So, I’m really struggling here to imagine the intended audience for my project. Cultural studies as a field is new to me and I don’t quite understand what is considered acceptable in terms of research questions or methodologies after reading our three books. The project idea below is based on my thesis, but starts with an issue I mention in passing (how teaching copyright and fair use might provide an opportunity for reframing plagiarism) and takes it up it as the focus of a new project. While I am not “rehearsing my project from my initial vantage point,” I am clearly dealing with issues that are deemed important within my particular scholarly community, which I think is acceptable. However, I am not sure if I am approaching the issues from a cultural studies perspective. Basically what I am trying to say is that any feedback or guidance you could provide would be very much appreciated. In particular, let me know if you could think of anything in the way of methodology or additional texts (keep in mind that I haven’t read what everyone else read last semester in 506 but could/should draw on those texts). Thanks to everyone in advance for helping out this slightly disoriented Rhet/Comp person : )

Research Questions

  • Currently, instructors and university administrators approach plagiarism through the rhetoric of fear and punishment. This approach has negative pedagogical implications for students because it further mystifies academic writing, glosses over the diversity of values and practices surrounding source use both in and outside of academia, conflicts with our goals as educators, and fails to prepare to students to use sources effectively in future writing contexts. How can instructors and university administrators move past this reductive and problematic approach to plagiarism? How might we reframe our understanding of plagiarism to make room for more effective and theoretically sound teaching practices?
  • In disciplines across the curriculum, the conception of “writing” is expanding from a limited notion of words on a page to include other mediums of communication beyond the linguistic. Students now “compose” texts with images, audio, and video. Given that this expanded notion of writing suggests the need to teach students about copyright and fair use, how might the introduction of these new concepts provide us with an opportunity to reframe (or recode) conceptions of and educational approaches to plagiarism?  


  • This project would involve the study of ten writing courses and would produce a detailed, multilayered set of data for analysis. Five of the classes would be traditional writing courses that don’t ask students to go beyond “the written word” in their compositions and don’t introduce concepts of copyright or fair use. The other five courses would assign students to “compose” texts with some mix of images, video, and/or audio and would introduce concepts of fair use and copyright.   
  •  Types of data to be collected: Course materials, including plagiarism statements, handouts, and assignment sheets; recordings and notes from class meetings where plagiarism, copyright, or fair use are discussed; recorded interviews with students and instructors; copies of student work; records of any disciplinary action taken against students.
  • Data analysis: I will conduct a discourse analysis of all collected materials. I will make several passes through the materials, focusing on instances that are connected to source use, plagiarism, fair use, or copyright. I will use key words and metaphors to identify and then code various “frames” for talking about or indicating intellectual property. Once coded, I will look for patterns between the two sets of classes and draw conclusions based on my findings.     


  • My hypothesis is that the concepts of intellectual property, copyright, and fair use provide an opportunity for teachers, administrators, and students to reframe and rethink our understandings of plagiarism and source use. My study is designed to see if there is evidence of this happening in classes that teach students about copyright and fair use. It is possible that I find that concepts such as copyright (although they contain the possibility to reframe approaches to plagiarism) might instead be folded under and presented to students in educational contexts through the dominant frames and narratives of plagiarism. 


  • Coleman, Coding Freedom. Coleman’s ethnographic study of how F/OSS hackers recode the meaning of intellectual property through concepts of free speech (thus critiquing liberalism from within liberalism) would provide a nice framework for me to consider how we might recode the meaning of plagiarism through concepts of copyright and fair use. In particular, the inflexible, black-and-white conception we have of plagiarism (at least in the dominant frame or narrative) is incongruous with the dominant discourse around fair use and copyright, which are more openly acknowledged as sites of contention and change. In other words, although plagiarism and copyright both operate through the notion of romantic authorship, the controversies within copyright law point to fractures within the ideologies surrounding intellectual property issues. It may be possible to take advantage of these cracks in our ideological approach to intellectual property in order to recode/reframe plagiarism. 
  • Boyle, Shamans, Software, and Spleens. I can link up Boyle’s discussion of copyright and romantic authorship to the ways in which romantic authorship frames the dominant frames/narratives of plagiarism. 
  • Coombe, The Cultural Life of Intellectual Properties. Coombe’s notion of the “ethics of contingency” provides an alternative frame for thinking about issues of plagiarism – one that emphasizes the importance of context over a static set of rules.  
  • Gramsci. Of all the texts listed on the 506 syllabus, Gramsci seems the most promising for my project. Perhaps I can draw upon his theories of education and social change?  
  • Additional: key texts from Andrea Lunsford and Rebecca Moore Howard, scholars in composition studies who have written extensively on issues related to plagiarism and intellectual property. I am already familiar with this scholarship from work on my thesis. 
2/5/2013 08:01:51 am

This is a good start. You may want to consider moving beyond the writing classes and also interviewing and or researching what libraries/librarians are doing which is quite a lot!

The beginning of your argument statement gets at the potential of the readings, I'd like to see you be critical of the terms, that is using copyright, fair use and IP as is may not undo the rhetoric of cheating etc, but HOW they have been re-framed by say CC or within more progressive movements might then take your questions in a new direction.

I think staying with plagiarism is fine, but I'd like to see you decenter it and frame your questions around a larger issue like the construction of knowledge with plagiarism being but on instance.

I'll post more but here are some links to check out while you think about the scope:

Rachel Sauerbier
2/10/2013 07:03:30 am


I think this is a really interesting project that has the potential for pragmatic application within the classroom. One thing you mention in your texts section is the potential use of Gramsci. I was actually thinking as I was reading through your proposal that you might be interested in Gramsci's notion of the traditional intellectual versus the organic intellectual. I feel like this might help a bit with the justification of your first question and will might help as a framework for Dr. Christen's suggestion at looking at the larger issue surrounding the construction of issue. I've included a link below that gives a good and quick overview of Gramsci's take on "intellectuals." He discusses it in detail in "The Modern Prince and Other Writings." Good luck and this looks like a great project!

2/12/2013 02:19:56 am

Hey Jen,

Very cool! This sounds like a really cool project, and much needed work for confronting systemic banking style approaches to education. You mentioned how these dominant narratives have negative implications for pedagogy. Have you ran across any of Dr. Jeff-Duncan Andrade's work yet? I think his contributions to the field of critical pedagogy might prove helpful in some way or another for your developing theoretical framework. He's very inspirational and on point when it comes to transforming violent approaches to classroom instruction and curriculum. I'll attach some links to some of his insight and work below, as well as a lecture he gave at Harvard.

Look forward to seeing how things develop. Suerte!

Roses in Concrete:

Harvard 2010 keynote:

2/12/2013 03:54:47 am

Hi Jen,

Your project sounds great. I am not trying to impose more work on you, but I was thinking about interviews with graduate students. What are their perceptions about plagiarism. A comparative analysis between the two groups might also help in understanding where is the gap.

2/14/2013 01:50:13 am

sounds like a fine project.


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