When I wrote my dissertation, I first thought it was going to be about socioeconomic class. But everything I thought and wrote about convinced me that class was a disguise, a facade, a mask for much deeper economic concerns that writing teachers often didn’t know how to deal with, didn’t think the discipline had the authority or legitimacy to deal with, and so turned concerns of economy back into concerns of class and thereby into the much more (apparently) manageable category of identity.
That didn’t work out very well.
I thought (and think) that any identity-based approach to economy in composition has reached the limits of productivity, in composition as much as in literature. There’s only so much you can say about socioeconomic class before you start saying stuff that everyone else has already said. But if class (which I would argue composition has always only understood as identity, and would welcome examples of counterarguments to said perspective) is the point of articulation (cf. Hall, Bourdieu) between economy and culture, well, I think we’ve done a fine job as a discipline of examining culture, and a poor job of examining economy.
So the first thing I did after writing my prospectus was to look over a bunch of Econ 101 syllabi, and to work my way through their texts, and the texts they led me to. Sure, there was the Marx. But there were also the Freidrich Hayek and the Adam Smith, neither of whom gets read nearly often enough by the folks who like to invoke them the most. And that’s what I’d say the project that I’ve finally been able to start imagining as a book does: it reads closely, in Hayek and in Smith and in Marx, but takes those close readings as signposts through a series of case studies of writing and its value through the economic cycle of production, distribution, appropriation, ownership, use, and re-production.
I’m surprised by some of the things I’m re-seeing Hayek and Smith and Marx saying, just as much as I’m surprised by some of the things I’m re-seeing in the production and reproduction of writing.