Revolution Lullabye

September 4, 2012

Penrose, Professional Identity in a Contingent-Labor Profession

Penrose, Ann M. “Professional Identity in a Contingent-Labor Profession: Expertise, Autonomy, Community in Composition Teaching.” WPA 35.2 (Spring 2012): 108-126.

Penrose analyzes the factors that constitute professional identity – dynamic expertise, autonomy and authority, and participation in a professional community – and argues that this definition of a professional could be a new way WPAs can articulate the goals they have for their non-tenure-track instructors and for improving their instructors’ material working conditions.

Penrose argues that the fractured nature of the field and the work of composition instructors – that the field, though broadly coherent, can look very different through the vantage points of sub-specialties, individual research agendas, and composition curricula and programs – leads to non-tenure-track composition instructors feeling like they don’t belong in the professional composition community.  Penrose calls on WPAs to make concerted, continual efforts to cultivate a professional composition community for their non-tenure-track instructors and graduate TAs, calling the instructors’ attention to the ways they are building their multifaceted professional identites, shared language, and common values.

Penrose argues that having a vision of what a professional composition instructor is will help in WPAs arguments for offering professional development and improving instructors’ working conditions.

Notable Notes

looks at research in what makes a professional and a professional community in history, sociology, higher education

even composition programs all founded on the WPA outcomes can look widely different

professional development can seem coercive – as a way to regulate, to supervise – not as a continued process of shared learning. They can be disruptive to autonomy and authority. (116)

studies show that high levels of professional identity among K-12 teachers lead to greater student learning (110).

trend from the autonomous professional (shut my classroom door) to the collaborative professional from the 1980s and beyond (111)

current pressures in politics to deprofessionalize education, to turn it away from an authoritative community that regulates itself, has the danger of making teaching an amateur enterprise, where teachers implement and reproduce but do not create or add to the knowledge base of the community (111)

definition of profession (112): specialized expert with dynamic knowledge base, has rights and privileges, and member of a social community with shared languages, values

Quotable Quotes

“The concept of professional identity is particularly intriguing in our field, where staffing practices intersect with disciplinary indeterminacy to create a teaching community comprising professionals with widely varying preparation, knowledge, philosophical commitments, and disciplinary allegiances.” (109)

“The diversity of perspectives that we value in theory and entertain in our disciplinary scholarship becomes complicated in the applied contexts of FYC programs, where contingent faculty are often hired to further others’ agendas rather than their own.” (109-110).

“Professional identities are not simply a matter of assigned status or recognition but self-images that influence behavior – determining, for example, where we seek our professional knowledge and to whom we consider ourselves accountable” (112)

“True professionals do not simply possess a body of knowledge but engage in continuing professional development and actively contribute to the community’s knowledge base” (113).

“Professions are dynamic social groups. Being a professional is not a matter of being free from community decisions but being part of them; not just of acquiring the profession’s knowledge but of contributing to it; not of working in isolation but of engaging with colleagues. Clearly we are aiming not for one of these identities – expert, autonomous agent, community member – but for all of them” (120).

“Understanding professionalism as collaborative provides useful perspective on the question of expertise, for it shifts attention from knowledge as static to knowledge as responsive and evolving” (120).

“Composition experts are identified not by the possession of a finite body of knowledge but by a rhetorical understanding that motivates them to assess, apply, and adapt their knowledge and develop new expertise as needed to meet teaching challenges in varied contexts” (121).


June 23, 2009

Anderson, Prescribing the Life of the Mind

Anderson, Charles W. Prescribing the Life of the Mind. Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1993.

Anderson offers his critique of the contemporary American university curriculum and offers his vision of an alternative that would bring the disciplines together under the pursuit of practical reason. Influenced by Dewey, Anderson believes that a unifying force in the university – one that brings together the disciplines – can only be taught through and by the disciplines, and so it is the duty of the faculty to create a core curriculum that threads together the different areas of intellectual and practical inquiry in a way that students will find coherent and meaningful. The free elective system, marked by a core curriculum where students take a wide variety of courses that don’t necessarily speak to each other, puts the onus on the students to find the coherence when they don’t even have a sense of the map of the breadth of university knowledge. Practical reason is characterized by ongoing, purpose-driven inquiry, self-reflexive thinking and the application of judgment – of deciding that some things are valuable and some things are not.

Quotable Quotes

Practical reason: “the activity of examinign a pattern of practice, and criticizing it, analytically, reflectively, with an eye to its improvement. Practical reason is a matter of distinguishing excellence and error. It also implies mastery, the effort to do something as well as it can be done” (97).

“The aim is not to fit the individual to the disciplines but to organize the disciplines so as to develop the capabilities of the individual” (90) – how does this speak to Latour?

