Being a Scholar of RAD: or, the Virtue of Cynicism

Diógenes, by Jules Bastien-Lepage. (1873)
Diógenes, by Jules Bastien-Lepage. (1873)

INTRODUCTION – In search of an honest man

When all the company was blaming an indifferent harp-player, he alone praised him, and being asked why he did so, he said, ‘Because although he his such as he is, he plays the harp and does not steal.’ He saluted a harp player who was always left alone by his hearers, with ‘Good morning, cock;’ and when the man asked him ‘Why so?’ he said, ‘Because you, when you sing, make everyone get up.’ (Lives of Eminent Philosophers, 234)

This semester, as I’ve posited a reading of RAD research as an ideological, pedagogical, and social act contextualized within the framework of capital and interdisciplinary challenges in the modern academy, I’ve had some people respond negatively to my support for empiricism as a tool to serve a social and institutional good.  I have been called “naïve,” sometimes multiple times in a single sentence.  The implication of this condemnation of a humanist approach to empirical research as “naiveté” is that believing in the inherent moral good of empirical pursuits of “Truth” is ill-informed at best, and further demonstrates the disempowerment of the teaching researcher in the modern, neo-liberal academy at worst.  I am, in my naiveté, a tool of the greater disenfranchising machinery of the capitalist, anti-education university of the 21st century.  Perhaps.  In terms of the trajectory of the Western academy, these will certainly one day be looked back upon as “the lean years.”  If it is naïve to attempt to see a way through and out, so be it.

The subtitle to this blog is not a trivial facet of its design, but rather very important to me – “in which the author, a cynic, attempts to locate his own humanity through the absurdist enterprise of academic scholarship.”

Let there be no doubt, celebrating academic scholarship within the neo-liberal university – which cares not at all for academia, nor for scholarship – is an endeavor as absurd as the plot of any Kafka novel.  And the pursuit of noble goals in the face of the nihilistic realities of that absurdity is inherently a search for one’s humanity.

It may have befit my argument (though I’ll not revise away the truth of the original form now) to have capitalized “Cynic.”  Both are valid, I believe.  The lowercase-c cynic can never be truly naïve, because the cynic rejects apparent value and distrusts the motives which drive the society and the organizational structures in which he exists.  The difference between my cynicism and a fully non-humanistic cynicism is that I do not lack faith in my fellow human beings to be better than, to rise above the challenges presented by restrictive neo-liberal educational structures and create new meaning which improves the lot of the typical student, expands knowledge for all of society, and leaves campuses more welcoming, productive, and honest spaces for discourse and discovery.

I may be a cynic, but it is my desire, rather, to always be a Cynic.  To the Cynic, it is the hard path which reveals Truth.  A life of virtue rejects celebrity, denies wealth, and finds no home or comfort.

While other rhetoric/composition folks worship at the shrine of argument inhabited by Aristotle and Plato, I have always believed more in the rational pragmatic power of Diogenes of Sinope – an ascetic who criticizes the social values of the modern academy by rejecting the trappings of them (and by encouraging others to consider the same).  He would, quite famously, wander the day-lit streets of Athens with a lantern; when asked why, he would respond that he was searching for an honest man.

This is what it means to be a scholar of RAD.


CONTRIBUTING TO THE MAJOR DISCOURSE

Having been in a very dirty bath, he said, ‘I wonder where the people, who bathe here, clean themselves.’ (Lives of Eminent Philosophers, 234)

For me, RAD scholarship is a field which is ripe for further contributions, especially from young scholars looking to add meaningfully to the future direction of discourse in the discipline.  I find, especially, the intersection of Rhetoric and Composition and RAD scholarship to be a point of entry into a broader discussion about the role that evidence, research, and the ideologies of knowledge can play in our pedagogy.

