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 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 ( 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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Writing Democracy: Octalog


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CCCC 2015 Workshop: Join Us in Tampa!

Join us from 1:30 to 5, Wednesday, March 18, for Writing Democracy: Invisibility and Visibility. This afternoon 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-Commerce in March 2011, and extended still further at three CCCC Workshops (2012, 2013, and 2014) to focus in 2015 specifically on the issues around which rhetoric and composition might productively organize. This year, we will focus on the question of visibility: how do we organize for social justice within a surveillance state? Featuring an “octalog” on the “political turn” in composition with, among others, Nancy Welch, Jackie Jones Royster, Wendy Hesford, and Paul Feigenbaum.

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Conference on Community Writing

Dear colleagues,

The CFP is posted for the first Conference on Community Writing, hosted by the Program for Writing and Rhetoric at the University of Colorado Boulder.  In a little over a year from now: October 16-17, 2015, we will gather in beautiful Boulder, nestled in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.  We’re already lining up a great group of speakers, including Eli Goldblatt, Paul Feigenbaum, Steve Parks, Shannon Carter, Deborah Mutnick, John Ackerman, and more.  We will have panels, workshops, field trips, and action-oriented think tanks centered around the conference theme: Building Engaged Infrastructure.

The conference will address, for example: How can writing and rhetoric programs (and related disciplines) create innovative curricular and scholarly models around social, economic, and environmental needs?

How does writing, argument, and communication drive social change?

What kinds of theories and knowledge are generated in universities that can contribute to local, national, and global movements?

How do community leaders and academics share knowledge and expertise to build collaborative research projects and courses?

Please visit the conference website and share it with colleagues.

Feel free to email me with questions.


Veronica House (conference chair)

Veronica House, Ph.D.

Associate Director for Service-Learning and Outreach

Program for Writing and Rhetoric

University of Colorado Boulder

Boulder, CO 80309

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Join us in Tampa, Florida, for Writing Democracy’s 2015 workshop! 


Writing Democracy 2015 “Invisibility and Visibility” participants explore the risks and rewards of democratic activism 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 a regional university in Texas in March 2011, and extended still further at three CCCC Workshops (2012, 2013, and 2014) to focus in 2015 specifically on the issues around which rhetoric and composition might productively organize.


Writing Democracy: Invisibility and Visibility

For the past three years, the 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 activism in their classrooms and communities. The workshops have also featured activists, such as John Carlos and Angela Davis, who draw upon their activist experience to help us develop an agenda for the current moment. The goal of these workshops, then, has been to combine theory and action, past and present, 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 educational, local, national, and transnational networks devoted to democratic activism.

Writing Democracy (WD) originally emerged as a response to the economic crisis of 2008, exploring how neo-liberal economic policies were ravaging economic equality and educational access here in the U.S. and abroad. In the succeeding years, Writing Democracy focused on the “who” (what it meant to work collectively toward democratic rights) and the “how” (what actions best suit our collective abilities). In 2015 problems with the “medium” (the channels of communication for organizing) have become abundantly clear. Recent events have demonstrated the ways in which an emergent surveillance culture has permeated and distorted democratic debate. We work as writing teachers, that is, in a moment of the NSA “eavesdropping” on government leaders and local citizens, of universities repressing activist voices in the classroom and on campus, and of disciplinary identities that fail to respond to these attacks on basic freedoms—speech, press, academic—inherent in government surveillance, mass data collection, and warrantless searches. Our work, then, must combat the mutually reinforcing drives that make our lives visible and vulnerable to the government and chill our democratic discourses on our campuses and in our communities.

There appear, however, to be few models that draw these different political forces into a productive set of reflections and actions in our classrooms and communities. Moreover, while there has been a “social” turn and a “public” turn, it is not clear that these turns sufficiently address the underlying causes for a lack of democratic debate. Community projects might enable an evening session with political leaders, but the neo-liberal political apparatus is rarely confronted. Such moments seem to make power visible, but more often then not they act as an alibi for democracy, masking deeper and more systemic causes. The “social turn,” that is, represents little risk, but great rewards for the field’s “public” stature. As detailed below, this workshop explores the risks of confronting the suppression of democracy on and off campus, risks in the current climate that perhaps offer more punishment than rewards.

Writing Democracy: Invisibility and Visibility is thus designed to create a space where this important conversation and difficult work can begin.


1:30     Opening Remarks:

Deborah Mutnick/Ben Kuebrich

1:35     Assignment 1: Exploring Democratic Discourses and Struggles in the Classroom

The workshop will begin with the prompt: Write an assignment that asks students to explore the limitations and possibilities of democratic debate at the current moment. Use that assignment to discuss your role as teacher, citizen, activist in democratic struggles on and off-campus. Participants will be asked to form groups, write the assignment, and then discuss the results.

2:00     Making Progressive Action Visible Globally

The panel organizers have reached out to progressive journalists Glen Greenwald, Jeremy Scahill, and Amy Goodman, as well as whistleblower Edward Snowden, all of whom share the long-term goal of regenerating investigative and adversarial journalism. Journalists will discuss the relationship between writing and democracy in an NSA dominated state. Subject to his availability, Snowden (via online video) will also discuss the stakes of being democratic activists in the current moment. Chairs: Deborah Mutnick/Ben Kuebrich

NOTE: In previous years, we have been successful in securing national figures like John Carlos and Angela Davis to participate. We expect confirmation, then, prior to the convention. Given our already confirmed participants (see below), we are confident a panel on this issue could be created with their insights/participation if the above are unable to participate.

3:00     Break

3:15     Making Progressive Action Visible in Composition and Rhetoric Composition and Rhetoric has failed to develop a model of scholarship, service, and teaching that can successfully confront the neo-liberal political-economic structures and NSA surveillance policies that are fundamentally attacking democratic rights. This panel draws upon the radical collective practices of earlier decades as a possible framework to recast our disciplinary and political activism for the current moment, and also uses personal experiences to detail the costs of such work. Structured as an octalog, each panelist will speak for 3 minutes each, followed by twenty minutes of conversation among the speakers, culminating in an open conversation with all the workshop participants. Chair: Steve Parks. Panelists: Ralph Cintron, Wendy Heseford, Vani Kannan, Jackie Royster, Nancy Welch, Paul Feigenbaum.

NOTE: This octalog will be published in the WD book project, The Political Turn, under development by WD organizers.

4:00     Assignment 2: Interrupting Circulation/Risking Visibility

While the field has turned its attention to digital production, this session will ask participants to consider how “zines,” handmade print publications, offer an alternative form of circulation to sponsor democratic dialogue. Participants will learn how to use one sheet of paper to create an 8-page zine. They will then use this knowledge to create a zine that highlights an issue that needs to be addressed by the conference and our discipline (such as the fact the conference is occurring in the same state where Trayvon Martin was murdered). Copies will be made of these zines, so participants can have them to distribute throughout the conference. A twitter hashtag will also be created to track conference participants’ responses to the zines.

5:00     Closing Remarks

Chairs: Shannon Carter/Vani Kannan


Shannon Carter, Texas A&M – Commerce

Ralph Cintron, University of Illinois-Chicago

Paul Feigenbaum, Florida International University

Laurie Grobman, Penn State Berks

Wendy Hesford, The Ohio State University

Vani Kannan, Syracuse University

Ben Kuebrich, Syracuse University

Deborah Mutnick, LIU Brooklyn

Steve Parks, Syracuse University
Jess Pauszek, Syracuse University

Jackie Jones Royster, Georgia Tech

Nancy Welch, University of Vermont

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