Month: January 2005

Proposal Advice?

I’m excited about this call for proposals for an essay collection (scroll down to the very bottom of the page), mostly because the way it seems to ask for a drawing-together a lot of the things that I’ve been thinking about here, and because I think I would be able to put a good spin on it with my computers angle and maybe centering it around a class-based re-examination of Olson’s “Who Computes?” article twenty years after the fact, but also — although it asks about “the category and discourse of class in the U.S.” — because I’m interested that it’s coming from two people with University of Bergen email addresses, and I’ve written a little bit here in the past (with some helpful and generous feedback from Torill) about how American ideas about class and literacy, when connected to the world of the World Wide Web, do some interesting things. (And, although I don’t read Jill Walker’s weblog very regularly these days, the institutional affiliation made me think immediately of her, as well.) So, like, I really want to put something together, only there’s one thing that I’m wondering about: the CFP asks for a one-page CV, and I’m assuming they’re doing so because they’re looking for more published or authoritative figures in the field. And that ain’t me. I mean, I’ve got a chapter in an edited collection coming out, I’ve got a couple pieces under review, and I’ve co-edited a textbook: not much, really. So my question to more experienced scholars out there: how big a deal is that CV when they’re considering proposals? Not that it’s all that big a deal — I’m gonna submit something regardless — but what might your expectation-management advice be?

A Fair Exchange

My New Year’s resolution was to cut out alcohol as of January 1st. I’m doing fine so far, which is what I was hoping for, and also maybe a little bit expecting (knock on wood), given past experience: I quit smoking on my 30th birthday after having had a pack-a-day Camel filters habit for fourteen years, and I’ve never had the desire to go back. Which isn’t to say it’s easy, exactly: just like when I ditched the nicotine, I’ve had a terrible sweet tooth for the past three weeks. Today, it was an ice cream bar, picked up on my way home from campus and saved for after dinner. So I’m sitting there at my desk, with my ice cream bar, and Zeugma decides that this is very interesting. No dice when she stretches out a paw for it (maybe it’s the food on a stick thing that does it for her?), so she quickly dashes into the other room, and comes trotting back with a Post-It note in her teeth. Deposits it in front of me, looks at me expectantly, and then — when I don’t do what she clearly expects of me — stretches out a paw for the ice cream again. Post-it note, ice cream: that’s a good trade, right?

The Athlete’s Labor

I watched last night’s Orange Bowl rout, and I have to say, while it was hardly a suspenseful game, it was oddly enjoyable, in a head-shaking kind of way. I mean, my jaw dropped when Bradley tried to pick up that punt and go with it, and then when he got stripped, I just started laughing. And even without mistakes like that, Oklahoma was outplayed every step of the way. I’ll admit, as an aside, that while I certainly wasn’t rooting for U.S.C. (after Sam Walton’s grand-daughter graduated from there by buying every paper she turned in, the epithet “University of Spoiled Children” kinda stuck in my mind), I was definitely rooting against the Sooners, and I guess I got what I was hoping for.

But that isn’t really what I was wanting to talk about. UMass is Division 1AA for football, and in the midst of our recent budget cuts, there was some talk from the athletic program about spending a ridiculous sum to go Division 1A, with one of the rationales offered being that it would bring more money into the school. And, certainly, as Derek Bok and Murray Sperber point out, college athletics is a big, big busines: I’m sure the U.S.C. Trojans and the Oklahoma Sooners brought millions of dollars to their respective universities by going to the Orange Bowl.

So, with my recent focus on looking at student labor within the university as economic labor, how should we think about the labor of U.S.C. quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart? What sort of transaction does his labor constitute?

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Class Rehearsal

As a way of getting back into the post-holiday swing of things, I’m going to rehearse some of the things I’ve talked about in the past, and try and draw them together into something resembling a problem statement. This’ll probably go at the front of my Chapter 2, where I try to review the literature in composition on class. I’d be grateful for any pointing-out of elisions, fallacies, misrepresentations, gross over-generalizations, or other critical comments folks might offer.

The histories offered by Raymond Williams (in Culture and Society) and James Berlin (in Writing Instruction in Nineteenth Century Colleges, in Rhetoric and Reality, and in two chapters of Rhetorics, Poetics, and Cultures) illuminate the ways in which economic, cultural, and institutional change are profoundly interrelated. In fact, a discussion of class in the context of Williams’s and Berlin’s writings might define class as the armature by which culture is connected to economy in the figure of the individual (who, of course, inhabits a multiplicity of societal groups, said groups themselves being sometimes called ‘classes’). Williams illustrates how the economics of industrialized mass production made possible the refinement of taste which defined the nineteenth century ‘cultured’ individual (who was, in part, produced by the programs of writing instruction at Charles Eliot Norton’s Harvard and John Genung’s Amherst). Today, the conventional wisdom is that a similarly massive economic shift is already well underway; a shift from an economics of monolithic mass production to an economics of mass consumption and flexible production. That shift is driving a shift in our conceptions of culture and the individual similar to the one described by Berlin and Williams, although the shift is still underway and its implications imperfectly understood.

We are aware, however, that the shift is simultaneously making heightened demands on some classes of people (including, for example, those with full-time jobs who take online or community college courses in their own scant ‘leisure’ or evening time) while offering heightened opportunities to other classes of people (including, for example, the digerati who construct new forms of online art and hyptertext literature). Furthermore, we ought to understand that the writing work undertaken in our composition classrooms in this changing economic and cultural environment helps to constitute changing classes of student selves. I think there’s an obvious cultural progression from the nineteenth century Romantic individual to the unitary self of Peter Elbow’s expressivism; what seems less clear to me is where the cultural progression from the postmodern individual leads.

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