Sonic Rhetorics

A site for for sound reasoning

Summer conference report: RSA/Computers & Writing

I returned earlier this week from two nearly back-to-back conferences: RSA in Philadelphia and Computers & Writing in Raleigh (NC State). Attending both was exhausting and so I’ve been in recovery mode for the last several days. However, both experiences were unique and rewarding in a variety of ways. And since there have been several interesting post-conference reports from scholars I admire, I thought I’d do a quick one of my own.

Much of my interest in sharing my own work here doesn’t really come from an intense desire to put these ideas in front of a wider public. They are very much in a proto-dissertation phase and representative of my ideas in their infancy (well maybe they’re toddlers by now) and they feel like messy drafts… They do represent, however, a bit of a break with the typical conference presentation genre and that is why I think they are worth sharing.

I’ll start with RSA. From what I could tell, and of the three conferences that I attended this year (Cs, C&W, RSA), rhetoricians at RSA remain ensconced by the traditional sit-and-read-a-paper presentation style. This seems strange to me. And to be fair, there are variations: many papers I saw were read with PowerPoint or some other presentation software to highlight pieces of the talk with visuals and quotes (a style that is ubiquitous at Cs), and there were a few good extemporaneous-ish talks given from an outline or notes (I saw two bombed attempts at this, though–it’s not easy!). I only saw a couple multi-modal presentations/panels, but they were usually very compelling. For example, I  enjoyed the panel titled “RHETORICAL REMAINS: AFFECT, ENACTMENT, AND THE LIVING DEAD” with talks from Kerry Banazek, Erin R. Anderson, Anne Frances Wysocki, and Jamie Bianco. Each of these scholars used different combinations of image, sound, and text in their presentations. Some had lovely digitally mediated artifacts for us to look at and listen to (I especially liked Erin Anderson’s digital work with oral histories). Also of note here was the panel titled “OBJECT-ORIENTED RHETORIC: THE CASE OF THE BENJAMIN FRANKLIN BRIDGE” — especially Jim Brown’s talk which seemed almost interactive and included some great video and visuals we watched while listening to him speak. I was also impressed by Jim’s absentee Prezi he gave for an evening reception on publishing. Great stuff.

My presentation was also atypical. This was born, mostly, of necessity: I wanted to be able to queue music as both a back-up element and as direct reference material. Doing so while I was speaking would have been very difficult and would have distracted, I think, from the other pieces of the narrative. I decided kind of last minute (a few days before the presentation) to record myself reading my paper (Yes, I’m also enmeshed in the tradition. I’ll rethink the reading part in the future, I think). Doing so gave the talk a kind of podcast feel and made integrating other audio elements into the presentation much easier. It also allowed me to focus on the aural, which given my scholarly interests, worked well. My panel presented late in the conference and at an early hour, 8:00 AM on Monday morning, so we had only three people in the audience (all were friends of panel members). I asked one what she thought about my different approach. She replied tentatively. She had never heard anything like it done before and admitted that because it was a recording, it wasn’t as easy to stay focused. I get that.

Based on this critique, future work in the mode will include working on ways to keep things more lively. The obvious thing here would be to take advantage of the fact that having a recording at a live presentation creates the potentiality of having interactivity between me and the recording. I thought about doing a little of this during my presentation at RSA — reading along and in sync with pieces of it for emphasis, but that just felt weird. There are lots of things to think about here and I am very excited to continue exploring here.


Computers & Writing, on the other hand, seems more open to innovative presentation styles and good at modeling them. My presentation was part of a wonderful panel of similarly minded sound scholars and was titled: “Ways of (Sonic) Being: Composing and Performing Sonic Rhetorics”. My fellow-presenters, Kyle D. Stedman, Steven Hammer, and Harley Ferris, gave amazing (and smart!) presentations. I’ve not stopped thinking about them since, in fact.

