"Scholars are attempting not only to explore the conceptual frameworks of the field and its relation to other disciplines but also to examine the nature of their own inquiry as symbolic action. As I will try to show, this reflexivity is uniquely central to composition studies, deriving from the complex theory-praxis relation that characterizes the field" (182).
How does the interrogation of rhetoric and composition's attitude toward service relate to arguments of praxis?
"So one must characterize a disciplinary domain via the relationships among the following elements: a group of inquirers, a characteristic attitude toward phenomena, the objects of inquiry themselves, the means of inquiry, its purposes, and scenic factors" (182).
Phelps lays out the agents or actors involved in defining a discipline. While she draws on Burke to do so, she could easily be referring to Latour or Star here (though this work predates at least some of that--1986).
Disciplinarity reflects the complex relationships among people and objects. It is constrained by the context for their interactions as well as their attitudes toward one another. How would she define attitudes here? Obviously, they are phenomenological (contained by their materiality and understanding of those conditions), but I'm not sure what she's adding here other than saying that disciplinarity cannot be attributed to a single factor or a human agent.
"...domain suggests the metaphor of a space one controls" (emphasis in original 182).
While I take issue with this idea of control, I'm glad Phelps points toward the rhetoricity of domain and referring to composition as a domain. How does domain relate to Star's notion of boundary objects? It certainly implies specific boundaries, and Phelps will continue by discussing how a discipline needs specific boundaries to carry out disciplinary and interdisciplinary work.
"...defining the domain of composition amounts to negotiating a territorial claim with other disciplines over the responsibility that each has for a particular dimension of human life or mode of understanding it" (182).
In some ways, what I'm trying to get at is that we spend little time considering what a domain is in terms of infrastructure/its materiality. If we consider that as a domain a discipline encompasses the physical, liminal, and social space of praxis rather than a metaphoric thunderdome where theory and practice fight it out, then we begin to see disciplinarity's infrastructural underpinnings. These relate to but are not limited to institutional, departmental, and programmatic functioning (the local). They also eclipse the local and work across institutions: in fact they must move beyond local boundaries. Seeing Rhet/Comp as a domain includes but moves past interrogating its daily functioning (practice) as well as its intellectual aspirations (theory). Often, it seems, we focus on the latter and disregard the former, especially when we can label this functioning as service. When we do consider daily practices it's often reduced to lore or business decisions rather than being seen as small changes to that infrastructure. To date many of the folks trying to deal with this division have focused on the importance of theory, but they've also ignored theory in infrastructural terms. They see theory as the set of abstractions that guide pragmatic decisions, as a sort of pure ideology. Historically, this is equally true for folks who identify with the composition side of Rhet/Comp than those folks who identify with the rhetoric side of the equation (as exemplified by Sharon Crowley and her focus on dispatching the universal requirement to the dustbin of disciplinarity).
There are some problems with the above passage as it doesn't consider all the nuances in these arguments, but one thing I'll need to look more closely at is this obsession with the split between theory and practice and the ways previous scholars try to overcome it--at least enough to position why looking at infrastructure is different. Who already sort of does this? What terms do they use?
There's also an implicit critique of the overemphasis on the local.
Phelps leaves space for addressing this disparity in terms of understanding how the local relates to the global in defining a disciplinary domain. She talks about how interdisciplinarity relates to being able to define your discipline and how it views something differently than other disciplines. These divisions make collaboration possible. What does Rhet/Comp offer that another discipline would not? is it simply a knowledge of writing and the practical ability to carry out writing tasks, or is it something more. It seems to me that one of the things we need to take advantage of is the universal requirement. Rhet/Comp has tremendous social power. A failure to understand this infrastructurally also represents a failure to see beyond the practical or the abstract.
"My object is to push outward from the expanding conceptual core of the domain, defined in terms of symbolic action, to its margins, where composition encounters other disciplines and recognizes its limits" (183).
Hm...one thing I've overlooked is Phelps' focus on composition; she never mentions rhetoric. How does this complicate my work as I refer to both and would prefer to use both? I'd like to speak to folks in both camps, and there are problems there as not all composition programs connect themselves to rhetoric and not all rhetoric programs connect to composition. For example, some composition programs include creative writing, and some rhetoric programs are housed in Communications departments. This makes cross-institution relations and those things that play this roll extremely important (see Lisa Gerard on Computers and Writing).
