Monthly Archives: March 2006

CCCC06: Blogging, Part 1

This is a bit of a long ramble. I’ll offer my notes here on two panels, because I think their differing perspectives — one pedagogical, one professional — intersect in interesting ways: “Writing in Electronic Spaces: Blogs and the Writing Classroom,” with Quinn Warnick, Margaret Ervin, and Fred Johnson; and “What Does Blogging Do? Weblogs, Change, and Middle Spaces,” with Clancy Ratliff and Jonathan Goodwin. Collin Brooke has talked about some of the ways in which our pedagogy does or doesn’t remediate (in Bolter and Grusin’s sense of the term) our professional practice, and vice versa, and he’s pointed out that academic blogging enacts many of the notions of knowledge as processual, embodied, and constructed that we privilege in our scholarship. I’m sure there are some folks who would argue that such a circumstance reflects just as much wanton and silly self-indulgence as did Landow’s Hypertext: The Convergence of Contemporary Critical Theory and Technology fourteen years ago, but I think the talk about blogging — at least in our field — has remained usefully grounded and focused (and so avoided some of Landow’s high-flown excesses), and I’d also argue that some of the criticisms of Landow are themselves overblown. But I’m already wandering off-topic here, so I’ll just say: I’m curious if other people saw interesting or productive connections between the pedagogical and the professional perspectives (with all due disclaimers, yes, about spurious binaries and how the pedagogical is professional, thank you) offered by the two panels.

The first panel, on “Blogs and the Writing Classroom,” featured Quinn Warnick, Margaret Ervin, and Fred Johnson. Quinn began with a reference to Taxi Driver in his title: “Are You Talking to Me? How Academic Weblogs Remediate Human Conversation in the Composition Classroom.” Bloggers build community by inviting discussion in the form of comments, and with the repurposing of weblogs (which I know some folks worry about; the idea that we may be overly domesticating the first genuinely native online genre for school purposes) as they move into academia, how might we use them to improve classroom discussion? Weblogs facilitate the teaching of visual rhetoric, and certainly help as well with many of the goals and strategies outlines in the CCCC Position Statement on Teaching, Learning, and Assessing Writing in Digital Environments” — but we really need to get a better idea of their value in terms of classroom outcomes, argued Warnick. (Mike’s editorializing: well, Quinn, there’s that project that the CCCC Blogging SIG is trying to put together, if you’re interested… ;-)) Successful blogging involves understanding how the presentation of online and real-life identities differs (I understand Warnick’s point, but I wonder if there’s a decreasing of the distance between OL and RL identity as the use of social networking software proliferates), with the implication being that blogging can help students develop their skills at analyzing audience and projecting an ethos appropriate to situation and genre. Composing a notebook-type blog is a different rhetorical task from composing a journal-type blog or a filter-type blog, and Warnick expressed a desire for a fourth genre, a forum-type blog, where students can “just talk.” (Interesting: could one muddle Britton with Aristotle and characterize journal blogs as expressive, notebook and filter blogs as transactional, and forum blogs as epideictic, writing located squarely in the present and for its own sake?) And of course, these differing rhetorical tasks are meant for widely varying rhetorical ends: to return to the outcomes question, Warnick wondered, what is it that weblogs actually do?

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CCCC06: The Discursive Spaces of Globalization

The title of Darin Payne’s presentation, “Globalization and its Discursive Discontents,” of course referred both to the title of Saskia Sassen’s book and to the title of Joseph Stiglitz’s book. Payne offered some propositions for problematization: does globalization temper capitalism’s faith in markets? What degree of interventionism is appropriate in the so-called world economy? Is there to be any undoing of the alleged New World Order? (Mike’s editorializing: cue the Ministry song.) Are we truly saturated in globalization, and is it truly irresistible and permanent?

There are, certainly, changes in economic structures, in ideologies of nationalism and postnationalism and colonialism, in technologies of communication, in the migrations of workers, and in cultural transactions: are all these, then, how we name “globalization”? With such huge and overarching changes, don’t we need to change how we construct the teaching of writing?

(Mike’s editorializing: I’m not sure I buy that cause-effect relationship: there’s an implicit surrender there that feels uncomfortable to me.)

