Rhetoric and Composition as Intellectual Work

Rhetoric and Composition as Intellectual Work

Rhetoric and Composition as Intellectual Work

Rhetoric and Composition as Intellectual Work

Synopsis

In response to those who insist that rhetoric and composition should remain only a service discipline, editor Gary A. Olson's Rhetoric and Composition as Intellectual Work demonstrates that it already is an intellectual discipline, that for at least a quarter of a century the field has developed an impressive tradition of intellectual work in a remarkable assortment of subject areas. Rhetoric and Composition as Intellectual Work suggests the diversity of intellectual projects that have and will continue to make rhetoric and composition more than a service to the university, more than a field devoted solely to improving writing pedagogy, and more than a preliminary to literary studies.

This collection of nineteen essays by some of the most distinguished scholars in the discipline illustrates that rhetoric and composition has much to contribute to the intellectual milieu of the contemporary university, as the field continues to push its disciplinary borders and discover new sites of investigation.

Excerpt

It's not always apparent, but other disciplines have a long tradition of struggling over their intellectual identity. Anthropologists, for example, have debated for decades whether anthropology should be conceived of as a social “science” (in the tradition of Margaret Mead, say) or as a discipline that operates less as a “science” and more as an interpretive, hermeneutic, even rhetorical field (in the tradition of Clifford Geertz and Renato Rosaldo). For Geertz, all texts in the social sciences are in one way or another “fictions,” constructions, and he has argued that anthropologists need to treat them as such, not as inviolable, unassailable statements of scientific truth. Treating research reports and the like as “texts” does not diminish their usefulness or even their “truthfulness”; rather, it opens these texts up to a richer, more significant interpretation that leads to broader understanding of the subject at hand. This perspective, however, has caused great anxiety among those anthropologists who understand their task to be not one of interpretation but of objective, scientific data gathering and reporting: taking careful notes in the field (a primitive, aboriginal village, say), applying accepted anthropological principles to this data, and then reporting this factual information to fellow scholars. These are two very different—some might even say opposing—ways of conceptualizing the discipline, and so the debate has often been intense as each group has struggled to position its notion of the discipline to be the one accepted by the field as a whole. As a result, some anthropologists have felt that the field has no coherent identity, that, in the words of Geertz, “somehow the field doesn't hold together internally.” But to Geertz, an atmosphere of pluralism, diversity, debate, and conflict is productive because it keeps the discipline intellectually vital: “If you want that certainty, and if wobbling around in the water bothers you, then you should go into chem-

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