Revolution Lullabye

June 24, 2015

Bousquet, Composition as Management Science: Toward a University without a WPA

Bousquet, Marc. “Composition as Management Science: Toward a University without a WPA.” JAC 22.3 (2002): 493-526. Print.

Bousquet argues that composition has become complacent in the larger corporate university system, citing scholarship that promotes a “pragmatist” approach to writing program administration and rejects critical theory as “idealist.” Bousquet contends that real institutional change is only possible through collective action, and he points to both history and current union movements for better working conditions and pay for graduate students and adjuncts as evidence that change emerges from the action of collective labor, not by individuals, such as “lower management” WPAs. Bousquet’s argument relies on a Marxist reading of WPA work and current WPA scholarship, and his argument is a response to Porter et al’s Braddock-winning essay about institutional change and critique. Bousquet ultimate argument is that composition (as a field) and composition teachers would be best served if WPAs stepped away from their roles as lower managers, a role in which they support and enact the interests of the managerial university. Bousquet believes that composition should look like other academic disciplines, without a lower-level “manager” (WPA) and with tenure-track faculty lines, not adjunct labor or non-tenure-track instructorships or “parafaculty.”

Notable Notes

Central question: has composition/WPA strayed too far? Has it bought into the rhetoric of university management? And central claim: that organized labor and collection action is the only way to change the status quo and problems of composition labor, not WPAs. He imagines a model without a WPA.

Sections of his argument:

The Heroic WPA

  • Argues that the field has moved away from critical lenses and “toward institutionally focused pragmatism, toward acceptance of market logic, and toward increasing collaboration with a vocational and technical model of education” (495-496).
  • Defines the “heroic WPA” as a new figure in the field, connects it to Marx’s “’special kind of wage-laborer,’” “the members of the working class whose particular labor is to directly administer the labor of other members of their class at the frontline of the extraction of surplus value” (498).
  • Labels WPAs as “lower management,” who have as much in common with workers (or more) than they do with the higher class that they might identify with. Lower management historically has not made changes: “Lower management is particularly vulnerable, highly individuated, and easily replaced” (497). Lower management often is not tracked to upper management advancement.
  • Argues that when someone becomes a member of the lower management, their class does not change (still a member of the labor class), but their loyalties change. (498)
  • Asks who the term “compositionist” (or “we”) refers to – the teachers? The WPAs? Those who teach or those who supervise/theorize? The field writ large? Who does it represent? (499)
  • Ties the emergence of the comp/rhet discipline to shifting structure in undergrad institution in the 1970s: more students with less TT faculty.

The Intricate Evasions of As: How to Be One of the Gang

  • composition is trying to be “one of the gang” in the academic institution, a respected discipline. So there’s two layered legitimacy crises in comp: one among adjunct labor, the other around WPAs/compositionists (502)
  • WPAs/composition have accepted the realities of the corporate university instead of contending them. One example he gives is FT NTT lines, which Bousquet argues is a way to get around tenure and to assert more “managerial control” over composition teaching faculty (505) – he thinkis is a step backwards to remove tenure, not a step forward. Asks why this is happening primarily in comp, not in other fields (lit?) (506-507).
  • WPAs (lower management) do not have a good track record for changing the working conditions of adjunct composition faculty. Unions and collective action do have a good track record for this. (507).
  • WPAs are more vulnerable to academic capitalism, market logic than faculty, who can resist it to some extent (508).

The Hidden Idealism of Managerial ‘Materialism’

  • One piece of evidence he cites as comp/rhet and WPA’s acceptance of managerialism and the corporate university is the emergence of “pragmatism” in WPA scholarship (509), of rejecting “ideals” for “realities” (509).
  • The pragmatist/movement point of view critiques the critical point of view for being “idealist,” but pragmatists are their own breed of idealists, accepting a managerial point of view. (511)
  • Asks why collective action, rhetoric of change by those disenfranchised, is being challenged in the academy (513)? Why has composition accepted pragmatism? Why aren’t we more skeptical? (515)

Toward a New Class Consciousness in Composition: Writing without a WPA

  • argues against the possibility of joining WPA and teacher interests, it’s impossible to combine the interests of management and labor. Sees such rhetoric as undermining collective bargaining
  • why haven’t we made composition real, tenure-track faculty?
  • Argues that WPAs should “shed” their identity as lower management – their role to “control” or administer or supervise – and to join again with their faculty.

