Overview: Partnerships in Public and Professional Writing

My research focuses on understanding how people use writing and rhetoric to form collaborative partnerships in order to solve mutual public problems, specifically within institutions. Lately, I’ve been researching what I’m calling “problematic partnerships,” or asymmetrical relationships of power between groups where both have similar goals but not necessarily similar values. In higher education, we see problematic partnerships in a variety of places: whether its working with instructors to implement program-wide assessment procedures, partnering with corporations on education technology initiatives, or working with government agencies on crafting language policy. These kinds of precarious partnerships are important for understanding how everyday people use language to carve our some wiggle-room for change within the institutions we inhabit.

Current and Future Projects

In a forthcoming co-authored essay for College Composition and Communication, we report the results of a collaborative assessment project and describe multi-stakeholder partnerships between graduate students, instructors, faculty members, administrators, and Departments of Institutional Effectiveness as collaborative ecologies. In addition, I’m also researching classroom-level partnerships. In one essay, I’m working on applying my theory of problematic partnerships to understand how “Business and Administrative Writing,” a course departments of English have been teaching (and complaining about) for almost 100 years, can better align with best practices in the field of Rhetoric and Composition. In another project, I’m collecting classroom data on a Public Writing course to understand how public writing pedagogy can be more responsive to modern public sphere theory that stresses local publics. My next project will examine the NCTE’s efforts to provide feedback on drafts of the Common Core State Standards. After these articles and book chapters, I plan on analyzing additional case studies for a larger monograph that theorizes problematic partnership and its relation to the discipline of Rhetoric and Composition.

Taken together, my research agenda sets out to articulate a range of problematic partnerships, from the classroom-level partnerships academics negotiate in the teaching and assessing of writing; to the departmental partnerships they forge to conduct research within larger institutional strictures in the university; to the broader partnerships academics often form with outside institutions in order to engage larger public problems. I argue that forging, sustaining, and thriving within problematic partnerships constitutes the major intellectual work of the discipline, and my hope is to discover new best practices from such endeavors.

Dissertation Project

In April of 2015, I defended my dissertation, which analyzed three moments in the field’s past, present, and encroaching future where writing researchers/teachers participated in public debates about writing: 1) Linda Brodkey’s “Writing about Difference” course at the University of Texas at Austin in the summer of 1990; 2) The NCTE’s response to the Common Core State Standards Initiative; and 3) Speculative debates about the impact of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) in writing classrooms. I used each case to argue for three public stances writing studies practitioners can take to engage public audiences and impact public problems related to writing: agitation, intervention, and disruption


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