My piece, as I’ve described it since, has felt strange to try relate. I, uh, played guitar and sang several songs while a video I prepared played behind me. Yeah, I, ahem, sang songs as part of an academic presentation. The impetus here was to get folks thinking about the intersections of vernacular and popular musics and the ways that each blend together when we make them part of our own narratives. I also wanted to explore the ways that musicians become public rhetors when they perform, especially when they encourage participation from the audience. My dissertation will work to address these issues but from a historical perspective that I fear will at times distract from the immediacy of the actual experience of being affected by music and the rhetorical agents singing/playing it. I wanted to bring that experience back to its intended space (and as such, the video below doesn’t really do what the live presentation did. It was only about 50% of what actually happened in the room).

You can view the entire presentation/performance here, care of Dan Anderson.

The important question here, I suppose, is one of expectations. What do we expect when we sit down for a conference presentation? What are we hoping to experience? Might the “experience” distract from the clarity of the expected argument of the presentation? How does that differ from our experiences with the scholarship that we read and seek to publish? More importantly for me, in what ways (and in what places) will the two blend together in our scholarly futures?

The Actual and the Possible

In a first (public) step towards demonstrating the actuality of “non-rational” rhetorics, I want to start by exploring the notion of the possible.

Aristotle begins his classic(al) text On Rhetoric by defining rhetoric as the art of being able to see the available, or possible, means of persuasion in each case. Aristotle’s rhetoric is a theoretical methodology and an art that one can master and deploy in the right moment. To access this art, a rhetorician must first demonstrate an understanding of language’s actuality, its success as a persuasive force, and also must recognize and study the complexities of that actuality. These complexities include (but are not limited to) cannons for rhetorical creation and deployment (invention, arrangement, style, memory, delivery) genre types (deliberative, forensic, or epideictic), and nuance related to persuasive means, or pisteis (ethos, pathos, logos). They would have also included, I assume, a study of rhetoric at work in the world and in the historical texts studied as a part of an education in rhetoric.

Once Aristotle’s students were properly girded with an understanding of rhetoric’s actuality in both its theoretical and practical modes, they could be plunked down into any situation and find themselves with an arsenal of linguistic tools for persuasive engagement. The possibilities were, as they say, endless.

This strategic negotiation of the actual and the possible was something that the rhetorical tradition had already been engaged with for centuries, if not longer. The group of traveling  teachers known collectively as the Sophists were also using the actual (cultural/historical norms matched with practices of rhetorical eloquence) to inform and shape their audience’s (and students’) understanding of the possible.  John Paulakos describes sophistic rhetoric as an exploration of “notions of opportunity, playfulness, and possibility as constitutive functions of circumstances, competition, and exhibition” (Sophistical Rhetoric in Classical Greece, 1995, p. 46). Ever cognizant of persuasion’s relation to time, or kairos, the sophists recognized that by saying the appropriate thing in the appropriate moment, audiences understanding of the actual  and the possible would come together in a powerfully persuasive moment. As Poulakos argues in an earlier essay titled “Toward a Sophistic Definition of Rhetoric”:

After [the rhetorician] captures the appropriate and places it temporally, he [sic] moves toward the suggestion of the possible. The starting point for the articulation of the possible is the ontological assumption that the main driving forces in man’s life are his desires, especially the desire to be other an dot be elsewhere. (1988, p. 43)

That which is absent in actuality has a potential to exist within future possibility. Therefore, the sophistic rhetorician is concerned with making present the actual and making actuality’s lack clear, and then proposing a possible (as-yet nonexistent) future. The audience’s belief in the possibility of that future is what makes the rhetorician’s message powerful.

This notion of the possible, then, is essential to an understanding one of the ways sophistic rhetoric worked but it also gives us a place to begin exploring the non-rational elements of rhetorical discourse. The possible as a non-actuality is not a strictly rational notion. It is, instead, an ideal, a belief, or a hope rather than a concrete, logical and real actuality. Poulakos elaborates on this idea:

The possible is an aspect of non-actuality claiming that given the proper chance, it can turn into something actual. And even though it opposes the actual [possibility is the opposite of actuality], it always seeks to become actualized. (1988, p. 45).