Quotable Quotes

“Despite the evident sincerity of this line of inquiry [Porter et al, Harris, Miller, Murphy, Grimm], I’m profoundly unconvinced that a management theory of agency and what I call the rhetoric of “pleasing the prince” is particularly useful-much less necessary-to the project of transforming institutions. I prefer instead a labor theory of agency and a rhetoric of solidarity, aimed at constituting, nurturing, and empowering collective action by persons in groups.” (494).

“In this context, the ‘heroism’ of the heroic WPA consists precisely in his or her capacity to represent the interests of the ruling class as the interests of the workers (teachers and students) in their charge” (499).

“Understanding this intimacy as a structural relationship requires careful examination of the possibility that the heroic narrative of disciplinary “success” for professional and managerial compositionists has depended in part on the continuing failure of the labor struggle.” (499)

“Clearly, the emergence of rhetoric and composition into some form of (marginal) respectability and (institutional-bureaucratic) validity has a great deal to do with its usefulness to upper management in its legitimating the practice of deploying a revolving labor force of graduate employees and other contingent teachers to teach writing. The discipline’s enormous usefulness to academic capitalism-in delivering cheap teaching, training a supervisory class for the cheap teachers, and producing a group of intellectuals who theorize and legitimate this scene of managed labor-has to be given at least as much credit in this expansion as the heroic efforts that Porter and his coauthors call the WP A’s “strong track record for enacting change” (614)” (500).

“In my view, the problem of composition labor’s felt exteriority to the gang of professors cannot be separated from the problem of composition management’s felt exteriority to the gang of disciplines: the two structures of feeling are inseparably related along the “degree zero” of the material specificity of composition work-which is to say, work conducted in the scene of managed para-faculty labor.” (502)

“Professional composition, in my view, will never feel like “one of the gang” of disciplines until its labor patterns are more like those in other fields. (Of course, this equivalence could easily come about by the frightening but very real possibility-evidenced by clear statistical trends-that labor patterns in other disciplines will become more like those in composition, rather than the other way around.) To put it in blunt terms, so long as composition’s discourse remains a management science– or, alternatively, until history, engineering, and philosophy are management sciences to the same extent-it is likely to fail to enjoy the status it seeks: the status of a discipline among peers.” (502-503).

Contends that WPAs have less power than they think: “However, whether they do so logically, intuitively, or from the experience of essaying numerous “rhetorical strategies” with disappointing results, most also understand that there is little they can do about the labor system, either as individuals or as administrators. Indeed, perhaps the most important realization of the administrative subjectivity is that “having” administrative power is to be subject to administrative imperatives-that is, to be individually powerless before a version of “necessity” originating from some other source.” (507-508).

“The installation of managerialism as the core subjectivity of the discipline of rhetoric and composition is therefore not so much an indicator of the field’s “success” as evidence of its particular susceptibility, the very terms of its intellectual evolution intertwined with the university’s accelerated move toward corporate partnership, executive control, and acceptance of profitability and accumulation as values in decision making.” (508).

“Pragmatist idealizations of the market conceal the human agency in the creation and maintenance of markets” (510) – the idea that people created these economies and institutions, deliberately choosing market/corporate/private sectors over public

“In all of these and most responsible materialist accounts, human agency drives history. But in the pragmatist-managerial version of materialism, collective human agencies are conspicuously absent.” (511)

“In holding our gaze on the managerialism of composition discourse, we ultimately need to ask, cui bono? Who benefits?” (513).

“Furthermore, what a large sector of composition labor (graduate employees and former graduate employees working off the tenure track) “really wants” is not to be treated as colleagues, but instead to be colleagues. Nearly every participant in the composition conversation would like to see writing instructors become “more like” faculty – to have the chance to govern, enjoy an intellectual life, develop as an instructor, and enjoy better pay, benefits, protections, and security. But this hasn’t translated into a consensus among professional and managerial compositionists that writing instructors should actually be faculty. Why not? Isn’t composition work faculty work? Or is composition’s “faculty work” the supervision of parafaculty? “ (516).

Argues for a “new class consciousness” in composition that is grounded in “movement unionism” that unites all faculty “on the common experience of selling one’s labor in order to live and on the desire – widespread in the academy, but also common in many sectors of service work – to “be productive” for society rather than capital” (517).

