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March 30, 2007

And the winner is...

Donna! After sitting on 1999 comments for almost 48 hours, I was about ready to comment myself and just buy a book for me. Then I remembered that nothing stops me from buying me books anyway. (Daywatch anyone?) At long last, though, Donna contributed the following:

By the way, hasn't anyone made comment #2000 yet?

Yes, yes someone has. Thanks to that comment, Donna will soon receive an undisclosed item from her hastily assembled wish list, delivered to her door by the fine folks at Amazon.com.

It's a little anticlimactic, I know, for the 2000th comment to be a meta-comment about the 2000th comment. But them's the breaks. The next milestone round these parts, if I can get off my butt and post more than once a week, should be my 1000th entry. It's a ways off yet, but I daresay you'll know it when it happens.

That's all. Have a lovely weekend.

March 26, 2007

4 Cs, 4 days, 16 panels

Inspired in part by Donna's theme review of CCCC:

CCCC 07 summed up in 16 panels

There was more to it than that, to be sure, but as far as my presentation went, at the risk of sounding like I'm fishing for sympathy, having a featured presentation on Saturday afternoon was a lot like being called up to the big leagues the day after one's team is knocked out of competing for the playoffs. Hard to know when or if I'll be back.

I continue to be grateful to Cheryl Glenn for the opportunity, grateful to those good people who did come, and grateful to Derek and Deb, whose presentations were excellent. And I'll go ahead and screencast my talk this week, for all of those who couldn't make it.

I may post a little more about the conference over the next couple of days as well. What won't I post about? The squawking that Alex references that's going on right now over whether or not it's better to read or speak.

That's all, except to note that I did this with Stripgenerator 1.0.1)

Update: You can find both my slides and Derek's at Slideshare.net. We'll both have screencasts soon as well.

March 20, 2007

All aboard!

Today finds me headed to NYC for the annual Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC). Originally, I'd planned on participating either in the Research Network Forum or the ATTW conference, two of the all-day Wednesday events, which goes some distance to explaining why I'm going down there on Tuesday when my presentation is on Saturday.

Maybe it's just a matter of who I'm aggregating, but it's felt awfully quiet this year leading up to CCCC. I haven't seen much complaining about reading (don't do it!), the program (where's the X?), and actually very little about the costs (which are disproportionately high this year, it feels like). It just seems like there hasn't been much posting, period.

In the last year or two, the conference has changed the way it handles the program, which is a softcover, 400-500 page document. This year, unless you want to pay extra, you have to wait until the conference to pick up the program, and even though it was only postage, I just figured I'd wait. I've looked through the program, thanks to Derek, but I haven't really had it handy for mulling over. I wonder if that hasn't had an effect on folks' ability to marshall their annual indignation (and I'm not exempting myself here) for the relative absence of their favorite topics and the relative fetishization of the conference theme.

So you'll have to wait until afterwards to hear those complaints out of me. It'll give me something to do on the train ride home.

That is all. Next stop, NYC.

March 19, 2007

I bet I think this post is about me

danah boyd has a fantastic entry today, on "fame, narcissism and MySpace." There's nothing there that she doesn't already say much better than I could, so I cite her entry more out of appreciation than with an eye towards adding anything.

Long story short: claims about MySpace producing a generation of narcissists misses the broader social point, which is that MySpace is only a small symptom of a much deeper cultural tendency towards unwarranted esteem (from "you can do anything" to "you deserve everything").

Particularly interesting to me is the vicious cycle that boyd describes with respect to so-called "reality" programming (even the name itself is symptomatic of the economy at play). This kind of programming helps contribute to the spread of narcissism (Why should you be the next American Idle?), and then harvests that attitude by providing outlets for it. reality programming appeals to network execs because they can pay talentless amateurs a fraction of what they pay actors, without any corresponding drop in advertising revenue.

Anyhow, boyd has some good thoughts on fame, esteem, attention, and narcissism, and there are some really nice followups in the comments. Check it out.

