The CEA Forum
Winter/Spring 2009: 38.1
Rebecca Moore Howard and Amy E. Robillard, editors. Pluralizing Plagiarism: Identities, Contexts, Pedagogies. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2008. 192 pp. $28.75 (paper).
by Wan-Li Chen, Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Plagiarism is a high-stakes issue that often draws the attention of educators, researchers, students, and practitioners in academia, while also raising ethical concerns for academic integrity. Pluralizing Plagiarism: Identities, Contexts, Pedagogies, edited by Rebecca Moore Howard and Amy E. Robillard, offers a timely, refreshing perspective in response to fixed and ideological interpretations of plagiarism. Through situating plagiarism within various contexts, Pluralizing Plagiarism elaborates upon the traditional “monolithic” construction of plagiarism as the “theft” of individual thoughts or the violation of authorship, and presents various viewpoints of the power dynamic that is often overlooked by that limited construction (3). Ten individual essays in Pluralizing Plagiarism share a unifying theme, examining plagiarism as a form of writing practice that incorporates student writers' identity constructions, intentions and personal development, and how these elements may be negotiated with educators in various academic contexts, particularly without running afoul of the most literal interpretations on plagiarism.
Pluralizing Plagiarism starts with Michele Eodice's essay which highlights mass media's portrayal of plagiarism as a “‘moral sin'” and “‘heinous crime,'” and constantly presses educators to view plagiarism as a criminal act (9). In response to mass media's decontextualizing discourses regarding plagiarism, Eodice calls for the collaboration among academic professionals to transform the plagiarism issue from the target of public accusation into a “pedagogical” issue about “textual” and “literacy” practices in academia (20). Supporting Eodice's claim, Amy E. Robillard and Kami Day in the next two articles demonstrate how educators can actively participate in changing the monolithic construct of plagiarism. Robillard terms her pedagogical approach to plagiarism “coinvestigation,” that is, “the cooperative study of an issue of concern to all parties” (28). Such an approach intends to minimize the “institutional form of authority” in teaching plagiarism as a moral evil, to facilitate critical thinking on the part of freshmen toward “the politics of writing and authorship,” and to foster “democratic dialogues” with students regarding authoritative production of knowledge in the classroom (28-29). Similarly, Day advocates that community college teachers take the lead in altering the conventional pedagogical approach to plagiarism that emphasizes how to prevent plagiarism (“a relay”), and refine it by taking into account how learners' distinctive contexts can affect their uses of materials in their writings (45-46).
Following the pedagogical lenses into plagiarism, Colby Carrick, Sandra Jamieson, and T. Kenny Fountain and Lauren Fitzgerald's articles consider policies on plagiarism as they involve institutional and communal authorities. Carrick defends the “coauthoring” and “collaborative” pedagogy of writing center tutors who instinctively resist strict institutional rules of “nondirective tutoring” and demand to be merely “editors” for students (66). These policies intended to discourage plagiarism, however, create fear among writing tutors in using collaboration as a pedagogical option for students' work. Next, Jamieson discusses the basic contradiction between actual writing practices in academia and the Council of Writing Program Administrators (WPA) policy-making regarding plagiarism (82). Jamieson argues that WPA policy's emphasis on the “ethical” uses of “sources” is outdated, as the emphasis on the “creator” is generally more relevant to the humanities than other disciplines, and also that the proliferation of internet sources, such as hypertexts, makes it difficult to identify the origin of sources (79-80). In terms of changing notions of authority, Fountain and Fitzgerald examine religiously-affiliated colleges' strict punishment of plagiarists and portrayal of plagiarism as a violation of the communal integrity, from which they propose “communitarian models” as a pedagogical alternative to facilitate mutual dialogues between students' writing practices and “communal and textual authority” (103; 118).
Besides examining publicized policies on plagiarism, Pluralizing Plagiarism contains less well-known, marginalized aspects of plagiarism. Rebecca Moore Howard argues that graduate students, though occasionally suspected of plagiarizing, might in fact be the victims of plagiarism, due to faculty members' appropriation of students' works, a result of professors' pressure to publish and the hierarchical power professors have over students (96-97). Another neglected aspect of plagiarism presented in Celia Thompson and Alastair Pennycook's essay involves multilingual and multicultural students' struggle with the western “homogenizing” discourse on plagiarism (126-127). The international students' various responses to western practices of “textual borrowing” comprises what Thompson and Pennycook term as the “transcultural contact zone,” where the “political nature of text/knowledge production, intertextuality, writer identity, and textual ownership” is manifested as a “hybrid” nature of writing in which the “dynamic process of cultural mixing and borrowing” demands further examination (126; 135).
The last two essays in this collection expand the discussion of plagiarism into that of course assignment designs and the nature of conducting research, moving beyond the textual and institutional scopes of plagiarism. Chris M. Anson recommends “low-stakes assignments,” such as “[b]rief descriptions connecting material from a course to current news events in the media,” as they can allow instructors to check students' progress in learning, and also “lessen the incidence of textual misappropriation and simultaneously reduce their [institutions] preoccupation with plagiarism” (150; 153). This volume ends with Kathleen Blake Yancey's essay advocating that research should not be perceived the claiming of an innovative “space,” but rather as a “conversational practice” (160-161). Stressing “authors in progress” and the “ongoing” process of knowledge development, to Yancey, not only reduces the authoritative understandings of research but also decentralizes the rigid definition of plagiarism as the stealing of individual knowledge products (167).
Pluralizing Plagiarism: Identities, Contexts, and Pedagogies, covers diverse, yet interrelated academic sites, and on the whole reveals the imprecise interpretation of plagiarism as shaped by broad social, cultural, political, and economical contexts. This collection advocates general pedagogical approaches to plagiarism and the contextualizing of plagiarism within various writing situations; however, it does not devote equal length to the exploration of identities as it does to pedagogies and contexts. As the issue of learner identities may well be the crux of writing practices and the teaching of writing, inadequate exploration of identity-related issues is a major drawback in this collection. Moreover, this collection tends to generalize writing practices as if they were grounded in monolingual and monocultural contexts, which counters the collection's common theme of challenging the universalized, decontextualized understanding of plagiarism. Insufficient attention to the emergent presence of L2 students in writing classrooms and their culturally-informed communal practices poses potential gaps between scholarship on plagiarism and pragmatic writing classroom reality. Of the ten essays, only Thompson and Pennycook's “Intertextuality in the Transcultural Contact Zone” places substantial emphasis on the border crossing issues that frequently manifest in writing classes and the identity construction problems facing international students as they negotiate with western writing conventions. Generally speaking, in this essay collection, L2 students' various backgrounds are less central and do not receive significant attention in the development of the “pluralizing” argument.
Despite its shortcomings, however, Pluralizing Plagiarism has pedagogical strength in demonstrating how to approach the issues of plagiarism in writing classrooms of various types (e.g., four-years, community, and religious-affiliated colleges). Robillard, Fountain and Fitzgerald, and Anson's chapters, in particular, present practical syllabus designs that engage students' writing processes and utilize multi-genre assignments to instruct students to collaboratively explore institutional policy on plagiarism, examine the constructions of unethical charges of plagiarism, and deepen the analyses of plagiarism as grounded in communal writing practices. I strongly recommend Pluralizing Plagiarism to writing teachers and instructors of higher education, as this collection certainly redirects plagiarism scholarship from being a reductive, didactic discourse, and raises important, heretofore insufficiently examined “pluralizations” that consider plagiarism as involving issues, such as writer identities and backgrounds, authorship and intent, collaboration, documentation, and the value of students' dialogue and negotiation with textual and institutional authorities.
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