Lifespan writing research is a nascent sub-field of Writing Studies, Education, and Literacy. Though longitudinal studies have peppered the literature in each field for decades, it is only in the past half-decade that attention has begun to shift toward an extremely longitudinal, cradle-to-grave vision of writing and writing development.
With the exception of a single edited collection (Bazerman et al., 2018), issues in Writing & Pedagogy and Research in the Teaching of English, and an exchange in the Forum section of Research in the Teaching of English, “lifespan” as a term has been either absent from the literature or a synonym for writing retrospectively in old age.
My work on lifespan writing research aims to build up our collective knowledge about writing through the lifespan through a series of publications, presentations, and collaborative work with the international research organization that I co-chair, the Writing through the Lifespan Collaboration.
Ongoing Work: Two “Bets”
In “The Disciplined Interdisciplinarity of Writing Studies,” Charles Bazerman talks about “placing bets” in his career—on the choices he made in terms of research questions, sites, and methods.
In terms of my research, I think along the lines of “placing bets” as well. What amount of my time and energy do I want to commit to a particular line of thinking? What can help me get answers to the questions I have, make meaningful contributions to my field, and set me up for my next research project?
In my lifespan writing research, I’ve essentially placed two bets. I’ve aimed to build a study of lifespan literate action development, and I’ve sought to build a 100-year study of writing through the lifespan via the Writing through the Lifespan Collaboration.
These are actually two ways of getting at the same questions I list above. My own research on lifespan literate action development takes a radical approach, keeping ethnomethodology as its base for understanding how literate action grows and changes throughout the lifespan. My work with the Collaboration is, as the name suggests, more collaborative in nature, bringing multiple disciplines, methods, etc. together to pursue longitudinal writing research at many sites, around the world, and across multiple generations.
My study of lifespan literate action development is ongoing, but my most recent work with it is published as Talk, Tools, and Texts: A Logic-in-Use for Studying Lifespan Literate Action Development, through the Practices and Possibilities series at the WAC Clearinghouse / University Press of Colorado. This book establishes a foundational infrastructure for pursuing literate action development throughout the lifespan via a close attention to what I call the “lived reality” of the act of literate action development.
I also stay busy with my other “bet,” as the Collaboration currently has its first edited collection in press, and we have recently concluded an online Writing through the Lifespan Conference. We are currently aiming at developing some pilot studies that we can build our “lines of inquiry” through.
You can also see my publications and presentations on lifespan writing research, if you are interested.