Revolution Lullabye

October 9, 2014

Drucker, Graphesis: Visual Forms of Knowledge Production

Drucker, Johanna. Graphesis: Visual Forms of Knowledge Production. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2014. Print. 

Drucker’s project in this book is to show how visual forms of knowledge not only display knowledge but create and generate knowledge. Drucker argues for humanist graphical knowledge: visual forms of knowledge that account for complexity, not simplicity, and that understand information as constructed, not context-less, given, or value-less. Drucker crosses multiple disciplinary boundaries as she traces the history of visual and graphical forms, showing how different categories of visual forms of knowledge situate knowledge and make arguments about hierarchies, relationships, and individual agencies. Her book juxtaposes her text and her argument with visual forms of knowledge from ancient hieroglyphics and stone carvings to screenshots of digital texts and maps. One of her goals is to show how the informational graphics and the interfaces that have become such an intertwined part of our everyday experience are arguments themselves, designed for specific purposes. She works in this book to bring these more invisible visual elements to the forefront and analyze them in critical, humanistic terms.

Quotable Quotes

“Humanists work with fragmentary evidence when researching cultural materials. They produce interpretations, not repeatable results. We have to find graphical conventions to show uncertainty and ambiguity in digital models, not just because these are conditions of knowledge production in our disciplines, but because the very model of knowledge itself that gets embodied in the process has values whose cultural authority matters very much” (191).

Writing and composition in a networked and digital world: “In spite of the networked condition of textual production, the design of digital platforms for daily use has hardly begun to accommodate the imaginative possibilities of constellationary composition, graphic interpretation, and diagrammatic writing…Very few acts of composition are diagrammatic, constellationary, or associative. Fewer still are visual or spatial. The predominant modes of composition in digital displays have remained quite linear, even when they have combinatoric or modular underpinnings” (183).

the future of humanistic interface: “More attention to the acts of producing and less emphasis on the product, the creation of an interface that is meant to expose and support the activity of interpretation, rather than to display finished forms, would be a good starting place” (179).

The graphical interface (our screen) is an argument, not a thing: “We ignore its graphicality, its constructedness, the very features that support its operations and make it work. We look at the interface as a thing, a representation of computational processes that make it convenient for us to interact with what is ‘really’ happening. But the interface is a mediating structure that supports behaviors and tasks. It is a space between human users and procedures that happen according to complicated protocols. But it also disciplines, constrains, and determines what can be done in any digital environment” (138-139).

“Perhaps the most striking feature distinguishing humanistic, interpretative, and constructivist graphical expressions from realist statistical graphics is that the curves, bars, columns, percentage values would not always be represented as discrete bounded entities, but as conditional expressions of interpretative parameters – a kind of visual fuzzy logic or graphical complexity. Thus their edges might be permeable, lines dotted and broken, dots and points might vary in size and scale or degree of ambiguity in placement. These graphical strategies express interpreted knowledge, situated and partial, rather than complete.” (132)

“The rendering of statistical information into graphical form gives it a simplicity and legibility that hides every aspect of the original interpretative framework on which the statistical data were constructed. The graphical force conceals what the statistician knows very well – that no “data” pre-exist their parameterization. Data are capta, taken not given, constructed as an interpretation of the phenomenal world, not inherent in it” (128)

“Maps, like other graphic conventions, construct normative notions about time, space, and experience that become so familiar that we take them for accurate representations rather than constructions” (82).

“Visualization formats exist independent of particular media. Calendars don’t have to be scratched into stone and bar charts don’t need to be rendered by engravers with finely tooled burins – any more than scatter plots have to be generated computationally.” (67)

“The interpretative acts that become encoded in graphical formats may disappear from final view in the process, but they are the persistent ghosts in the visual scheme, rhetorical elements of generative artifacts. The challenge is to develop a terminology for the rhetorical iconography of graphical forms that is grounded in the features of spatialized relations such as hierarchy, juxtaposition, and proximity (66).

The forms of our visual communication are arguments themselves: the forms were culturally-constructed and still contain that history: “We are still Babylonians, in our use of the calendar, our measure of days, hours, and minutes, just as we remain classical in our logic, medieval in our classification systems, and modern in our use of measurements expressed in rational form. Each of the many schematic conventions in daily use and the frequently unquestioned appearance in our documents and websites replicate ideologies in graphics” (65).

