Revolution Lullabye

June 19, 2009

Berlin and Vivion, Cultural Studies in the English Classroom

Berlin, James A. and Michael J. Vivion. Cultural Studies in the English Classroom. Portsmouth: Boynton/Cook, 1992.

This collection aims to show those in English studies (composition and literature) how the cultural studies movement, begun in England through the Birmingham Center for Contemporary Cultural Studies, has affected the teaching of writing and literature in American college classrooms. The book is divided into two sections. The first discusses cultural studies programs, how cultural studies has affected the large-scale programmatic work of English studies, especially that of composition. The second section explains specific cultural studies courses, pedagogies, and practices that have been developed in English studies. Cultural studies helped drive the “social turn” in composition, and it studies how social practices, imbedded with history, politics, ideology, and culture, have affected the formation of meaning and langauge. Cultural studies affected the study and practice of writing in a number of ways: it is based on a poststructural idea of multiple identities and subjectivities; it positions writing as a negotiation and a culturally-coded act; it treats all acts of language, private and public, as interested and affected by cultures and situations; and it sees writing as a meaning-making act of compliance or resistance to the cultural hegemony, not just as transcribing information or knowledge. Cultural studies, the editors claim, is not a content to teach in English studies but rather a method defined by a diversity of pedagogies and practices, but students and teachers who engage in cultural studies often critique culture and explore how meaning is made, understood, and distributed.

Quotable Quotes

cultural studies is not a content but a method “of making meaning and exploring how meaning is made.” (xiv)

Notable Notes

goal: critical readers and understand notion of subjectivity

Zebroski’s critique of the Syracuse Writing studios that privilege development (of teachers, students, writing ability) without connecting it to larger social and economic forces that drive, shape, or prevent that development. The Syracuse writing curriculum, he contends, forwards individual, a-cultural notions of writing that don’t critique the ends of particular kinds of writing instruction. He warns, though, that cultural studies cannot turn into another way to indoctrinate students, a throwback to the banking model. How students are positioned in the classroom – as producers or recievers of knowledge (93) – is of key importance

See Maxine Hairston’s critique of cultural studies in composition (in Composition in Four Keys)

Delores K. Schriner: explains the Northern Arizona University composition curriculum informed by cultural studies: “one person, many worlds” (98) – can’t simplify experiences into one group; Native American. Challenge of teaching the TAs and instructors how to implement this curriculum and why it’s important

Christine Farris “Giving Religion, Taking Gold” – talks about cultural studies in the context of disciplinary cultures. Too often WAC programs try to colonize other departments by enforcing our ideas of writing and inquiry on them. Need for more discussion, see other classrooms in other disciplines as specific cultural and interpretative communities

Linda Brodkey “Writing about Difference” UT Austin course that got so much flack; using law cases to talk about issues of difference, looking at the rhetoric and argument in these legal decisions

April 25, 2009

Hawk, A Counter-History of Composition

Hawk, Byron. A Counter-History of Composition: Toward Methodoligies of Complexity. Pittsburgh: U of Pittsburgh P, 2007.

Hawk argues that in modern composition, vitalism (equated with romanticism) is seen in opposition to rhetoric, especially in terms of how composition scholars and teacher talk about and teach invention. He centers on 1980 as a pivotal year, analyzing three articles published that year (Richard Young, James Berlin, and Paul Kameen) to show how they positioned the field to take an oppositional approach to vitalism. He argues that vitalism is a powerful, important philosophy with roots in Aristotle and developed in science and philosophy over centuries. It is at the root of complexity theory, which is an increasingly relevant and important theory today, as digital technologies are rapidly changing the cultural context, showing the inadequacy of methods and techniques rooted only in mind-driven logic. He argues for vitalism to take a central role in reconfiguring composition and rhetoric scholarship and pedagogy, because only through vitalism is the body and experience brought together in concert with the mind. Vitalism also prevents teachers from having a set agenda, a set desire for their students to fulfill, placing instead the onus on the students to develop and find their own relations and metaphors, drawing on all possible means and resources in our complex, dynamic, and ever-changing ecology.

Quotable Quotes

“Composition theorists should be striving to develop methods for situating bodies within ecological contexts in ways that reveal the potential for invention, especially the invention of new techniques, that in turn reveal new models for action within those specific rhetorical ecologies” (206).

“An ethical goal for pedagogy, then, would be to design occassions in which students are more likely to create compositions rather than decompositions. A pedagogical act would be evaluated based upon the relationships it fosters and the relationships it serves – on its ability to increase rather than decrease a student’s agency, power, or capacity to produce new productive relations” (256).

“To desire an outcome for them [students] is to commit a certain violence to them” (257).

“Heuristics do not function in a vacuum; they function within complex and specific rhetorical situations. Importantly, the body is the critical, epistemological link between situation and invention. It is the interface.” (120)

Notable Notes

a counterhistory (drawing on Feyerabend) – “a counter-history is an additive paratactic aggregate rather than a recuperative manuever” (123)

distinguishes between 3 forms of vitalism: oppositional (electronmagnetic forces); investigative (scales of influence and organization); complex (events, cooperation)

dissoi logoi – new ways to group texts and to read them

Young – concerned with disciplinarity, so rejects vitalism

Berlin – concerned with his own political Marxist agenda and can’t see anything else, and so rejects vitalism

all the work in comp/rhet on vitalism seems to stem from one dissertation, Hal Rivers Weidner “Three Models of Rhetoric: Traditional, Mechanical, and Vital” (2)

vitalism became the scapegoat term

February 16, 2008

Irmscher “Finding a Comfortable Identity.”

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Irmscher, William. “Finding a Comfortable Identity.” CCC 38.1 (Feb 1987): 81-87. 

Irmscher argues that the reason composition as a field is undermined in the academy is because composition does not have research methods that accommodate the particular needs of research-teachers who are investigating the complex writing process. The empirical research methods used in the 1970s and early 1980s “complicated the familiar and obfuscated the obvious” by microanalyzing the composing process. Composition should borrow the insights of other disciplines, but it needs to create its own humanistic, dramatistic model of inquiry that takes into account the specific needs and values of the field. In his conclusion, Irmscher lists the criteria he believes should be at the forefront of scholarly inquiry in composition.

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