Inhabiting the Writing Center

A Foyerstic View of Owls Introduction Treatment of Physical Space Conclusion References

Treatment of Physical Space
A Foyeristic View of OWLs
Works Cited

Nathalie Singh-Corcoran
Amin Emika,
West Virginia University


While each review is distinct, A Foyeristic View of OWLs and A Treatment of Physical Space end in the same (non) place.  When we surveyed the physical spaces, we found that the conversations were fairly consistent. They emphasized the material conditions, noted the affective dimensions of space, pointed to the community's core values, and discussed the writing center scholars' anxieties over institutional status and power.  Whereas the scholarship on OWLs was wide-ranging in both opinions and aims, we did find a consistent pattern: the desire to inhabit digital space in a meaningful way. To some extent our spatial treatment reifies the dynamic between digital and physical space as online writing centers often attempt to replicate the physical environment. The desire to locate ourselves in digital space is therefore a symptom of the developing crisis of location in physical centers.

The communal writing center narrative suggests that centers are redolent with meaning for all users, when in fact many see centers as transient, temporal, and intermediary. The fleeting writing center also speaks to center identities at an institutional level: that is, when colleges and universities create the conditions in which a writing center cannot survive.

Writing centers as place is a modernist notion, one we've outlined throughout our review. If both online and physical writing centers can be read as nonplaces, then centers can see themselves as simultaneously apart from and a part of the larger circulation, consumption, and communication of the university. The idea of writing center as nonplace allows for a postmodern understanding of the writing center, an awareness that may cause some unease, especially for a community that values comfort. However, when we presume that learning can only happen when we feel comfortable, we deny the generative possibilities of cognitive dissonance.

While we've identified a spatial theory that may be novel to our readers, the underlying concept is not new. Many composition and rhetoric scholars have addressed how our institutional spaces displace students. For example, in Geographies of Writing (2004), Nedra Reynolds referred to discourse as space and asked us to interrogate the ways we encourage students to inhabit or dwell in a discourse.  She argued, "Inhabitance develops only through habit and familiarity, or when the 'visitor' has spent enough time in that space and others like to move through it with confidence and knowledge" (p. 163), while those "who can't find ways to dwell. . .just move on" (p. 164).  Similarly, Johnathon Mauk (2003) referred to the "placelessness of many new college students" (p. 370) in his essay "Location, Location, Location: The 'Real' (E)states of Being, Writing, and Thinking in Composition."  Instead of nonplace, Mauk used terms like where-less to describe students who are "not invested in the space of traditional academia, nor. . . in a space perceptible to traditional academic view" (p. 373).

We might begin by asking what it means to meet students where they are, as Mauk suggested (p.374). His call is particularly apt for writing center workers as it speaks to our mission to provide individualized instruction. A nonplace orientation forces a parapatetic thought process that confronts where we have been and where we are going, in part because we are less certain of where we are (Augé, 1995, p. 93).