March 17, 2007

Ethics v Ethos (& Class Blogging)

In an episode that demonstrates where my media preferences and habits lie, I caught a post of Kathleen's today a couple of hours in advance of the digested email list to which she refers.

Anyhow, in this conversation, a senior scholar raises the question of whether or not students should be blogging about people who may one day be their colleagues. In short, this scholar has a Google alert set to inform him of mentions of his name, and he wonders about the ethics of allowing students to post their initial forays into his work publicly ("While I am happy that folks are reading my stuff, I am aghast that their entries are on the web for all to read.").

It's an interesting question. Like Kathleen, I don't think it's "unethical" per se, as long as it's made quite clear to the students what the potential drawbacks are should they choose to make themselves identifiable.

But I do think it's a question of ethics in the sense of ethos, which is what I take Kathleen to be talking about. It's important (for different reasons at different points along the academic spectrum) to understand the ethical consequences of blogging, the ways that it may help to construct an identity that potential employers and colleagues may one way be able to access. That's one of the lessons that emerged from the whole Tribble flap.

I think another point worth raising is that, soon enough, these same people (in the case of graduate students) will be writing articles that are in the journals for all to read. It's not quite the same thing, true, but there's one thing about the comparison that does work. It's easy in graduate school (and beyond) to imagine that scholarship, particularly in the humanities, is a matter of moving around quotes and citations, almost treating our sources as chess pieces in our various writerly gambits. It's easy to forget that the proper names that appear on our books and in our articles are more than simply functions. They also signify real people, who will react to our work and our citations in various ways. In other words, it's easy to forget that we are often writing about real people with varying levels of investment in the ideas and quotations that we patch together with our own writing.

I'm not always good at it myself, imagining how the people whose work I draw on would themselves respond to my appropriations. But I think that many of us have to undergo the transition where we write dissertations that challenge "the field," only to realize eventually that we ourselves are "the field," that there is no objective field-out-there but instead networks of colleagues, each of whom tries just as hard as we do to get it right, to advance our understanding, to contribute to knowledge.

Transforming one's self from a student to a scholar is in part a matter of coming to terms with the fact that your audience as a scholar is in fact real, addressed rather than invoked. And I don't mean to make it sound as though my transformation is complete--I think it takes a long time to shake the temptation to treat the field as a reified, monolithic whole in need of correction, revision, or enlightenment. I struggle with this myself.

But one of the things that blogging can do, particularly if one does it in the context of a community of scholars, is to make that transition easier. I'll be spending time with a lot of other bloggers in New York next week, some whom I've known (and I know) pre-blog, but many of whom became "real" to me first through this space. And in a lot of ways, that community has become the audience that I write to, even when I'm not writing in this space.

Not everyone who keeps a class blog is going to have the same experience as I have, certainly, but the potential rewards are substantial, I think, if they develop some sense of the ethos they must develop and the audience they may one day address under more formal circumstances.

That's all.

March 16, 2007

Another CCCC Cloud

You may recall that, last fall, I put together a couple of tagclouds based upon the abstracts from different cluster areas found in the searchable program for CCCC.

Unfortunately, no one took me up on the process I developed (along with the pre-fab redlist that I built for it). I still believe that it would be interesting to compare tagclouds of various area clusters, not only from area to area in a single conference, but for the same area from year to year. Right now, the searchable program doesn't exactly make it easy, but if that data's still around, it is probably our single best source of evidence for what actually goes on at our annual conference.

Not that I have the time to take it up myself. But I did go ahead and put together a cloud for Cluster Area 103, aka "Theory." Click on it to go to the much more legible version I've stored at Flickr:

What's this year's theme again?

March 13, 2007

If Tuesday began with the letters CSH...

