Reviewed by Sheri Rysdam, Utah Valley University (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Co-Chairs: Deborah Mutnick, Long Island University
Shannon Carter, Texas A&M–Commerce
Keynote Speaker: Tony Scott, Syracuse University
This year on April 6, 2016, I attended a Wednesday afternoon workshop at the Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC) in Houston, Texas. The workshop was titled, “Writing Democracy 2016 | Documenting Our Place in History: The Political Turn, Part II” and was part of a Writing Democracy-themed effort within the field that has been ongoing since 2011.
The event originated as a response to the 2008 economic crisis and has continued to follow the economic recovery or lack thereof. The organizers encourage participants to consider how we might “write democracy,” with an attention to the economy, location, history, public movements, and social turns. This review focuses primarily on Tony Scott’s keynote, titled “Subverting Fear and Crisis in the Political Economy of Composition,” which was drawn in part from his collection co-edited with Nancy Welch, Composition in the Age of Austerity (2016).
In his talk Scott walked the audience through some of the austerity measures from the past several decades, especially as they pertained to publicly funded education. There is less government funding than ever before. For example, Scott stated that in 1987, only 23% of tuition and fees covered the costs of higher education. The remained costs were made up in government funding. Comparatively, in 2013, tuition and fees covered 47%—nearly half—of the costs of higher education. Over 25 years later, the government pays for much less of the overall cost of high education. Priorities are shifting away from education at an alarming rate.
The education budget was also severely diminished in 2008, when attempts were finally made to address and rectify the financial challenges of the recession. Since then, although the economy has steadily improved, funding levels still have still not surpassed the pre-2008 numbers.
Funding and employment in education are clearly linked to issues of social justice and labor rights, and Scott was interested in examining the impact of these austerity measures on curriculum and pedagogy. Scott stated, “In an era of austerity, we now face the consequences of a field that has never established a scholarly habit of positioning composition scholarship in relation to the powerful economic factors that share composition work.” To wit, education, curriculum, and pedagogy are more influenced by, and increasingly shaped by, marketization instead of in current scholarship within the field.
In that regard, Scott is critical of curriculum software. He is concerned about how they shape ideas about authorship, agency, language, and learning. He is concerned about how they shape teachers’ labor and expertise. Scott encouraged the audience to think about how large institutional investments in this software positions teachers’ agency, creative and intellectual work—in addition to pedagogical practices and goals.
Inherent in economic downturns is a sense of crisis. According to Scott (and referencing Naomi Klein’s 2007 discussion of disaster capitalism), crisis, such as economic crises like that which we see in funding cuts in public education, makes people act urgently but see myopically. It keeps people in a permanently reactionary state. By normalizing crisis we avoid or delay the normal critique and change that would naturally occur within an institution.
Klein, Naomi. (2007). The shock doctrine: The rise of disaster capitalism. New York, NY: Picador.
Welch, Nancy, & Scott, Tony (Eds.). (2016). Composition in the age of austerity. Logan, UT: Utah State University Press.