Sunday, April 10, 2005

textual identities

In studying the noticeable silence within composition studies surrounding class as a writing/classroom issue, I've become hyper-aware (neurotically maybe) of this little classification system found on the back upper left-hand cover of books. I'm not sure if there is a name for this bizarre, seemingly arbitrary labeling system, nor do I understand who chooses the categories. What system is used for this? But I do find it interesting...:

Bruce Horner's Terms of Work for Composition: A Materialist Critique = "Literary Criticism": This is one of the few books that actually argues for a correlation between the teaching of writing and the material conditions of that teaching/writing. He does not shy away from concepts of labor, work, and class (even if the Library of Congress subject headings do). Yet, this book, that clearly addresses composition within its title is classified (somehow, somewhere, by somebody) as lit. crit. ?

??? Where/when does the split happen between socioeconomic? As in, when is it "just" social? When is it "just" economic? I only ask this--driven by the Library of Congress subject headings that simply refer to the book as addressing "social aspects" and "social conditions"--What does that mean???

Donna LeCourt's Identity Matters: Schooling the Student Body in Academic Discourse = "Education": While LeCourt, focuses on identity politics in a more general sense that Horner does, her text still manages to address "class" issues. She even labels herself as working class and writes from that perspective. But again, while the book is devoted to the subject of writing and the writing classroom, its "identity" is not aligned with composition.

Lisa Ede's Situating Composition: Composition Studies and Politics of Location< = "Rhetoric and Composition": Indeed Ede's text proudly professes, in the upper-left-hand corner of the back cover, to be a text situated within the field of rhetoric and composition. Ede who begins the book by making claims about situating composition materially does not mention class, economics, materialism, Raymond Williams, Karl Marx (and here I am generalizing, but still...). Whatever sort of materiality she is writing from, within, or about is never made explicit.

Am I just a conspiracy theorist here? Maybe. But I doubt it. Something is up.


Mark D said...

My question (as always) is, what impact do these terms have? Is there a significant material impact to the labels these texts have been assigned? If I'm not mistaken, the categories are a developpment of the Dewey Decimal system, which is of the same ilk as all the "great" ninteenth-century psuedo-scientific classification systems. And while I can see how the terms of these categories reflect the biases of their time (and ours), this seems an esoteric worry, because I don't see much of any discourse even about these terms, much less real practice which engages them. I mean, have you ever told your students that good texts can be found under category X in the library?

VTmtngrrl said...

Of course, in getting hung-up on these "identifiers" on the back of texts, I already knew your argument in the back of my head. I also knew the lack of my own argument in using this as evidence, and wouldn't want to present it as argument outside of this blog. BUT, since I am already hung-up on this minor annoyance, I'll still respond....

In part, I guess it depends on how you define "material impact." In terms of assigning these labels and thereby classifying these texts, I'm willing to guess that I may have come across the Horner text and LeCourt text much earlier in my research within rhetoric and composition, if they had, by chance, been classified as such. In terms of marketing as material impact, I would say these labels do come into play (or at least they did for me...maybe I'm just a poor researcher). So while I wouldn't limit myself to, and clearly haven't, to texts categorized/classified as rhet/comp, in terms of creating a required reading list of "the field," I feel as though there are some noticeable absences (namely, an economic silence, and avoidance of class issues) if and when I include books categorized within "the field" of rhet/com. And so, while I have to make my argument a different way, I still feel compelled to comment.

I mean, Horner's book has materialist in the title, and this seems to trump the composition part of the title; somehow this book now becomes a literary criticism text. That just irks me a little bit. I guess it shouldn't...but it does. A little bit.

chris said...

in comp/rhet is there really such silence about class? if so, i've never really noticed it. maybe, though, this is b/c i see class issues being addressed through other conversations, through the work of people like Lynn Worsham, Marc Bousquet, Donna Strickland, Eileen Schell, and, especially and explicitly, Steve Parks.

but the comp/rhet "conspiracy" you've mentioned is really what you're talking about here. for me it seems more like a networking issue. though you use the word "label" i think that, really, it's more useful to think in terms of "network." b/c, and this is just me throwing together some ideas, i would think that it isn't the lables that have failed you in your research and searching, but the silence of the network. people talking about materiality should be citing and promoting the work of other voices that relate to their own work.

like i said, i'm just throwing something out there, but i wonder if it means anything in this case to think in terms of network as opposed to isolatable "labels", "identifiers" or classification schemes.

ps. your method of researching stuff sounds highly advanced. i don't even know how to search for books by "identifiers."

VTmtngrrl said...

chris, i see what you're saying about class issues being addressed, and i should have been a bit more clear in my post. yes, i think that the issue of academic labor *does* get addressed. most of the names you mention do work with those issues, and, of course, academic labor is a huge issue for an area like composition that relies so heavily on adjunct and part-time work to staff first year writing courses; however this is also--to some extent--the beginning and end of the conversation about class, the economic, and the material. in our struggles over disciplinarity and working conditions, i feel that so often the idea of the classroom and the student bodies and the material texts that get produced there are left out. granted they're inextricable--our stuggles as academic laborers affect the classroom in profound ways, but there are many other parts to the equation: there is composition's place in the academy (again, yes, tied up in labor issues); there is the uneven distribution of monies in the academy; the view of composition as "remedial" and somehow responsible for the training of a workforce; the tendency to separate student texts from the material conditions within which they were produced; and so on....

i am intrigued by your idea around lack of networking, but i'm not sure it works for me. maybe lack of referencing is a problem, but if i look at an edited work like Bousquet's, Tenured Bosses and Disposable Teachers..., he certainly includes the folks you mention. so i do think there is a certain about of "networking" happening.

i'm also not entirely "blaming" this labeling system; it was more of a simple, but not very productive, observation. it's not a method of research for me at all:)

Anonymous said...

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