Can Writing Studies Claim Craft Knowledge and More?

Robert Johnson’s recent CCC article, “Craft Knowledge: Of Disciplinarity in Writing Studies,” argues that “craft knowledge” can function effectively as a warrant for disciplinary legitimacy.  He sets up “craft knowledge” against an Aristotelian backdrop of techne, or arts of making, and advances a view of “craft knowledge” as a solution to still-raging disputes over the disciplinary status of writing studies (notably not “rhetoric and composition”).  “Still-raging” is casting it too strongly; unsettled and ongoing are perhaps better matches with the characterization of those disputes in this speculative discipliniography–an article that imagines felicitous horizons for the field. As I read, I wasn’t especially clear whose conflicted sensibility would be rectified by invoking craft knowledge. Among Johnson’s concerns with the status of writing studies are 1) that it does not carry adequate clout (or recognition, for that matter) necessary for grant writing and 2) that it does not influence neighboring fields whose inquiries would be, by the input of those trained in writing studies, enriched.

On the problem of disciplinary status for grant writing, Johnson writes,

When the traditional disciplines–the so-called established fields of inquiry and production–work in an interdisciplinary manner, they in most cases still hold onto their disciplinary identity. This is painfully evident for those in writing studies when applying for external grant funding.  On the application forms from such agencies as the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Institutes of Health (NIH), and even the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), for example, applicants must identify their resident discipline in order to be eligible. (680-681)

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Call: CCCarnival

 First posted July 14, 2008.

Related entries:
Splitting Images
Kopelson’s “Sp(l)itting Images”
more thoughts on rhet/comp disciplinary futures
Response to Karen Kopelson’s “Sp(l)itting Images; or, Back to the Future of (Rhetoric and?) Composition”
New Echo, New Narcissus
Pedagogy of Rhet/Comp Job Market Imperatives
Carnival on Kopelson: The Pedagogical Imperative and Borrowing Theory
Spitting Images
Joining the CCCarnival: Kopelson’s “Sp(l)itting Images”

Kopelson’s Back to the Wall: Resisting Responsibility
Inversion and Dissolution
Theory and Interdisciplinarity: Kopelson Part Two
Kopelson carnival – my first take
CCC Carnival: Sp(l)itting Images
Karen-ival
Kopelson (1): Stuck on paragraph 4
The Pedagogical Imperative: Kopelson Part I

Anyone interested in a carnival? After glancing the latest CCC
(59.4) at a coffee shop Saturday morning, I had the distinctive and lasting impression that
"Sp(l)itting Images; or, Back to the Future of (Rhetoric and?) Composition"
would be a good choice for a swarm of late July entries.  Kopelson’s
article covers a lot of ground, from a survey of grad students and faculty at
two institutions, to three of the chasms in the field (pedagogical imperative,
theory/practice split, and the brambles of identifying by varying ratios among
those two terms, rhetoric and composition), to a call for concerning ourselves
less with ourselves.  Ripe! because I endured a great range of responses
while reading it.

Here’s what I’m thinking: If you’re in, do what you can to post some sort of
response by one week from today–the 21st. I’ll try to keep tabs on all of
the links, but feel free to send a trackback. Then we can kick around
spin-offs, interjections, and retractions through the end of the month.

Also, here is how I will measure the success of the carnival:

12-15 participants: Wow.  There really is living comp/rhet blogosphere.
9-12 participants: Terrific.  Something told me the article was carnival
worthy.
6-8 participants: Just great.  There is a value in reading what others
think (esp. while out to sea with the diss).
2-5 participants: Um, it’s late July.  What are you, on vacation?
0-1 participant: Witness spikes in traffic at E.W.M.

In?

Kopelson, Karen. “Sp(l)itting
Images; or, Back to the Future of (Rhetoric and?) Composition.” CCC 59.4
(2008): 750-780. [Carnival]

New Echo, New Narcissus

Kopelson writes,

Yet, as composition studies is distinct in its penchant for ‘borrowing,’
we are also, in my opinion, unrivaled in our proclivity for
self-examination. I am not arguing that this is an unimportant
activity, but only that the costs are indeed high when self-scrutiny comes
at the expense of taking up other critical concerns and of making other,
more innovative and far-reaching forms of knowledge (775).

