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.


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.


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.


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.


Bazerman, C. (2015). The Informed Writer: Using Sources in the Disciplines. Retrieved Dec. 2015, from

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.

Paper #5b – Supplement


I have perhaps over-reached with my ideological arguments in this week’s entry – having written twice as much as the word count for the entry in ideological claims alone.  For this reason, I have moved this section to a separate supplemental essay.

Several weeks ago, I promised to look at my Feminist Epistemology articles and consider the ways in which texts focused on research “function both as performative scholarship and as scholarly performance,” while attempting to understand “how the response from the authors reflects the ethos they similarly express in their theoretical contributions and methods.”  Through this, I had hoped to “explore how we can validate and make authoritative subjective forms of social theory for RAD research, how embracing such theoretical forms has been, and will continue to be, an essential part of the resurgence of empirical study in the humanities” (link).

I would argue that simply asking these questions and making statements of such assumptions is in many ways the core of my epistemological and theoretical alignment.  However, I certainly expect that more needs to be said about how such study might indicate a person epistemology or system of belief – and the answer to that question is highly ideological.  To this end, I will begin with the question of ideology in general within the humanities, and the roles this question presumes for us.

On the Dangers of Ideology in the Humanities

 “Here I have a very traditional Marxist answer. Ideology is not only ideas. Ideology is something which structures our daily practices. Ideology is not that you think money is something mystical; ideology is in how you deal with money everyday. Legal ideology is that even if you don’t trust the legal, you use it, you rely on it. In the Wittgensteinian sense, it’s a form of life. I even develop often that today in our cynical times, for an ideology to function, it doesn’t matter if you believe in it or not. In a way, you have not to take it too seriously. This is of course may be my own weird experience because when I was young in Communist Yugoslavia, we had an extreme form of this. I witnessed how the regime experienced as the greatest threat when people took the regime’s own ideology too seriously” (Slavoj Zizek, Nov. 11 2011).

I don’t think it would surprise anyone to discover that I am a hard-left progressive with a strong foundation of Marxist readings of labor and practices within the university.  However, I think it would surprise some to discover how especially moderate I am in my philosophy and pedagogy for a humanities academic who views Bernie Sanders as a problematic candidate for being far too right-wing for my tastes.

Let’s talk about Rhet/Comp, specifically.  If there is one thing that the current Marxist reading of comp theory (like Marxism itself) lacks, it is pragmatism – an understanding of the inherent personal, non-systemic, failings of humanity in the face of personal benefit and intellectual complacency.  Rhet/Comp, however, has fully embraced the systemic view of communication as paramount.  In this light, I view it as a travesty that as a field we have moved away from the boots-on-the-ground realities of teaching writing and research skills while the vast majority of students entering (and exiting) the university still cannot write or obtain knowledge coherently.  I do not adhere to the social turn of the Rhet/Comp folks – as a “true leftist,” I have discovered three Truths in my own life:

  • being taught, mechanically and aesthetically, to write and research in nuanced, accurate, and purposeful ways leads students naturally towards a valuation of knowledge and proof over ideology, since accurate and skilled writing demands evidential and logical support,
  • when thinking for themselves and valuing knowledge over ideology, students tend to naturally track towards more compassionate and progressive values, since progressive values are inherently the values of logical pragmatism applied to the social landscape – all writing is social, and to engage in society is to be compassionate – and,
  • when faced with the heavy-handed indoctrination of the social-episteme, or the postmodern concern, students tend to retreat into ideologies of the self (wherein our most destructive, fascist tendencies lie). In a time when “the youth culture” is tracking to be more and more social, progressive, and inclusive, even the most liberal values expressed in the undergraduate English classroom are tracking more and more personal, fascistic, and exclusive (link).

You cannot instruct people into progressive citizenship, or they will flee from progress.  You cannot model progressive citizenship and expect students to value that model. Through instruction, however, you can create a void where progressive citizenship should be, and full well expect many students to abhor such a vacuum and occupy it.  To teach people how to think, to teach people how to recognize rhetoric and ideology, you must first teach them to write.  To teach them to write, you must first teach them to access knowledge.

Ideology is the lens through which the self, the insular community concern, overtakes the social good.  Knowledge, broad-ranging and demanding of broader contexts, is the lens through which the social finds supremacy.  The sad, great irony of the social-epistemic turn is that it made writing an ideological act – and in doing so, took away its very power to change the world: the power social-epistemicists so praised it for.  By making the act of writing identity- and literacy-based, rather than knowledge- and skill-based, the social-epistemic has taken away both the social and the epistemic.  By making knowledge personal and meaning contingent, the social-epistemic has made its mission personal, and itself contingent.

There is a reason I bring Rhet/Comp, specifically, to bear; it is, for me, the hallmark of the damage that personal ideology has visited upon the academic enterprise.

It is prima facie absurd, the notion that the humanities can defend their value through contingency and “personal literacy narratives”; what the humanities demonstrate (to those with institutional power) instead is that they will be easily cowed, and that they will provide feel-good platitudes as scholarship – doing nothing to upset the dominant, neo-liberal paradigm.

Rhet/Comp is a stand-in for the humanistic disciplines in general today – it proves its value to itself by demonstrating that it lacks value to the greater institution.  Rhet/Comp’s devaluation of empirical methods has gone, hand-in-hand, with its inexorable march into institutional obsolescence.  The innate value of the study of rhetoric and its role within communication is lost within its inability to articulate that value outside its own disciplinary mode.  The contingency of truth is now paramount, and the Board of Trustees does not care for contingent truths.  Because we will not budge from the postmodern, social-epistemic concern, all of our concerns become for naught.  We have, finally, embraced ideology.

If there is a theme to my ideological statements throughout this semester – both in my course discussions and in my writing – it is one of objection to intellectual and academic complacency in the face of changing (capitalist) realities in the worlds both outside of and internal to the modern university.  The university is not what it once was.  The role of the university is not what many advanced (read: tracking for scholarly careers) students expect it to be, having been enculturated into the space by generations of scholars past, in literature, in theory, and in the classroom.  But, perhaps most importantly, our understanding of the role and nature of “knowledge” and “pedagogy” in the university is nowhere near what it has been for previous generations and previous scholars.  By pursuing a PhD at this time in the history of the Western Academy, is my emphatic belief that I have entered into citizenship within a falling empire.  As a shorthand for this, I have uttered the phrase “seeing as we are all cogs in the Capitalist Machinery of Death” perhaps more often than was appropriate.

Where does the pragmatic desire to instill values of knowledge in pedagogy intersect with my greater disciplinary interest in promoting RAD values throughout higher (read: non-instructional) scholarship?

As administrative concerns, capitalist desires, and political exigencies crash upon the doors of the English departments of the Western world, the faculty retreat within, crying out, as with one voice: “Please, leave me to my books. The modern English Studies scholar lacks the tools to fight back against the Capitalist Machinery of Death, because the modern English Studies scholar presumes upon Michel Foucault and “personal narratives of digital literacy” having equal value to herself, to her students, and to her university’s administration.  It is not pragmatic, and it is not reality, and it will not serve.

