Month: June 2003

I’m Doing It Wrong

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.
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Still More on Relations of Production

I used weblogs yesterday as an example to make a distinction between for-profit and for-pleasure writing. As usual, I was a little hasty. Consider what Glenn Reynolds had to say this morning:

“You can blog for the money — in which case you should be very glad that Andrew [Sullivan] is raising the bar, and generating a general sense that it’s okay to donate. Or you can blog for fun, in which case why should you care if he’s getting some bucks out of it?”

Reynolds goes on to talk about his reasons for blogging, and has some interesting points and links; his perspective helps me to see that maybe, as with the tentative answer to that question Catherine Gammon asked me, the motivations might not matter as much as the act itself. For me, this is a small step towards one way of thinking about the production of writing, within and outside of the composition classroom. At the same time, it raises other questions.
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Writing as Property

The Movable Type templates (which I’ve only so far modified very slightly for this weblog) include a section for Creative Commons licenses, which I’ve thought about using here, in particular an attribution license. However, the smart points folks have made in the Creative Commons discussion at Metafilter caused me to stop and think a little; I still haven’t made up my mind.

Compositionists who do research in their classrooms, furthermore, are expected to respect students’ writing as the property of the student, and to take considerable care around issues of permissions before reproducing that writing. And student anonymity and permissions around writing and representation are why I’m being weird about self-identifying on this weblog.

What I’m trying to lead into, I guess, is my focus for this post (the thing I didn’t quite make it to yesterday) on the concerns associated with an understanding of writing as property.
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Writing Instruction as Commodity

An “externality,” according to Mankiw, is “the uncompensated impact of one person’s actions on the well-being of a bystander” (206). And, also according to Mankiw, “the consumption of education yields positive externalities because a more educated population leads to better government, which benefits everyone” (211). Well, that’s not the only side benefit of education, but I’ll buy it. Your education benefits not only you (because you’re a more well-rounded person, and because you can get a better job, among other reasons: again, I’m wanting to look beyond the vocational model of education), but society in general. Mankiw shows some supply and demand curves to support his contention that “Positive externalities in production or consumption lead markets to produce a smaller quantity than is socially desirable” (212), which helps me understand the scarcity of education as a commodity, although — besides looking at the pictures of the supply and demand curves — I don’t understand why it should work this way. And, also, I’ve still got some questions about this education-as-commodity thing, and about considering writing as a commodity, too. So here we go.
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Rationing Education

The foundational assumption of economics is that goods are scarce: there is not enough of every thing in the world to supply to every person in the world. The post-Fordist economy has posed some interesting challenges to this assumption, with infinitely reproducible digital media. I’m more interested by the challenges posed by understanding other sorts of information as goods: like, say, education. So one question would be: is a college education a scarce good?
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Difficulties with Economics

I’ve finished Hazlitt and Heilbroner & Thurow, and am about 100 pages into Mankiw’s intro to econ textbook. The difficulty I’m feeling tonight as I write this, and as I imagine I’ll continue to feel, is that this foundational reading doesn’t (and won’t) always have a directly apparent connection to writing instruction. So I’m not sure whether I should keep trying to make the connection, or just tell myself to relax because it’s foundational work and so it doesn’t necessarily have to connect in obvious ways.
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Pretty Pretty

Hooray! After some CSS self-schooling, I managed to get images incorporated into the layout (although it’s now pixel-precise rather than Movable Type’s more flexible percentage-based float defaults). It still doesn’t look quite the way I’d like it to — I think I miscalculated margins and padding, and so the gutters between the ‘columns’ are twice as wide as they should be — but I can certainly do some tweaking. (There’s also an ugly kludge that’s a result of not using MT’s top banner, but I’ll need to learn more in order to be able to fix it gracefully, and I think that can wait a bit, as long as the kludge isn’t readily obvious.) I’m grateful to The Layout Reservoir,, and Firda Beka’s Book of Styles for guidance.

Value and Circulation

I asked yesterday, “why teach digital genres?” I do it — I incorporate Web pages into the essay assignments I give my first-year composition students — but yesterday, with a head full of introductory economics, I was having a hard time seeing teaching through any non-economic perspective. I’m feeling slightly less fuddled this morning.
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Reasons for Blogging

I’m actually not talking all that much about blogging here; more about digital genres in general and how they fit into the composition classroom. But “Reasons for Blogging” sounded so much pithier than “Reasons for Composing Web Pages and Other Digital Genres.” Anyway: Clancy Ratliff’s recent post on how to fit student weblogs into her course raised some interesting questions for me. My response to her involved a construction of weblogging as “low-stakes” writing, sort of the wired public forum equivalent of the way some composition curricula use journals, but I find that to be an incomplete answer.
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