“Though we often use visual means to make images of invisible things, much of contemporary life simply can’t be shown. The workings of power, the force of ideology, the transmission of values, and other abstract ideas have no specific visual form, even if they work through a material social world.

“Speed, scale, complexity, and the infrastructure in place and at work in systems of communications, production, distribution, much scientific discovery, and humanistic thought simply cannot be made apparent in visual images. But an endless stream of visualizations continues to turn complex phenomena into images, reifying abstractions, turning them into objects to be seen” (22-23).

Goal: “the urgency of finding critical languages for the graphics that predominate in the networked environment” (17)

Methodology: “draw on the rich history of graphical forms of knowledge production that are the legacy of manuscript and print artifacts as well as digital media works in the arts and applied realms” (17)

“Even though our relation to experience is often (and increasingly) mediated by visual formats and images, the bias against visual forms of knowledge production is longstanding in our culture. Logocentric and numero-centric attitudes prevail” (16).

Notable Notes


Key terms in the introduction

information graphics = “visualizations based on abstractions of statistical data…Visualizations are always interpretations – data does not have an inherent visual that merely gives rise to a graphic expression” (7)

graphical user interface – “dominant feature of screens in all shapes and sizes…In a very real, practical sense we carry on most of our personal and professional business through interfaces. Knowing how interface structures our relation to knowledge and behavior is essential.” (8)

Visual epistemology – “ways of knowing that are presented and processed visually” (8)

Language of form – “a systematic approach to graphic expression as a means as well as an object of study” (9)

Image, Interpretation, and Interface

Looks at different theoretical and methodological ways of understanding visual forms as knowledge, cross disciplinary and across history

There have been efforts in the late 19th, 20th, and 21st century to create a language for graphics – formal rules and descriptions (18)

We use visualization a lot, but it is still treated as less than, suspect (23) Maybe in part because there is no universal grammar of visualization – visuals by their nature are not consistent, don’t hold meaning with “stable, fixed, and finite rules” like words/language/mathematics does. (24)

In science, visuals were used to represent and record knowledge, not produce knowledge (26-27)

Change in the late nineteenth century (Eugene Guillamume, industrial revolution) from a graphic language based on the human body (fine arts) to one based on geometry (industrial design, design to be produced and reproduced through mechanical means) (31).

Growth of formal education/principles/methods in graphic and visual design in the 20th century, modernism (35)

20th century – rise of the use of visual/graphical/statistical displays of knowledge

Interpreting Visualization/Visualizing Interpretation

The histories of visual forms of knowledge

Forms that Drucker investigates: 1. Timekeeping (star charts, calendars, timelines; 2. Space-making (maps); 3. Administration and record-keeping (tables, charts, grids, flow charts); 4. Trees of knowledge (family trees, network diagrams, evolutionary diagrams, division and hierarchy and relationships); 5. Knowledge generators (diagrams, volvelles, Venn diagrams; 6. Dynamic systems (model processes and events, weather maps and meteorology, fluid dynamics, chaos theory and systems mapping

Distinction between “static” representations (those visual representations that are merely representations of information) and “dynamic” representations (those visual representations that can create or generate knowledge) (65).

Interface and Interpretation

Looks at digital and book interface as encoding and producing knowledge, explores what a humanistic interface design might be and entail.


Call for new rhetorics, grammars of the digital media age

October 24, 2013

Gilbert, The Problem That (Still?) Has No Name

Gilbert, Sandra M. “The Problem That (Still?) Has No Name: Our Brilliant Careers in a World without Work.” College English 76.1 (September 2013): 29-34.

Gilbert comments on Susan Gubar’s essay “Our Brilliant Career: Women in English, 1973-2010,” which is published in the same September 2013 issue of College English. Gilbert and Gubar met as young assistant professors in the English Department at Indiana University and collaborated throughout their careers. In her essay, Gilbert asks whether the present reality of women in the humanities and women in society more broadly measures up to the expectations and hopes of the generations of women who worked to disrupt patriciarchal structures and assumptions and give women opportunities in the workplace, in politics, in business, and in higher education. She questions whether women can “have it all” and names some of the new problems facing women and specifically women in the humanities: eroding departments and support for research; attrition of women on the tenure-track; the feminization of the humanities.