We need a better model if we are to fight back.

In the era following the anti-positivist movements within English Studies, it is not voguish to make such claims.  It is, in reality, cause for anathema, excommunication from the humanities “in-crowd.”  But I am not claiming that there is objective truth, nor am I claiming that truth is not contingent.  What I am claiming is that English scholars must integrate themselves into the modern scholarly enterprise – and the modern scholarly enterprise trades in the currency of replicable data. This data does not need to serve the administrative interest, so long as its accuracy and quality is unquestionable.  It can serve the philosophical and epistemological desires of the humanities – and it can benefit students in ways that the social turn still has not managed.


Broughton, J. (1968). High Kukus. The Jargon Society, Inc. No. 56.

Jones, N. (2011). Six Questions for Slavoj Žižek. Harper’s Magazine, 11 Nov. 2011. Web.

Paper #5 – Epistemological Alignment


Of course I’m infinite,
said the Grain of Sand, but
what’s the rest of this beach doing here?
(James Broughton, High Kukus).

I don’t expect that a traditional approach to this essay would say much that would surprise anyone who has read my previous entries on this topic, nor my attempts to contribute to the quantitative/qualitative nor the empirical/anti-empirical debates in the modern academy.  However, I do believe that there is a value in reiterating the personal and ideological engagement I feel with this topic, because it is precisely the interpretation of RAD/empirical research as impersonal that I have sought to push back against through my treatment of these concerns.

Because my ideological position in this essay ran absurdly long, I have provided it instead as a separate entry (viewable here.)  What follows, then, is a description of my specific area of interest and how it applies to my epistemological position.

In order to align oneself epistemologically through the RAD interest, one must position oneself for a more “informed” pedagogy, theory, and ideology.  In doing so, for better or worse, one must imply that other approaches are – more or less – “uninformed.”  This is an unfortunate implication.  It is especially unfortunate, because all too often it appears to be true in the modern humanities, where the personal gris-gris of researchers take precedence over the ethical application of humanist, careful, and methodologically-sound research, preferencing personal ideology above and beyond the student-centric ethos of the English Studies RAD scholar – especially in Rhet/Comp and many of the more demographic fields of study, which all too often ignore the necessity of student skills development in order to make room for more vogue, mysterious, postmodern concerns.

My RAD Object of Study

When your back is against me,
said the Wall,
why not lean on me?
(James Broughton, High Kukus).

I have always been intrigued by the recent re-alignment of undergraduate student bodies within the corporatized, capitalistic concerns of the modern academic landscape – and have, similarly, been concerned by (and opposed to) the forwarding of the personal ideologies, philosophies, ethics, and epistemologies of researchers/instructors/theorists as tantamount to “scholarship” with little concern for the ability of students to synthesize such ideologies external to their own academic (and lived) experiences.  Up to this point, this blog has approached the questions of RAD research through the general role that RAD values might play in developing more meaningful, ethical research and data – however, I think it is equally important to consider the ways in which RAD can demonstrate that other practices within the ideologically-driven academy are becoming un-ethical.

As such, some of the primary objects of study for my PhD in general (and a likely topic for my eventual dissertation) are the for-profit elements of the modern academic model that effect student learning – and color students’ very interpretation of what learning is and should be. The study of these elements can be both RAD and ideological – both “Rhet” and “Comp.”  I view these objects as worthy of close study because they have both universalized appeal in the modern, tech-centered college campus, and because they avoid the marginalizing, othering aspects of ideology-centric practices inherent in many of the modern (postmodern) schools of critical and social theory.

I am especially intrigued by the technical, communicative aspects of user interface design for for-profit writing- and learning-support platforms that specialize in instruction, assignment, and assessment, such as Pearson Writer,, Cengage Insite and Mindtap, or McGraw Hill Connect – and, especially, Blackboard Learn.  These services (or, as many label themselves, “solutions” – implying that learning is somehow a “problem” to be “solved”) present themselves with an ethos of accessibility, expertise, and student-centric experince, typically while actually offering none of these as actual features of the platform.  By offering a profit-curated form of knowledge, they restrict learning.  By presenting a purely mechanical expertise, they eliminate nuance.  By making assessment part and parcel of production, they debase process and lionize prescriptivism.

To apply notions of “power” and “signification” to resolve these aspects of the corporate intersection with academic progress would be easy enough; it would be trivial to demonstrate (through Marxist, postmodern readings of these systems and their cachet with administrative approaches to streamlined execution of goals-driven instruction) their functions in order to explain away their purposes as wholly malignant to the individualistic and personal nature of learning.

But it would not be effective.  Problematizing the philosophical and ideological origins of such platforms would not resolve the fact of their presence within the classrooms of the academy – our classrooms.  Announcing that “Foucault warned us about Blackboard” will not convince administrators to not enforce the use of such platforms in conflict with some instructors’ educational expertise and professional experience.  It will not un-bundle such software (and its associated fees) from the necessary texts at the foundation of undergraduate learning.

RAD, however, offers tools to provide meaningful, productive, convincing data of the difficulties these platforms create in the practice of meaningful pedagogy.  Through RAD interpretations of user interfaces, we can leverage student experiences to define user engagement according to its productivity.  RAD study of resource accessibility can demonstrate that any individual platform prevents student access to necessary literature, practices, and skills.  RAD study of student outcomes can help us to appreciate the ways in which these platforms typically do not (and, admittedly, sometimes do) improve the “lived experiences” of active learners.  Meaningful, independent study of these platforms could reveal avenues of productive dissent – results- and student-driven data that does not bow to the administrative concern, but is undeniable, demonstrable, and replicable.

That is all to say, my selection of these objects of study is in and of itself an expression of my epistemological alignment – an argument for a version of political, Marxist desires to better serve “truth” and student needs by eliminating the overtly political, and the overtly Marxist, in order to instead provide a non-partisan analysis of the tools and practices that shape students’ actual lives and and actual, functional learning practices.

I promised earlier (and in my supplement, linked above) that I would study how RAD research (and research in general) can “function both as performative scholarship and as scholarly performance.”  I believe that the study of such administrative concerns as academically primary is highly performative.  It is research that does “real work,” an utterance that enacts change.  It is capable of being both descriptive and extremely rhetorical.

I’ve pushed back against the notion, as I’ve stated before, that RAD is “impersonal” because it is quantitative and empirical.  In exploring the nature of this set of Objects of Study, and the ideology inherent in supporting, opposing, or studying them, I hope I have demonstrated that there is nothing more personal and humanistic than investing in discovering the ideological and politically/economically exigent elements driving and influencing the creation of such tools.  It treats the instructor as a whole person, seeking best solutions while also being limited by social, professional, economic, and political factors.  More than this, it treats the student as a whole person, influenced by these tools and exerting influence over them.  Finally, it also treats the creators and propagators of these tools as whole people, with their own desires, both towards exigency and student success.

