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City Comp

Identities, Spaces, Practices

Bruce McComiskey

Publication Year: 2003

This is the first full-length collection in composition studies to tell the story of teaching and writing in urban universities in cities such as Birmingham, Pittsburgh, Chicago, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Atlanta, and Detroit. Bruce McComiskey and Cynthia Ryan visit the fascinating history of various urban universities to illustrate how specific writing programs and instructors have engaged in the changing missions and priorities of their institutions. The authors address the complex interwoven components of city comp: the identities of individuals and institutions that contribute to the writing of verbal, visual, and spatial texts; the spaces that serve as resources for student writing, analysis, and critique; and the curriculum practices implemented in programs that attempt to help students recognize, and in some cases, transform their understandings of the cities in which they live, learn, and compose.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Title Page

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pp. iii


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xi

A rhetoric of real places (were we to develop one) would describe how writing is not merely situated in and shaped by its time and place, but how the writer’s sense of that time and place is the source of meanings, motivations, and identities. It would also be the source of contradictory...

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pp. 1-17

Cultural theorists Henry Lefebvre and Michel de Certeau both describe cities not as “places” that contain people, but as “situations” in which people act, and, as such, each particular urban context becomes a text that is written by its inhabitants. In Writings on Cities, Lefebvre...

PART I: Negotiating Identities

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1. Myth, Identity, and Composition: Teaching Writing in Birmingham, Alabama

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pp. 21-37

The process of writing about our urban university and the teaching we do in this space has reinforced what we always knew—that there is no single Birmingham, no “reality” that we could all isolate and describe, no starting point on which we could all agree. This realization in itself was no surprise as we each have traveled diverse paths through the city. Peggy Jolly...

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2. Writing Against Time: Students Composing “Legacies” in a History Conscious City

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pp. 38-56

In the fall of 1998, the administration of Cape Fear Community College (CFCC), in conjunction with the CFCC Foundation, determined that it needed a campus focal point—an identifying marker that simultaneously distinguished it from other schools in the area and established its affiliation with downtown Wilmington, North Carolina, where CFCC is located. Public art...

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3. A Paragraph Ain’t Nothin’ but a Sandwich: The Effects of the GED on Four Urban Writers and Their Writing

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pp. 57-70

San Francisco’s billboards tout the urban identity of the new millennium, and it is a hip, hi-tech, khaki-clad capitalism so perpetually in your face that, after a while, you begin to believe that everyone drives an SUV, works in a groovy loft space, and spends free time shopping online. The...

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4. “Not Your Mama’s Bus Tour”: A Case for “Radically Insufficient” Writing

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pp. 71-84

Yvette was majoring in theater and speech at Chicago’s downtown Columbia College until an unpaid tuition bill of $2,000 prevented her from registering for classes or collecting a $1,000 scholarship she had earned.1 She works everyday selling street newspapers but does not earn enough to qualify for commercial loans.2 Yvette has exceeded...

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5. From Urban Classroom to Urban Community

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pp. 85-94

Founded in the eighteenth century, Pittsburgh began as a set of forts designed to ward off French and Native American populations, and it soon coalesced into a modern city with fur trading and some of America’s first glass factories. Early settlers discovered that Pittsburgh was built on mountains containing an endless supply of the raw materials necessary for making steel. From...

PART II: Composing Spaces

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6. Simulated Destinations in the Desert: The Southern Nevada Writing Project

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pp. 97-110

Las Vegas is well known for its casinos, for its gambling, for The Strip. It remains one of the premier travel destinations in the world. Visitors come to experience the transitory gratification of the wager, the opportunity to “win.” Gambling is the primary attraction, a reason for coming to the desert. But gambling is no longer ...

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7. A Place in the City: Hull-House and the Architecture of Civility

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pp. 111-127

Marking an endpoint to decades-long scrutiny of city life begun in the late nineteenth century, and carried out by the famed Chicago School of urban sociologists, Louis Wirth, a preeminent practitioner of the discipline, articulated in summary form several defining characteristics of American urban sociability: [I]t becomes clear that one major characteristic of the urban-dweller is his dissimilarity from his fellows. Never before...

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8. The Written City: Urban Planning, Computer Networks, and Civic Literacies

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pp. 128-140

There is no question that cities communicate. But what might be more difficult to see is that cities themselves are written; they are a direct and material function of complex institutional decision-making processes that produce, among other things, our built environment. This chapter...

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9. Speaking of the City and Literacies of Place Making in Composition Studies

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pp. 141-155

Robert Beauregard, an urban planner and public policy theorist, asks a provocative question: “If the city could speak, what would it say to us?” (“If Only” 59).What makes this such a provocative question is the very fact that Beauregard can ask it and that we can imagine answers to it. Theoretically...

PART III: Redefining Practices

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10. Composition by Immersion: Writing Your Way into a Mission-Driven University

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pp. 159-171

In an apocryphal story, Oscar Wilde, a graduate of Magdalen College at Oxford, is asked what he learned at the university. Wilde describes a time when one of his professors, the famous social activist and critic John Ruskin, urged the university men to stop spending their energy on idle athletic pursuits and instead to use their muscle helping...

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11. Writing Program Administration in a “Metropolitan University”

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pp. 172-188

Compositionists have long recognized that the act of writing is a localized practice, linked in a multitude of ways to specific moments in time and writing contexts. Only recently, however, have urban studies scholars adopted a similar stance, acknowledging that although urban institutions ...

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12. Urban Literacies and the Ethnographic Process: Composing Communities at the Center for Worker Education

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pp. 189-202

As it is with any city, there are many “New Yorks.” There is the New York of well-known tourist attractions, the New York of fiction and creative nonfiction, the New York of news media coverage, and the New York of film and television. Popular media images call to mind Manhattan...

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13. Teaching Writing in a Context of Partnership

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pp. 203-215

Megan Bye, a student in a first-year writing class at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), commented on her emerging sense of place during this course: I live in a suburb and take the train every day.When we started reading the book [City Life: Urban Expectations in a New World, by Witold ...

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14. Moving to the City: Redefining Literacy in the Post–Civil Rights Era

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pp. 216-233

At a time when composition studies has been buoyed on a tide of rising institutional credibility, many writing teachers may have been puzzled to hear Lester Faigley’s comment, in his 1996 Chair’s address to the Conference on College Composition and Communication, that “it no longer seems like we are riding the wave of history but instead are caught...

List of Contributors

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pp. 235-239


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pp. 241-248

E-ISBN-13: 9780791487723
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791455494
Print-ISBN-10: 0791455491

Page Count: 248
Illustrations: 1 b/w photograph
Publication Year: 2003

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • English language -- Rhetoric -- Study and teaching -- Social aspects -- United States -- Case studies.
  • Urban universities and colleges -- United States -- Sociological aspects -- Case studies.
  • Education, Urban -- Social aspects -- United States -- Case studies.
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