This appears in the final section of the essay, the part titled "Conclusion:
Banishing Echo and Narcissus." Here, Kopelson takes exception with the
field’s self-reflexivity, the growing heap of self-interested and self-absorbed
assessments of where we are or where we are heading. There is an
unidentified villain here, and I wondered as I read whether Kopelson has any
favorite ‘misses’, accounts that get it terribly wrong or that are built up on
marsh-lands of mushy data.

Reading this section and the quotation above in particular, I had the
sense that Kopelson wasn’t as interested in "banishing" Echo and Narcissus
as in giving them overhauls, in renewing them, even in teaching them how to
resonate
and reflect less recklessly. In other words, what is
wrong with many self-reflexive disciplinary accounts (or "discipliniographies"
to lift and bend a term Maureen Daly Goggin introduces in Authoring a
Discipline
) is that they succumb to a localist impulse. That
is, they un-self-conciously extrapolate from local experience and anecdotal
evidence onto the field at large, projecting some local knowledge onto the
expansive abstraction that is the discipline (however we imagine it to be).
The localist impulse can take many different shapes; often it is akin to reading
patterns through the course of an individual career (i.e., "in my thirty years
at Whatsittoyou U.") or by cherry-picking from an exceedingly thin selection of
data (titles of conference presentations or tables of contents for teacher
training manuals). We all do this to some extent–making sense of the field at
large through our local, immediate experiences, but it is dangerous to arrive at
conclusions about the field (or world) at-large solely by examining one’s own
neighborhood.

What I’m getting at is that I don’t have any beef with the disciplinary
practice of self-examination. Perhaps there are more than a handful of
fields in the academy that would benefit from more of it. I hold history (the calling of others who’ve navigated this canyon) and
reflection in high regard (perhaps not to the ill-fated extremes of Echo and
Narcissus). Resonanceresonanceresonance and reflection are valuable, especially for newcomers,
for the "new converts" Kopelson mentions. But they will not be successful–or
very useful–until they get beyond that localist impulse, until they involve
earnest field-wide data collections and collaboratively built databases. I
don’t know how well this matches with Kopelson’s "innovative and far-reaching
forms of knowledge," but it is increasingly where my own interests lie.
If those far-reaching forms of knowledge included disciplinary data (even simple
stuff, like how many programs offer undergraduate writing majors), they could
generate insights about disciplinarity. In the meantime those full-view
insights will continue to elude us as long as we leap from local knowledge to
widespread pattern, without addressing sufficiently the intermediary scales.

Kopelson, Karen. “Sp(l)itting
Images; or, Back to the Future of (Rhetoric and?) Composition.” CCC 59.4
(2008): 750-780. [Carnival]

Inversion and Dissolution

Obviously I am interested Kopelson’s revisitation of ages old and still going
tensions for the field of rhetoric and composition. The margins of my copy
bear out busy strings of alternating yesses and questions; I suppose I’ll focus
this entry on a couple of the questions.

Any time I come across suggestions of the field’s dissolution, I want to go
as directly as I can to the evidence. What are the forms of evidence
supporting this or that impression that the field is gradually changing toward
some state of (presumably undesirable, even disastrous) dissolution? Also:
What idyllic disciplinary model is lurking as the milk and honey benchmark
against which judgments of dissolution are alleged? I mean that the
suggestion of a trend toward dissolution conjures up an idealized state of the
discipline. From when? Where? And just how abstract is it? (I have
monkeyed with this idea in the diss, but also in some of the material on the
side that won’t make it into the diss, like the stuff on the
Golden Age).

