Saturday, March 24, 2007

CCCC07: Day One

Disclaimer: What follows is primarily aimed at summary of the presentations that I attended at this year’s Cs. I’ve done this for a couple of reasons: 1) is to keep the arguments and insights fresh in my mind—an archive for myself and 2) is to allow those who did not attend (including those not in the field) to get a glimpse of what went on. The italicized portions that follow the summaries are my reflective thoughts and/or questions regarding what I heard. If I’ve misrepresented anyone, please “speak”-up and let me know; it was certainly not intentional. Of course many of the presenters have their own blogs with more nuanced descriptions of what they presented (if the not the presentation itself), and I’ve tried to note that as well.

The first session I attended (Thursday morning) was “3Cs: Capitalism, Commodification, and Consumerism”:

Mike Edwards presented his paper, which covered an alternative discourse of the economic – one that doesn’t always assume scarcity, that doesn’t necessarily doesn’t look at the working class (student) as some kind of victim of capitalism, one that doesn’t assume all transactions are inherently capitalist transactions. He argued that working class (student) identities tend to be constituted by lack with the pedagogical adjustment generally being access (either to technology or even manners), but he presented the idea that the remedy is not just the handing out of resources; students need skills to utilize these resources. He turned to Resnick and Wolff’s conception of class as an economic process of appropriating value and looked at the ways that “use” and “appropriation” can be seen differently than in a strictly capitalist sense (for example, “use” of reading text could be for getting things done, learning, or appropriation and remix into new texts). He pointed out that digital technologies can facilitate these processes. In the third part of his presentation he presented the way that information goods take on more value as they circulate and that the networked writings of our students can do just that. Finally, he showed (literally, via a nice little powerpoint chart) the way that capitalism is: transaction always = market; labor always = wage; and enterprise always = capitalist (okay, his chart makes this much more clear); he turned to Gibson-Graham for an alternative: market as fair trade, for example; labor/wage as self employed, for example; and capitalist enterprise as state. In other words, nonmarket, unpaid, noncapitalist, but all economic activities.

Next up was Sean Murray who presented on the infiltration of capitalism/commercial culture into our lives and classrooms, and in particular on his concern with the ways in which the commercial world has commodified our identities. Sean is interested in a pedagogy that has students read the way in which their identities are influenced by corporate power. He then wants to link those readings of the point at which self and culture meet to social injustice on a large scale. He situates composition as being in a unique position of both plugging into that corporate culture but also being a site of resistance. He ended by expressing his reservations about such a pedagogy, which included his concern over implementing a simplistic, naïve (his words, not mine) narrative of unveiling “truths” with the goal of an alleged freedom (“the truth will set you free”); his awareness of pushing an (blatant anti-consumerism) agenda on students; and his fear that he is interfering with what Bill Readings calls Thought (with a capital T), which views T/thought as a question not an answer.

Finally, Dr. Lonni Pearce did a Marxist influenced reading of Working Assets as an example of a “socially responsible” company. She pointed out the conflict and tension between politics and consumption evident from the company’s website and marketing materials – a tension between the motives of capitalism (you can shop, talk, etc. and…) and the company’s representation as a political action group (…and save the world!).

At the start of his presentation, Mike situated himself as “a big fat Marxist.” I am wondering how his use of Gibson-Graham, Resnick, and Wolff can reconcile with that positioning or label. I think many Marxists might disagree.

Sean named many common reservations that get expressed concerning critical/radical/liberatory pedagogies. They’re certainly similar to reservations I sometimes have regarding my own pedagogies and my own “agenda” (and subsequent fears of “pushing it”). Sean’s presentation left me with a number of questions – the biggest one being, how specifically he makes the leap from these personal readings of self as influenced by corporate capitalism to issues of social injustice. To make this move seems to me to require a kind of pushing of the agenda on students. And, what issues is he specifically looking at on a more global scale? I’m also curious to know what experiences he’s had in terms of students who are well aware of their construction by media and commercialism--the students who are aware of the implications of their graphic tees and choose to make those purchases, construct themselves in these commercialized ways. Many students seem to be okay with this role. Sean did point to all of this in his conclusion, but I’m just wondering then how he deals with these reservations.


The next session was on plagiarism:

Clancy Ratliff gave a very engaging and entertaining presentation of plagiarism in the blogosphere. She presented anecdotes on bloggers having been plagiarized – the most hilarious ones having been her own (that is, her writing/blog being plagiarized, not her as plagiarist!). Her interest ultimately turned to copyscape an online service that helps authors detect whether or not their material has been copied (or quoted) elsewhere on the web. Clancy argued that ethically Copyscape is different than turnitin because with copyscape the author is actually paying the service to “defend” (copyscape’s word choice) his or her written material, intellectual labor, etc; whereas with turnitin there is often (arguably) coercion of students involved, turnitin makes money on these student texts, the students don’t see any of that money etc. Clancy would like to do a larger and more careful analysis of copyscape. She also pointed out that institutional views of plagiarism extend into the blogosphere (she had rather clear examples illustrating this, which can be found in her posting on her presentation).

Next was Rebecca Moore Howard who continued her work in looking at the rhetoric used to describe plagiarism and plagiarists. For this presentation she focused specifically on the rhetoric (specifically tropes/metaphors) used to describe plagiarism as it happens in the blogosphere (and compared it, at times, to the metaphors used for print plagiarism). She wondered, in approaching the project, whether or not people online are thinking differently about plagiarism. Apparently the answer is not really. Howard showed examples of blogs discussing the topic of plagiarism in terms of policing, crime, “assumed guilt,” cases, vampirism (yes, one site actually describes plagiarists as textual vampires, sucking blood and life), hunting (in which case the teacher/reader was the “hunter”, thereby making the student “prey”…and what happens in this scenario, Howard, asked…), and the metaphor of wearing ones dirty/used underwear. A couple of the sites she described treated plagiarism as crime that needs a team of investigators to investigate it (here she gave credit to a research assistant who made the connection to CSI culture). She pointed out the way that this discourse creates on online environment of vigilante culture.