“…perhaps the professional and managerial compositionist can likewise shed the desire for control and embrace the reality of collective agency. Are we so sure after all that what the professional compositionist “really wants” is “more control” over people he or she must creatively “treat as colleagues”? Perhaps what the professional compositionist really wants is to lay down the “requirement” to serve as WPA instead and to become a colleague among colleagues.” (517-518).

“In order to realize the scene of lower management learning to practice “institutional critique” and the “arts of solidarity” from labor, we will eventually have to reconsider the limits to thought imposed by pragmatism and to learn once again to question the “inevitability” of the scene of managed labor to composition. In my view, composition’s best chance to contribute to a better world and to achieve disciplinary status depend on learning to write as colleagues among colleagues-a condition predicated on working toward a university without a WPA.” (518).

November 30, 2010

Forum: Newsletter of the Non-Tenure-Track Special Interest Group Fall 1998

Forum: Newsletter of the Non-Tenure-Track Special Interest Group 01.2. Insert in College Composition and Communication 50.1 (1998): Print.  

The Forum, first published in CCC as a special insert in early 1998, before the CCCC in Chicago, is a newsletter dedicated to representing the voices and concerns of non-tenure-track writing faculty members. The notes and quotes below address some of the reflections and articles in the newsletter.

Notes and Quotes

“The tide has finally begun to turn, I think, toward greater awareness and more productive action in support of the profession’s non-tenure-track ranks, so it’s no wonder we’re feeling a bit more hopefuland revitalized than in times past” (Roberta Kirby-Werner, editor of Forum, A1).

Cynthia Selfe, CCCC Chair, noted in the 1998 CCCC Chair’s Report that the publication of Forum as a special insert in CCC for the first time before the conference was one of the most significant things of the year for the field (A1)

At the 1998 CCCC, CCCC resolved to support the printing and distribution of Forum and to compensate the editor (first editor is Kirby-Werner of the Syracuse Writing Program)

Susan Griffin, “Speaking from the Middle”: speaks about the shift that happened at CCCC this year. Instead of just sessions about the poor working conditions for non-tenure-track facutly, there were sessions about what to do: build coalitions, collective bargaining. She talks about her position in the middle – not tenured, but full-time with multiple year contracts, no time for publishing but some support for conferences, representation with a union but no say in faculty governance. She argues that this kind of position comes at a cost for the university and the students – it denies her academic freedom, equal standing in the academy, and the power to uphold academic integrity standards.

 “My own non-tenured position – which had always seeemd so marginal, so different, such a deviation from the traditional academic path – is after all average. In fact, for thsoe who teach writing courses in higher ed, it’s typical” (A4). 

Scott Hendrix, “Talking to Janitors, Working with Students: What’s Next for (Contingent) Academics?” Hendrix argues that non-tenure-track writing faculty should expand their networks for coaltion-buidling beyond other adjunct teachers at the university and include “other contingent academic workers, as well as our undergraduate students, other campus and community groups, and organized labor,” using janitors as an example. (A6). He argues that unionized labor will make workplaces more democratic, and argues for more activism by both full-time and part-time faculty to improve the academic workplace. He explains the outcomes of the CCCC collective bargaining, coalition-building, and organizing strategies workshop: goals for educating 1. contingent faculty; 2. full-time faculty; and 3. the public and the press about university working conditions. He gives examples about how the graduate TA union at his institution started to build this kind of cross-university and cross-community coalition.

We are teachers of language, of rhetoric. Now we need to use what we know for this new purpose – social action, public rhetoric.

Sample “Who pays?” ad to give the press to explain how poor working conditions for adjuncts affect everyone.

“Our starting point, though, should be the same – to make academic work (teaching and learning) less continent, more visible and more valued, both financially and professionally” (A6).

Susan Crowley: “While we are doing all of that [organizing a system in CCCC to address contingent labor issues], I ask you to remember who it is that puts the bread on our table: the absent multitudes whose labor we exploit, whose labor allows us to enjoy positions as WPAs, researchers, and scholars. Those folks are the heart of composition instruction in America. They always have been. It is time we remembered that, and it is time that we put them at the center of our organizational efforts” (A14).

Francis Fletcher, Jamey Nye, and Steve O’Donnell “The Adjunct Faculty Manifesto” – drawing on Marx and Freire. Class system at the academy, oppression, deflecting responsibility, exclusion, fragmentation

June 6, 2009

Trimbur, Composition and the Circulation of Writing

Trimbur, John. “Composition and the Circulation of Writing.” CCC (Dec 2000) 188-219.