Kopelson puts it like this in one spot:

But whatever your particular vision of the divide [between theory and
practice], and wherever you lay blame (or praise) for it–with the elitist,
ponderous, past-dwelling rhetoricians, or the professionalizing, pragmatic,
present-dwelling compositionists–there is evidence that the seeds of
dissolution are indeed being sown. (770)

About the evidence: In this article, it amounts to (x? number) of
survey responses from graduate students at two institutions–programs in the
Consortium, I would
guess, and a sampling of sources that have dealt more or less directly in
reflections upon or critiques of disciplinarity: Dobrin, Spellmeyer, North,
Swearingen, Mulderig, among others. Perhaps this is adequate for establishing
dissolution, perhaps not. This is not to cast doubts on Kopelson’s
evidence (it is, after all, reflective of pocketed perceptions of dissolution),
as much as it is to say that the change is more of situated (daresay anecdotal?)
degree than of field-wide kind. And so I wonder how new this perceived sowing of
"the seeds of dissolution" is, and just what does it put at risk? Following this
evidence–surveys and selected sources, the next line carries the claim further:
"the field of rhetoric and composition is, in the most extreme cases, gradually
evacuating itself of its first term (if not explicitly in name, then implicitly
in institutional practice) or, in other cases, is undergoing an interesting
inversion of its titular terms" (770). The possibility of evacuation and
inversion calls to mind the necessary ratios between theory and practice. Is the
target ratio 50:50? Might be, depending on whether we are talking topical focus
(i.e., research motivated by theory or practice) or activity itself (i.e., time
spent theorizing versus time spent teaching). For graduate students, of
course, these ratios vary, too. In our program, we have fellowships
designed to relieve students of their teaching appointment so that they might
devote greater time and energy to reading and writing (if executed well, the
ratio becomes 100:0). But there are also program-level constraints on these
ratios, right? Some places prefer a 70:30 split. Others, 80:20.
We do not always determine them independently, nor are they constant over the
arc of an appointment (through a graduate program of study or otherwise).

Kopelson, Karen. “Sp(l)itting
Images; or, Back to the Future of (Rhetoric and?) Composition.” CCC 59.4
(2008): 750-780. [Carnival]

‘Golden Age’ Reference

Off and on for the past few weeks I have been sleuthing around for reference
to "the golden age of composition studies." The phrase appears in quotation
marks in Lee Odell’s "Afterword" to his 1986 CCCC address in Roen’s collection,
Views from the Center. But those reflective afterwords are somewhat
informal; the phrase is not attributed to any source. What to do? I Googled
around and didn’t find anything promising (how I overlooked it, I cannot be
sure, although I bet ‘the’ article threw me off), but I didn’t give up. Instead,
I emailed Professor Odell. Research in Y2K08, yeah? He got
back to me the same day and said that the phrase, he thought, was credited to
Jack Selzer.

Tonight, I located the ‘golden age’ reference in an English Journal
article by Elizabeth Blackburn-Brockman (whose mother-in-law, you might be
surprised to learn, was middle school civics teacher and high school Spanish
teacher for D. and me both; in the civics class we had to memorize all of
Michigan’s 83 counties; I will not recite them for you here). That
article: "Prewriting, Planning, and Professional Communication," 91.2 (Nov.
2001). In the article, Blackburn-Brockman mentions almost the exact
phrase, "a golden age of composition studies," and attributes it not to Selzer,
but to Bob Root. She also cites Selzer’s 1983 CCC article, "The
Composing Process of An Engineer," which offered a processual analysis of
engineer Kenneth Nelson, much in the same spirit as Emig’s The Composing
Process of Twelfth Graders
from 1971. Could this be the golden age?
1971-1983?

The phrase from Root (whom I never met, but who taught in the English Dept.
where I took Freshman Composition in 1992 from his colleague, Phillip Dillman)
shows up in the Introduction to a collection of non-fiction he edited with
Michael Steinberg,
Those Who Do, Can: Teachers Writing, Writers Teaching: A
Sourcebook
(1996). Is there a copy in our Bird Library at Syracuse?
No, of course not. Seems it’s one of the few books we don’t have.

I considered emailing my program’s listserv to ask whether anyone had a copy
I could borrow, but rather than bother the list with a request, I figured I
would try the library’s interlibrary loan system, ILLiad. I haven’t used
ILLiad since 2005, so, of course, I couldn’t remember my password. I tried
to reset the password, and when I did, the system sent me a blank email message.
Here’s what was in the message: . Thus, here ends the
trail for tonight. I know where the "golden age" reference comes from, and
the source, to my surprise, is not quite as middle-of-the-road as I expected it
would be. That said, I do think Root knows composition studies, or at
least certain veins of it, very well, even if I couldn’t begin to speculate how
many CCCC’s he’s attended (more and more often, I tend to think of disciplinary
centrality in terms of trips to the flagship conference, whether verifiable or
guessed at; and yes, I know this is just one of many possible metrics).

