Reflections on a Watson

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I have four observations, two personal and two disciplinary.

1. I have basically forgiven myself for needing to spend time during the first part of the conference getting my presentation together, even though it violates my standards about preparedness. This has not been an easy semester, and while I would have liked to have the whole thing together by Monday, as I'd planned, I had the paper itself basically written, and the slides planned in my head. I just need to force myself to feel that pressure a little earlier, esp for MLA this year.

2. This was the first conference that I've been to in my academic career where I wasn't relying on caffeine to get me up in the morning. It was, needless to say, a struggle.

3. Especially hearing the plenaries this time around, I was struck how different my own local situation is from many of the people whose talks I heard. I have been critical lately of work that extrapolates from a small set of local phenomena to the discipline, and that will likely not change in the near future. There were several points during the conference where I wanted to interrupt and explain that not all of us reside in English departments anymore--I don't live in the same kind of neighborhood as many of my colleagues do, and that realization seems to be really slow to sink in.

4. And that brings me to a larger issue. Based on a number of conversations, and based upon some of the very stark differences among the plenaries, I am more and more convinced that the next major dispute in our field is going to be conducted between those of us who reside in English departments and think of RhetComp as a member of the English studies family, and those of us who have in mind something more like Writing studies, and who sometimes see English studies as an anchor that keeps us from doing more with our field. Heck, I've always been a fan of the idea that I first saw at U Baltimore, where literary study was considered a subset of communication design, rather than patriarch of the language clan.

And frankly, I found more provocative those talks where there weren't tacit assumptions about the English-iness of our field. And I know that I'm not alone in that regard. I think that we're going to see, increasingly, scholarship that takes some of our most deeply embedded conceptual disciplinary metaphors to task over the next decade. Some of that work happened at Watson, which was nice. But there's more on the horizon, I think. As I thought about how I would answer the question implied by "the new work of composing" over the last few days, I kept circling back to a set of issues and directions for inquiry that owe much more to the social and design sciences than to English studies. I think we're starting to see these developments in various locales, but I think too that it's on the verge of trickling up.

We'll see.

[Update: Laura's posted the thoughts that she promises in the comments...]


#4: Amen. I'd say more, but I have to get ready for work.

Ditto the #4 Amen. Also, I'm sad I missed your panel, but it was at the same time as mine.

I still have a post brewing about the conference. My thoughts are oddly formed and as a relative "outsider," I'm not sure how to give form to what I want to say, but I will get it out there soon.

Yeah, there were like 3 or 4 panels during the D slot that I wanted to see, Michael, yours among them...


Forgive the blog spying (coffee hasn't settled in yet, it's all I can do this morning)...but I'm intrigued in your comment that, "not all of us reside in English departments anymore." While I absolutely agree that we should be critical of "work that extrapolates from a small set of local phenomena to the discipline," I'm one of those people who has moved backwards and is suddenly having to grapple w/ the particularities of an English Dept. I had the pleasure of working in a Humanities Dept for my MA and PhD, yet now I find myself in a place where literature faculty dominate the dept, and even if they're not crotchety about what I do, they generally don't "get it." Those of us who do "the new work of composing" (if i may) are all untenured, which adds another superfun power dynamic.

All this is to say...I absolutely agree that we shouldn't extrapolate from depts to the discipline, but I also wonder how many people find themselves in my position. I think many of us don't necessarily think of rhet/comp as part of English studies, *but* that's where we find ourselves--in the minority, w/out tenure, and w/out a forceful/persuasive voice. I was getting the sense at Watson that it was the old rhet/comp guard that, in many ways, clings to English studies. I'm curious to see what this all looks like in 10 years, w/ many retirements on one end, and new tenured folks on the other.

Did I just extrapolate from my situation to the field? Awesome.

Also, I too really wanted to go to your session (and 3 more during D) but I, too, was presenting. Damn you Session D!

Spy away, Kristin! ;-)

My sense, too, was that it is/was generational, and that, as the field continues to mature, these issues are going to become more pressing.

My students face what you describe, going from a department where there is no lit, and thus no lit/writing divide, into positions like yours. We do what we can to prepare them for it, but in the end, we can't, really.

On the plus side, there are more of us who are getting tenured, and that means more people to write the outside letters that matter so much for tenure cases where departments don't "get it."

But to return to the original point, I think that there's a dynamic at play here akin to the issue of research uni vs. liberal arts college vs. two-year college--we elide the differences among these kinds of institutions too often, and more and more, we're going to need to account for different kinds of departments, too, not just broader institutions.

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This page contains a single entry by cgbrooke published on October 19, 2008 3:37 PM.

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