Revolution Lullabye

December 31, 2010

Phelps, Practical Wisdom and the Geography of Knowledge in Composition

Phelps, Louise Wetherbee. “Practical Wisdom and the Geography of Knowledge in Composition.” College English 53.8 (1991): 863-885.

Phelps investigates what the field values and the theory/practice tension in the discipline and in the academy. She argues that theory does not necessarily govern practice: that practice can be critical and tacit and that activity produces knowledge. She extends a teacher’s critical reflection and practical experimentation outside an individual classroom or teacher by explaining how practical wisdom can be cultivated in a teaching community. She uses the Syracuse Writing Program as her site of research.

Notes and Quotes

explains what theory has to offer practice, and what practice has to offer theory

“The resistance of a wise practice to theory redeems us from the danger of claiming to predict or dictate human life rather than trying to explain or understand it. Practical wisdom reminds us that theoretical systems are never exhaustive or adequate to phenomena, and thus undercuts their totalizing tendencies. This is the humbling discipline that practice has to offer theory, in return for its freedom” (884).

teacher-talk and lore – these are often confined to an individual’s own classroom experience. She expands this through program, curriculum development to talk about how knowledge is produced in a teaching community.

practical knowledge depends on a immediate and deep back-talk, reflective cycle

Scholes, North, Stenhouse

“Making things and performing actions both require ‘calculative’ reasoning, under similar conditions of relativity and uncertainty. Interestingly, these are precisely the circumstances for reflective practice…they are the constraints under which human beings inhabit a world of choice calling for judgments based on inadequate knowledge and conflicting values. These circumstances of uncertainty, contingency, and conflict call for informal reasoning rather than the strict rules of formal logic and empirical proof” (876-878).

use as a counterpoint to interview experiences


November 15, 2010

Miller, Managing to Make a Difference

Miller, Thomas P. “Managing to Make a Difference.” In A Field of Dreams: Independent Writing Programs and the Future of Composition Studies. Ed. Peggy O’Neill, Angela Crow, and Larry W. Burton. Logan: Utah State UP, 2002. 253-267. Print.

Miller argues that the discipline and independent writing programs and departments in particular need to draw on rhetorical theories and concepts to answer some of the challenges that stand-alone writing programs and departments face. He asks and explores the question, “What is rhetoric and what good is it?”, in order to point out the rich theories and ideas available to the field, a comprehensive history of rhetoric as a humanistic, pragmatic discipline. He disagrees with the idea that creating stand-alone departments with tenured faculty will increase the standing of the discipline at the university, questioning why rhetoric and composition would want to buy into a tenure system that privileges insular, specialized conversation separate from the practical outside world which is the place where civic rhetoric occurs. He argues that investing the teaching of writing with the power and practicality of rhetoric could help reverse the unethical treatment of contingent faculty; that the current university structure, with its positioning of writing as a skills-based course, is supported by the continual turnover of teachers. He uses the metaphor of bifocals to argue that independent writing programs need to continue shifting back and forth between attending to the local needs of their students and faculty and the larger moves in the field and the university structure, finding a progressive place where they can do civic rhetorical work.

Notes and Quotes

“Such systems for making the teaching of writing manageable can make it invisible, in part by keeping writing teachers moving on from institution to institution, where they become but fleeting shadows in crowded hallways who can be ignored by ‘regular’ faculty. The invisible men and women of the profession haunt our dreams as we haunt theirs, much like Ellison’s Invisible Man, whose main character looked to a prestigious college to gain professional standing and left with nightmares that his letter of recommendation amounted to a single line: keep this boy running. One way that the higher educational system has kept itself running is by keeping teachers of writing on the move, looking to find a place for themselves in a profession that has depended upon their absence for its sense of itself” (266).

“If rhetoric is to become an aid in negotiating the conflicted goals of writing programs, we must expand our fields of vision to include the domains where it has practical import” (265). Social movements, political movements, state educational systems, institutional reform, labor organizing, organizational communication

“What is rhetoric and what good is it?” – “A rhetorical stance is oriented to purposeful action, not merely criticizing or theorizing, but applying critical understanding to the question of what and how one should act in this situation here and now.” (260).

