Inhabiting the Writing Center

A Foyerstic View of Owls Introduction Treatment of Physical Space Conclusion References

Treatment of Physical Space
A Foyeristic View of OWLs
Works Cited

Nathalie Singh-Corcoran
Amin Emika,
West Virginia University

Special thanks to Allison Hitt for her photograph of the WVU Writing Center


There are perennial topics of conversation for writing center professionals:  assessment, accreditation, status, staff development, general tips and tricks, and the tools necessary for writing center work. These discussions frequently reappear on the community's listserv and in writing center publications. However, no conversation is more pervasive than writing center space: where a center should be located, what a center should look like, what a center should feel like, what should happen in the space, and what should be the uses of the space. The scope of the conversation treats space as though it's neutral territory. Writing centers are sites of practice or places in which things happen; predominantly, tutors work one-on-one with students on their textual projects. We tend to ignore how our spatial arrangements enable certain practices and suppress others; our treatment of space-as-neutral hides the consequences from us.

Only recently has the community problematized space, moving the dialogue from what a center should do to what it means when a center does. In this critical vein, we approach our review of writing centers as spaces that impact their participants. Our treatment of writing center spaces follows a continuum. We move from the material, tangible, physical writing center to the more ethereal, digital space. We explore what it means to occupy a particular space and what identity constructions are possible in our physical and digital spaces.

We use the basic conventions of a review to frame our discussion: We provide an overview and summary of key texts, place them in conversation with each other, and the trace then movement of that conversation. However, we also disrupt the conventions of a review as our webtext approaches argument. In essence, we provide a general overview, giving our readers the gist of the writing center conversation, but we offer new insights as we theorize the space and place of writing centers.

Our two sections—A Treatment of Physical Space and A Foyeristic View of OWLs—can be read as discrete, topical reviews. However, our conclusion places both reviews in conversation, as parts of a coherent dialogue.

We approached our sections chronologically, but we recognize that space is "stubbornly simultaneous" (Soja, 1989, p. 2), experienced as an amalgam of sights, sounds, textures, colors, and smells. Space evokes, provokes, and conjures. However, the constraints of language "dictate a sequential succession" (p. 2) of details and ideas. Fortunately, our limitations as writers are not the same as those of our readers, particularly within the environment of a webtext. We hope that you move as you please, backwards and forwards, in the designed order, out of order, and perhaps asynchronously. Here, we apply "asynchronous" as a computer programmer would:  wherein multiple threads or tasks happen at once.