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Audience and Collaboration

posted: 1.27.11 by Andrea Lunsford

Audience and collaboration—those two words represent strands of research that have engaged me and my friend and long-time co-author Lisa Ede for decades now. When we first began to write about audience, we wanted to distinguish between what we called “invoked” and “addressed” audiences—that is, between the real-life audiences we speak and write to and those that we invoke, imagine, or hail. This basic distinction allowed us to build a rough taxonomy of audiences and to think about how writers might best go about reaching them. At the same time, we were writing a FIPSE grant proposal to undertake our first study of collaborative writing (eventually published in Singular Texts, Plural Authors: Perspectives on Collaborative Writing, which you can preview here on Google Books).

At the time, we thought of these two projects as pretty much completely separate: we had our work on audience and our work on collaboration. That was before the digital revolution allowed writers to reach audiences that were literally beyond their wildest imagination only a few years before—and before other advances made the Internet more and more interactive, which is to say collaborative. About five years ago, with something of an “aha” moment, we saw the two distinct strands of our research come together and merge. What an exciting time to be teachers and researchers! We could now study forms of collaboration that were impossible when we wrote our first book, and we could watch students interacting with audiences of every kind.

One student we know, for instance, is an avid fan of Korean film. She tweets almost daily, letting her audience know what she has recently seen, how she evaluated it, and where others can find and watch it.  She says that these very succinct messages serve as the tiniest of reviews that keep her friends up to date. She also invites response, and reports that her interest has spawned a growing collaborative conversation about Korean film—helping her to achieve her main purpose. (Check out her Twitter feed here.)

Lisa and I recently completed Writing Together: Collaboration in Theory and Practice (coming this year from Bedford/St. Martin’s), a collection of five new essays and our previously published collaborative pieces. One essay details the coming together of our research on collaboration and audience and our thoughts on writing in an age of new literacies; another offers our most personal account of our nearly thirty years of writing together. Working on this volume years has reaffirmed for us just how central the concepts of audience and collaboration are to our field—and how rich they continue to be for researchers and teachers and students to think about.

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