Some of the concepts he uses – phronesis (practical wisdom as an alternative to scientific inquiry); collapsing the binary of teaching and research by shifting to a third alternative: service (seeing differences as the possibility for a new alternative); rhetoric’s focus on the arts of citizenship (bridging the service orientation of composition with the university’s desire to be seen as an active member of its community); understanding the rhetorical situation and contextual resources of each writing program (designing within rhetorical constraints).

“Writing is everyone’s concern and nobody’s responsibility because prevailing reward systems devalue teaching in general and the teaching of writing in particular. In fairly systematic ways, college faculty have failed to come to terms with the fact that they teach for a living, because they have been rewarded for thinking otherwise” (254).

“I believe that some of the disabling dualisms that constrain our efforts can effectively mediated by rhetoric, if we view it as a pragmatic philosophy of social praxis and not simply a set of techniques for writing. When understood as a civic philosophy of deliberative action, rhetoric can help us bridge the gaps between professional discourses and personal forms of writing, between belletristic and utilitarian value systems, and between research and service missions, if we can put on our bifocals and shift our gaze back and forth between its immediate practical applications and more long-range reflections on the situations, audiences, and purposes that confront us” (256).

“One of the basic challenges that confront independent writing programs is to harness the power of providing an essential service without becoming defined as essentially a service provider” (256).

February 1, 2009

Miller, Expertise and Agency

Miller, Carolyn R. “‘Expertise and Agency’: Transformations of Ethos in Human-Computer Interaction.” In The Ethos of Rhetoric. Ed. Michael J. Hyde, U of South Carolina P, 2004. 197-218.
Miller explores the two complementary modes of human-computer interaction in the post-Cold War era: expert systems and intelligent agents. Using a grounding in twentieth century US history and an understanding in the computer systems and programs developed from the 1950s onward, Miller shows how the ethos in the human-computer interaction changes from an ethos interested in rational reliability (phronesis) to one concerned with interaction with the user (eunoia.) Ethos is not just a normative function; it is descriptive as well and can shed light on the kind of rhetorical community participants belong to. The shift from a rhetoric of domain-specific expert systems to one of intelligent agents happened in the 1970s and 1980s, when public trust in institutions and authority figures took a nose dive (Vietnam, Watergate) and when rapidly evolving technologies allowed for the development of a more complex, more diverse (in markets and knowledge), and more distributed world. Intelligent agents, as opposed to expert systems that are concerned with the accumulation of one domain of knowledge, are semi-autonomous, have choices, and interact with the environment. Their “expertise” and knowledge is collected in a distributed fashion. Miller argues that the ethos of rational reliability and that of sympathy are on two ends of a pendulum and must be balanced with virtues and moral reasoning (arete.)
Quotable Quotes
“A discourse…delinieates a rhetorical community and consequently an ethos – a sensus communis and a locus communis – a place where interlocutors abide, about which they contest, and from which they draw appeals. Those who dwell within a rhetorical community acquire their character as rhetorical participants from it, as it educates and socializes them. The community does this in part by supplying the Aristotelian components of ethos – the judgment (phronesis), values (arete), and feelings (eonoia) that make a rhetor persuasive to other members of the community” (198)
This is important because it’s about how the discourse that we create in turns creates the community – the hive. The writing that happens in blogs, del.ic.ious, GoogleDocs, tagging, etc. – imparts both a community and a shared ethos that is carried out in different projects.
Looking at ethos “can help us determine aspects of our community and our communal character” (198)
Notable Notes
Distrust in authority is historically and culturally grounded, leads to these bottom-up, more user-need sensitive human-computer interaction systems. People aren’t (usually) crazy domain experts. Their expertise is distributed and can be documented and used most efficiently in more of an intelligent agent system.
Ethos is normative and descriptive.

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