About mabwarner88

Doctoral candidate at North Dakota State University, Department of English.

“Research” as Synecdoche: In Defense of First-year Writers

The research paper is perhaps the most familiar genre, competing with the five-paragraph essay (which occasionally might serve as a research paper).  And as the Rebecca Moore Howard and Sandra Jamieson argue, the genre deserves a place in writing provided a change in emphasis from “rote performance of pre-established conventions of research writing” to assignments that “value knowledge production and critical thinking” (243).  Perhaps the emergent idea is that research serves as a synecdoche.  In this regard, I like the discussion of Helen Foster’s information retrieval scaffold “that both ‘foregrounds the importance’ of information retrieval and reveals the ‘multiple embedded tasks’ with the process” (Howard and Jamieson, 236).  The scaffold acknowledges the process yet points to the complexities of the process.  This acknowledgement helps to re-frame an assignment as a “research project” (Howard and Jamieson, 236).  The assignment becomes a series of activities, a clutch of genres rather than a single monolithic paper.

However, while I find the discussion much welcomed, I also return to our discussion about what is composition studies and the associated topic of what happens in the composition classroom.  many of the activities are recognizable – paraphrase, summary, engaged reading (a nice change from critical reading), and of course citing sources.  On the one hand, the chapter invites enthusiasm.  Images of a life of the mind swirl amid the discussion of information literacy and tracing “trails writers lay out for others who might wish to find and read the same sources and thereby join the conversation” (Howard and Jamieson, 239).  It is invigorating.  I enrolled in a doctorate program to perform these activities.  On the other hand, the chapter poses paradoxes.  Students need to engage with material yet exhibit reluctance. The Citation Project findings offer disheartening statistics that “46 percent of the 1,911 citations were to material from the first page of the source—and a total of 77 percent of the citation were to material no deeper than page 3 of the source” (Howard and Jamieson, 234).  I want changing the emphasis toward information literacy to serve a purpose, but I wonder how I might more effectively achieve improved learning if students evidently are not engaged.

Engagement for me is proving to a nebulous and persistent concept.  Engagement, I think, presses the question of what happens in the composition classroom and perhaps alludes to what is composition studies. That is, in reading Howard and Jamieson and in reflecting on previous readings, I find myself at a point of irresolution – a great place for a theory class but not the best for pedagogy development.  The chapter by Howard and Jamieson returns me to the discussion of Greg Myers about reforming education.  Does the introduction of information literacy unburden research from the ideologies of the research paper?  The chapter sent my mind to David Bartholomae and student writers navigating through the finding of authority and the need to mimic conventions.  Maybe students need some activities in rote memory in order to engage in more complex information literacy activities – but which ones to commit to memory?  I would argue the most recursive activities might serve as excellent candidates for rote memorization.  Of course, this discussion segues into process as well – even in the plural, process looms in much of the discussion of juggling the complexities of research.

As a parting thought, I offer an apology for first-year students. I have spent part of my time as a graduate writing consultant helping graduate-level students find and work with sources; in anticipation of a statement, no, they are not all international students.  I have spent periods in my own academic pursuits in perplexity about how to find and use research.  The world is endlessly beautiful in its complexities, and I often find myself mustering ideas as a statement of my confusion than a cogent argument.  Confession: I find the certitude encouraged in some academic writing disturbing.  And my stint among the sciences and mathematics has raised further disturbances on that issue.  Where is the space to explore – really explore, in the sense of I did not know about this topic but here is what I found, what it means is unclear, but clarity could occur in time.  Inadvertently, first-year students perhaps find themselves with no such space.  College is expensive so the impulse to derive a “tangible utility” is strong.  Am I needlessly fretting over the idea of research projects functioning as a gesture to pragmatism yet circumventing the learning that might occur in writing a research paper?  I do not know. But I think that research irrespective of the noun it modifies — paper, project, task, skill — is difficult for first-year writers, graduate students, faculty — and me.

Paradox of the Interface

The ubiquity of computer technologies and large computer networks requires reflection and criticism.  However, the reflection and criticism rarely takes the form of a critique of the ideologies enmeshed in computing and networks.  Typically, the criticism operates on the ‘two culture’ divide, discussed famously by C.P. Snow .  In this formulation, the ‘one culture’ consists of arts and humanities; the other culture consists of scientists.  We are familiar with this dichotomy.  Snow sought to decrease (hopefully eliminate) the privileging of one of these cultures — but that was 1959 and the dichotomy persists. I think the dichotomy persists because the rhetorical framing is superficial.

