Friday, October 21, 2005

What I've been working on

At the beginning of the week, Jeff issued a call to all of us out here:

Ok academic bloggers. Let's start getting intellectual. No carnivals. No circus. No Inside Higher Ed griping. Just straight up trash talk. What are you working on and when are you going to put it out there for discussion?

For the last couple of weeks, I've been writing three grants to get release time during which I will finish my book. So here's one version of a grant proposal, with an outline of my book project.

The Managerial Unconscious: Administration and the Subject of Composition Studies

1) Proposal
Overall Goals and Objectives
I am applying for an ACLS fellowship in order to complete the research for and writing of my current book manuscript, “The Managerial Unconscious: Administration and the Subject of Composition Studies.” In this book, I present a critique of existing histories of the field of composition studies and offer a revised history that highlights the overlooked administrative dimension of the field. This field is a relatively new one: although required composition courses have been a ubiquitous feature of American college curricula since the nineteenth century, graduate programs in the area have developed only over the last three decades. Despite this relative newness, the development of the field has already been chronicled in a number of histories. I contend that these histories, in part because of their lack of distance on the time in which the field developed, offer a skewed story. Specifically, these histories understand the field of composition studies to be primarily what one calls a “teaching subject,” an area devoted to writing pedagogy (see Harris). While writing pedagogy is certainly a significant part of the field’s scholarship, I shift attention to the often overlooked fact that specialists in the field tend to find employment not primarily as teachers of writing but as administrators of writing programs. Indeed, most composition specialists will at some point in their careers be called on to do administrative work, whether as directors of first-year composition courses, of writing across the curriculum programs, of writing labs or writing centers, or of other writing-intensive programs. Because the existing histories of the field offer little exploration of this crucial feature, I argue that the field suffers from a “managerial unconscious.”
In short, I argue that histories of composition studies have been, paradoxically, insufficiently historicized. That is, these histories have failed to examine the contexts in which first-year composition has been taught and the exigencies that have led to the proliferation of various kinds of writing programs over the past three decades. Thus, they have produced a kind of idealized vision of composition studies rather that a broad history that situates writing instruction within the political and economic contexts of the modern university. To produce research that adequately addresses the complexities surrounding the teaching of college-level writing, the field needs better histories that account for the crucial influence of administrative necessity. My book is intended to fill this need.
Moreover, because of the ubiquity of the required college composition course, a greater understanding of the cultural and institutional work performed by this course will contribute more broadly to American cultural studies. Specifically, a genealogy of composition studies will cast light on the values associated with writing in American culture and institutions and will provide critical insight into the formation of an often overlooked and—until recently—uniquely American phenomenon.
Significance of Project
Confronting the managerial unconscious seems an especially crucial task for composition specialists at this historical moment, as academics outside of composition studies are bringing increasing attention to the influence of corporate management structures on the academy, which has led among other things to the hiring of increasing numbers of administrators and flexible workers (see, for example, Martin). Gary Rhoades and Sheila Slaughter, moreover, have argued that university faculty “are increasingly ‘managed professionals,’” whose work lives are subject to managerial “restructuring” (43). At the same time, universities and colleges are hiring increasing numbers of “managerial professionals,” who “do not fit squarely into the category of faculty or administrator but constitute an occupational type that bridges conventional categories. They share many characteristics of traditional liberal professions . . . .Yet they also mark a break with the liberal profession of faculty, being more closely linked and subordinate to managers and indeed being very much managers themselves” (49-50).
Like the group Rhoades and Slaughter describe, composition specialists fail to fit neatly into traditional categories; they too, when hired to take on administrative duties, are more closely linked to management than are traditional faculty. Moreover, like managerial professionals, composition specialists often find their days “marked by more contact with superiors and subordinates than with peers or clients” (50). At the same time, however, composition specialists rarely are hired to take on a “nine-to-five” day and only occasionally have an “eleven-month contract, ” two characteristics of managerial professionals’ “workday existence” (50). Rather, because composition professionals usually also are required to teach and, depending on the institution, to publish, they officially have schedules like traditional faculty. (Whether or not their days are, in fact, like traditional faculty’s is another question.) Composition specialists, then, occupy the border between traditional academic faculty and this new group of managerial professionals. The rather good job prospects that composition specialists face, compared to others in English studies, may be due more to the rise of corporate managerial structures in the university rather than to a renewed interest in pedagogical or rhetorical scholarship in colleges and universities.
In suggesting that composition specialists enjoy relatively good job prospects, and in arguing that management looms large in their professional lives, I may seem to be aligning myself with those critics outside of composition studies who characterize members of the field as opportunists attracted to the “lucrative areas of composition theory and ‘pedagogy’” (BovĂ© 163) and who function as mere “technobureaucrats,” imposing what Richard Ohmann has called “administered thought” on students in composition classes (Ohmann 133-171; see also Guillory 79). As a composition specialist myself, I am, rather, working to meet those accusations with something other than silence or outright rejection.
Proposed Table of Contents
1: Managing the Self-Managed. The book opens with a reconsideration of the traditional history of composition, in which the emergence of research universities in the late nineteenth century is posited as the cause of a decline in a pedagogically-oriented curriculum. I demonstrate that, on the contrary, college presidents like Harvard’s Charles W. Eliot were committed to pedagogical innovation. The problem for composition, I argue, is that the course occupied a contradictory space as a requirement in a curriculum that promoted the cultivation of individualism and masculinity through an elective curriculum.
2: The Emergence of Writing Programs and the Feminization of Composition Teaching. The second chapter chronicles the development of writing programs in the first half of the twentieth century and the simultaneous increase in the employment of women to teach composition. My argument is that the current configurations of writing programs are analogous to the configurations of the corporate workplace; that divisions of labor emerged, as they emerged in corporations, to make work more efficient; and that when one level of work came to be associated with routine and correctness, then it came to be associated with women.
3: Professionalism and the Discourse of Disorder. Texts connected with the founding of the Conference on College Composition and Communication—the professional organization for composition specialists—and with the emergence of the dominant “process paradigm” for teaching composition tend to figure composition teachers as confused masses in need of professional management. I argue that in addition to being a revolution in teaching, the professionalizing of composition has been a revolution in the management of teaching writing, a revolution that parallels the so-called managerial revolution in American business.
4: The Corporate University and the Humanization of Administration. This chapter examines the ways in which the emergence of an administratively-heavy “multiversity” created the conditions necessary for the emergence of the discipline of composition studies. In addition to tracing the simultaneous emergence of the corporate university and proliferating writing programs (including basic writing programs, writing across the curriculum programs, etc.), I look at the history of the Council of Writing Program Administrators, an organization that, in part, set out to make administration more palatable to humanists.
5: Postmodern Pedagogy and the Persistence of Capital. In the final chapter, I examine key texts of the “social turn” in composition studies and argue that these social pedagogies often mirror trends in management, such as Total Quality Management. I argue that appeals to democratic teaching in socially-oriented pedagogy too often leave the meaning of democracy as a concept unexamined and leave open the possibility of reinforcing the privilege of the traditional capitalist subject and aligning writing instruction with the new “flexible” economy.

1 comment:

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