Ultimately, according to Payne, our goal should be to help students simultaneously gain and critique what counts today as cultural capital. And again, I’m being a difficult reader: why the accumulative model, and why the critical model? What might happen, instead, if we were to value writing in and of and for itself? Is the deferral of value an essential component of composition today — or only an essential component of the way we try to sell it to people outside our discipline?

The Web doesn’t merely expand the [bourgeois] public sphere, but also changes what counts as argumentation and information — but what does that mean for our “mainstream” students, and what might it mean for “transnationalism” (Mike’s editorializing again: we all know this term means something different from “multinationalism” or “globalization”) when BlackBoard and WebCT perform the pedagogical equivalent of Coca-Cola-ization? Does engagement equal adaptation, or surrender to hegemony’s regime? According to Payne, the question poses a false binary: globalization can serve either as a teleological force (see Rostow) or as revolutionary force (see orthodox Marxist thought).

And if you’ve been reading me for a while, you know I don’t buy either piece of that binary. Globalization isn’t an end or a change: it’s something that’s happening, right now, in your classroom, in the dorms, in your students’ parents’ houses. In the basement. In that place you were going to make a guest bedroom. On their phones.

These transactions are all about affect. It’s the new work, and it’s the work that many of us are failing to do, and work that explodes out beyond conventional boundaries of valuation.

My loose questions here aren’t posed as problems with Payne’s presentation so much as they’re questions I think Payne usefully raised — and in any case, I think they’re best taken in conjunction with Jenny Edbauer’s excellent Fall 2005 article in RSQ in terms of framing the discursive ecologies for our conversations about globalization and writing. Check it out.

CCCC06: Why Plagiarism Makes Sense

This was an extremely well-attended panel — I counted at least 17 people either sitting on the floor or standing in the corners and along the walls, and yes, it got a little warm in the room. By happy accident, I got to sit next to Jim Ridolfo and chat with him for a few minutes, and there were plenty of other tech luminati in the audience, as well.

Jim Porter began by giving a broad overview of the four panelist’s brief presentations, and I’m adraid my notes aren’t nearly as good as the proposal abstract, so I hope you won’t be impatient with me for heavy use of quotation: according to Porter, Latterell, DeVoss, Eilola, and Selber, “Composing in the digital age is different,” and “the copy-paste function, downloading, [and] peer-to-peer filesharing [...] change everything. Plagiarism [is] a common practice [... and ...] perhaps even a literacy skill. Plagiarism makes sense. Remixing is how communities build common values; it is how writers achieve persuasive, creative, and parodic effects. Yet the issue is nuanced: We believe in the ethic of fair use; textual theft, fraud, and misappropriation are real problems. [...] We need to find an ethical middle space that encourages fair use but that also promotes free exchange, frequent sharing, and digital remixing—practices essential for building communities, cultures, and coalitions.”

Kate Latterell began with a broad multimedia sampling of remix clips, accompanied by commentary. (I had to strain to hear some of the sound, and I was near the front of the room, so I hope she might think about audio amplification for future presentations.) Sampling and collage are both remix strategies, she argued, and remix stands as our contemporary metaphor for revision, re-interpretation, and hybridity. (I’ll admit, I’m somewhat in agreement with the critique of this definition as an unnecessarily vague collapsing of categories, but that shouldn’t take away from the superlative merits of Latterell’s presentation.) So Latterell asked the perpetually necessary question, the question that modernity can’t stop asking itself: with the overwhelming weight of textual tradition, is there no space for originality, or must we — as Emerson suggests — continue in a practice of perpetual quotation? The pace of the presentation of multimedia remixes — and its juxtaposition with quotations — was swift, and worked well. Sampling, Latterell argued, assumes or recognizes a shared network of meaning, and plays games with memory. It implies a breakdown of known truth and meaning, and implies as well a breakdown of the author/audience relationship — but is this breakdown, Latterell asked, a necessary condition of our contemporary culture? (I’m afraid I’ve here failed to do justice to Latterell’s presentation in my merely textual account, especially with all her carefully ordered multimedia clips and their interpolation with explanations and quotations from media theory.)

