Revised Chapter Outline

As my advisor and others cautioned, my dissertation — in the process of being written — has drifted away from the chapter outline I initially set down in the prospectus.

Chapter 1, which is essentially my problem statement, is pretty much done, though it’ll likely be considerably revised as I finish up. Chapter 2, my big and unwieldy review of the literature on class in composition, is about two thirds done; naturally, it places considerable reliance on synecdoche. After Chapter 2 is where the revision starts to come into play: Chapter 3 needs to get me from class to the diverse economy, and I’m discarding my foolish initial plan to address the diversity of representations of class outside composition. Instead, I’m backing up my working definition of class as the point of articulation between the economy and culture as materially experienced by the individual with the theories Raymond Williams puts forward in Culture and Society 1780-1950, and then complicate the perspective Williams offers with the way Pierre Bourdieu sees economics and culture intersecting to produce a relational infinitude of classes. Chapter 4 then attempts to somewhat reconcile the perspectives of Williams and Bourdieu by pointing out the historical shift from a mass economy to an individuated and diverse economy, and uses Gibson-Graham, Ironmonger, and Zuboff & Maxmin to explore the consequences of that shift. Chapter 5, of which I’ve now got two very different first drafts, takes that shift back into the college writing classroom and argues for an understanding of student writing as an economic act, but an economic act performed for individuated and diverse (and not always commodified or exchange-based) purposes. Refusal of commodification — especially on a collective basis — can permit refusal of exploitation and domination. This is not to say that such writing lies outside the economy, but that the economy is composed of multiple transactions and motivations and purposes, and that a necessary and heretofore mostly absent economic understanding of student writing need not be solely based on notions of exchange. Chapter 6 then takes that last notion to its logical conclusion by showing how some of the philosophies of the open source movement can help writing teachers refigure classroom practice by moving away from notions of artificial informational scarcity, and I hope lays the groundwork for a qualitative empirical study that might test these ideas.

Does that sound at least somewhat sensible? I’ve been struggling in fits and starts (few starts, lots of fits) to get my head around Chapters 3 and 4 in particular, and this suddenly makes it feel so much more manageable. Grateful for any feedback.

Revised Chapter Outline

4 thoughts on “Revised Chapter Outline

  • June 1, 2005 at 12:42 pm
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    It’s funny–I was going to ask you if you would write something like this for your readers who lack your depth and breadth of reading. I’m sure that the process and product has helped you, and it has certainly helped this reader.
    Would you, could you write few sentences on how your diss. adds something new to the field? I’m not asking you to prove yourself, just wanting to get some context about where it all fits.

    How’s Tink, BTW? I’m going to an orthopedist about both of my knees–don’t think it’s a luxating patella problem though.

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  • June 2, 2005 at 8:55 pm
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    Tink’s still gimpy, I’m afraid. It comes and goes, but I have yet to see a single day when she doesn’t hobble and complain a little bit.

    Now, as for the “few sentences”: that’s a bit of a taller order.

    The problem, as I see it; what I’m addressing in Chapters 1 and 2: composition, as a discipline, talks about economics in a few very specific ways; ways that can problematically divert our attention from grave concerns about the economic inequalities caused by scarcity. First, there’s the discourse on the economics of the academic profession, i.e. instructors-as-laborers, as seen in the work of Joe Harris, Donna Strickland, and others. Related to this discourse is the discourse on the economic backgrounds of academic professionals, i.e. the so-called “working-class” academic trope (which often becomes a self-pitying navel-gazing for which I have little patience), as seen in the anthologies Coming to Class and This Fine Place So Far from Home. In fact, with a very few exceptions (which I’ll get to in a bit), the only ways people pay attention to students as economic beings is to pay attention to the class of students — and students’ class is always understood as being either prior to college (i.e., what their parents do for a living) or subsequent to college (i.e., how college vocationally prepares them for careers, as in Mark Longaker’s May 2005 College English essay). Furthermore, following the lead of Henry Giroux, many scholars who do look at class through the lens of critical pedagogy are, in effect, doing class without economics and Freire without Marx. There are a few welcome exceptions; folks who are doing some smart stuff understanding students as economic beings and their work in the writing classroom as having economic value: Bruce Horner, John Trimbur, and Min-Zhan Lu. And that’s it. The worst of it is, even with the burgeoning buzz about “economics” in composition (the Longaker essay; Lu’s September 2004 CCC essay), and the class warriors who say they’re tackling economic concerns, I have yet to see A. Single. Article. from an economics journal in anyone’s Works Cited. Not one.

