negotiate, and impose statuses and entitlement. Take for instance a female dignitary of the United States. While this woman might be of the non-Muslim faith, she might wear a hijab while speaking to dignitaries in a religious theocratic country that does not really like America. This would allow her to negotiate for the identity of a respectable politician worth listening to.

These schools of thought show two contradictory and yet two very valid ways of understanding the role that identity plays in social contexts. Together, perhaps through some balance of the two, they will ultimately serve to develop an understanding of religious artifacts. What effects does the public display of religious artifacts have on both the individual and on the community? Further exploration of my personal learning network might lead me to an answer.