Here’s a brief preview of what I’ll be talking about on Thursday afternoon.
Imagine three doctoral candidates in rhetoric and composition at a large state university. They are friends, and also constitute an informal writing group; meeting twice a month to discuss progress and offer advice on one another’s dissertation chapters and other works in progress. All three have undergraduate loans — one from a religious baccalaureate institution, one from a public baccalaureate institution, and one from a private baccalaureate institution — but one has a teaching assistantship with one section of first-year composition, one has a research assistantship working and writing for a senior scholar, and one has a tuition fellowship and teaches sections of composition and literature at other nearby institutions for income. One is highly active in performing writing for a professional organization; one is a prominent member of several online communities and weblog collectives; one receives tuition remission for her work with the writing center, where she advises undergraduate work-study tutors. One is a returning scholar with a teenage child, whom she regularly tutors on writing assignments; one works with students to contribute to a growing repository of documentation for open-source software; one occasionally makes supplementary income by tutoring high-school students for the SAT. They all use in-class peer response in their teaching, they all have assigned the graded research paper essay to show mastery of a topic at some point in their teaching careers, and they all engage in writing as a reflective learning process for their own benefit. One discovers that a student has purchased the turned-in research paper from one of the online paper mills, and fails the student. Another has two students who turn in the same paper, and fails them both. The third recommends seeking or hiring a regular tutor to her ESL student. The third one assigns ungraded private journals in her class, while another maintains private message boards for her students, and another asks her students to keep public weblogs.
They all go to MLA. They all dazzle the search committees. They all get offers. One doesn’t like any of the offers she receives, and struggles to make a growing name for herself as an independent scholar, publishing and consulting. One likes the impressive salary and benefits that a for-profit online institution offers, and goes to work for private higher education. And one is excited to go to work as WPA-in-training for a small state school.
Nothing described above is remarkable. In composition, we know the things described above as the quotidian work of the teaching and learning of English.
However: their commonality is that everything above is an aspect of economic activity, and represents the immense ways in which which conventional representations of economic activity are deeply impoverished in their suggestions that everything in today’s information economy is about capitalism and market activity. This is mistaken. Not only do we see in the representation of our daily work the inescapable idea that economic activity inheres in market transactions and wage labor performed in the context of the capitalist enterprise; we see as well alternative market and nonmarket transactions, alternative paid and unpaid forms of labor, and alternative capitalist and noncapitalist forms of enterprise.
Capitalism is not the economy, and the economy is not the market.
I’m again using here J. K. Gibson-Graham’s sorting taxonomy of transaction / labor / enterprise and its index of various capitalist / alternative capitalist / noncapitalist forms.
Gibson-Graham, J. K. A Postcapitalist Politics. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, 2006.