Literacy, Sexuality, Pedagogy

Theory and Practice for Composition Studies

by Jonathan Alexander

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"Highly influential . . . . This is the book right now."
Queer Figures/Texts in Rhetoric & Composition

"For the field of Composition Studies, this text will, without a doubt, shape the ways in which we understand, negotiate, and discuss sex and sexuality in our classrooms"
—Composition Studies

"As a longtime admirer of Jonathan Alexander and his work, I couldn't be more pleased with this newest book from Utah State University Press. Literacy, Sexuality, and Pedagogy takes on issues associated with human sexuality and argues that understanding sexuality is crucial to today's literate practice. In asking that we bring sexuality and literacy together in the composition classroom, Alexander demands that we rethink writing studies' pedagogy and, in doing so, offers provocative insights on every page of his book. Informed by the thinking of social theorists Bordo, Butler, and Foucault, but also Berlin, Delpit, and LeCourt, among others, Alexander weaves together theory and practice seamlessly, and he does so in an elegant and engaging style. With its publication, we may finally have stepped into the 21st century in admitting that for our students 'sex and sexuality are among the great unspoken interests' and that they can enhance literacy and its teaching. There is simply no book in our field like it."
—Gail E. Hawisher, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign


Despite its centrality to much of contemporary personal and public discourse, sexuality remains infrequently discussed in composition courses and in our discipline at large. Moreover, its complicated relationship to discourse, to the very language we use to describe and define our worlds, is woefully understudied in our discipline. Talk and writing about sexuality surround us. Not only does the discourse of sexuality surround us, but sexuality itself forms a core set of complex discourses through which we approach, make sense of, and construct a variety of meanings, politics, and identities.

In Literacy, Sexuality, Pedagogy, Jonathan Alexander argues for the development of students' "sexual literacy." Such a literacy is not concerned with developing fluency with sexuality as a "hot" topic, but with understanding the connectedness of sexuality and literacy in Western culture. Using the work of scholars in queer theory, sexuality studies, and the New Literacy Studies, Alexander unpacks what he sees as a crucial—if often overlooked—dimension of literacy: the fundamental ways in which sexuality has become a key component of contemporary literate practice, of the stories we tell about ourselves, our communities, and our political investments.

Alexander then demonstrates through a series of composition exercises and writing assignments how we might develop students' understanding of sexual literacy. Examining discourses of gender, heterosexuality, and marriage allows students (and instructors) a critical opportunity to see how the languages we use to describe ourselves and our communities are saturated with ideologies of sexuality. Understanding how sexuality is constructed and deployed as a way to "make meaning" in our culture gives us a critical tool both to understand some of the fundamental ways in which we know ourselves and to challenge some of the norms that govern our lives. In the process, we become more fluent with the stories that we tell about ourselves and we discover how normative notions of sexuality enable (and constrain) narrations of identity, culture, and politics. We develop not only our understanding of sexuality, but of our literacy, as we explore how sexuality is a vital, if vexing, part of the story of who we are.


Jonathan Alexander is Associate Professor of English at the University of California, Irvine, where he also serves as Campus Writing Coordinator. His previous books include Digital Youth: Emerging Literacies on the World Wide Web, the co-edited collection Role Play: Distance Learning and the Teaching of Writing, the co-authored textbook Argument Now, a Brief Rhetoric, and the co-edited book Bisexuality and Transgenderism: InterSEXions of the Others.

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  • Paperback Price: $27.95
  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-87421-701-8
  • Ebook Price: $21.95
  • 30-day ebook rental price: $5.99
  • EISBN: 978-0-87421-702-5
  • Publication Year: 2008
  • Pages: 232
  • Discount Type: Short
  • Author: by Jonathan Alexander
  • ECommerce Code: 978-0-87421-701-8
  • Get Permissions: Get Permission

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