One of the sessions I most looked forward to was on the global economy and class identity. The presenters were Min Zhan Lu, Tom Fox, and Joseph Harris with Bruce Horner as respondent.

Lu made the argument that given the globalizing of the free market we need to rethink class, and in doing so we need to rethink the way(s) in which we respond to our students’ careerist desires. In redefining class, Lu focused on class as bodily interaction and class as a matter of space. She noted that for those holding power territorial markers matter less and less; that class division has become the unequal distribution of extraterritorial mobility. She suggested approaching matters of class from simultaneously a local and global perspective and designing a pedagogy that enables students to acquire the specialized skills of the “new” global perspective. One route she described was a writing project that focuses on the tension between the socially constructed desire to chase supra-mobility and the more localized work sites of those who are bound by family and other factors. This writing project could detail the role of the globe trotter as depicted by mass media and ask questions of our (students) own globe trotting (or not) desires and tendencies.

Tom Fox gave a lively and impassioned presentation on the evils of textbook companies and subsequently textbook adoption (as made by committees, districts, policy makers etc). He informed us with alarm, “Companies huger than my imagination own education.” He drew the lines between arms fairs, textbook companies, education (including professional development). His suggestions: work in organized groups to empower teachers; continue to engage in a Rhetorical War of Positions on textbook adoption. He ended, “Corporate reform of education is coming to your campus soon.” (If it hasn’t already).

Joseph Harris presented on his own institution, Duke, and its recent controversy over the lacrosse team. He focused on one aspect of the situation and that was a signing of “Listening Statement” by 88 Duke faculty members who came to be both known and attacked as the Group of 88. At the heart of the criticism was the idea that faculty should not dare to criticize the culture of their own institution, that a faculty’s place is in the classroom (and only there), the assumption that faculty shouldn’t comment on the lives of students that don’t affect them. His suggestion: do study campus culture and invite ways of improving it.

I've run out of steam here in terms or recording some of my reactions, thoughts, questions, and I still have to get down day two, plus some "outtakes" from my adventure in NYC. More on all of that later....

---
update: Mike has blogged on his presentation, as well as on some of the same sessions I've summarized above.

17 comments:

wayne fontes said...

The criticism directed at the G88, of which Joseph Harris is a member, concerns what they said not their right to say it. Academic freedom does include a right not to be criticized. The distinction isn't small.

VTmtngrrl said...

I'm sorry. Maybe I'm misunderstanding you. Do you mean that academic freedom does NOT include a right NOT to be criticized?

If so, I did not see Harris trying to protect himself (or the Group of 88 or any academic) from criticism per se; instead, it seemed to me, he was trying to get at what the criticism was *actually* lodged at, trying to understand what was/is underlying the anger the listening statement provoked.

wayne fontes said...

Yes I do mean that academic freedom doesn't include a right not to be criticized. I view academic freedom as the right to express unpopular opinions without the fear of being fired or discriminated against.

I took your statement "At the heart of the criticism was the idea that faculty should not dare to criticize the culture of their own institution, that a faculty's place is in the classroom (and only there), the assumption that faculty shouldn't comment on the lives of the students that don't affect them" at face value. This is a red herring the G88 have unsuccessfully thrown out. Your comment leads me to believe to believe that he was actually addressing the motivations of the people who were criticizing the listening statement.

Mike @ Vitia said...

Actually, Wayne, Harris backed up his assertion with considerable textual evidence, which is better than I can say for you. It's not a red herring in the least.

VTmtngrrl, Gibson-Graham and Resnick and Wolff all base their reconceptualization of class very firmly in a reading of Capital and its key distinction between necessary labor and surplus labor, and Marx's notions of appropriation. Certainly, all three call themselves Marxians rather than Marxists, which refers to their focus on economic analysis rather than the revolutionary project, so I'll buy the distinction you're making there -- and, of course, there are many Marxisms. How do you see Gibson-Graham, Resnick and Wolff as being outside the Marxist tradition? (I'm thinking that maybe that hostile question I got had something to do with it; personally, I completely expected the question, and it came from the very source from which I would have most expected it. Which is why I'm afraid I was a little cavalier in my response: I was more amused than anything else, and I certainly wasn't going to change the questioner's mind.)

VTmtngrrl said...

Mike, The way I see Gibson-Graham -- well, I don't see them *outside* the Marxist tradition per se, but I definitely see them as rereading Marx and in the process critiquing Marxism as reductionist. They seem to be attempting to create a new language of class much different from Marx. They're really shifting a Marxian notion of exploitation in a pretty dramatic way with their idea of self-appropriation. From that introductory statement (in I forget which book at the moment) -- "it's never just the economy, stupid" -- they position themselves if not "outside" than certainly in reaction to the Marxist tradition.

I mostly ask that question, though, for selfish reasons after utlizing G-G for my recent exams with a committee of some pretty orthodox Marxists, I wanted to see how someone who positions themselves as Marxist sees the use of G-G as helpful, appropriate, reconciliable, etc. I think I gave a few heart-attacks in my use of them for my exams. So how to stand up to those reactions (like some of the questions lodged during your presentation)? I'm not asking this as a question for you to answer, but something I've been thinking about, wrestling with.

But I think the hostiility is simply a knee-jerk reaction; not that that makes it okay, but it's hard to think differently about capitalism.

Ariella said...

Well written article.

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