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  • Not Our Regularly Scheduled Programming:Integrating Feminist Theory, Popular Culture, and Writing Pedagogy
  • Alexandra Gold (bio)

I. "The World's Giant Classroom": At the Interstices of Feminism, Culture, and Composition

"I wouldn't pay for that class." That was the response offered by a male acquaintance when I described my composition course: one that situates feminist and queer theory as a lens through which to view, analyze, and discuss contemporary television. I brushed off his remark. In fact, I would have dismissed it entirely as a bit of casual or unconscious patronizing if not for a similar conversation several weeks later with a female acquaintance. She assured me that though she had loved a similar class at her Ivy League college, she couldn't imagine "wasting her parents' money" pursuing such topics and instead opted for a more practical route in engineering.

Though anecdotal, such comments point to larger issues with which those of us in the humanities are all too familiar: the delineation of "serious" and "frivolous" studies or of "employable" and "unemployable" majors. These comments perhaps attest as well to the rise of the "neoliberal university" scholars have adeptly described: an increasingly corporate, market-driven academy, in Brenda R. Weber's neat assessment, "where students can prove to a potential employer that they qualify as good workers" and where "professors … who aim to address complex social and intellectual issues are often met with hostility and/or denigrated as liberal or old-fashioned" (128). Of course, this denigration is not new. Cultural studies scholars have long discussed the problems the field faces in defining itself as a serious area of study, and they have renewed our sense of its centrality (Barker; Couldry; Grossberg, Nelson, and Treichler). Still others have queried and fortified the specific role of popular culture in the classroom (Alvermann, Moon, and Hagwood; Buckingham; Buckingham and Sefton-Green; Giroux). Most important, we have come to understand that the issue that has plagued cultural studies and much of the humanities—the presumptuous designation of "proper" and "improper" subjects of inquiry—re/produces the central concerns of feminist, [End Page 156] queer, postcolonial and other poststructural critiques.

Carmen Luke's excellent account of the convergences between cultural studies and feminist pedagogy offers this synopsis: "epistemologically both feminism and cultural studies question the relations between power and knowledge in the production of universal 'truths,' commonsense understandings, and everyday practice" (34). As a result, Luke suggests that such "shared theoretical ground enables us to move beyond the specific concerns of each field of inquiry and to develop a [self-reflexive] pedagogy … which acknowledges difference(s) of identity, the cultural constructedness of 'Theory,' 'History' and 'Truth,' and the cultural dynamics of our own labor as academic researchers and teachers" (33). Attending to feminist theory and popular culture simultaneously therefore seems not just an easily defensible but an inevitable strategy. This approach underscores the fact that "academic" or "theoretical" feminism is not and need not be an insular praxis. By employing scholarly texts as a lens for popular culture, we teachers and our students effectively bridge the gap between theoretical inquiry and quotidian experience.

Arrogating this framework to a composition curriculum is apt; for the field of composition, as many have noted, equally overlaps with these other epistemic disciplines in its interrogation of knowledge production, discourse, language, and authority. All three areas of study disrupt our sense of these concepts as static and equitable. Bringing composition, feminist theory, and cultural studies together amounts to what Nedra Reynolds calls an "interruptive" strategy, for it "emphasizes discontinuities. Interruption, contributing to a cultural studies emphasis on the everyday, resisting theories of subjectivity that diminish action or choice, and negotiating between speech and writing, offers [students] a tactical, practical means toward discursive agency" (72). When students reconsider the media-based world in which they are so deeply enmeshed in a new or unexpected—indeed, "interruptive"—way, they are prompted to think more critically about the cultural messages they are constantly receiving. The composition course, in turn, becomes an apposite vehicle through which students learn to better articulate how and why these messages may be problematic, as they simultaneously develop their feminist vocabularies and writing practices. The benefit...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1934-6034
Print ISSN
0882-4843
Pages
pp. 156-178
Launched on MUSE
2018-01-05
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Ceased Publication
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