Recent Talks

Following are brief descriptions of talks I’ve given at universities and four and two-year colleges in the US, the UK, and China.


I argue that writing matters as a site for students and teachers to work on, and revise, language through the labor of writing.  This is at odds with common justifications for writing instruction as a means of improving students and their writing by transmitting to them what we think is settled knowledge about writing and language--often what we think of as "correct" writing or "proper" English.  However, while it's important for students to improve their ability to proofread, writing matters as a means of reinforcing and revising knowledge, written language, and what we think about both, and students, through the labor of writing, can come to know their role as makers of knowledge and written language.



I argue that the difficulties multilinguality is thought to pose for both students and universities are in fact real difficulties, but that these difficulties are critical to academic work, including academic writing, and therefore, to be embraced and sought after, and by all students and teachers.  I define multilinguality not as a condition of individual students for whom English may be an additional language but instead as a social condition (and accomplishment) of contemporary global social relations that we all experience, whether we recognize it or not--language difference is thus the norm, rather than the exception to the norm, of social relations and communication, and a crucial component in the production of knowledge.  Universities must therefore engage and embrace language difference to keep their commitment to education.



I locate recent efforts to move past both monolingual and multilingual approaches to languages and language relations in the teaching of writing, efforts that have come to be identified as "translingual."  I distinguish a translingual approach from more conventional understandings of languages and language relations by its insistence on language as an always emerging outcome of language practices, and hence the fluid, interdependent, and co-constitutive relationship between languages, language users, and contexts of use.  I use specific examples of student writing and writing assignment designs to explain the shift a translingual approach makes in the teaching of writing from a concern about whether or not to allow specific differences in writing to a focus on the kinds of differences all writing might make to language and language users.





I outline the implications for uses of English in university discourse of four phenomena associated with globalization. These phenomena call into question insistence on any standardizing of English (or other) language practices and any imposed hierarchies of one version of English over another in both oral and written university communications. As an alternative to insistence on such standardizing, I identify a multilingual approach to teaching writing which addresses all writing as situated practice negotiating competing and shifting norms. I distinguish this multilingual approach from increasing calls for replacing production of the commodity of skill in writing a single standardized English with skill in multilingual writing, calls that, I show, are based on mistaken notions of multilingual writing and the value of skill in producing such writing.






I examine recent debate that sets “critical” pedagogies, aimed at enabling students to critique dominant careerist ideologies and to build a better world for all (Shor), against “pragmatic” “instrumentalist” pedagogies aimed at meeting students’ individual career concerns by providing them with job skills (Durst, Smith).  I contend that arguments for both neglect the significant changes to economic, geopolitical, and class relations emerging with “globalization” (Beck, Sennett).  Further, they neglect both the illegibility of the forces and impacts associated with globalizing and their uneven distribution across regions, states, and hemispheres (Bauman).  I argue that these changes, their illegibility, and their uneven distribution call into question what exactly rhetoric/composition courses might aim to enable students to be either critical or pragmatic about.  I outline a pedagogy that would engage students and teachers together in identifying the “friction points” (Tsing) at which the competing meanings for such concepts as career, mobility, flexibility, security, commitment, and collaboration now meet, and in mapping trajectories for themselves, individually and collectively, in response.  And I outline the corollary changes in how we might respond to changing definitions of careers, job skills, job security, and flexibility in the profession of rhetoric and composition.





I examine recent literature addressing the ethics of the uses of the personal in public writing found in critiques of work in critical ethnography and argue for the relevance of such questions for the composition (and reception) of other writing, using examples of the intrusions of private disclosure into public debate from my own experience lobbying against English Only legislation in Iowa.  Examples from this experience illustrate the interconnection between ethical and rhetorical questions in any use and assessment of such gestures.  I then distinguish such discursive moves, and debates surrounding them, from the debate concerning the use of the “personal” in scholarly writing, using examples from recent debates about such uses and recent scholarly writings that incorporate “personal” narrative.  I argue that debate on the use of the “personal” in scholarly writing confuses two discursive genres, each of which makes different uses of what is deemed “personal” or “private.”  I distinguish writing that is recognizably “personal” from that which redefines the realm of “the personal” by framing personal experience in public, material terms.  Rather than deploying the established generic constraints and social constructions of what is “personal” and what is “public,” this latter form of writing works to redefine both categories.  This suggests that those interested in teaching students to resist the conventions of academic writing might better direct their efforts at work at teaching ways to resist the conventional ways of inscribing the “personal” in writing.





I address questions regarding the place of basic writing students and courses in university writing programs and curricula by describing a project at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee aimed at “mainstreaming” such students into the standard first-year composition course.  Despite data demonstrating the success of the project—mainstreamed students passed first-year composition at the same rate as the other students while showing higher attendance rates and lower attrition rates than other students—the project experienced significant resistance from the institution and is currently on hold.  I explore the objections to the project that arose, including concerns about the potential loss of funding for the composition program and writing center that might result and nervousness about “mixing” students deemed to be basic writers with those deemed to be more prepared for college writing.  I analyze what these objections reveal about dominant attitudes toward composition, its students, and their place in the university, and I identify specific recommendations for those interested in pursuing similar mainstreaming projects at their schools.






I examine recent literature on graduate programs in rhetoric and composition as well as my own experience at several graduate composition programs to argue that in their examination design and expectations for reading, writing, and publication, as well as funding limitations, graduate programs and curricula in composition overlook the material resources as well as work/labor practices necessary to producing the kind of composition scholarship and scholars in demand.  I show that in so doing, such programs ironically encourage reading and writing practices that canonize and commodify established scholarship.  Further, by neglecting the concrete labor involved in scholarly production, these programs contribute to ideologies of academic work that hamper efforts to challenge limiting working conditions for composition teachers and scholars  I end by suggesting alternatives ways to design graduate programs and courses in rhetoric and composition that teach the “work of scholarship.”





In this talk, I examine ways by which composition scholars might resist the dogma of “globalism” represented in the dictates and ideals of the new work order of globalizing fast capitalism.  Using as examples recent calls for multilingual writing pedagogies (Canagarajah, Lu, Horner, Matsuda, Trimbur); calls for research that is replicable, aggregable, and data-supported, or RAD (Haswell); and calls for teaching digital and “visual” rhetorics (George, Yancey), I examine points of friction that composition teachers and scholars can exploit to resist the fiction of free exchange, “currency,” and the “new” in their work as teachers and scholars.  I describe strategies of attention to the ordinary and to non-equivalence, complication, and historicizing of language, writing, and its teaching that bring out such points of friction.  Doing so, I argue, will enable teachers and scholars to recognize and engage the concrete practices and costs of their work and labor that the ideals of globalism would have us believe are cost-free, post-historical, and irresistible.