College Composition Weekly: Summaries of research for college writing professionals

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Kurtyka, Faith. Conservative Women on College Campuses. CE, Jan. 2021. Posted 03/31/2020.

Kurtyka, Faith. “Standing at the Threshold: Metonymic Generalization and the Social Penalties of Being a Conservative Woman on Campus.” College English 83.3 (2021): 235-57. Print.

Faith Kurtyka investigated the learning pathways students follow when they encounter “threshold concepts,” which, for composition, include those discussed by Linda Adler-Kassner and Elizabeth Wardle in their 2019 book, (Re)Considering What We Know: Learning Thresholds in Writing, Composition, Rhetoric, and Literacy. Kurtyka works from these authors’ definition of threshold concepts as “concepts crucial for epistemological participation in disciplines, the lenses learners must see through and see with to be successful” (qtd. in Kurtyka 235). Kurtyka investigates students’ “lived experiences” as they grapple with the “liminal” moments important to this learning process (236).

The author contends that little composition research has considered the encounter with the threshold concepts from the students’ perspectives. In particular, she reports, little research has focused on how activities and relationships outside of academia affect these encounters (236). Moreover, in Kortyka’s view, much research tends to foreground teachers’ efforts to teach the concept rather than the ways students experience their learning (238).

Kurtyka is interested in the ways that students develop prior beliefs and knowledge before encountering academic concepts and how these prior understandings affect their engagement with their college lives. Noting that threshold concepts have been characterized as introducing what, to many students, may be “troublesome knowledge,” Kurtyka cites scholarship in which knowledge and experience that students bring to college is seen as interfering with their ability to engage productively with the new points of view college will present (236). She cites research on how teachers address religious resistance to academic environments, but maintains that less effort has been put into investigating how conservative political beliefs may impact actual, lived encounters with the college context (238).

To address this gap, Kurtyka interviewed eleven women who identified as conservative in the age range 18-23, all white, in order to capture their narratives of engagement with the college environment (240; 255n1). Her interest lay not in the women’s beliefs per se but rather in the development of their beliefs in the light of progress toward threshold knowledge (239). She writes that as a white woman with a background including evangelical religion who similarly found her values and beliefs influenced by the college experience, she provided her interview subjects with a “safe” environment to express feelings they may have felt better left unsaid in other contexts (239). Political science research with these voices, she writes, tend to focus on “concrete, organized locations such as schools an women’s clubs” (238). In Kurtyka’s view, this research cannot capture the nuances of women’s lived experiences in what she describes a “kairotic moment” when important components of identities are being newly established (239).

In Kurtyka’s view, the women she worked with were moving toward the threshold understanding in composition that “writing enacts and creates identities and ideologies” (236). She presents interview excerpts illustrating women’s realizations on the path to this concept that “multiple viewpoints exist on political issues” and that “one has agency in and should take responsibility for developing one’s own beliefs” (236). Her appendix provides a summary of her research process.

An opening question about the construction of beliefs before college found women attributing their belief systems to family influences and friends. In the excerpts the women report both encountering and voluntarily exposing themselves to “outlier voices” that led to reflection on their beliefs (241). Faced with challenges to their views both in classwork and through friendships, the women report doing their own research to shape their responses to issues. The women assert that, contrary to claims that conservatives resist conversations with people who don’t share their views, they seek out and respond to discussion on difficult topics (243). Kurtyka reports these  comments as indicative of the women’s recognition that multiple viewpoints exist (241).

Her research codes for “fear and courage” as interviewees discuss their discomfort with expressing conservative viewpoints on campus (244). The women contend that speaking up leads other students to reject them or even “erase” them as people; their choices may be to remain silent or to limit themselves to campus conservative organizations (245). Research on religious students suggests that for women, drawing attention to unpopular beliefs is a greater burden than for men, because of what Luna Dolezal calls the “constant body visibility” of women, resulting from the social tendency that encourages women to see themselves as “an object for a present or imagined third-person spectator” and thus to conform to socially approved roles (qtd. in Kurtyka 247).

The reluctance to speak Kurtyka discovers through her study is, in her view, a function in part of what she calls “metonymic generalization,” in which audiences assume that a person holding one tenet of a set of beliefs endorses all other beliefs in that set (246, 251). For example, one student notes that even identifying as conservative leads other students to make automatic assumptions about her voting behavior (245). Kurtyka’s interviewees’ responses indicate that silence is the better policy and that only members of like-minded groups shield students from the loss of friendship and social welcoming that the students fear (246).

In Kurtyka’s view, metonymic generalization and the resulting search for social safety deprive students of important tools for exploring the full ramifications of their own and others’ points of view. Scholarship Kurtyka cites suggests that these factors may limit students’ ability to assimilate threshold concepts because of the importance of a community that is both supportive and wide-ranging as students negotiate troubling new knowledge (244). Quoting Matthew Forgarty et al., Kurtyka argues that only in a “cacophony of others’ voices” can students learn to articulate their beliefs and explore their ramifications (252).

Kurtyka argues that teachers reluctant to give space to bigoted or racist beliefs might consider whether they are practicing metonymic generalization; classrooms, she contends, should be “spaces where beliefs can be disaggregated” and nuances discovered (253). Moreover, she maintains that teachers can recognize that in the “liminal” experience of encountering new concepts, student identities are “in a formational, information-seeking stage,” open to “mov[ing] in many directions,” a process encouraged by sharing views (253). Helping students explore the sources of their beliefs, Kurtyka suggests, is one way to facilitate this growth (251).