“If we are going to teach something greater, we are going to have to teach it through the disciplines” (88) – the disciplines are instruments toward a larger goal

Practical reason: “being acutely self-conscious about our ideas of the purpose of a human enterprise and about the practices we institute to achieve them.” (4)

Notable Notes

the core of Anderson’s curriculum: civilization (how did we come to think as we do?); science (a theoretical framework for scientific reasoning); the human situation (social sciences); the humanities (beauty, form and function, elegant design, subtle ends, cultivate judgment); and practical studies (applied fields – what do you do and why do you do it.) all meant to go deep, to find connections and meanings

practical reason as an organizing principle teaches judgment – it is complex, not simple relativism or inclusiveness

goal of American university education – traditionally open to all to cultivate practical reason necessary for democracy; the goal should be not an all-knowing individual but a particular kind of craftsman, worker who brings good practice to a field, who has a particular habit of mind

contemporary university: teaches only a certain kind of critical, detached, observant knowledge

tension between the public function of the university (to educate the public) and the private function (inquiry by academics)

March 8, 2009

Sirc, Box-Logic

Sirc, Geoffrey. “Box-Logic.” In Writing New Media. Eds. Anne Frances Wysocki, et al. Logan, UT: Utah State UP, 2004. 111-146.

Instead of teaching linear texts in our classrooms, composition teachers should encourage an aesthetic sense in their students, asking them to see writing as collection, arrangement, and juxtaposition of elements, much like a curator or artist composes. Sirc relies on the box theories and practices of Marcel Duchamp Joseph Cornell, Walter Benjamin, and George Maciunas to construct an argument about the validity of such an experimental method in composition classrooms, highlighting how it reflects the non-linear, non-conclusive writing students do outside the colldge classroom. His assignments draw on technologies from pen and paper to HTML web pages and have students create juxtapositions, research boxes, and arcades projects.

Quotable Quotes

We need to ask “What is essential to composition? What are the inescapable, minimal institutional constraints that must be considered?” (126)

“Mainstream writing instruction too often prefers to put students inot contact zones of heightened cultural import. BUt strong art, we seem can be created out of a collection of well-chosen interesting bits of the everyday.” (122)

“If we (finally) journey away from the linear norm of essayist prose, which the texts of the everyday world implore us to do, where do we go, especially in a composition classroom? What sorts of formal and material concerns guide a newly-mediated pedagogical practice?” (114)

“text as box=author as collecter” (117)

“My projects above are all attempts to use technology to infuse contemporary composition instruction with a spirit of the neo-avant-garde. The box-theorists provide a way to think about composition as an interactive amalgram, mixing video, graphic, and audio with the verbal.” (146).

Notable Notes

arrangement, no clear conclusions, just suggestions

stylistic device of the caesura (123)

highlights two activities in the classroom: annotation and note-taking, search strategies

it seems to hearken back to the individual spirit of expressionism, early process movement

students as designers, artists who experiment with blank boxes, pages, and screens to create meanings, free to capture moods, an element of play

February 22, 2009

Foucault, What Is an Author

Foucault, Michel. From “What Is an Author?” In Authorship: From Plato to the Postmodern. Ed. Sean Burke. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP,  2000. 233-246.


Foucault shifts attention from the individual author to examining the features of texts that have authors, prioritizing discourse, language itself, instead of authors or even readers. He explains that the role of the author isn’t merely descriptive; it performs an act, an authoring act in society. Four features of the author-function are as follows: it is connected to institutional and societal issues of legal property and appropriation; it is not the same for all discourses and in all cultures and time periods; it is defined through a complex process of assigning and constructing an author by searching for coherence in style, argument, and quality over many texts; and it allows for the plurality of egos, a separation of the author, narrator, and other subjects in the text. Foucault then moves to describe a particular kind of author who arose in the nineteenth century, citing Marx and Freud as examples. They are authors of entire discourses, who produced not only their own texts but a possibility for the production of others, texts that always return to the founding discourse, never debunking it. He distinguishes between a founding act of science and a founding act of discourse. Foucault then suggests what work must be done next: creating a typology of discourse through analyzing the relationships of between an author and a text and investigating the role of subjects and authors as functions of discourse, not existing outside of it.


Quotable Quotes


Marx, Freud:  “They cleared a space for the introduction of elements other than their own, which, nevertheless, remain within the field of discourse they initiated” (241).


“The initiation of a discourse practice is heterogeneous to its ulterior transformations” It “overshadows and is necessarily detached from its later developments and transformations” (242).


“The subject (and its substitutes) must be stripped of its creative role  and analysed as a complex and variable function of discourse.” (245)


“We can say in our culture, the name of an author is a variable that accompanies only certain texts to the exclusion of others: a private letter may have a signatory, but it does not have an author; a contract can have an underwriter, but not an author; and, similarily,  an anonymous poster attached to a wall may have a writer, but he cannot be an author. In this sense, the function of an author is to characterize the existence, circulation, and operation of certain discourses in society” (235).


Notable Notes


Shifts the focus from author to text, from discourse and its functions.


Labor-intensive process of assigning an author to a body of work. We believe that the work of an author must be homogenous: there must be unity in its quality, arguments, style, historical place and context. Contradictions must be solved – there can’t be any inherent complications unless they can be explained away.


The name of an author functions as a classification, creates relationships between texts and gives text and discourse a sort of permanence in society  (235)


January 19, 2009

Swarts, “Mobility and Composition”

Swarts, Jason. “Mobility and Composition: The Architecture of Coherence in Non-places.” Technical Communication Quarterly 16.3 279-309.

