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Beare and Stenberg. Emotion and Publication in Rhet/Comp. CE, Nov. 2020. Posted 01/15/2021.

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Beare, Zachary C., and Shari J. Stenberg. “‘Everyone Thinks It’s Just Me’: Exploring the Emotional Dimensions of Seeking Publication.” College English83.2 (2020): 103-26. Print.

Zachary C. Beare and Shari J. Stenberg investigated the emotional experiences of academics in rhetoric and composition who were developing and submitting material for publication. The authors recruited at research-intensive institutions listed in the Consortium of Doctoral Programs, interviewing three assistant, three associate, and three full professors, with one addition who contributed in writing (106). Interviewees ranged across a number of specialties and research areas. Though specific demographic information was not requested, the interviews indicated “a diversity of intersectional identities” (107).

The authors explain the analysis of their data as a qualitative, collaborative, “iterative, multicycle process” (107). Among the data collected were “contextual cues” suggesting emotional responses, including, for example, “charged language” (107).

According to Beare and Stenberg, the role of emotion as central to writing, to the teaching of writing, and to the lives of academics in general has become a research focus in higher education (103). Although much attention addresses “burnout,” the authors cite a study by Robert H. Stupnisky et al. indicating that while faculty appear to have developed strategies for handling emotions centered around teaching, research concerns trigger “more anxiety, guilt, and helplessness” (qtd. in Beare and Stenberg 103).

Threads of research, the authors report, can be traced to work by Alice G. Brand in 1985 and Lynn Worsham in 1998. These projects led to recognition that emotion is “socially scripted and imbued with power,” with some emotions deemed appropriate in certain contexts and others culturally discouraged (104). The authors integrate this research with the concept of the “habitus” developed by Pierre Bourdieu, which denotes “acquired patterns of thought, behavior, and taste that correspond to social position” (105). The authors argue that faculty engaged in research are encouraged to adopt a “valorized ‘emotional habitus’” that rejects emotions like anxiety, frustration, anger, or self-doubt (105). The academic writer, the authors write, feels pressured to project rationality and emotional control as marks of an “advanced writer” (105).

Beare and Stenberg extend their discussion of emotional habitus to the concept of “belongingness,” contending that a sense of belonging is an important component of emotional experience (108). In this view, belonging accrues from a sense that one’s individual emotional habitus accords with that approved within one’s community, resulting, in Bourdieu’s words, in “a sense of bodily comfort and ease.” In Bourdieu’s framing, to feel that one belongs can mean having “a feel for the game,” in that one understands accepted behaviors and interactions (qtd. in Beare and Stenberg 108).

The authors write that career status impacted faculty members’ emotional responses to the pressures of publication (107). Pre-tenure participants consistently expressed “feelings of depression and anxiety” (108), often linking them to time issues, such as a feeling that they weren’t doing enough or weren’t meeting the pace necessary to assure their belonging in the field (109). In the authors’ view, these respondents compared themselves to “an idealized, ‘inside’ subject, who is confident and certain of their contribution” and who might reflect effects of gender (109). These faculty worried that their insecurity further exacerbated the difficulties presented by their research and writing efforts.

Participants no longer facing tenure pressure evinced less concern about time (110), feeling freer to let projects develop at their own pace. These interview subjects also reported a shift in their attitude toward the review process. Rather than feeling under pressure to accede to every demand, associate and full professors reported learning to assess the quality and relevance of reviews (111). In fact, as they became reviewers themselves, Beare and Stenberg state, these faculty found themselves able to contribute to the rules of the implicit “game” and to valorize reviews that represented “a less emotional and more collaborative, problem-solving, communal practice” (112-3).

Even for more secure faculty, the sense of belonging could be affected by responses to their preferred research areas and modes of presentation. “Tim” expressed frustration that the field seemed resistant to work that is “too curricular, too classroom-based” and to language that “state[s] things simply and directly” (qtd. in Beare and Stenberg 114). Others noted apparent discouragement of work with autobiographical or first-person approaches (114). “Nora” argued that with regard to research, the field seems to prefer work that builds on prior, established research rather than work that takes on new issues (114-15). The authors write that such frustration is a move beyond “assimilation” to a willingness to “question the criteria for belonging in the field” (114).

Asked how they translated their emotional experiences into mentoring for their own graduate students, respondents noted in that graduate school, students are supported and often praised for their work, while reviewers for publication “are looking for the area where your argument falls apart” (115). Many supported advice to make failure much more visible, for example by sharing their own rejections, so that rejection becomes a normal and possibly productive part of the process (119).

Interviewees also noted that graduate school did not prepare students for the amount of revision demanded. Interviews suggested that although students receive feedback on seminar papers, they seldom actually revise them (116) and perhaps, in an environment of diminishing financial support, often graduate with dissertations that could be usefully revised (117). Participants recounted sharing their own revise-and-resubmit experiences so students would understand publication expectations, and also noted encouraging students to submit work earlier rather than waiting for “perfection” with the understanding that revision would inevitably be required (119-120).

In general, participants suggested that mentors could do more to teach “high-performing students how to deal with disappointment or failure” (“James,” qtd. in Beare and Stenberg 118). The authors dispute the idea that the pain of rejection or negative response ever disappears. However, participants indicated that developing strategies for dealing with these inevitabilities and the ensuing emotions was an essential part of persevering in the field. “Tim” suggests that believing in one’s work and considering it “worth the time and energy” can help a writer return to a project even in the face of troubling emotions (qtd. in Beare and Stenberg 120).

“James” calls for attention to “self-care,” in particular what the authors encourage as a practice of “community-care” (121), arguing for a systematic reform of working conditions that drive negative emotions throughout higher education (121). An ethic of community care, the authors write, would foreground “radical listening, empathy, [and] vulnerability” (122). Such an ethic, they contend, could diminished the sense common among academics that they are anomalous failures within their communities and must face the challenges of their field alone (122).

Author: vanderso

I'm a recently retired associate professor of English in Southern Indiana. I've been teaching writing for twenty-five years, but I feel I have much to learn about how people really learn to write. In this blog, I'll be sharing research and thoughts and hopefully gathering information from others about the process of learning to write.

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