Writing Development Across the Classed Lifespan

Aimee Krall-Lanoue, Concordia University Chicago

In writing this blog, I am struck by the ways my attention to the ideas in "Towards an Understanding of Writing Development Across the Lifespan" are just as much about the work I do as a teacher and researcher as about myself as a writer.  And, that the projects I take on are ultimately not that far from my experiences, struggles, and anxieties with writing across my own lifespan. I want to highlight here the first three principles of writing across the lifespan that are most informative to my research on the relations between one's social class position and writing practices. I use Bourdieu's description of social class defined as a group consisting of individuals who share the same amounts/kinds of capital. On a map of social space, we would each have a coordinate based on our relationship to social capital, cultural capital, economic capital, and symbolic capital. Classes are then much smaller and more numerous.

In "Writing can develop across the lifespan as part of changing contexts" Bazerman emphasizes the significance of social and material contexts to writing development. In some respects, this is not unlike much previous writing research that hasaddressed the forces of the social and material on writing. But, for me, what is central here is not that changing contexts inform writing development; instead it is the role of the writer in understanding how social contexts inform writing. He writes, "writers also form understandings of the purposes for which writing is used in different social situations, learning that social purposes shape writing forms and content and are expressed in an evolving set of written genres." In order for individuals to understand purpose, form, and content they must experience different social situations.

I am currently writing a study I performed on first-generation college students and their use of the Writing Center.  Almost all students surveyed, both first generation and continuing generation, valued the practice of sharing their writing before submitting it for a grade. But, neither groups utilized the Writing Center. Continuing generation students often had someone read their paper--a family member, a friend, etc. Those who were first-generation and did not have the social relationships or outside support in the form of an engaged reader did not.  This speaks to the limited opportunities first-generation students had in their past literacy experiences to participate in a variety of social situations that involved writing and it shaped their practices.

Because "writing and writing development emerge, then, within the material, political, and social worlds that nurture, actualize and exploit them" individuals relations to the material, political, and social--or their social class-- inform writing development in contradictory and complicated ways. ("Writing development is complex because writing is complex"). We can see this when students in my study understood the value of a trusted reader but did not have one, either in their own social world or in the Writing Center. Their worlds hadn't (or couldn't) nurture and actualize them.

I think one of the most powerful ideas about in this piece, and that I am increasingly becoming aware of in my own research, is the tension between the individual and social structures that is always present in writing. It is the writer who passes or fails a writing course; it is the writer who has a developmental trajectory. Yet, students can't pass or fail or develop a trajectory outside the social structures of education and employment, to name two. The third principle, "Writing development is variable; there is no single path and no singe endpoint" suggests the ways individual writers are always part of larger systems, working within them while working from their own individual experiences and resources.

I am interested in the intersections of the individual within institutions and how developmental trajectories are shaped by the resources and practices employed by socially diverse writers.


Bourdieu, P. (1987). "What Makes a Social Class? On the Theoretical and Practical Existence of Groups." Berkley Journal of Sociology. 32, 1-17.