Rhetoric

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Say it with me: People, not pipelines!

I know that gasoline will help people get out, and these two are not mutually exclusive, but still: Is anyone else watching Bush's speech? How much time did he spend talking about the people? How much talking about the oil industry?

"It don't matter. None of this matters." Or, composition pedagogy and Ritter's article on plagiarism

Yeah, it has taken me a LONG time to add something to this conversation. Consider this a prelude to my actual post about Kelly Ritter's article, "The Economics of Authorship: Online Paper Mills, Student Writers, and First-Year Composition" (CCC 56:4 601-631).

But first, I have to get something off my chest. Somehow, we started calling this thing a Rhetoric Carnival. I had originally suggested that we do something like a seminar or carnival, but really what we're doing is far more a seminar than a carnival or a carnival, conference program. Actually I don't care what we call it; I just don't want anyone to think I don't know the difference between the two. I know it's stupid, but still.

Okay, other posts: Rebecca and Mike have posted already; their stuff is well worth reading. Also, Brendan's comic kept popping into my head at various times during the article.

Now, to the article. For those who aren't Aqua Teen fans, you'll have to go here, or better yet, rent season 2, disc 1 and watch "Mail Order Bride"; I've just given you the perfect excuse. The frame below comes from a scene in that episode. I find the scene a fitting metaphor for [writing within] the rhetorical context of many writing courses (hope that doesn't sound too harsh).

Carl and Master Shake have chipped in and ordered a Christmas present for themselves: a Chechnyan woman to be their bride (Shake: "It's my present, to me, from me, for being such a good boy this year! You see what I'm saying?!"). She arrives, and Carl and Shake arrange a ceremony (the bride, disgusted with Carl and Shake, goes in the house and won't come out). Officiating the ceremony is Frylock, who can't pronounce the woman's name. Carl tells Frylock to just say Smith or Jones. Frylock then fails to pronounce Carl's last name. Carl says, "Just say Smith again, it don't matter. None of this matters."

Of course it doesn't. It's a farce, a silly ceremony held for a marriage that was thoroughly artificial in the first place. Shake wanted someone to cook for him, and Carl wanted someone for sex. They paid their money, and a woman was delivered to their door.

I thought about this episode most of the time I was reading Ritter's article. In many cases, the whole rhetorical context in writing courses is predicated upon exchange value, a piece of writing done in exchange for a grade. I got a lot out of Ritter's article, but the most significant thing I got out of it was a certain point of view about writing courses, one I don't agree with but that does make sense in a cynical way. Why are students doing this writing, really? Well, for a grade. In my own teaching, I've asked students to write minute papers in class about their essays' purposes, hoping to get them to articulate what they hope to achieve, how they describe their audience, etc. They've prefaced these by "My purpose is, first of all, to get a grade, but..." as well as "I'm writing this paper first and foremost to get a grade, but also to..." Even when I was only one person in an audience of many, I was still the audience. I was the one giving the grade, and if they got essays online, put their names on them, and turned them in, I was the only one who'd know about it, if I bothered to check, that is (full disclosure: I do check. I Google sentences from student papers, all the time, and I submit reports to the Office of Student Academic Integrity if the case warrants it.). On a basic, practical level, yes, the writing is done for a grade. Everything else is secondary.

Obviously this isn't what I really think, and it's probably not what most students really think, either. My optimism and hope aren't completely gone. But here's how the "for a grade" and "none of this matters" logic shakes out for me. On pages 614-615 of her article, Ritter writes (emphasis in original):

In my own discussions of teaching materials and research findings with colleagues, particularly those new to the teaching of first-year composition, I often hear queries such as "Can I steal that assignment?" or "Do you think I could use that syllabus as a model (or a template)?" In creative-writing courses, teachers often encourage students to "mimic" canonical authors so as to internalize traditional styles and to understand the value of voice and poetic form. These are only select examples of how the creative, collaborative notion of intellectual production in the humanities often leads to "borrowing" ideas back and forth, between complicit and entirely well-meaning individuals.