As with most dichotomies, the two culture approach glosses a great amount of nuance.  I find in Cynthia Selfe and Richard Selfe  “The Politics of the Interface” an argument to understand computer technologies as an extension, perhaps amplification, of a privileged position, the desk worker of a major corporate firm.  The approach to formulate the argument involves noticing the place of language in the computer, so English and the QWERT-keyboard enjoy strong positions of power as the normative functions for computer use.  The conceit of an office desk and paraphernalia associated with office work thrives even among the mobile computing platforms of our present technological ecology. Selfe and Selfe find this enactment of various privileged positions troubling, quoting Giroux that the technologies “extend rather than erase the possibility for enabling human agency” (496).

Mindful as the advice and critique might be, I think the options that Selfe and Selfe offer to rectify the problems seem to underestimate our current problems.  They are writing in 1994 before much of the consolidation of internet services and certainly before the (basically) mandatory use of computers in the forms of LMS and other services.  So, advice such as “writing program administrators and invidual teachers can, however, take some steps toward this goal [of educating themselves as technology critics] by making sure that their programs are spending at least as much time educating teachers about important technology issues (access to technology, design of technology, ideologies associated with technology) as they are on training them to use technology” (Selfe and Selfe, 497).  On the one hand, this advice is appropriate because the technology issues have a place of prominence.  On the other hand, it is misguided because the technology usage monopolizes most workshops and other professional development efforts because the pace of development renders reflective opportunities nearly impossible to permit in a meaningful and implemented manner.  The more conspiratorial amongst us might recognize this formulation as deliberate, but that is a digression for another time.

Regarding composition, Selfe and Selfe accomplish for technology usage what Greg Meyers accomplished in “Reality, Consensus, and Reform in the Rhetoric of Composition Teaching.”  That is, both articles address issues related to ideological problems with perceived areas of educational reform.  My concern remains the inability of reflection and critic to remain relevant in respect to the enthusiastic, approaching utopic tones, of technology in the classroom.  In many instances, the euphoria has reference points.  I can use this repertoire of softwares and hardwares to obtain and disseminate information with brilliant ease.  Observe.  I can inform you about my readings on Alan Liu’s discussion of Cultural Singularity as captured in a Storify by Adeline Koh. The discussion of the “hack and yack” difference is neat, especially positioning ‘hack’ as assemblage theory and late poststructuralism and the yack as the Frankfurt school and gender and race theories.  If we are tired of consumption and prefer production, I can discuss my uploading to GitHub and investigation of programming packages to perform better analytics on ProQuest stored text files. But, lets not deceive ourselves, for I quit the technology industry for many reasons Selfe and Selfe cite.  There is some nefariousness in the nodes.  Lets go multi-modal to ponder the issue and contemplate this image before posing several questions:

technology is hell

How might we recognize that optimism has become ‘overoptimism’ in regards to technology?

Does attention in the classroom to production-driven uses of technologies mitigate some of the problems Selfe and Selfe identify?

Is coding the new literacy? (making a connection to our other readings on literacy) Not to place a fine point on the question, but what does coding and composition share as points of convergence and divergence?

Stability, Sustainability, and Service-Learning

Ellen Cushman argues for a broader understanding of public when considering the purpose of a public intellectual.  Cushman notes public should include “the ones often located close by universities, just beyond the walls and gates, or down the hill, or over the bridge, or past the tracks” (329); that is, people often occluded from the policy making and debates occurring in isolated circumstances.  While this extension of purpose is admirable, I find there might be threats to its possible realization.  As Cushman states later in the position piece, “academics must have the secure position that autonomy (typically gained through tenure) provides if the knowledge they make is to be protected from censorship” (Cushman, 329).

The stability of the profession of teacher permits much activity.  For example, I honestly will not pursue advanced Trans-Atlantic and Pacific Partnership projects, which I categorize as service learning for reaching beyond the classroom, unless I have the security of tenure.  The challenges are simply too risky if I am simply a one-year contract – with possibility of renewal.  Laura Julier, Kathleen Livingston, and Eli Goldblatt offer encouragement to endure through volatility with organizations.  Eli states, “I simply have to learn to trust my ability to tell if things are going wrong for the partner” (69).  Great, but how to help a partner who recognizes an instructor might be gone after a year or in some cases a semester?  This concern is serious.  The discussion about assessment, for example, does not address the issues Tony Scott and Lil Brannon identify in “Democracy, Struggle, and the Praxis of Assessment.”  The primary threat to assessment, according to Scott and Brannon, is programmatic instability.

