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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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Rodrigo and Romberger. Roles of “Writing Program Technologists.” C&C June 2017. Posted 07/25/2017.

Rodrigo, Rochelle, and Julia Romberger. “Managing Digital Technologies in Writing Programs: Writing Program Technologists and Invisible Service.” Computers and Composition 44 (2017): 67-82. Web. 13 July 2017.

Rochelle Rodrigo and Julia Romberger discuss their concerns that the work done in writing programs by faculty with expertise in technology is often not recognized by programs or institutions. To highlight this issue, they interviewed 23 faculty at the 2012 Computers and Writing Conference (72). Because the data consisted of “detailed anecdotes,” the authors consider their project a “phenomenological study to learn about what is going on in the field” and to determine whether the issue of recognition for technology experts merits investigation (79). They contend that the degree to which digital modes have become central to writing instruction makes the issue worth further study.

The authors create the designation “Writing Program Technologist” (WPT) for “faculty who have scholarly expertise in various technologies” (67-68). They see the role of such faculty as in part a labor issue in that much of the work needed to support digital spaces falls under “service” rather than research or teaching (70); Writing Studies, they argue, has not fully examined what is involved when particular faculty play supporting roles in programs that incorporate online and digital learning (68).

Rodrigo and Romberger locate what they consider a “gap” (68) in scholarship in a set of pervasive cultural and rhetorical perspectives on technology. In these views, technology is a neutral tool to which work can be “handed over” (Carolyn Miller, qtd. in Rodrigo and Romberger 68). The tool itself acquires authority that can override human agency and knowledge (69); even though it is considered “basic, like the hammer” (77), it is at the same time often seen as “magical,” with the human effort needed to produce and sustain it hidden from common view (69).

Rodrigo and Romberger detect a shift in revisions of outcomes documents from the Council of Writing Program Administrators in which technology moves from being “a separate plank” to an “infusion of technological awareness and expertise throughout the statement” (69). In their view, this infusion increases the need for explicit articulation of WPT work, which, they contend, does not appear in either the 1998 CCCC Promotion and Tenure Guidelines for Work with Technology nor the 2015 update (68).

The authors note a range of WPT activities, from informal help for other faculty to setting up and maintaining networked classrooms and other spaces for digital writing. They write that faculty not engaged specifically in WPT work do not always realize that technology presents “a moving target” (68) as software and devices evolve regularly and WPTs must remain up to date. They note that the documentation necessary to formally account for the variety of services WPTs perform “added another layer of work” to unspecified duties already performed (78) and therefore might not be undertaken; only 4 interviewees reported doing “any sort of accounting” of their labor (73). As an aid to WPTs working to make their contributions visible and valued, the authors point to the history of the position of writing program administrator (WPA) and efforts to ensure that activities related to this position are recognized as intellectual work (72).

Of the 23 interviewees, only nine had formal job titles, with WPT assignments often overlapping with a designation as WPA (73), a reflection, the authors state, of the growing importance of digital modes within some programs. WPT work, the interviews note, did not end when appointments as WPAs ended (73).

Types of compensation varied from stipends to course releases to resource allocation (73-74). The study uncovered less tangible forms of compensation as well. Interviewees addressed rewards accruing from increased contact and influence across their campuses as they served on committees with decision-making power (74). One interview noted the agency provided by the expertise:

There’s a great power in being a volunteer that we tend to underestimate because you get to choose your projects. You’re accountable for only the things you want to be accountable for. So that, I don’t know how much I would want to be compensated. (qtd. in Rodrigo and Romberger 75)

Apropos of this kind of response, Rodrigo and Romberger note a concern that WPTs can be highly intrinsically motivated to take on the extra duties their expertise permits and that this motivation can be seen by some both within and outside of the WPT community as reward enough (76). WPTs take on tasks that enable their own work as well as that of fellow faculty (74). Desires for compensation, in these cases, focused on acquiring the “space,” “time,” and “resource support” to achieve individual and scholarly goals (74-75).

Citing Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of cultural capital, the authors work to chart the accumulation of both positive and negative forms but find quantifying this accumulation difficult (77). Interviewees who report increased status because of their cross-campus networking are balanced by those who find their expertise being taken advantage of. Some interviewees felt that colleagues did not fully understand what they did (77).

Rodrigo and Romberger write that the value assigned to WPT work and the sense of appreciation and recognition expressed by the WPTs themselves is “highly contextual,” dependent on the particular configuration of the program involved as well as on the status of the WPT him- or herself; non-tenure-track or contingent faculty reported negative experiences that the authors link specifically to their positions within the institution (76-77). The authors did not collect data that allowed them to compare experiences across different institutions because “individual contexts would be too variable and anecdotes too likely to be traceable back to a particular individual at a particular institution” (73). Further research might include such data.

Rodrigo and Romberger detect changes in the role of WPTs as digital work becomes more diffuse across campuses; some of their interviewees report evidence of a shift from “a support worker” to a role within “the decision making infrastructure” (78). Although the authors encourage providing job descriptions, titles, and documentation for WPT work as such changes develop, some interviewees report that such descriptions actually limit the work they want to do (78). The authors suggest, finally, that “[t]he closely related, sometimes overlapping, work between the WPT and the WPA means that carefully mapping both jobs and the relationships between them might benefit both individuals” (78).

 


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DeStigter, Todd. Critique of Argumentative Writing as Dominant Academic Mode. RTE, August 2015. Posted 09/02/2015.

DeStigter, Todd. “On the Ascendance of Argument: A Critique of the Assumptions of Academe’s Dominant Form.” Research in the Teaching of English 50.1 (2015): 11-34. Print.