I know others have made the observation before that because teaching materials aren't seen in our profession as real scholarship, most people aren't going to mind if a colleague uses his or her syllabus, assignment handout, discussion activity, etc. Teaching materials don't matter as much. The same person who'd give you all the syllabi and assignment prompts she's ever composed and tell you to do whatever you want with them would, I bet, likely snarl and lunge at you across the table with the brie and baguettes at a faculty reception if you casually asked for a copy of the paper she just delivered at Conference X so that you could build on it and submit it to Journal Y.

About nine months ago, Jonathan gave me a copy of Arthur Rimbaud: Complete Works. In it is one of Rimbaud's Latin compositions, written when he was 14. His teachers give him a passage from Horace, Ode IV, Book III, and he is asked to, using Latin verses, expound upon the theme of the lines, with a time limit of three hours for the examination. So he writes 59 lines of verse, drawing freely upon established characters (this includes real people and gods/goddesses) such as Orbilius, Apollo, Venus, the Muses, and Phoebus, and probably a host of common syntactical constructions and conventions I don't recognize. It's remarkable what a sophisticated poem it is for a Latin test taken by a young teenager, and he won first prize in Latin composition for it. The point of the assignment, though, is to measure the students' Latin grammar and vocabulary and mastery of the conventions of Latin verse. It's just an exercise for class. If another student had looked over his shoulder and copied, the kid probably would have gotten a bad grade and a beating, and that would've been the end of it.

I'm not calling for harsher punishments here. Rather, I want to highlight the pretend, trial aspect of writing for classes. Writing for class is practice writing; it's low-stakes; it's just an exercise.

As writing teachers, we've tried to demystify writing, to emphasize process, exercitation, the act of practicing as the best way to improve writing. Low-stakes writing is intended to reduce students' stress and encourage more experimentation and risk-taking in student writing, but stressing low stakes may increase the apathetic side of the "who cares? It's just an exercise" coin and lead to a different kind of risk-taking, the risk of getting caught plagiarizing. These are all thoughts I'm typing out as I think them; this is very much a discovery draft.

Context is key. Ritter asks some important questions about authorship on the survey she distributed to students; specifically, she finds that students think of "authors" as people who have written books or other texts (e.g. articles) that got published by a press. Most didn't consider themselves authors. While that's good to know, I'm not sure that stressing authorship is the solution (not that she's pushing authorship hard). Context and audience are, I think, more important. If a person has two writing tasks, one for a class and one for the campus newspaper, on which would he or she probably bestow more time and effort? One is read by many more pairs of eyes than the other. I know I'm a weblog evangelist, but I can't help but think that making student writing public, whether in the form of weblogs, print zines, or letters to the editor that might run in the campus newspaper, would only help to heighten the stakes of student writing in a productive way, so that those students who are inclined to be somewhat dismissive of writing for course credit and likely to buy a paper from an online paper mill would take their writing-course writing more seriously.*

Reading Ritter's article helped me understand better why some people wouldn't take writing assignments for courses very seriously. I'd heard others make connections between traditional notions of textual ownership and practices such as remixing, downloading music, and other types of appropriation to argue that due in part to the influence of digital technology, college students in their late teens and early twenties have a different view of intellectual property from that of previous generations. I have to confess, though, the connection still strikes me as loose and not all that clear. Ritter's explanation of the ethical rationale of buying papers from online paper mills, on the other hand, is closely connected with intellectual proprietary practices outside the classroom context. She points out that "[i]f a student logs on to an online paper mill and buys a paper that was put there by another students or paid contributor, thereby entering into a business transaction agreed upon by both parties, the consumer-minded student, unable to distinguish authorship from ownership, might wonder where the 'stealing' is in this transaction" (p. 615, emphasis in original). I find her example quite helpful; she does a fine job of connecting tightly the intellectual proprietary norms of mainstream culture and academia throughout the article. Her clear explanation helped me to realize how someone could sincerely believe that it doesn't matter who wrote a text. Michael Jackson owns the Beatles' songs; that he didn't write them is in many ways irrelevant. Anne Rice sold the rights to Interview With the Vampire, and the production company caved in to Tom Cruise's homophobia, which took away some of the story's nuance, and she was pretty upset about it as I recall reading, but it didn't matter that she'd written it. She'd sold it to them, fair and square.

