My goal in reviewing this literature was to begin to understand how writing studies collectively thinks about crossing. As this review makes clear, crossing rhetorics and metaphors have been used by the field in a variety of ways—so many ways, in fact, that you may have begun to long for some order to be imposed on the apparent chaos. While I have worked to collect, curate, and condense meaningful clusters of research, my goal has not been to impose order in this section. Instead, I want this review to function paratactically and rhizomatically, emulating the horizontal logics of hyperlinks and crossing points that have become familiar since the rise of the World Wide Web.
This conclusion, then, is not an attempt to say what this review of the literature “means.” Instead, I hope to share observations I gained from reading across this research in response to two key questions:
Speaking metaphorically or literally, crossing is spatial. Literacy has often been spatialized by researchers (Keller & Weisser, 2007; Leander & Sheehy, 2004), often for methodological reasons. One of the benefits of spatializing literacy is it allows us to attend to context and power, since literacy is valued differently, is practiced differently, and is understood differently in different spaces. Literacy is also often spatialized as a matter of practicality, since writing “is never not emplaced” (Rule, 2018, p. 4040), and empirical research at some point needs a location or event in which to study literacy. Of course, even though writing must be emplaced, it is not always obviously so, especially as literate activity becomes distributed across networks and interfaces that allow writers to interact with others synchronously or asynchronously across the globe. The simple act of replying to a comment on social media may involve an array of “places,” only some of which are visible, including the poster’s physical location, the virtual “space” of the app’s interface, the wireless networks and interfaces of hundreds of users reading the comment from around the globe, the social media company’s underground servers near the Arctic Circle—all of which says nothing of the many places involved in developing the literacies and technologies that make this moment possible. Kell (2011) refers to this as the problem of boundaries. It is a problem because the boundaries researchers draw are necessarily artificial, since literacy is both emplaced and imbricated with other places and histories that can’t always be seen from an isolated snapshot. An orientation to across offers literacy and writing studies a way around this impasse, a means of studying the situated in multiple contexts, paying attention to what we can learn from their accretion and comparison.
Perhaps one more reason writing studies scholars have turned to spatial metaphors like crossing is that we are always trying to locate ourselves, as evidenced by the many attempts to “map” the discipline (Mueller, 2017). Writing studies’ identity as a discipline is still contested, and throughout its history it has sometimes been defined instead as a metadiscpline or interdiscipline. The boundaries of writing studies are not always clear, nor are its subdivisions. In our postmodern, fragmented world, it often seems safest to locate ourselves as somehow spanning these fractures, even if the landscape is constantly shifting, even if the distance and nature of the spaces between is not fully known.
The literature centering crossing in writing studies and adjacent fields is heterogeneous. Even within the broad categories I have constructed here, there is rarely consensus around how terms that evoke crossing metaphors are used. Still, there are some common themes that show up across the literature that are worth extracting and developing here.
© Gabriel Morrison, 2021