Bazerman meets Bruffee

Knowledge through Collaborative Learning and Writing


Both Charles Bazerman and Kenneth Bruffee are interested in the nature of knowledge making through writing. Bruffee, in his article “Collaborative Learning and the “Conversation of Mankind” asserts that through collaborative learning, students are learning how to be a part of the conversation by understanding the knowledge that is being made in a particular social group. Bazerman, on the other hand, in his article “What Written Knowledge Does” examines different genres of writing in an attempt to demonstrate how various types of knowledge are formulated through a variety of communities and then transferred into the written word. Writing is not “dead,” rather it is an outlet that people use to position themselves within a certain social group and to exercise their ability to participate in the daily discourse.
In a college classroom, through collaborative learning, students are becoming part of the “normal discourse” by understanding “how knowledge is established and maintained” (88). Bruffee sees ones writing as “internalized conversation re-externalized” (88). Language is social in nature, we learn it by speaking to those around us, and we internalize those ideas that make sense to us. Our internalized thoughts are then put down on paper only to be available to the public once again. Therefore, once we understand the knowledge surrounding us, we can be a part of knowledge making through writing. Bazerman, along those same lines, observes that each individual community (science, social science, literature) decides as a collective what constitutes knowledge. Therefore, depending on the community one is part of, the notion of what knowledge is shifts but not so much so that there is no overlap.
The disciplinary perspectives found in writing vary depending on purpose and audience. Each discipline has its own rhetorical situation based on the goals of the community; the more stable it is, the less work a reader, who is aware of the rhetorical goals of such a discipline, has to do.  That being said, some disciplines have to work harder than others to persuade the reader. As is pointed out in Bazerman’s article, writing in the sciences has a certain air of factuality that literary criticism does not. All science writers have to do is position their subject within other similar subjects of science and the reader can easily make the connection between the two. “It is up to nature to persuade the readers, not the authors” (32). Literary criticism, on the other hand, places the author in the position of having to persuade and transform the reader by showing his authority over the text. Bruffee would argue that sometimes the author is creating abnormal discourse. The abnormal discourse “sniffs out stale, unproductive knowledge and challenges its authority, that is, the authority of the community which that knowledge constitutes” (93). The problem with abnormal discourse is it takes a lot more persuading on the part of the author to shift the course of knowledge that a particular community has taken.
Both Bruffee and Bazerman agree that writing is a form of social communication and not an individualized process. By placing students in a collaborative learning environment, students are able to become participants in the social context of a community of peers.  They are also learning how to write for other communities that they will be a part of later in life. This knowledge that they associate with particular communities is the exact knowledge making Bazerman talks about in his article. Once someone realizes words are shaped by their discipline, they know the right words to use.