Paul Kei Matsuda
Changing Currents in Second Language Writing Research: A Colloquium

Journal of Second Language Writing 12.2 (2003)

The field of L2 writing has come of age. The formal study of L2 writers, writing and writing instruction has a relatively short but fruitful history going at least as far back as the 1960s. Research on L2 writing has grown exponentially over the last 40 years and, during the late 1980s and the early 1990s, second language writing began to evolve into an interdisciplinary field of inquiry with its own disciplinary infrastructure—replete with a journal, monographs, edited collections, a book series, annotated bibliographies, graduate courses, and conferences as well as symposia.

Yet, even as the field matures, the its dynamics of the field does not seem to be stabilizing; the intellectual currents in the field seem to be fluctuating more than ever before, and disagreements abound on some of the most fundamental issues in the field. The changing currents in the field do not necessarily indicate that the field is underdeveloped or unstable. In an issue-driven field whose research practices are inextricably situated in complex sociocultural, institutional and disciplinary contexts, change is not only inevitable but also desirable. In fact, the changing currents in the field of L2 writing are driven by various extemporaneous changes—demographic, technological and disciplinary—and L2 writing researchers' effort to respond to those changes.

Given the dynamic nature of the field, it seems fitting to use the metaphor of changing currents to characterize various traditions of research in the field—each current joins other currents, influencing the direction of the field while being transformed by coming in contact with other currents. In order to explore the changing currents in second language writing research and to provide an understanding of the dynamics of the field, five L2 writing scholars gathered as part of the invited colloquium on L2 writing research at the 2002 meeting of the American Association for Applied Linguistics in Salt Lake City, Utah. Each of them represented an important intellectual current in the field, focusing on the context of its emergence, the existing research, and directions for further research. The goal of this JSLW colloquium article is to make the conversation available to a wider audience of L2 writing specialists.

Linda Harklau examines the changes that have been taking place in response to the presence of an increasing number of resident L2 writers, primarily in North America. She calls for more attention to ethnolinguistic minority students in other countries and to the issue of identity; at the same time, she cautions against the tendency to reify the term "Generation 1.5." A. Suresh Canagarajah explores the implications of the notion of multiliteracies in the context of second language education—the negotiation of discourses and identities that have been prompted partly by the diversity of English language users (Matsuda, 2002) as well as the development of technologies for written communication. The issue of technology and relationship to L2 writing is discussed further by Mark Warschauer. He begins by exploring growing areas of research, including computer-assisted classroom discussion, e-mail exchanges, and Web-based writing, and then points to the need for longitudinal, ethnographic studies as well as corpus-based discourse analytic studies. Ken Hyland then considers the growing interest in discourse analysis in the context of what some researchers have called the "post-process era" in L2 writing research (Atkinson, 2003). Finally, in "Metadisciplinary Inquiry in Second Language Writing Research," I discuss the importance of metadisciplinary inquiry—self-conscious, reflective inquiry into the nature and status of a field—in the context of L2 writing research.

We hope this colloquium provides an understanding of some of the traditions of research and possible future directions. Needless to say, the currents being represented in this colloquium are by no means the only ones—or the only important ones for that matter. We hope this colloquium will stimulate further discussion of many other currents that continue to shape and reshape the field of L2 writing.

Matsuda, P. K., Canagarajah, A. S., Harklau, L., Hyland, K., & Warschauer, M. (2003). Changing currents in second language writing research: A colloquium. Journal of Second Language Writing, 12(2), 151-179. doi:10.1016/S1060-3743(03)00016-X

Reprinted as: Matsuda, P. K., Canagarajah, A. S., Harklau, L., Hyland, K., & Warschauer, M. (2004). Changing currents in second language writing research: A colloquium. In K. Kaur (Ed.), Second language writing (pp. 22-67). Petaling Jaya, Malaysia: Sasbadi. [Chapter 2]

Updated on April 28, 2013