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Bruce Kovanen


Bruce Kovanen is a PhD candidate in the Center for Writing Studies and the English Department at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

Bruce Kovanen hails from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He attended Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois where he graduated with a BA in Psychology and honors in Composition and Rhetoric. As a student at Knox, Bruce developed a strong interest in writing studies while working as a writing consultant in Knox’s writing center and as a GED tutor in the Carl Sandburg Adult Learning Center. As a graduate student at the University of Illinois, Bruce became actively involved in the Graduate Employees’ Organization (GEO Local 6300), where he served as Grievance Officer, Officer-at-Large, and Co-President. In addition, Bruce was a member of the GEO’s bargaining team and strike committee in 2018 when graduate workers went on a twelve day strike. These experiences form the basis of his dissertation project, “Trajectories of Learning and Doing Literate Activity and Labor Activism in a Graduate Worker Union,” which aims to enrich our understanding of the various places, activities, and experiences that inform how people come to be involved in labor activism, how labor activists learn to leverage and adapt their communication to various audiences, and how labor activists learn to make organizing assessments and act on those assessments.


Research Interests

Writing Studies, Literate Activity, Labor Studies, Dialogic Semiotics, Writing Across the Curriculum, Cultural-Historical Activity Theory, Ethnographic and Video Methods, Sociocultural Perspectives on Learning

Research Description

I study how people's engagement with literate activity mediates collaborative projects of social transformation and how participation in such projects informs peoples' trajectories of semiotic becoming. As a researcher, I am deeply invested in recognizing the variety of ways in which people imagine and enact their futures and worlds. My research challenges narrow, segmented accounts of people’s lives, activities, and communities. This research agenda has taken me across a variety of settings, from instructional labs and writing workshops to protests and union halls. Some of my recent publications are included at the bottom of the page.


Ph.D. English, Concentration in Writing Studies. University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Champaign, IL. Expected Fall 2023.

M.A. English. University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Champaign, IL. 2017

B.A. Psychology. Knox College. Galesburg, IL. 2015.


Courses Taught

Rhetoric 105: Writing and Research

Business and Technical Writing 250: Principles of Business Communication

Informatics / Writing Studies 303: Writing Across Media


Highlighted Publications

Kovanen, B., Turnipseed, N., Mericle, M., & Roozen, K. (2022). Tracing literate activity across Physics and Chemistry: Toward embodied histories of disciplinary knowing, writing, and becoming. Across the Disciplines19(1/2). 62-77.

Kovanen, B., & Bowman, A. (2021). Organizing-as-Process: Building Towards Collective Action in Labor and Beyond. Spark: A 4C4Equality Journal3(1).

Bowman, A., & Kovanen, B. (2020). Subterranean fire: The percolating currents of graduate labor activism in rhetoric and composition. Xchanges15(1).