Through the interpolation of these three views – rhetorically – with the data-centric study of the tools’ design and effect, I hope that we can come to a more holistic understanding of how they function – for better and worse – and how RAD can help us to understand (and improve upon) their nature.


Wherever you make your home,
said the Louse,
is the center of the world.
(James Broughton, High Kukus).

What is my RAD epistemological alignment?  “Do work at any cost. Serve students at any cost. Find truth at any cost.”  Sure, it looks good when you slap it on a t-shirt, but it’s not likely to make you many friends in the modern academy.

Your students will fear you for being rigorous – for expecting them to come to the table at full engagement, acknowledging that there are no easy answers and the search for truth is hard and painful.

Your colleagues will loathe you for being a stodgy, stick-in-the-mud-type – for daring to expect data and proof, even for the things you all believe or know to be true.

Your bosses will avoid you for being a liability – for raising uncomfortable questions while not being safely ensconced within the unspoken, departmental un-reality of postmodern discourse.

Your masters will punish you for daring to speak out – for commanding the language of their power, and for turning it against their corporate friends and commercial interests.

But in the end, you’ll have done something.  And you’ll be able to prove, not feel, that you made a difference.

In the end, your students will be better prepared, highly motivated, and more compassionate.  And you’ll know that you had some small influence in their growth as thinkers, learners, and citizens.

In the end, you will know for yourself that – however contingent your truth may be, however much an outsider you will become – you can leverage that truth to the benefit of everyone.

“You may have had some hard knocks, said the Pebble, but I’ve been kicked around my whole life” (Broughton, 1968).


Broughton, J. (1968). High Kukus. The Jargon Society, Inc. No. 56.

Jones, N. (2011). Six Questions for Slavoj Žižek. Harper’s Magazine, 11 Nov. 2011. Web.

Paper #4 – Theories and Methods

Doctor Dan Richards - Old Dominion University

Dr. Daniel Richards (Link to Personal Site)

“I have always been worried about positivism Trojan Horsing its way into English from other disciplines on campus because that is the institutional capital that allows funding to get directed our way.  We can’t make institutional arguments about our value anymore based on unquantifiable assertions about opaque notions of critical thinking and citizenship-cultivating.  So, to ‘play the game,’ we’re borrowing some empirical methods to help support ourselves, taking the hit for the long game of remaining in existence.  Positivism is alive and well in the academy, and in English (see genre theorists, like Dylan Dryer), and it is because data is the capital that gets things done.  I don’t think we need to ‘bring’ RAD in, or be fearful of RAD impinging its ugly scientific face into our meetings—I think we need to concern ourselves with thinking about how to best and most responsibly use it” (D. Richards, Personal Communication, Oct. 27, 2015).

Introduction – Dr. Richards

Last week for my second PAB, I said that I intended to do quite a bit this week (link).  I still intend to discuss all of those issues; however, I’m going to postpone for a couple of weeks so I can a) speak more about these issues within the contexts of epistemological alignment in paper #5, and b) speak instead to the responses I received from Dr. Daniel Richards from an email interview we performed earlier this week.

This may be a bit off-topic, but I’ve liked Dan Richards immensely since the moment I met him as he stepped into a conversation I was having at a barbecue and immediately and publicly disagreed with me.  I asked Dr. Richards to comment on the work I’d been doing here and he smacked me around a bit in some personal comments about why I always insist on doing everything the hard/thickheaded way, what with my overreaching and all.  Fair.

Dr. Richards describes himself as an academic pragmatist, and I describe myself as a pragmatic academic cynic.  One would assume we agree on much – and we do – but I find our points of disagreement to be most interesting – for a pragmatist, Dr. Richards is ever the optimist, and carefully conservative with academic criticism. Because of this, although I have selected quotes from our interview which most coincide with this week’s paper theme, I have included the full interview sequence in a link below in the references for those who are interested (edited to remove personal comments).

Ethics as theory

Dr. Richards’ responses are, to a large extent, focused on approaching the theories and methods of RAD research from the perspective of Technical Communication scholarship and pedagogy.  I think this is an excellent contrast to the feminist research theory and feminist epistemology discussed in last week’s PAB entries: if feminist research is beginning to track towards questions of research ethics and the nature of data presentation, the resurgence of Technical Communication as a discipline is in no small part thanks to its close-knit relationship to empirical practices and ideology.  “Empirical researchers in English alone aren’t even a cohesive group.  From my stance in Tech Comm,” Dr. Richards notes, “empirical methods are on the rise and part of the re-establishment of the discipline” (Richards, 2015) – and I tend to agree.  Tech Comm is certainly a model I’ve looked to often in preparing my readings for this course of study.

As noted in previous PABs, especially those dealing with Barton, Driscoll, Haswell, and Witte, RAD empiricism seems to be a “big tent” ideological/epistemological practice.  What RAD contributes – beyond methodology – are frames and practices for understanding what research is and does, and who it serves, in the modern academy.  When Dr. Richards notes that “writing programs and WPA work as a whole are embracing empirical methods as they seek to gather big data on writing skills/literacy skills in freshman cohorts, which helps them build arguments for institutional funding based on performance and student ‘excellence,’” I immediately think back to Matthew Bodie’s comment dialogue with me in my third paper (link), where Matthew brought up ethical concerns about the role that such “big data” plays in perpetuating the corporatization of the modern academy: “I cannot help but to be struck by your categorization of assessment scores and administrative data as metadata and part of RAD research […] in your thinking, I would be curious to know what you think about the ethics of this type of metadata filling future publications” (Bodie, 2015)

I think that Matthew’s question is a fair one, and one that has dramatically plagued empirical research for some time now.  There is an ethical concern when one begins to conflate “data” with “information.”  There is even more concern when one begins to conflate “information” with “truth.”  All of this gets me to the primary theoretical interest that I think makes RAD truly disciplinary – and more than merely empirical – a theoretical lens which filters and generates the most meaningful knowledge in the field. It’s not just research ethics, but the ethics of research.  It’s not enough to know how to accurately present information, or morally acquire data – we must develop ethical knowledge of research and communication ecologies… and hierarchies.  Dr. Richards shares an ethical concern regarding the capitalist notion of institutional research and scholarly research (see the pull quote above), but it’s his conclusion I find most interesting of all: “I think we need to concern ourselves with thinking about how to best and most responsibly use [RAD].  This means negotiating the values we have as humanists with the harsh data-driven realities of the posthistorical University” [emphasis added].  Empiricism as an ideology has an ethic, but it’s an ethic that informs empirical values, not empirical research. One thing that RAD does is present empirical research as demanding careful ethical consideration and institutional and peer balances to the moral and epistemological challenges of producing meaning through data.

