2nd to last

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Last night was the second-to-last meeting of my course on research methods in RhetComp. Needless to say, it's not been a normal semester, but the course itself has gone fairly well (I think). It's a course that should be 2 or 3 semesters long, I fear, in order to provide time for both exposure to the variety of methods and time enough to actually test some of them out. So it's been an exercise in compromise, figuring out how to make it manageable and comprehensive at the same time.

Anyhow, the final two meetings diverged from the normal formula of providing some how-to readings alongside some examples of implementation. Next week, we're reading a piece by Clay Spinuzzi ("Lost in the translation: Shifting claims in the migration of a research technique" (LEA)) and Raul Sanchez's The Function of Theory in Composition Studies (Amazon ), with an eye towards some meta discussion about method in the field. This week, though, we did something else that I conceived as meta--we read Shepherd, St. John, and Striphas' (eds.) Communication as ...: Perspectives on Theory (Amazon ):

comm-theory.jpg It's an interesting book, on a number of levels. Growing out of an NCA panel, the editors asked a number of contributors (27 total, inc the editors) to compose short, citation-light, polemic essays about their preferred metaphors for communication. The editors argue specifically in their introduction about resisting uncritical pluralism, and so the chapters make the case for communication as relationality, ritual, transcendence, vision, embodiment, raced, dialogue, diffusion, dissemination, articulation, translation, failure (!), and many others. The quality of individual contributions are uneven, of course, some taking the task more seriously than others, but the overall impact of the book is an interesting one.

One of the challenges for us last night was that the book makes an argument at one scale (stake a claim for your preferred metaphor) while performing at a different one (aggregating these various claims). The result is something of a buffet, even as the editors disparage that very approach. The irony of Sonja Foss's blurb for the book ("Communication as is an excellent way to introduce students to various perspectives in the discipline. It makes the point that there is no right or wrong way to study communication but that the different perspectives are all legitimate and useful.") is that, in fact, the editors do suggest that some ways are better than others. Or rather, it might be more accurate to say that while they don't advocate for the "one, true metaphor," they find some value in asking their contributors to write as if--to write as if they were required to make a choice, unburdened by extensive citation, torturous qualifications, and/or empirical methods.

So while the book is perhaps operating under a performative contradiction, I found it to be a really refreshing and productive book. It's a book about method in one sense--my original inclination was to pair it up with some stuff from Lakoff and Johnson on conceptual metaphor--but more importantly, I think, it's a book that points to the value and importance of conceptual stylistics. The point I wanted to make with the book is that it matters which terms we use to describe our conceptions of rhetoric, composition, writing, communication, etc. Those terms stake claims, and they do so whether we adopt those positions consciously or not. It's rare, though, that those claims are made as directly as they by the contributors in this book.

I think some of us were left last night wishing that a similar book existed for our own discipline. The relationship between theory and method in communication studies is a different one than pertains in our neck of the woods, owing at least in part to our closer association with the humanities and with English in particular. The differences aren't stark enough to make this book less valuable to us, but they're present enough to raise the issue.

In all, though, this was a really productive way to end a semester on methods, and I could see the value of a book like this for a gateway course in the discipline as well. It'd need a couple of caveats, but in the absence of an analogous project for RhetComp, I think that a book like this has something important to say to us.

Go read it. That's all.


Ok, i know that the post wasn't really about this, but all i could think after the first few lines was...we are almost to the end of the semester? Really?

Yeah, I've been feeling that way for the last 3 weeks or so. Every time I think about how much time is left in the semester, I'm a little surprised...

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This page contains a single entry by cgbrooke published on November 27, 2007 11:14 AM.

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