Conference Notes

CCCC07 I14: Our Uses of

The full title of this panel was “Our Uses of Student Writing: Thinking Critically About Composition Scholarship.” Mariolina Salvatori presented first, giving a general overview of the panel as a whole — she would focus on scholarship, Jennifer Whatley would focus on research, and Richard Parent would focus on student writing in the context of the internet. Salvatori then moved into her portion on scholarship, offering as an introductory condition the assertion that a student text is to composition scholars as a literary text is to literature scholars. The difficulty, however, lies in that literature as a discipline has developed clear (albeit evolving: note the widely ranging reactions to Moretti’s work) rules of engagement for literary texts, whereas composition’s rules for engagement with student texts are still emerging, ad hoc, in process, to be determined. Furthermore, some of our conventions of engaging student texts are not in line with our theory, and this may indicate our ambivalence about the status writing about students may not grant us.

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CCCC07 C.26: Textual Transgressions

Collin Brooke acknowledged at the outset of this panel that there were technological difficulties coordinating this panel’s presentations, and the start of the presentations was delayed by six minutes as Collin (the chair) and others worked to overcome those difficulties. The panel’s full title was “Textual Transgressions Online: Plagiarism and Fraud in Weblogs and Wikis,” and the presenters offered a useful body of insight into the various ways that textual appropriation functions online, and how those various functions of appropriation serve to illuminate our practices and preconceptions surrounding the teaching of writing.

Clancy Ratliff’s presentation, “Negotiating and Regulating Plagiarism in Everyday Blogging Practices,” began from a personal example: her weblog, CultureCat, has been repeatedly plagiarized, in various and interesting ways. Ratliff has posted a brief recap with slides of her presentation, but I think she’s being too modest in the account she gives: as is typical of her work, her presentation was insightful, witty, and focused. The first example of weblog plagiarism she offered came to her via an email that read: “You hv posted a very kewl blog. I have stolen a few things from It just to start with my own blog.”

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CCCC07 E: The Global Economy and Class Identity

Note: I’ve made some corrections in what follows in response to requests by presenters.

I struggled somewhat to follow the highly abstract train of reasoning in Min-Zhan Lu’s presentation. Lu’s talk was more densely theoretical than the following talks by Tom Fox and Joseph Harris, which isn’t a criticism on my part, but an acknowledgment that I had to work harder to follow the complexity of her argument, and in fact failed to follow quickly enough at times — so any instances of incoherence in the following account should be taken as failures on my part, and not Lu’s. Lu began her talk on “Rethinking How We Talk About Class in the Global Free Market” by pointing to higher education’s increasingly prevalent invocation of the language of job security, career advancement, and marketable job skills. These terms, Lu noted, are not self-evident. They are, however, associated with a class of students increasingly subjected to the demands of global capital. If we’re going to develop a pedagogy that takes seriously our students’ economic concerns, we need to address their career goals as well as the increasingly volatility of global flows of capital and people, and in this sense, we would do well to keep in mind the additional meaning of career as unrestrained headlong rush. Lu expressed reservations about the limitations of the conventional stratifying markers of class, and proposed that we look instead to the extraterritorial mobility of the global elite as marker of class distinction. The conditions of the global free market today push the economy towards production of the volatile, the ephemeral, and the precarious, and the extraterritorial careering of the global elite constrains the middle class.

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CCCC07 B.30: My Presentation

I think I’m beginning to learn how to give a good conference presentation.

Or maybe at least the kind of conference presentation from which I tend to learn the most. I know I don’t learn well when people read papers, no matter how eloquently they’re written: written prose, when performed, has a fundamentally different quality. We see things in drama that the page does not show, and vice versa. But the model of the talk guided by slides doesn’t work well for me either: it feels too paratactic, too off-the-cuff, a series of impressions. Lawrence Lessig’s CCCC presentation seemed to me an ideal middle ground, and I’ve lately seen Collin and Clancy taking similar approaches, and so I tried this year to do something similar. I think the resulting presentation was the best I’ve so far done.