Assessment must be sufficiently simple that a person might understand it within a week yet remain robust enough to appease accreditors, administrators, and other stakeholders.  Larger programs might have a “revolving door” (enter, exit, enter, exit, and on and on) of hires, so the assessment procedure must be resilient; should a WPA consider integrating service-learning elements given the possibility the courses dedicated to service-learning might only exist for one year, one semester, or maybe only a portion of a course’s activities?  On the one hand, I think it is necessary because many program outcomes seek to extend the involvement of students (and instructors) “beyond the classroom”; on the other hand, I think it is foolishness to suppose service-learning is sustainable.  This issue looms very large in my thinking because, again, it involves TAPP.  I have evidence that TAPP is beneficial, yet I do not have evidence that it is sustainable (rest assured, though, so long as I and some others are in universities, it will thrive).

How might a writing program integrate service-learning in a sustainable manner?

How might professional volatility dissuade (1) instructor (2) writing program (3) community participation in service-learning? Conversely, how might it encourage their participation in service-learning?

Scott, Tony and Lil Brannon.  “Democracy, Struggle, and the Praxis of Assessment.” CCC 65.2 (December 2013): 273-298. Print.

Posthumanism smuggling objectivity into interpretation?

Posthumanism offers interesting opportunities.  By incorporating non-human elements into analysis or foregoing any analysis of human activity, posthumanism as an interpretive frame might reveal intriguing new perspectives on our world.  To understand this shift from the human, Anderw Mara and Brian Hawk perform a service by narrating the inception and development of posthumanism within the context of technical communication.  Happily, I note the works by Foccault figure prominently (I preferred Order of Things and Archeology of Knowledge to Discipline and Punish). In regards to posthumanism, notice the similarities with object-oriented ontology, where humans are no longer the central focus, and in some instances, they are not even present save for the scholars doing the scholarship.

Posthumanism has me pondering the concept of objectivity – hence, my reference to the metaphysical system of object-oriented ontology.  On the one hand, the inclusion of non-human elements provides important insights, such as recongintion that the ecology is important, whether organic such as the bacteria in a human immune system or inorganic such as a server running algorithms on Twitter feeds and Instagram and Facebook to find correlations.  There is more to the universe than humans.  And often those systems have an indifference toward humans which necessitates de-centering or removing humans from focus.  Confusingly, I thought this practice has been advocated among sciences –  I turn and glance at a book shelf where theoretical physics has no ‘need’ for humans and most of the mathematical textbooks disregard the presence of humans and often find humans the main source of errors.

On the other hand, the inclusion of non-human elements seems to involve an intellectual chicanery.  It is challenging to engage with scholarship that avoids the phenomenology of humans in the world.  Thomas Nagel, the philosopher whom I forgot during the object-oriented onotology discussion, raises this particular issue when discussing “What is it like to be a bat?” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/What_Is_it_Like_to_Be_a_Bat%3F  I find the posthumanist approach feigns the objectivity which so much scholarship has exposed as flawed.  The feint occurs through the treatment of non-human entities as involved in various processes.  Neil Badmington’s piece reminds me of the convoluted nature of this form of theorizing.  Badmington labels part of the theorizing as a trick: “the straightforward distinction between inside and outside is not always that straightforward” (19).  Okay.  That problem exists whether or not a theory factors non-human entities into consideration, so, I do not notice a contribution toward a more robust understanding of existence.

Furthermore, posthumanism also does not have a sense of freshness to it when viewed through most Asiatic writings.  But I feel as though my posts are too dependent upon the argument: guess what Americans, Buddhists / Taoists / Hindus / Sikhs / and an assortment of other philosophical traditions have already managed the concepts and offer more conscientious metaphysics and epistemologies.  An alternative phrasing is, sorry European scholars, you did not “get there” first but you are quite accustomed to planting a flag and claiming the ideas.  But I digress.

Perhaps, the primary distinction between Asian philosophies and posthumanism appears to be a fetishized interest of the latter in rather contemporary technologies such as computers and protein synthesis.  Undoubtedly these technologies warrant scrutiny and excellent criticism of these technologies occur.  However, the necessity of eliminating, de-centering, or diminishing the human seems an unnecessary feature – if not impossible.  It seems like a peculiar form of objectivity through objects.