In my supplement to the last paper, I argued that “English scholars must integrate themselves into the modern scholarly enterprise – and the modern scholarly enterprise trades in the currency of replicable data” (link).  If I can contribute in any significant way to my chosen discipline, it is in the transfer of RAD ideology and methodology from the academic/administrative to the academic/pedagogical; if RAD’s contribution thus far – as explored by Driscoll and Haswell – has been primarily administrative and programmatic, I feel that there has been a lack of focus on creating an intellectual inertia to drive these interests in the next generation of academic participants and citizens.

The major discourse of English Studies today is what Diogenes might have labelled a “very dirty bath,” a murky place where we can never truly find hygiene.  If RAD can contribute anything for academics, it is to “clear the waters,” so to speak, and provide some transparency to how we generate, share, and disseminate knowledge.  However, I am – first and foremost – a scholar of Composition studies; my first interest must be for my students, for the learning writer who is exploring the hygiene of their own truths.  I have spoken this semester about the regard I hold for George Hillocks, Jr.’s Research on Written Composition: New Directions for Teaching (1986) and the ways in which it contributed to the general understanding of how students write, how that writing is assessed, and how such assessment and the teaching of student writing can be supplemented by research.

However, Hillocks’ contributions were largely top-down.  I have always been interested by – and collected – texts which attempt to approach research from a bottom-up perspective, especially research writing manuals for undergraduates which focus on data hygiene, the pursuit of personal voice within synthesized reading practices, and the transition from inquiry into self-expression of belief and argument.  Perhaps my favorite examples of these texts are Charles Bazerman’s The Informed Writer: Using Sources in the Disciplines (1981) – now in its 5th and likely final edition – which has been released as a free-to-access open-source text through the Writing Studio at Colorado State; Stuart Greene and April Lidinsky’s From Inquiry to Academic Writing (2008), now in its third edition on Bedford St. Martin’s Press; and James Lester Jr. and James Lester Sr.’s Writing Research Papers: A Complete Guide, now in its fifteenth edition on Pearson Press.

These are not perfect texts.  Even ignoring the fact that there is no such thing as a “perfect text” to teach writing, inquiry, and research, these are highly problematic texts.  Each is written in a for-profit model, is published (at least originally, in the case of The Informed Writer) on academic imprints with questionable disciplinary ethos, and is quickly becoming dated based upon the challenges of the modern, ever-shifting world of research technology and writing standards.  They exist within the temporal and economic realities of the modern academy, and yet they are inherently productive texts which attempt to do the work of bringing students to research, rather than bringing research to bear upon students.

I am quite familiar with imperfect texts.  I have co-edited an all-too-imperfect text myself, and the process of creating it taught me more about the challenges of publishing for student use in academia – and the need for readily available, open-source resources for student research learning – than all the rest of my experiences in the academy.  The for-profit textbook model is disastrous for students, problematic for departments, and challenging for scholars who believe that the best form of the argument is the most current and well-informed.  I am proud of The Engaged Reader; the opportunity to work with colleagues in the creation of such a text, and the experience of teaching from a book I myself had a hand in creating, was a formative moment in my realization of what is truly important to me in pedagogy and discourse.  However, in its first iteration, which is now undergoing significant revision and supplemental development, I fear that elements of its design and organization (which I take full responsibility for) may have only further muddied the waters in terms of how research from readings works in the composition classroom.

How do we clear the waters for students?  Through information.  Through access to information.  And through a policy of transparency which discusses, explores, and explains the processes through which knowledge is filtered for their consideration and consumption – be it publishing, distribution, or software and database access.  I was a Masters student in English before I truly came to understand how much economic realities of the academy restricted my access to necessary scholarly resources.  I realize that other students certainly came to appreciate these issues much earlier in their learning careers than I did, but I can’t help but think that one of the roles of the RAD instructor and communicator is to help students explore the data-centric, economic, political structures surrounding their learning – in research, in publication, and in the technology of inquiry and expression.

All of this brings me around to the originating question of this section – what will I contribute to the discourse?

