A Transfer Subject: Tracing Boundary-Work and Micro-Transfer in First-Year Composition

Medina, Dylan. A Transfer Subject: Tracing Boundary-Work and Micro-Transfer in First-Year Composition. 2017. University of Washington, PhD dissertation.

This dissertation draws on data from a quarter-long case study implementing a number of social science and humanities research methods. This study was conducted at the University of Washington in two sections of First-Year Composition and investigates the boundary-marking interactions that occur in a writing class by tracing the experiences of focal participants through the quarter. Data collected through interviews, textual analysis, and ethnographic observation reveals the kinds of boundary-work that occurs across three fields: 1) the spatio-temporal field of matter and time; 2) the discursive field where our ideas and understandings of the world are constituted; and 3) the field of identity which spans the spatio-temporal and discursive fields but differs from other fields insofar as we have a unique interest in human individuals.

The results of my research speak to emerging conversations in network, ecological, and complexity theories in Rhetoric and Writing Studies; and to the established conversations in Writing Studies on the transfer of learning. From the results, I establish a loose taxonomy of boundaries based on their field and their flexibility and permeability as they are iteratively constituted. These boundaries give definition to the network or ecosystem and emerge from complex interactions that occur therein. This taxonomy provides a language then to discuss the ways in which boundary-work occurs through a series or chain of interconnected micro-transfers, or the effects that past boundary configurations on future boundary work. I illustrate the use of this perspective in understanding the interactions that occur in a learning context like the writing classroom and recommend that teachers no longer see boundaries as given or inevitable obstacles that students must surmount. I also offer implications for further research to extend the taxonomy presented here and to advance our understanding of the nature of boundaries, boundary-work, and the specific mechanics of micro-transfer.

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