Again, this feels like only a start in the quest to begin understanding the non-rational elements of rhetoric, but it’s certainly a useful one. Serendipitously — and as a precursor to my next post –I came upon a section in book I’m reading called Music as Social Life: The Politics of Participation (by Thomas Turino) called “The Possible and the Actual” where he makes basically the same argument above only to apply it to our understanding of affect and the arts: “The interplay between the Possible and the Actual is, in fact, basic to all experience, and yet it often goes unnoticed” (p. 17) . I’ll start there next time.

It’s time to re-activate this space

It’s time to be a writer again. I’ve been holed up reading(?) for more than a year and now, as I begin writing the dissertation, I must begin writing everywhere and anywhere that will receive these characters, these symbols of my organized thought. Indeed, this is the goal of such writing: organized thought.

Therefore, I’m pleased to announce that Sonic Rhetorics the blog is being revamped as a space to work out issues related to the big questions and topics of my dissertation:

  • Sound and music and their relationship to the rhetorical tradition
  • The utility and/or futility of framing and naming areas of study. “Sonic Rhetorics,” for example: what is it? “Non-rational rhetoric”, huh? I’m also interested in terms like “sophistic historiography” (vis-à-vis Jarrett, 1991), theories of affect, aesthetics, orality/aurality, mythopoeia, epideictic, etc.
  • Music and meaning making in the American 1930s, Depression-era musical rhetorics and rhetoricians, new mass medias including records, sheet music and especially RADIO.
  • Accessing the Aural Archive: I’ll be looking at the vast (and newly digital) Lomax archive and will piggyback posts from my prairie hymnal site related to my investigation of that very interesting space for learning and sonic exploration.

Approaching the Lomax Archive: a call for organized investigation and listening (repost)

Originally posted on the Prairie Hymnal blog here:

Before I dive back into Lomax, I wanted to acknowledge the passing of one of the world’s genius innovators, Mr. Earl Scruggs. As Noam Pickelny says in this short NYT video piece, he was the Babe Ruth of the banjo. His influence is immeasurable. He’ll be sorely missed.


The Lomax archive got another huge press mention a few days, this time over at NPR. The story mentions the thousands of artifacts that have moved online but also makes mention of one of the things that I’ve been struggling with related to how to approach the enormous archive: Where do you start? It’s easy to jump over to the site and just throw a proverbial dart. You’ll find something to listen to after just a few clicks. That’s basically what I’ve been doing in my visits thus far. But accessing the “Global Jukebox” in all of its depth and breadth requires a more informed approach. What’s more, critically thinking through this digital space as both a historical repository for vernacular musics (that have been transfered from analog sources) as well as a product of Lomax’s very distinct kind of situated enthnographic practices (with all of his attendant personal and cultural baggage) should require a kind of guiding principle or method, at the very least. A thorough approach to accessing and understanding the archive could be the work of major academic studies — and surely there are those who are invested in scholarly ways.

But many of us are first and foremost interested in the music. In my posts, I’ll do my best to fall somewhere in the middle. While this archive is of scholarly interest to me (I just proposed to write a chapter of my dissertation on it), I’m also a music fan and am anxious to uncover gems and polish them up.

What I’m getting to here is a call for a more deliberate approach to the Cultural Equity archive. I’ll begin my own studied inquiry here, but would like to encourage others, popular and academic bloggers alike, to do the same. My plan is to start working chronologically and to move through the archive as a way of not only mapping Lomax’s career but also to get a sense for who his subjects were. What were their stories? How is their music a representation of those stories? What gets left out?

In short, I’m interested in the listening. My hope is that by listening closely to these artifacts, I’ll be able to piece together a larger narrative of both the importance of the archive itself, and also what our responsibilities as listeners are to that archive. I’ll have a few other resources to guide me including Lomax’s book and Szwed’s monograph,  but will also seek mainly to draw from the archive itself as a source for teaching me about what is there.