According to Jim Porter, there’s a simple view of plagiarism that manifests itself in the plagiarism statements of syllabi, and in the rhetoric of the popular media. Plagiarism is bad and unacceptable; non-plagiarism is good and acceptable. But there’s a gray area in between the two, an area variable and context-dependent. We need to be rhetorical about plagiarism, Porter argued: the particular circumstances of use matter deeply in terms of what gets counted as plagiarism. Is it OK, for example, to use somebody else’s HTML/CSS design template and plug in your own content? What if it’s for a history class? A Web design class? A workplace with an open-source ethic?

In some ways, we are all plagiarists, and according to Porter, the question really ought to be: what constitutes allowable plagiarism?

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CCCC06: Teaching Difficulty

Mariolina Salvatori, Patricia Donahue, Sheridan Blau, and Dale Bauer managed that rare combination of insight, charm, sophistication, and grace that makes for the best conference presentations one might hope to attend. Like the Michigan State plagiarism panel (notes to follow soon), they packed the room, with people sitting on the floor and standing along the walls. And they didn’t disappoint.

Mariolina Salvatori began her presentation, “Difficult Theory,” by proposing a hermeneutical argument for framing the difficulty students encounter as possibility. Her interest in difficulty as a useful pedagogical concept, she said, came out of a moment in teaching King Lear, which was “unnecessarily difficult,” according to one student. In fact, the student’s indictment of textual difficulty identified two of the key components of the text, and the so-called difficulty was actually an indication of the richness of interpretive possibilities. This, to Mariolina, was the central “Janus-like” feature of difficulty, its dual status as resistance and possibility. She then moved to the central text for her presentation, albeit one with which she admits considerable differences: George Steiner’s “On Difficulty.” For Steiner, there are four (broad and porous) categories of difficulty:

  1. Contingent difficulty: the need to look up words and the like;
  2. Modal difficulty, which Steiner also characterizes as “parochial”; difficulty not necessarily removed by immediate recourse to reference;
  3. Tactical difficulty: linguistic, structural or conceptual concerns that need to be actively processed; and
  4. Ontological difficulty, which confronts the reader with “blank questions” about language and the world: one example that came up later was that of holocaust literature.

While this taxonomy has its problems, Mariolina suggested, the way in which it makes difficulty manageable by naming and categorizing it holds exciting possibilities for engaging student writing. The ways we name things affects how we understand them, so one necessary task is to foreground Steiner’s premises. First: what does naming something as “difficult” do? The assumption there seems to be that difficulties occur when the pact of communication breaks down: Steiner adjudicates power to certain readers who have some sort of special insight concerning the intent of any given text, but the nature of this power is occluded in Steiner’s writing. For Steiner, the difficulties readers encounter are inextricably linked to their historical, cultural, conceptual, and personal alienation, and the act of interpretation results in the effacement of difficulties: for those special certain readers, difficulties lead to understanding, whereas for students, difficulties are a bar to understanding. But if difficulties are a function of readers’ dim or clear understanding of textual intent, Mariolina asked, then how is it that readers develop an awareness of difficulty itself?

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CCCC06: Bauerlein Flaps His Arms

Actually, the full title for this post should be, “Bauerlein Flaps His Arms and Makes Angry Honking Noises.” As Clancy points out, Emory professor Mark Bauerlein — in a recent post at The Valve — has taken it upon himself to say unkind things all of us who were in Chicago for the past few days.

So: upon what scholarship in rhetoric and composition, Professor Bauerlein, are you basing your critique? Or — Professor Bauerlein — have you even read any of that scholarship?

Or are you just flapping your arms and making angry honking noises?

CCCC06: Posts on Deck

It was a good conference for me. Maybe the best C’s I’ve been to, and I’ll have a lot to say about it in the next few days. I’ve got pages and pages of notes on various sessions, the first of which is already up, and I went to more sessions this time than I’ve ever gone to in the past. Suffice to say I learned a lot.