  • Perhaps I will find avenues to publish on these challenges and students’ understanding of the role such factors play in their learning – and through this, I will help create a next generation of scholars more keen to reject or refine these models, and more able to articulate their academic needs to administrators.
  • Perhaps I will create research, as I have previously discussed, which will explore the ways in which technologies for research, composition, and assessment guide and direct students into bureaucratic systems of knowledge which restrict inquiry and prevent meaningful learning (e.g., LMSs, CMSs, for-profit composition platforms, etc.)
  • Perhaps I will work to create a truly open-source resource for students and instructors which will create – and can maintain – an ethos of student-first RAD inquiry, giving instructors the ability to contribute to the greater development of research-literate undergraduate writers.

KNOWLEDGE FOR SCHOLARSHIP

When he was asked whether he had any girl or boy to wait on him, he said, ‘No.’ And as his questioner asked further, ‘If then you die, who will bury you?’ he replied, “Whoever wants my house.’ (Lives of Eminent Philosophers, 236)

If the question of how one may contribute is resolved for me through specific projects, questions which must be resolved in order for the general practice of “truth” to be perpetuated and continued are more difficult.  The question of what knowledge must be brought to bear on these issues is broadly general, and can, sadly enough, read like a platitude.  The championing of RAD ideology requires specific knowledge of methodology beyond the norms of the humanities, and that makes such interests far more challenging to communicate.

In light of this, there are many issues we must resolve if we are to give students access to meaningful RAD knowledge and resources, and these issues are manifold within the university system, but also the legal scaffolds of data and knowledge today.  There is a body of topical knowledge with which RAD scholars must begin to familiarize themselves if this work is to meaningfully progress.

  • For instance, I attempt to always be aware of the intellectual property concern of information in the modern economies of academic institutions (for the last two years, I have been a voting member of the caucus for the CCCC Committee on Intellectual Property, for instance) – and as we move forward in attempting to reclaim research, data, and resources for student benefit (and student use), issues regarding the ownership of academic data are only going to become more important. Open source models are a first step, and are important, but increasing IP literacy for students (above and beyond simply teaching plagiarism policies and accurate citation) is key to progressing the field in the coming generation of composition instructors – and RAD researchers.
  • Similarly, I believe that RAD researchers must develop in coming years additional focus on the student, not as a product of research, nor as a source of research, but as a potential (and often pre-existing) researcher himself or herself. There has been great work done by Driscoll, Witte, Hillocks, and others in incorporating the student interest and instructor/student interactions into the research of writing instruction.  However, it may be time (in the frame of equitable feminist research epistemology I have discussed throughout this semester) to more fully explore and consider the humanistic values of undergraduate research as a source of its own knowledge – and of knowledge for its own community, rather than as a source of assessment.
  • In this light, it is critical for the RAD researcher to develop further appreciation of the role that research assessment plays in writing development. Publications such as Written Communication, the Journal of Writing Research, the Writing Center Journal, Computers and Composition, and the Journal of Basic Writing have done incredible work in recent years calling for and disseminating RAD research on the research assessment concern in the classroom; it may be time to publish more meaningfully on how students view, use, and understand research in their own lives, both as academics and budding professionals in the liminal space of the preparatory academy.  We are certainly more than due to reconsider how we assess and value such work as an expression of individual literacies.
  • Of course, in order to meaningfully direct students through the challenge of exploring their own research literacy, RAD-guided instructors must familiarize themselves more fully with the methodologies, protocols, philosophies, and ideological drives – good and bad – of empirical research within composition. This means additional focus, as discussed in papers #1 through #4, on developing research methodology literacy, a skeptical mindset, and an appreciation of the intertwining of personal ideology and research methodologies present in current scholarship.  Instructors in English Studies today, frankly, come from English Studies (shocking, I know).  Thanks to anti-positivist pushback against empirical research in the 1980s and before, the typical scholar working in the field today has a research literacy which is woefully underdeveloped – the average scholar simply did not come up under a system which encouraged statistical hygiene, careful consideration of methodology, bias, and confounding factors, or ethical reporting of research findings and processes.