She also suggests more research on the emotional burdens involved in the formation and development of political beliefs, citing students’ concerns about relationships with family and friends, burdens which she posits affect women more acutely than they do men (254). In addition, more fruitful research could be done on students’ progress toward threshold concepts outside of academic settings, in which students may be mouthing rather than fully understanding difficult ideas (254). In Kurtyka’s view, the ability to “openly process what’s happening to them” as they enter college can enable conservative students’ progress toward rich engagement with threshold concepts and prevent them from “fall[ing] back on familiar knowledge or retreating to settings where everyone agrees with them” (253).


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Fisch, Audrey A. Multimodal Approach to Class Introductions. TETYC, Dec. 2020. Posted 02/27/2021.

Fisch, Audrey A. “Rethinking Class Introductions.” Teaching English in the Two-Year College 48.2 (2020): 239-49. Print.

In an “Instructional Note,” Audrey A. Fisch proposes an approach to the traditional first-day student introduction process in a first-year writing class. Her assignments focus on students’ achievements and strengths and include a multimodal component.

Fisch cites research arguing that many students suffer from “imposter syndrome” that may even be triggered after the students arrive on college campuses as the academic environment undermines their prior views of themselves (240). Affirming students’ abilities and “belongingness” (240) in the new environment, Fisch reports, is essential to healthy learning (239). Her introduction assignment is designed to promote the kind of classroom community that will support student achievement in the face of the challenges offered by the new environment.

The class represented in Fisch’s discussion took place in 2019 at New Jersey City University, an institution developed as “Hispanic-serving and . . . minority-serving” (240). The student body is diverse, with 19% white, 24% Black, 39% Hispanic, and 8% Asian. Graduation and retention rates for four- and six-year measures are lower than average, and 75% of “first-time, full-time, first-year students” receive Pell Grants (240). Fisch cites as well the logistical challenges facing many students, such as arduous commutes and family and work demands.

The initial component of the “intervention” to promote student confidence and classroom community is a twenty-minute session in which each student interviews a classmate (241-42). Fisch provides specific questions; students may pick which questions to include and may “go off topic” if they wish (241). Questions ask about “personal strengths” and prior achievements as well as “best/favorite academic moments” (241). Further options include opportunities to relate moments facing or overcoming adversity and family pressures related to educational choices (242).

Each student must then generate a ninety-second class introduction to the person they interviewed (242-43). Fisch notes that the ninety-second limit at first may make the report look less threatening but actually serves to encourage students to think about the careful choices required to present a picture in such a short time (242). The students being introduced, in Fisch’s view, have a chance to see themselves as someone who isn’t familiar with them perceives them as a result of the interview.

Following the introductions, students receive a homework assignment to create a ninety-second video about themselves. Students use FlipGrid, a “super easy, free technology” that even people who are not computer experts can use (243). Again, the ninety-second limit creates an incentive to think carefully about what to include, such as “key pieces of one’s story” and “meaningful details” (243). The videos can include “props, music, and setting” to emphasize the information the students wish to project (243).

The videos are discussed and peer-reviewed on the second class day, after which students are asked for “a more traditional college writing task: a reflective writing exercise” (244-45). Fisch provides quotes from several students noting what the students felt they learned from the first two days’ activities. The students quoted report appreciating being able to “open up” to others, to make friends, and to recognize “how unique and how accomplished” they are when asked to examine their pasts in “a positive light.” Students also commented on how the exercise revealed the diversity and individuality of their colleagues and, in one case, how the activity resulted in a sense of the classroom as “one big, creative, and supportive family” (245-46).

Fisch argues that including the video allows students to begin the semester with a mode of communication with which they are already familiar; moreover, the multimodal component “honors students’ prior knowledge” (Christina Saidy, qtd. in Fisch 244) and expands students’ idea of the forms writing can take. Fisch notes that her assignment may help to prepare students for job applications that now often require personal video essays (244).

Fisch believes that her assignments are examples of “[s]mall [i]nterventions” (246) that help students with the “critical leap of imagination” many first-time college students will need to “craft a new, university persona” (239).


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Oleksiak, Timothy. Queer Praxis for Peer Review. CCC, Dec. 2020. Posted 02/17/2021.

Oleksiak, Timothy. “A Queer Praxis for Peer Review.” College Composition and Communication 72.2 (2020): 306-32. Print.

Timothy Oleksiak proposes an approach aligned with queer rhetorical theory to replace the “entrenched” (328) process of student peer review that he feels is not only unproductive in terms of what teachers hope from it but also inimical to helping students achieve what he considers the true role of writing.

Oleksiak argues that current peer review paradigms are inextricably invested in “the improvement imperative” (307); he presents composition scholarship to support his view that teachers almost universally imagine that the routine of “share,” “respond,” and “revise” will produce better writing (306). He notes critical scholarship addressing the ways that many writing professionals find peer review inadequate even on these terms, noting student tendencies to rush the task and teachers’ “undercut[ting]” of the process when they “augment” peer responses and take on the role of final “expert” on the quality of writing by assigning grades (311). 

Theorizing by Peter Elbow and Robert Brooke et al., Oleksiak contends, takes the idea of peer review “in a very good direction” in focusing on how readers feel as they encounter texts rather than on external criteria for “fixing” deficient work (309), but finds that even this work “slips improvement through the back door” (308) by continuing to maintain that such review, as Brooke et al. write, “significantly improves the writing” (qtd. in Oleksiak 309).

The improvement imperative, Oleksiak claims, enacts an ideology in that it presumes that “control and mastery over texts” is a valid goal and privileges “a coherent subject outside of the immediate context” (311). In addition, this focus precludes the practice of “worldmaking,” which Oleksiak considers “the primary concern of writing” (307).