I first wrote a long paper, maybe 20 pages double-spaced, that worked through my argument. It’s something that I’m going to be trying to expand into a journal article over the next few months. I then went through and cut, cut, cut it down to somewhere near conference length: nine pages, double-spaced. After that, I put together a slide show to go with key terms and phrases and concepts in the paper, in imitation of Lessig, and also following the excellent format that I’ve seen Clancy and Collin start to turn toward. After some coaching and feedback from friends and colleagues, I cut it down further, and turned my writerly prose into bullet points from which to read, so as to avoid the deep hypotaxis that becomes so difficult to follow when listening to someone read a written paper: basically, I index-carded it.

I was happy with the result. I got out from behind the speakers’ table, walked around, used my wireless clicker to advance the slides, and talked it. I’d be curious to hear what the audience thought, because for me, it was the most energetic and engaged presentation I’ve done: it was fun, impassioned, and — to me — far more lucid and to-the-point than other presentations I’ve given.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have the technology to record as I presented, so what I’ve got to share here is the presentation’s static counterpart: my written talk; the extended prose that I cooked down to bullet points.

If you’re interested, though, you’re also welcome to take a look at the slide show and the bullet point script that I used to talk through that slide show.

slide show (1.1 MB, .ppt file)

bullet point script (55 KB, .doc file)

I’m especially grateful to my colleague Karen Peirce for her feedback and suggestions for revision.

Presentation prose follows.

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CCCC07 A01: Institutional Forces

(Note: I’ve made some changes at the request of presenters.)

Joanna Castner started this session by offering an initial overarching framework of techné, based on Janet Atwill’s conception of an always changing, never static, transformative “productive knowledge” that works to disrupt lines of power. Techné, Joanna suggested, can be used as an operating procedure and a way of looking at overdetermined (q.v. Althusser, Freud) situations as spaces of possibility. In this sense, techné is not knowledge but the production of knowledge, deeply associated with the kairotic moment and the importance of local factors. Castner then used John Alberti’s hierarchy of differently classed institutions of higher education to assert that so-called working-class institutions — second-tier open-admissios regional institutions where many students hold jobs and other material concerns that lie beyond the scope of the classroom — are now to be considered the norm or the typical case in higher education. (Castner here also cited Johnathan Mauk’s scholarship on working class students.) In such a way, Castner asserted, Mauk’s physical and human material geography of the institution (or, perhaps more properly, the material context of the institution) constructs student identities and the way those identities intersect and interact with the classroom context.

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CCCC07: IP Caucus

I’m in New York, where the 2007 meeting of the Conference on College Composition and Communication got underway today. I’d meant to finish up Cadet Casey’s story before the conference started, but time got away from me, so I’ll see if I can make the time to do so tomorrow before serious conference-blogging gets underway.

The Intellectual Property caucus was engaging and productive. From what I understand, a lot of what went on will be summarized at the CCCCIP site in days to come, and it’s late with an early day for me tomorrow, so I’ll be brief in my notes here. Karen Lunsford started the meeting, and while she made a number of important points and exhortations, what I found most interesting was her description of the University of Kansas’s March 10, 2005 University Council resolution, which declared the importance of access to scholarly information and called on all faculty members to ask publishers for permission “to permit the deposition of a digital copy of every article accepted by a peer-reviewed journal into [an open access] repository.” According to other people at the meeting, the University of California system is working toward a similar initiative. Such a move would have profound implications for scholars and the circulation of knowledge, and one can only hope more institutions follow suit. Charlie Lowe followed Karen, talking some about Creative Commons and the IP Caucus Open Source Software resolution, encouraging schools and faculty to explore the possibilities offered by OSS in their work and their students’ work. John Logie then spoke for a while about the relationship between the CCCC IP Committee and the CCCC IP Caucus: the caucus is essentially a task force, he said, while the committee has “administrative teeth.” While the Committee is the formal arm, he suggested, the Caucus is more of a grassroots space where radical, powerful ideas take shape. He talked about the annual “Top IP Stories” he’s working on, where people discuss the most important news stories involving intellectual property in the past year, such as the 2006 US Appeals Court decision in Bill Graham Archives v. Dorling Kindersley wherein the Court ruled that the remixed re-publication of Grateful Dead concert posters qualified as fair use under Section 107 of U.S. copyright law.