Risk Management: Plagiarism and Parking Tickets

I live in a fairly large city, and it can be difficult and time-consuming to find parking sometimes. Sometimes I park in a metered spot without putting any money in the meter. When I have quarters with me, of course I put them in the meter, but sometimes I don't have any, and that's all the meter will take. So I don't put anything in there. Most of the time I go back out to my car to find no ticket, but occasionally I do get parking tickets. I know that when I don't put money in the meter, I run the risk of getting a ticket. When I don't put money in the meter, I feel a little guilty, I guess, but I can live with it, believe me. I have no aspirations to go my whole life without getting any parking tickets. Keeping quarters with me and putting them in the meter isn't something I take any pride in. Plus, when I get a ticket, I pay it, and if I factor the cost of the ticket in with all those times I got free parking, it evens out. Either way I'm paying for parking; the city's going to get their money one way or another.

Putting it in terms of doing writing for classes, I might say something like: I've got a packed schedule with classes, extracurricular activities, and a part-time job. Sometimes I buy essays online and turn them in for my classes. When I have the time and am engaged and motivated by the assignment, of course I do the writing myself, but sometimes I don't have the time or interest, and I have to turn something in. I know that when I don't do the writing myself, I risk getting turned in for plagiarism. When I don't do the writing myself, I feel a little guilty, I guess, but I can live with it, believe me. I have no aspirations to be a professional writer. Basically I just want to pass the course with a C or above. Plus, when I get caught, I just take the zero on the assignment, and if I factor that in with all the time and headache I save not having to do an assignment that doesn't interest me, it evens out. Besides, sometimes I get A's on the papers I buy. The grade I get at the end is probably about the same as the grade I'd have gotten had I done all the work myself.

More on the Ritter article later; for now I have to get back to dissertation work.

* Much of the work Mike has been doing has been part of the larger project of making writing courses more meaningful, assigning writing that has use value as well as exchange value. I agree with him that having students share their writing could go a long way toward infusing it with showing that it already has more than just exchange value.

Academic Commons

Via Infocult, the kickoff of Academic Commons, which, as a combination discussion forum/quarterly journal, looks to be a very valuable resource. From the first edition page:

Academic Commons (http://www.academiccommons.org) offers a forum for investigating and defining the role that technology can play in liberal arts education. Sponsored by the Center of Inquiry in the Liberal Arts at Wabash College (http://liberalarts.wabash.edu), Academic Commons publishes essays, reviews, interviews, showcases of innovative uses of technology, and vignettes that critically examine technology uses in the classroom. Academic Commons aims to share knowledge, develop collaborations, and evaluate and disseminate digital tools and innovative practices for teaching and learning with technology. We want this site to advance opportunities for collaborative design, open development, and rigorous peer critique of such resources.

Academic Commons also provides a forum for academic technology projects and groups (the Developer's Kit) and a link to a new learning object referatory (LoLa). Our library archives all materials we have published and also provides links to allied organizations, mailing lists, blogs, and journals through a Professional Development Center.

The first issue of the quarterly looks very interesting. The pieces that pique my interest the most are these:

Technology & the Pseudo-Intimacy of the Classroom: an interview with University of Illinois-Chicago's Jerry Graff

http://academiccommons.org/commons/interview/graff

Graff's interest in "teaching the conflicts" as a way of rescuing higher education from itself has recently been replaced by a profound worry that higher ed is becoming increasingly irrelevant to American culture. We checked in to see what role Graff thinks technology might play in these unsettling times.

Copyright 101 by Richard Lanham, UCLA

http://academiccommons.org/commons/essay/lanham-copyright-101

The pervasiveness of digital media has so altered the nature of authorship and ownership that questions of intellectual property have become matters of core concern for our students and our contemporary culture. Lanham argues that these issues require an academic response, and that a basic course in copyright -- "Copyright 101" -- represents a first step in this process.

Cross-posted to Kairosnews and CCCC-IP.

Next Rhetoric Carnival?

