TPC & the Discipline(s)

Screen Shot 2016-01-17 at 6.37.13 PMClaim: From these articles, Rentz, Debs, and Meloncon’s (2010) and Porter and Sullivan’s (1993) original article take a more Dorothy stance while Martin Harlow (2010) and Porter and Sullivan (2007) create more of a Dumbledore argument when it comes to the state of the discipline of Technical and Professional Discourse Studies.

Why?! During one of my rhetorical theory courses, Dana Harrington and I had an ongoing conversation that we joked about eventually becoming a journal article. It started with a question I asked during class about who/what sophist were/are: “So, they’re like Dumbledore?” (Yes, from Harry Potter.)

It seemed to fit! Dumbledore loves language and rhetoric. He remarks about their power in Deathly Hallows by stating, “Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic. Capable of both inflicting injury, and remedying it.” Sophist’s clothing was described as ornate and somewhat eccentric robes much like Hogwarts headmaster. They were both critical thinkers, expressing a desire to buck the hierarchy in which they existed and asking questions like, “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” But it was [almost] always in the name of virtue.

Dorothy and her crew function differently. They know where they came from (which is important to her), aren’t sure they fit in there, but want to be back home when they have a chance to think about it. They realize they are part of something bigger at home. The challenges are worth the rewards, even if it requires ongoing (intellectual, ideological, and political) work to maintain that position. In the end, she ends up clicking her heels, wishing for her mostly insular, stable, and reflexively fixed place to be.

And… Some parts of TPC seem to want what Dorothy wants: to have that familiar and stable home, like an English Department. Others in TPC see disciplines as constrictive and rigid networks that prevent creative and innovative thought. They see value in the sea legs that being on a less stable and more adventuresome, Dumbledore worthy trail give you.

Okay. Please, let me try and explain… While traditional understandings of disciplines seem to rest in one of two camps (epistemological or institutional) in which knowledge is bound and stable home for the writing that is a gateway to a disciplinary assembly line, TPC seems to be acknowledging and moving toward a more complex understanding of disciplines. In College Composition and Communication’s December 2015 issue, Gere, Swofford, Silver, and Pugh’s article “Interrogating Disciplines and Disciplinarity in WAC/WID” explores the concept of new disciplinarity (which uses ideas from Marcovich & Shinn’s 2011 article). In this context, disciplines are seen as flexible entities in which stakeholders participate in activities (or projects) that bring together different combinations of disciplinary representations in borderland interactions that utilize resources that traditionally belong in other discipline(s). Disciplinarity is a complex configuration of networks shaped by the objects of study, methodologies, theories, nested institutional and roles, audiences, researcher biographies, and personal relationships. So new disciplinarity adds the concepts of borderlands, projects, temporality, and elasticity to the dynamisms of disciplinarity.

Pull it together, Kerri: Dorothy = more traditional; Dumbledore = more new disciplinarity constructs of TPC’s approaches to disciplinarity. While I don’t think they will stay where they are, I decided to put each article somewhere on the Dorothy/Dumblesore Scale.

I am currently arguing that Dumbledore (along with Martin Harlow and Porter and Sullivan’s more recent article) is more aligned with new disciplinarity. This stance is supported in Dumbledore’s (and new disciploinarity’s) acknowledgement of but playfulness with the elasticity of boundaries, including those of time.

One more quick idea in picture form:

Screen Shot 2016-01-18 at 3.25.58 PM

I am looking forward to learning about others’ perspectives and insights!

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