Neoliberal Composition: Economic Inequality in the History, Theory, and Practice of Composition Studies
thesisposted on 21.10.2015, 00:00 authored by Lucas J. Johnson
My dissertation is a history of Composition Studies in terms of what its practitioners have thought about the politics of writing instruction, in terms of economic inequality and the goals of higher education, and in terms of the material conditions (political economy) in which writing instruction takes place. My goal in offering this history (a periodization of sorts) is to better understand the discipline in terms of its pedagogical commitments–what we are trying to accomplish in our teaching–its ideological commitments–what we are trying to accomplish politically, sometimes through our teaching, sometimes through our research, sometimes through other workplace forms of political activity–and the changing material conditions under which these have developed and what the relation is between our commitments and those conditions. I will argue that even though composition has, at least since the late 1960s, concerned itself with the “process of the reproduction of social inequality,” it has also been divided over what that process is and, hence, how to resist it, with the principle divisions being between two alternate understandings of social justice pedagogy: a politics of deficit (socio-economic class) and a politics of difference (race, gender, culture). So along with its historical focus, this dissertation is also a critique of the social justice commitments of Composition Studies (which I argue have not been to the benefit of the students or the teachers) and, ultimately, a larger critique of the educational imagination, the continued faith in education as the solution to inequality in the United States.