Empiricism is an epistemological value.  RAD is a humane value.  I encourage interested parties to google “RAD research and try to locate references to RAD external to the humanities (or even English studies, more specifically).  RAD was brought into being by folks like Haswell precisely because they saw an ethical context lost in the assessment of “Big Data”

Ethics as Methodology

Let’s start here: ethics is not a methodology.  But rarely does it come closer to being one than within RAD, where the categorization and recommendation of best practices (“ethics”) is the direct antecedent to the development of more highly ethical, “humanitistic” protocols for the execution of RAD research (“methods”).  When asked whether RAD empiricism and the “postmodern notions of the humanities today” are inherently in conflict, Richards argues that “that’s the rub.  But no, I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive domains of thinking/thought. I do think they’re two separate desires […] I might even call them epistemological attitudes, and these attitudes are often in conflict.  But you can accumulate quantitative data in a ‘postmodern’ way.  Positivism got in trouble because of the assumptions made about what the data said, not how the data were accumulated.”

What the “new” empiricism of RAD within English offers “methodologically,” then, may be a “postmodern way” to accumulate data – and to be more open and intersectional about what assumptions are made in its presentation.

It is through this context that I think I first found RAD – and Driscoll – especially appealing.  Richards points out, when dealing with the questions of “big data,” that these concerns have already existed for some time in fields that embraced RAD research ethics early – like Technical Communication, where scholars like Paul Dombrowski have offered thorough explorations of information, communication, and research ecologies for a quarter-century – and that these fields have begun to see the next frontier of ethical concerns for research well ahead of the rest of the academy: “I can’t help but think that student voices and individuality will continue to be drowned out with this big data approach,” Richards notes, “so ethical stances [to come] will most likely revolve around retaining and re-capturing student voices and the eclectic and diverse student bodies we serve.”

Of course, Technical Communication is a difficult case study to apply to the field in general: in plenty of English departments, it’s already comfortably enjoying outsider status, derided for being commercial, and sell-out, and product-oriented.  Dr. Richards also feels that empiricism means different things in different sub-disciplines, and sets aside TC as different within English Studies: “I think the interdisciplinary origins and composition of TC lends itself to a lack of bemoaning of empirical work, as you’d see in literature or rhetoric proper, but as a whole TC needs empirical work to find out what it wants to know: how do people and technology interact as it pertains to communication.  We will always need empirical work to help us answer that question.”


This is where I’d leave things off for now.  There are trends in empirical acceptance by sub-disciplines – as Dr. Richards argument notes, they are often as much historical and original as epistemological.  The major questions of RAD are mostly ethical in nature, and the answer to those questions is largely a combination of concerted efforts to create an overarching ethical narrative, of striving to be transparent, pragmatic, and effective, and of reaching out across disciplines to provide value through a strongly ethical understanding of data that can synthesize many kinds of knowledge to justify its own existence.

I dream of a world where RAD scholars can convince people they are more than just researchers – that they are philosophers, ethicists, and journalists inscribing the questions of the age into history.  But -at least in the meantime – I’ll settle for being consistent, and believing there are ethical theories out there that haven’t been fully resolved yet.


Bodie, M. (24 Oct. 2015). Re: Paper #3 – Objects of Study [Weblog Comment].  Retrieved from

Dombrowski, P. M. (2000). Ethics and technical communication: The past quarter century. Journal of technical writing and communication, 30(1), 3-29.

Dombrowski, P. M. (1995). Post‐modernism as the resurgence of humanism in technical communication studies. Technical Communication Quarterly, 4(2), 165-185.

McNely, B., Spinuzzi, C., & Teston, C. (2015). Contemporary Research Methodologies in Technical Communication. Technical Communication Quarterly, 24(1), 1-13.

Richards, D.  (27 Oct. 2015). Email Interview [Publicly Archived]. Retrieved from

PAB #8 – Cushman

Cushman, E., K. Powell, and P. Takayoshi. (2004). Response to “Accepting the Roles Created for Us: The Ethics of Reciprocity.” College Composition and Communication, Vol. 56 No. 1, Sep. 2004, pp. 150-156.

Portrait of Ellen Cushman

Ellen Cushman (Profile)

“My last question there reveals another trouble that I’m having with the disclosure of the rhetorical navigations of researchers and participants […] to what extent is self-reflexive writing in qualitative studies a ‘show,’ a performance of exotic moments of trial, distress, or anxiety?  My question stems from a concern over the tenor of some […] self-reflexive writing that sensationalizes tense moments or researchers’ personal lives, or miscommunications and misunderstandings, or conflicts” (152).

So this seems to be Ellen’s main concern: Is it the data collection process that is worthy of study, reflection, and, ultimately, a place in scholarly journals?  We think so because it is the minutiae of the research process that can, in fact, lead to our overall findings.  We believe this process needs to be revealed.  Our findings do not magically appear or ‘reveal’ themselves as if they were already there for us to find them.  Our findings are directly influenced by who we are, what we know, and what decisions we make at the research site as participants ask certain things of us” (154).


It’s not been my style to use book reviews or article responses in my PABs thus far, because I tend to find them one of the less rhetorically interesting forms of scholarship when discussing research.  Too often, they can be parsed down to something along the lines of (cynically, as is my mode) “the authors are very smart, and I can tell you this is true because I’m also very smart, and I understood their article/book.  As proof of how smart I am, look – I understood their article/book.  QED.  I have now participated in the published scholarly discourse.”

Every once in a while, an article response pops up that “brings its own drinks to the party,” so to speak.  Ellen Cushman’s response to Powell and Takayoshi’s article did an excellent job of raising the general research concern, and eliciting real, productive discourse about what “Accepting the Roles Created for Us” contributes to our understanding, and presentation, of research.

The other reason I tend to avoid responses/reviews is they tend to be short and light on content – that is to say: not optimal for assignments such as this.  Because of this, my review of the literature will be significantly shorter in this entry, though I will endeavor to provide significantly more analysis in the Q&A section below.


Let’s start here: Dr. Cushman did not write a tear-down piece.  In general, her response was inquisitive and supportive.

However, Cushman’s response raises several valid concerns, both ethical and methodological:

1.) While the research case studies the originating authors provide present situations where the researchers were well aware of specific hierarchy-based concerns, that is not the case for most ethnographic research.
2.) When using research of student writing/progress within the research-site classroom, the very nature of study can be an element in the “strivings of participants” (151) to improve, and this can yield the positive benefits and desires the authors advocate for – but it means that the research environment is no longer “observationally sterile,” and thus invalidates any replicability of the results.  It becomes research which is only purely useful within the context of the active research window.
3.) Whether we want them to be there or not, research/social hierarchies do exist.  We need to more fully engage with the implications of that if we’re to “enact equitable and hierarchical power relations” (152).
4.)  Although the disclosure of the specific moments in the authors’ article were viable, useful, and purposeful, Cushman believes that in the vast majority of cases such disclosure would have “detracted from the overall findings of the work,” especially in her own experiences, and “would have risked revealing more about the minutiae of data collection than it would have [about] the goal and focus of the study” (152).
5.)  Similarly, Cushman fears that having researchers insert themselves into the research narrative risks detracting from “the report of participants’ lived realities” (152).
6.)  Finally, as noted in the pull-quote above, the author expresses concerns that such disclosure could be vogue, conspicuous, or “showy;” that is to say, there is a danger of the act of disclosure becoming a process of proving one’s progressive research credentials, more than a process of demonstrating confounding factors in one’s more data-centric analysis (152-53).