Oleksiak’s concerns about extant peer review processes align with Lauren Berlant’s concept of “cruel optimism,” which focuses on the tendency to retain allegiance to an “object” even when that object is inadequate to deliver the life improvements it promises (312). In Oleksiak’s view, peer review with its promise of improvement, if the process could be corrected effectively, is an example of such an object, one that actually impedes the very progress it supposedly addresses (313). Oleksiak advocates abandoning the optimism embedded in peer review for a process based on “[q]ueer rhetorical listening” that concerns itself with a new approach to “maintaining attachments.” This approach requires relinquishment of widely held conceptions of individual agency in creating a “good life of writing” (313).

Oleksiak draws on Krista Ratcliffe’s theory of “rhetorical listening” but moves beyond it to incorporate “the potentials of queerness” (314). Ratcliffe’s construct, Oleksiak writes, involves “four moves”:

Listeners “understand how texts function on their own terms”;

“Individuals hold themselves and others accountable for the consequences of their words”;

“Individuals seek out meaningful similarities and differences” with attention to context; and

“Individuals explore the cultural logics” that provide meaning for claims. (314)

Oleksiak argues that Ratcliffe’s formulation lacks the worldmaking potential of queer listening in peer review in that it limits the imaginations of interlocutors to  the “immediate context” (316); queer rhetorical listening foregrounds “what (im)possibilities are created through drafts,” inviting consideration of worlds beyond what individual responses might envision (316). Ratcliffe’s rhetorical listening, further, assumes “a coherent subject [who] decides how to employ her agency,” while queer rhetorical listening proposes “a social, communal notion of agency” in which individuals cannot fully understand the circumstances in which they are acting nor predict how their decisions will play out (317). Agency, in this view, arises from the drafts as they are addressed.

For Oleksiak, peer review grounded in queer praxis becomes “slow peer review,” a process that abandons what he theorizes as the neoliberal emphasis on “efficient, market-based solutions” and on a mindset that “overvalues productivity” (317). He explores what he considers a queer sense of time in that in the LGBTQ community, the present is not welcoming and queer time holds onto “both imagined pasts and imagined futures,” searching for “worlds not yet built” (318). Adjunct to this sense of time is queer desire, manifested in Oleksiak’s argument as “cruising,” that is, refusing to “believe texts inherently” but rather “looking for a space for me and for the ways a text shapes my body in new and pleasurable ways” (318). Slow peer review, he maintains, allows students “a way to cruise drafts” (318).

Oleksiak provides specifics of the slow peer review process, including prompts. At each step students read drafts several times and formulate responses only after this slow process. Twelve questions guide the responses, focusing on a “thick description of the world that is being created in this piece of writing,” with emphasis on who would be able to thrive and even survive in that world (319-22). Two more sets of questions guide students in reacting to these responses, with a focus on how the reader’s description of the world created aligns with the world the writer hoped to present (325). In Oleksiak’s view, these activities clarify for students that their words have consequences far beyond the inhabitants of the worlds they posited and even far beyond the lives imagined by the immediate participants. Oleksiak writes, “This is queer” (323).

In slow peer review, the use writers make of the understandings they develop through each others’ drafts is the writer’s choice, even if the responses are not incorporated into further writing. More important than improvement, in Oleksiak’s view, is the generation of “a serious document of effects and affective responses to consider” that demands ethical decisions (326). Oleksiak focuses on the opportunity the process provides for students to share voices while understanding that “writing is never complete” and that the constraining obligation to produce a “perfect” text can be removed (327).

Oleksiak agrees that slow peer review requires adjustments to teachers’ use of time. Not only does the process demand more class time, it also asks teachers to prepare students for complex concepts like cultural logics. Merely handing out the prompts, Oleksiak maintains, will fail (327). While commitment to slow peer review might cut into time for other writing activities, Oleksiak values the process for its queer investment in “reconfigur[ing] normative temporalities” and “checking the forward progress of fast learning” (327). Oleksiak sees these possibilities emerging only in the process of sharing drafts and therefore chooses not to provide an example of slow peer review in action.

Rhetoric and composition, Oleksiak contends, would benefit from using the “backward glances” that have informed his exploration of peer review to examine other accepted practices and to take advantage of queer components such as queer rhetorical listening and the willingness to allow readers to “disengage” from worlds they encounter in texts if these worlds appear “unlivable” to them, albeit not as a sign of failure but rather as “a promise to return” (328). He advocates seeing the purpose of writing as “the ethical negotiation of textual worldmaking activities,” in his view a more productive use of time than the improvement of individual texts (329).


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

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).


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Higgs, Jennifer. K-12 Teachers’ Use of Digital Discussion Tools. RTE, Aug. 2020. Posted 11/27/2020.

Higgs, Jennifer. “Digital Discourse in Classrooms: Language Arts Teachers’ Reported Perceptions and Implementation.” Research in the Teaching of English 55.1 (2020): 32-55. Print.

Jennifer Higgs investigated K-12 teachers’ attitudes toward and uses of digital apps designed to facilitate dialogic discourse in classrooms. Her study suggests a “tension” between teachers’ plans and hopes for such technology and their actual use of it in their courses (43).

The study, conducted in the 2014-15 academic year, examined how teachers implemented Subtext, an “e-reader” used by more than 5600 K-12 “literacy teachers” at the time of the study. The app provides a range of interactive tools as well as opportunities for teachers to organize classroom activities (37). The sample for a Qualtrics survey was taken from a list provided by the company of educators who used the app on a regular basis for at least four weeks (38). Of the 552 surveys submitted from all grade levels, 451 were assessed as “valid” (41). The survey data were augmented with a qualitative case study of the use made of Subtext by “Peter,” an 11-grade English teacher the author met in her previous research. Higgs writes that she chose Peter because he had taken the survey and his responses “mirrored broader trends” in the survey results. Moreover, he had used Subtext for a year and expressed enthusiasm for its value as a teaching tool (39).

