Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Weiser and Rose' "Theorizing," Hemmeter's "Phenomenological Communities," and the Burkean Parlour

In Tom Hemmeter's "WPs as Phenomenological Communities," he argues that theorizing is problematic because it turns the physical world into cold abstraction, attempting to take social constructs out of reality and categorize them, as though one could actually take anything out of its living, breathing, real-world environment. He fights for community, and criticizes how we tend to work alone in our heads, theorizing but never really doing anything. In my 605 class, my almost entirely creative writing cohort tends to criticize academics for not affecting real change out in the world. When we discussed the concept of the Burkean Parlour (the idea of coming into a parlor where multiple conversations are happening, sitting in and listening, and responding to it, only to eventually leave the parlor with an understanding that the conversation marches on), several students agreed that this is exactly what is wrong with academia--we have these conversations in closed circles where there is little real world agency. 

For me, the Burkean Parlour is a threshold concept for the ultimate collective, collaborative pursuit of knowledge, and it warms me to my core. It makes me feel like I am part of something bigger than myself, and gives me strength to continue to work. This is not for me, I remind myself, but for our collective efforts. Our pursuit of knowledge, and our ongoing debates about what that means, is the greatest ongoing dialectical debate of all time. I am able to study rhet/comp the way I am because of many great scholars before me, and I hope to contribute to future scholars/students/humans in similar ways. 

Rose and Weiser's "Theorizing Writing Program Theorizing" finds common ground between the apparent academic binary of theory vs practice by first explaining its classist origins, and then arguing for a more collaborative and practical relationship between theory and practice. In outlining this binary's classist origins, they note how the upper class have always had the luxury of being able to sit around and 'think' rather than 'do'. Those who 'do' do so out of necessity. They are the working class, and must 'do' in order to survive. This extends into academia, which has long been a space for the privileged, who have the luxury of sitting around 'thinking' rather than 'doing'. This binary has been challenged several times in academia, but still stands strong in many ways. Within academia, there are those who are tasked with 'doing' more than 'thinking'--such workers can be called service workers. The WPA falls into service work. 

Rose and Weiser convincingly argue for a take on theory that is grounded in practice. They argue that theory should not be understood as a high brow activity with little to no application. Rather, theory "helps us understand the problems, situations, and contexts of our work, thus positioning us to make decisions and take actions based on a richer understanding of their implications" (189). Pairing this with Hemmeter's criticisms of theory helps us to understand theory as intertwined with community and collective observation rather than contributing to individuals neglecting such work. If theory seeks to explain situations via collective observation and discussion, then why do so many, such as those creative writers in my cohort, see theory and theorizing as problematic? I think it is because many fail to see theory as inherently emerging from practice, community, and conversation. We need to constantly remind ourselves of the WPA mantra: "experience into information, information into knowledge, knowledge into judgment, judgment into action" (class notes). This is certainly applicable to the WPA position, but it should be more widespread. The theorizing that we do inside of "the walls of academia" can extend out of those walls when we base our exigence for theorizing in our real world experiences, as the above mantra suggests. 

Rose and Weiser's work, not just in this chapter, but throughout both WPA as theorist and WPA as researcher, functions primarily on the WPA level. Bringing theory and theorizing into the WPA position not only serves to legitimize the work we do, but it provides a means for progress. We create our own Burkean Parlour, and in so doing are able to build on our collective knowledge. This notion of theory and theorizing----that it is something we do by tapping into our collective daily experiences in order to better serve our daily practices--helps us remember why we theorize. We aren't doing it for tenure, or to get paid more, or because we are more interested in our own theories than are real world responsibilities, or because we are grossly self-infatuated, but for the sake of collective knowledge building--something we believe to be very important, and very applicable to the work we do. 


  1. I also really appreciated this reading and the ways it validates both theory and practice as interacting elements. I like how you tied in Hemmeter and his ideas about community. I think the concept of collective knowledge and how faculty work together in a particular institution to solve very specific, localized problems demonstrates the relevance of Hemmeter's essay and how it connects with Rose and Weiser. I was also thinking about some of the material conditions/location of the WPA and how that also contributes to knowledge, practice, and theory.

  2. The whole idea of collective knowledge building is exciting, and I think it is one of the major aims of academia--to keep furthering knowledge production for now and the future. At the same time, it can become challenging to understand what that looks like and how it can be enacted, especially at times when many students seem disengaged in their instructors' attempts to involve them. I wonder how a WPA could help foster a sense of collective knowledge building. I think giving the instructors the maximum amount of autonomy in their teaching while still trying to unite the program toward common goals would be a good start. Yet even trying to achieve those two pursuits at the same time can be tricky; how do WPAs keep the goals for the program broad enough to allow maximum autonomy, yet narrow enough to not be vague or overgeneralized? It is worth thinking about in terms of knowledge building because a WPA's work can influence how instructors can enact that.