In their response to this line of questioning and list of concerns, the original authors affirm that these concerns are valid, even if they do dismiss them slightly through both rhetorical and theoretical positioning.  For now, I will note that their responses are fair, involved, and welcoming of criticism.

What’s next?

Next week during my paper on the intersection of outside theory and RAD research, I will address more about the way in which these texts function both as performative scholarship and as scholarly performance, and how the response from the authors reflects the ethos they similarly express in their theoretical contributions and methods in the first article.

From there, I will attempt to demonstrate that – both as a rhetorical and research concern – this type of theory and practice (both feminist theory specifically and external theories in general) is beginning in recent years to express significant awareness of the importance of legitimizing research protocols.  I will explore how we can validate and make authoritative subjective forms of social theory for RAD research, how embracing such theoretical forms has been, and will continue to be, an essential part of the resurgence of empirical study in the humanities, and how these theories may intersect with the methods and Objects of Study discussed in previous weeks.

Questions for consideration:

So you view Powell and Takayoshi’s proposal as unethical?

Let me put it another way.  Power dynamics exist in research, and that’s absolutely, 100% unavoidable in most cases.  That’s one of the reasons I’m really ruminating over the feminist ethics of reporting “dissensus” in research.  These unplanned moments are provoked by the research environment or relationships between participants, and thus cannot be accounted for within the ethical models prepared in order to engage in formative research.

So, let’s ask this question: if the power dynamic exists, and is moderately unavoidable (as Powell and Takayoshi demonstrate), was it ethical for Powell to presume upon the “reciprocal” relationship to ask “Andy” permission to publish his remarkably vulnerable and emotional outburst in her auto-ethnography?  Can we imagine, really, that collaborating undergraduates in a ethnographic research would have the wherewithal to resist the hierarchal concern of the mentor-as-researcher and make an informed, ethically-guided decision to allow or disallow its inclusion?

And, if not, Cushman makes a key point here in a growing discourse on feminist epistemology and research disclosure – Powell’s inclusion of this dissensus is a “show”: of how keen she is to her participants’/students’ needs, how accessible (and accessed) she may be, how compassionately ethical her research protocols are, etc.

So Powell and Takayoshi are wrong? 

I don’t think they’re wrong.  This is why – as a RAD advocate – I want to study these questions.  I think the authors are right when they raise a very valid concern about the ethical structures of research design through the framework of feminist epistemology – and then I think they come to the exactly wrong solution to the concern in the form of disclosure.  As a RAD advocate, this is my position: we study people, as Powell and Takayoshi point out, and that study causes relationships to form.  We study data we gain from studying people, but that does not make our relationships with those people data, nor does it make their relationships with us data.

We should be honest about data.  We should be open about relationships.  We should be careful with people.  But we should not conflate the three, not in our lives, and not in our scholarship.  The authors would doubtless claim that they are doing the opposite, but as an academic equally interested in the history of research ethics and research itself, I’m not so sure that’s true.

What’s the problem with their research, then? 

The human relations of empirical research (at the personal level) inevitably lead to the observer’s paradox.  What the authors propose – and model – doesn’t eliminate the effects of the paradox from the data.  Rather, it accentuates it.  This is “bad research” from a RAD perspective, in that it can yield bad or nonsensical results – and due to the methodologies used – and lack of rigor – it would be almost impossible to identify the problems inherent to such study. However – and more importantly – it is poor stewardship of our moral obligations to student/community research participants. In my estimation, to make the specific human part of the human interest primarily does three things, one good, one bad, and one mixed:

1.) Makes the work feel more accessible to lay readers (good!),
2.) diverts attention away from the general applicability of the work (bad!), and
3.) makes the researcher, and not the participant or data, “the story” (mixed).

The feminist theory backing this research, and the epistemological assumptions behind that theory, do not preference RAD methodology, nor do they preference “traditional” research ethics.  And that’s fine!  But at the end of the day, we need to ask two questions in RAD – “why are we doing research?” and “how does theory change our research when the rubber meets the road?”  This may have value to feminist/gender theory and scholarship that bases its research off the theories inherent to those disciplines.  However, it may not be cross-applicable.

For the RAD researcher, Powell and Takayoshi (and Cushman’s response) raise serious concerns for doing our own research “back home,” and questions of reciprocity need to be brought to the forefront of RAD studies in general English Studies or in pedagogy.  But that doesn’t mean that it would have take the form that it takes in feminist scholarship – and I doubt, honestly, that it would work if it did.  This is qualitative, non-RAD study, undeniably.  The methodologies these scholars are grappling with are missing a degree of rigor necessary for RAD study; moreover, there is no way to to take these purely subjective, impromptu experiences and in any way replicate or aggregate them.

Finally, I’d note that there’s a lot of talk about research “agendas” within this literature, both in the response and the original article.  That’s a language choice that makes me a little jumpy – we should never enter into research with a set agenda that research will “serve.”  Either we are exploring hypotheses, or we are exploring data, but neither should be (optimally) a means to a predetermined end.  That just leads to shoehorning, and the validation of invalid research protocols (i.e., experimental contamination).


Cushman, E., K. Powell, and P. Takayoshi. (2004). Response to “Accepting the Roles Created for Us: The Ethics of Reciprocity.” College Composition and Communication, Vol. 56 No. 1, Sep. 2004, pp. 150-156.

Powell, K. M., and P. Takayoshi (2003). Accepting Roles Created for Us: The Ethics of Reciprocity. College Composition and Communication, Vol. 54 No. 3, Feb. 2003, pp. 394-422.

PAB #7 – Powell & Takayoshi

Powell, K. M., and P. Takayoshi (2003). Accepting Roles Created for Us: The Ethics of Reciprocity. College Composition and Communication, Vol. 54 No. 3, Feb. 2003, pp. 394-422.

Powell - Portrait

Katrina M. Powell (Profile)


Pamela Takayoshi (Profile)

“At the heart of calls for reciprocity in research is a recognition/assertion/insistence that research involves building relationships among humans.  At a basic level, research is about understanding other people, their lives, and their experiences.  As researchers, we asked for admittance to our participants’ lives, thoughts, and experiences, and our participants opened their lives to us in sometimes surprisingly intimate detail.  Thinking about our relationship with participants only within the bounds of our study would have limited the relationships we might have built with our participants.  Indeed, as we relate in this article, our experiences suggest that participants’ desires often fell outside the “researcher” roles we had constructed for ourselves when we built our methodologies” (399).


So, my feeling is that the main problem with my argument – that RAD might be seen as its own growing/nascent discipline with foundational literature and scholarship within the field of English Studies – is that some of the definitions are a little… blurry.  Which is to say, last week I talked about OoSs that were largely meta-analytic.  RAD scholars study data, often data they don’t produce; they study the study of that data, and it just gets more complex from there.  When scholars study how we all study, it becomes difficult to extricate their theory and methods from their literature and data.