What shall we do for the next Rhetoric Carnival? I thought the last one, on Richard Fulkerson's "Composition at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century,"* went pretty well, so I hope others will want to stick with articles for this thing. From that same issue of CCC, there's an article by Kelly Ritter, "The Economics of Authorship: Online Paper Mills, Student Writers, and First-Year Composition," to which I think at least six or seven smart fabulous folks would bring insights. What do you all think? Or do you have another article to suggest?

* From the June 2005 (56.4) issue of College Composition and Communication.

Gender and Open Source

What follows is one of the articles I wrote for The Encyclopedia of Gender and Information Technology. It was accepted pending revision, but I decided to withdraw it. The deadline was just about to pass, and I suppose I could have asked for an extension, but the changes the reviewer requested ended up requiring more research on the history of women in computing than I have time to do, unfortunately (must spend time on dissertation only!). Plus, this is much more of a nonacademic position paper than an objective, informative academic encyclopedia article. I wrote two other articles for the encyclopedia anyway, which is probably enough. So, enjoy. Maybe you'll learn something you didn't know before; I hope so. Not being a software developer myself, I'm sure I'm wrong about some of the technical matters I discuss here, and I'd appreciate any corrections.

UPDATE: See also the playlist I created on this topic. It contains a few sources I found since writing this.

UPDATE: There's a thread at Linux Weekly News about an article in NewsForge titled "Getting in touch with the feminine side of open source."

UPDATE: Máirín has a thoughtful response you should read.

Introduction: Proprietary and Open Source Software

The software most people use every day – common applications like Microsoft® Word®, Adobe® PhotoShop®, and the like – is proprietary. That is to say, we pay for the use of it, and suppliers pay programmers to write the source code. Consumers purchase the software, install it, and use it. While consumers can use the software applications, because they are only sold the executable files, they cannot view or alter the source code. This means they cannot write new modules or tinker with existing features; for example, consumers can't make changes to a proprietary word processing program's bulleted list feature to add a new style of bullet or write a module that would make the program recognize a given file format it does not currently recognize. In proprietary software applications, the code is under traditional copyright, and because the corporations only sell the executable program file(s), the user cannot view or build upon the source code. Instead, the user must wait for the next version of the program, hope the company has added the features she wants, and pay for the upgrade. Programmers who work for software corporations must sign confidentiality documents agreeing not to share the source code with any unauthorized personnel.

Method, artifacts, and other dissertation-related notes

It's been too long since I've done a dissertation post (one week and five days, according to the list of categories on my sidebar), and I'd like to remedy that. So, first, a progress report: Several days ago, I sent out interview questions. The questions were, as you might recall, intended to help contextualize the "where are the women" discussions. Response so far has been better than I expected; I was afraid that no one would be around given that it's summer. At least two people that I know of intend to post about my project (as in, post my questions and their responses). I expected that going into it, and I assumed that some people would post their responses without talking to me first, so I'm telling those who do check with me that it's fine. And it really is fine, to be sure. Of course I do worry a little bit that people with very high Google page ranks will rip my research to shreds and their posts will be right there at the top when folks Google me, but it's a necessary risk. It'll be interesting to see how such a public research process will go.

I've been thinking a lot about process lately. Right now my committee members want me to include, along with my chapters, at least three appendices: a weblog primer, one on my project's implications for composition pedagogy (they're not requiring this one, but they said the pedagogical implications could go in an appendix should I choose to write about them), and one that's a kind of reflexive essay about my doing this project as both a woman and a blogger.

It's that last one I keep getting hung up on. I think I have a chapter's worth of stuff to say about that topic. I hope that will be okay with my committee; my guess is it will. I envision it as a chapter that addresses several issues related to method:

  1. A review and critique of methods used in previous qualitative internet research (not all of it, mind you, just the work on gender and computer-mediated communication in which I'm situating my research)
  2. An explanation of new methodological challenges presented by studying blogging (e.g. expectations of privacy) and common methods scholars have used to study them so far
  3. A definition and justification of my methodological choices (this would include defining a "feminist rhetorical approach" and what I mean when I say "rhetorical criticism" (Cf. Warnick*) and explanation of my purpose in doing interviews
  4. An autoethnographic narrative about my experience with blogging (as it pertains to this project -- e.g. why I blog, what it's been like doing my research in public, etc. -- it would also entail writing a blurb about autoethnography)
  5. A reflexive examination of my roles as feminist woman, blogger, and researcher studying gender and blogging (this would include issues of situatedness, degree of advocacy, and research ethics).

