A blog about life, language, writing, and other trivia.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Disciplinary Writing (in Geologic Time)

I'm in the (very) initial stages of transforming my diss into something resembling a publishable book, and there's a point that I make in a relatively localized part of the diss that is going to become much, much more central to my argument in the book. Namely, I argue that the slowness of disciplinary publication processes (from lengthy periods of drafting, to painfully waiting on reviewers and editors, to preparing proofs, to printing, to dissseminating, and finally to the two or more years of seeping into circulation among other compositionists), serves an important centripetal function in the production and maintenance of composition as a discipline. Were our knowledge to accumulate in a more rapid-fire succession--say, through listservs or even IM--then it's pretty clear that it would be:

a. too localized to have a widespread impact and, therefore, to help solidify a sense of unity, no matter how loose, among members of the discipline

b. too fast to keep up with, making it impossible to identify relevant disciplinary questions or to situate one's contributions in relevant conversations

c. too lacking in formal observational/hierarchical controls (i.e., disciplinary mechanisms in the Foucaultian sense) for us to reliably distinguish authoritative from non-authoritative work, and

d. Just too damn much to follow (the "they'll let anyone into this party" phenomon).

Obviously, my argument is played out in greater detail and within a more sophisticated theoretical framework (mostly Burke, Foucault, and Niklas Luhmann). But that's the basic point: the slowness of writing helps to maintain the discipline qua discipline.

One thing I haven't considered, though, is the problem such slowness poses for people who write about what Spencer Schaffner calls "moving targets." When people write about subjects, especially digital media, that change almost daily, how can they be expected to work within the nearly geologic time of disciplinary publication? I know books and journals aren't the only venues out there, but even online publications like Kairos have review processes. And blogs, while incredibly useful as means of building community and sharing and testing ideas (especially gestating ones like the one in this post) and arguments (inevitably destined, or at least intended, for print elsewhere), simply aren't--and shouldn't be--subjected to the forms of ritualized observation that confer authority on more formal disciplinary work.

No conclusion. Just thinking "out loud."


At 10:40 AM, Blogger Derek said...

Sounds interesting. Kind of a disciplinarity production as slow food movement. It brings to mind the considerable force of institutional time on the crawl of the discipline. In other words, as I understand them, T&P expectations are largest among the gears that reproduce publication models that, in turn, constitute the discipline: one article per year, a book contract by year x (seven usually?), and so on. There are other settings on the dial, from the glacial pace of a book written over fifteen years, let's say, to the hyper- or frenetic forms you mention, even if these are discordant with the tenure clock. And so I suppose there would be multiple tempos, with peer-reviewed pubs chief among them in synching the noetic clockworks of the field.

Reminds me, too, of Lanham's stuff on attention structures, as in the noetic field is an amalgam of temporally-anchored attention structure(s).

At 3:16 PM, Blogger Lance said...

I like the idea of there being multiple tempos in academic work and life and that those tempos are related to the kinds of writing and writing technologies we em/deploy. I wonder, though, whether the "tenure clock" isn't as much an effect as a cause of the tempo of that most crucial and anxiety-inducing part of our academic lives. I mean, a department requiring three articles a year and a book in two years won't keep anybody around very long.

As for the T&P-as-gear metaphor, I prefer to think of disciplines in more organic terms as ecologies, or even as complex self-organizing systems. To me, then, T&P requirements are more like operational parameters--inputs that influence how the elements of the system (i.e., us) interact with, cluster, and repel each other (and so how the system also interacts with its environment, with other systems)--than gears. And, yet, they are also emergent effects of disciplinary activity, which is why disciplines have the capacity to (slowly) respond to shifting exigencies of history and culture. The parameters influence how the system works internally and interacts with other systems, which influences the parameters, which influence . . . .

Lanham on attention structures sounds cool; I'll definitely be giving it a look. Thanks.

At 4:11 PM, Blogger Derek said...

That's cool. I'll grant that the gear metaphor is mechanistic, but so are some T&P rubrics, and in keeping with time-based analysis, I was thinking gears as they function in the passing of institutional time. Ecologies and complex adaptive systems are apt for describing disciplinary formation, I agree, yet I was thinking that there's something distinctive about the aggregate of published writing done primarily to appease explicit, formal T&P criteria. But I guess that loops back around to the matter of multiple tempos, some imposed rather than emergent.

At 7:49 PM, Blogger Lance said...

So, really, T&P requirements are cogs--but they're cogs in an organism where there should be a heart (or liver, or lungs) instead.

Composition as B movie cyborg?


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