Revolution Lullabye

February 23, 2009

Phelps, Composing Administration as a Writer

Phelps, Louise Wetherbee. “Composing Administration as a Writer.” CCCC 1996.

The theories and practices of writing, the expertise of a composition and rhetoric scholar, can be the source for a WPA’s administrative strategies in four distinctive ways: the WPA can use her own writing to complete the intellectual and bureuacratic tasks of administration; the WPA can foster a writing community in the program; the WPA can make writing a root metaphor the work that happens in the program, transforming the program jargon and thinking; and the WPA can write scholarship about administrative practice and reflection. A WPA who uses writing in these ways is using writing in its many functions simulataneously. Those functions of writing include institutional invention, performative, framing, contact, and identity formation. Being delberate about using writing to administrate bridges the gap between author and agency, showing that administrative structures do have human faces and are, like all humans, adaptive creatures able to change.

Quotable Quotes

.”Most people mean by administration “whatever the administrator does,” but my analysis demonstrates that the functions and genres of administration are simultaneously something an individual “composes” and also a widespread, diverse set of cultural activities and structures mediated by texts and socially produced genres. Unfortunately, the ambiguity of agency and action in administration does not show up in our usage of the word. When we look at writing as a surrogate for “administration,” though, we discover that what administrators do best is to orchestrate and respond to this complex activity. Administration is all the work that gets done. Administration is the organizational structures and processes and roles—and the genres—in terms of what happens.  It is not simply what the administrator does, or autonomously composes” (12-13)

“I’m suggesting that the administrator who employs writing as a preferred tool for problem-solving and conducting daily business is likely to find herself on a slippery slope, the relationship between writing and administration sliding constantly from the instrumental use of writing as a practical tool toward the metaphoric identification of administration with writing and rhetoric. This prospect is enhanced when the administrator’s strategies and metaphoric resources for practicing administration derive not only from personal experience as an academic, technical, or creative writer and a literate person, but also from the scholarly investigation of written language.” (2)

Notable Notes

framing is managing meaning by putting one metaphor, one way to view reality, over other through metaphors, stories, spin, etc.

genres and administrative writing are multifunctional. The same document can have many purposes.


Porter et al, Institutional Critique

Porter, James E., Patricia Sullivan, Stuart Blythe, Jeffrey T. Grabill, and Libby Miles. “Institutional Critique: A Rhetorical Methodology for Change.” CCC 51.4 (June 2000) 610-642.

Composition and rhetoric scholars need to begin seeing the institution itself, as a rhetorical and spatial entity, as the place where they might critique and enact change. Working with the situated institution prevents composition and rhetoric’s critiques and calls for change from being to global and idealistic or being so local (classroom-level) that it does not effect the institution as a whole. Institutions range from the university to the school, legal, and political system. Institutional critique as a methodolgy draws on postmodern mapping and critical theory, particularily investigating the rhetorical and spatial construction of institutions, the power dynamics at the boundaries, and the multiple historical and social perspectives of those in the institution. This kind of methodology begins to push the gap between research and service and might be one way of validating and rewarding the rich intellectual work that compositionists and rhetoricians do that is all but thrown away with the label of “service.” Rhetoric and composition as a field is uniquely equip to practice institutional critique.

Quotable Quotes

“Our basic claim is this: Though institutions are certainly powerful, they are not monoliths; they are rhetorically constructed human designs (whose power is reinforced by buildings, laws, traditions, and knowledge-making practices) and so are changeable” (611).

“We focus, then, on institutions as rhetorical systems of decision making that exercise power through the design of space (both material and discursive)” (621).

“Institutional critique is, fundamentally, a pragmatic effort to use rhetorical means to improve institutional systems” (625).