Notable Notes

draws on personal experiences and her own history like Gubar – she was in the first wave of women academics, encouraged by early feminists (Simone de Beauvoir, Betty Friedan, Kate Millett)

the excitement – bliss – expectations of the early years of the 2nd wave of feminism contrasted with the realities faced today, struggles & challenges that weren’t anticipated

“diminished things” (32)

Quotable Quotes

Getting and keeping a tenure-track job in the 1970s, 1980s: “Yet there [Indiana University], as almost everywhere, the attrition rate of tenure-track women who didn’t make it through complicated professional hoops or had to move (as I did) for personal reasons was high” (31).

About traveling to conferences, giving talks with Gubar around the country and leaving behind children/husbands: “But the pangs of separation often seemed worth it: I used to carry a picture of the Cabinet around with me – a bunch of dark suits circling a long table, backed up by a woman carrying a coffee pot. When I asked myself why am I on this airplane? I took out the picture and told myself, that’s why” (31).

“Still, change is slow; it comes in increments, as wise voices tell us. Our country has a (male) African American president, and we women are now professors, doctors, lawyers in numbers that would have astounded Virginia Woolf. We are Supreme Court judges, we are corporation presidents – and we are a majority of graduate students in English departments. Wasn’t it worth the wait? For here it is, the world we struggled for. But sadly, as Susan so incisively laments, the humanities we sought to change have become ‘a diminished thing.’ In fact, more than a few of the other workplaces to which English PhDs might have aspired – libraries, research foundations, museums, nonprofits – have become diminished things” (32).

“Yet still: still, as I look around me, brooding on the hopes of my children and their children, my students and their students, I can’t help thinking, ‘Never such innocence,’ to quote Philip Larkin in an even more dreadful manner” (33).

Gubar, Our Brilliant Career: Women in English, 1973-2010

Gubar, Susan. “Our Brilliant Career: Women in English, 1973-2010.” College English 76.1 (September 2013): 12-28.

Gubar uses her own personal career trajectory – her work as a professor in the Indiana University English Department from 1973 through 2010 – to comment on the state of the humanities in 21st century U.S. higher education and the shifting forces that have affected women’s careers in the humanities over this span of 37 years. She calls in her article for women to protect and advocate for the gains they have made in the academy for the sake of future generations of women scholars and their students. She also argues for the necessity of the humanities in 21st century American society, contending that its decreased influence and presence on college campuses today threatens our democratic society and culture. Her article shows in vivid detail the specific challenges women faced in the academy, ranging from professoinal dress to juggling the demands of family and spousal commitments with increased service and administrative expectations as funding and time for research diminished in the 1980s and 1990s.

Notable Notes

“the wives” – juxtaposition of the English faculty gatherings in 1973 and 2010. “The wives” formed a collective, many had just as stellar credentials as their husbands or the newly hired female faculty, but they were relegated to a supporting cast. There was tension between these “wives” and the new female faculty – the “wives” were never able to be, never allowed to be, what the new female faculty were. (contrast to today’s “mommy wars”)

In contrast, the “husbands” and the “partners” of faculty in the 1990s and 2000s never formed the same kind of collective, as the husbands, wives, and partners often had their own careers. What this marks is a shift in departmental culture from 1973 to 2010 – now it is much more disperse.

change in departmental male/female ratio – in 1973, there were 73 faculty (4 women). In 2010, there were 47 faculty (23 women)

the feminization of the humanities (13) – referring to the place of the humanities at institutions of higher education, but how does that term serve to blame women entering the profession for the demise of the humanities? (13)

central question – what has happened to women in English as the humanities have become devalued, and what has happened to feminist criticism in the humanities? (13)

long lists of names of former female colleagues who left IU, left the profession

Gubar was in the first wave of women hires – early 1970s

touches on issues of dress, pregnancy, nursing, having children in the midst of a career, being single v. married in a college town

change in faculty replacement hires: instead of one-for-one or growing the department in the 1970s, less and less tenure-track faculty were hired – cutbacks (18)

When less faculty are hired, the workload remains the same, so the younger (and more female) faculty teach more and larger classes, direct more theses and dissertations, and take on higher service loads (18). At the same time, tenure expectations were raised.

