Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Railroading comp

I haven't posted about my book in awhile--here are some recent notes:

To understand something about composition studies as a discipline, think of the railroad.

The railroad, according to business historian Alfred Chandler, engineered the managerial revolution. Before rail lines connected place to place, before it became necessary and possible to convey materials across the land at high speeds in this rudimentary communications network, the middle manager did not exist.

What did exist: the shop foreman. The overseer. We know about the plantations, where enslaved peoples were forced to do fieldwork, housework, whatever no one could be hired to do. And in textile mills, where mostly young women spun and carded cotton, men directed their labor. But with only one product being churned out, and with the product needing no marketing because "the market" saw to its distribution along appropriate channels, the circulation process of production, distribution, and consumption could be, more or less, "left alone."

Complexity seemed to call out for greater coordination. Complexity of systems: the railroad manager had to find a way to coordinate trains on the lines to avoid tragic accidents. He (and yes, definitely he) was the administrator of flows:

The 1850s were a time of building and of learning to manage the railroads as the nation’s first modern business enterprises, the 1860s and 1870s were a period of coordinating and competing for the flows of through traffic; the 1880s and 1890s were the years of system-building. (Chandler, Visible Hand 145)

[Excursus: Traditional writing pedagogy (as it has been reified): a way to coordinate the flows. Watch out! Don’t go crashing into that idea. Stick to your path.]

5 comments:

jeff said...

If you are looking for readers of drafts for feedback along the way, feel free to ask.

Donna said...

Thanks, Jeff--I might take you up on that a little later. In the meantime, comments are always welcome!

Mike @ Vitia said...

Interesting. In the first part of the 1800s, two things happened within the space of two generations: first, thanks to advances in spinning and weaving technologies, productivity of textiles increased by more than seven thousand percent. Second, at about the same time, families' ownership of clocks increased nearly fivefold, to the point where Catharine Beecher's 1843 Treatise on Domestic Economy declared to be essential the placing of "A clock, in or near the kitchen [...] to secure regularity in family arrangements." If I understand you properly, you're both using the railroad thing as a metaphor and saying that the economic progress associated with railroads and the industrial revolution led to the rise of the ideology and discipline of management. I wonder whether additional factors might complicate what seems to be a somewhat simplistic view on the part of Chandler of the invisible agentless agency of "the market."

jeff said...

Well - it's sounding like an intro. Mid-1800s railroad development cries out for managment.
Just around the corner - late 1800s university administration (Harvard) cries out for its own kind of managment. How to deal with all these new students, most of whom can't write (that's what the admins say anyway).
How do these two moments inform one another?

Donna said...

Yes, right, Jeff: I am thinking of it as something of an introduction, for a chapter that I'm revising. The chapter in question is basically trying to offer a managerial context for understanding the emergence of the required first-year course, but a context that's different from, say, the Wallace/Ohmann deterministic view. And, yes, I'm setting this up as a moment of simultaneity to ask how these emergences inform each other, both at the level of affect (shared feeling for discipline) and at the level of influence (for instance, Charles F. Adams, a railroad guru, also served on the (in)famous Harvard composition review board that issued reports on the status of student writing at Harvard). But I'm also trying to show management in comp at two (or three) levels: writing as self-management, writing to manage/discipline students, and, of course, the emergence of a workplace in which teachers are managed. (Though that last bit doesn't reallly come up in this particular chapter.)

And, Mike, yeah, there's more. I mean, Chandler doesn't even think about the domestic (as you may know). He does acknowledge that management was happening *before* the railroads (his big example is the military), but he maintains that before the railroad industry, there was nothing like middle management. There were no businesses that coordinated many different tasks and units. But I think I might be missing or misunderstanding what you're getting at. Wanna say more?