Now that I’ve made a case for a measured approach, I’m going to break with my new methodology immediately and point you towards this recording of Earl Scruggs with Lester Flatt and the Foggy Mountain Boys at the 1966 Newport Folk festival.

Here’s to hoping there are banjos in the foggy mountains beyond.

Final Portfolio Link

I have completed my final portfolio. Check it out here!

final video: wacky writing processes

sound: analysis|composition|knowledge

sound analysis|sound composition|sound knowledge

The journey along the continuum of understanding how to work with and through sound constantly shifts from traditional, empirical ways of knowing  and nontraditional, non-rational ways of knowing. In this first foray into understanding these phenomena I provide three layers within that continuum: analysis, composition, knowledge. Below, I identify how each of these layers can be utilized and presented using tools available through modern digital technologies.  Interestingly, I’m finding that the ease of writing (a rational, empirical rhetoric) about these different layers diminishes as I move from analysis (which is also rational) to trying to describe in words what I mean by “sound knowledge” — a non-rational rhetoric based on affect and deep, cultural traditions and belief systems. This will eventually become the larger theoretical problem of my future work.

Pt. 1 : sound|analysis

New medias allow for a variety of ways to present, engage with, and analyze sound. When reading traditional scholarship that includes within its scope the aural, it is frequently disappointing that the reader can’t actually hear the sound, be it music, sound effects, or whatever, that is being discussed.

Sometimes this can result in a misreading and even misunderstanding of the scholarship in question. For example, when I first read Jeff Rice’s “The making of ka-knowledge: Digital aurality” in the Spring 2006 issue of Computers and Composition, I was confused. I read the title as KA-knowledge, thinking that “KA” was something akin to the Egyptian ka that is roughly translated as “life-essence”. This was close, but maybe not quite on point to Rice’s thesis. Instead, “ka-knowledge” was a quote from the Beastie Boys song “The Sounds of Science” but, still, without hearing the song, I couldn’t really understand fully how Rice heard it and therefore have complete access to his argument. The article contains three other direct quotes of various musical artifacts and many other less specific musical references, each of which silently languish on the page.

Of course, our easy access to the internet can solve that problem easily enough, but something organic is lost when a reader has to stop reading, do a google search, hope to find a YouTube video or something with free access to the song and then, finally, listen to the sonic artifact.

Modern web publication such as that found in a simple blogging application have the capability of making reading and listening a much more seamless process more akin to visual studies where a painting or photograph can be easily reprinted in the publication. What follows are three options that Rice could have used had he published his article as a web-document.

First, he could have very easily embedded the song at it’s first mention:

“And the Beastie Boys (1989) highlighted droppin’ science in the song “The Sounds of Silence.”

This is a full-song link out. A similar link might be shared that has only the selection of the song that is quoted. I created this edit in 5 minutes using GarageBand. This seems to me a more concise way of going about the citation (and one that may be exempt from having to pay copyright royalties!).

Finally, for more detailed analysis projects, scholars might consider using software such as that offered at SoundCloud, a site created to encourage a social media-like conversation to happen around a shared song (usually of the users own creation), but also has a secondary use of offering visual comment points.

The Sounds Of Science by jwstone

Pt. 2 – sound|composition

As we move away from analysis into composition, it is immediately clear how very different the two are from one another. Analysis allows for a sense of artistic and rhetorical distance between object and critic, whereas composition requires the critic to become the artist and rhetor. When this transition is made, suddenly the sometimes long-forgotten principles  of delivery are useful again. Attention to tone of voice, sonic layering of music and effects, clarity of speech, etc. are important. I offer here two examples of how this kind of work my sound.

The first is a short sound piece that I made for an in-class presentation. In it, my main agenda was to play  around with sound and scholarly argument. I intentionally made the piece quirky and semi-musical. I wanted to demonstrate how very different arguments are when we hear them, especially when the speaker (as I was) is less interested in communicating a linear, logical argument and more interested in the sound itself: the tone of the voice, the shifting layers of speech, the meta sounds, and the affect of hearing.

Sound Presentation by Jon Stone.

