The Sustainability of Place: Making Scholarship Public

Jill Gatlin, University of Washington

Summary

This final project- a pamphlet (directed to a public audience) accompanied by a proposal for its production and distribution (directed to a professional and academic audience)-asks students to observe and research a local place of their choosing and to develop a unique analytical argument about the social and/or ecological sustainability of this space.

The project, designed for an intermediate or advanced composition course, helps students develop skills in researching, analyzing, and revising; synthesizing multiple perspectives; entering an academic conversation by integrating original ideas with other scholars' ideas; communicating an argument in different genres; using conventions and style appropriate to different rhetorical situations; and responding to the needs of different audiences. Students tackle sustainability "big ideas" regarding environmental justice; the inseparability of social and ecological communities; the relationships among place, language, knowledge, and power; and the possibility of imagining alternative futures.

Learning Goals

Disciplinary Outcomes include developing skills in:

  • researching, analyzing, and revising
  • critical thinking
  • close reading
  • detailed observation
  • synthesizing multiple perspectives
  • entering an academic conversation by integrating original ideas with other scholars' ideas
  • communicating an argument in different genres
  • using conventions and style appropriate to different rhetorical situations
  • responding to the needs of different audiences
  • reflecting on knowledge, values, and commitment through a variety of media

Sustainability "Big Ideas" and "Habits of Mind" include understanding and responding to:

  • complexities of environmental justice
  • cross-cultural perspectives
  • the inseparability of social and ecological communities
  • the relationships among place, language, knowledge, and power
  • the possibility of imagining alternative futures

Context for Use

The primary purpose of the project is to help students bridge their academic studies of "place" with the "real world" by involving them in different forms of and forums for writing. They not only apply theory to study real places but also write for public audiences.

Context:Early in the quarter, students read sections of Rosenwasser and Stephen's Writing Analytically. Places themselves constitute some of the course "texts." Some readings address local spaces (e.g. Richard Heyman's article on Seattle's Gas Works Park) and some are more general/theoretical (e.g. Jane Jacob's analysis of urban safety or Michel de Certeau's "Walking the City"). For example:
  • Gary Snyder, The World Is Places.
  • William Cronon, The Trouble with Wilderness, or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature.
  • Evelyn White, Black Women and the Wilderness.
  • Louis Owens, The American Indian Wilderness.
  • Michel De Certeau, Space and Place, Strategies and Tactics, and Walking in the City.
  • Mike Davis, Fortress Los Angeles: The Militarization of Urban Space.
  • Jane Jacobs, "The Uses of Sidewalks: Safety." The Death and Life of Great American Cities.
  • Ray Oldenburg, The Problem of Place in America.
  • David Guterson, Enclosed, Encyclopedic, Endured. One Week at the Mall of America.
  • John Fiske, Shopping for Pleasure: Malls, Power, and Resistance.
Possible Use In Other Courses:geography; cultural studies; architecture.


I taught a similar assignment in a writing class linked to a humanities course titled "Architectural and Cinematic Spaces," team-taught by architecture and film studies faculty.

Description and Teaching Materials

Over a 5-6-week period, I assign the following "building block" assignments that lead up to the final project:
  • a topic proposal;
  • a detailed observation of the place;
  • a close reading of a textual or visual representation of the place or a similar space;
  • an annotated bibliography of outside research; and,
  • a short analysis of the place through the lens of a theoretical reading, and (6-9) several drafts. (See the student handout for more details.)
In the Student Handout you will find the following information:
  • Schedule of Building Block Assignments week 6 through finals week; and,
  • Main Learning Activities:
  • Process & Product;
  • Proposal;
  • Pamphlet;
  • Research;
  • Choosing a Topic


Schedule of Building Block Assignments (Microsoft Word 47kB Nov2 11)

Teaching Notes and Tips

Special Suggestions:
Giving students plenty of time to think about the project before choosing their place is important, so it helps to hand out the assignment sometime in the first few weeks of the quarter. Early in the quarter, students practice what will become building block skills for the final project: they write a "Detailed Observation" (on one of four places I choose), a "Close Reading" (of a representation of any place), and "Theoretical Analysis" paper (linking theory to place or to a fictional account of place).


Possible Project Variations:
*The project could culminate in a website (such as a wiki) instead of a pamphlet (or the pamphlets could have a referring web address to a site that allowed for audience comments).

*A more advanced class could allow for a greater variety creative projects-not just pamphlets but other public installations (signage, artwork, etc).