When people complain about the problems of conducting interdisciplinary research, they need to explain what they mean. Often times, I've seen others complain about how universities don't value this work, but I'm not entirely convinced they know what interdisciplinary work is or what it means. I suppose they mean that their institution doesn't value it in that it doesn't pay for it, or it doesn't value what Rhet/Comp folks bring to such work. One thing I hope to offer or at very least begin to consider is how we can structure such work (or maybe how such work has been structured through cases). I appreciate how Phelps has a very clear, if brief, idea what interdisciplianry work means, but I won't hold my breath that she'll explain what it looks like. Also, what does she mean by offering different views? Does this include audiences, tools, venues, objects?
"...first orientation, toward a certain subject matter. The task is not merely to identify the objects and events that are studied, but to discover how conceptions constitute topics of inquiry in such a way that phenomena present themselves immediately in a certain light" (183).
Comp started as how to teach students to produce certain texts: composing is the fundamental process of written discourse. She deals with writing being divided from reading.
"Recent research has submitted this idea of writing to a critique and moves toward integrating the writer's composing act into a more comprehensive notion of written discourse as a complex social process by which discoursers co-construct meaning. In this project the object of inquiry becomes not writing, reading or texts, but their relationships to one another, to the individual, and to the world." (183).
This allowed for the expansion of the field and for a propensity for expansion. How does this also transform disciplinarity into a capitalist venture? Innovation and the push for new territory fuels disiplinarity? I would disagree with this storyline. What made advancement possible was instead a focus on infrastructure within and across institutions. Phelps and others focus only on part of the story. There's been a series of powerful moments that have shaped the discipline not because of expanding definitions of writing, but by how we approach writing as a praxis that occurs within and across particular spaces with sometimes shared and sometimes unique concerns (e.g., Wyoming Conference). There's a sort of activism or activity-ism that undergirds this expansion, and it has had both positive and negative effects of what composition becomes as a discipline. My dissertation attempts to make us more conscious about how these moments are structured with the hopes that we can consciously work with these structures and produce more of these moments.
"This brings me to the second orientation of composition scholarship, carried over from its beginnings in the teaching of freshman writing and before that from rhetoric as the organizing principle of classical education. Composition as a profession takes responsibility for facilitating the growth of literacy as well as understanding it. This link between knowledge and action, theoria and praxis, distinguishes composition from other language-related academic fields by making the teaching act itself a primary topic of scholarly inquiries" (187).
Should it be a triumvirate? Knowledge-praxis-infrastructure? There's some awareness in Phelps article that these questions connect to structures, but the focus on discourse and relations among people leaves parts of her earlier formulation (objects, attitudes, etc.) out to dry.
On p. 188 she cites Janice Lauer to say our work begins with practical questions of how to teach composition and moves outward toward abstraction and theory. Phelps is aware that here's some tension here, and she addresses how the field finds fault with the ability to abstract questions of writing as a social practice while at the same time understanding the need to do so. In stories about the formation of composition as a discipline this need becomes apparent, and folks like Crowley go so far as to throw out the practical needs in favor of the abstraction (or to return to Ancient Greece in search of a new disciplinary domain. Crowley argues that composition as a practical foundation for Rhet/Comp is completely bound up in an irredeemable set of relations within and across institutions. To me, this points toward Crowley's conception of ideology and the role it plays in forming and fostering a discipline (see Sanchez and McComiskey). Ideology flows from the top down (or conversely from the bottom, but still in a neatly linear, vertical fashion).
"While every discipline has its praxis, its theories, and its metatheory, in composition these are all bound together and cannot easily be teased apart" (190).
Phelps uses the term "boundary principle" to address how composition thinks of its core work. She raises questions about how we approach work from other fields in order to bring it into composition. Again, she cites Lauer in addressing the need to do so, but also the problems that may arise by pulling from another field. Are we doing so ethically? How are we understanding and using their work in a different context? How are we evaluating our own work to justify this movement? It seems that composition seems very lax about what stands for justification. Is analysis and theoretical probing enough to justify this boundary crossing? We certainly see fewer attempts to empirically justify movement in our field, and often we see little about how this connects back to the "core".
As Phelps argues, "There is perhaps no principled way to set boundaries for research that falls within the domain of composition. But we may usefully speak of a concentration or focusing of research near the core, as defined by the developmental orientation, and work that is closer or further from this center" (191). We must always imagine this center, but what is this center? Is it classroom practice? Is it something else, such as the grad programs turning out the most professors, the scholars who publish most frequently, the informal networks that steer graduates into certain jobs or even outside academia? We see very little attention to these latter questions from Phelps. I would think she'd call the fyc classroom the core.
Phelps does an excellent job addressing boundaries and boundary crossing on pp. 190 & 191. She refers to another one of her articles, "Foundations for a Modern Psychology of Composition," which I should check out. However, I assume much of this is reiterated in her book.