Then I could tell you that those letters stand for "crushing seasonal headache." The news round these parts is that the temperature reached into the low 60s today, which has been good for The Melt, but bad for My Head. When seasons change, the corresponding shift in pressure typically renders me unable to focus for 2-3 days at a time, bringing with it dull, throbbing headaches of the sort that quite literally make my eyeballs sore. Needless to say, sleep becomes something of a chore, rivaled only by the effort that goes into being awake. Not the happiest of times.

I've been giving some thought to the presentation I'll be giving at CCCC this year. Inspired in part by last week's snarky little entry, which itself prompted me to add "snark alert" to my categories, I've been dialing back my expectations for what I'll accomplish in this presentation. It's hard, having been working on CCCOA for two-plus years now, to imagine that there aren't folks in our field who remain unfamiliar with it, and yet, my guess is that this is actually a fair description of most folks in our field. The speed of change in the 'sphere--and on the net more generally--outpaces that of the run-of-the-mill discipline, perhaps exponentially. And so, what I think I need to do in my talk is to actually introduce the site and what it contributes.

Right now, I'm thinking of an unofficial subtitle for my talk that would be something like "13 Ways of Looking at a Journal." Mostly it would be an introduction to the site, running from the most basic and obvious features to some of the trickier stuff we've built into it, and finally to a couple of disciplinary questions that a site like this can provide us the evidence to work on.

I've been thinking about this a little harder after seeing Tim Burke's post about what he describes as "search as alchemy." To wit,

But there are other times where I want search to be alchemy, to turn the lead of an inquiry into unexpected gold. I’m hoping that the rush to simplify, speed up, demystify and digitize search doesn’t leave that alchemy behind.

It seems like such an obvious point to me, that academic search functions in much different ways than "regular" search, but what's come clear to us over the past couple of years is that we need to figure out better ways of getting the word out, to make the case that CCCOA is a site for search, yes, but also a site of invention. I think that message is both clear and obvious to many of you, my fair readers, but to the field-at-large, it still needs saying.

So I think that's part of what I'll be saying next week.

March 12, 2007

Because Monday begins with M...

I thought I might mention three items of marginal interest, all of which have to do with the number 1000:

First, I think I'm going to perform a drastic redesign on the ol' site, but I will roll it out to coincide with my 1000th entry. That entry is a ways off yet, seeing as that I'm only floating somewhere around 900. But if timed right, I can waste some time in the late summer bedazzling the joint.

Second, I've finally crested the four-digit mark over at Library Thing. I've been taking it more seriously lately, and making slow, steady progress. I put in a little extra push today to put me over the 1000-mark.

Third, and most importantly to you, you might recall that, with my 1000th comment, I ran a little contest for the person who left my 1000th comment. The prize was an item off the winner's Amazon Wishlist, paid for by me (Jeff won a copy of Steven Johnson's Everything Bad is Good for You, if I recall.). Well, I'm getting perilously close to 2000 comments, so I figured that it was time to break out the contest again.

This time, though, I should note that I'm somewhere in between 1900 and 2000, so flooding my post with one-line "Did I win?" comments will not really work--my spam filters will most likely catch you, and if it doesn't, I will. But it's more than a few away from 2000, so I expect the winner to come sometime soon, but it's hard to say when, so that strategy is not likely to work anyhow.

I will try to post more regularly over the next few days, so you don't have to write the 50th comment about Syracuse's NIT berth, and I will try to keep an eye on the junk filter if you haven't commented here before. And I'll announce the winner once he or she has hit the magic number...

That is all.

March 11, 2007


It's hard not to feel like Syracuse got jobbed a bit by the NCAA Tournament committee. I'm sure that all of the commentators will do a better job than I can of recounting the various reasons why SU, not to mention Drexel, better deserved a spot than, say, Arkansas or Illinois. It's actually pretty tempting to dissect schedules, but I'll leave that to the "experts." Bottom line is that I think that Syracuse would have been in the neighborhood of a 7 to 10 seed, and faced with, at best, a showdown with a top 10 team for a trip to the Sweet 16.