Why, after all, am I questing for the golden age reference? Well, for one
thing, my own research has lately gotten me thinking more about the implicit
disciplinary prototypes underlying suggestions of disciplinary fragmentation
(viz., Smit’s endism or Fulkerson’s "new theory wars"). And so, if there has
been a golden age of composition studies, I’m curious about it, curious as well
about the idea of disciplinary ages (and whatever it is that makes them
seem plausible).

Writing Feverlets*

Curious about her critique of Derrida’s Archive Fever, I picked up a
copy of Carolyn Steedman’s Dust: The Archive and Cultural History from
Bird Library, recalling it from another patron who had checked it out (v. sorry
about that). I deal briefly with AF in Chapter Three. Steedman
makes the point that AF is less about archives than about Derrida’s
concern for the slippage of origins (a theme in his other work) and the
inseparability of psychoanalysis from Freud (and also Judaism). She
writes, "The Foreword [to AF] carried the main argument, about Freud’s
Jewish-ness, and the contribution of Jewish thought to the idea of the archive,
via psycho-analysis" (7). Basically, Steedman is suspicious of Derrida’s
characterization of the fever (as a frenzied pursuit of origins which do not
properly exist). She complains that the concept of the fever is degraded in
translation from Mal d’Archive, and then she enthusiastically claims the
sickness Derrida mocks: "Archive fever, indeed? I can tell you all about
Archive Fever!" (17). Dust undertakes this "all about-ness" at fever’s pitch;
Steedman, all the while, works to correct (or tune, at the very least) Derrida’s
glancing consideration of the archive left behind in his treatment of other
concerns (psychoanalysis, Freud, and so on).

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Double-Dutch

Derrida, in Archive Fever: “For the time being, I will pull from this web a single interpretive thread, the one that concerns the archive” (45).

I am trying to bring in just enough Derrida at the end of chapter three to capitalize on his insights about origination myths (not of psychoanalysis, for my purposes, but of composition studies), about archivization as the perpetual rearrangement of data, and about the ways transclusive texts and digitization re-distribute and also re-calibrate institutional (or disciplinary) memory. This and more in 6-8 pages.

It is as if the “single interpretive thread” drawn, like a jump-rope, from the web, is held on one end by Derrida and on the other end by Brand. In this section on “How Archives Learn,” I am beginning with the overlap of archives (entering the houses of the Archons) and architecture. The Derrida-Brand skipping is double-dutch, because a second thread–from Brand–is also suspended (another thread) in this early portion of the final section. Two jump-ropes, two jump-rope holders. In their complimentary orbits, the two ropes come close to touching, but they alternate flight paths just enough to avoid touching. And yet I feel intensely the danger of getting tangled up.

As of today, I am four pages (1200 words) into the 6-8 pages I have allowed myself for the section–a necessary cap if I am to keep the chapter under 50 pp. (jeeps, when I promised myself just 35 pp.; so much for control). What remains of the section, however, is well-planned; it will be close.

One challenge has been that there is so much more more more to develop here. For instance, do we have a disciplinarily (or even a post-disciplinarily) shared theory of archivization or memory? And how important is such a thing (not only for online archives or scholarly journals, but also for the preservation of course descriptions, syllabi, listserv exchanges, and so on)? With this, I am not asking about methodologies for dealing with archives of interest to R&C (or of history and historiography, for that matter), but rather of the life cycle of a more explicit class of disciplinary materials. Is it irresponsible (even unethical) not to have greater consensus for archivization or for the “scholar of the future” Derrida writes about? Perhaps.

Next I will return to the matter of learning by squaring with a couple of propositions from Brand. Finally, there will be something on Brand’s contrast between adaptation and “graceless turnover” and also on North’s statement from The Making of… that “Composition’s collective fund of knowledge is a very fragile entity” (3)–an excerpt I work with briefly in chapter one. Maybe some of this will have to be canned later on. There is always that possibility. The chapter is, after all, building up a discussion of tag clouds, data-mining, and folksonomy, which musn’t be abandoned in the concluding section.