This study, which looks at how veternarian students use their PDAs to find information and solve problems in the hospital, asks how mobile technologies like PDAs have challenged traditional notions of genre and interpretation and offers suggestions about how these technologies can be better designed to capitalize on the constraints and possibilites inherent in them. Swarts makes a distinction between places (actual physical locations) and non-places (virtual, transit reality), arguing that genres “point to and belong to places,” making it difficult for mobile technologies, situated in non-places, to translate them easily or usefully. The students using the PDAs in the study used elements of the technology, such as the search function, to find information quickly, but by doing so, they bypassed the content that could have given them a contextual grounding of the information, which would be useful in making their medical decisions. Swarts argues that when people design information for PDAs and mobile technologies, it should be in fundamental information units instead of traditional text (from Barthes), provide some contextual information (like publication, date, and audience), and allow for descriptive connective bookmarks between chunks of information to allow the user (who carries the burden for the interpreatation of the information) to create a “meaningful configuration of information” that can be saved and accessed again (306).

Quotable Quotes

“Place implies agents that are stationary and that are working in a stable environment. Non-place implies movement and action across environments” (281).

“Genres point to and belong to places. They embody routine work practices and habits of mind that are supported by surrounding props…The same genres also regularize activities by reinforcing habits of mind shared by those who inhabit a workplace. This ability to regulate and regularize…” (281).

“Mobile technologies accelerate the production of non-place” (282).

Notable Notes

Two kinds of movement in symbol-analytic work: distribution and coordination. “Distribution implies the movement of information outward, across space and time, and through different representational and technological forms. By contrast, coordination is movement toward consolidation, toward synchronization, toward control. The effort behind coordination is one that we often delegate to technologies that comprise the architecture of our work places” (279) Bahktin?

January 12, 2009

Alexander, Ishikawa, & Silverstein, A Pattern Language

Alexander, Christopher, Sara Ishikawa, and Murray Silverstein. A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction. New York: Oxford UP, 1977.

This architectural guide is the second book of a larger work that attempts to define a theory and language for constructing spaces that allow for optimal human happiness and well-being. Alexander et al wrote this book in response to the increasingly unpoetic architectural decisions of the mid-twentieth century, which resulted in large, sprawling buildings and cities that had no elegance or life. The authors present 253 patterns, design problems and their solutions, in the book’s three different sections: towns, buildings, and construction. “Towns” describes how larger, global spaces of cities, countryside, communities, and neighborhoods can be organized; “Buildings” details the attributes that should be considered when constructing spaces and places of work, life, and recreation; “Construction” explains the type of materials and structures that should be used in buildings. Alexander’s patterns contain similiar themes that on the surface might seem contradictorary: harmonious but heterogeneous, complicated and compressed but simple and open. All the patterns are shaped around the rhythm of human life and call for balance, diversity, and specific boundaries. The patterns are further organized by asterisk marks: those that are followed by two are patterns that Alexander believes are universally deep, true, and sound; those with one he is less sure of their universaility, and those with none suggest at patterns that seems to make sense but is not engrained in the soul of human existence. These patterns are not supposed to be the foundation of some master society plan; rather, a society based on this pattern language can only emerge organically from the bottom up, as each individual designer follows the patterns to design their own space, big or small (3).

Quotable Quotes

“No pattern is an isolated entity” – a whole theme about the problem of isolation (of old people, of homes, of workplaces, of shopping areas, of little kid sleeping areas. Human beings, it seems, should be in communication with each other and interact with one another. Human life is a network.)

“This is a fundamental view of the world. It says that when you build a thing, you cannot merely build that thing in isolation, but must also repair the world around it, and within it, so that the larger world at that one place becomes more coherent, more whole; and the thing which you make takes its place in the web of nature, as you make it” (xiii).

“Many of the patterns here are archetypal – so deep, so deeply rooted in the nature of tihngs, that it seems likely that they will be a part of human nature, and human action, as much in five hundred years, as they are today” (xvii)

It is a language “which can make people feel alive and human” (xvii)

Compressing patterns is “the only way of using a pattern language to make buildings which are poems” (xliv)

“The suburb is an obsolete and contradictory form of human settlement” (30).

“The full cycle of life [needs to be] represented and balanced in each community” (145).

“People need an identifiable spatial unit to belong to” (81)

“No one stage in the life cycle is self-sufficient” (189)

Notable Notes

Each of the patterns works in concert with the others. They are organized by general magnitude -the large ones are completed by the smaller ones, the smaller ones compliment the larger ones. (xii)

There are many pattern languages; every society and culture will form its own

It is a network: create structure, embellish structures, embellish embellishments.

The goal is to make a space that resonates a poem: put together the patterns so they are dense, overlapping, and compressed, so that the space becomes meaningful, illuminated, economical, and profound.

Importance of the life cycle and interaction with all people: the old, the young, men, women

Patterns like child caves, four-story limit, row houses, still water, grave sites, roof garden, old age cottage, fruit trees, etc.

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