increased specialization leads to less focus on a local institution/department and more attention to research, a national discipline and conversation (and empty department hallways). Problem of faculty retention (20; 22).

as women rose in ranks, woman-woman rivalry increased: women were torn between protecting younger women and giving honest evaluations, increased competition for limited research funds, salary compression and inversion (21).

today’s problems: gulf btwn K-12 and university education, international and multilingual students, tension btwn education and comp/rhet field, online education (26)

Quotable Quotes

“The conjunction of women’s successful integration into the humanities and the attenuation of the humanities is not causal, I believe, but rather concurrent and coincidental” (13).

“In retrospect, I sometimes think of my cohort as ‘the lost generation’; for a variety of reasons, few of them could or would stay the course” (17).

“As the ranks of senior male professors dwindled through retirement, mid-level women often had to become what is called ‘heavy lifters’: they had to staff so many service-oriented activities or engage in so much advising and mentoring that their research tended to suffer” (18).

“People became less grounded in local university business, more active with colleagues around the country who shared their fields of specialization” (19).

“To use a buzzword that encapsulates the situation, the erosion of herteronormativity that began first with the disappearance of ‘the wives,’ and then with the appearance of lesbians on the faculty, gained momentum” (23).

“the contraction or depopulation of the humanities at the present moment” (24) – less students, graduate TAs/PhD candidates, faculty…focus on vocational, job training, sciences, business, etc. More reliance on contingent faculty to teach, fewer tenure lines

“For all our activism inside the academy, feminists have failed to surmount the multiple forces that conspired to marginalize the profession, and therefore we have failed to insure the future of our sucessors or, indeed, of our own benefits and environments” (25).

“How do I honor the equity that women have attained in the beleaguered humanities without worrying that their presence has contributed to the feminization of the profession, driving men from it and thereby further downgrading its prestige and currency in the culture?” (26).

“Never has a democratic culture needed the critical reading, writing, and interpretive skills practiced and taught by our profession more than now” (26).

“We must sustain what we fought so hard to attain” (27).

October 11, 2013

Bernhardt, Review Essay: Rhetorical Technologies, Technological Rhetorics

Bernhardt, Stephen A. “Review Essay: Rhetorical Technologies, Technological Rhetorics.” College Composition and Communication 64.4 (June 2013): 704-720. Print.

Bernhardt briefly summarizes and reviews five recently-published edited collections and single-authored monographs in the field that explore the recriprocal interaction between rhetoric and technology. Each book he reviews explores how different technologies – both “old world” technologies like the typewriter and new media technologies – have impacted how we understand rhetorical theory, analysis, and practice.

The five books included in the review:

Borrowman, Shane, ed. On the Blunt Edge: Technology in Composition’s History and Pedagogy. Anderson: Parlor P, 2012. Print.

The chapters included in Borrowman’s collection look at a wide range of technologies and their impact on the field and how we understand writing, rhetorical education, and rhetorical identity. Some of the technologies include Athenian graffiti (RIchard Enos), handwriting and penmenship, typewriters, moveable type, audiovisual aids, and codes and hidden messages. Though the collection does not specifically focus on new media technologies, its understanding of how specific technologies impact rhetoric and how we think about and express meaning offer one perspective through which to explore new digital technologies.

Kimme Hea, Amy C., ed. Going Wireless: A Critical Exploration of Wireless and Mobile Technologies for Composition Teachers and Scholars. Cresskill: Hampton P, 2009. Print.

Kimme Hea’s collection explores the impact wireless computing and our constantly connected, multi-tasking lives on our students, classrooms, communities, pedagogies, and understanding of communication, writing and rhetoric.

McCorkle, Ben. Rhetorical Delivery as Technological Discourse: A Cross-Historical Study. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 2012. Print.

McCorkle, through a large historical review, argues for a reconsideration of the rhetorical canon of delivery. His chapters look at ancient oratory practice, medieval preaching, the 19th-century elocutionary movement, and then look forward to how new media technologies might change the reciprocal relationship between speech and writing, a central theme of his book. Bernhardt labels his argument as “conservative,” and argues that it lacks some theoretical coherence and overlooks a possible connection to the canons of arrangmeent and memory (711).

