Revolution Lullabye

February 21, 2008

Horner, Bruce. Terms of Work for Composition: A Materialist Critique

Filed under: Uncategorized — by revolutionlullabye @ 2:15 pm

Horner, Bruce. Terms of Work for Composition: A Materialist Critique. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2000.

Horner argues that Composition needs to start seeing itself and acting as part of the materialist culture it operates in. His book primarily concerns the nature of academic work, and to develop his cultural materialist perspective, he investigates the multiple meanings and interpretations of six terms used a lot in talking about Composition’s academic work: work, students, politics, academic, tradition, and writing. His critique covers many issues discussed in the field, including labor unionization, service learning pedagogies, use of student texts in composition research, the relation between academic and nonacademic literary practices, the professionalization of the field, abolition, and the institutional position of composition within the university. His book is a Marxist critique and throughout it, he relies on Bourdieu’s conceptualization of economic, socila, cultural, and symbolic capital and Giddens’ theory of the duality of structure.

Notable Notes

Really good analysis about service learning – does service learning encourage anti-academic sentiments by positioning work done outside the academy as “real” (and therefore things done inside the classroom as “fake”?)

Discussion about students in Chapter 2 was really eyeopening to me, especially his critique about composition’s commodification of students. We think of students as static entities in our research – their writing represents their identity, not their dynamic negotiation of it.

Chapter 1 = work. How CVs place more importance on publications that happen outside of labor as it is traditionally conceived. CVs don’t do justice to the work of teaching – just a list of how many courses you have taught; it’s more important to have innovative electives than to teach first-year comp year after year. We need to start acting and talking like our work is real labor so it becomes valuable. Publications act like they are owned by the individual instead of the result of the material circumstances around which they were created.

Chapter 2 = students. Students “are characterized by what they lack” (32). We see them as static others and their work is evidence for us. We need to consider them part of the intellectual journey and work that is our teaching – they have material constraints that need to be worked around. Critique of expressivism. We can’t imagine the classroom as utopian. Why does a classroom need to be a community? Student texts have little value because of little circulation.

Chapter 3 – Politics. Connection with power and authority in the classroom. Constructing the classroom to see the political as affecting all aspects of life. The open authority pedagogies might do a disservice to students (102).

Chapter 4 and Chapter 5 – academic and tradition. Why do we distrust these terms? Why do we trust progressive? Why do we undervalue student colleigiate life – why is it only something to view as nostaligic and not a site of real academic worK? The extracurriculum (117) Look for traditions hidden with in the dominant and outside of it.

Chapter 6 – writing. How do we teach students to have authority in writing? What is the effect of style? How can we teach stylistic ideas? We should use our comp classes to focus on writing, the culture of composition.

Quotable Quotes

“This subordination and sbsumption of the work of teaching to the prodcution of writing texts constitute the playing out at hte site of Composition of contradictions in more general conceptions of work.” (2)

“Actual student writign is not so much looked at as through. This blindness to the work of student writing speaks to the general denigration of students necessary to maintaining hierarchical relations between students as clients of academic professionals” (50).

“But recognizing tradition not as a fixed body of knowledge but an action and ongoing project of reworking knowledge” (204) – critical for theorizing about the SU Writing Program!


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