Agonistic Discourses: Exploring the Relationship Between Literary Theory and Composition in the Contemporary University

Open Access
Author:
Maxwell, Jason Christopher
Graduate Program:
English
Degree:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Dissertation
Date of Defense:
July 15, 2014
Committee Members:
  • Jeffrey Nealon, Dissertation Advisor
  • Debra Hawhee, Committee Member
  • Richard Doyle, Committee Member
  • Claire Mary Colebrook, Committee Member
  • Jonathan Paul Eburne, Special Member
Keywords:
  • rhetoric
  • composition
  • literary theory
Abstract:
Agonistic Discourses: Exploring the Relationship Between Literary Theory and Composition in the Contemporary University contributes to an ongoing effort to historicize Rhetoric and Composition as an academic discourse. From the groundbreaking work of James Berlin and Robert J. Connors to the more recent investigations of Jessica Enoch, David Gold, and Donna Strickland, scholars of Rhetoric and Composition have long been interested in English as a discipline and the status of composition studies within it. Building on this important work, my project reassesses the enormous growth of Rhetoric and Composition over the last several decades by pairing it with another subfield within English that developed at roughly the same time—literary theory. While the parallel evolution of literary theory might initially seem unrelated to Rhetoric and Composition—a reasonable assumption given their often antagonistic relationship—these discourses prove to be strikingly complementary if we understand them as symptomatic of broad changes in American political and economic life. More specifically, transformations in capitalist production over the last thirty years have placed workers and even entire industries in a state of perpetual fluctuation. Both Rhetoric and Composition and literary theory seem particularly well suited for preparing students to thrive in this new environment since they reject an enculturation model of education. Elaborating upon the connections between Rhetoric and Composition and literary theory has significant implications for thinking about English Studies’ place in the contemporary university insofar as it provides a way of conceptualizing a practically oriented pedagogy that avoids becoming narrowly instrumental.