Revolution Lullabye

February 19, 2009

Mortensen and Kirsch, On Authority in the Study of Writing

Mortensen, Peter and Gisa E. Kirsch. “On Authority in the Study of Writing.” CCC 44.4 (Dec 1993) 556-572.

Reimagining authority as informed by an “ethic of care” creates a new, more dialogic form of authority than the authoritarian, autonomous model of authority that divorces authority from a contextual, material reality. Mortensen and Kirsch use a feminist framework to conceive of their alternate authority, showing how authority established through dialogue, connectedness, and collaboration in context can transform how we teach students about the kinds of authority they might construct in their writing and the kinds of authority they might encounter and enact. Mortensen and Kirsch do not reject a notion of authority, pointing out that sometimes, it serves both the teacher and the student for the teacher to take a more authoritative stance in the classroom, arguing that exercising authority (when that authority is informed by an ethics of care – a responsibility to your obligations as a teacher) is not coercion. Ultimately, Mortensen and Kirsch hope to open up ways to compose academic arguements without resorting to traditional automonous, partriarchal authority, allowing for academic discourse that is more collaborative, dialogic, and exploratory.

Quotable Quotes

“Unlike authority, care can never be fully autonomous…care inheres in relations between people and, therefore, assumes community as its first domain” (565).

We need to “shape what authority does rather than simply attempting to alter what it is.” (566).

Notable Notes

breaks down two views of authority: that you gain it through assimiliation to the standards and conventions of a discourse community; that it is inherently bad, uncritical, and repressive

authority as gendered

there is no independent, autonomous authority. It is always in context.

autonomous authority even surfaces in process pedagogy – the writer’s voice is introspective and autonomous. Even with the social turn – authority was foundational, part of the community, something to assimilate to, not constantly negotiated and emerging.

Giroux Schooling


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