Feedback is, as always, appreciated. Now for something fun, which will definitely be an appendix in my dissertation: all the little artifacts I'm collecting, like the representations I wrote about recently. Here are some more quiz images, which I haven't had time to write about yet but hope to soon:

Many more below the fold:

In Memory of Maxine Hairston

In the last seven months, the community of scholars in rhetoric and composition studies has lost three highly respected and admired members: Candace Spigelman, John Lovas, and now Maxine Hairston (see tributes by Rebecca Moore Howard and various others at The Blogora. I couldn't find a general site for Hairston, so for her name I linked to her "Ideas for Grading," which seems to capture appropriately, in her own words, her passion for helping students learn. I never got to meet her myself, unfortunately, but Michael Keene, my advisor from my master's program and a former student of Hairston's, has asked me to post this essay, derived from his essay in Against the Grain. I'm happy to do it:

TAKING RISKS: A Tribute to Maxine Hairston*

Michael Keene

University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Maxine Cousins Hairston, born April 9, 1922, to Louise Hennessy Cousins and Richard Clyde Cousins in Ironwood, Michigan, died July 22, 2005.

Probably one of the most remarkable things about Maxine—to me, anyway, a man who is by his own admission a slave to habit—was her willingness to take risks. To go back to graduate school after her kids were not quite grown, to take on being freshman director at Texas when she knew the folks who gave her the job were giving her what they saw as a glorified secretarial position, to build a major national career on that basis, to first embrace and then become a primary advocate of process pedagogy, to become a strong critic of the literary establishment (“mandarins,” she called them [and worse in the earliest version of “Breaking Our Bonds,” which I got her to tone down]), to be a leader in the separation of the rhetoric and writing program at Texas from the literature program, to take on people she thought were making a grave mistake in introducing politically one-sided approaches into freshman composition, and then to walk away at the top of her career, throw herself into tutoring disadvantaged kids, fighting for the Democratic Party in Texas, and supporting Planned Parenthood, to earn yet another college degree and keep doing her books—what a great risk taker she was! She passed on a little bit of that to me. Here’s a story about one way that worked. This would have been in about 1985, when she was 63 or so.

"The personal," disrupted

I think I just had, to use Sam's term, a duh-piphany. Let me explain. Michelle's comments here in response to the recent pair of articles claiming that blogging will hurt one's career ("the mere act of opening up could cost you a job") made me think all of a sudden about what Mike has been saying about personal writing, and I finally put my finger on something. I'm sure it's blindingly obvious to the rest of you, but here's my new understanding: Due in part to blogging and other kinds of quickly, easily, and widely disseminative self-publication that the internet makes possible, as well as a complex confluence of factors in the social and political milieu (shifting notions of public/private, to offer one example), and the market (imaginary rather than material capital, middle class' living paycheck to paycheck, carrying debt, depending more on the market's caprice*) the context and meaning of personal writing have changed. "The personal" is becoming a site of struggle. To put it another way, "opening up" is set in opposition to "corporate values,"** and I'll admit that "the demonization of the personal" is a strong phrase, but judging from the articles in the Chronicle (and the subsequent forum discussion) and The New York Times, the personal is obviously seen by a lot of people as being to a considerable extent verboten.

So "the personal," in composition theory, can be conceptualized in terms of rights, as something at stake to which students have a right, a right that they should exercise. In the current context, I think one could make a persuasive case for this.

Viewed in this manner, any personal writing, regardless of subject matter, is political precisely because of its status as "the personal," which is in a very dramatic political and economic sense being called into question.

* Not to say that living hand-to-mouth is anything new. I'm probably way off on this point. I'm thinking of stories like Prof. B.'s, just to provide a reference.

** Edited to clarify: not just "corporate values," but one's status or potential status as a producer, one's means to make a living, as well as the right to express publicly an identity other than "worker."

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