Introduction
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1 Introduction This book contests the meanings commonly assigned to specific terms that have emerged as key in the dominant professional discourse of what in this book I continue to call composition: terms of language, labor, value/evaluation, and discipline, as well as composition itself. My purpose is to identify the conceptual and effective limitations set by the inflections given these terms in that discourse. These limits shape and give direction to our work—what we do, what we think we do, and what we think about what we do in taking up the work of composition. Like my previous book Terms of Work for Composition, I align myself in this book with the tradition of cultural materialism and the larger Marxian tradition it exemplifies. The tradition of cultural materialism takes as a given the materiality of the “conceptual,” as well as the “conceptuality” of the seemingly purely “material.” So, for example, while in one sense this book is a book of “theory,” theory is here to be understood as “a process in society,” as Stephen Resnick and Richard Wolff put it, the aim and point of which is not to identify “the essence of anything” but rather “the particular social intervention every theory makes” (2, 3). Theorizing is thus not opposed to or discrete from material social practice but instead constitutes a particular—material, social—form of practice itself. In saying this, I am, of course, engaged in a kind of special pleading to justify, not merely explain, the potential value of the work I take up here. Readers who do not accept this argument will find the book frustrating to the point that, I suspect, they will soon stop reading. Those who do accept it may still dispute its points and mode of intervention, but as fellow participants in that process of intervention. Part of the broader aim of the book, however, is precisely to intervene in conceptualizations Introduction ___________________________________________________________ 2 of the conceptual as distinct from material social practice, and thereby to further recognize the significance of all the work of composition, whether designated ordinary or esoteric, commonplace or foreign, theoretical or practical. In keeping with this, the approach taken here challenges dominant cultural claims and representations of what is normal, significant, and, of course, what is not, recognizing all these as historical in the Marxian sense of being contingent, the ongoing products of human history, and therefore always subject to change and in constant need of (re)production rather than existing as stable, timeless entities. The hegemonic, likewise, is understood not as total but as always subject to change and contest and thus also always in need of reproduction. As Raymond Williams observes, a lived hegemony “does not just passively exist as a form of dominance. It has continually to be renewed, recreated, defended, and modified. It is also continually resisted, limited, altered, challenged by pressures not at all its own” (Marxism 112–13). This is not to deny the reality of hegemonic pressures but to refuse their claimed status as not merely the hegemonic but hegemony total in its reach, and to acknowledge the possibility and reality of agency exercised whether in maintaining or challenging such pressures. Seen as part of lived, historical reality, what is claimed as hegemony can be recognized as in fact merely hegemonic, its status an ongoing product of its claims to be, instead, hegemony. It follows that the terms of exchange offered by the dominant to name our work, or dominant inflections of these terms—such as composition , language, labor, value/evaluation, and discipline, as well as such terms as theory, practice, modality, pedagogy, research, knowledge, and writing—are in this book put under scrutiny both for what they keep us from noticing and for the work they themselves do to affect our work—the ways these are put into play as, in fact, terms of exchange to name, define, and set the value of composition. The larger concomitant circumstances in which the work of this book aims to intervene, it will quickly become apparent, include a globalizing economy; the rise of fast-capitalist, neoliberal ideology; the globalization of English; the diminishing role of labor and of the professions, as conventionally understood; the turn to a “knowledge” or “information” economy; and the privatization of higher education. But the intervention aimed at in this book has to do not with these as discrete entities with 3 __________________________________________________________ Introduction which composition must contend but, rather, with how the relation of composition to...


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Subject Headings

  • English language -- Rhetoric -- Study and teaching.
  • English language -- Composition and exercises -- Study and teaching.
  • Report writing -- Study and teaching.
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