Higgs’s queries address theories of literacy and learning that consider “talking to learn” an important contributor to student growth; she cites the work of Vygotsky and Bakhtin as underpinnings for this approach (34-35). In this view, student conversation with diverse classmates encourages the development of ideas and comprehension. “Dialogic” exchanges are theorized to decenter the source of authority by moving to student-centered discourse (35). “[B]road participation” by students is considered essential to the success of this approach (35), as is engagement with “a supportive community for idea exploration and exchange” (36).

Higgs reports that, despite widespread acceptance of the importance of dialogic exchange, teachers have not always been able to fully implement ideal discourse communities in classrooms, with the result that, according to studies, “teacher-dominated talk has remained prevalent across time” (36). For some, Higgs writes, the availability of interactive apps like Subtext seems to offer a way for teachers to overcome some of the challenges that limit their success in encouraging more active dialogue in their classes. She notes research showing such advantages as increased, “ more egalitarian” participation and “more time to form and respond to ideas” (36).

Higgs contends that some advocates for digital discourse tools “ascribe a great deal of agency” to the tools (34), but research also indicates that activities like wikis often underperform, possibly because they don’t accord with embedded classroom organization or teachers’ and students’ understanding of familiar processes (36). Research to address this misfit between teachers’ hopes for the new tools and their actual performance in classrooms, Higgs writes, tends to consist of small-sample studies and to neglect language arts (37). Her study, she argues, pairs a large-scale survey with a more focused examination of the survey’s findings in a single classroom.

Her survey addressed four “constructs”:

  • Teachers’ Reported Classroom Uses for Subtext
  • Teachers’ Reported Reasons for Using Subtext
  • Teachers’ Perceptions of Digital Discourse as a Learning Tool That Encourages Student Participation
  • Teachers’ Perceptions of Affordances and Constraints Associated with a Tool That Supports Digital Discourse

The last two constructs were structured to receive open-ended responses (40).

Analysis of the survey data indicated that teachers tended to see Subtext in terms of its value as a “teacher tool” for managing assignments and activities, a “student tool” for students to use to engage with their reading and the classroom community, and a “digital tool,” that is, a tool with effects resulting specifically from “its digital nature.” For example, a respondent commented on the value of “embedded questions and links” (42).

Higgs’s data suggests that despite believing that Subtext should expand student engagement, teachers most commonly use the app “to assign readings of collective class texts” and to guide students through texts with comments and questions: that is, teachers mostly used Subtext as a “teacher tool” rather than a tool for “student-posed questions” (42). A majority of teachers surveyed responded that they thought the app resulted in more student participation and interaction and gave “shy kids . . . a platform to express ideas” (qtd. in Higgs 45). At the same time, a majority of respondents valued Subtext for its “convenience” and its contribution to “teachers’ productivity” as well as for its usefulness in helping students negotiate the assigned texts through teacher-posed questions and annotations (45). Higgs writes that the teachers “perceiv[ed]” that the digital nature of the app “improved or even transformed learning,” but in their actual uses of its affordances retained a teacher-directed approach (46).

To study Peter’s class, Higgs conducted 300 minutes of observation over five sessions, a 40-minute semi-structured interview, and various informal conversations. She also took extensive field notes and collected 33 threads illustrating class interaction as students read two novels using Subtext (40-41). Peter expressed belief that Subtext was a powerful tool for improving student interaction beyond what was usual in face-to-face classroom discussion (47). The observations and threads led Higgs to conclude that Peter’s use of Subtext accorded with that of the majority of survey respondents in that he primarily used the app to help students improve their ability to read the novels through annotations, modeling, and teacher-posed questions (47). Peter started all threads and student reactions were limited to responses to his original prompt (48). Higgs notes Peter’s “good intentions” but characterizes his results as “more closely aligned with recitation models than dialogic models” (49).

Higgs observes that a truly dialogic discourse community remains elusive even with new digital tools (50). Pointing out that teachers invest considerable time and effort into finding and using the new tools, Higgs rejects the idea that teacher resistance to new technologies is responsible for this result (50). She proposes more research to better understand teachers’ approaches to tools like Subtext and professional development that goes beyond “access to devices” and “decontextualized tutorials that champion frequent use over purposeful use” to encourage more effective uses of the affordances the tools offer (50). She contends that dialogic discourse will not “just happen” but presents challenges regardless of the available tools (51).


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Wecker and Wilde. Hybrid Identities in Dual Enrollment. TETYC, Sept. 2020. Posted 11/12/2020.

Wecker, Erin Costello, and Patty Wilde. “Neither Here nor There: A Study of Dual Enrollment Students’ Hybrid Identities in First-Year Composition.” Teaching English in the Two-Year College 48.1 (2020): 16-43. Print.

Erin Costello Wecker and Patty Wilde report on a qualitative study of the challenges faced by students participating in a “come-to-campus” dual-enrollment program in Washington State (17). For Wecker and Wilde, the “hybridity” demanded by such programs presents specific and “undertheorized” issues for these students (17).