Rice, Jeff. Digital Detroit: Rhetoric and Space in the Age of the Network. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 2012. Print.

Bernhardt lauds Rice’s cross-disciplinary text that brings together rhetoric and network studies to investigate how we can experience and understand the multiple dimensions of Detroit. Rice relies on association, network, juxtaposition, and contradiction to build and recover narratives that challenge the dominant understanding of Detroit as a place of urban decay and hopelessness.

“Rice’s networking of Detroit purposefully embodies the confusion, indeterminacy, and mixed messages of a heavily trafficked and overloaded web of connections. Detroit is more like the buzzing, blooming confusion of the Web than it is a resolved, understood, and constantly signifying city” (713).

Delagrange, Susan H. Technologies of Wonder: Rhetorical Practice in a Digital World. Logan: Utah State UP, 2011. Web.

Delagrange’s eBook – a free, downloadable PDF file, rich with images, embedded links, and videos, and designed with an Adobe interface – embodies digital technology in its deliver. Her central argument is that the visual and the embodied need to be considered viable alternatives to the printed, written word. She uses an extended metaphor of the Wunderkammer (the wonder cabinet, the cabinet of curiosities). Bernhardt critiques Delagrange’s argument as a little passé, arguing that there already is acceptance of scholarship as visual, embodied, and performative at the academy and within composition and rhetoric (719). He also points out that although her book argues for an alternative to logocentric arguments, her book relies on the verbal, not the visual, to make its claims.

January 16, 2013

Selfe and Hawisher, Methodologies of Peer and Editorial Review: Changing Practices

Selfe, Cynthia L. and Gail E. Hawisher. “Methodologies of Peer and Editorial Review: Changing Practices.” College Composition and Communication 63.4 (June 2012): 672-698.

Selfe and Hawisher, in this section of a two-part symposium in CCC on peer review, describe the history and the changing nature of prepublication and postpublication peer review.  They explain the strengths and drawbacks of traditional double-blind or doubly anonymous peer review (in which both the author and reviewers remain anonymous to one another), and then describe how the advent of digital publishing and using electronic platforms for peer review has changed the process to be one that is more open and collaborative.  They draw on the “gift economy” argument by Kathering Fitzpatrick (Planned Obsolescence) to illustrate changing perceptions and expectations for academic publishing, such as a reconceptualization of copyright, access, and the ultimate purposes and aims of academic scholarship. In their study of peer and editorial review, they interviewed the editors of three digital presses and four online journals in composition and rhetoric in order to discover how the digital environment has changed peer review and publication. They find that online publications, especially ones that utilize coding, video, and audio features, allow for and perhaps even require a more collaborative and transparent relationship among the authors, editors, and reviewers than traditional anonymous peer review.

Notable Notes

challenge of digital publication: maintain integrity, professionalism

hierarchy of prestige of journals is maintained by senior scholars passing on preferences/expectations to junior scholars

citation indices only contain a small percentage of the field’s journals (684)

peer review relies on volunteer efforts to edit, review articles – time-consuming process that is not often recognized as part of scholarly work

Quotable Quotes

“A combination, then, of understanding review as a collaborative process supported by dramatic changes in digital communication has influenced many editors in the field to make reviews more open” (687).

“As should be quite obvious, this exploration of changing peer review practices and their consequences is just a beginning and has been helped immeasurably not only by colleagues who edit established journals but also by those who pioneer the creation of new venues through which the field may share its research and those who participate willingly within such experimental systems. We are convinced that only through such exploration and experimentation will we, as a large and complex profession, develop better, more productive, and more humane ways of dealing with the peer review of scholarship” (693).

December 31, 2011

Dobrin, Introduction: Finding Space for the Composition Practicum

Dobrin, Sidney. “Introduction: Finding Space for the Composition Practicum.” In Don’t Call It That: The Composition Practicum. Ed. Dobrin. Urbana: NCTE, 2005. 1-34.

This introduction sets out the scope of the author’s edited collection, which explores the debates surrounding the graduate (sometimes undergraduate) composition practicum: the place of theory in the course, its curriculum, its aims, its ramifications for institutional politics, and its place in disciplinary research, scholarship, and identity.

