Apologies for the dumb title. No, wait. No apologies–it amuses me.
(I’ll make a valiant attempt at keeping parenthetical asides to a minimum.)
So, at right is what I’ve lovingly titled an uber-pre-dissertation Venn diagram. Inside it lies an admittedly still messy compilation and representation of ideas for what–at this point–I’d like to study for the next few years. It entails both an historical dimension as well as a theoretical & rhetorical dimension (a tall order).
Let me back into it (as the graphic does) from the historical end first; then I’ll build forward.
One of my long-standing scholarly interests is 19th century rhetorical instruction—specifically the paradigm shift that took place in the university during the first half of the century: both the understood “highest purposes” for discourse (and thus, composition instruction) and the makeup of the student body were changing. (Robert Connors writes quite a bit about institutional changes in Composition-Rhetoric; Nan Johnson focuses more on discursive/theoretical shifts in Nineteenth-Century Rhetoric in America.)
I see a strong comparison between the pedagogical paradigm shift that occurred during the 1840s to 1860s and what is going on now with the growing importance of digital literacy, new media, and how they mix with “traditional” composition-rhetoric instructional methods, especially as we continue to move beyond the process movement. Networked computing and communal knowledge models for discourse communities are changing our texts–not only the ways we use them, but what we even consider to be texts; discourse is shifting to a point where mainstream ideas and longstanding theories about “how it works” are breaking down. The “digital native” (to the extent that such an abstract exists) is changing the makeup of the university, whether the institution likes it or not. And once again, as in the 19th century and 20th century, “Johnny Can’t Write!” echoes throughout our social and institutional discourses.
More recently, I’ve grown an interest in the changing identity of the scholar (we’ve seen growing attention most recently to “edupunk” in news circles) and the changing nature of scholarly communication. (See this post and this other post). This very real (if still nebulous) shift in ideology, identity, and ethos is intimately tied to the comp-rhet shift I describe above. Both of these hinge on the sorts of social, economic, and cultural changes described by figures like Clay Shirky (Here Comes Everybody), Yochai Benkler (The Wealth of Networks), and David Weinberger (Everything is Miscellaneous), among (many) others.
So, what, exactly, do I want to look at? There are a couple of possible areas here (not all of which will be appropriate for a dissertation, but may certainly be worth further study):
- comparative study of the rhetoric surrounding each paradigm shift: who’s saying what, why, how, and to whom? (interesting, but probably not something I’d dissertate on)
- study of discursive changes wrought by networks/digital natives and (necessary) impact on composition-rhetoric instruction/theory (especially in terms of invention, which has always been my bailiwick.)
- study of discourse/rhetoric surrounding disciplinary shift in terms of scholarly identity & discourse in comp-rhet (especially in terms of blogging; is it invention? publication? networking? potentially something new?)