Rhetoric and Composition: Academic Capitalism and Cheap Teachers | Ann Larson | A is for Adjunct | Scoop.it

Excepts from long but excellent article by Ann Larson published March 3, 2012, on her blog, http://annlarson.org


When I enrolled in the PhD Program in English at the CUNY Graduate Center to study Composition and Rhetoric, I was idealistic about the future of the discipline and my own place in it. I believed that Comp and Rhet (as I came to call it) was asking crucial questions that were central to the mission of higher education in America. I still believe that.


But, after working in the field in a number of full-time and part-time positions over several years, my idealism has turned to despair at what I now regard as Composition’s great shame. It has left me to doubt that there is a place in the field for me and for many others like me.


As anyone who teaches college writing is probably aware, the majority of such courses are taught by contingent faculty, including adjuncts and graduate students. These workers usually receive low wages and few benefits.


The Real Problem: In Which It Turns Out that Academic Capitalism is Just Like Regular Capitalism


The previous discussion of disappearing full-time jobs in Composition and Rhetoric allows me to define some terms. What do I mean by the word “system” that I have been using so far?


Viewing contingency as a systemic problem means acknowledging that we can’t make everything better by cutting off the supply of PhDs, by encouraging veterans to retire, or by working harder for table scraps. And we certainly aren’t getting anywhere by waiting patiently for the field’s éminence grise to voluntarily develop an accurate grasp of the facts.


But there is a way back to true relevance. Harvey’s theory of capitalism’s road to crisis suggests a new task for those who are in a better position than most to demand change. It is “the task of the educated discontented,” he writes, “to magnify the subaltern voice so that attention can be paid to the circumstances of exploitation and repression.” The well-known voices in our field must magnify the voices of their oppressed colleagues. A real “Contingency Studies” ought to start with the field’s veterans. As prominent members of the profession, it’s their responsibility to speak for and against that profession, and certainly for the next generation of scholars. These emissaries guard the gates of an academic discipline that is disintegrating. It’s time they recognized it.