Trimbur argues that compositionists need to focus on and teach about the materiality of production, delivery, and circulation. Without an understanding of how writing circulates, composition courses and their students stay isolated from society, either in a strange father-child in loco parentis relationship with their teacher or investigating cultural artifacts in a cultural studies classroom, but remaining a reader, reporter, and consumer of culture rather than a producer or active participant. Trimbur uses Marx’s Grundrisse to explain Marx’s term circulation (which Trimbur uses interchangably with rhetorical canon of delivery after he explains the terms), which understands the circulation as a dialectic hierarchal power move, a deliberate distribution of knowledge and information, a relationship between labor and those in charge. Trimbur shows how he teaches about the circulation of writing in his “Writing about Disease and Public Health,” when he asks students to transform medical journal information to public news stories, which shows them how information gets changed and presented (in specific, political ways) in circulation.

Quotable Quotes

“Marx wanted to explian the various moments in the circulation of commodities – the cycle of production, distribution, exchange, and consumption – not as a series of separate events taking place in a predetermined order over time but dialectically, as mediation in mutual and coterminous relations that constitute the capitalist mode of production as a total system” (206).

“The process of production determines – and distributes – a hierarchy of knowledge and information that is tied to the cultural authorization of expertise, professionalism, and respectability.” (210)

“We cannot understand what is entailed when people encounter written texts without taking into account how the labor power embodied in the commodity form articulates a mode of production and its prevailing social relations” (210).

“Negating delivery has led to writing teachers to equate the activity of composing with writing itself and to miss altogether the complex delivery systems through which writing circulates” (190).

Notable Notes

delivery isn’t just technical (document design, Trimbur says) – it is political and ethical, can be used to democratize and circulate ideas, expand public forums (190).

exchange value v. use value – academic work in public channels

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)


February 19, 2009

Horner, Terms of Work for Composition

Horner, Bruce. Terms of Work for Composition: A Materialist Critique. Albany: SUNY Press, 2000.

Horner uses a materialist lens to examine many of the debates in the field of composition and rhetoric, ranging from the purpose of service-learning courses to whether or not the field should professionalize to how we regard students and their writing, focusing his critique on six “key terms”: work, students, politics, academic, traditional, and writing. The volume is very circular (Horner announces in introduction that the reader can read through the chapters in any order they see fit), but each chapter (organized around one of the key terms) takes up the debates and Horner’s perspective in a slightly different way. Horner’s two main arguments throughout the text are calls to the field at large. First, he argues that the work done in composition is commodified (seen as a product that can be acquired and exchanged), and this commodification, which occurs at all levels, from the classroom to the university to the outside world, allows us to think of our work and the issues we deal with as abstractions rather than connected to material conditions. Second, that abstract view allows us to cede control of our work to faceless systems and institutions, like their effects are inevitable, rather than regarding and critiquing our decisions as conscious choices. Horner challenges the field to ground our scholarship, pedagogy, and service in the material, social, and historical conditions of the local places we work in.

Quotable Quotes

Intellectual work: “This subordiniation and subsumption of the work of teaching to the production of written texts constitute the playing out at the site of Composition the contradictions in more general conceptions of work. These contradictions are manifested in the distinction between intellectual and non-intellectual labor and in the commodification of intellectual labor” (2).

He argues for “representing students above all else workers, working on themselves, Composition, the academy, and the social generally” (35).

“Our distrust of work identified with these terms [academic and traditional], like our trust in work that appears ‘progressive,’ may ay more about the dematerialized ways in which we conceive of them than about the actual work accomplished under such rubrics” (103).

Notable Notes

see tradition not as a fixed body of knowledge but something dynamic, always negotiated, a foundation that is ever-changing and re-understanding knowledge

professionalization of composition can lead to an abandonment of the consideration of the material conditions of our work

there is a problem with the delegitimization of academic writing in the pursuit of all things “real world.” Is academia not in the real world? What does that say about our work?  There is materiality in all writing. Students’ academic writing is not inauthentic.

we always look at what students lack, look to their work to gives us clues to their being. Instead of seeing students as the result of pressures and factors being worked on, see them as workers.

our work as compositionists is tied up in our students’ work

extracurriculum – students outside the classroom work is “wholly unrecognized” and not considered intellectual work (117)

February 15, 2009

Althusser, Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses

Althusser, Louis. “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes Toward an Investigation)” In Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1971. 127-186.

