Month: August 2003

Rejecting Class as Process

Some brief thoughts on Gibson-Graham, Wolff & Resnick’s “Introduction: Class in a Poststructuralist Frame” to their edited collection Class and Its Others before I go to bed. First, they usefully point out that “the language of class is inevitably performative — it participates in transforming economic and other social relations” (2), a poststructuralist insight which helps me in seeing how the discourse of class continually makes and re-makes its own hierarchies, perhaps even within Bourdieu’s relational space. But they also make a distinction between two different types of “discourse of class”, one being “the familiar and widespread sense of social distinction” and the other being “the more restricted economic sense first systematically expounded by Marx” (2), and then proceed to shoot at that “familiar and widespread” definition, arguing that class cannot “be seen as ordained by or founded on positions in a larger social structure or as constituting social groups (classes) unified by commonalties of power, property, consciousness,” or other factors (9). The problem is, though, that they’re setting up this “a priori social structure” (9) as a straw man, something already existing, when the fact of the matter — as already discussed above — is that it gets enacted every day.
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The Sergeant Major’s Many Wounds

For John F. Eisenberg, Zoologist, 1935-2003.

So it’s like ten thirty on a Saturday morning and I’m in my room, in bed, sleeping like I’ve got every right to. I knew Sarn’t Major would call anyway, though, I knew when he was coming back, and I’d seen his yard which I couldn’t not see, and my phone rings and I pick it up and there’s his voice, like that thing people always say about sounding like gravel or whatever, all raspy, yelling Kim! sharp and loud, I mean when you’ve been in the Army long as he has I think you forget how to talk like normal people talk, he’s like Kim! You sleeping Sergeant Kim? and I just groaned and rubbed the crap out the corners of my eyes, tried to not sound like I was still in bed, and I’m all, Not anymore, Sarn’t Major, and I ask, even though I know, I ask him if he’s back.

Hell yes he’s back, he tells me, he tells me I’m lucky he didn’t have me pick him up at the airport, which wouldn’t have happened with where I’d been, and so I just rubbed my face some more and coughed and told him yes and told him I counted my blessings every day, counted how lucky I was.
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Smaller Victories

I’ve been a little uncomfortable about my last couple of posts. Part of the reason for my discomfort is that, on the first day of class when I’m doing the getting-to-know-you stuff with a computer lab full of first-year student writers, I usually like to give my name and identify as a feminist and a veteran. It pleases me to hope that such an introduction might give some students a moment of pause — to think that a male whose job title was at one time “Sergeant” can occupy what they might see as a self-contradictory political position by their definition of feminism. (See Alas, a blog‘s excellent discussions of definitions of feminism, which I think I got to via Michelle or Amanda but I can’t find the relevant post.) Of course, I’m aware of how much easier it often is for a male academic to identify as a feminist (the student thinks, Oh, he’s cool, or at least less un-cool) than for a female academic (the student thinks, Oh, another ball-buster), and I’m also aware that I’m perpetuating all kinds of essentialisms here, but the hope is that students of the sort described at Alas, a blog might realize that feminist does not equal grim man-hating harridan.

Brief aside: I overheard one of my students several semesters ago mention that she and her roommate thought it would be cool to pose for Maxim, and really wanted to tell her how bad an idea I thought that would be. I wanted to tell her that several years down the road she’d feel less bad about having posed for Playboy than she would about having posed for Maxim: at least Playboy makes a pretense of having some kind of semi-sophisticated content. Maxim and the other “lad mags” (FHM, Stuff) seem to be based entirely upon a know-nothing aesthetic of masturbatory hooliganism.

Anyway. My concerns with feminism seem to me to have collided, to a degree, with the content of my last couple of posts. A good part of Jason’s project at Hogmalion seems to rely on a boy-oriented sense of humor (not to put it down: a lot of the humor is pretty flippin brilliant, and Jason’s a good friend), and Gibson-Graham’s stuff about rape scripts just made me really uncomfortable with the way in which it seemed they were appropriating a horribly fraught topic for the purposes of not-very-useful theoretical play. At the same time, their use of a feminist perspective on capitalism and the economy in the latter half of their book has proven really productive.
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Economic Rape Scripts

Gibson-Graham asks:

“Why is ‘the economy’ at once the scene of abject submission, the social site that constrains activities at all other sites, the supreme being whose dictates must unquestioningly be obeyed and, at the same time, an entity that is subject to our full understanding and consequent manipulation? And how is it, furthermore, that something we can fully understand and thus by implication fully control is susceptible only to the most minimal adjustments, interventions of the most prosaic and subservient sort? What accounts for the twin dispositions of utter submission and confident mastery, and for boldness and arrogance devolving to lackluster economic interventions?” (94)

While I have some difficulty with the equation of understanding and control — Gibson-Graham here conveniently ignores any considerations of power — the question is both provocative and intelligently posed, and seems as if it might produce considerations that could help me to answer some of my questions about class, technology, and agency in the context of the economies of the wired writing classroom.
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How Not to Teach Writing

I feel like there’s been an odd intersection among my Gibson-Graham readings about feminism and capitalism and what I’ve been reading online about grading and about the intersection of feminism, family, and academia and about the gendered nature of agonistic discourse that’s lately become a little more clear. Via Cindy at Making Contact comes a link to conservative UPenn English professor Erin O’Connor’s multipart tale of what happened to Brooklyn College professor Frederick Lang.

There’s so much going on in Lang’s story, so many things going so many different ways, it’s an academic minefield. My first reaction, on encountering the story at Cindy’s, was irritation at the familiar construction of teaching composition as “punishment” or, at the least, undesirable work. Things are more complex than that, though.
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Capitalism’s Leviathan

I’ve found myself really liking a lot of the points Gibson-Graham makes: they point to the “hidden and inarticulate position” of class (48) in social analysis, and talk about the segmented working class and the “feminized labor market, with its proliferation of part-time and temporary jobs” (47). As I’ve started to get at before, they’re working against the perception (of which I’m guilty) that capitalism colonizes every aspect of society, and any class transformation must therefore undertake the always already impossible task of transforming the Leviathan of capitalism itself. In their words, according to the Marxian tradition, “society is typically theorized as a homogeneously or hegemonically capitalist formation centered on an industrial economy with class theorized as a social relation originating in that center” (57). But they point out that maybe things ain’t necessarily so.
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It’s been a busy week and a busy weekend, which is why I skipped a day yesterday. (My goal here has been and continues to be to keep myself in the habit of daily writing.) I’ll be putting together at least a couple responses and an entry on Gibson-Graham tonight, and maybe more coherent thoughts about my meetings with Charlie and Donna sometime tomorrow. The very basic version of Jason’s Hogmalion business venture (yeah, some of the humor there probably won’t be everybody’s cup of tea, but it’s a little more clever than what Clancy recently linked to, as I think Clancy herself might argue) is up and running on his own domain now, since we’ve solved our little FTP problem, and I’ll be taking the version off of my server. (In recompense for services, which really wasn’t necessary since we had a good time putting it together but hey I won’t refuse, I’m now the proud owner of a Sofftkl├╝bb — minimum security, maximum fun; that’s my friend from high school who writes some pretty smart stuff for PopMatters wearing it on his head — which Tink and Zeugma enjoy wrestling with, and I’m thinking about getting one of those snazzy Loveland Security posters for the guest bathroom here.) And there’s still work to be done on getting the Writing Program Web site up and running before school starts, and I gotta get my syllabus put together this week too, and finish revising that essay, and put something together for IRB approval. . . Busy, busy, busy.

All that said, I’m looking forward to school starting again.

Capitalism’s Dreadnought

I’m reading J. K. Gibson-Graham’s The End of Capitalism (As We Knew It): A Feminist Critique of Political Economy. J. K. Gibson-Graham is the pen name for Julie Graham and Katherine Gibson, and despite the single name on the book’s spine, the two authors who constitute the persona of Gibson-Graham consistently refer to themselves as “we”. All this means is that I may be inconsistent in occasionally referring to the apparently singular name of the author-function Gibson-Graham using the third-person plural and occasionally using the third-person singular, as the whim strikes me. My apologies in advance to those whom this may disturb.

The book sets up a problem of which my past references to the all-consuming market are one symptom: people who talk about capitalism talk about it as monolithic and overpowering. As Gibson-Graham puts it, “the book selectively traces the discursive origins of a widespread understanding: that capitalism is the hegemonic, or even the only, present form of economy and that it will continue to be so in the proximate future” (2).
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