The authors developed a twenty-one item survey consisting of multiple choice and short-answer questions (20). Students targeted were among the 27,000 enrolled in “Running Start” in 2017-2018, a come-to-campus program operating in Washington State community and technical colleges as well as in a number of four-year institutions. A sizable majority of the 784 students who responded enrolled at two-year colleges. Running Start is tuition-free but requires students to pay textbook costs and fees. Juniors and seniors who qualify may take all their high-school credits at the colleges or may enroll part-time (17).

The authors review previous scholarship on dual-enrollment programs, noting the “mixed” conclusions about its effectiveness for both the high-school students and the regularly enrolled students, some of whom may feel that the younger students hold the class back (19). The authors describe first-year composition, on which their study focused, as a course that attracts “an astonishing number” of dual enrollments (17). They report that programs in which most of the courses are taught in the high schools have received the most attention but argue that come-to-campus programs like Running Start deserve study (18), in particular as such programs heighten students’ sense of the ‘“and/not’ identity” that emerged as an important factor in students’ survey responses (17).

Extant critiques of programs like Running Start reviewed by the authors note questions about “[c]ognitive readiness” (18), with indications that the most successful students taking classes on campus are “exceptional: academically inclined and highly motivated” (19). Worries about “[a]ge-appropriate content,” for the authors, raise questions about whether younger students really are capable of being introduced to the true college environment that come-to-campus programs promote (19). Younger students’ social skills may also be inappropriate for the campus setting, with complaints about “horseplay,” loud voices, and lack of respect for adults (20)

The authors argue that the student voices in their survey add to these concerns the “gravity of identity,” which, in the case of dual enrollment, is exacerbated by hybrid status (21). Although in Washington State, professors do not know which of their students are participating in Running Start, Wecker and Wilde report that the students themselves are very aware of their vexed identity. In the authors’ view, identity issues raised in the hybrid context can affect students’ academic progress, including their negotiation of a writing classroom (21-22).

Financial challenges such as expenses for books, fees, and transportation, the authors write, emphasize to the students surveyed how they are both like other college students, yet unlike them. High-school students may not have cars or funds for parking meters. Moreover, some may lose eligibility for social services like reduced-cost lunches and now must pay for on-campus meals (23). The authors note that “low-income students comprised fewer than five percent” of the 2016-17 cohort (23).

For Wecker and Wilde, concern about access to “support services” also defines Running Start enrollees as lacking full identity in the college context (23). They write that in secondary contexts, support is liberally provided by the state; for example, disability assessments and accommodations are institutionalized (24). College students must take on a more “proactive” role in obtaining help they need. Students reported trouble finding adequate advising (24) and wished for more comprehensive orientations as they entered the program (25). One wrote that “there are so many resources available that I never even knew were available” (qtd. in Wecker and Wilde 25).

A particular concern for the writing classroom are the impediments to connection and community that the authors discover. Although their status is not revealed to professors and classmates, the students evinced worry about their age being detected and becoming a grounds for unequal treatment, even “ire” (26). Students reported losing the connections they had had with their high school friends and not replacing those connections in the college classroom, feeling, for example, they could not ask other students quick questions as easily when they needed help, nor could they easily find study partners (27). Students commented on their inability to form relationships when they could not share in conversations about children, jobs, or mortgages (28). The authors argue that this lack of connection troubles community-building efforts in writing classrooms.

The survey comments document concerns about the ways in which workloads, pace, and type of instruction also call attention to the Running Start students’ sense of displacement. Students who are accustomed to being able to work toward assignments over an academic year report struggling to fit the same amount of work into a ten- or fifteen-week college term (29), and note the loss of explicit instruction, such as specific formats for essays and step-by-step guidance (30-31). The authors posit that skipping two years of high school instruction, as some students do, leaves a “gap” in their efforts to acquire the skills the college environment demands (30). They suggest that composition instructors can help these students negotiate their hybridity by “better acquaint[ing] themselves with the high school English curriculum” (31).

Rather than a “checklist” of specific ideas for action, the authors present “dynamic reflections that can evolve in concert with all of our students” (31; emphasis original). They argue that more attention to the identities dual enrollment students bring to classrooms does not require “bespoke curricula or dilution of academic rigor” in order to improve these students’ experiences; rather, they contend, better understanding of these students aligns with the goal of inclusivity and of recognizing the identities all students bring to classrooms (32). Similarly, regular inclusion of information about support services, in the authors’ view, would be useful to all students. Continued or expanded commitment to community-building in the composition classroom, they write, also enhances the environment for all concerned (32-33).

 The authors urge more active partnerships between secondary and postsecondary institutions, proposing professional development aimed at improving understanding of the identities that dual enrollment fosters in order to change an adaptation they believe these students may perceive as a loss into a “net gain” for all (33).


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Wootton, Lacey. Truth-Telling by NTT Faculty as Parrhesiastes.

Wootton, Lacey. “The Affordances of Governance Structures for the Non-Tenure-Track Parrhesiastes.” Forum: Issues about Part-Time and Contingent Faculty 24.1 (2020): A10-A16. Print.

Writing in the Fall 2020 Forum: Issues about Part-Time and Contingent Faculty, Lacey Wootton argues that non-tenure-track (NTT) faculty should consider the rhetorical practice parrhesia, “speaking frankly,” especially in contexts of unequal power. She writes that parrhesia can be grounded in existing institutional structures where it can enhance faculty’s ability to foreground important and often unwelcome truths.

Wootton explores three different interpretations of parrhesia. In that of Michel Foucault, the parrhesiaste’s first allegiance is to the truth, a stance that may lead to risk and lost relationships but which is necessary if speaking truth can play its “disruptive and critical” role (A12). Kristen Kennedy’s interpretation, Wootton writes, draws on Cynic rhetoric; in this manifestation, the use of parrhesia is linked to kairos and context in that it can be an effective move if its “ethical imperative to speak” signals the inequity of the spaces it disrupts (qtd. in Wootton A12). Not only the speech itself but also the rhetor’s visibility in the particular setting calls out the exclusionary nature of the setting on which it intrudes.