This must be resolved if we are to encourage such literacies in our own students.  In the same way that writing instructors embraced the personal computer, and developed their scholarship alongside their students at the beginning of the digital era, the RAD instructor of the new millennium must grow as a researcher in tandem with their classes.  They must understand the politics and economies of publication, of research access, and of intellectual property.  They must be intimately familiar with the pedagogical and administrative realities of composition.  They must be willing to view students as potential equals in the pursuit of truth and must be prepared to work dilligently to make this view a shared reality of their departments.

And they must do it all with essentially no support.  This, too, is what it means to be a scholar of RAD.


RAD INTERSECTIONALITY

A man once reproached him with his banishment, and his answer was, ‘You wretched man, that is what made me a philosopher.’ And when, on another occasion, some one said to him ‘The people of Sinope condemned you to banishment,’ he replied ‘And I condemned them to remain where they are.’ (Lives of Eminent Philosophers, 234-5)

The exile of empirical methodology from intersectional disciplinarity in English Studies is, doubtless, a large part of the epistemological seed that flowered into RAD.  That is to say, RAD became a solution for people like Haswell exactly because the notion of developmental research was on its way out for a time.  I will not claim that it has not seen a resurgence, but the divide is now, for better or worse, present.

Due to this divide, almost everything that RAD works to do defaults to a status of “intersectionality.”  RAD was designed to be universal, and the value that universality adds prevents it from standing on its own – unless the entire future of the subdiscipline is simply to continue the work of Driscoll, Perdue, and Haswell, documenting what percentage of publications are about RAD research.  This was productive work – it is time, in overall focus, to move on.

In my first paper, I used the term “RAD outreach” (link) to discuss how Barton views research as a tool to resist “traditional, imperialistic hegemony” (401) in intersectional study.  In conclusion of that argument, I called for a “missionary metaphor” – or model – of RAD scholarship, one which requires RAD scholars to be sent out among the research gentiles and spread the Gospel of empirical value.  The Christ metaphor was unfortunate for its self-aggrandizement, but appropriate in the notion that Christ’s work was also oppositional to tradition, empire, and hegemony.  Diogenes, perhaps, might serve better.

Diogenes did not ask others to follow him in asceticism, nor in Cynicism.  Rather, he simply questioned every person he met, and if those questions were penetrative, if they confounded and spurred change in the questioned, so much the better.  His “search for an honest man” was a search for those who would hear questions fairly, consider them fully, and internalize the philosophical and personal revelations they provided.

If I have embraced any interdisciplinarity, it is – as with the scholars I have studied – in the field of composition studies.  It is a natural fit, and the “home” of RAD – but it is a home I can never fully return to.  You can, after all, “never go home again,” and composition studies has become something less empirical, less composition-centered, and less research-literate than it was when I first started my academic enterprise as an undergraduate in 2002.  When it comes to the epistemological goals of research in composition, rhetoric won out; that world doesn’t belong to us anymore. Not really.

It really must be recognized that for his youthful indiscretions, Diogenes was exiled from Sinope.  He never truly found a home anywhere else – including the aristocratically intellectualized, class-divided Athens – and so he was always and forever an outsider.  He could inject meaning into the world, but he could never truly be absorbed into it, and so his philosophy required him to remain without.  Even as a welcomed refugee, he was still in a self-imposed exile.

This is what it means to be a Cynic.

This, finally, is what it means to be a scholar of RAD.


References

Bazerman, C. (2015). The Informed Writer: Using Sources in the Disciplines. Retrieved Dec. 2015, from http://writing.colostate.edu/textbooks/informedwriter/

Greene, S., & Lidinsky, A. (2008). From inquiry to academic writing: A text and reader. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s.

Hicks, R. (1925). Lives of eminent philosophers. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press

Hillocks, G. (1986). Research on Written Composition : New Directions for Teaching. [New York, N.Y.] : National Conference on Research in English ; Urbana, Ill. : ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading and Communication Skills, National Institute of Education, 1986.

Lester, J., & Lester, J. (2014). Writing research papers: A complete guide (15th ed.). New York: Pearson/Longman.