I think, after the past two years--which featured prominent meltdown losses to Texas A&M last year and to the legendary Tyler CoppenWHO?-led Catamounts of Vermont the year before--that the committee is sending Syracuse a message. The Orange have been mildly dangerous (G'Town and Marquette this year, last year's Big E tourney), but mostly they've been squarely above average. When G-Mac took off for Euroball and the occasional used car commercial, it was hard not to figure that this would be a down year, a couple of nice surprises notwithstanding.

Oh well. On the bright side, I won't guess wrong for the 3rd year running about when SU will lose. Here are links to ESPN's printable brackets: Men & Women.

March on.

March 8, 2007

This week did not take place

If I were in a different mood today, perhaps I'd have something a little more witty to write about the fact that Jean Baudrillard and Captain America died within a day of each other. Instead, a snippet from Cool Memories 2:

Something is there from the beginning, runs like a spiral through a whole life, but one day, most often unexpectedly, it is over. The whole system merely hung by a thread. It only took a detail to obliterate it.

Ken is posting some entries about JB over at Ghost that are worth checking. But I suspect that other quality observations about JB's career will be tough to find for a while at least. Like Diane, I think that Seduction is still an important read, although I'm also partial to a lot of his earlier work, including SimSim, Fatal Strategies, and Shadow. Not coincidentally, I suppose, these are all pretty close to one another in terms of chronology.

Given the relative amount of attention that each has received in the US media over the past 24-48 hours, I'm sure that JB would be amused about being overshadowed by the "death" of a fictional character.

That is all.

March 7, 2007

What's SUp

I haven't exactly kept to my promise to blog my job search this year as openly as I thought I'd be able to. Frankly, the prospect of figuring out with each entry how much I could say and how much I should hold back made me tired just thinking about it. And as a result, I haven't been particularly forthcoming.

But a couple of emails today reminded me that, given that my search this year is over, I can and should probably provide some info. If you're given to reading between the lines, you will have noticed that my "How" piece from a couple of days ago included a link to an Amazon list for a course at Syracuse this fall, implying pretty strongly that I will indeed be at Syracuse this fall. Let me make that implication explicit: without getting into details about who, what, or where of my search, I've decided to stay at Syracuse for the time being. I'm happy to speak privately about the details of that decision, but I'm not of a mind to blog about it, because it involves other people and institutions, obviously.

One thing I thought I might mention, though, is that I was a little surprised this year by the number of folk who were themselves surprised that I was on the market. If I had my way, this is something that every graduate student in the field would be taught. I went up for tenure this year, and while my department has been incredibly supportive, perhaps the single most important fact about tenure, for the candidate at least, is the following:

They can say no.

Having gone through a period of my life where I did not know if I would have a job as soon as six months in the future, I am not anxious to experience that particular abyss again. Tenure is indeed a delightful form of job security, but it is also a referendum on whether or not you will retain your job; it's quite the all-or-nothing proposition. If the institution does indeed say no, you have one year to find another job, your lame duck year, if you will. However, you must spend that year on the market, and more importantly, you must spend it as a junior-cum-senior candidate who was denied tenure by your present institution. Anyone who honestly believes that this fact doesn't color a search committee's impressions of you, please raise your hand. (Now, if your hand is in the air, please smack yourself in the head with it.) Now I know people who have overcome this particular vote of no confidence, and I know places where that vote was less than warranted. Neither of these things changes the fact that you have effectively been fired, and that you will have to explain yourself to everyone who gives you a second glance.

The alternative is going on the market while you are going up for tenure. If you are qualified for tenure, that means that you have spent several years making yourself look as good as possible; furthermore, you have gathered together all the same materials that you would for the job market, your colleagues have written letters on your behalf already, and all of the criteria by which you will be deemed tenurable are the same that other institutions will use to deem you employable.

