I’ve been going on a bit about writing as commodity/product, and how it circulates, and I just this afternoon got through Mankiw’s chapters on monopoly in Principles of Economics, and also read Torill Mortensen and Jill Walker’s wonderful chapter “Blogging Thoughts” (874K PDF) as helpfully recommended by teachtjm. (If it’s not already obvious from this research-dissertation-weblog project itself and the debt of inspiration it owes, I’ve been following Jill’s weblog for a long time, but hadn’t actually taken the time to check out many of her longer writings. Now I wish I’d done so earlier.) I think, taken together, Mankiw and Mortensen & Walker help me figure out some useful things, but also (argh!) add to my reading list.
According to Mankiw, authors are government-created monopolies. (Yes, I have some problems with this, the political and digital media stuff I’ve rehearsed in other posts, but let’s keep moving.) Here’s Mankiw at length:
“[W]hen a novelist finishes a book, she can copyright it. The copyright is a government guarantee that no one can print and sell the book without the author’s permission. The copyright makes the novelist a monopolist in the sale of her novel. . . Authors are allowed to be monopolists in the sale of their books to encourage them to write more and better books.” (318)
I think university plagiarism policies function as a form of copyright protection in the writing classroom. Imagine a hypothetical university that doesn’t punish plagiarism. If a student — let’s call her Jane — knows that she can put the effort into writing an ‘A’ paper that a classmate — Roger, say — can also steal for his own ‘A’ with impunity, that may affect Jane’s desire to write “more and better” papers in the future. The “may” is what’s important, because it’s a question of motivation. I think that if Jane is solely motivated by her desire to get a good education, and believes that she will learn by doing, then she won’t give a hoot what Roger does: dude’s turpitude is his own problem. On the other hand, if Jane is solely motivated by her desire for academic excellence as reflected in grades and class position, then Roger’s plagiarism is harmful to her: in the environment of this hypothetical university, Jane may wonder what the point is of actually writing the paper.
What this little thought exercise demonstrates is that in the production and consumption of writing in the classroom, there are at least two currencies or media of exchange: grades and education. This is why the economic perspective has bedeviled me so; it’s considerably more complicated than I thought it was. (And maybe even more complicated than Bruce Horner suggests.)
I suspect the currencies hardly ever exist exclusively of one another, and that they may apply to much of student writing, even this project right here. Certainly, the two motivations coexist in my reasons for keeping this weblog: my (currently somewhat distant) end goal here is a completed dissertation and thereby a Ph.D. and a job (he types with fingers crossed for luck); my process goal is writing to learn, writing to figure out what I think about what I’ve read, and it helps me to write more coherently if I know that one or two people might actually read some of the things I’m writing, and the reward factor in realizing that maybe this topic — this weird intersection of computers, composition, and class — might actually even be worth reading about is pretty big too. (I’m sure the reaction is common among new bloggers, but I was, like, so totally elated when I saw I actually had comments and readers. You so rock. Yes, you.)
This is where I find Torill and Jill’s thoughts about the complicated relationship among (1) cultural capital as “the currency of scholars”, (2) writing and thinking with computers, and (3) the social network of blogging to be so valuable. The only thing I would add (and I think it’s probably implicit in their chapter) is that social networks establish the value of cultural capital. (John Swales and Charles Bazerman on discourse communities are an informative perspective here.)
One last thing, before I get too tired to type: I was particularly impressed with what Torill and Jill did with Habermas in their chapter, and their mention of the classed nature of the public sphere made me realize I’m going to go beyond The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity in my Habermas readings, and actually pick up The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere. The reading list grows ever longer. My question would be, for the sake of multiple perspectives, can anyone point me towards some compelling arguments against what Habermas has to say in that text? No matter how much I like an author’s ideas, I always feel better knowing that I’ve at least considered alternative perspectives.
And I never got to the reason for my tongue-in-cheek title for this post. But it has to do with Torill and Jill’s frequent remarks in the chapter about “relatively short posts” and “brief nuggets of thought.”