Jessie said in Summer Institute last week that once you are thinking on something you notice it everywhere. I am so in agreement with that. When we started our Murray Cards activity on Tuesday, I started with the momentary terror that those cards typically initiate for me. It’s such a short amount of time to come up with something, then claim it by reading aloud to a partner. As if I am coming up with something out of the blue; as if I am always starting on empty without anything to hold onto.
Well, this week after my initial floundering of over having something to say, I got going on writing about who gets to claim “composition.” I got pretty tied up both emotionally and conceptually in writing and sharing those cards with Carrie. I was starting to unwind my own disenfranchisement as an Early Childhood teacher and even as a writing teacher within the world of university composition.
So Tuesday night I read two things that smacked me in the face with the connection to my own thinking. Melissa’s blog talked about how it felt to her to claim expertise during the Murray Cards writing: the first card asks you to list things you are an expert on. Well, that sure made me think about how connected my own, seemingly individual and personal concern, is connected up to other people and to the roles and narratives mediated by the Murray Cards.
Later that night I was reading Joe Harris’ book, A Teaching Subject, on composition theory. The thing that struck me in there was how he connected up the idea authority to name “error” to claims on expertise. Wow! So being able to name errors in the world is a material action related to the claimed identities and power.
I said the connections are never-ending, right? So on Wednesday night as I was sitting at Amelies (yes, I’m always there) with Lil and Lucy and Tony and Cindy and Meaghan. We were thinking about how the claims of composition are contested even more deeply than I had been imagining.
Lucy pointed to the ways that Joe hedges his way through the “composition” conversation, never really claiming his place and stake—always smudging his claim with language that defers particular claims on particular conceptualizations.
This is the really interesting thing about expertise and activity… Language can play around with how we name ourselves and others in the conversation. Joe Harris defers a claim on an idea or identity. He is not an expressivist. He is not a post modernist. He’s not in agree with or disagreement with Mina Shaughnessey. At the same time his words and ideas do in their action claim things. His ideas do place him in particular conversations. He just tries to use more language to not claim it. Like instead of using language the way Derrida does to show the fissures, the fallings in of language, he is using it to cover up the spaces and to cover his own ass. And in that he is claiming something, too. He is claiming that negotiation is ultimate. That standing your ground, making a claim, is not the way to be active in the world.
And let me compound this. The one thing that Joe Harris does seem to claim expertise to in this book is being a teacher. He claims that identity and in claiming it via the primacy of negotiation, claims that teachers have no claim to any theoretical expertise of their own.
So his claim becomes: Standing your ground, making a claim, only works for those with institutional power. Laborers, like teachers and students, must always be willing to negotiate, not only their work terms but also their theoretical stances.