Academic journal article College Composition and Communication

Project(ing) Literacy: Writing to Assemble in a Postcomposition FYW Classroom

Academic journal article College Composition and Communication

Project(ing) Literacy: Writing to Assemble in a Postcomposition FYW Classroom

Article excerpt

At the 2013 Annual Convention of the Conference on College Composition and Communication, Victor Villanueva presented the paper "Toward a Political Economy of Basic Writing Programs." Here, Villanueva called into question some commonly shared assumptions pertaining to the basic writer.1 As one live blogger wrote,

[Villanueva] reminds us that Basic Writers . . . are not in need of remedies or in need of development. There is no illness. There is no cognitive dysfunction. We must stop thinking about our students in terms of deficit and needing to be "prepared" for classes beyond basic writing. (Rysdam)

Villanueva's words echo arguments long made in literacy studies. His insistence on rejecting deficit models appeals to those interested in issues of access, who recognize that any approach to learning that would frame students as culturally deficient ultimately functions to deny access.2 For scholars and instructors steeped in decades of scholarship in literacy and composition studies, Villanueva's words are evidence of the failure to shake free of the deficit models underpinning all manner of first-year writing (FYW), particularly basic writing (BW) courses. However, outside these circles and across the university, Villanueva's proposition provokes two important questions: "Who are these first-year students, if they are not 'underprepared'?" and "What does a FYW course offer when we no longer view it as a service course to the 'remedial' student?"

In this essay, I address these questions, referencing the work of postcompositionist Sidney I. Dobrin and others who dismiss the pedagogical imperative all together, who paradoxically, in their efforts to shift the focus away from the subjects and toward writing itself, have created a potential for understanding better how FYW serves students. What separates the argument presented here from those often made by postcomposition theorists is a concerted interest in the subjects.3 An interest in better understanding students and what becomes of them in the writing classroom is in fact the impetus for this article.4 Here, I argue for a new consideration of FYW students, not as individuals underprepared or even underserved but, rather, as those who are actively and purposefully engaged in an ongoing and complex dialectical process of developing a sense of self and world. To regard students in this way is not meant to forward yet another euphemism to describe those whom many consider as outside the academic circle. Rather, it is an attempt to institute an academic circle that acknowledges the histories, experiences, and literacies that students bring with them to the classroom, and moreover that outright rejects theories of writing, curriculum, and pedagogy that would situate students' familiar rhetorics and well-developed literacies as deficits to learning.

Here, I argue that the pedagogical imperative to prepare those perceived as underprepared to write for the university has fostered a rush to theory that threatens to choke what might be gained by alternative pedagogical methods (Ewald 121). I call into question both curriculum and pedagogy stayed to theory that would treat writing as primarily a technology of representation and a writing process rooted in a notion of a fixed and stable reality that proceeds organically from one distinct object to the next. Instead I posit a theory of the writing space and present a fresh approach to the teaching of writing, under- scoring writing's generative qualities. Referencing Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari's concept of "assemblage," I demonstrate that not only in theory but also in practice, we have much to gain in recognizing writing as a complex and dynamic gathering of "things" and pieces of "things"-ideas, people, memories, events, and experiences. Taking up Kenneth Burke's peculiar treatment of the dialectical as overlap, ambiguity, and change, I advance a foundational theory that would treat the writing space as a dialectical space not between the writer and the audience but rather a space of ambiguity, overlap, assemblage, and expression of culture itself. …

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