Paper Proposal for Great Plains Computers and Writing Conference

The weekend of April 23-25, there's going to be a joint conference of the Red River Conference on World Literature and the Great Plains Alliance for Computers and Writing. For the latter, I've decided to submit the paper I wrote for my genre theory class last semester. Here's the proposal I sent:

Making the Adjunct Visible: Normativity in Academia and Subversive Heteroglossia in the Invisible Adjunct Weblog Community

In recent years, weblogs have evolved from a form used mostly by web designers and computer programmers to a cultural phenomenon used and analyzed by journalists, popular culture scholars, and rhetoricians. In this paper, I use a Foucaultian and Bakhtinian framework to examine one academic weblog, Invisible Adjunct, which takes as its primary topic adjuncts and academic labor, vis-à-vis the discourse about adjuncts and academic labor in The Chronicle of Higher Education. The tone in the Chronicle essays tends to range from resigned to the current state of academic labor, to libertarian individualism (i.e., “you made this choice; you knew what you were getting into when you got a Ph.D.; this is what you get”), to “I'm an adjunct by choice, and I am fulfilled by it.” This discourse in the Chronicle is a genre that upholds the institutional status quo, with its emphasis on bootstrap rhetoric, adjunct “success” stories in the academy (e.g. adjunct as entrepreneur), and a lack of institutional critique or serious calls or plans for institutional reform. As a result, adjuncts are made to feel disenfranchised, personally responsible for why they occupy their rank in the hierarchy. To an extent, they start to identify with the discursive category “adjunct,” which suggests Foucault's normalization at work (Sawicki, 1991, p. 85). Invisible Adjunct shows what happens when the other talks back to the institution.

Instead of the success stories or “good enough” stories about adjuncts we see in the Chronicle, the discourse on Invisible Adjunct focuses almost exclusively on adjuncts and postacademics who express their anger at the current state of the institution of higher education. In contrast to the bootstraps, personal responsibility rhetoric in the Chronicle, criticism is aimed squarely at the institution and, unlike the Chronicle, the genre is less institutionalized; in other words, while the stories in the Chronicle are selected by the editors and more ideological gatekeeping takes place, the utterances on Invisible Adjunct are moderated by the Invisible Adjunct only, thus allowing for other arguments to be made and other critiques to be put forth.

The discussions at Invisible Adjunct usually involve the identification of problems in the academic job market and how the insitution exacerbates these problems, then brainstorming of institutional reform measures. The main problem discussed is, of course, the exploitation of part-time instructors, with the accompanying lack of job security, excessive teaching load, and low pay. They critique the “overproduction of Ph.D.s,” the admission of a number of graduate students that is disproportionate to the number of available tenure-track positions in their fields, so that the institution will have graduate students in addition to part-time instructors to teach lower-level classes. The posters at Invisible Adjunct also critique the institutional normativity that requires people, especially women, to either forego having children or have fewer children than they want.

In this paper, I do not intend to claim that the weblog is always an emancipatory, populist genre. Like any genre, it can be used to serve multiplicitous and competing interests, but due to its affordances, in this case particularly the ability to bring like-minded academics together to have these conversations, it furthers an emancipatory agenda.

I've already sent the paper in its entirety to IA and am very excited to hear her comments and suggestions. If you've got some, I'd like to hear those too.