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10 W h at Ha p p e n s W h e n Id e o l o g i ca l Na r r at i v e s L o s e T h e i r F o r c e ? DOI: 10.7330/9781607324454.c010 Jeanne Gunner The literature of anti-austerity arguments in higher education overall and rhetoric and composition in particular is extensive, especially as austerity measures have immiserated labor beyond what was once a more narrowly “working conditions” set of problems of office space and computer access. Typically these arguments adopt a frame of ideological critique. The ideological frames have not been monolithic; the humanist defenses of a “save the liberal arts” and “nurture the citizen” variety regularly accompany political economy perspectives, Marxist analyses, feminist readings, and pragmatic responses. Nonetheless, the neoliberal regime has imbued composition theories, pedagogies, and administration , inevitably implicating us all in complicity with corporate values, labor problems, and growing social inequality. Embodied forms of consent —for example, the tenured ranks’ consent to a system of privilege bought through the exploitation of contingent workers—make up the material practices of our day. We teach in classrooms or online formats that are increasingly part of a class differentiation of student opportunity . We manage and are managed according to institutional values increasingly difficult to distinguish from corporate values. Consent and critique come to seem the wearing contradiction of an academic life. But what if this issue of consent, of our field’s collective collaboration with austerity measures, itself suggests less a false consciousness or inevitable interpellation and more a broad fraying of certainty regarding ideological critique and its ability to produce effective forms of resistance? For those of us who have been sympathetic to it, ideological critique has seemed far preferable as an ethical and intellectual program than has a pragmatic, self-serving strategy of collaboration; actively engaging in critical questioning of the field as it is enveloped 150   Jeanne G unner in the hegemonic narrative of austerity has seemed to offer the hope of progressive change. We hope to do meaningful work; we hope to open up resistant stances. And, unquestionably, ideological protests have had some positive material results. Often, however, these can seem mainly symbolic registers of discontent; the approval of a union in one place is (over)matched by the expansion of a radically less organized, less visible material workforce in a non-profit enterprise. Sometimes the effect, and the affect, is intellectual and ethical exhaustion. Just as in the last decade in English Studies overall we have experienced a theory fatigue, some in rhetoric and composition today seem to be approaching an ideology fatigue, and a related loss of belief in the material efficacy of discursive and rhetorical modes of resistance, the result of ambiguous results in the face of often monumental efforts. In this discussion of austerity and composition, then—and in living the daily reality of austerity measures that impinge on students and teachers and enrich the expansion of entrepreneurial programs and offices—I focus on scholars who are searching for an “outside” to the ideological construct of resistance. As progressive, conservative, or otherwise oriented ideological narratives intended to promote material change come to seem less and less productive, and as discourse and rhetoric themselves come to seem less and less certainly functional in a communications system more and more characterized by heterogeneity rather than knowledge regimes, it seems time to play Peter Elbow’s (1998) “believing game” with emerging theories that question near-naturalized disciplinary and critical constructs in the field. It may be that, as one result of a growing ideology fatigue, austerity measures are fueling potentially creative and productive disruptions of our own by impelling composition theorists to seek ways of thinking that may transcend the hegemony of hegemony. Consent witho u t Power Many strands of the hegemonic austerity narrative frame disruption of the conventional educational structure as not only a necessity, but a silver lining, a bright promise in dark economic times, even a democratic set of bootstraps. An embedded libertarian message encourages students and workers to speed up the educational process, bypassing conventional forms, their own experience and initiative the biggest-bang investment they can make. Passive public acceptance of a fully instrumentalized model of teaching and a commodified notion of knowledge /expertise help disrupt the social relation of teacher/student, What Happens When Ideological Narratives Lose Their Force?   151 furthering a key element of the austerity agenda in...


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