Sustainability through Embodiment: Feminism and Composition

Sustainability is an intriguingly polysemic word, and the readings on feminisim and composition might be the first to address the issue directly.  Perhaps the concern for sustainability has its origins in that, as a theoretical lens, feminism is also very polysemic — “race, class, age, disability, queer, linguistic, immigrant, global, and other categories” (Micciche, 129-30).

Diversity is a strength but might also create vulnerabilities to sustainability.  I think is problem is what Richie and Boardman address when they note, “[t]he history of feminism suggests that it is necessary to do more than interrupt a disciplinary conversation.  Disruption may be only temporary, and as Reynolds and others point out, it’s easy to push disrupters to the sidelines, to stop listening to them and to marginalize them once again” (601).  I wonder if homogenous groups tend to advocate for themselves more effectively than heterogenous groups.

With this trouble of sustainability in mind and the historical lessons narrated in the readings, I come to understand the troubles both feminism and composition encounter when advocating for their place in and beyond academia.  I thought I had the passage marked, but, cannot locate the discussion of hegemonic powers “bulldozing contradictions” in order to create ostensible harmony — by silencing dissensus or any difference on any dimension.

The advantage of feminism and composition is the call to invoke lived experience.  Embodiment is my favorite aspect of the theory because it might provide a unifying locus for sustainability.  Unity need not require conformity, and, sadly, I think the two words and concepts are too often conflated.  Embodiment also involves returning to expressivist notions of voice.  “As Suzanne Clark points out, narratives of experience theorized become sites of agency: ‘ At the same time that stories of personal experience invoke and re-cite determinant categories of identity…such stories produce an excess not easily retrofitted at the norm’ (Ritchie and Boardman, 602).  Drawing on the personal is a potent concept.  Yet it might be nullified through larger practices; I have written about the use of the passive voice to “purge’ the scholar from scientific writing.

My main question remains, how might feminism provide a stabilizing means for composition and rhetoric to sustain diversity?

A less interesting question is the paradox of how to reconcile collaborative efforts and personal narrative (embodiment)?  It is less interesting because the answer appears evident in collaborative techniques yet maybe not explicitly articulated.

Consensus as Utopia?

Among the definitions for consensus, the most unusual yet potentially helpful is consensus as a utopia within an interpretive community.  John Trimbur proposes this definition in “Consensus and Difference in Collaborative Learning.” To develop the definition, Trimbur elaborates on two types of consensus.  “[W]e will need to distinguish between consensus as an acculturative practice that reproduces business as usual and consensus as an oppositional one that challenges the prevailing conditions of production” (451*).  The first type of consensus is perhaps more familiar because it resembles a discourse community into which a student might acculturate to a secondary discourse.  The second type of consensus requires that students incorporate utopian concept in order to differentiate “the prevailing conditions of production” from other productive conditions.  “From this perspective, consensus becomes a necessary fiction of reciprocity and mutual recognition, the dream of conversation as perfect dialogue.  Understood as a utopian desire, assembled from the partial and fragmentary forms of the current conversation, consensus does not appear as the end or the explanation of the conversation but instead as a means of transforming it” (451).  Excellent.  More fictionalizing for us to consider.  While I would enjoy exploring a connection between Ong’s fictional audience and Trimbur’s fictional consensus, I want to concentrate on the role of utopian consensus in a classroom.

Unlike Myers, Trimbur does propose a means to situate consensus into the classroom without assuming a dual-role.  “The utopian view of consensus […] would abandon this expert-novice model of teaching and learning.  Instead consensus would provide students with a critical measure to identify the relations of power in the formation of expert judgment” (Trimbur, 452).  Presumably the expert-novice also means the mentor-mentee, so the utopian model would collapse the power dimension in order to permit students to grasp with the fictional ideal community.  By differentiating between Shakespeare and Stephen King, students will discover “the rhetoric of dissensus that structures the dominant representation of what literature is and is not and that produces marked differences in the way they read and experience texts” (Trimbur, 453).  I have speculations what this activity might resemble for composition but it is not quite as clear a division.  No student in English 324 Writing in the Sciences would conflate the writing of a review of research and other “for fun” writing.  The boundaries seem much more pronounced among composition activities – though the power differentiations are as pronounced as they are among literary interpretations (arguably, more pronounced).

