Anokye, Akua Duku. "2007 CCCC Chair’s Address: Voices of the Company We
Keep." CCC 59.2 (2007): 263-275.
My interest in this address parallels my interest in all of the chairs’
addresses as it is the broadest-reaching gesture to the field of composition
studies in any given year. Usually I am able to attend the address, but I
missed it in 2007, and so these notes work only from the CCC re-print,
not the address as it was performed in New York City.
Anokye keys on familiar ideas in her address: the maxim that "We are known
by the company we keep" (263), the historically eclectic, inclusive, and
risk-taking ambitions of the organization (265), the cornerstones of teaching
and social responsibility (268), and the continuing need for governance
structures that value "the members" every bit as much as "the leaders, the
megastars, and the chairs" (266). As I read it, the address develops in two
halves. In the first half, Anokye enriches the "company we keep" proverb by
relating a personal anecdote about her grandmother’s ‘social
shielding’ throughout Anokye’s Pontiac, Mich., childhood, and then by
relaying an Ananse allegory about a farmer who, because he invited
disagreeable guests to his planting party, failed to accomplish any planting
(the termite ate the corn, the chicken ate the termite, and so on): "What this
story teaches me is that if you don’t learn to work together, if you don’t learn
to honor many voices, if you don’t learn to get beyond discrimination, mistrust,
dishonor, you can’t manage a planting party, let along a company, an
institution, a place, a unit that will implement collective goals" (265). In the
second half, Anokye shares her findings in what she describes as an "oral
history research project" and an "ethnographic exploration" she
conducted at the 2006 CCCC convention in Chicago. Basically, she
"interviewed twenty-three conference attendees, and through conversations the
diverse group she accepts that her study provided "representative feedback about
what our membership has to say about CCCC–its past present, and future" (267).
Anokye looks for patterns in the responses, and she groups the responses by four
emergent traits: empathy, social responsibility and justice, teamwork, learning
(267). After sharing many of the responses, Anokye explains that CCCC is
shifting into a period of "strategic governance" that will enable leaders
in the organization to be more responsive to the membership. She
also judges her study a success, reporting at the end, that "the interviews I
collected last March are a good start in hearing what we think" (274).
How seriously should we take the methods adopted by Anokye, or, for
that matter, by any CCCC Chair who incorporates data into their address? Put
another way, I am tempted to question how the "representative" interviewees were
chosen, and why this method would be better than a more inclusive survey for
determining what the membership of the organization thinks. Is it the best
methodology, in other words, for the task at hand? For the goal of finding
out what 10,000 people think? Without being too explicitly critical (I hedge,
because I concur that Anokye’s interviews do tell us something), the
methods here resemble Nielsen ratings for television. Ask 23; extrapolate to the
But isn’t that approach in some ways contradictory to the "company you keep"
maxim? I mean, we ask 23 because we cannot reasonably conduct interviews
with everyone. The task is too much. We don’t, in the strictest
sense, keep company with everyone else who belongs to CCCC. I try to
write about this in the diss as the disciplinary moment of criticality.
Rather than elaborate that here, I should add that this introduces a quandary to
the scene: what CGB called ‘a fallacy of scale’. "Company you keep" is not
far from Latour’s "all points local," or from the small-world network (famous to
fifteen people, etc.). Does it apply to an organization with several
thousand members–an organization so large that everyone in it does not (also
cannot!) know everyone else? The leap from 23 interviewees to the total
organization is handled like this: "From this study we can find some evidence
that regardless of the size of the organization, the company is doing its
job to build community and give its membership a place to develop long-lasting
relationships" (268, emphasis added). Certainly "some evidence," but the best
evidence? What other forms of evidence–what other devices, methods,
etc.–would lend weight to these conclusions?
A few other points of interest:
- "He had been assigned as a Recorder to a ‘star-spangled’ session.
(Recorders are no longer a part of our panel process.)" (268). The
recorder: one who documents the session (takes notes, digital video, photos,
etc.?). What is the story behind this role? And when did it end?
- Several references to Daly-Goggin; Authoring a Discipline
is the primary source for explaining the origins of CCCC. (Connect the idea
of patterned isolation with the "company we keep" maxim and especially
Anokye’s grandmother’s strict enforcement of it).
- Praxis (266).
- How else could we know (and make explicitly knowable) the impressions of
membership, conference-goers, constituents, etc., other than by these means?
"Some folks don’t come anymore because they feel things we focus on are
worn out." (271) – From one of the interviewees.