The second is a link to Cynthia Self’s collection of sound essays she titles “The Movement of Air, The Breath of Meaning: Aurality and Multimodal Composing.” The essays collected here represent, for the most part, a more traditional approach to bringing aurality back into our disciplinary communication. The essays generally play out like radio programs: There is usually a narrator and then various other voices are used as the “cited” elements of the project. So, rather than quoting an expert, you can hear the words and voice of that expert in the actual essay. One essay, “The Legacy of Music” is able to have as a soundtrack the very instruments and music that the essayist profiles in the piece.

Both of these examples provide insight on reasons for considering the aural when teaching and creating rhetoric, and bring to the surface many rhetorical principles (delivery foremost among them, but surely not the only one) not present when composing with alphabetic texts.

pt.3 sound|knowledge

The impetus behind my interest in studying sound as rhetoric is not, as you might imagine, based solely on my  interest in music. It is related but not, in the end, what intrigues me. As I mentioned in my presentation, what fascinates me about sound is that its power towards affect is largely mysterious. And further, within the sonic realm are engrained cultural ways of hearing — these “ways” are tied to deep, embodied, shared cultural value systems that can be enacted unconsciously. My children, for example, know at what pitch to whine to get me to do what they want. And beyond that, my hunch is that there are sonic cues, be they vocal, musical( see also here and here), and even related to our sound effects, that correspond to ways of knowing that go beyond empirical notions of what it means to “know.” That, indeed, the sounds we make are audible evidence of deeply held cultural and ideological beliefs.

The trick, of course, is to find ways to make that argument. Felt experiences are not generally something that are easily reproduced and surely not guaranteed, so while sound analysis and composition might be used approximate the kinds of knowledge that I refer to here, the work on how to properly investigate and document this phenomenon will now become my task.

Brooke’s _Lingua Fracta_

Partner to this review is a class presentation on the book given by Pamela Saunders and I. You can find it here.
After finishing the final chapter of the Collin Brooke’s Lingua Fracta I had the distinct (and unusual) urge to turn back to the beginning of the book and start reading again. I think a lot about lately about the ways that disciplinary discourse is crafted, and in my view, Lingua Fracta is exemplary. Brooke’s ideas come across as developed, but restrained so as not to be overwhelming. He situates his argument by first demonstrating the importance of his book in rhetoric and composition studies, but also by deftly showing how his ideas and emergent theory of discursive analysis jibe with some of the most prominent discourse theoreticians: Burke, Barthes, Derrida, and a multitude of others). As I read, I kept thinking, “Oh! So that’s what a vigorous uptake of Barthes looks like” – and so on vis-à-vis the others.


Also at work here, is a deep engagement with the most prominent new media theorists and an articulation of how the ideas of McLuhan, Bolter and Grusin and Lev Manovich (and again, etc.) are applied to inform forward thinking regarding conceptions like “media,” and “remediation,” “text” and “hypertext.” In this way, even as Brooke is invoking his own theoretical framework he is doing so with scaffolding from a cast of respected scholarly progenitors. Brooke’s engagement with the difficult theoretical concepts of Manovich or Burke, for example, and the way he takes up the tools that they provide to build his own frameworks gives the author and his ideas a “practice-what-I-preach” ethos. For a book like Lingua Fracta, that ethos is particularly important. As Brooke himself mentions, refashioning the canons is a bold move to make. But the work he does to scaffold and situate his ideas make his bigger moves manageable.

Indeed, despite the density of some of the theoretical constructs at play in Lingua Fracta, Brooke’s book works nicely as an introduction to understanding the function of rhetorical studies in English, and may even serve as a heuristic for revisiting and rethinking through old rhetorical concepts. For example, much of Brooke’s text focuses on the canons of classical rhetoric and includes the proposal that “new media invites us to rethink (or reinvent) the canons . . . understanding them as practices that might, in turn, be used to understand the proliferation of interfaces that surround us” (xiii). He goes on to both rethink and reinvent those canons, but does so in a way that guides the reader back through the canons. By the end of the book, I like Brooks also admits, was reminded of how useful they can be for understanding discourse.

