Code-Meshing and Writing Across Curriculum (WAC) Pedagogy

In 1988, Gayatri Spivak provocatively asked: “can the subaltern speak?” Spivak, a theorist of postcoloniality, contends that members of “subalterns” communities—most often people of color, post-colonial subjects, women, low-income people—“are never quite able to speak or write from their own ways of knowing.”

In his 2013 essay entitled “Subversive Complicity and Basic Writing Across the Curriculum” Victor Villanueva deftly applies Spivak’s concern of “subaltern silences and elisions” to college writing pedagogy and practice. Villanueva convincingly argues that “writing is epistemological.”

Indeed, college writing is an epistemological act rooted in a particular way of marshaling and valorizing arguments, according to Villanueva, most often based in “edited American English and Aristotelian logic.” Contrary to the notion that “writing is just writing,” Villanueva argues that “expository and argumentative academic writing tends to work from an older Roman legal tradition, in which he jurors or judges must know an argument’s general premises or assertions first, so as to prepare listeners for the arguments to follow (and thereby judge).”

In an effort to name and challenge such allegedly epistemologically neutral origins—and to ensure that the subaltern can speak (and write) in rarefied academic spaces—Villanueva recommends a writing pedagogy that values code-meshing: an approach to writing centered on blending language codes and conventions in the classroom, rather than switching from one set of discursive codes to another, depending on the “appropriate” social and linguistic contexts. (

What does a code-meshing writing pedagogy look like in practice? Villanueva writes, “[once students and I] establish something about language as epistemological and a social construction, we discuss conventions…a matter of registers and codes (speaking to an elder versus speaking to a peer, say).” During the first draft phase of writing assignments “students are encouraged to write ‘naturally,’ in their own ways. Then we work through papers together. Unlike the standard model of the writing process, we begin with editing…[through which] we translate the student’s discourse onto something akin to academic discourse, especially as pertains to audience. In the process, students become conscious translators of their own ways with words to those of the academic discourse community.” It is in the act of becoming “conscious translators” of one’s “writing self” in which students—especially college students from the “subaltern”—may be able to balance the dictates and conventions of academic discourse without leaving their bodies, minds, and experiences at the door of the composition classroom.