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Converging on Austin

A whole bunch of rhetoric folk have converged on Austin this weekend for the biennial Rhetoric Society of America conference, and while I don't wish that I'd spent the last week finalizing a paper, I wouldn't mind being there. RSA (pronounced like RZA with a hard S in the middle) is always a good conference.

Jenny and I were chatting the other night, bc she's on a panel about bridging the gap between rhet/comp and rhet/comm, and what the benefits of doing so are. One of the central points she'll be raising, and a reason why RSA is a good conference in the first place, is that communications studies doesn't suffer under the same pedagogical imperative that composition seems to. It's something that almost every rhetoric scholar in rhet/comp ends up struggling with, the overwhelming pressure in our field to translate everything we do for the classroom. And that comes in part from our schools' failure to understand the difference between teaching a subject and teaching practice, as Alex has been observing. In rhet/comp, what began as a shortcut, a way to work on both pedagogy and scholarship simultaneously, has normed to the point where scholarship that isn't pedagogical (or whose applications in that direction aren't immediately apparent) is frowned upon.

And despite the best attempts of some, this isn't really a theory/practice issue. Some of the panels at RSA will be theoretical, others historical, others analytical, and others cultural/critical. And these conversations, I suspect, will suffer much less for the absence of the old "Monday morning" trump card that is deployed far too often at other conferences I attend.

So, yeah, wish I was there.

Update: Mike is blogging some of RSA, and has a couple of entries on the sessions he's attending.


When I was in my PhD program, I took a rhetorical theory class that was taught in the communcations department at BGSU. I was in this class with maybe three or four other English department Rhetoric and Writing PhDs, a few culture studies PhD students, and about 8 communications PhD students. One of the things that became abundantly clear is that pedagogy really is at the heart of the way we do rhetoric in English departments. I don't think that just means fy comp of course, and I also think pedagogy/teaching is a pretty big tent that can mean a lot of different things, but I think the fact that we care about teaching makes us different.

But here's the thing: I think that's a good thing. For me, it's one of the reasons why I feel like I'm in the right place. I don't think the connection is a "short cut" so much as teaching is what pragmatically motivated the field in the first place. Way way back in the day, you had these English professors forced to teach freshman comp, and it seemed like there were two basic ways for folks bach then to view the situation. One was "this is horrible" and "how can I get out of teaching this?" The other was "why are these students writing like this?" and "what sort of theories of writing and rhetoric can I use to figure that out?" and "what sort of research should we be doing on/with students to figure out how to get them to write better?" That split still exists of course, and the second group became what we think of as "composition and rhetoric."

Hope you might find these interesting. More to come, if my note-taking skills and writing hand hold up.

Thanks for the entries and the effort, Mike!

Steve, I don't disagree with you about the importance of what our field does and values, but at the same time, I really appreciate the flavor of a conference like RSA where there's more of a mix. Maybe it's my own background coming out of a Humanities program, where our faculty were themselves from a number of disciplines other than English.

If nothing else, it was interesting to think about your comments after having read Mike's precis of the "Rhetoric's Changing Place" panel and Tom Miller's paper...

That's very true, and from what Mike said, it sounds like an interesting conference. I'm going to make a little post/entry about this at my blog just now...

RSA was/is a great conference. It outweighs 4Cs by a longshot. Last night I started to think that it might be due to the fact that we don't meet every year. Does that make a difference? Hard to say. People still wait till the last minute to do papers (including me, of course).

Even so, the real beauty is that we meet folks from a number of disciplines who come together under the banner of rhetoric. So we don't get the "pedagogy talk" in most/many of the papers. There's much more engagement with rhetoric as a practice in everyday life.

PLUS, I got to see lots of great scholars sweating an ungodly amount. Now there's some academic gossip for you: "Did you see how much ____ sweats? Sheesh. Who would've imagined?"