Assessment

Evaluation Rubrics

Proposal: Evaluative Questions
Claim
  • Does the writer make a unique and complex arguable claim about the social and/or ecological sustainability of a place, at the outset of the essay, to guide her/his readers?
  • Does the writer propose how and why s/he desires to communicate these arguments to the public?
  • The significance and the implications of the multi-part claim clear (the "so what")? Does the writer see the complications of the claim and take it to its limits?
Evidence, Analysis, and Academic Conversancy
  • Does the writer sufficiently support her/his ideas with specific concrete details and evidence?
  • Does the writer fully and logically develop her/his ideas by employing a variety of critical analysis strategies to evaluate evidence?
  • Does the writer gather relevant, necessary, and sufficient primary and scholarly research to communicate a certain fluency, expertise, or critical perspective regarding her/his topic?
  • Does the writer contextualize her/his site-specific analysis and overall argument by critically engaging with academic concepts regarding place? Does the writer go beyond simply using others' arguments as her/his own?
Audience
  • Does the writer successfully communicate to both a scholarly and a professional audience, explaining specialized terms and demonstrating an awareness of the interests that professionals and the public might have invested in this place?
Organization
  • Does the writer present her/his ideas in a logical, organized manner with clear transitions between ideas?
  • Do the introduction and conclusion function effectively?
  • Are the paragraphs cohesive and fully developed, with effective topic sentences?
  • Is the topic appropriate in scope for the required proposal length? Too narrow? Too broad?
Style & Conventions
  • Does the writer communicate her/his ideas in clear language, improving upon sentence-level difficulties indicated on earlier assignments?
  • Does the writer demonstrate sophisticated use of a variety of sentence structures? Do sentence-level errors interfere with the reading and understanding of the text or your view of the writer's credibility?
  • Does the writer document her/his ideas appropriately, attributing information-words and ideas-that are not her/his own to appropriate sources, according to MLA Style, with in-text parenthetical references and a Works Cited page?
Revision
  • Does the writer respond to instructor commentary and peer reviews? Does the writer resolve differences between her/his intentions and the effects the writing has on particular readers?
  • Does the writer make substantial content-based revisions between drafts (such as incorporating new evidence or texts, revising organization, extending analysis, rethinking concepts, or refining claims) rather than simply "editing" the work submitted?
  • Does the writer build on skills developed and/or critiqued in the first three papers?

Pamphlet: Evaluative Questions

Argument, Evidence, Analysis
  • Does the writer present a unique and complex argument about the social and/or ecological sustainability of a place?
  • Are the significance and the implications of the argument clear (the "so what")? Does the writer show her/his audience why they should care about these ideas or even how they might get involved in changing public places?
  • Does the writer sufficiently support her/his arguments with specific concrete details and other evidence?
  • Does the writer fully and logically develop her/his ideas by employing a variety of critical analysis strategies to evaluate evidence?
Audience
  • Does the writer present her/his argument in accessible language appropriate to a diverse public audience?
  • Does the writer condense and simplify the argument made in the proposal but still present key concepts regarding place?
Visual Appeal & Layout
  • Does the writer incorporate strategic, compelling visual elements that contribute to the argument through ethos, logos, and/or pathos?
  • Does the layout lead the reader through ideas logically?
  • Does the layout allow for both complexity and clarity?
Documentation
  • Does the writer document her/his ideas appropriately, attributing information-words and ideas-that are not her/his own to appropriate sources through Chicago-style footnote or endnote references?
Revision
  • Does the writer respond to instructor commentary and peer reviews? Does the writer resolve differences between her/his intentions and the effects the writing has on particular readers?
  • Does the writer make substantial content-based revisions between drafts (such as incorporating new evidence or texts, revising organization, extending analysis, rethinking concepts, or refining claims) rather than simply "editing" the work submitted?

References and Resources

See "Context for Use" section above for more detail regarding the list of course readings.
  • Gary Snyder, The World Is Places.
  • William Cronon, The Trouble with Wilderness, or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature.
  • Evelyn White, Black Women and the Wilderness.
  • Louis Owens, The American Indian Wilderness.
  • Michel De Certeau, Space and Place, Strategies and Tactics, and Walking in the City.
  • Mike Davis, Fortress Los Angeles: The Militarization of Urban Space.
  • Jane Jacobs, "The Uses of Sidewalks: Safety." The Death and Life of Great American Cities.
  • Ray Oldenburg, The Problem of Place in America.
  • David Guterson, Enclosed, Encyclopedic, Endured. One Week at the Mall of America.
  • John Fiske, Shopping for Pleasure: Malls, Power, and Resistance.
  • Rosenwasser and Stephen's Writing Analytically.

Evergreen State College