The purpose of the utopia “to displace consensus to a horizon which may never be reached” (Trimbur, 454) seems effective in some regards.  The social construction of knowledge in effect yields ‘moving targets’ for those individuals who have “unassimilated otherness,” (Trimbur, 454) to use Iris Marion’s phrase.  However, I am uncertain how this dynamic unfolds within a composition course, in particular courses designed within the parameters of writing across the curriculum.  The concept of the unobtainable, while accurate, also denies large amounts of evidence that produce confidence (over confidence?) in the stability of certain productive activities, in particular with language.  Thus, I wonder…

Question: is Trimbur’s concept of a utopian view of consensus helpful to inform genre theory approaches to composition?

Question: does the concept of consensus (by any of the definitions offered) help us understand discourse communities (interpretative communities) any better?  Does it address the ‘boundary problem’ of discourse communities and activity theory?

Expression and Experimentation

Expression as Experiment

In “Deleuze: (Neo)Expressivism in Composition” by Joshua Hilst, as the title suggests, we must reconsider as compositionists how we understand expression.  Hilst summarizes the prevailing understanding as reactions to the body of scholarship by mainly Peter Elbow.  I think the idea of an authentic voice is representative of this expressionism: “[Elbow] is ultimately in favor of a voice that feels like something I would say” (6). From this scholarship, Hilst argues that expression requires application of memory and originates from an infinitely mutable single substance, which has a desire for expression – “what is it that writing wants.” [1]

Before wincing at the idea, I want to note Hilst theorizing through Deleuze accidentally articulates an Asiatic rhetoric. In Confucian derived rhetoric, it is li; in several forms of Buddhist epistemology, it is the conceptual fictions of skandha. So, while many of us wrestle with the notion of a single substance through which infinite forms emerge, large portions of the human populace already subscribe to the ideas of memories being inventive, substances being singular through interaction, and experimentally based incremental change.

Contrastive rhetoric snarkiness aside, Hilst frames the re-conceptualization of expression very well. However, I want to point out Elbow is not unaware of the Deleuzian ideas of expression; he simply does not frame them in that manner.  For example, the idea of palpating to suggest that “since difference has no identity, we can’t identify it through words, but we can palpate it.  We can, in a way, sense its presence or see its effects” (Hilst, 4).  This idea is not distinctive from Elbow’s struggle to determine reasons for the dichotomy of the writer (producer) and the academic (consumer) which places false distinctions between what constitutes appropriate language use.  So, Hilst notes Elbow’s connection to Mary Carruthers’ “that the composition process is not complete until the composition has been read” (6).  That is, the academic (the teacher, the reader) has tremendous power to complete the expressive act.  Expression has a tremendous asymmetry toward the consumers.  In the Elbow paradigm as outlined by Hilst, expression does not (cannot?) take form until consumption has occurred.

The problem the Delezuian expression has with this skewed power toward consumers rather than producers is that static forms are necessary.  The question becomes how to understand deviations or imitations of form.  “An artificial tone does not necessarily have to mean Engfish – it can mean something much more inventive.  It can mean something that creates an entirely new perspective: on the self, on the world, on language” (Hilst, 6).  And we need to note also that “something expresses through me” (Hilst, 6).  In a way, the writer (the producer) relinquishes a lot of power in the new expressionism if the memories are not ‘there’ then expression, possibly invention, cannot occur.  So, while the academic (the consumer) might not enjoy a place of privilege, memories assume an important and in some cases domineering role.  In a return to my Asiatic references, not every person existing among Confucian-laden or Buddhist-infused cultures enjoys the experience.  Memories are great, but a right to be forgotten is equally important, especially in a networked existence.

The new conceptual frame for expression is great in part because it distances the idea of the individual; and, in my mind, diminishes the idea of ‘natural’ writing ability.  However, there are some areas where we need to experiment with this new expressionism.

Question: “Working in favor of the virtual, the unexpected, surprise, generates an endlessly renewable model, since the virtual can actualize in infinite ways” (Hilst, 15).  Grand, I have fifteen weeks and forty-four students covering a broad range of commitment levels and competencies, how might favoring the virtual assume a meaningful implementation?

Question: Buddhism and Confucianism begin with the discovery of the individual before the recognition of no-self.  That is, for there to be a no-self through which substance may flow, first a person must realize there is a self to negate.  Does this new expressionism find a space for discovery as it purports?  I think it does but denies the discovery is an individual.