It takes a great deal of time and energy to search for positions, but much of that same time and energy is expended on things like 3rd year reviews and tenure reviews. So it makes sense to put that work to the dual use of a search during your review. But more importantly perhaps, it makes sense to protect yourself against the possibility that you will not receive tenure.

And maybe even more crucially, it's important to understand that, in the final analysis, you have almost no control or power over your colleagues' review of your record. You are not present when they discuss your case, you don't see your outside letters (at SU, at least), nor do you really have access to the process itself, beyond preparing your materials. From a psychological perspective, testing the job market waters gives you some measure of control over your future, and that's a pretty welcome thing in the face of a tenure review. It makes sense to put yourself in a position to be able to make some of your own decisions about your future, at a time when a bunch of folk that you don't know are also making decisions about it for you.

I suppose that it's fair to ask whether it was worth all the extra hullabaloo, just to end up back in the same place I was when I started, but I think so. I got to spend time with friends, meet a lot of new people, and if nothing else, I gave two job talks and one at MLA without reading from scripts. I was more confident and relaxed about myself professionally than I've ever been. And I couldn't say any of those things if I'd spent the last four months fretting about tenure. Or just fretting about tenure, I should say.

That's all.

March 5, 2007

Raúl Sánchez, The Function of Theory in Composition Studies

Allow me, if you will, to counteract last entry's high snark quotient with a bit of referential reverence. Or reverential reference. Or re(f/v)erence. Whatevs. I thought that, since I've been talking a fair bit lately about this book, both here and in conversation, I might go ahead and put together a bit of a description/review for those of you who haven't tracked it down. So,

Sánchez, Raúl. The Function of Theory in Composition Studies. Albany: SUNY Press, 2005.

I should start by noting that this is a short, short book. It's a set of theoretical provocations that only runs about 100 pages, and so it reads deceptively quickly. Deceptive because the position that it takes is one that I hope we take up in our field in much more depth. Its thesis is pretty easily gleaned on the first page:

The function of theory in composition studies is to provide generalized accounts of what writing is and how writing works....Contrary to the beliefs of some composition theorists, it is possible, and, more importantly, necessary for composition studies to have an agenda for inquiry comprised of theory and empirical research in a mutually informing relationship (1).

Easy enough, right? Well, not quite. Sánchez promises an analysis of our current "theoretical disposition" with an eye towards effecting a shift in our field, one that makes more room for the empirical study of writing than currently exists. And a little more controversially, he argues that "the period of composition theory's ascendance coincides with its having stopped making trenchant theoretical statements about writing" (3).

The problem, he explains, is hermeneutics, which is "a major obstacle to the study of writing." Hermeneutics reduces writing to a mere "technology of representation," rendering it secondary to whatever something else it is called upon to represent. Sánchez returns on several occasions to the theme that a model of writing that depends on hermeneutics is insufficient to the task of coping with the proliferation and circulation of language in an increasingly networked world. (You will begin to sense some of this book's appeal for me.)

You want a little proof? Okay. Here's David Smit, in The End of Composition Studies, describing our current state of scholarly affairs with respect to writing: "At the heart of these current paradigms, models, and theories is the fundamental assumption that the way we understand one another through language is primarily interpretive, a matter of hermeneutics" (9). According to Smit, this is as close as we have to fact in our field.

So anyhow, you may also begin to sense this book's appeal when I tell you that Sánchez quickly turns to Derrida, criticizing our field for adopting (adapting, more likely) a certain version of deconstruction as a reading practice, while ignoring grammatology as a productive method. What's kind of odd about this adoption, of course, is that so much of Derrida's emphasis, early on at least, is on resisting the model of naive hermeneutics that our field has claimed in his name. Sánchez rightly observes that often, what passes for "deconstruction" is usually a modernist debunking, designed to move us closer to ultimate signifieds, freedom from ideology, pure knowledge, authentic subjectivity, etc.

One of my favorite lines? "The field has been working at theory for too long to have gotten so little out of it" (12). Nice.