    So there’s the problem. The solution; what I see as my contribution? Chapters 3 and 4, as described above, directly connect perspectives on class to the work of certain poststructuralist Marxist economists and then Chapter 5 places those economic perspectives on class within the context of students’ work in the wired writing classroom, because as I’ve repeated ad nauseam, the things that make people so excited about digital technologies operate via precisely the same means by which those technologies make economic inequality — the injuries of class — visible: they replace labor-intensive processes with capital-intensive processes. However, I point out in Chapter 6 that conventional understandings of economic scarcity are upended by the open source movement (which is itself very much associated with digital technologies), which understands the value of digitally reproducible texts as being dependent upon the free and open exchange of ideas. Information is not a scarce good: one student’s understanding of a text does not diminish another student’s understanding of that same text. The open source movement indicates ways in which technologies (computers, literacy) can help writing teachers rethink the privileging of scarcity that rests as the foundation of rationalizations of economic inequality, by making visible the cracks within that foundation. Ultimately, the values associated with the open source movement — not the techniques, but the way computers allow and demand new cultural practices — profoundly alter our understanding of the production of writing and education. Mainstream economics posits scarcity: there isn’t enough to go around. The open source movement contends that, in fact, there is.

    I know that’s more than a few sentences. Does it make sense?

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  • June 6, 2005 at 9:04 am
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    I’m curious about how you’re outlining student writing as an economic act performed for individuated and diverse purposes. Can you say “a bit” more about this? And considering your sketch of the historical shift from mass economy into an individuated and diverse economy (for which you deem there are consequences) can your proposal/argument for student writing–as this–still make the claim that refusal of exploitation and domination is possible? (I know this is just an *outline*, and I haven’t been reading your blog for its two full years, so I’m sure this is much that I’m missing…).

    Also, I’m assuming you’re making some sort of argument about a current commodified state/treatment of student writing…and then arguing against it???

    And while your comment about the lack of economists cited/named in the work of rhet/comp scholars might/should/does seem like a “no-brainer,” it is a very illuminating and important point. I have thought it so odd that while my committee members are constantly telling me to (re)theorize class, I have never been given the names of any economists to read nor encouraged to read any economic texts. So I am always grateful for the numerous references I can garner from your writings here.

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  • June 9, 2005 at 12:01 am
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    Jenn, the skeleton of my CCCC presentation offers a more in-depth treatment of understanding student writing as an economic act, and I’d certainly welcome any comments or questions you might offer, since I’m working on turning it into part of Chapter 5. Your questions about refusal of domination and its connection to commodification are related; I’ll point out that in capitalism’s diverse economy, not all economic activity is commodified — in addition to market transactions, there are feudal transactions, slave transactions, gift transactions, et cetera — and, especially in the gift’s refusal of commodification, since there is no exchange value placed atop the gift’s use value, there is simply no room for exploitation. Inasmuch as I believe that class is the point of articulation between the economic and the material lived culture of the individual, I think that rhet/comp scholars really need to be talking about economics when they’re talking about class. For me, the most valuable course I took in connection to my dissertation was a graduate economics seminar about re-thinking the economy from various (mostly Marxian) perspectives; to prepare myself for the seminar, I read Mankiw’s Principles of Economics (basically a thick 2-semester Econ 101 textbook; kinda technical and very one-sided for the neoclassical perspective, but very helpful in retrospect to get an introduction to how mainstream economists think), Heilbroner’s extremely useful and accessible The Worldly Philosophers, and Yanis Varoufakis’s Foundations of Economics, which I can’t recommend highly enough: it’s absolutely excellent. I checked out your SUNY Albany page, and your project sounds really smart and engaging — I’d love to hear more about the perspective you’re coming from. I’m also a former MFA (fiction), and SUNY Albany was one of the places where I was thinking of applying, but then I went to AWP when it was there and talked to some of the grad students in the department and they were all like, “Yeah, the program just kinda self-destructed and we’re picking up the pieces now; check back in a few years,” so I wound up at UMass. What’s it like there now?

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