So what’s going on here?
I’m not 100% sure, really. I’ve been dissatisfied with my usual blogging life for awhile. I don’t blame anyone else for this dissatisfaction, but neither due I apologize for some of the choices that I’ve made. (Some others, well….) In any event: I am looking to build a friendlier, more welcoming forum for my writing online. I’m simply ready for something different.
As you can see from the About Me section, I am currently a graduate student in rhetoric and composition. Like anyone in a given academic field, I am hesitant to define it, especially so early in my academic journey. But I’ll give it a shot: rhetoric and composition is a subfield of English, which studies writing and argument from outside of the aesthetic and artistic perspective typical of literature. (For many people, “English” as an academic discipline is synonymous with the study of literature.) Where ESL concerns the particular concerns of non-native English speakers, and linguistics concerns the scientific consideration of language and its constituent elements, rhetoric and composition considers writing and argument as they achieve their practical, observable effects.
Rhetoric and composition has a long history of empirical research into writing practices, and this is my own interest. I fall more on the composition side of the ledger, and I particularly am interested in quantitative research methodologies. This kind of research is out of fashion within the discipline, but I hope that’s changing, and I hope to be part of changing it. I plan on writing about those issues in this space soon.
Why “rhetoric”? Doesn’t that just mean bullshit?
This is one of the great frustrations of scholars in our field. Rhetoric actually has a long and noble history as a legitimate area of scholastic inquiry. Only in the last several hundred years did rhetoric fall out of favor, and we’re working on a comeback. Anyone who has an interest in persuasion, or in paying attention to the problems that the world presents us as they occur in a real-life context, has an interest in rhetoric.
Rhetoric does not, in fact, mean duplicity, or dishonesty, or doubletalk. What it does mean is the tools of persuasion, as befits the particular situation, audience, and context. Where the dominant attitude in philosophy has always been to seek out the universal, the timeless, and the transcendent, rhetoric seeks to find best practices in the particular, the timely, and the real. We sometimes speak of rhetorical enthymeme as opposed to philosophical syllogism—the difference between the rough and real world of conditional, limited statements and the perfection of the purely theoretical.
One of the practical consequences of the rhetorical turn is that when we teach composition, we ask our students to consider the context in which they are making their appeals. We teach them to pay attention to their audience, to be alive to the realities of the particular situation, and to limit themselves in their claims to the conditional, as their understanding is necessarily conditional.
To give you a sense of what rhet/comp is all about, in graduate school (MA and PhD), some classes I’ve taken include those concerning
- Practical pedagogy
- Quantitative research methods
- Qualitative research methods
- Environmental rhetoric
- Linguistics and Generative Grammar
- Curriculum Design
- Environmental writing and rhetoric
- Public Writing and Deliberative Democracy
- Digital composition and network theory
- Assessment of writing, language, and literacy
Do you dislike literature?
Not at all. In fact literature and fiction are of tremendous interest and importance to me. They just aren’t a part of my academic life. Part of my purpose here is to think and write about literature and fiction, which isn’t part of my classwork or research. The consideration of the English language and its many facets encompasses a broad range of insights and methods of inquiry, and all have something to contribute. My own academic journey began in literature, and when I have the chance to read literary scholarship, I find a lot of brilliant and generative insights.
I won’t pretend that practical considerations haven’t played a role in my development. The professional study of literature is threatened, and the job market punishingly bad. Jobs in composition are a rare bright spot in the broader field of English, and I’m lucky to be earning my doctorate in a program with a strong track record for employment, both in distant and recent history. Of course, that could change, and my employment is certainly not guaranteed. But what is?
What can I expect to find here?
If I stick with it, a variety of things. I want this blog to consider writing, in many forms and through many lenses. I want to talk about writing I like, or writing I don’t; about trends or fads in writing or writing technologies; about books, articles, magazines, stories…. I also want to give advice for writing and writers, should anybody be interested in taking it. I’d also like to write a book review every once in awhile. I’m not going to artificially restrict myself. If an issue seems interesting and relevant to me, I’ll write about it. But this won’t be a general interest blog. I know myself, and the best way to keep my writing focused and temperate is to engage with issues pertaining to my academic research.
I also want to consider education, as my primary academic interests revolve around pedagogy. Educational research and journalism are issues of both personal and academic interest to me, and I possess enough professional training and research to write about them with reasonable expertise. Obviously, my focus will mostly be on research in literacy and language, but I will also likely consider education reform efforts and the research concerning them.
I hope, in part, to fill a void left by the end of Text Patterns, the fine blog on writing and language that Alan Jacobs retired last year.
Here’s what you won’t find: invective or anger; axe-grinding against particular writers or journalists; partisan politics; or other topics unrelated to the limited issues of this blog as I have defined them. That’s not to mean that I won’t remark on issues of controversy or debate. Language is always political, and it is often used towards political ends. Those issues are important and relevant to what I want to discuss here. Also, education is of course a matter of great controversy in this country, and as both my personal and professional interest concerns education reform, I am liking to write about contentious issues. I won’t shy away from criticism, but I hope not to pursue it artificially, and I hope to remain even-keeled, fair, and friendly.
I hope so. This will be a quiet corner of the Internet, but it will be clean, well-lit, and warm.