I should probably speed up a little, and that's possible in part because the subsequent three chapters mount parallel arguments about the relationship between writing and knowledge (ch 2), ideology (ch 3), and culture (ch 4). One of the most consistent threads throughout is that too much of our theorizing has presumed that each of these concepts precedes writing, and is reflected with more or less accuracy in/through writing. Instead, Sánchez argues in each chapter that these concepts are themselves the consequences of writing rather than its causes. In the final chapter, he argues that two of our most cherished concepts for thinking about writing--rhetoric and the subject--have been so completely shot through with representationalism that we should work rather at setting them aside.

As Mark Noe notes in his less enthusiastic review, there is a sense in which this book could run for another 100 pages, and turn from a manifesto to an example of the kind of writing theory that the first 100 call for. And there's something to this critique of FTCS. What's interesting to me about the review, though, is the way that it focuses exclusively on the theory end of Sánchez's equation, accusing/diagnosing him of seeking "a purer, pre-Berlin, post-structuralism." It's a move that I find kind of curious, because while Berlin's work is taken to task in the book, Berlin's influence on the field and on our reception of theory almost demands that focus. Is Berlin "silenced" in the attempt? I don't know, but Noe's avowed desire ("I would dearly love for Sánchez to read Berlin’s writing as fluid, situated, open to revision/ revoicing") strikes me as exactly the kind of move that Sánchez critiques, the attempt to make everything fit together at the deepest level of our disciplinary hermeneutics, by sanding down the rough edges until everyone has a place at the theory buffet. Maybe I'm projecting.

What I notice, though, is despite the prominent place that empirical study has for Sánchez, Noe's review doesn't mention it at all. Literally. The word "empirical" is absent. for me, that's one of the things that distinguishes this book from other calls for "breaking from" theory, Theory, or theories. It's not one of many in that regard, and it's not simply the latest "exercise in one-upmanship" that Noe seems to claim it is.

Where Sánchez's book succeeds for me is what I talked about in the comments from my "how" entry of a couple of days ago. If writing is a "technology of representation," then it is ancillary to the real stuff, whatever that stuff might be. Its value is referential--either it faithfully reflects that something else, or it obscures it to varying degrees. Writing is a veil in this model, an obstacle that must be overcome, in order to arrive at some deeper truth of subjectivity, ideology, knowledge, culture, et al.

If we can somehow work ourselves away from this ubiquitous model of representation, what we will be doing in part is (re?)turning to a model of writing and/or theories of writing where writing itself matters. "The most salient feature of writing," Sánchez writes, "is therefore not its representational function, but its ability to proceed as if it has a representational function." When we forget the "as if," language becomes invisible, representational, referential. But language proceeds in other ways as well--the critical refrain of much of Derrida's early work is that language matters, that it matters as much if not more than the logos it signifies.

I don't know that I have that much more to say. I'll most likely be teaching this book in the fall, and pairing it with Latour's Reassembling the Social, which provides more detail, I think, about what a turn away from hermeneutics might look like and how we might get there. At the very least, you could say that I recommend this book. I think it opens some new spaces for inquiry, not only challenging us to think outside of hermeneutics but prompting us to rethink our engagements within the tradition of hermeneutics as well. They're discussions that I hope we'll begin to have in our field, and I think of worse places to begin those discussions than Sánchez's book.

That is all.

One step forward...to "sorta" and beyond!!

You may recall how, once upon a time, certain of us (blogeurs) were, shall we say, disinterpellated by particular long-time members of a disciplinary listserv? Well, you'll be pleased to know that, compared to that lovely episode, the following marks a real step forward. In the process of discussing some recent upgrades to CompPile, one loyal user remarks that it would be nice if that site included the 7 most recent years of scholarship:

can you find a way to update to more recent years? I know that the CCCC project is doing that, sorta, but I never do get around to checking it after the great convenience of comppile. Maybe some kind of link, so as not to duplicate effort?

