Abstract: Writing Democracy 2016 revisits the theme of the “political turn” to develop writing strategies for action in classrooms and communities. Session Description (brief)
This workshop extends a conversation about the 1930s Federal Writers’ Project begun informally at CCCC 2010, expanded in a conference on Writing Democracy held at Texas A&M University-Commerce in March 2011, and extended still further at three CCCC Workshops (2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015) to return in 2016 to the 2013 workshop’s focus on the “political turn,” specifically the issues around which rhetoric and composition might productively organize. Attendance at each of these annual events has been strong and grows stronger every year.
Title of Workshop
Writing Democracy 2016 | Documenting Our Place in History:
The Political Turn, Part II
There have been numerous “turns” in Composition/Rhetoric and other fields—linguistic, social, cultural, and public, to name a few (Rorty; Berlin; Geertz; Trimbur and George; Mathieu; Warner). Each turn has generated a body of work that profoundly influenced the field. Since the crash in 2008, large-scale political and economic upheaval from the Arab Spring in 2010 and Occupy Wall Street in 2011 to #blacklivesmatter in 2014-15 suggest the need for a “political turn.” Across the nation, educators, students, and parents have begun pushing back against an accountability movement that produced fiascos like the now debunked “Texas Miracle” and the Atlanta cheating scandal. In higher education, we see the effects of deprofessionalization (e.g., adjunctification and tenure attacks) and austerity (e.g., budget and program cuts).
We need a “political turn” capable of addressing the economic and material concerns of students, writing teachers of all ranks, and the communities in which we live. Yet, in this moment of disruption and transformation, our field remains unclear about the purview of politics in the writing classroom.
There has been insufficient theorizing on the political role of the writing teacher outside the classroom in response to issues ranging from the exploitation of contingent labor and the impact of neoliberal policies on higher education to climate change, income inequality, and increasingly aggressive U.S. foreign policies.
Far too often, disciplinary identity trumps our role as politicized, public intellectuals. We may embrace acceptable professional responses to the politics of the university that take the form of advocacy for underprepared students or lobbying state legislatures to renew funding, yet recoil from our more controversial role as teachers of writing in broader, collective struggles against systemic exploitation and oppression and for social and economic justice on a range of issues from human and civil rights to environmental sustainability.
For the 2016 CCCC, Writing Democracy proposes to interrogate the relationship between our disciplinary and public identities to imagine what a political turn might produce for our work in Composition/Rhetoric, a turn that grounds itself in the material needs of the current moment and draws theory from activist practices inside and outside the academy.
For this workshop, the political turn establishes the groundwork for a set of practices designed to 1) examine the word and the world more critically; 2) circulate texts more democratically among local publics; 3) enable participation, resistance, and ultimately transformation among local publics by establishing and maintaining communication networks in support of democratic deliberation and action; 4) engage with and value the contributions of everyday, ordinary people; 5) foreground the local and its particulars over the universal or abstract at the same time it locates historically specific conditions and realities in global contexts; and, (6) where we can, help produce systemic change.
Very specifically, we ask how strategic action directly involving writing instruction relates to broader political concerns that always already constitute the material and discursive contexts in which Composition/Rhetoric is situated and the exigencies to which it responds. To that end, the proposed workshop will engage participants in difficult conversations that surround this political turn, focusing primarily on the following themes: •
Details of the most pressing issues that a “political term” might address, including a critical lens and vocabulary through which to understand these issues and the role of writing teachers within them.
• Accounts of Composition/Rhetoric’s political commitment to underrepresented populations before, during, and after they reside in our classrooms.
• Insights from recent political movements (local, national, and transnational) as models for the type of political literacy and writing practices which our classrooms might support.
Ultimately, our goal is to find ways for teachers to engage the work of social justice through our discipline because, in the end, we are the institution—or at least contributors to what the institution has become. For that reason alone, we must learn to write ourselves into the democratic struggles that so many labor within everyday.
1:30 Opening Remarks: Deborah Mutnick/Shannon Carter 1:40
Keynote: Tony Scott “Escaping the Crisis/Austerity Cul-de-Sac in the Political Economy of Composition” Part of what William Davies calls “the disenchantment of politics by economics” in neoliberal states is the perpetuation of crises that evoke austerity as a seemingly rational and necessary response. Pointing to the “felt sense” of crisis that now permeates Composition, Scott will argue that crisis is a defining characteristic and strategy of neoliberalism that is now serving as a justification for the further marketization of writing education. Scott will discuss the need to redirect Composition’s crisis focus through understanding writing education and labor as a part of the totality of social relations in a political economy.
2:30 Break 2:45 Poster Session & Panel of Respondents After the CCCC review process concludes for the 2016 conference, we will circulate a “call for posters” that offer concrete examples of a “political turn,” expanding upon one or more of the themes listed above. The Poster Session resulting from this open call will include two parts: presentations of posters by their authors (Part I) and a panel of 5-6 respondents (Part II). For details, see the CFP at writingdemocracy.wordpress.com. 3:45
Taking Action: a “Blueprint” for Writing Democracy Paraphrasing from Richard Wright’s “Blueprint on Negro Writing,” this activity is premised on the belief that the “ideological unity of [Writing Democracy] and the alliance of that unity with all the progressive ideas of [our] day is the primary prerequisite for collective work.”
Working in groups of 3-5, participants will create a “Blueprint” for Writing Democracy that sets the stage for strategic action to address ongoing concerns like those raised throughout the afternoon. Inspired, in part, by Wright’s articulation of a “Blueprint for Negro Writing” and Freire’s notion of “praxis,” participants will contribute their ideas to a “Blueprint for Writing Democracy” to help guide potential actions in the months or years following the workshop.
Groups will be given guidelines to write statements that are: 1) less than 250 words and 2) tied to a theoretical or intellectual principle consistent with theoretical debates that inform participants’ understanding of the “political turn” advocated throughout the afternoon workshop. Participants will be invited to share their statements with the larger group and publish them at our WD website with relevant images (writingdemocracy.wordpress.org). 4:45 Closing Remarks & Plans for Writing Democracy 2017
Workshop Leaders Shannon Carter, Texas A&M – Commerce (Co-Chair)
Deborah Mutnick, LIU Brooklyn (Co-Chair)
Paul Feigenbaum, Florida International University (Respondent)
Veronica House, University of Colorado at Boulder (Respondent)
David Jolliffe, University of Arkansas at Fayetteville (Respondent)
Elenore Long, Arizona State University (Respondent)
Steve Parks, Syracuse University (Respondent)
Tony Scott, Syracuse University (Keynote)
Kurt Spellmeyer, Rutgers University (Respondent)