Notable Notes

projects like where a writing center is physically situated on campus; how and when during the publishing process a handbook is open for revision & the various stakes that go into such a production; Ellen Cushman’s work with Quarytown in The Struggle and the Tools.

advocacy – action to enact change. Can’t stop at critique. It fills in the gap between macro-level ideals and mirco-level classroom practices

equating the discipline with the institution ignores the material constraints the discipline has to work in (619)

design relationship – between rhetoric and space

David Sibley Geographies of Exclusion, postmodern geography

McBeth, Memoranda of Fragile Machinery

McBeth, Mark. “Memoranda of Fragile Machinery: A Portrait of Shaughnessy as Intellectual-Bureaucrat.” WPA: Writing Program Administration 31:1-2, 2007.

McBeth, the WPA for ten years at the City College of New York, reconstructs Shaughnessy’s role as an administrator through both the archived material of the program, containing her published and unpublished administrative documents, and interviews with teachers and administrators who worked with her at CUNY. In this recovery project, McBeth presents an alternate perspective on the work of Shaughnessy, explicitly showing how her administrative work informed her ideas about basic writing, development of writers, and literacy, and how her work in managing a large writing program gave her a place where she could conduct and gather data for her research. McBeth describes the work of WPAs positively, contesting the pessamistic attitude that WPAs are just managers over a large system marked by unfair labor practices. McBeth argues that WPAs are more than just managers: they are intellectual-bureaucrats who use their knowledge and expertise in rhetoric and their understanding of the production of writing to lead effective, educationally sound, and progressive programs.

Quotable Quotes

“The oft-tedious bureaucratic labors we will inevitably face may not deter us from the publish-or-perish work we need to complete, but on the contrary, may lead us to it. Applying our scholarly scrutiny and creativity to the administrative positions we hold may prove to make the WPA’s labors both more fruitful and possibly more rewarding (perhaps even pleasurable.)” (62).

The records “show the intersection between her academic life as a scholar, teacher, and administrator and, additionally, how those roles necessarily coexist and inform one another.” (62).

Notable Notes

shows how Errors and Expectations is more than a pedagogy manual – it is an administrative argument about how to teach basic writing students and structure a program that will meet their needs.

mid-term and end-of-term evaluations were a key resource and research pool for Errors and Expectations

Phelps, Administration as Design Art

Phelps, Louise Wetherbee. “Administration as Design Art.”

Writing program administrators should see themselves as designers, the programs and institutions they work in as designs and sites of design, and their work as WPAs as design art. Phelps draws on the work of the New London Group, Gunther Kress, and architects Karl Weith and Stewart Brand to offer a new lens to administrative work to not just see their work as design but to also challenge them to think of their programs as always designable, never concluding in a final design. Writing programs can be sites of institutional change if they continue designing and re-desigining after their initial structure is put into place, and writing programs have the unique complex, contradictory, and improvisational place in the academy to which enact change because they are a managable size with connections, like a sprawling network, across the campus. Phelps shows how crucial it is to reach out beyond one’s own discipline to find design inspiration in all different fields. Phelps also argues that a WPA does much more than design curriculum: the teaching staff, the physical space of the institution, the relationships with different deans and other departments and faculty – these all must be designed.

Quotable Quotes

Object: “to locate administration as design art at the juncture of the practical and productive arts” (7)

“This is the road I advocate for writing programs as transformers: design things that work, but are below the radar, friendly and sprawling, messy and temporary, constantly learning” (26)

“I suggest that it is a mistake to set up a writing program primarily as an instrument to critique or change an institution. It will do that as a consequence of your designing the program to meet the intrinsic goals of its situated design, because writing programs require institutional redesign to locate, support, and implement their characteristic purposes. But theprocess, or rather consequences, should be indirect and ordinary, not grandiose, direct, and instrumentalist.” (26)

Notable Notes

high road/low road of use

designs should not be fixed, they should never end

the challenge of administration is that you cannot design in a bubble: you must jump in and design something that you can’t have complete control, management, or knowledge of. That’s the downfall of the theories presented by Kress and the New London Group

the importance of the feedback loop: remaining sensitive to context, unpredictable, in the moment, temporary – like jazz improv

the importance of construction and building over analysis and critique

Questions: Why is this the way it is? Can it be designed better? Does it have to be this way?

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