What this means in application is that some things that may be OoSs are also methods within RAD.  In the same way that – in education – pedagogy may be theory, source, OoS, data, and method, there is significant crossover in RAD.  The desire to know how we research and learn better often treats methodology itself as a legitimate Object of Study.

That said, I don’t want to retread old ground and say nothing new this week, so I’ll be looking elsewhere for answers to the question of what theories are used in the field, and I’ll largely be downplaying “methods” since that already significantly intersected with my OoS findings.

Let me put this in more personal terms.  I don’t – at this point in my academic trajectory – want to be what would traditionally be labelled a “Writing Center Studies scholar.”  I don’t want to be Technical Communications guru.  I don’t want to be a WPA/FYC wonk.  I don’t want to be a Lacanian post-modern Marxist what-have-you.  I do want to be a researcher and a research advocate.  And I want to be able to use the tools of WCS, TC, WPA, (and, yes, Lacanian Postmodern Marxism) to contribute meaningfully to those discourses while still maintaining an identity as someone who values how we get to truths as much as what those truths are.  I just wanted to be transparent about that up front.

So, in talking about theory, I think it might behoove us to prove I can do just that.  I’m looking at theory and epistemology that I don’t personally use, in contexts I don’t personally study – then I’m talking about whether or not that “works” within the context of my greater RAD argument.

Maybe I’ll prove myself wrong.  After last week, wouldn’t that be ironic?

Let’s do feminism.


Feminism.  Hey, I’m as surprised as anybody, because I thought that feminist theory was about as far from RAD models of research as one could get – seeing as much of feminist epistemology deals with the situated nature of knowledge within research, and works to overcome the limitations of RAD approaches by essentially torpedoing the researcher/subject relationship, “negotiating” protocols, “intervening” in power dynamics of objectivity, etc.  However, it turns out that there’s a huge body of theory on feminist research out there right now – much of it dealing with empiricism, and a good portion addressing the ethical questions at the forefront of the RAD concern today.  And they’re doing some really cool work that pushes the definitions of the field and gets rid of a lot of the cobwebs in the attic of STEM’s influence on humanities-based RAD work.

Article Review – “Accepting Roles Created for Us: The Ethics of Reciprocity”

In their 2003 “Accepting Roles Created for Us: The Ethics of Reciprocity,” authors Powell and Takayoshi investigate how the concept of researcher-subject (or, in the language of the feminist epistemology, “participant”) reciprocity functions to create more dynamic research.  From this, they call for the disclosure of what they at points label “moments of dissensus,” or those instances that are counter-indicative of the intent or direction of study, but equally informative in different ways.  Citing Sue Wilkinson (1992) and Patricia A. Sullivan (1992), who in no small way built the modern field of feminist research, their work establishes that feminist research (especially ethical concerns within feminist studies) is making explicit the implicit design philosophies of research in general: transparent protocols, open communication between subject and researcher, objectivity protocols that are aware of the research power dynamic, awareness of the risk of speaking for “the other” ex officio, maintaining the rights and humanity of the studied and the sanctity of the data, etc. (394-95).

However, the authors have an ethical concern.  Much as the RAD empiricist risks imposing power upon the research relationship, as previously discussed, the feminist researcher risks engaging in what Ellen Cushman refers to as “’missionary activism: intervention without invitation [which] slips into paternalistic activism” (395).  By contrast, purely “activist” research sets protocols and expectations of both researcher-“participant” and subject-“participant” and foundationally includes both in the design, execution, collection, and interpretation of research.

That said, Powell and Takayoshi work to distinguish between what might be collaborative – that is to say, within the framework of preexisting power structures but towards a common goal – and what might be defined as “reciprocal,” or serving the specific needs and desires of each party in exchange towards the research process. “Studies can be collaborative without being mutually beneficial,” the authors warn; “researchers can construct methodological frameworks in which knowledge is collaboratively developed […] but when the roles of participants are confined to the research project […] the research relationship may benefit only the researcher, and, thus, not be reciprocal at all” (396).

This is all very terrifying.  This does not sound like the general bailiwick of things that RAD scholars write about.  This sounds, for lack of a better word, very feminist-y. It’s all relational, and relationships, and a bunch of other stuff people who crunch numbers don’t do well.  But, far more importantly, it’s a way of thinking about research that is quite novel, and would need to be modeled and executed to provide guidelines for newly ethical research before it would be useful for all RAD research in the humanities.

An excerpt from the article, showing conversation between the researcher (Powell) and a student, "Andy."
A sample of something that I would not precisely label “ethically empirical” ethnography – (Powell & Takayoshi 409)

The good news is that the authors do exactly that, providing two qualitative studies which experienced these “moments of dissensus” – both of which demonstrate these methods and provide viable, real-world models of the research ethic described – but, more importantly, the pitfalls the researchers fell into in their execution.  I will return to these specific research findings in my paper next week.  For now, let’s suffice it to say that they are… unorthodox.  However, the originating protocols are carefully and well designed.  And they do great work to prove the lie that research – empirical or not – has to be unemotional or disinterested, for better or worse.

Questions for consideration:

This sounds all very risky for the researcher.  It sounds like what the authors are proposing is giving up design control of experiments and studies to non-expert non-researchers.

It is.  And research is inherently risk-averse, in that it attempts to control variables.  I would never say that all empirical RAD research should be reciprocal, nor that feminist epistemology has a role in all research, honestly.  However, as counter-intuitive as this notion is, and as much as it pushes the definitions of empirical study far left (it would not, for instance, score very well on Driscoll’s analytic scale for RAD status – trending towards, essentially, auto-ethnography), it also allows for the discovery of new lines of inquiry and new types of knowledge which may only be located within the participatory model of research outlined.

Isn’t there an entirely separate ethical concern to getting so involved in the private lives and thoughts of research participants? 

Oh, yeah.  I have no idea how you get this kind of thing past an IRB (not because it’s unethical, but because it’s unpredictable to the point where ethics cannot be determined), and that’s part of what my research will be going into next week.  At one point in their research reporting, one of the authors notes that a student was having an emotional breakdown and crying in her office based on personal counseling issues that came up while discussing content from the ethnographic study (a roommate’s suicide).  That’s… let’s just say “not ideal.”  I think this doesn’t provide a perfect model for how we should be compassionate and reciprocal in research design – in fact, it is highly problematic – but I think it does prove that we need to keep thinking about these issues.


Powell, K. M., and P. Takayoshi (2003). Accepting Roles Created for Us: The Ethics of Reciprocity. College Composition and Communication, Vol. 54 No. 3, Feb. 2003, pp. 394-422.

Paper #3 – Objects of Study

Cartoon - Illustration of two men talking in office setting. One man says “sometimes I think the collaborative process would work better without you.” Illustration by Peter C. Vey, The New Yorker, May 18, 2009, 65
A general sense of what the typical RAD researcher hears most days in the modern academy.  Illustration by Peter C. Vey, The New Yorker, May 18, 2009.