Another reason I wanted to go back and reread was that this was my first encounter with any text that drew on the concept of media ecologies. I’ve heard the term used from time to time, but this was the first time a major project that I have come across uses the term “ecology” to describe a complex system for understanding discourse. I love it. Ecology, he argues, “has become a crucial framework in recent years, particularly for scholars who examine media that, paradoxically, grow increasingly interconnected and global, on the one hand, and ever more diverse and intricate, on the other hand.” (28) For me this is fascinating and potentially very useful in my own future projects. It hints of the Bakhtinian concept of the “heteroglot,” but with, perhaps, a more manageable set of terms and guiding metaphors.

Finally, and very simply put,  of the success of the book for me is related to my own desire to take up his ideas and use them in my own work. I already mentioned my interest in media ecologies, but my desire to emulate goes beyond that single concept. The final sentence of the book communicates Brooke’s desire to have made “a strong contribution to our discipline’s efforts at developing a rhetoric of new media” (201). I think he succeeded.

of affect and art (brought to you by our sponsor, the body)

Stacey Pigg made me feel a tiny bit less neurotic when she acknowledges that many writers, and not just me, battle their bodies in order to get something written down. Writing as a bodily discipline is something that most academics likely have to deal with daily. That much, as well an identification with “the psychical anxiety of needing to check e-mail, Facebook, or IM just one more time” are bodily experiences that I know all too well.

She argues that “Texts are always embodied in relation to physical production and consumption” (241) – and since our reception of texts is always mediated by our bodies, it is impossible to separate one from the other. I get this. Crowley, she reminds us, taught that rhetoric isn’t in the texts themselves, but in our reception (and production) of them. Describing materiality in this way, as I see it, is another way to think about affect, but, funny thing, I didn’t really see that word come up much in the article).

These embodied realities map easily into mediated spaces. “For example,” Pigg writes, “at the simplest level, online writers stomp their feet by writing in all capital letters, they signal pauses with ellipses. This physical sensory element of digital writing often is clear in the actual texts that students create while writing online media…” (241).  Again, I get this. She then moves us through a variety of assignment prompts, each with elements encouraging students to remediate, use a variety of voices or perspectives, and/or blur the lines between work and play in the electronic artifacts they produce. These assignments as she presents them give students a variety of rhetorical analysis opportunities, all of which I think are useful in one way or another.

But what is missing here, again, is an acknowledgement of the reasons that these textual variations produce different rhetorical results. Why does using the words “haven’t passed shit” on a blog and then using the more official version of that phrase in a different context  (see p. 249) result in a different embodied response? There is such a close tie between embodied experience and emotion, that it seems almost ludicrous that that connection goes unacknowledged here. Is it that we have become so reticent to discuss emotional response that we have had to come up with a new phrase (“embodied materiality”) to discuss it? Maybe I missed the point here somewhere.


I’m still processing the Sorapure piece. I clicked around the web and found a few of the projects she cites are still available on the web:

Paetzold’s “Grey Area”

Bouchard’s “Autoportrait”

Nold’s “Greenwich Emotion Map”

Perhaps the most interesting connection here is the way in these examples that the database (that virtual filing cabinet of facts and figures) is utilized by artists to create what I would call rhetorical artifacts (isn’t all art, after all, rhetoric?). The reason that this seems to connect is that the database seems to be the furthest thing from an object capable of producing affect, but Sorapure’s examples all show potential ways of eliciting emotional response using unembodied information. I’m kind of amazed that I used the word database and artist in the same sentence, but there it is.


“from a focus on the invention of knowledge to the production of competencies and skills”

Here are the questions that rose to the surface for me after this week’s reading assignment. The first one should be fairly familiar by now.

What is writing instruction for?

When we talk about literacy, what goals do we have in mind for our students? What literate practices do we hope that they will engage in?

How do these questions play into the issues that Carmen Luke raises regarding knowledge capital and the globalization of post-secondary education?