Dobrin claims that the composition practicum is not merely about training teachers to teach composition or professionalizing those teachers; rather, what the composition practicum course does is enculturate those students “into the cultural ideologies of composition.” This fact, Dobrin claims, makes “the practicum one of the most powerful and important spaces of occupation in composition studies.” (21). He argues that composition studies should be more aware of the power the practicum has on the field as a whole.

Dobrin argues that the debates about the composition practicum are political in nature and centered on the perpetual divide and debate of theory/practice, and therefore the questions raised by the composition practicum are shared with the questions inherent in composition studies and writing program administration scholarship. Dobrin argues that the composition practicum is a particularly important site for the field to study, as it is where the identity of the discipline is often defined for the next generation of scholars; thus, the composition practicum is where the field’s “cultural capital” is created and perpetuated.

Dobrin surveys the history of the composition practicum at American universities since the turn of the 20th century, noting that not much has changed in regards to the incorporation of both theory and practice in the course and the political arguments that surround the course.


“The practicum functions as a primary purveyor of composition’s cultural capital.” (6)

“Let’s face it, as a device through which ideologies are reinforced and programmatic cultures are created and maintained, the practicum course is a powerful tool not only for guiding the ways new teachers learn to think about their teaching, but also for controlling how and in what ways the very discipline of composition studies is perpetuated. The cultural capital of composition studies is maintained and immortalized by way of the practicum.” (4)

“Practica give shape and formula to the identity of programs. This notion of program identity is important because it carries cultural capital through to first-year students and what it means “to write.”” (26)


focuses on the graduate (TA) composition practicum course, which is often more than day-to-day advice and “how-to” practical help, serving instead as an introduction to composition theories and histories

central issue: legitimization (is the practicum course rigorous enough? Is practice critical enough? should the practicum course be given for credit?)

a challenge of the course: it is often the only course graduate student take in composition theory, history, or practice. It has a lot of ground to cover.

Some problems Dobrin addresses:

Much of the literature about teacher preparation and the practicum is grounded in the local – both because, perhaps, there is little other context, and also because the theory of what we do is so grounded in the relationships and experiences we have – it is practical (30)

1. the composition practicum is seen as an introduction to the field, but the field is not all about teaching and also not all about FYC (22)

2. requiring all English grad students to take a practicum reinforces the subordinate position of composition (as something students must do and be “trained” to do instead of what they want to do) (22)

3. A WPA’s approach in her program can often be traced back to the single composition practicum course that she took as a graduate student (27) – exponential influence

4. confusion of teacher/student identity: are those in the practicum teachers or students?

3. the composition practicum is an argument, forwarding a particular vision of professionalization and the field (through theories, methods, vocabulary) and is also a mechanism for “policing,” control and enculturation (24-25)

Guerra/Bawarshi’s essay in this collection looks at shifts between different WPAs in the same program: “cult of personality”

May 25, 2011

Bizzell, Rhetorical Agendas

Bizzell, Patricia (Ed.). Rhetorical agendas: Political, ethical, spiritual (Proceedings of the 11th biennial conference of the Rhetoric Society of America, May 28-31, 2004, Austin Texas). 2006.

These essays were collected from the Rhetoric Society of America’s 2004 conference, which called for papers based on the theme Rhetorical Agendas: Political, Ethical, Spiritual, and the conference featured speakers who took up the theme to talk about a wide range of histories, theories, and pedagogies.

Bizzell argues against the postmodern idea that human beings have no agency, claiming that rhetoric is based on the idea that individual rhetors have choices (constrained, yes, but still have agency), and part of what scholars of rhetoric do is “investigate the conditions that produce rhetorical agency” (xi).

In the collection:

Faigley, Lester. “Rhetorics Fast and Slow.” 3-9.

Faigley distinguishes between “fast rhetoric,” the rhetoric that seems to define our information-saturated, fast-paced world, and “slow rhetoric,” a kind of rhetoric that encourages students and people to think deeply and consider problems from multiple points of view. He argues that developing pedagogies of “slow rhetoric” can better equip students to deal with and solve the complex problems of our world.