After Logie spoke, the caucus broke into work groups. I was in a group dedicated to unpacking IP issues in the classroom: as Carol Havilland put it, we as composition scholars have a habit of engaging intellectual property concerns in complex conceptual ways, but then turn around and teach our students simple rules without helping them explore the rationales behind them. We wound up talking about what it would look like to teach an “ethics of citation” and what such an ethics would do and how it would work. Brian Ballentine was the one taking notes, and I’m sure he’ll recap the session with more grace and facility than mine at Our small group session closed with Havilland offering an interesting proposal: it might be useful, she suggested, to look for cases to share with our colleagues where the rules we express to our students come into conflict with other rules, with institutional principles, or with what we see as ethical behavior.

Enough for tonight. Tomorrow, I present, and I’ll be attending more than a few sessions and meetings — I’ll see how well my note-taking holds up.

Update: Bradley’s blogged it, as well.

CCCC06: Wrap-Up

That pretty much does it for my notes on this year’s 4Cs. I got to meet a lot of new people, see some old friends and colleagues, and attend some excellent presentations, most of which I’ve shared my notes on here. I got to hang out with Jen Beech at the Newcomer’s Station, and (very briefly — I had to run to set up my presentation) introduced myself to Julie Lindquist. Plus, after Mark Bauerlein’s sniping, the estimable John Schilb called him “lazy and paranoid” — my goodness!

I finally managed to sync up an audio reading of my presentation with the slides, so if you’re interested, check it out. (Eighteen minutes and thirty seconds of a 28.6 MB .mp4; right-click to download: I added some stuff and tried to read a little more slowly.) It’s a big file, and some of the slides are hard to read at 320 x 240, and my reading comes across as kinda stilted — I didn’t have the presence of mind to actually record while I was presenting, so it felt weird just reading it aloud a second time in my kitchen. Still, for a first attempt at a podcast, I guess it came out OK. Text of the presentation follows after the break.

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CCCC06: Bullshit

Well, OK. It was actually called “New Perspectives on Class.” But if you’ve got that nostalgie de la boue, friend, that hunger for naughty words in academic contexts, you likely know that I’m disinclined to disappoint: read on.

I was happy to meet Jen Beech at this year’s Cs, and happy — however briefly — to meet Julie Lindquist, as well, both of whom were present at the “New Perspectives on Class” panel. Amy Robillard, whose recent CE piece on affect and student scholarship I totally admire, presented on “Humility, Immediacy, Necessity: Bourdieu and the Production of Authenticity in Working Class Narratives”: if you know my work and how close I’m getting to the end of the diss, and the prominent place affect and authenticity take in my chapters 2 and 5, you know I wasn’t going to miss her talk.

Plus she said “bullshit” 45 times. In a totally scholarly, deadpan, and rigorous way.

To start, she began by describing how she “asks students to compose two to three pages of bullshit on vague topics like fear or patriotism,” because plagiarism and bullshit both spring from a failure to prepare. (Moment of obnoxious vanity: what would Amy make of my plagiarism sequence?) Robillard cited Lindquist’s description of the “what if?” characteristics of academic discourse (and one of Lindquist’s working-class Smokehouse respondents, “Walter,” who declared “Bullshit on ‘What if!'”) in order to propose that writing teachers might do well to play up the connections between “what if” and bullshit. In characterizing some forms of discourse that he used as “bullshit,” Walter disowned his own rhetorical labor by devaluing it, and in so doing strategically held on to the working-class identity he privileged, by proposing that his affectual and authentic working-class rhetorical strategies were inherently more valuable that the “bullshit” that — to some — exists as rhetoric for its own sake; word-wanking without referent or valuation.

Tangent: this spun me a bit, because I’ve been lately looking at word-work done for its own sake and its use value in the writing classroom as that which might be privileged for the way it forestalls the evacuation of use value in favor of exchange value predicated on the future commodified instrumentality of writing skills — but I get where Amy’s coming from. Still, I’m always suspicious of two-category oppositions, so I wonder: what might Amy make of Shadi Bartsch’s “doublespeak” (Actors in the Audience) from Roman times, sort of the counterhegemonic twin of Leo Strauss’s ugly esoteric discourse, in which rhetors craft messages that carry different meanings to different parties based upon their positions of privilege? (This is different from irony, which can be read multiple ways by everyone: in some ways, it’s very much about class position.) Is there a possible continuum between bullshit and not-bullshit? How does it work?

