This special issue assembles a diverse array of scholars to think through the timely question of what resilience means to our profession. What would it look like, and what would it take, to forge a resilient discipline, major or program or curriculum, writing center, pedagogy? How do local contexts shape the possibilities and limitations of resilient practices? Who reaps the rewards of resilience, and who shoulders its burdens? Is resilience even a viable and appropriate goal? If not, what are some alternative formulations?
These questions take on a particular poignancy in what feels to many of us like an age of political, social, and natural disaster. Even as the foundations of democracy are under assault in Washington and in state houses, our universities are being reshaped by management practices rooted in corporate efficiency: strategic planning, cost cutting, outcomes assessment, and labor casualization. The humanities are under particularly acute pressure, as they face declining enrollments, institutional and cultural scrutiny (and often skepticism) about their market value, and a dire job market. Those of us who teach and study literature, language, writing, and culture are—as usual and unhappily—at the vanguard of these developments.
We see the articles collected here as an extension of important work inaugurated by Nancy Welch and Tony Scott’s landmark collection Composition in the Age of Austerity (2016), which clearly demonstrates that our pedagogy and our research are being reshaped in fundamental ways by austerity measures under neoliberal economics. Following Welch and Scott, we take austerity to mean policies, practices, and ideological strategies through which [End Page 189] the public sector is required to shoulder the burden of difficult economic times (through budget cuts, program elimination, labor casualization), even as economic, cultural, and political resources are transferred into and concentrated in private hands.
Austerity measures are a key component of today’s neoliberal economic regime, which pairs market fundamentalism—what Welch and Scott (2016: 4) call a “leave-it-to-the-market” principle—with the privatization of public services and spaces. The authors in this issue of Pedagogy share these understandings with the editors of and contributors to that book, even as they have their own unique takes on how these concepts shape and take shape in local contexts. And of course, our authors are also writing under a new national political regime—one that does not break entirely from the three-plus decades of neoliberalism but inflects it in freshly disastrous ways.
While the articles collected here advance critical understandings of our dark era, they also provide cause for hope. This hope stems from their examples and models of “resilient” practices that hold out promise not just for survival or riding out the status quo but for resistance, critique, and transformation.
English studies is perhaps not an obvious site for theorizing resilience. When we think of resilience, we might conjure infrastructural responses to natural disaster, climate change, coastal erosion, water management, cyber threats, and the like—challenges we associate with STEM disciplines (though we would argue that that they also have human dimensions). Or we might think of the now ubiquitous popular psychology concept of “grit” (Duckworth 2016), which frames resilience in personal, individual terms. Some of our authors draw on STEM work; most are sharply critical of notions of resilience as a personal attribute or panacea; all theorize resilience—albeit from different perspectives—as a social and cultural phenomenon. Collectively, the articles make a persuasive case that those of us who teach and study literature, language, writing, and culture have important things to say about resilience.
While their approaches to resilience vary, the contributors here collectively follow Elizabeth A. Flynn, Patricia Sotirin, and Ann Brady (2012: 7) in conceptualizing resilience as rhetorical, relational, and situational. Several of the articles explicitly advance partnerships and collaborations as important vehicles for enacting resilience. In her harrowing account of the twelve-day faculty lockout at Long Island University, Deborah Mutnick argues for the political necessity of unionizing, galvanizing colleagues, and [End Page 190] forming alliances with students. Brett Griffiths and Darin Jensen propose collective practices to support departmental and disciplinary resilience in English departments located...