“That most of our problems are human-created is both a cause for optimism and depression. Many problems could be addressed if people choose to do so. Yet a sense of inevitability – that nothing can be done – pervades our culture. Fast rhetorics are manifestation of a culture that suffers from attention deficit disorder, a culture where things are quickly used and discarded, a culture where the abuse of the environment and gaping inequalities are ignored. As Jackie Royster puts it, we need better ways of being and better ways of doing. We need pedagogies that encourage students to develop a sense of place, a sense of stewardship, a sense of equity, and a sense of connectedness to the world around them. We need to make better arguments about the value of slow rhetoric and be more imaginative about creating spaces where slow rhetoric can be practiced. The fate of future generations will depend on how well the students we teach can use slow rhetoric” (9).

January 14, 2011

Ohmann, Foreword

Ohmann, Richard. “Foreword.” In The Politics of Writing Instruction Postsecondary. Eds. Bullock and Trimbur. Portsmouth: Heinemann, 1991. ix-xvi. Print.

Through juxtaposing his personal journey as a writing scholar and teacher during the civil rights and anti-war events of the 1960s and the social and political turn in composition in the late 1980s, Ohmann, in this foreword to the edited collection of The Politics of Writing Instruction Postsecondary argues for the politicizing of composition. Ohmann reflects on the essays included in the collection, which include arguments about the economics of writing instruction, the labor practices in college composition, the social justice work done in the writing classroom, and the professionalization of the field within the academy. Ohmann argues that writing is always value-laden and therefore political; what has happened in the field is that scholars have overtly pointed out how it is so. He points out the revolutionary rhetoric in the current comp/rhet literature and asks how such global revolution is possible while comp/rhet and writing instructors are part of a larger and entrenched capitalist, patriarchal, and hierarchal administrative structure in the university. He does contend that keeping the revolutionary spirit and ideas alive is an essential part of being intellectuals and teachers of rhetoric.

Notes and Quotes

In the 1960s, 1970s: “Writing instructors didn’t have to politicize the field, though some did: politics flowed into the classroom, and only then did we begin to ntoice that politics had always been there” (xi)

“Surely the politicization of writing instruction must be in part understood as the insurgency of an underpaid, overworked, and disrespectd occupational group” (xi)

“With professionalization came more organizations, more meetings, more seminars, more journals – an arena within which the writing instructoriate could consolidate its anger as well as share discoveries about rhetoric” (xi)

January 10, 2011

Connors, Overwork/Underpay

Connors, Robert J. “Overwork/Underpay: Labor and Status of Composition Teachers since 1880.” Rhetoric Review 9.1 (Fall 1990): 108-125.

Connors looks at the change in the institutional position of composition teachers from 1880 to the present (1980), tying composition’s current low status to broader changes in society and American higher. Connors explains how the structure of the composition course in the late 1800s – which most often contained the entire freshman class, not split into sections, and which was based on frequent essay-writing and individual attention to students – butted up against the rise in American university student population. Professors of rhetoric were overworked, often moved on to another less laborous field, and rhetoric was not considered a desirable field for a scholar to enter. The growing graduate student population provided a large pool of cheap labor, which extended after the graduate students graduated and became poorly-paid instructors (disproportionalty more women than men compared to other fields) in order to have a foot in the door for a more well-paying assistant professor position. Connors uses historical documents and reports to construct his history, including reflections written by and about the Boylston Chair at Harvard, the Hopkins Report of 1913 (which published the results of a nationwide survey of over 600 composition teachers about their working conditions and expectations), and the NCTE “English and the PhD” report from 1925 (which argued that literature PhDs were not trained to teach composition)

Notes and Quotes

“Rhetoric has changed in a hundred years from an academic desideratum to a grim apprenticeship, to be escaped as soon as practical” (108).

Connors explained the first American college literacy crisis, which originated at Harvard in 1874 and resulted in the institution of hte required basic freshman writing course.

late 1800s: coeducation (men felt more comfortable writing arguments to women than debating them); rise of business and industry that demanded consistent written communication; larger debates of linguistic correctness; university student population growing rapidly and the emerging notion of writing instruction that should be individualistic (and hence labor-intensive.)

Hopkins Report estimated that, given how fast a teacher could read (2200 words an hour, 10 hours a week), a composition teacher could only effectively teach 61 writing students.

