Teaching Democracy Workshop March 12 at 1 PM EST: “Failure Club” with Dr. Paul Feigenbaum

This workshop will dig into the messiness of failure as it relates to writing pedagogy and the broader work of teaching democracy.

To register, visit the Eventbrite invite here.

About this Event

When we consider concepts related to teaching democracy, failure might not be one of the first to come to mind. And yet, the messy democratic work of building a more just, inclusive, and sustainable society requires a lot of risk-taking and experimentation, which means failure is inherent to the process. In theory, failure is also a tremendously powerful opportunity for learning and growth, whether we are talking about very small-scale failures tied to individual writing courses or very large-scale failures tied to the contingent forward and backward steps of social movements. In practice, however, even relatively small-scale failures can produce significant fear and anxiety in students (and indeed, in much of the general public). These negative associations with failure, which are exacerbated by our precarious, individualistic, and hypercompetitive system of what one might call Ameritocracy, impede many of us from actualizing our aspirations to be more civically engaged.

This workshop will dig into the messiness of failure as it relates to writing pedagogy and the broader work of teaching democracy. First, we will address Ameritocracy’s deeply contradictory rhetorics of failure, which widely portray failure as generative but which ensure that failure is experienced in cognitively and affectively stigmatizing ways by many students, especially those who are intersectionally marginalized. Then we will examine Failure Club, an upper-level writing course that encourages students to better understand, and to start pushing back on, the sociological and psychological underpinnings of stigmatized failure. In this course, students form their own Failure Clubs, choosing personally meaningful goals that they are guaranteed not to achieve in the time available, and they support each other through this communal experience of failure.

We will discuss how the Failure Club course is organized, how it highlights the social constructedness of failure, and how it negotiates institutional constraints against the cultivation of generative failure, especially the challenge of providing feedback unencumbered by the material and psychosocial implications of grades.

Following the presentation, participants will join breakout rooms where they will brainstorm course design and assignment ideas inspired by the presentation and share them in small breakout groups.


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“What is to be done?”: A Writing Democracy Workshop

Thanks, everyone, for joining us Saturday, October 21, at our Writing Democracy Workshop in Boulder. What an amazing conference!

As we said, we hope the conversation we began there together will continue. “What is to be done?” Here’s the Google Doc that includes your responses last Saturday. Please feel free to add to it and invite others to do the same [here]. 


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Share your thoughts

Our google doc:


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Deborah Mutnick and Nancy Welch’s Resource Handout

Working Bibliography:

Clifton, Jennifer. Review of The Public Work of Rhetoric: Citizen-Scholars and Civic EngagementKairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy, 20(1), 2015. Retrieved February 26, 2017, from http://kairos.technorhetoric.net/20.1/reviews/clifton/index.html

Fabricant, Michael & Stephen Brier. Austerity Blues: Fighting for the Soul of Higher Education. Johns Hopkins UP, 2016.

Harvey, David. A Brief History of Neoliberalism. Oxford UP, 2007.

Kahn, Seth, William Lalicker, and Amy Lynch Biniek, eds. Contingency, Exploitation, and Solidarity: Labor and Action in English Composition. WAC Clearing House/U P of Colorado, 2017.

Readings, Bill. The University in Ruins. Harvard UP, 1997.

Scott, Tony. “Subverting Crisis in the Political Economy of Composition,” CCC 68.1 Sept. 2016, pp. 10-37.

Shrecker, Ellen. The Lost Soul of Higher Education: Corporatization, the Assault on Academic Freedom, and the End of the American University. The New Press, 2010

Welch, Nancy & Tony Scott, eds. Composition in the Age of Austerity. Utah State UP, 2016.

