Clark's "Genre, Identity, and the Brain: Insights from Neuropsychology"

Clark, Irene. "Genre, Identity, and the Brain: Insights from Neuropsychology." The Journal of General Education, vol. 65, no. 1, 2016, pp. 1-19. 

Clark argues that students' identities may change as they engage with academic genres, but that they have the agency to choose the identities they perform (2).  This argument rebuts the "alienation narrative" that students, especially those from working-class backgrounds, lose their identity as a new academic identity overtakes theme (3-4). 

Clark explains the concept of "neuroplasticity"--that new neuron paths "constitute the basis of identity," are created from experience,  and thus continually change the brain over time (5-6). Clark then gives examples of jugglers, taxi-drivers, children with dyslexia, and musicians in training as areas of research that have shown that "skill-based learning can have a direct, measurable impact on the brain" (7-8).  Next, moving specifically toward how writing genres can affect the brain, Clark cites a study of nuns that showed an inverse correlation between strong language skills in early life and Alzheimer's disease symptoms later in life (9). Considering this connection between writing and the brain, Clark concludes that the interconnections among these factors are "extremely complicated" (10).

Clark uses this idea of complexity to argue that students utilize and develop various facets of identity as they learn from a variety of experiences, including that of academia; with all of these roles, students choose to use what Gee calls an "identity kit" as they perform the genres their lives request of them (11-13). Moreover, a choice of one identity is not necessarily a rejection of another, but an expansion of identity (14, 16).  

Clark argues that instructors should help students become aware of their agency and choices as they assume and work with various identities (15). This metacognitive awareness may help students better understand genres and their ability to act within generic expectations successfully (16).

GenreKatie Ancheta