Methodological Grand Narratives of Community Writing Projects: Accessing Sustainability and Reciprocity Through Qualitative Meta Analysis
Sustainability and reciprocity are critical and persistent obstacles in community-engaged projects. While deeply theorized at a local level, they are rarely compared in large-scale analysis—leaving sustainability and reciprocity as assumed staple points in community literacy work but difficult in transfer since written accounts are contextually and culturally specific to a local community. Methodology becomes an essential component to how researchers negotiate knowledge practices, the intent of their research, and their relational stake in the community contexts they work within.
In order to understand how researchers name and frame methodologies in community literacy work, I synthesize fifteen years of scholarship in Community Literacy Journal (CLJ), accounting for 128 published pieces by employing qualitative meta analysis. Three questions are central to this dissertation: 1) What methodologies allow for sustainable and reciprocal work in the varied contextual circumstances of community literacy projects? 2) What might these methodological lessons mean for the larger field of Writing Studies and in turn, for writing centers? 3) How do scholars challenge academic boundaries and grand narratives so our methodological decisions in community literacy projects are grounded in cultural humility?
As most CLJ publications describe small-scale projects and case studies, I uncover methodological grand narratives, or lore, that become easily unseen without persistent large-scale comparisons. On the surface, grand narratives are useful for general conception. In practice, grand narratives overgeneralize the methodologies needed for working with location-specific and culturally-unique community members. What works in the wealthy suburbs of Chicago’s Northside functions differently in the South Side of the city, but the grand narratives found in accessible scholarship blur those borders.
Through analysis, I discovered surround three dominant dilemmas that CLJ researchers face: 1) positionality—who we are as academics within non-academic communities; 2) approach—how academics work with communities outside of academia; and 3) representation—what academics do with that work and who takes credit.