Standing in the Shadow of Giants: Plagiarists, Authors, Collaborators

Standing in the Shadow of Giants: Plagiarists, Authors, Collaborators

Standing in the Shadow of Giants: Plagiarists, Authors, Collaborators

Standing in the Shadow of Giants: Plagiarists, Authors, Collaborators


Who's cheating whom in college writing instruction? This book argues that through binary privileging of the "real" author (the inspired, autonomous genius) over the transgressive writer (the collaborator or the plagiarist), composition pedagogy deprives students of important opportunities to join in scholarly discourse and assume authorial roles. From Plato's paradoxical dependence on and rejection of Homer, to Jerome McGann's dismissal of copyright as the "hand of the dead," Standing in the Shadow of Giants surveys changes and conflicts in Western theories of authorship. From this survey emerges an account of how and why plagiarism became important to academic culture; how and why current pedagogical representations of plagiarism contradict contemporary theory of authorship; why the natural, necessary textual strategy of patchwriting is mis-classified as academic dishonesty; and how teachers might craft pedagogy that authorizes student writing instead of criminalizing it.


Finding one's language, one's voice. not finding something which is out there, or in
here, but is forged dialogically in response to the already written and in anticipation of the
hearer's responsive wordit is forged on the borderline.

George L. Dillon (1988)

In 1986, one third of the students in my General Education class at a prestigious liberal arts college plagiarized an assigned paper. The sort of plagiarism they committed is what I have come to call [patchwriting]: copying from a source text and then deleting some words, altering grammatical structures, or plugging in one synonym for another. The practice is uniformly banned in composition handbooks and in colleges' academic codes. Even when patchwriting is accompanied by citation and documentation, our standard academic rules label it a transgression subject to punishment.

When the patchwriting occurred in my 1986 class, I responded in what I then thought was a generous way: I gave all the plagiarists an [F] on the paper, lectured them on quotation, citation, and plagiarism, and invited them to revise. I now regard that response not only as inappropriate, but as detrimental to the students' learning. The immediate results, for one thing, were unsatisfactory: two of the students still plagiarized, even on the revision. Deeply disturbed by their seemingly irremediable failure to observe basic rules of academic discourse, I searched for answers. Why had so many well-prepared students, at a prestigious university with high admissions standards, plagiarized the paper in the first place? Why was it . . .

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