“Certainly, he that hath a satirical vein, as he maketh others afraid of his wit, so he had need be afraid of others’ memory. He that questioneth much, shall learn much, and content much; but especially, if he apply his questions to the skill of the persons whom he asketh; for he shall give them occasion, to please themselves in speaking, and himself shall continually gather knowledge. But let his questions not be troublesome; for that is fit for a poser. And let him be sure to leave other men their turns to speak. […] If you dissemble, sometimes, your knowledge of that you are thought to know, you shall be thought, another time, to know that you know not. Speech of a man’s self ought to be seldom, and well chosen. I knew one, was wont to say in scorn, He must needs be a wise man, he speaks so much of himself: and there is but one case, wherein a man may commend himself with good grace; and that is in commending virtue in another; especially if it be such a virtue, whereunto himself pretendeth” – “Of Discourse,” The Essays or Counsels Civil and Moral of Francis Bacon (1601).


In my previous posts, I have discussed the history, major questions, ideologies, and academic concerns raised by empirical/RAD researchers in the various subfields of English Studies.  In addition to this, I have made an argument for considering RAD research as more than simply a methodology, but rather a specific field of study of its own right, and a scholarly ideology which allows for inquiry and discovery not always possible through other practices.

In this post, I will attempt to define what some of the primary objects of study in RAD research are, both in terms of quantitative and qualitative data, and in the description of these Objects, explore their role, their appeal, the challenges of them, and – where applicable – their history.  Following that, I will discuss the collaborative, supportive role of RAD OoSs in modern English Studies.

Objects of Study

What follows is discussion and definition – in brief – of various types of Objects of Study typically useful to the RAD researcher in English Studies

Data in general

It may seem obvious, and it is, but it warrants a brief reiteration: RAD researchers look at data (sometimes even data for its own sake), especially that data which can be replicated and aggregated to provide new insights and confirmation of previous contributions (the “D” in RAD, after all, does stand for “data-supported”).  The focus on data analysis may be specific, as I will note in the following OoSs, but it may also be general, interpreting trends in research throughout the field.

Publications and Publishing Trends

As demonstrated by works from Stephen North, Richard Haswell, Dana Driscoll, Sherry Wynn Perdue, and others, RAD researchers frequently study research trends, including the nature, location, and tenor of publications that either preference RAD research, or tend to avoid it.  Richard Haswell, in coordination with Glenn Blalock, was instrumental in the establishment of CompPile, a keyword-searchable bibliographic index of over 100,000 writing studies publications from 1939 to present, which focuses heavily upon data-driven indexing of research in various English Studies fields.

Part of this interest is certainly self-interest.  If nobody is publishing RAD research, it certainly makes it difficult to maintain an academic career as a RAD researcher.  However, there is also a strong ideological and disciplinary interest in these questions, as the limitation of RAD research likewise limits the type and scope of inquiry possible within the general field of English Studies, and these restrictive publishing realities raise serious questions about accessibility, ethics, and economics of the academy.

Program/Course/Assignment Objectives & Outcomes

Course and assignment objectives and outcomes, especially within the field of WPA, are a primary Object of Study for many RAD researchers.  Allowing for data-driven quantitative and often qualitative evaluation of teaching strategies, technologies, policies, programs, and assessment protocols, student outcomes are often one of the high-water metrics of RAD research – and these outcomes are often able to be measured and reported through many discrete methodologies.

Whether looking at specific grading data to determine changes in student qualification over time relating to stated objectives, or examining set learning outcomes for programs, courses, and assignments in order to assess viability or measurability, RAD researchers tend to preference course outcomes as highly informative, measurable, and (when so designed) objective.

Survey Data

One of the more methodologically-centered Objects of Study, survey data – whether of students, faculty, or the professional and civic communities – provides a meaningful combination of qualitative and quantitative responses.  Surveys have several benefits, including set protocols for determining confidence intervals, selecting representative samples, and reporting results.  Surveys are often flexible, easily anonymized, and typically (especially in the modern digital environment) remarkably low-cost ways to collect data about outcomes, assessment, experiences, skills, and attitudes – and they are a commonly accepted and generally familiar form of research which allows RAD researchers to communicate their results not only to academics, but to administrators and the community at large.

Survey data has a strong historical foundation (along with assessment results – see below) in the origins of quantitative research in the humanities.  Whereas experimental protocols can prove costly and prone to significant data management challenges (and whereas, by virtue of the source of writing, practically all writing experimentation qualifies as human experimentation and comes up against significant challenges in terms of ethics generally and getting through IRB review and approval specifically), survey data’s tendency towards simpler anonymization and proclivity towards more easily ethical application has long meant that it is a preferred tool and object of study of the humanities researcher.  Its low costs have similarly long appealed to RAD researchers – who often struggle along with their English department colleagues to locate funding in the modern STEM-centered academy.

Assessment Results and Protocols

Writing skills assessment provides a serious challenge for the RAD researcher: as numerical, replicable, aggregable data which can be anonymized and complied, assessment results in the forms of testing outcomes, graded writing, portfolio scoring, and so on appear at first blush to be the perfect Object of Study for the RAD researcher.  Researchers approaching assessment data in recent decades, however, have been keenly aware of the qualitative challenges of assessment values.  As noted by Cherry and Meyer in their 1993 “Reliability Issues in Holistic Assessment,” a heavily research-guided analysis of challenges in unbiased and rational assessment, “like all things human, measurement is not a perfect business” and is affected by subjective factors such as assessor biases and instrument (e.g., assignment prompt) quality (29-33).

As such, much research using assessment results is heavily qualified and restricted in terms of confidence, replicability, and applicability.  However, it is also a significant point of research interest, as demonstrated by significant, continuing RAD research about assessment (for examples, see Haswell and Haswell, “Gender Bias”; Freedman; Ball).


Perhaps one of the most valuable objects of study for RAD researchers (and often least appreciated by non-RAD colleagues) is metadata and meta-analysis on the field of English studies in general through previous literature and research, or of specific subdisciplines, especially composition, technical communication, discourse analysis, and rhetoric.  Metadata may include hundreds of different data sources, such as assessment scores, administrative data including transfer credits, retention rates, and funding, demographic data relating to learning communities and student bodies, technology availability and usage, or academic policies and curricula and their effects on learning outcomes.

Meta-analytic RAD research allows for the compilation and interpretation of a broad spectrum of both RAD and non-RAD qualitative and quantitative findings in order to provide specific interpretations of trends within the fields in question, to make institution- or program-specific research valuable and applicable to other institutions and communities, or to make novel discoveries based upon pre-existing scholarship.  For examples of current meta-analytic research on various fields, see Koster, Tribushinina, de Jong, and Van den Bergh (2015); Clayson (2009); Roska (2009); and Bangert-Drowns, Hurley, and Wilkinson (2004).

Meta-analysis is not, however, without its inherent pitfalls.  Due to a publication bias towards positive findings, metadata from existing literature tends to skew towards optimistic interpretations of policies and results.  Also, because the originating research was not written with a mind towards broad applicability to meta-analysis, the compilation of this data is challenging and prone to bias on the part of well-intentioned RAD researchers – the ease of shoehorning various and disparate research and literature into a specific, presupposed result through sample study selection is significantly pronounced.  Additionally, these selection issues and the need to express standard deviations for quantitative values, standard error, and observational error (especially pronounced because of various qualitative methodologies used in English Studies for producing the originating literature) can lead to rejection of valuable research in order to maintain good statistical controls.


