L’Internationale

The photos of the Genoa anti-globalization protests several months ago made me realize something pretty basic: while the protests dealt with many worker-related concerns, I understood them in terms of nationalist and post-nationalist ideologies. I’d bet that’s an understanding common to a lot of Americans. Darla the Wal-Mart greeter and Ann the librarian and Monte the lawyer don’t watch the news and think about that working-class guy the police shot. They watch the news and think about that Italian guy the police shot. Even when students in American universities learn about the Paris Commune, I’d wager they think of it as an incident in French history, not as an incident in labor history. Despite its title, “L’Internationale” — isn’t. Or at least, it isn’t for Americans: that link back there notes the curious under-/non-reporting of the Tiannanmen Square singing of the anthem in the American press. Contrast this to the American Media’s wholesale embracing of the free-market ideologies of the New Economy. There’s an obvious reason, of course: American ideologies line up much more closely with the ideologies of neoclassical economics than they do with the ideologies of Marxian economics.

Let me shift gears for a minute. Composition, my discipline — university first-year writing instruction — got its real start at Harvard in the latter part of the 19th century, under Charles William Elliot, and got a big push toward its current form at Dartmouth in 1966. To the best of my understanding, it’s a uniquely American phenomenon.

England has WAC programs, Australia has English for Academic Purposes: do other nations have a widespread university first-year expository writing requirement? (I’ll avoid for now the question of whether composition is classed; whether the other Ivies besides Yale and excepting Harvard require first-year writing.) I wonder how risky it might be to make the argument that composition is a component of American ideology. (Actually, that’s sort of what Lynn Z. Bloom does in The Essay That I Love to Hate.) Some of the things I’ve been trying to think about in this weblog indicate to me that notions of class get reproduced at the university in accordance with neoclassical economic ideologies; the composition classroom is one possible location where this happens. My specialty, my area of interest (aside from class), is in computers and composition: I teach in a computer lab, I have students compose Web pages in my courses, I use computer technologies to facilitate the production and circulation of classroom texts.

Now: according to the CIA world factbook, 59% of the U.S. population uses the internet. Compare this to 2% in Thailand, 7% in South Africa, 12% in Russia. Internet use itself is a classed phenomenon that fractures along national lines, but it’s obviously an international phenomenon. So what happens when my students put their writing into circulation on the internet, into an economy of production and consumption that goes beyond national boundaries? Class itself is not global. No, that’s wrong: class may or may not be a global idea, but class systems are not global. The American class system is very different from the English class system, which in turn is very different from the French class system, which in turn is very different from the Japanese class system, and those are the only three class systems about which I have even the slightest shred of knowledge. (Any readers in other places want to help me out here? I’ve described four ways in which my discipline talks about class; do any of those fit your perspective?) Of course, if you’re wealthy enough to go globe-hopping, then everyone’s a prole to you. But the internet facilitates virtual globe-hopping (although I wonder how many of my students think of the Web as a fairly American phenomenon), which means my students may produce texts for audiences that have little familiarity with the context (the first-year writing course) in which those texts were produced. Furthermore, access to the internet — as Charlie’s work has often shown — is contingent upon one’s location in a particular class with access to particular resources. What this means is that when writing circulates between someone who’s a member of that 59% majority in the U.S. and someone who’s a member of that 2% minority in Thailand, there are going to be some differences in ideologies. The question for me becomes, again, whether I want to explicitly address those differences in my dissertation: I seem to keep opening up all these different cans of worms and making matters more complicated for myself.

To sum up: American students, versed in American ideologies of neoclassical economics, sit in wired computer labs in American composition classrooms. My thinking this far has dealt with students who exist within concentric circles of class systems that exist within that American context. But as soon as they go online, they are also within other class systems; transnational class systems, internet class systems.

Again — if anyone’s reading this from a non-American perspective, I’d be really grateful for any feedback you might offer, particularly about writing instruction and class systems.

I got Ringu on video tonight, with subtitles. So I’m gonna go get myself interpellated by transnational ideologies of freaking myself out until I have to sleep with the lights on.