In other words, is literacy instruction focused on an eventual “invention of knowledge” or, rather, is it another competency/skill we hope to pass along.

So what IS writing instruction for, anyway? And, again (because I’ve asked it before), I’m serious about this question. Certainly, of course, it is about students learning to write well (whatever that means). But more so, it seems to be about students learning to think well and then express that thinking clearly in a textual artifact.  Things get a bit convoluted when the debates begin as to what exactly students should be thinking clearly about, so let’s just leave it at this general summation, and complicate it slightly: Writing instructors want their students to be able to articulate textually an clearly rendered argument about a fairly complex matter or (perhaps even better) the collusion of related matters.

So, then, does thinking about (and teaching towards) literacy lead us toward that goal? As I ask above, what literate practices to we hope students will engage in that will lead them to success as writers in the above mentioned areas? Yi and Hirvela argue that a key to understanding school-based writing instruction might be to examine the self-based writing that they engage in (especially, in their case, for 1.5 Generation adolescents). Though, in their argument it appears that the only thing we really learn about school-based writing is inferior to self-based writing since literacy is a choice and not a requirement in self-directed writing practices (106).

1.5 Generation students “can be encouraged to look for ways in which to incorporate their self-sponsored writing into more academically-oriented writing tasks or apply more formal writing strategies and techniques to what they have previously composed outside school,” (106) but how, then, does that connect back up with the primary objectives of writing instructors? But do journal writing activities (as they suggest) help students become better critical thinkers?

Yo and Hirvela actually go on in their conclusion to show how journaling might move to more robust genres of academic writing in their conclusion (442). While reading their article, I couldn’t help but think of them any different kinds of self-based writing I have done over the years. I’ve been a fairly active private journal writer since I was around 13 years old. In 2002, I started writing in online spaces, and from their my online/offline self-based writing has blossomed. I currently tweet, write for at least 3 blogs, and engage in a variety of other writing, both public and private. These spaces move in and out of what might be considered “academic” genres. Undoubtedly these kinds of writing practices have aided in my “formal” writing development, in fact, many of them have been encouraged by zealous writing instructors over the years. It is no mistake, I think, that my interest in personal journaling roughly coincided with a 10th grade assignment from my English teacher to journal each week.

I hoped to connect this back in with Luke’s article by pointing to her concluding portrait of the university in transition, so I’ll move there now and try to draw some conclusions.

The university is in transition: from its historical self-definition as a public national good to an entrepreneurial industry with tradeable goods, from a world of students to one of “customers”, from pedagogues to “facilitators”, from teaching to “delivery”, and from a focus on the invention of knowledge to the production of competencies and skills. (114, my emphasis)

Luke casts a skeptical eye at globalization and its effects on university education. I wondered where, specifically, the types of composition teaching practices—indeed, the focus on literacy itself—fell on the scale between “invention of knowledge” and the “production of competencies and skills.” And since teaching composition instruction in general seems more about the teaching of competencies and skills, are we complicit to the shift in university education that she is so concerned about?

Here’s where, in a personal admission, I acknowledge one possible result of this kind of pedagogy and what it means to have been raised on “competencies and skills,” a customer to college and university education for over 10 years: I have often felt like, despite my many years of schooling, I don’t know much of anything. I have tools galore for gaining that knowledge, indeed, I have limitless potential (that much has been part of the dogmatic, post-secondary, chant).  But, like a late-night infomercial, college has made promises that have not been fulfilled regarding their product, specifically that it will lead to gainful employment. And while the economy in general may be to blame for this phenomenon, the numbers of college graduates who head back home to their parents’ house is on the rise. They, like me, bought into college’s promise of helping them get to their future of success and happiness, but, with only shiny tools (competencies/skills, whatever you want to call them) and nowhere (and sometimes no knowledge on how) to use them, well… better head to grad school.*

*I’m perfectly happy to be in graduate school, of course, and find that I may actually have both the knowledge and the know-how to find gainful employment this go around, but wow, it’s been a long road and my pockets are nearly empty.


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