Wootton also cites Arthur E. Walzer, for whom the truth enacted by parrhesia can be  delivered with “artifice and guile . . . that allow the truth to be heard and the relationship to be maintained” (A12).

Wootton contends that institutional structures in academia can provide a context in which parrhesia is appropriate and in fact invited. When NTT faculty hold positions, often appointed ones, on committees and other institutionalized bodies, parrhesia becomes a manifestation of their acknowledged role (A13). These positions within an institution’s accepted hierarchy can constitute the “standing” necessary for effective  intervention, in Foucault’s formulation (A13).

A risk for parrhesiastes who adopt this strategy is that of losing “one’s allegiance to the outsider agenda” and instead settling into “business as usual” (A13). In Wootton’s view, a commitment to parrhesia’s role as truth-telling can undergird the courage necessary to disrupt norms.

Wootton accentuates a need for “political intelligence and structural understanding” for NTT faculty working to move within an institution’s governance environment (A14). She advises that finding pathways into the structural spaces that supply standing requires attention to local conditions; although structural opportunities for participation are often embedded in faculty manuals and other written policies, Wootton writes that “one can’t fully understand local politics” through such documents alone (A14). NTT faculty must work through a “long, incremental process” that may begin with filling in gaps in committees at the department level, “not displacing tenure-line faculty, but rather supplementing their work” (A15).

Such persistence, she argues, foregrounds the power of parrhesia as “presence”: In itself, the figure of the truth-teller confronting risk for the sake of the greater good through the “expected rhetorical behaviors” (A 13) of “codified structures” can disrupt oppressive norms (A 14).


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Gold et al. A Survey of Students’ Online Practices. CCC, Sept. 2020. Posted 10/19/2020.

Gold, David, Jathan Day, and Adrienne E. Raw. “Who’s Afraid of Facebook? A Survey of Students’ Online Writing Practices.” College Composition and Communication 72.1 (2020): 4-30. Print.

David Gold, Jathan Day, and Adrienne E. Raw contend that qualitative research on students’ online writing practices could fruitfully be supplemented with quantitative studies of these practices. They argue that such research is needed to fill gaps in teachers’ knowledge of where students write online, for whom and for what purpose, and what rhetorical challenges they face in these spaces (7).

In fall 2018, the authors conducted a twenty-eight item survey at a large public Midwestern university (7). They sent the survey to a random sample of students, then followed up by enlisting the help of writing instructors in both first-year and upper-level courses. Respondents numbered 803, with 58.5% female, 18.3% first-generation college students, 66.2% (of 687 responses) white, 16.9% Asian American, 4.4% Black, 3.6% Latinx, 0.6% Native American or Pacific Islander, 8.3% two or more categories. Like the university’s general population, 73.1% report family income higher than the U.S. median for 2017 (7).

The authors maintain that their survey provides more fine-grained information than is usual in national surveys, which they state do not investigate the “myriad writing activities for multiple purposes” in which students may take part (4). They also write that their survey extends language arts research that tends to focus on a few of the more well-known sites; their survey asks about eleven different venues: Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn, blogs, discussion forums, news/magazine sites, Wikipedia, and user review sites (8).

The information they gather, in their view, is important to writing teachers because it offers insight into potential misconceptions that may guide assignment decisions. Beyond lack of knowledge as to where students actually participate, assignments may incorrectly assume student familiarity with certain sites (8), or teachers may assume students have more expertise than they actually have (12). The authors note that students are often asked to write on blogs, but very few of their respondents report having an account on a blog (9). Assignments, the authors state, make little use of more widely used sites like Snapchat, perhaps assuming they are “mere photo-sharing tool[s],” raising the possibility that composition should address the rhetorical aspects of such activities (9).

The authors also contend that more specific knowledge of how and why students do or do not write online can further what they see as a goal of composition as a field: furthering participation in civil or public rhetoric, including engagement on controversial topics (13, 15). Their results show that while instructors encourage contributions to blogs, they make little use of Snapchat and Instagram, which at the date of the research were “extremely popular” (9). Awareness of such disparities, in the authors’ view, can aid teachers making assignment decisions.

Gold et al. provide tables showing the data from their analyses. Examining “Spaces for Writing (and Not Writing) (8), the authors find that although most of their respondents had accounts at multiple sites, they wrote less on these sites than might be expected (8): “[D]igital ‘participatory’ culture may not be as participatory as we imagine” (11). Students were much more likely to read than to write, with “responding” as a “middle ground” (11). Snapchat elicited the most writing, with sites like blogs and discussion forums the least. Gold et al. suggest increased attention to both photo-sharing and the process of responding to understand the rhetorical environment offered by these activities (11-12).

Results for “Purposes and Audiences for Writing” (12) indicate that students most commonly use online communication to “maintain relationships with family and friends.” A second fairly common purpose was “developing personal or professional identity” (14). Most students surveyed “never” share creative work or “information or expertise,” and never enter into debates on controversial subjects (14).

Analyzing audiences, the authors propose four categories: family and friends; “members of an affinity space” like one designed to share recreational, political, or cultural activities; “members of a professional community,” which might include networking; and “fellow citizens or the general public” (13-14). The authors found that majorities of the students in their sample “never” wrote for any of the last three audiences (15).

