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Dangerous Writing

Dangerous Writing: Understanding the Political Economy of Composition

Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 202
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  • Book Info
    Dangerous Writing
    Book Description:

    Building on recent work in rhetoric and composition that takes an historical materialist approach, Dangerous Writing outlines a political economic theory of composition. The book connects pedagogical practices in writing classes to their broader political economic contexts, and argues that the analytical power of students' writing is prevented from reaching its potential by pressures within the academy and without, that tend to wed higher education with the aims and logics of "fast-capitalism." Since the 1980s and the "social turn" in composition studies and other disciplines, scholars in this field have conceived writing in college as explicitly embedded in socio-rhetorical situations beyond the classroom. From this conviction develops a commitment to teach writing with an emphasis on analyzing the social and political dimensions of rhetoric. Ironically, though a leftist himself, Tony Scott's analysis finds the academic left complicit with the forces in American culture that tend, in his view, to compromise education. By focusing on the structures of labor and of institutions that enforce those structures, Scott finds teachers and administrators are too easily swept along with the inertia of a hyper-commodified society in which students---especially working class students---are often positioned as commodities, themselves. Dangerous Writing, then, is a critique of the field as much as it is a critique of capitalism. Ultimately, Scott's eye is on the institution and its structures, and it is these that he finds most in need of transformation.

    eISBN: 978-0-87421-735-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Education

Table of Contents

  1. INTRODUCTION: Embodying the Social in Writing Education
    (pp. 1-35)

    By the time she had reached her junior year as an undergraduate, Mariah already had an extensive work history at the wide, low-paying, low-security bottom of the fast-capitalist economy. She had worked in a daycare center and at a number of jobs in restaurants and retail. Much of that work had been for national chains. At twenty-two, she had been sexually harassed by a manager on one job, asked to wear more revealing clothes on another, left another job because of a hostile work environment created by racial tensions, and not paid by an employer who suddenly closed his doors...

    (pp. 36-59)

    I recently became the head of a first-year writing program that is in a situation that I very deliberately call a “crisis.” The character of this crisis, however, is all too familiar to many who have done program administration work at large, public, “second-tier” institutions. Prior to my becoming director, there was little general knowledge among tenure-track faculty of what goes on in the first-year writing program—who is teaching what under what conditions. I consider promoting awareness of the terms of labor in the writing program a fundamental part of my job as head of the program, and an...

  3. 2 WRITING THE PROGRAM: The Genre Function of the Writing Textbook
    (pp. 60-107)

    This year, like every year, textbook publishers sponsored a book fair and free lunch in my department. Eerily polite and deferential book reps from the major publishers displayed large stacks of texts. While some literary anthologies were among the offerings, the vast majority were textbooks for writing classes, and the annual event is intended primarily for first-year writing staff. Indeed, the reps pay the writing program a fee in order to participate; with the stacks of textbooks, the business cards, and the smiles come free sandwiches and sodas. This event has become an entrenched part of the general scene in...

    (pp. 108-130)

    The above quote is from an article published in a recent Inside Higher Ed. (Greene 2006) It begins with the question “How can colleges best mix on-campus and online delivery of instruction?”—an initial move down a conceptual road that frames higher education firmly within a business management rhetoric. The phrasing is not “education,” but “the delivery of instruction.” The distinction is important. Postsecondary “education” typically suggests dynamic interaction, active give-and-take, open inquiry, contentious questions concerning content and pedagogical method, and informed professionals making decisions at the level of the classroom. These aspects of education are difficult to sell, difficult...

    (pp. 131-179)

    In Bait and Switch, Barbara Ehrenreich investigates life as an unemployed white-collar worker by going “undercover,” adopting the identity of a professional writer and public relations specialist looking for work. To do the research for the book, Ehrenreich created a new identity, “Barbara Alexander,” drew on the skills and experience she had built in her own “real” career, and marketed herself as a public relations person and event planner. Bait and Switch manages to convey some sense of the quietly desperate lives of the tens of millions of people who have white-collar occupations but find themselves in a relatively continuous...

    (pp. 180-190)

    The above quote describes a graduate student teaching in a university writing program at Texas Tech University called ICON (Interactive Composition Online). The quote is from an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education that describes the system (Wasley 2006). The ICON program relies on an interactive, computer-automated system that facilitates the distribution of a writing curriculum, the management of a composition staff, and the assessment of students’ writing. According to the article, the system assigns two roles to the staff: “composition instructors” (“CIs”) who meet once a week with a section of FYC students, and “document instructors” (“DIs”) who...

  7. APPENDIX A: Initial Questions
    (pp. 191-191)