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Zeina R. Safadi

University of California, Santa Barbara

Writing 2

Professor Jennifer Johnson

June 7, 2017


Within every discipline there are an inherent set of ‘rules’ that mold the discipline in both

its subject matter and the ways in which it is taught; those inherent rules are define as “Literacy

Practices.” The literacy practices of a discipline transform with every differing topic; however,

there are always exclusive practices that coincide with certain disciplines.

In this paper, the course of Comparative Literature was chosen and explored, through

both interviews and research, to find the Literacy Practices that influenced it’s teaching. Through

the views of professors, graduate students, scholarly articles, and observation, the three main

literacy practices of Comparative Literature were determined. Group discussions that aid

students in deciphering the readings, the relation of subject material to the modern world, and the

comparison of literary pieces within the field are the practices that transform the custom of

Literature into the unique nature of Comparative Literature.

Keywords: literacy practice, literature, compare, social constructivism, relate

Comparing Literacy Practices Within Comparative Literature

The discipline of comparative literature is unique, both in its subject matter as well as in

its literacy practices. Derived from the discipline of literature, comparative literature incorporates

practices from an array of subjects: such as philosophy, global studies, and history. The study of

literature is the study of artful fiction; such fiction entails a great deal of careful, complex, and

elaborative thought. Literary work is rich in its narration, and therefore its flow encompasses the

mindful weaving of words; it is these words that compose the art of literature - the basis of

comparative literature. Based on my own observations combined with the questioning of

individuals within this field, it is apparent that comparative literature is a discipline that has no

boundaries as it encompasses features from almost every aspect of life. In its lack of boundaries

comes a plethora of literacy practices that make up the discipline in its entirety. Three specific

practices include group discussions that aid students in deciphering the readings, the relation of

subject material to the modern world, and the comparison of literary pieces within the field.

Together, each of these methods allow the subject of comparative literature to thrive and expand

in its unique adaptation of literature.

Works of literature are constantly open to interpretation. The art of writing allows

countless different meanings to be elicited from a text. Naturally, the meaning elicited differs

according to the reader and their experiences. We can never know exactly what a writer meant

when composing a story, and therefore the door for interpretations is vast and always open.

Although one can possess their own idea of a work’s meaning, there are always additional ideas

out there. The literacy practice of group discussions acts as an imperative medium to

participants’ textual comprehension. The implementation of group discussion within this

discipline is derived from the successful theory of social constructivism, whereby collaboration

creates an optimal learning environment for students. Naturally, when one discusses several

different interpretations of the same text, they are likely to discover new information and

therefore perspectives that they were not aware of prior. As Men Bouzhou, my Teacher’s

Assistant in Comparative Literature, explains, students who have the opportunity to “exchange

their ideas and information” allow their “confidence in articulating their opinions” to increase

(personal communication, May 2, 2017). Group work, however, is not limited to student-to-

student interaction; in fact, professors also tend to ask questions during their lectures to spark

responses from differing student perspectives. It is common for those teaching in the field of

comparative literature to present their own subjective opinions and analyses of a text to their

students, thus limiting the space allowed for alternative interpretations. It is through the literacy

practice of group discussions that a well-balanced discipline is developed; this practice further

highlights the fact that with comparative literature, there will never be a “right answer.”

Relating literature material to aspects in both the modern and historical world is another

significant practice of comparative literature. It is through one’s ability to contextualize the text

at hand, by interpreting it through past or present events, that their understanding of the material

is multiplied. The fact that literature can continuously intertwine with real life events illustrates

its lack of limits and boundaries. The comparison of literature to diverse concepts such as science

and war make the subject of comparative literature so distinctive. A scholarly article on the topic

of Darwinism, written by my comparative literature professor, acts as prominent example of how

one may relate literature to other aspects of life. The fact that this article was issued by

Comparative Literature illustrates how features of science and philosophy can be intertwined

within the discipline of comparative literature, adding to its distinctiveness. In the essay

published by Comparative Literature, the author explains how while “science explains what we

do and how we do it, none of its instruments are fine enough to register what we ought to want”

(Maleuvre, 2001). Such a statement acts as the basis of the argument that supports the unique

nature of comparative literature and its literary practices. It is through the literacy practice of

contextualization that comparative literature is used in exploring the more abstract aspects of life.

The practice of contextualization is further highlighted by Men Bouzhou as she explains how “to

read literature is to relate to people,” and therefore individuals can “better their understanding of

their surroundings in this world” (personal communication, May 2, 2017). It is through this

practice that the lack of boundaries prevalent within the discipline are illustrated.

Yet another literacy practice established in the discipline of comparative literature is the

literal comparison of the literature itself. Through comparing and contrasting different works of

prose, patterns of themes and motifs can be identified within the realm of literature. By

identifying such patterns, one’s understanding of literature is increased and therefore they are

more likely to succeed in the discipline. To compare works is to pull down barriers of individual

stories. To succeed in the practice of comparison, one must look at the works in their entirety

rather than as individual pieces. Only then can one see “something beyond the natural border”

(M. Bouzhou, personal communication, May 2, 2017). Through the transcendence of textual

borders, individuals can fully comprehend the text as they begin to identify the underlying

meanings of each piece. Fulfilling the name of the discipline itself, comparing works of literature

within comparative literature is critical to achieving a greater understanding of what each piece

truly entails; it is for this reason, “English Departments in their entirety can learn a few lessons

from the Department of Comparative Literature” (Elliott, 1960). Not only does comparing works

of literature allow you to uncover themes and motifs within a text that you did not identify prior,

it also aids students in learning how to analyze and identify texts from different perspectives.

This skill is critical in the overall practice of literature as it allows individuals to read texts with

more insight and therefore analyze texts with great effectiveness. With effective analysis, one is

able to draw upon recurring patterns in certain texts; these patterns act as the basis of what it

means to “compare” literature.

Overall, there are several literary practices within the discipline of comparative literature

that make it the unique subject it is. While social constructivism is implemented to ensure each

studied text is explored with an array of interpretations, the contextualizing of texts leads to their

modern-day applicable nature, regardless of the era in which a text was published. Furthermore,

through comparing literary works, one realizes the significance of recognizing recurring classical

motifs over attempting to decipher what the author’s intentions were upon crafting the text.

Students of comparative literature transcend the boundaries of differing disciplines to strengthen

their own comprehension of literature itself. It is through such a lack of limits that the distinctive

characteristics of this subject are highlighted. Comparative literature is, after all, a discipline of

infinite possibilities.


Elliot, R.C. (1960). The Power of Satire: Magic, Ritual, Art. Comparative Literature, 12(3), 265-


Maleuvre, D. (2001). Can We Believe Darwin? Comparative Literature, 53(2), 117-130.