Revolution Lullabye

July 2, 2015

Harrington, Fox, and Hogue: Power, Partnership, and Negotiations: The Limits of Collaboration

Harrington, Susanmarie, Steve Fox, and Tere Molinder Hogue. “Power, Partnership, and Negotiations: The Limits of Collaboration.” WPA: Writing Program Administration 21.2/3(Spring 1998): 52-64.

The writers, who are all part of a collaborative WPA structure at their institution, use situations at their institution to evaluate the benefits and drawbacks of collaborative administration. They maintain that collaborative administration is possible, and the diverse perspectives it invites has helped unite and strengthen their writing program. The writers do acknowledge that collaborative administration is difficult, and name four potential problems that emerge from collaborative administration:

  1. The tendency to focus inward instead of also collaborating with partners outside the writing program/department;
  2. The issues of authority and expertise created inside and outside the program because members of the collaborative administration have different titles, roles, positions, and responsibilities;
  3. The desire to avoid conflict in the decision-making process, which can create false consensus and silence dissenting opinions
  4. “Twin citizenship,” or how members of the writing program administration committee are torn between obligations and identities in the program, the institution, the community, and the discipline.

Notable Notes

They explain that there are few arguments/analyses of collaborative administration that address “how such partnerships come to be created in a hierarchal university environment, how power (even the decentralized, facilitated kind) is acquired, and how collaboration works on a daily basis” (53-54).

Collaborative administration is difficult, made more difficult because administration is not always recognized work/labor/scholarship in institutions, comp/lit divides in academic departments.

Gives their local context: there is no WPA, but rather a Writing Coordinating Committee

The Writing Coordinating Committee – both TT and NTT faculty. Partly conceived as a way to get NTT/adjunct faculty involved, “decentralize decision-making,” increase connection between composition research and teaching. (54)

Explanation of the composition of the Writing Coordinating Committee. 10 members. The chair (TT) rotates every two years. No release time for the chair. The NTT faculty have a 4/4 load, the TT have a 3/3 load, and some of the members of the Writing Coordinating Committee get a 1-2 course release per semester for WPA work. The NTT faculty do most of the WPA work on the committee

Uses Molly Wingate’s discussion of writing center politics to look at the collaboration, Wingate’s work draws on Werner Rings’ description of four kinds of collaboration: neutral collaboration, unconditional collaboration, conditional collaboration, and tactical collaboration (57)

Quotable Quotes

“Living the experience of a postmodern WPA can be complicated and troubling” (52) – arguing that the theories of postmodern WPA leadership – of being situated, contextual, in networks, collaborative – might be more difficult than we’re giving it credit in our scholarship.

“While the arguments for collaborative administration are clear, the political dimensions of collaboration and partnership have been undertheorized, and we use our insitituion’s administrative structure as a starting point for analysis” (54).

“On a broader level – and this is where the collaborative structure makes a difference – the committee seeks to coordinate the work of writing program faculty; to represent the interests of adjunct faculty in the department and the university; and to link the writing program with other offices on campus with an interest in writing” (56).

“The mix of experience, expertise, and perspective on the committee provides much-needed diversity, and compensates for individual shortcomings…No single person dominates the overall policy-making responsibility of the committee. The writing program does not speak with a single voice, but it does, on the whole, speak from consensus” (56).

Collaborative administration creates “a web of relationships” (56)

“Much of our energy (and specific responsibilities delineated by the department) is devoted to collaborating with each other; little to collaborating with other academic units” (58).

“Composition, like math or reading if not more so, invites Monday morning quarterbacks” (59).

“Individual committee members (and likely individual members of the writing faculty as well) have sometimes chosen silence over conflict, enabling what appears to be consensus, but actually creating imposed orthodoxy. The imposition of orthodoxy is no less unfortunate if accomplished via collaboration than if directed by a single person” (60).

“A cooperative administrative structure will not automatically promote pluralism. Without an agreement to converse and a willingness to explore disagreements, shared administration can degenerate into a front, masking the will to power of some dominant person or group on the committee or in the department. Our collective leadership must be authorized by the conversation of committee members – and by the conversation of the whole writing faculty” (61).

“Writing program administration is, in many ways, an exercise in power. As long as wirting programs are staffed by teaching assistants or part-time faculty, and as long as required writing courses are a key element of university general education requirements, writing program administrators will possess a great deal of power over the curriculum, teachers, and students. This power, something we don not often acknowledge in a discipline which privileges cooperation, collaboration, and empowering others, is not necessarily evil” (62).

“The unitary WPA retains certain advantages over a shifting, collaborative, contextual writing program administration. The locus of power is clear in the unitary model, and that clarity speeds communications (especially outside the department)” (63).

May 5, 2009

Miller, Textual Carnivals

Miller, Susan. Textual Carnivals: The Politics of Composition. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1991.

