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Friday, November 15 • 09:15 - 10:15
Plenary 2: Practicing agency in second language writing

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The concept of agency has been widely discussed and used in many academic disciplines for various purposes. Yet, its definitions vary, and it is not uncommon that agency can be understood and perceived differently. As suggested by rhetoric scholar Gerard Hauser (2004), “there are divergences of what constitutes agency, and how it should be conceptualized (Saenkhum, 2016, p. 10). Additionally, the nature of agency that is debatable (Schlosser, 2015) has made agency one of the studied areas in several fields, including second language writing. In this talk, agency, as I defined in Decisions, Agency, and Advising: Key Issues in the Placement of Multilingual Writers into First-Year Composition Courses, refers to the capacity to act or not to act contingent upon various conditions. To explore agency in L2 writing, I will discuss how my theoretical framework of agency can be applied to various contexts, including theory, research, teaching, and administration, and consider how L2 writing specialists can practice agency in the field of L2 writing.

I will begin by reviewing different views about agency drawing from the work of scholars in related fields, including anthropology (Ahearn, 2001), applied linguistics (van Lier, 2009), and rhetoric studies (Callinicos, 1988; Flannery, 1991; Turnbull, 2004). While there is no consensus on agency, these views reveal that agency involves an act (Saenkhum, 2016). I will then consider a link between agency and action, propose conditions that make agency possible, and discuss my definition of agency. Specifically, I will share how I developed my conceptualization of agency through placement experiences of eleven multilingual writers who had the capacity to negotiate, choose to accept or deny placement, self-assess, question, and plan as they were making placement decisions. These acts of agency were performed when conditions for agency were optimal. Finally, I will discuss how my conceptualization of agency contributes to existing theories of agency and can be applied in other contexts than placement with the goal to maximize agency of students, writing instructors, researchers, and administrators.

avatar for Tanita Saenkhum

Tanita Saenkhum

Associate Professor of Rhetoric, Writing, and Linguistics, University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Tanita Saenkhum is an Associate Professor of Rhetoric, Writing, and Linguistics at University of Tennessee, Knoxville, where she teaches courses in L2 writing, TESOL methods, and SLA and was Director of ESL from 2013 through 2019. Her book, Decisions, Agency, and Advising: Key Issues... Read More →

Friday November 15, 2019 09:15 - 10:15 MST
Arizona (400 pax)