“While teachers in other fields were dealing successfully with the larger numbers in their classes by evolving techniques of discussion and lecture, composition teachers were tied to the reading of thousands of themes” (115).

mismatch between the work required to get a PhD (investigation, research) and what the TAs were then expected to do (teach, often sections of freshman composition.) TAs were assigned multiple sections of labor-intensive composition while trying to complete their dissertations, and they hated rhetoric andcomposition as a result.

Why did people agree to be part of the composition underclass? 1. “Surplus” PhDs who wanted to stay doing something academic in the hopes of getting a better job 2. Women who did not have a fair shake in competing with fellow male PhDs for academic jobs 3. Women who had the added burden of raising children and couldn’t compete in scholarly production 4. Women who needed part-time jobs to raise children. 5. People who wanted part-time flexibility

“Unless and until teaching and studying writing can be made work the entire English faculty wants to share in, irresistable social forces will maintain the underclass and all of the unhappiness and poisonous inequality that have always followed in its train.” (one solution – give extra credit to faculty who agree to teach writing)

uses late-19th and early-20th century reports, articles in English Journal, monographs, surveys on the teaching of English and composition

December 16, 2010

Schell, Gypsy Academics and Mother-Teachers

Schell, Eileen E. Gypsy Academics and Mother-Teachers: Gender, Contingent Labor, and Writing Instruction. Portsmouth: Heinemann, 1998.

Schell argues that there is a deliberate connection between the low status of women in the academy and in the workforce in general, the devaluing of the teaching of writing, and the part-time contingent status of those who teach college composition (who are overwhelmingly female.) She draws on feminist methodology and uses interviews, surveys, published narratives, and studies to try to represent the many perspectives of women who hold contingent faculty positions, to explain the social phenomenon of why so many women get tracked into contingent faculty positions, and to argue for collective feminist change, one that is grounded into modern economic, political, and historical realities. Schell argues that the thrust of change, which has been led and conducted in a “pragmatic professional context” through national organizations like AAUP, CCCC, and MLA, needs to be transformed to a strategy that specifically addresses the needs of women teaching in contingent faculty positions (81-82). In her final chapter, she identifies, through her research in the field’s literature and through her surveys, four of the popular solutions to the contingent labor problem and then explores their benefits and consequences: 1. the conversionist solution (converting part-time to full-time tenure-line positions); 2. the reformist solution (reforming the working conditions of non-tenure-line faculty); 3. the unionist/collectivist solution (organizing unions and building coalitions through professional organizations); and 4. the abolitionist solution (getting rid of the first-year course, which relies on exploitive contingent labor. Schell contends that change will only come from a deeper understanding of the forces that affect higher education – that the solutions batted about by those in the field and others outside will not work if the field’s higher education illiteracy – a responsibility to be aware academic citizens, literate in discourse and practices of higher education administration – is not addressed.

Notes and Quotes

teaching was one of the first acceptable professions for women – 19th century

naming: “Composition instructors are often described in gendered terms as handmaids, wives, mothers, and midwives, thus making women’s work as composition teachers a biological and social extension of unpaid, undervalued domestic labor” (62).

culled from her interviews of part-time instructors themes that many implied or talked about in reference to their contingent labor positions, teaching writing, and being a woman in a male-centered university system.

1995 Feminist Workshop at CCCC: “Women in the Academy: Can a Feminist Agenda Transform the Illusion of Equity into Reality” – to investigate the unique challenges of women juggling their professional and personal lives (82).

Other CCCC organizations that attended to women’s working lives and conditions: The Committee on the Status of Women in the Profession (1997) and the Coalition of Women Scholars in the History of Rhetoric and Composition (1990, a caucus): goals to network, encourage mentorship, research the professional status of women in the field. (83-84)

Draws on Hansen’s “Face to Face with Part-Timers” to again argue that one way that WPAs can work towards improving the professional status and working conditions of women part-timers is by offering professional development and encouraging these part-timers to pursue professional and research opportunities (87)

need to challege, redefine the motherly caretaker teacher role that puts women at a professional disadvantage in the academy

“imperfect solutions to imperfect problems”: Schell’s subtitle to Chapter 5 (90).

“Fundamentally, though, a lack of knowledge of current labor trends and higher education management and economic policies is a form of crippling illiteracy” (119).

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