Welch, Nancy. “Educating for Austerity: Social Reproduction in the Corporate University,” International Socialist Review (Fall 2015)


CUNY Rising Alliance




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Jes and Max Philbrook’s Resource Handout

Jes Philbrook, Walden University, St. Louis, MN

Max Philbrook, University of Missouri, Columbia

From the Cluster Session 1 on Academic Labor Conditions:

Jes and Max cover issues related to the University of Missouri’s graduate student walk out last year, the elimination of graduate student health care, and organizing resistance to Mizzou leadership in the wake cuts.

  1.  Zoellner, D.. (2016, Febrary 25). Why they walked out: MU graduate students have had enough. Retrieved fromhttp://www.voxmagazine.com/magazine/why-they-walked-out-mu-grad-students-have-had-enough/article_0a98d72a-db34-11e5-a59e-0b4ead52b4b3.html
  2. Twitter page of the Forum on Graduate Rights (FGR), the group that formed in August 2015 when insurance was cut, but which has dissolved somewhat now that there is a union: @MUGradRights on Twitter: https://twitter.com/mugradrights?lang=en
  3. Webpage for the Coalition of Graduate Workers, the union that formed out of FGR’s efforts: https://cgwmissouri.org/
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Seth Kahn’s Resources for Writing Democracy 2017

Academic Labor Activism/Advocacy Resources

Tactics, strategies for activists/advocates

Reclaiming the Ivory Tower, Joe Berry. In my opinion, this should be the most famous book about academic labor ever written. Berry, a labor historian, not only contextualizes and analyzes the academic labor scene (in a way that’s not nearly as dated as you’d expect 12 years after the book published), but offers two full chapters of tools and organizing advice.

Contingency, Exploitation, and Solidarity, eds Seth Kahn, William B. Lalicker, and Amy Lynch-Biniek. Collection that features various approaches, generally within writing programs/English departments, to labor justice for contingent faculty. Includes a range of advice from concrete, local tactical concerns to cautionary tales to bigger-picture ethical issues.

Handout called “Recommendations for Organizing within Disciplinary Organizations” that I cooked up for the Coalition of Academic Labor conference in 2015.

Handout for Cultivate session I’m doing on Thursday: it’s called “Developing a Research Agenda Alongside a Heavy Teaching Load.”  Co-author credit to Kathleen Feyh, Department of Communication and Rhetorical Studies, Syracuse University. She and I developed a version of this for a pre-conference at RSA 2016.

Readings for situating, theorizing academic labor in comp/rhet/writing

Composition in the Age of Austerity, eds Nancy Welch and Tony Scott. Collection chock full of smart thinking about addressing austerity politics and tracing its impacts via assessment, staffing practices/contingency, pedagogy and curriculum.

CCC 68.1 (Sept 2016). Special issue, “The Political Economy of Composition.” Read the whole thing, but I’m posting the link to an article I co-authored in that issue (about the Indianapolis Resolution) because it’s the one you can get for free even if you’re not a subscriber.

Organizations outside the field doing academic labor work


Campaign for the Future of Higher Education

Center for the Study of Academic Labor

Coalition of Contingent Academic Labor  

Coalition on the Academic Workforce

Delphi Project

New Faculty Majority   


SEIU Faculty Forward

United Academics of Philadelphia (Even if you’re not in the Philly metro area, this effort is a model for AFT’s “metro strategy”)

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Join us March 15th for our 2017 Writing Democracy CCCC’s Afternoon Workshop

Austerity, Labor Conditions, and Academic Freedom in Higher Education:

Leveraging Writing for Democratic Work in Public Spheres

Wednesday, 3/15, 1:30-5:00. Location: D139-D140

Chairs:          Shannon Carter, Jennifer Clifton, Deborah Mutnick, and Elenore Long

SUMMARY: 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 five CCCC Workshops (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016) to consider actually existing and possible forms of writing democracy from the classroom to public squares and the streets. Attendance at each of these annual events has been strong and grows stronger every year. For Writing Democracy 2017, participants will work from a set of cases to test what it means and what it takes to leverage writing for democratic action in public spheres under contemporary conditions that currently shape writing and writing instruction in higher education.