And there were lots of people I was happy to meet F2F for the first time (Sharon, Jeff, Donna, Nels, Cheryl, Krista, Spencer — OK, I know if I try and make this comprehensive, I’ll wind up leaving someone out, so let’s just say I had a fairly social conference for someone who’s a confessed introvert); lots of others I was happy to see again (Mariolina and Pat if only in passing, Malkiel, Peter, Joe who directed the first seminar I took in comp theory, Brenda and Jen and Miss Emily B., Margs, Jen of the comically spectacular eye-roll during a certain presentation — and, again, too many other good folks to mention); and some new connections as well.

Unfortunately, there was a downside, and it was probably karma. I’ve been extraordinarily lucky at past conferences to score super-cheap deals on fancy-schmancy hotels. This time, my HotWire luck caught up with me, and I wound up at a hotel that can only be described — pardon my vulgarity — as ass. Torn-up carpet, angry staff, crummy rooms, and, yes, no internet. So I did my best to go there only to sleep, and haven’t really been online from Wednesday through tonight.

I’ll have more to share about the presentations I saw — about writing and difficulty, about why plagiarism makes sense, about globalization, about class, and more — in the next few days. Right now, I’m glad to be home with Tink and Zeugma.

And one more thing, addressed to Jim, Doug, Cheryl, and Beth: if Kairos is to annually recognize conspicous disciplinary merit for the “Best Academic Weblog” award, I will strongly argue, after Collin, that there can be no better recognition than naming the award in memory and honor of John Lovas.

CCCC06: Publish, Plagiarize, and/or Perish?

Lila Harper’s presentation on “What We Can Learn about Plagiarism from Master’s Theses” began with the assertion that people working on Master’s theses may not necessarily be familiar with the academic conventions surrounding documentation and plagiarism. She spoke with a particular expertise because of her responsibilities as thesis editor for a comprehensive university: she source-checks and copyedits every Master’s thesis submitted — typically about 50 per year — prior to its placement in the university library. Her initial assumption was that plagiarism would not be a concern, but when she encountered an unidentified acronym in the manuscript, she Googled it, and discovered several pages of unattributed material from another source in the student’s manuscript. Upon further research, Harper discovered that inappropriate use of sources is common among all graduate disciplines. Even skilled writers, she argues, have problems with the appropriate necessary “transparency” of citation (which can sometimes manifest itself as Rebecca Moore Howard’s “patchwriting”). Other problems include poorly worded paraphrases and indirect citation, and many of the confusions writers exhibit seem to be linked to the types of style manual they use. Not so much concerned with the “theft of knowledge,” Harper is instead interested in citation as a method of evaluating the foundations of a discipline’s mode of knowledge production.

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Far Horizon, Part 3

In composition, Marxist arguments typically construct the value of work performed in the classroom as carrying future rather than present value. Consider the College English “WPA Outcomes Statement,” which offers the political contention that “By the end of first-year composition, students should[...] Use writing and reading for inquiry, learning, thinking, and communicating[...;] Integrate their own ideas with those of others [; and] Understand the relationships among language, knowledge, and power” (324). Writing here is understood to carry use value, instrumental value, social or communal value, and critical value in the way it is expected to interrogate ideologies of power — but in most of these aspects, that value is still a distant rather than present horizon.

In contrast, Lester Faigley uses a Marxist-influenced analysis to critique the distant economic horizon of the neoclassical economic perspective: following the work of Geoff Sirc, he rather caustically proposes that “Only after [the student] receives her degree will she learn if she has been granted all that has been promised: that you too can be a success if you go to college, work hard, and do what you’re told” (73). Faigley’s work in Fragments of Rationality offers a useful summary of many of the Marxist approaches common to composition. From Barbara Ehrenreich, he takes the notion that the identity of middle class students will be determined by their education, rather than by relative poverty or wealth (Faigley 53), and later characterizes Janet Emig’s and Peter Elbow’s expressivist classroom practices as reactions against an increasing corporate influence on education as manifested in the transactional purposes of writing (58) (which should likely bring to mind Raymond Williams and his observations on Romanticism as a cultural reaction to the economic shifts of the industrial revolution).