Miller argues that the future of composition lies in a new “student tradition,” a serious uptake of the student in both pedagogy and research, recasting students not as passive, error-ridden children to be corrected and sanctioned but rather as people capable of authorship and of participating in public, empowering, real discourse (200). Rearticulating who students are will result in a rearticulation in who compositionists are. She traces the history of composition from its English and American origins, questioning the field’s move to place classical rhetoric or scientific process pedagogy at its foundation because neither encompasses the whole of what composition could be and both reinforce the hegemonic privileges of the elitist university structure. She looks at how the field – and those outside of it – have constructed students, instructors, and the institutional position of writing programs and their directors. Her history takes up theories of marginality, isolation, and institutional critique/critical theory (Foucault, Bourdieu, Althusser) in psychology, sociology, anthropology, and philosophy, and for her evidence, she draws on course catalogue descriptions of English departments over the 20th century, published histories of composition (Kitzhaber, Berlin), and the 129 responses from a survey sent to current compositionists. Throughout the book, she uses the metaphor of a carnival to describe composition: a sanctioned place where unrecognized, usually invisible, “low” discourse operates inside a “high” discourse, elite institution. She wants composition to become a place where this carnival can be subverted, where revolutionary, counterhegemonic work can take place, and in order to do that, composition must break away from the given, current structure of the university to begin questioning the social, cultural, and political forces that keep it in power.

Quotable Quotes

Why did composition choose to take up freshman composition as its center? – “We cage ourselves by identifying with the freshman enterprise” (76)

Process pedagogy “stabilized a field that originally was a loosely connected set of untheorized practices claiming origins in rhetorical theory, religious reading instruction, and the study of classical languages” (115). The research of process allowed for tenured positions, freedom from the huge teaching loads of comp.

need to see students as “actual people in actual writing situations” (199).

“‘Composition’ contains diverse, in fact disparate, activities. Its participants, its students, and most of its teachers are uncredentialed or ‘illegitimate’ denizens of the best-established and most legitimate institution. Composition appears to be cacophonous, anarchic, and trivial, but it nonetheless produces predictable and sustaining economic and social benefits. In a strong sense, it is like the Old Testament God and the Lacanian woman – always in a state of becoming, of reinventing itself to compensate for its perceived lack of fixed goals and methods. But it is nonetheless in many ways a ritualistic performance that does not change expect by substituting new rituals and codes for old ones” (12).

need to “take student writers to be active rather than passively defined citizens of discourse communities” (200).

Notable Notes

composition is a major national industry in which large amounts of money, labor, and time are invested. Huge amounts of students, teachers

process is not a reform of product. Both ignore the social, cultural, institutional consequences of text production, look at texts in isolation. Process became the new content of composition.

uses metaphors of prostitution, gypsies, extrafamilial, surplus, maids, unnamed to talk about the labor of the teaching of composition

uses metaphors of unwashed masses, labs, clinics, the body, stripping of voices, cleanliness, infants, history of 19th century immigration and English-only  to talk about how the first-year course labels and treats students

a lot more variety of writing courses taught in 1920s than later in the century, when comp was made all about freshman comp

rhetoric is an ill fit as the foundation of modern composition

section on “Bread” draws a connection between university funding and status of composition

conclusion – Chapter 6 – explains the contradiction in the current system between how composition is talked about (important, intellectual growth of students, importance of mastering academic discourse) and what happens in the classroom and university (low status of students & teachers, no real evidence of effectiveness of 1st year comp, little use of academic writing outside university.)

freshman comp stripped students of their individual voices and their access to public discourse (silly personalized themes) – “a national course in silence” (59)

difference between English and American cultural ideals in the development of literature and composition as university initiatives. American focus on individual, enterprise, citizenship, popular literacy, democracy, responsibility.

January 28, 2009

Bramblett and Knoblauch, “What to Expect When You’re Expected to Teach”

Bramblett, Anne and Alison Knoblauch, eds. What to Expect When You’re Expected to Teach: The Anxious Craft of Teaching Composition. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook, 2002.

This edited collection, with an introduction by Thomas Newkirk, showcases the “silent narratives” of beginning composition instructors and teaching assistants, those stories of resitance and confusion that many new teachers are reluctant to talk about because they fear being deemed failures by their fellow teachers, their supervisors, and their students. The essays included, written by TAs and instructors in the University of New Hampshire composition program, are divided into three sections. The first, about the challenges of the first semester of teaching, includes essays about confronting student mediocracy in a required course and learning to adapt and teach “on the fly” when things don’t go as planned (teaching as a practical art.) The second centers around student and teacher relationships and includes pieces about how much a teacher should care about their students, how the personal lives of students often come up and must be dealt with in the writing classroom, and the difficulty of assigning students (who often aren’t much younger than you) grades as a new teacher. The last section deals specifically with different types of student resistance in the classroom, about students challenging a TA’s authority or expertise, about interpersonal problems with male and female students, and about privileged, intelligent students pressing an instructor to tell them exactly how to “fix” their paper. This collection of testimonials provides a space to tell these stories and air these concerns of new composition teachers, a space which Newkirk argues in his introduction that is needed in composition. In addition to telling failure stories, Newkirk believes composition teachers – both new and experienced – need to share “absurdity” teaching stores, visit the classrooms of their teaching colleagues to get ideas and to start pedagogical conversations, and to, in their research and professional writing, provide a more balanced view of the writing and work that happens in the classroom by using both excellent and not-so-excellent examples of student writing in their scholarship.

Quotable Quotes

“Silences in our narratives as teachers, the things we are reluctant to discuss” (1) what we think is not “normal” – Newkirk’s introduction

Notable Notes

edited by UNH PhD grad students (PhD in English with lit, rhet/comp, or linguistics track)

Create a free website or blog at