Now, I'm not exactly sure what the "CCCC project" is, but since our site shares 3 of those C's, and we are a project, I can only surmise that "sorta" is meant as a grudging acknowledgment of our efforts over the past 2 years. We sorta belong, at long long last! Why, we might even rate a link, if we're lucky.

Yes, I'm chock full of sarcasm, because apparently the inconvenience of say, bookmarking our site, is apparently too much to ask of this user. I can only imagine that it's too much, because once you arrive at our site, there are only 10 or so different ways that you might search for scholarship:

  • by typing an author's name into the search bar
  • by typing a word or two from the title into the search bar
  • by typing a keyword into the search bar
  • by using the search bar to track down something in a bibliography
  • by following a link from something that has cited the thing you're looking for
  • by following a link from something that the thing you're looking for has cited
  • by using the drop down menu that links to the last 15 years of issues
  • by exploring the CCCC categories, each of which contains dozens of articles
  • by clicking on a tag, and seeing all of the other articles that are similarly tagged
  • by visiting delicious, where all such tags can be ordered by frequency or alphabetically

I don't talk a lot about CompPile, because I really respect the efforts of the individuals who maintain it. The model that they're working with, on the other hand, is unsustainable, except through Herculean effort, and it only scratches the surface of what databases could be allowing us to do in this field. Heck, we're only scratching the surface, but at the very least, we're getting beyond the "bob for apples" model of search that still seems to dominate a lot of the discussions I see.

Mainly, I have to remind myself that they're not responsible for what said loyal user posts to the list. And I'm content to work along, to improve our site, and to make it a tool that rewards the efforts of both new and experienced researchers. Heck, if we keep at it, by the end of the decade, he might even acknowledge us by name.

Snarkography complete.

March 3, 2007

Information dorkologies

one of my bedroom shelves

One thing I've noticed about my usage patterns with respect to Library Thing is that I have the tendency to record books that are within eyeshot of wherever I happen to be. So the books on the shelves next to my couch? All inputted. The ones on the shelves in my bedroom? Not so much.

It only took me roughly a year and a half to come up with a solution to this problem. I went around my apt to the various shelves, and used my digital camera to snap them, and have been recording the books from the pix. Duh.

If I could add one feature to LT, it would be on the duplications page. Sometimes I forget what edition I have, or whether it's hard or soft cover, and since there are different ISBNs for different formats, it's only when I check the duplicates that I find 10-15 books that have been double-entered. It would be sweet if, rather than just linking to each of the versions, there were radio buttons, so I could choose which of each of the pairs I want to keep, and then single-click the duplicates away. As it stands, we have to visit each page, click remove, confirm, and wait. My other solution (quit with the multiple versions!) would be a little more challenging to implement.

And yes, this is my Saturday night this week, taking pictures of my books. And no, I haven't gotten to this shelf yet. And yes, that is all.

March 1, 2007

The How of Writing Studies

I thought I might return one more time to the carnival and add a couple of more thoughts. Be warned, though. I suspect that this will be more a loose affiliation of thoughts than a careful essay. It was prompted most recently by an entry over on Cara Finnegan's blog, wherein she asks whether method chapters are strictly necessary anymore. Of our own neighborhood in Rhetopia, she writes:

And I could be wrong, but it doesn't seem that my friends on the rhetoric/composition side of things have anxiety about "methods" in quite the same way.

I started a reply over there, but followed the 2 paragraph rule (when a comment gets much longer than a couple of paragraphs, I tend to copy and paste it into an entry here). First things first, I disagree with her observation. Or rather, I agree with it only in a certain way. She describes the work of "rhetorical critics and historians" thusly:

The obligatory methods section feels to me more and more like a prehensile tail, something rhetorical critics evolved at one point because it was institutionally useful (particularly in communication departments concerned with questions of legitimacy in the academy). First of all, does anybody really work that way? Aren't most of us using a variety of "methods" and approaches in our work? Most rhetorical critics and historians approach discourse more or less inductively, and adjust their critical approaches accordingly.