Since 2012, the annual Writing Democracy CCCC workshops have sponsored sessions designed to engage participants not only in discussions about the current state of democracy but also in activities aimed at fostering democratic action in the classroom and across local publics. In 2017, we turn more deliberately to the terms “writing” and “democracy” themselves, asking not only what “writing” (as both noun and verb) and “democracy” may mean in an age of austerity but how we–as individuals, community members, students, teachers, and administrators–can leverage writing for democratic action in public spheres.

Writing Democracy (WD) originally emerged as a response to the economic crisis of 2008, exploring how neoliberal economic policies were ravaging economic equality and educational access here in the U.S. and abroad. In succeeding years, WD focused on the “who” (what it meant to work collectively toward democratic rights), the “how” (what actions best suit our collective abilities), and the “medium” (the channels of communication for organizing). Recent events have demonstrated the ways our professional organizations, campuses, and related facets of higher education have both enabled democratic action and been complicit in limiting intellectual freedom and, thus, public dialogue; reifying and often exacerbating injustices with respect to academic labor issues; and exacting measures of austerity that threaten the very premises of liberal education as a cornerstone of democracy. Thus, in 2017, we ask: How can writers, writing teachers, researchers, and administrators recognize patterns and call on rhetorical tools to leverage writing for democratic action given the infrastructures that govern our everyday lives and an atmosphere that may seem increasingly hostile to social justice efforts?

The goal of previous workshops featuring speakers like Angela Davis and John Carlos has been to create a praxis that can extend beyond the confines of a conference to cultivate literacy, writing, history, and other public sphere projects in support of democratic activism in educational, local, national, and transnational networks. In 2017, we continue this tradition by drawing on contemporary case studies in which individuals and groups have leveraged writing for democratic action in public spheres.

Thus for WD 2017, we ask: How can each of us instantiate democracy in our own work? What are our goals, in this respect? What exigencies permeate our everyday work? What calls us to action? What do we need to do (can we do) in response to these exigencies? What tools are useful? What tools are not useful? What (can) does writing democracy mean in our local contexts? What does taking meaningful action in response to local exigencies look like? What concrete actions can we take to enact meaningful, democratic change in public spheres?

With these questions in mind, the proposed workshop designs a joint inquiry into democratic practices in relation to three shared concerns in higher education: academic freedom, labor conditions, and austerity measures. The workshop unfolds over four main activities.

  1. Keynote: CCCC, NCTE, and the Steven Salaita Case: Public Life and the Failure of Composition’s Professional Associations: John Trimbur

This presentation is an attempt to make sense of why CCCC and NCTE, unlike other professional associations, failed to issue a statement protesting the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s firing of newly hired Steven Salaita in August 2014. The question Trimbur engages is not why the failure happened at that particular moment in history but rather how this dereliction of professional duty might be understood in a more general way as emblematic of CCCC/NCTE’s sense of its civic virtue and its rhetorical standing in public life. Trimbur seeks to show that the organization’s ethos of decency, sincerity, and responsibility has made it prey, on one hand, to neoliberal “responsibilized accountability” and leery, on the other hand, of anything that appears to be unruly or uncivil.

The Salaita case is instructive in its own right and also informs a framework for the workshop’s roundtable discussions’ focus on leveraging writing for democratic action in public spheres. This framework attends to micro-level assaults on academic freedom that are exerted through austerity and labor conditions. It considers how public/private and visible/invisible forces (e.g., decisions to cut programs and positions, to adjunctify higher ed, to deny tenure, to corporatize universities, etc.) chip away at academic freedom. The framework asks: If the measure of a “healthy public” is its capacity to tolerate and value dissent and a “sick public” would censor dissent (Bruner), what now, what next?

  1. Case Study Presentations: Next, the workshop will move to 15-minute presentations of case studies featuring two related concerns: academic labor conditions and austerity measures. The organizers have invited scholars with expertise in these areas to lead roundtable discussions. Data-driven case studies featuring real-time difficulties with unionization, contract negotiations, adjunctification of faculty, and massive cutbacks will provide grist for theorizing both contemporary threats to democracy and rhetorical invention of contemporary public life under complex, elusive, rapidly changing conditions.