Furthermore, Faigley notes that Lisa Delpit, Myron Tuman, and Susan Miller all argue that early advocates of process pedagogies ignore and so perpetuate economic inequalities in their discourse that privileges middle-class communicative habits and practices — but, again, the Marxist critique here is largely ideological rather than economic. This Marxist ideological reaction to economic inequality is also visible in the work of Greg Myers, who writes in “Reality, Consensus, and Reform in the Rhetoric of Composition Teaching” that he’s seeking “not for a new kind of assignment, but for more skepticism about what assignments do to reproduce the structures of our society” (434): in other words, “One teaches job letters to the business communications students who need to get jobs downtown, without teaching that a job downtown is the answer to their problems” (434). The work of the classroom is not viewed as necessarily carrying value in its own right, but in how it might enlighten the student and orient that student towards future productive change in society.

In a similar vein, Min-Zhan Lu writes with considerable concern of “the Fast Capitalist investment in turning the young people of China into eager Consumers and below-minimum-wage Labor for global corporations” (31), and describes, with some irony, “fast capitalism’s interest in prioritizing areas of our life, turning our life outside paid work and school work (in preparation for paid work)” (41). Despite the irony, however, the notion is still there that education serves the economy, even as she seeks economic critique within the context of education. Language use, for Lu, can help us to become critical of fast capitalism’s agentless “order” and “Our word-work can help to design a better world” (46): the value of such word-work, again, is understood to exist in the possibility for future change, rather than in the present.

The emphasis in Patricia Bizzell’s work is less explicitly economic. In “Marxist Ideas in Composition Studies,” Bizzell acknowledges that compositionists make use of the titular “Marxist ideas,” but those ideas are ones that seek a political “critical consciousness” rather than addressing economic concerns. While Bizzell addresses socioeconomic class as a concern, it is brought up only as a concern of ideology (53), rather than of explicitly material circumstance; similarly, in “College Composition: Initiation into the Academic Discourse Community,” she cites research from Bernstein, Bourdieu, and Passeron demonstrating that “students from different social classes come to school with different abilities to deal with academic discourse” (107), but her interest is much more in discourse than in class. Furthermore, she acknowledges that she follows Jameson’s shift in “emphasis from economic to ideological relations” in examining the modes of production “of meaning and the struggle over who controls it” (57). While later theorists like Hardt and Negri might see the production of meaning as an economic form of immaterial labor, Bizzell’s perspective excludes economy in favor of ideology. The long-term goal of education for Bizzell, following Freire, is “the ability to see one’s world as the object of reflection and change” (126): again, a distant horizon for the value of writing, and change understood in the future rather than in the present.

Finally, perhaps the strongest and most influential Marxist critique of economic concerns in composition comes from James Berlin, who in Rhetorics, Poetics, and Cultures describes “the changing economic conditions for which we are preparing our students” (43) but strongly critiques the notion that composition teachers are merely providing businesses with well-trained workers (52). This is a critique carried over from earlier essays by Berlin: in “Contemporary Composition: The Major Pedagogical Theories,” he asserts that “many teachers (and I suspect most) look upon their vocations as the imparting of a largely mechanical skill, important only because is serves students in getting them through school and advancing them in their professions” (235), privileging instead a pedagogy “that will enable [students] to become effective persons as they become effective writers” (246). This circumstance is largely due to the fact that “we have just been through a period in which the end of education was conspicuously declared to be primarily the making of money,” to which Berlin offers the “counterproposal” that “education exists to provide intelligent, articulate, and responsible citizens who understand their obligation and their right to insist that economic, social, and political power be exerted in the best interests of the community” (55). Furthermore, according to Berlin, “the division of the workforce into a small group of the comfortably secure, on the one hand, and a large group of the poorly compensated and expendable, on the other hand, must be challenged in the name of social justice” (56). While this stands as a Marxist critique of economic relations, it is one based in assumptions about the ways in which higher education leads to a career, and so once more projects the value of writing in serving social change as existing beyond the bounds of the classroom.

52 Clanbrassil Street

The menu of the day:

Corned beef?

Check.

Cabbage and leeks?

Check.

Potatoes?

Well, I’m not sure how kosher his favored sweetbreads were in 1904 Dublin, but latkes were probably Irish enough for Leopold Bloom.

Right?