In general, because RAD research originates in general research methodology, and because RAD as a disciplinary approach (or even subdiscipline of writing studies) is founded upon traditional empirical values, these Objects of Study are inherently reflective of the history of empirical research and the scientific method as a whole.  Also, as noted in previous posts, the outsider status of RAD researchers in many literature/rhetoric-focused traditional English departments means that many RAD researchers are essentially interacting with these Objects of Study as outsiders, often from general Education Research programs and education colleges.

What this means, in part, is that the history of RAD research (and general empirical study as its precursor) is not necessarily the history of research within English Studies.  This reflects back to the major questions I discussed previously – the natural track of RAD research is one of intersection with English Studies, rather than one of parallel development.  Thus, we must examine these objects of study and their value to English Studies in terms of how they can support discipline-specific scholarly discourses, and we should advocate the transition of these Objects of Study into the fields and disciplines in question, while promoting the ethical use of their benefits in future studies.


I’ve done a lot of moralizing lately about virtue ethics and epistemology and the nature of truth and a million other things that probably don’t need to be rehashed further.  Instead, I’d like to briefly speak towards the way in which these Objects of Study demonstrate the nuance and complexity of RAD research “as discipline.”

One of the ways we can tell a discipline is valid, and vibrant, and productive is by studying the complexities inherent to their study and attempting to balance the claims of that discipline’s theory with the “boots on the ground” realities of execution.  If this catalog of some of RAD’s Objects of Study (along with my previous posts) demonstrates anything, I hope it is that I am cognizant of the fact that there are serious ethical, procedural, methodological, and ideological debates happening with RAD studies about best practices and beliefs, and also that RAD researchers are aware of these challenges and attempt to address them through discipline-guided discourse and formative scholarship.

It’s for this reason as much as any that I hope that RAD research can one day be viewed as a subdiscipline of writing studies.  The reflective nature of scholarly practice is a hallmark of a “true” discipline, and RAD is reflective, discursive, and multi-faceted.  We have certainly granted that designation to study areas far less disciplined and self-reflective than empirical RAD research – but much more importantly, legitimizing RAD as “more-than” allows for scholars who wish to do this kind of work, but fear the repercussions of being viewed as positivist by their departments, the opportunity to claim that focus as a facet of their expertise and scholarship in a way that RAD-as-methodology likely never can.

Questions for Consideration

1.) So that’s what RAD does?

Not even close!  If I’d listed all the primary, “methodological” Objects of Study alone that are available to RAD researchers, this would have gone 175,000 words over length instead of just 1750!  Once you count the fact that almost every Object of Study available to any other English Studies scholar is also available for RAD researchers to support, supplement, analyze, problematize, or falsify, the possibilities are effectively infinite!  I’m doing a thing with exclamation points here, I just noticed.  I’ll stop now.

Anyhow, RAD “does” what “needs doing,” and that’s one of the things I love about it.  In the same way that Gender Studies has become almost entirely intersectional at this point, RAD-for-RAD’s-sake has basically vanished as RAD research scholars and specialists find new ways to support their programs and create meaningful, analyzable data for their colleagues.

2.) Can [my Object of Study] be supplemented by RAD?

Well, I don’t know what you’re working on, but I’ll eat my hat if the answer is no!  Ask me in the comments below; let me know what you’re working on and I’d be happy to take a swing at finding a RAD approach to supplement your scholarship.

Cartoon - Two men walking down the street having a conversation; one man says to the other
Consider the incisive, productive guidance that a RAD researcher can provide your scholarship! Illustration by Bruce Eric Kaplan, The New Yorker, August 1, 2005.


Bacon, F. (1601). On Discourse. Renasance Editions. Accessed Oct 15, 2015.

Ball, A. (1997). Expanding the Dialogue on Culture as a Critical Component When Assessing Writing. Assessing Writing: A Critical Sourcebook. Eds. B. Huot and P. O’Neill, Bedford/St. Martin’s, Boston. 2009, 357-386.

Bangert-Drowns, R., Hurley, M., and Wilkinson, B. (2004). The Effects of School-Based Writing-to-Learn Interventions on Academic Achievement: A Meta-Analysis. Review of Educational Research, Vol. 74 No. 1, 29-58. Retrieved from

Cherry, R. and Meyer, P. (1993). Reliability Issues in Holistic Assessment. Assessing Writing: A Critical Sourcebook. Eds. B. Huot and P. O’Neill, Bedford/St. Martin’s, Boston. 2009, 29-56.

Clayson, D.E. (2009). Student Evaluations of Teaching: Are They Related to What Students Learn?: A Meta-Analysis and Review of the Literature. Journal of Marketing Education, Vol. 31 No. 3, 16-30. Retrieved from

CompPile (2004). Eds. Blalock, G., & Haswell, R. (2004, May 1). Retrieved October 15, 2015, from

Driscoll, D. (2009). Composition Studies, Professional Writing and Empirical Research: A Skeptical View. Journal of Technical Writing and Communication, Vol. 39 No. 2, 195-205. Retrieved from

Driscoll, D. and S. Perdue (2012). Theory, Lore, and More: An Analysis of RAD Research in The Writing Center Journal, 1980-2009. The Writing Center Journal, Vol. 32 No. 1, 11-39.

Freedman, S. (1981). Influences on Evaluators of Expository Essays: Beyond the Text. Assessing Writing: A Critical Sourcebook. Eds. B. Huot and P. O’Neill, Bedford/St. Martin’s, Boston. 2009, 289-300.

Haswell, R. (2005). NCTE/CCCC’s Recent War on Scholarship, Written Communication, Vol. 22 No. 2, 198-223. Retrieved from

Haswell, R. and Haswell, J. (1996). Gender Bias and Critique of Student Writing. Assessing Writing: A Critical Sourcebook. Eds. B. Huot and P. O’Neill, Bedford/St. Martin’s, Boston. 2009, 387-434.

Kaplan, B.E. (2005). If It Made Sense, That Would Be a Very Powerful Idea. The New Yorker, August 1, 2005.

Koster, M., Tribushinina, E., de Jonh, P.F., and Van den Bergh, H. (2015). Teaching Children to Write: A Meta-Analysis of Writing Intervention Research. Journal of Writing Research, Vol. 7 No. 2, 249-274. Retrieved from

North, S.M. (1987). The Making of Knowledge in Composition: Portrait of an Emerging Field, Boyton-Cook, Upper Montclair, New Jersey.

Roska, J. (2009). Building Bridges for Student Success: Are Higher Education Articulation Policies Effective? Teachers College Record, Vol. 111 No. 10, 2444-2478. Retrieved from

Vey, P.C. (2009). Sometimes I think the collaborative process would work better without you. The New Yorker, May 18, 2009, 65.