The educational system is the primary way the ideology of the ruling class is reproduced and therefore inscribed in society. The schools are a ideological state apparatus, which though part of the private domain, are institutions of the State in as much as they silently indoctrinate (through ideology primarily, then repression) children, producing classes of workers who each ascribe to the philosophy and mentality that is necessary for them to reproduce the societal relations that the State, controlled by the dominant class, is dependent upon for existence. The ideology that pervades ideological state apparatuses like the educational system has a material existence: it must be a practice and be performed through rituals and apparatuses created and acted out by subjects to that ideology.

Quotable Quotes

Central thesis: “1. There is no practice except by and in an ideology; 2. There is no ideology except by the subject and for subjects” (170).

“No class can hold State power over a long period without at the same time exercising its hegemony over and in the State Ideological Apparatuses” (146).

“The ultimate condition of production is therefore the reproduction of the conditions of production” (127).

Notable Notes

ideology creates subjects out of individuals, exists eternally, so we are all subjects always

extends Marx’s critique to include the idea of ideological state apparatuses in addition to Marx’s repressive state apparatuses, which ensure the political existence of the state through repression primarily, ideology second.

Church used to be the dominant ISA – one of the most important consequences of the French Revolution and the Reformation was the destruction of the Church as a unified ISA for the State.

education system takes kids away during formative years, for 11+ years, 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, and spits them out at different times, have learned different roles according to their function in society: blue collar (exploited), white collar (those who exploit), leaders/elite (create ideologies, agents of repression). School is thought to be natural, neutral, beneficial, and indispensible. Education “steeps” them in ideology (133)

ISAs are the sites of class struggle, because they are so plural and diverse, full of contradictions, State power can’t lay down the law as easily here

February 7, 2009

George, Critical Pedagogy

George, Ann. “Critical Pedagogy: Dreaming of Democracy.” 92-112.

Critical pedagogy acknowledges that teaching is a political act, that education is one of the primary ways that thought and knowledge are socially constructed into the ideologies that strucure society. Based in the writings of Freire, critical pedagogy centers around the struggle against dominant, oppressive institutional forces, seeking to liberate students by encouraging a critical stance towards society and encouraging them to develop a class consciousness. The ultimate goal is to transform society. Critical pedagogy in composition drew out of the work of Jonathan Kozol and as a reaction to 1980s conservatism (A Nation at Risk), often coupling with cultural studies to form a decidedly political and social agenda in the writing classroom. Critics of critical pedagogy argue that the often white middle-class students who are taught in this method are hardly the oppressed that Freire was writing about, and that critical pedagogy takes the focus off of writing, positions the teacher as “hero,” and is not answering to student needs (the outcome of the course is pre-determined and students aren’t given instructions on how to write and succeed in the hegemonic, dominant society.)

Quotable Quotes

Critical pedagogy “enables students to envision alternatives” (97) – schools need to be critical, dialogic democracies, public spheres of knowledge.

Simon Roger: “To propose a pedagogy is to propose a political vision,” a “dream for ourselves, our children, and our communities” (371).

Notable Notes

Important Sources: Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed and Pedagogy of Hope; Giroux, Theory and Resistance in Education, Education Under Siege, Schooling and the Struggle for Public Life; Jonathan Kozol; Ira Shor, Empowering Education, When Students Have Power; Aronowitz; Macedo; McLaren; A Nation at Risk; Action for Excellence; Dewey, Democracy and Education; George Counts, John Childs, William Kirkpatrick

Critical Pedagogy and Composition: Alex McLeod, Critical Literacy; Hurlbert/Blitz, Composition and Resistance; Jay/Graff, A Critique of Critical Pedagogy; Hairston, Diversity, Ideology, and Teaching Writing; Jeff Smith, Students’ Goals; Knoblauch/Brannon, Critical Teaching and the Idea of Literacy; Finlay/Faith; Stephen North, Rhetoric, Responsibility, and the ‘Language of the Left’; Villanueva, Considerations of American Freireistas

hidden curriculum, false consciousness, cultural production, education, schooling, literacy

tension between freedom and authority must be negotiated in the classroom

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