Here’s a cheesy graphic that looks like it belongs in Microsoft’s Clip Art portfolio. Unfortunately, I’m afraid, it’s also my attempt to think about (1) how economic activity works qua writing and (2) how writing works within our discipline as economic activity.
Sure: another simplistic attempt to represent how writing happens; an obvious, boring, and self-evident attempt to talk about The Process. Well, OK, not so fast, pardner: there are economic points of intervention here. Locations of heterogeneous practice and valuation.
First, on Work: this is Bruce Horner’s nuanced definition of work. This is the understanding from Terms of Work for Composition that our discipline regards and values Work in different ways, as scholarship, as pedagogy, and as the quotidian student activity of the classroom.
The value of each of those forms of work is somehow appropriated, and appropriated — according to Gibson-Graham and Resnick and Wolff — by different parties at different points in the progression from production to distribution. At the point of production, value can be appropriated in slave relations wherein the producer has no control over the conditions under which he produces (prison labor; the work of intellectuals under Stalin), feudal relations, market relations (you publish an article in order to put it on your cv and be promotable), gift relations, independent relations (you appropriate the value of your own labor), and others. I don’t have a sufficient grasp on rhetoric and the economics of distribution to be able to talk about those practices of appropriation here, but folks like Jim Ridolfo and Amy Robillard are doing smart and admirable work in that area.
Appropriation, as unavoidable economic practice, leads to various forms of textual ownership. Capitalism, as a mode of thought, concerns itself with private ownership. Socialism, as a mode of thought, concerns itself with state ownership. Communism is a mode of thought that inadequately addresses and fails to encompass public ownership, and I don’t think we yet have a term that is more adequate to that task. And as a term that addresses or attempts to address non-ownership, “The Commons” is certainly fraught with difficulties, as is “The Public Domain.” Nevertheless: work’s value is appropriated and becomes property, non-property, or something in between.
And we build upon that which has gone before; that which any entity owns. The verb that relates this act to property is “use,” and I don’t have a vocabulary for it, but “use” clearly takes us back to “work.”
I need to show this, I think, in projects — both students’ and my own — and then connect this cycle to my critique of how comp’s discourse has failed to engage a vocabulary of economy, and offer some concrete examples of work > appropriation > ownership > use > work et cetera. But that circuit, so far, is the happiest definition I have for what “economy” means in composition.
Does it work for you, or have I missed or ignored key considerations?