Apologies for Cross Posting: Composing Disciplinary Conflicts and Affects on the Writing Program Administrators Listserv
My dissertation utilizes methodologies of digital discourse analysis in order to situate the WPA Listserv (WPA-L) as a dynamic but under-theorized site of disciplinary knowledge-making for the field of Composition and Rhetoric. Drawing on theories of counterpublics, online communication, and affect, I showcase how the WPA-L functions as a discursive space in which individuals build community, debate pressing issues, and strategize how best to advocate for their individual and collective interests. At the same time that the listserv functions as counterpublic space for the discipline at large, I argue that sub-disciplinary counterpublics made up of individuals marginalized within the field (graduate students, part-time and contingent faculty, two-year college specialists) can make use of the democratic nature of this digital platform to speak back to more powerful segments—and, at times, even individuals—of the field. Thus, I argue that the WPA-L, gives voice to individuals not often afforded access to speak in more traditionally-authorized platforms of knowledge-making like peer-reviewed journals and monographs. In crafting this argument, I investigate the rhetorical moves employed by listserv participants in the three most active WPA-L threads of 2015 (examining a total of 180 listserv email messages). My analysis of these three conversations demonstrates how listserv conversations intervene in larger disciplinary discussions about the theory/practice divide in the field; about issues of contingency and labor activism; and about the emotional tolls and rewards of Writing Program Administration. At a historical moment when the number of tenure-track research positions in the field is declining and the number of part-time, contingent, and two-year specialists is rapidly increasing, I argue it is especially important to consider spaces like the WPA-L in which these non-research-focused members of the discipline participate in the work of disciplinary commentary, knowledge-making, and theory-building. I see my dissertation as contributing to such work.
CHAPTER 1—Dear Colleagues/Dear Hivemind: Disciplinary Knowledge-Making on the WPA-L
This introductory chapter makes the case for recognizing the WPA-L as an important site of disciplinary knowledge-making for the field of Composition and Rhetoric. The chapter asserts that the WPA-L is one of the only platforms that allows one to witness the field respond to issues in time and en masse. Further, the chapter argues that the WPA-L is perhaps the most public site of disciplinary conversation and that the democratic nature of this virtual space affords access to individuals often isolated from more traditional sites of disciplinary dialogue. The chapter outlines the methodology for the dissertation and reviews existing literature on the WPA-L, on counterpublic spaces, on online communication, and on theories of affect.
CHAPTER 2—"Clearly Perspectives Like Mine Are Not Popular": Debating Disciplinary Purpose and Future on the WPA-L
This chapter analyzes the WPA-L's response to Adam Banks's Chair's Address at the 2015 Conference on College Composition and Communication. The listserv threads examined in this chapter include contributions from a diverse range of individuals in the field (who vary in terms of career point, institutional context, and research focus) who are all interested in responding to the implications of Banks's address and debating the discipline's purpose and possible futures. This chapter specifically focuses in on one graduate student's frequent contributions to the thread and his felt impressions about what he perceives as a disciplinary "abandonment" of student writing and writing instruction in favor of a cultural studies research agenda. While empirical research counters the claim of this individual, the chapter argues that such felt impressions are valuable to consider and that the WPA-L is one of the only locations to access such impressions.
CHAPTER 3—"Um, Can You Boys Take It Out Back Please?": Personal, Professional, and Political Conflicts on the WPA-L
This chapter examines one of the most heated WPA-L conversations in recent years—the listserv's response to Anne Ruggles Gere's election as Second Vice President of the Modern Language Association. These threads, which began with a celebratory purpose, eventually devolved into a tense debate about disciplinary politics, representation, and activism, one littered with profanity and ad hominem attacks. This chapter reflects on the ways that a handful of voices can overtake conversations on the WPA-L, the dark sides of the disembodied and in-time nature of online communication, and the ways that listserv members work to respond to and recover conversations that have become counterproductive. The chapter concludes by reflecting on the value of examining moments in which professional civility is abandoned and how the WPA-L is one location to witness such moments.
CHAPTER 4—"The Best Part": Composing Disciplinary Pleasure and Distress on the WPA-L
While Chapters 2 and 3 center on the ways that emotions shape and emerge through conversations on the WPA-L, this chapter investigates a thread specifically focused on inquiring into disciplinary affect. It examines E. Shelley Reid's listserv query inviting individuals to write in and name "the best part" of being a writing program administrator. Reid wrote to the list after the students in her graduate course on writing program administration appeared depressed and wondered why anyone would want to do WPA Work. The chapter examines how the reasons given to explain the "best parts" of WPA work might also help explain the major challenges and emotional ups and downs of WPA work, and it showcases how comments speaking to the "best parts" of WPA work often simultaneously reference the worst. The chapter concludes by juxtposing the listserv conversation started by Reid to an earlier listserv conversation about disciplinary affects—the listserv's discussion of Laura Micciche's essay on disappointment and WPA work in order to build a case for seeing the WPA as both an archive of emotions and an archive of conversations about the emotions of the field's work.
CHAPTER 5—Message Forthcoming: A Conclusion and Call for Future Research on the WPA-L
This final chapter closes the dissertation by reflecting on the ways that the WPA-L embodies many of the qualities valued in the pedagogical theories of the field of Composition and Rhetoric. The chapter argues that the WPA-L can be seen as an embodiment of what Donna Qualley describes as an an "essayistic stance" necessary for reflexive inquiry. The listserv is an in-process and ongoing space of inquiry, exploration, and critical confrontation between diverse points of view. The chapter uses this claim to again echo the importance of examining the WPA-L as a site of disciplinary knowledge-making and concludes by outlining several areas of future research that might be undertaken.