Having conducted a year-long literacy study for my dissertation research and following the ideological and conceptual framework proposed by many of the researchers in the New Literacy Studies group, I find Grimm's application of NLS to Writing Center research relevant and inspiring. Of particular interest to me, in light of our class discussions about mission statements (not to mention the fact that I'm now in a position to revisit/revise our mission statement), is Grimm's belief that "an ideological model of literacy requires a fundamental renegotiation of writing center purpose" (46):
"It asks us to serve students better by achieving a better understanding of how literacy works as a social practice. It suggests a discovery approach to research rather than a prove-it approach. It insists on paying attention to linguistic and cultural diversity. An ideological understanding of literacy also changes our understandings of what counts as data and how one interprets data. It encourages us to look at relationships, identities, cultural understandings, and more. It includes as data stories, interviews, case studies, and ethnographic observations."
An ideological approach to literacy research understands the intersubjectivity of the tutor/student relationship, and rather than seek out ways to negate the influence of the researcher (tutor) on the research context (an objectivist objective), it embraces that relationship, sees it as vital and enriching and intrisically connected to the purpose for inquiry: understanding literacy as a social act. The types of research and methodologies associated with NLS have the potential to reinvigorate the types of reporting we do about what we do. As Lerner's article makes clear, the institutional organs that pump life-blood funds into Writing Centers expect hard and fast numbers--quantitative proof of effectiveness (or at least evidence that money's not being stuffed in a hole), and it would be foolish to supplant completely the basic number crunching, i.e. number of tutorials, hours of tutorials, etc., with the kinds of qualitative data that NLS and Grimm advocate. But, as Thomas Kuhn might agree, if you want to shift a paradigm, you must begin to write the new way along side the old; that is, supplement the hard and fast number with the compelling stories, cases, anecdotes observations. Perhaps this is naive of me. Perhaps the yearly report to the provost is not, at least initially, the ideal place for more ethnographic types of data. But generating and reflecting and regenerating that data is an important way to form a clearer, more complete picture of the students we serve--a picture that might help us begin to re-educate, over time, faculty AND administration about what it is we do and how a writing center can play an important role in re-envisioning, or to use the catch word of the day, re-positioning ourselves for the future.