I wouldn't call this "a variety of methods," but rather a variety of perspectives informing a single method. I don't say this to be critical, because I do think that this is a nearly overwhelming default position in rhet/comp as well. So if indeed our field enjoys a lack of anxiety over methodology, that lack itself strikes me as a worthy cause of anxiety. As much as I tease friends for going meta with their neuroses, this is a case where we should be worried about not being worried.

This is not a direct engagement with Trimbur, but I think it's one of those layers that we might add to the questions that he discusses. To the question "Should writing be studied?" then, my gut response is to ask instead, "How should writing be studied?"

In part, my thinking on this is motivated by the fact that I'll be teaching our methods course in the fall, and I'm already thinking about what I want to do there. But it's also motivated by own lack of training in methods beyond the textual (which is what I take Cara to be describing in her entry). And finally, it's motivated by my perception that at one time, rhet/comp engaged passionately with questions of how we might study writing, but now we do a lot less of it. I could be wrong, of course, but here's a little evidence:

First, Chris Anson's talk last year at WPA (discussed by Becky here and here) Follow that second link, and you'll see a list of activities, almost all of which strike me as necessary in order for us to claim the study of writing as our province.

Second, Rich Haswell's essay, which Anson cited in his talk, on the "NCTE/CCCC’s Recent War on Scholarship." Although there's a part of that essay that I've critiqued, the essay overall is an important one. The consistent devaluation of replicable, aggregable, and data-driven scholarship in our field is interesting to me, as it supports the emergence of celebritocratic, reading virtuosity as the coin of the realm.

Third, I'd point out a couple of interesting projects, neither of which was "published" in our field, but both of which strike me as just the sort of thing that scholars in writing studies could and should be doing. The first is Joseph Williams' "Problems into PROBLEMS: A Rhetoric of Introductions," (PDF) which is one of those 'tweeners, too long for an essay, too short for a book. "Problems" attempts a structural account of introductions (as opposed to the inductive work of Swales and others), supported with several small-scale studies. (I've gushed about it before) I'd also point out one of the winners of last year's Ig Nobel prizes, Daniel Oppenheimer's "Consequences of erudite vernacular utilized irrespective of necessity: problems with using long words needlessly" (Wiley), an essay that combines various small-scale studies about whether using longer words makes a text more effective. It's a little statisticklish, but nevertheless understsandable, and worth the read.

The thing about projects like these is that I can see them functioning as dissertation topics, but I could also easily imagine tailoring the studies so that they could be conducted in a graduate classroom, or even an undergraduate classroom. Another thing about them is that they take writing seriously, which strikes me as the sine qua non of answering the question of writing studies affirmatively.

This is to say nothing of my own methods, which increasingly take new media both as object and as an influence on method. And there are plenty of other methods I'm passing over here, from ethnography to activity theory to case studies, that might be more appropriate for writing-as-verb rather than writing-as-noun.

And finally, I should note that I started drafting this a couple of days ago, but only just got around to looking it over and touching it up. In the interim, I got a copy in the mail of Raul Sanchez's The Function of Theory in Composition Studies (Amazon). It's a fast read, but a good one, wherein he writes, among other things:

Globalization and the proliferation of technology make it imperative that compositionists develop a new kind of composition theory, one that understands its object of study very broadly and is conscious of its methodologies (72).

I couldn't have said it better myself, but have tried to say it somewhat longer here, I guess. My answer to the question "Should writing be studied?" depends in large part on what we mean both by the word "writing" and the word "studied." Not all our answers would be the same, I suspect.

That is all, except for the brief postscript that I've started brainstorming texts for the methods course (and am already at 25 books at the time I post this). Feel free to take a look--I'm using an Amazon Listmania list to do it, but may switch over to Library Thing if the list grows too big. You'll find it listed as CCR 691. Feel free also to suggest additions.

Now that is all.