Horner, Bruce. “Redefining Work and Value for Writing Program Administration.” JAC 27.1‐2 (2007): 163‐184.

  • Horner states early on that he will be considering the “problematic” ways that composition is defined and valued in WPA discourse as well as in the discourse of “unionism” that responds to the WPA discourse.  H. believes that the claims WPA discourse makes for its value actually hurt WPA and composition.  H. argues that by starting their arguments from the already undervalued position of the WPA/composition teacher (labor issues, contingent faculty, lack of funding) WPAs actually frame their own failure.
  • Article trajectory:

o    Examine the “confusion” in the kinds of value provided to composition work.

o    Examine the role of commodification in the valuation of composition work.

o    Evaluate the Council of WPA’s position statement “Evaluating the Intellectual Work of Writing Administration” and other conversations in comp. forums about labor in order to demonstrate how the “confusion” over the work of composition plays itself out.

o    Finish up by arguing that the discourses of WPA council of admins and comp. forums actually are complicit in the commodification process to the “detriment” of it’s own value.  (163)

  • How is labor commodified?  “Labor is commodified when the value of the product of that labor is identified as an objective property of the product itself” (164).  This obscures the actual labor of the product, hiding it behind its exchange value.  The difference between exchange value paid by consumer and labor value paid by the factory worker is capitalist profit.  This process of commodification obscures the entire social process – the nuts and bolts of infrastructure and materiality – that makes a particular product a commodity.
  • H. is arguing here that the two discourses (1: WPA work is intellectual if considered for hiring, tenure, and promotion; 2: WPA work is marketable and revenue generating when considered in terms of tuition and supposed writing skills that Writing Programs create) don’t attend to the “social materiality” of their work. . . or the “location of that work in specific concrete labor practices and material social conditions” (165).
  • Because WPA work is considered in much the same way (tongue-in-cheek here) as “women’s work” it isn’t valued as much.  WPA work is “shared” in a very contingent social-material reality; as such, evaluating it in terms of its “intellectual rigor” is difficult for tenure committees looking for particular commodities produced by the faculty member being considered (167-9).
  • Thesis of part I:  “In short, the fact that colleagues have difficulty recognizing WPA work as ‘real’ (intellectual) is not simply a matter of unintended ignorance to be addressed through communication but the manifestation of an ideological perspective serving particular interests – here the colleagues’ interest in denying the location of all academic work, including the colleagues ‘own’ work, in the material social realm and thus dependent on material social conditions that WPA work, like the composition programs they administer, make possible” (171).
  • H. makes a great point considering compositionists pay:  to assume you should be paid better because you are doing important work is a misguided assumption in contemporary capitalist economies. . . this isn’t sweat of the brow and it isn’t reward for important work; rather, this assumption confuses exchange value (value of a commodity on the market) with use value (utility).  Exchange value is ideological, not utilitarian; as such, WPAs and composition teachers need the recognition that comes through ideological valuing – NOT the “we do important work” argument (172).
  • The argument from “justice” is antithetical to both the “intellectual” and the “commodification” argument that H. sketches in the first part of this article.  This strategy is most prevalent in unionist and WPA discourse.  Justice arguments either vilify the WPA as a “Boss” (in classical unionist terms) or assume that teacher unions alone are the solution to the problem of poor working conditions (as opposed to the first step in addressing them) (174).  H. claims that the discourse of justice also ignores the material history and concrete labor of composition in the pursuit of “ethical achievement” (174).
  • Bousquet’s argument: no more “managerial” discourse in WPA work – we don’t need managers we need collaborative curricular development involving all composition teachers and we need collective bargaining and tenure rights (174). H.’s point here is that while “collective organization,” “labor,” and “movement” make for great sloganeering they are often invoked as fetishes – “autonomous figures with a life of their own”; however, they are rarely do much besides briefly inspire.  Horner argues that instead of making those things real we simply fetishize their ideality (177).
  • The “social relations” that constitute productive forces in composition extend beyond the simple linear model of production and consumption that the dominant narratives of WPA/composition reify: we teach, students consume (180).  H. is arguing instead that “different projects can be pursued, and different values can be accorded those projects, that are more in keeping with what we know about writing and reading as material social practices, and thus ultimately are more integral to our identities as teachers of composition and more justifiable to the students with whom we work, than the terms in which the value of work is composition is so often defined” (180).  Yet, Horner doesn’t necessarily ever sketch out exactly what those social projects are.    He mentions that they will redefine our work so it recognizes the entire process of social production (teachers, students, WPAs, others) – this will lead to a more honest assessment of composition’s value.

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