How do groups function? How does work get done in these groups? How does that work contribute to the definition and accomplishment of the group’s purposes? How does writing affect the processes of work and interaction in these groups? These are a few of the major questions you might answer in the process of composing your final essay for this course. You third essay will be an activity analysis. What that means, basically, is that you will analyze an activity system* (such as a club, a local sports team, a worship group, a local business, etc.) in order to make a major claim or provide a major insight about some aspect of your chosen activity system, preferably in relation to its textual tools. One way to do this is to focus on the use(s) or implications of specific genres of writing or other textual tools in the system (basically, how writing is used in or affects the system). It could also mean that your essay will focus on a problem that exists between components of the system and how the members of that system attempt to solve that problem. Or it might mean that your essay will focus on how values and authority are created, affirmed, or questioned in the system, possibly including how the system’s use of writing demonstrates this process. In any case, your finished essay should analyze and make a claim about your chosen activity system in some focused manner.
*In this unit, you will read Donna Kain and Elizabeth Wardle’s “Activity Theory: An Introduction for the Writing Classroom,” which will define and discuss activity theory, activity systems, and more. This and other readings in the unit should help you to better understand the concepts that inform this project.
In order to complete this project, you will need to first select an activity system to analyze. You should choose a system you are familiar with (preferably one you are or have been involved with). You should be able to communicate with members of your chosen system, and you should also be able to access some of their written/recorded texts. Finally, choose a system that interests you. You will be learning a lot about it (even if you are already a participant in the system), so choose something you would like to study in depth.
You will need to collect a lot of data. To begin with, you will need to outline the components of the system and their interactions with one another using the activity triangle found on page 400 of our textbook (in Kain and Wardle’s article). Please note: Your overview of the system as can be seen in your outline/triangle is only the start of this project. Your final essay should not be an extended description of the components of the activity triangle. It should, instead, focus on some significant insight about how the system’s components inform, interact with, or otherwise affect the system or other components of the system.
Other research you will likely need to perform for this project includes observing members of the system in action (such as shadowing or even participating), conducting interviews with various members of the activity system, and gathering a variety of actual texts produced, read, or otherwise used by members of the system. Your interviews may include questions about the system’s goals, customs, texts, activities, etc.
Next, you will analyze your data. As Wardle and Downs suggest, you should “focus on what is interesting or complicated here. Do community members agree on the motives and purpose of their activities? Do the genres being used effectively facilitate the work of that community? What sorts of values do the genres suggest that the system has? Who has authority in this system? How is that authority affirmed (or questioned) in the genres and activities?” (317). These questions, and others, may help you arrive at a primary claim about the activity performed in your chosen activity system.
The structure you choose for this project will likely be that of a standard academic paper. You will want to include an introduction that provides relevancy for your subject and leads to your primary claim, a body that explains and analyzes your evidence in order to support your primary claim, and a conclusion that provides closure for your exploration of the topic. You will certainly need to cite Kain and Wardle and/or other authors from this unit in your essay.
You will submit a draft of your project in a minimum of five stages. (You may seek additional guidance from your instructor if you need to.) Those stages, and the corresponding word count expectations, are listed below.
This project is inspired by the assignment “Activity Analysis” on pages 443-45 of Writing About Writing. You may wish to review those pages for additional ideas and strategies for your activity analysis. Note: Wherever these project guidelines contradict what Wardle and Downs have written on those pages, this document takes precedence over the assignment as outlined in Writing About Writing.
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