Writing for a Purpose: Using Ethno- and Eco-Composition Activities to Promote Awareness and Foster Civic Activism

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Much research/writing at the undergraduate college level remains isolated within classroom walls and restricted to textbook writing prompts, making learning uninteresting and disconnected from real-world issues. Instead, learning should be a social process in which the participation of learners refers “not just to local events of engagement in certain activities with certain people, but to a more encompassing process of being active participants in the practices of social communities and constructing identities in relation to these communities” (Wenger, p. 4).

Using examples of writing-intensive community-based projects ranging from multimedia life-histories for a missionary nun community to a letter-to-the-editor campaign against environmental hazards, the author asserts that writing that involves ethno-/eco-composition and service-learning makes education more purposeful and social.

Eco-composition refers to text that enhances awareness and encourages discourse of environmental issues, while ethno-composition (ethnographic writing) refers to text that employs elements of ethnographic fieldwork to engage students in cultural preservation projects. These writing assignments also facilitate the development and practice of primary and secondary data collection involved in qualitative and quantitative investigation including in-depth interviewing, artifact analysis, and field experiments.

This socialized and service-oriented learning occurs through transcription of complex problems, increased awareness and civic engagement, connections between cultural diversity and natural diversity, exercise of expression, and preservation of data records. In this way, ethno- and eco-composition provide a pedagogical vehicle that “involves students in activities that both provide service to a community and engage students in an experience where they acquire knowledge, skills, or perspectives that broaden and deepen their understanding of a particular concept or subject matter” (Jeavons, p.135).

Bibliography Jeavons, Thomas H. (Fall 1995). Service learning and liberal learning: A marriage of convenience. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning: pp. 135-140.

Wenger, Etienne. (2006). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge University Press.


Keywords: Activism, Civic Engagement, Eco-Composition, Ethnography, Service Learning, Social Learning, Writing
Stream: Cultural Sustainability
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.


Dr. Caroline Fitzpatrick

Assistant Professor, Communications, Alvernia College
Reading, Pennsylvania, USA

Dr. Caroline Fitzpatrick is an Assistant Professor of Communications and English and the Director of the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies Program for Sustainable Community Development at Alvernia College in Reading, Pennsylvania (USA). Her doctorate is in rhetoric and linguistics, and her primary areas of interest include multimodal literacy studies, cultural preservation, and qualitative research methods. Dr. Fitzpatrick serves on the Executive Board of the International English Honor Society and the Mass Communications Advisory Board for the Washington Center in Washington, D.C. She promotes the practical application of writing-intensive projects toward cultural/environmental preservation at both the undergraduate and graduate level, and she has presented and published her research internationally. Dr. Fitzpatrick is a vocal advocate of community-based projects and service learning.

Ref: S08P0207