III. Roundtable Discussions of Case Studies: Recognizing Patterns, Tooling Responses: Discussions about these individual case studies move toward rhetorical invention, considering what is recognizable in each case and across cases, given participants’ own institutional experiences; what theoretical concepts help to account for these patterns; what concepts and rhetorical tools (like public and hidden transcripts (Cushman), characteristics of woolen language (Welch) might be useful for making sense of threats to democracy and/or locally inventing democratic public life around shared concerns.

  1. Taking Action. Finally, we invite participants to explore together concrete ways they can call on patterns and tools to leverage writing for democratic action regarding specific issues that interest (and may directly impact) individual participants.
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Join us in Houston, Texas, April 6 for the next Writing Democracy workshop

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)

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Poster Session, CCCC 2016 (deadline, January 30th)

Deadline for Submission: January 30th, 2016
Notification by February 15, 2016  [download cfp]

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Writing Democracy at the Conference on Community Writing

Writing Democracy: Building a National Writers’ Network Participants

Boulder, Colorado, October 15-17

Workshop (120-minutes) Writing Democracy: Building a National Writers’ Network

Description: Writing Democracy (WD) held its first conference in March 2011 at Texas A&M University-Commerce and has since sponsored annual CCCC workshops, including presentations by John Carlos and Angela Davis. Inspired by a national dialogue on reviving the 1930s Federal Writers’ Project (FWP) in the wake of the 2008 economic crash, WD has sought to imagine what forms national or even international university-community partnerships and other community-based writing and research projects might take in the 21st century. As the project approaches its fifth anniversary, the Conference on Community Writing enables us to reflect on what spurred us to call for a new FWP, our individual connections to it, our collective vision for its future—including our call for a “political turn”—and the obstacles to achieving that vision.

Shannon Carter will provide a brief overview of WD. Next, she describes her experiences with WD’s earliest phases, focusing on what drew her into the project and what that involvement has made possible for her own, site-based work.

Deborah Mutnick discussed the relevance of the 1935 American Writers Congress to WD, theorizing the political turn in relation to the recent wave of global activism since 2008 and the role of 21st century writing and institutional writing instruction.

David Jolliffe tells the story of three initiatives he developed in small, rural, Arkansas communities that aim to give voice to high school students and adults about issues they feel warrant public attention in a region that is, by the residents’ own admission, suffering through severe decline, economically, politically, and educationally.

The next pair of speakers (Elenore Long and Jennifer L. Clifton) describes multinational literacy projects emerging in light of the Commerce conference theme: writing democracy: here and there. Speaker 4 presents findings from a university-community partnership with the National Park Service, the International Border and Water Commission, the Tigua Nation of Pueblo Indians, and the University of Texas at El Paso. Speaker 5 describes The Nile Institute for Peace and Development, a community-university partnership forged in response to war in South Sudan and its fallout between the Nuer and Dinka resettling in Phoenix.

Paul Feigenbaum offers a “social-psychological” perspective on the political turn, emphasizing how students’ nascent activism can be encouraged by engaging their intrinsic motivations in the context of an education system defined by extrinsic motivators.

Steve Parks discusses how WD has attempted to blend in organizing skills training as part of its yearly meetings, focusing on how we fail to provide graduate students/assistant professors with the tools and abilities to turn progressive stances into actions.

Speakers’ remarks will be brief, allowing for dialogue with audience members regarding questions such as: (1) In your own communities, what projects are you involved in? (2) What methods have you used and what obstacles have you faced in attempting to turn progressive stances into actions? (3) How might a national network of similarly situated researchers, teachers, students, administrators, and activists support your work? Workshop will conclude with a call to action regarding next steps for a national network of university-community partnerships.

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