Swearingen, “R&C as a Coherent Intellectual Discipline”

C. Jan. "Rhetoric and Composition as a Coherent Intellectual Discipline."
Olson 12-22. [A]

The creation of graduate programs in rhetoric and composition between
1975-1985 marked a sea change for the field; following this initial point,
Swearingen notes several of the earliest conditions that enabled the firming up
of the discipline: PRE/TEXT, RSQ, Young, Becker and Pike’s
work, an MLA division, JAC, Rhetoric Review, and so on: "It is
impossible to estimate how crucial these developments have been to the
redefinition of graduate programs and to reforms of rhetoric and composition
courses in the undergraduate curriculum" (13). Overall, this piece lays out the
theoretical terrain of English studies and the ties of rhetoric and
composition to critical theory and sociolinguistics influences.

The remainder of Swearingen’s article is divided into four sections:

A Developing Discipline (13): Situates rhetoric and composition in
English studies; notes anti-theoretical moments or turns away from theory
(comparison to lurching of a loon trying to get off the ground); new growth in
doctoral programs and edited collections "attempt[ing] to define the conceptual,
philosophical, and aesthetic bases for new composition theories" (14). "Various
intellectual streams merged" in the scholarship (14).
"The shorter recent history of the hegemony of critical theory marks a point of
attempted, or wished-for, conjunction, with both rhetoric and literature
claiming a closer, earlier tie to high theory. The more theory is agreed
upon, however tacitly, as the lingua fracta of citizenship, the more composition
feels defined out; many compositionists once again feel themselves strangers in
the land they have helped create–or in some cases emigrants by choice" (16).

Paradoxes of Postmodernism (16): Accounts for the peak of
postmodernism in the late 1980s and the resurgence of "ludic reconstructionism"
pursued by "feminists, compositionists, and proponents of ethnic diversity in
language practices" (17). Suggests theory as a stressor for many compositionists
"Many current studies of identity politics (and curricula based upon
them) can be traced at some point to the knowledge-identity topos in postmodern
rhetorical and composition theory" (17).

The Prospects of Foundationless Critique (18): New rhetorics are
solidified in the field, along with Russian linguistics influences.
Citizen-based models also take hold (Freire, Marx). The result of so many
theories is a problem of incompatibility. Swearingen explains the nuances of
each theory’s inward instabilities and dissensus (on citizenship…good citizens
vs. social change; on Bakhtin’s "inner speech" and agency).

The Return to the (Socio)Linguistic Turn: (20): Lays out the paradox
of language standards and variants of English, noting that "[t]he practical
difficulties that have emerged out of anti-foundationalist social critique
models affect the implementation of tolerance- and diversity-based language
pedagogies" (21).
"It is not too early to observe an institutional consequence of strained
relationships between rhetorical theory and composition practice" (21). [e.g.,
Brodkey and the curriculum fiasco at Texas]

The final point emphasizes a history that should lead to something better
than the labor crisis we continue to face because of theoretically inclined
faculty (tipping to rhetoric and critical theory) tend to distance themselves
from writing programs.