The authors found that the more platforms students frequented, the more likely they were to write, suggesting that supporting the use of a wider range of sites might lead to greater proficiency across genres and audiences (16). Students exhibited a definite sense of what different sites were suited for, agreeing that blogs and discussion forums were appropriate for debate on controversies, but also almost never contributing to such sites (17).

Gold et al. write that while there has been much discourse about how students are presumed to write online, there has been less attention to the reasons they do not write (19). Noting the problems often associated with posting on public sites like Facebook and Twitter, such as bullying and shaming (19), Gold et al. focus on five reasons for resistance to writing that have emerged in research, the one most commonly indicated being concern over how “intended readers” might react (20).

Sizable majorities also resisted posting because of fear their contributions might reach unintended audiences; fear that posts would be online “forever”; worry that they lacked the authority to contribute; and “lack of skill” in a given venue (21). The student’s degree of “platform expertise” did not affect these responses.

Pointing out that all writers, including teaching professionals, make choices as to whether to edit or simply delete a drafted post, the authors posit that for students, the preferred decision to delete may represent “lost opportunities to engage with an interlocutor or audience” (21). Suggesting that these “affective components” militating against increased engagement may be “persistent features” of online writing in general, the authors urge teachers to consider these disincentives in designing online assignments (21).

The authors argue for the value of quantitative research both for the detailed information it can provide and for its potential to generate qualitative inquiry (22). They acknowledge limitations of any instrument, including the problem of capturing change, noting that as they wrote, Tiktok was emerging to compete with other popular sites (22). They advocate more detailed quantitative research with larger and more varied samples to explore such findings from their study as a lack of correlation between demographic variables and responses to their questions (23). They cite ongoing work on what constitutes “publics” as beneficial to students, who, they maintain, “have much to gain from writing in a wider variety of spaces for a richer range of purposes and audiences” (24).


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Kahn, Seth. Devaluing Teaching. CE, July 2020. Posted 09/22/2020.

Kahn, Seth. “We Value Teaching Too Much to Keep Devaluing It.” College English 82.6 (2020): 591-611. Print.

Addressing issues in English/writing studies related to teaching versus research and the professional and labor concerns connected to those issues, Seth Kahn points to a rhetorical tendency in the field that he contends asserts the importance of teaching while often “unwittingly” (608) or “inadvertently” (603) contributing to its devaluation. Of concern to Kahn in particular is the degree to which this often implicit devaluation comes to the attention of decision-makers who are already inclined to denigrate teachers and exploit vulnerable populations (609).

Kahn argues that writing studies has produced a rich scholarly literature on effective teaching that demonstrates how the field is “anchor[ed]” in classroom practice (594), but in his view, this scholarship does not find its way to administrators and politicians who affect educational budgets and priorities (591). Rather, these policy makers are more likely to encounter documents like collective bargaining agreements, departmental personnel policies, social media posts, and articles in widely shared public venues like The Chronicle of Higher Education (CHE) and Inside Higher Ed (IHE) (591). In Kahn’s view, even well-meaning discussions in such publications encourage audiences to see teaching as less valuable than other academic activities (595).

Kahn contends that assertions and actions meant to demonstrate how the field “values” teaching often undercut their own claims when they rely on ambiguous meanings of “value.” “[C]atered monthly lunches to talk about responding to student writing,” he asserts, “don’t pay the rent” (593). He writes that participating in a “discourse of teaching devaluation” (595) even as positions that “usually require more teaching” (597) become more common both undercuts work toward labor equity and damages public perceptions of academia as a whole.

Kahn sees differences in compensation as clear messages to policy makers that the field does not truly value teaching. He contends that even important scholarship on labor issues shies away from questions of compensation (594); he also reports that responses to most of the proposals in the 2016 CCCC Statement on Working Conditions for Non-Tenure-Track Writing Faculty were “generally positive” but that the call for a minimum of $7,350 per course was “not popular” and deemed “impossible” because non-tenured faculty might out-earn their tenured colleagues. Kahn argues that any tenured faculty member making less than an adjunct teaching eight courses “was also being underpaid,” denoting a larger problem than adjunct pay per se (598).

Kahn points to data revealing that faculty who “just teach” earn less at all levels from those assumed to do research and perform other academic tasks, both within institutions and across types of institutions. His sources reveal that faculty at master’s, four-year, and two-year institutions where faculty are often expected to teach more make less than faculty at doctoral universities (596-97). He notes that institutions rationalize providing lower compensation for teaching faculty by asserting that they are asked for fewer “commitments” (597). Kahn argues that such programs simultaneously acknowledge that participation in teaching-related scholarship would improve teaching (597); he proposes that faculty in lesser-ranked institutions are often active scholars whose research may well outperform that of their better-paid counterparts (598).

In Kahn’s view, institutional policies in which teaching loads increase because of faculty’s “failure” to publish at prescribed levels and the use of phrases like “release time” to do research cast teaching as “punishment” (598-600). He argues further that severing teaching and research often means that faculty whose positions primarily entail teaching are denied the resources to do scholarship at all (598), even though the field claims to be committed to research for and by teachers (595).

Although contending that questions about the value of teaching are distinct from debates about tenure, Kahn locates in IHE and CHE a discourse on tenure and promotion that addresses labor and equity issues only as they pertain to research-intensive positions, with teaching-intensive positions rhetorically erased (602, 606). Kahn argues that this focus on only one faculty cadre elides the fact that it is possible to “build a successful academic career” without feeling overwhelmed by research-heavy demands (602). Such rhetorical framing, he claims, by “generalizing” about the “unimportance” of teaching in an academic setting (602), reduces it to an “[a]fterthought” (600).