Do working-class students see the labor of academics as bullshit? Well, let’s define bullshit: Amy uses Harry Frankfurt’s book to fine effect, particularly its definition of bullshit as carrying “a negative relation to the truth.” Liars care about their relationship to the truth; bullshitters don’t. So bullshit is blatant and overbearing, and avoids the equivocation of falsehood in its highly context- and audience-dependent rhetorical nature. Bullshit doesn’t even worry about the truth: it just does its rhetorical thing.

Robillard then moved to Bourdieu’s famous and ubiquitously quoted observation from Distinction that “Taste classifies, and classifies the classifier,” and Bourdieu’s concern with the “distance from necessity” and the way in which “the aesthetic disposition” brackets off material and practical and real-world concerns. The aesthetic disposition equals doing something for its own sake, disconnecting it from material and worldly concerns: in language, it’s word-wanking without referent or valuation. Academics like to argue, and they often do so for the sake of performance, rather than for the sake of utility or instrumentality. Given that circumstance, working-class students may see the conventions of academic discourse as lending themselves to a rhetoric that serves only itself while offering zero effect on their material lives: in short, they may see it as bullshit. We need, Robillard argued, a deeper engagement in cross-class conversations about what academic and non-academic argument does.

CCCC06: Blogging, Part 2

This follows up on yesterday’s post about the blog-related presentations from Quinn Warnick, Margaret Ervin, and Fred Johnson. That panel had a primarily pedagogical focus, while the panel I’ll talk about today had a primarily professional focus — but as I noted yesterday, my point in juxtaposing my notes on these two panels, beyond their obvious shared topic, comes out of Collin Brooke’s observations about the ways in which academic bloggers enact the theories of written knowledge as processual, embodied, and socially constructed upon which composition bases many of its pedagogies. In other words, blogging serves as a site where there’s considerable and highly visible overlap between our professional practice and our pedagogical practice, and as such is rather unique in composition — and (you knew I was gonna say this) that overlap merits further serious investigation.

Clancy’s presentation, “Coalition-Building on Weblogs: Negotiating Innovation and Access in Writing Pedagogy” examined an illustrative case of academic exchange on weblogs that demonstrated how the online scholarly review process — which she called “peer-to-peer review,” possibly John Holbo’s coinage — works in different ways from offline scholarly review. Clancy, as always, was razor-sharp and laser-focused in her presentation, and I wish there were some way to make those vague and mumbly scholars who don’t know how to give a talk go see her present. (I say this as someone who’s given a couple abominably obscure presentations myself.) She’s posted her talk online, so my notes — in the interests of avoiding redundancy — will be a little more in the reader-response mode than the summaries I’ve been trying to offer for other presentations.

The illustrative case Clancy discussed arose out of weblog posts and comments in response to Will Hochman and Chris Dean’s April 2005 Inside Higher Ed  “Hypertext 101” article (Clancy gives links to the subsequent April 4 2005-April 14 2005 discussion here). Hochman and Dean concluded that students and teachers need to “think critically” about technology, a rhetorical position that Collin Brooke strongly critiqued, arguing that we need to start assuming that students are, in fact, already familiar with technology — a position that for me still feels uncomfortably close to technological determinism, but I can certainly see where his critique is coming from. Brooke’s response spurred further responses from a total of 21 people, including Jeff Rice, who argued with considerable merit that the injunction to “think critically” has become a mantra without a referent; we say it so much that we don’t do it (and perhaps, in that sense, it’s performative: we say it so much because we don’t do it?). Sharon Gerald, writing from a very tech-poor community college on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, then brought up the problem of access. Collin responded by pointing out that questions of access can often be used as a sort of rhetorical trump card to shut down discussion, and I agree that there’s the potential for that to happen — but on the other hand, in discussions of technology and access, it might be worthwhile to examine rhetorical ethos.

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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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