Todd DeStigter raises concerns about the predominant focus on argumentative writing in college and increasingly in high school, as the authors of the Common Core State Standards join composition scholars in declaring argumentation an essential skill.

DeStigter’s response to the emphasis on argument grew out of his experiences at a high school in a Mexican/Mexican-American area in Chicago. An English teacher/assistant principal there enlisted DeStigter’s help in an initiative to require all students to take AP English and Composition; in the teacher’s view, this curriculum revision would address the inequity faced by students who historically had not had adequate preparation for college. DeStigter’s involvement developed into “three semesters of ethnographic research,” including observations and tutoring in two AP classes (12).

DeStigter recounts that the high school’s effort to better prepare the students for college and careers reflected national trends in emphasizing argumentative writing. He quotes the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers, authors of the Common Core State Standards, as they urge attention to “students’ ability to write sound arguments on substantive topics and issues” (qtd. in DeStigter 12). Research by James Warren supports DeStigter’s claim that argument is becoming “the dominant mode” in both high school and college (qtd. in DeStigter 12). DeStigter argues for a shift from asking how to teach argument more effectively to asking why argument is given such prominence and what follows from this emphasis (13).

Although agreeing that compositionists recognize the diverse forms argument can take, that argumentative writing is not per se “harmful,” and that no “either/or choice” is called for (13; emphasis original), he reports detecting three assumptions about such writing: that it “promotes clear and critical thinking,” that it develops skill in the “rational deliberation . . . essential for a democratic citizenry,” and that it provides “a form of cultural capital that facilitates [students’] upward academic and socioeconomic mobility” (13). Though noting the “irony” that he is using the conventions of argument to challenge the “overemphasis on argumentative writing” (31n3), he critiques these assumptions.

In his view, the idea that reasoned argument reflects the clearest thinking derives from Descartes and Kant and their contentions that it is possible to arrive at knowable truth outside of context and contingency via evidence and logical connections. DeStigter links this belief in the efficacy of formally structured argument to lead to best decisions to the “coherence theory of truth,” which valorizes discourse that meets agreed-upon standards of self-consistency and integration, and to the “correspondence theory of truth,” in which a well-formed discursive product is assumed to mirror an autonomous entity out in the world. DeStigter argues that decisions as to what counts as reason and effective structure are themselves discursive products, Foucauldian “regimes of truth” (18) created and valorized by people “who are in a position to make and enforce such designations” (19).

He again cites Kant as a source for the view that “rational deliberation” is the ideal process to further democracy. He reviews philosophers and critics like Hannah Arendt, John Rawls, and Jurgen Habermas (22) who posit that a society in which individual interests can be bracketed and all stakeholders can participate as equals results in the “egalitarian reciprocity” necessary for democracy (Seyla Benhabib, qtd. in DeStigter 22). DeStigter responds that people do not have equal access to the public sphere and that even “overwhelming evidence” routinely surrenders to the “values and prejudices” through which people filter claims (22).

Moreover, DeStigter maintains, true change seldom follows from deliberative discussions but from activism and solidarity. He introduces the concept of “democracy’s edges proposed by Ian Shapiro and Casiano Hacker-Cordón (23): This concept attempts to identify those forced to the margins of the democratic process, but for DeStigter, it also refers to what kinds of action and speech get defined out of the process. He gives examples of actions that approach “a line” that, if rational deliberation is the standard, renders them “irrational, and therefore illegitimate,” like refusing to move to the back of the bus or occupying government buildings. “[M]ore agonistic or even revolutionary models” of interaction, he contends, may be necessary to bring about changes that will truly foster democracy.

Finally, he challenges the contention that learning to write arguments will promote students’ social mobility. He details two students at the high school who, although excellent argumentative writers, find college costs daunting and the job market unresponsive (25). These examples and others illustrate DeStigter’s resistance to the long-lived idea that more and better education will spur a stronger economy (25-26). While acknowledging that individual students may escape poverty through education, he argues that for most students like those he studied, “being prepared for higher education is not the same as having a realistic opportunity to attend college” (26). But even if cost were no issue, he maintains, the possibility that a college education will provide the “cultural capital” necessary for socioeconomic mobility is based on “educators’ widespread misappropriation” of the work of Pierre Bourdieu (26).

According to DeStigter, Bourdieu recognized three kinds of “capital”: cultural (knowing how to behave), social (having access to opportunities for advancement), and economic (having money) (26-27). Central to DeStigter’s critique is Bourdieu’s clear assertion that “economic capital is at the root of all other types of capital” (qtd. in DeStigter 27), and thus that possession of economic capital determines people’s ability to acquire the other kinds. In contrast to the idea that providing students with literacy will open the door to the “culture of power” (Lisa Delpit, qtd. in DeStigter 28), DeStigter cites Bourdieu’s claim that hope for a more egalitarian society depends on subverting dominant power structures rather than emulating them (28).

Accepting the view that schools can influence “systemic” economic dysfunction, DeStigter contends, feeds a tendency to “blame schools” during downturns and invites privatization (29). Further, assigning such power to education encourages the meritocratic view that economic hardship results from a lack of individual intelligence or effort in school (29).

Finally, DeStigter concludes that

the ascendance of argument limits our understandings of who we humans are and what we are capable of because it attends to only a tiny part of the communicative spectrum we occupy. . . . [W]e writing teachers must safeguard opportunities in our curricula and pedagogy to gather ourselves and our students into conversations in which we seek not just to scrutinize, critique, and refute, but to share and be receptively present with others. (30-31)