Kahn finds the denigration of teaching visible in an article in CHE about recruiting English majors. Distinguishing between the content of such articles and the way they are framed, Kahn finds the idea of encouraging faculty with “expertise in material representative of the English major [to] teach general-education courses” an “interesting concept” (604). However, he writes, not only does the framing imply that the non-tenure-track faculty already teaching the courses would not possess the requisite expertise, it casts such courses as “service courses” that would be a “burden” and moves on to argue for incentives like bonuses to already highly paid faculty (603-04). Such approaches instruct policy makers that “faculty who teach primarily lower-division courses are lesser,” thus “mak[ing] them easier to exploit” (604).

He further notes how subtextual denigration of certain kinds of teaching finds its way into mainstream discussions by analyzing the framing of a news article in IHE on a study of teachers’ motivations for teaching well. He writes that the reporter ignores the limitations acknowledged by the study authors, including the failure to include any two-year-college faculty, and instead presents “faculty ‘generally’ as people who need more motivation to teach well” (606). In Kahn’s view, this generalization erases “those many thousands of us who primarily identify as teachers” (606).

Further examples from CHE and IHE illustrate Kahn’s view that substantive issues can be addressed without devaluing teaching, for example by pointing to structural issues rather than the commitment and ability of adjuncts as explanations for the problems contingent labor poses for students (607). Kahn argues that taking more care not to devalue teaching and the colleagues who do it may not address “the regime of neoliberalism” and its attendant effects, but it is “easy to do right now” and a necessary condition for any of the more extensive goals (607). He makes three “calls”:

  • Be quieter when denigrating any teaching
  • Be louder about valuing all teaching
  • Try to stop other people from denigrating teaching (606; emphasis original)

He writes,

When you denigrate teaching labor, you may not feel like you’re bashing teaching but the effect is the same: You make it easier for people who want to de-professionalize us to do it.

Please stop. (609)


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Zdenek, Sean. Centering Disability Studies in Composition and Technical Communication. CE, May 2020. Posted 08/28/2020.

Zdenek, Sean. “Transforming Access and Inclusion in Composition Studies and Technical Communication.” College English 82.5 (2020): 536-44. Print.

Writing in a special edition of College English on “Transdiciplinary Connections in Composition Studies and Technical and Professional Communication,” Sean Zdenek argues for the transformational effects of disability studies on issues of access and inclusion in both fields. Zdenek cites scholarship from both composition studies (CS) and technical and professional communication (TPC) to argue that they share the goal of moving beyond both “add-and-stir” methods of addressing disability and the view of access as synonymous with “consumption” (537, 539). Central to both areas, Zdenek proposes, is disruption of norms in which disability is the marked condition to be accommodated as an individual problem.

Central to critiques in both CS and TPC is the common practice of dealing with disability as an “add-on” or “afterthought” rather than as a basic foundation for access. Rather, in this view, disability should be a governing principle addressed “from the start” (537). Scholars cited by Zdenek see inclusion of disability studies as a “bridge” between TPC and CS because it speaks to crucial concepts inherent in rhetorical interactions, such as “adaptation, creativity, community, interdependency, technological ingenuity and modal fluency” (Tara Wood et al., qtd. in Zdenek 538).

Zdenek finds “theoretical foundations” for centering disability studies in the work of CS scholars who focus not just on the need to improve inclusion but more importantly on the importance of reimagining the “norms” and assumptions governing questions about access (537). Brewer et al. advocate for “a culture of access,” citing the Computers and Composition Digital Press and the Composing Access Project as examples of how such a culture could develop (538). TPC, Zdenek writes, can provide “practical interventions” and “expertise in workplace practices and interface design” (536), which he believes should align with CS’s values as the field moves beyond the classroom and embraces understandings of communication beyond the “printed page” (538).

Both fields, he argues, can find transformation through centering disability studies; for example, TPC, he says, tends to imagine “users” as able-bodied and to tacitly endorse an untenable “hierarchy” separating “‘normal’ and ‘assistive’ technology” (539). Zdenek quotes Jason Palmeri to argue that in fact, “all technologies are assistive” (qtd. in Zdenek 539).

Zdenek traces extant “overlap” between TPC and CS on issues of more inclusive access and encourages collaborative research into these topics (539-40). Important to both fields is the “consumer/producer binary” in which enabling participation is overshadowed by strategies to facilitate passive consumption. A disability-centered focus, in this view, would foreground the need to make communicative action easier for all users. Zdenek contends that TPC can offer CS effective critiques of technology as well as “interventions grounded in rhetorical and design principles that strive to build more accessible digital media and user experiences” (540).

In Zdenek’s view, disability studies has resisted critiquing “computer technology” (540). He suggests practices in TPC that further such critique while building the culture of access, such as “perform[ing] usability studies with diverse users” and “interven[ing] . . . through web accessibility audits and digital retrofitting,” among other practices (540-41). More inclusion of people with disabilities at all levels of research and participation, in Zdenek’s view, is essential to these efforts (541).

As an examples of an area he sees as a space for research and collaboration, Zdenek cites “caption studies,” which he argues “cuts across and unites our diverse fields” (541). Similarly, he proposes attention to the challenges of producing adequate “alt-text” and “image recognition projects,” which he sees as driven by the “values of automation, efficiency, surveillance, profit, and ableism” (541).

Ultimately, he contends, critical disability studies should be a “methodology” that is “not (exclusively) a study of disabled people” (Sami Schalk, qtd. in Zdenek 542), but rather a theoretical approach that centers the reduction of stigmatization and bias. CS and TPC, Zdenek writes, “are more alike than different” in their commitment to this goal (542).