Tactics of Hope: The Public Turn in English Composition – Paula Mathieu

  • M. raises a host of questions related to what happens when teachers and students move from the classroom to the streets: “How well do we know our local communities and how well known are we in them?  Are those outside the university eager or reluctant to work with us? How prepared are we to go through the process of learning how to understand and respond to local needs?  Do we know how to frame questions in useful ways and listen for answers, even ones we might not like?  How well do we understand how public discourse operates in our communities?  How well can we present or represent local issues in our classrooms?  In short, how well can academics see beyond our own good intentions to assess how our work resonates with those in the streets? (xi)
  • M.s argument: “the field of English composition has taken a turn to the streets, which has broad implications for the organization and assessment of writing, teaching, and research” (xiv).  M. argues that thus far composition has used “strategic logics” – or logics wherein the university is the controlling institution in determining movements and interactions of faculty and students.  Instead, M. argues for “tactical orientation” which hopes to understand the contextual, temporal and spatial politics of the “streets.”  A tactical orientation is grounded in “hope” as a “critical, active, dialectical engagement between the insufficient present and possible, alternative futures.
  • Chapter 1:  In this chapter M. traces the “public turn” in composition studies, tracing out how various initiatives have attempted to connect writing instructors, students, and researchers with the streets outside of campus.  This includes public writing, curricular changes, service learning, etc.  M. ends up arguing that despite wanting to instantiate “radical change,” compositionists continue to enact strategic – rather than tactical – guidelines for organizing this sort of work.  Instead, she advocates the use of “tactics of hope” (an adoption of de Certeau’s strategy/tactic) as an alternative to the strategic model.
  • Chapter 2: M. argues that public writing in the classroom can be enriched by public writing already occurring in the streets.  These forms include community newspapers, activist presses, etc.  M. also attempts to connect public writing as tactical writing to classroom writing projects.
  • Chapter 3: In this chapter M. examines university courses that have used local writing and local issues as the primary course content. Specifically she concentrates on a class he instructed entitled “Literatures of Homelessness.”
  • Chapter 4:  This chapter considers why local folks outside the university push against university-initiated service learning projects.  M. argues that the push to institutionalize service learning courses is the most recent example of how university-led strategic design, implementation, and assessment of these courses actually alienates community members.  As an alternative, M. offers tactical projects that aren’t as large or “sustainable” but are more accountable to the community members they are supposed to serve.
  • Chapter 5:  This chapter argues that despite recent calls by universities to expand the public role of English language and literature, the academic scholarship produced in such “partnerships” is actually strategic and often disciplinary.  This is represented by a community organization who were embittered by a university scholar who improved their tenure dossier at their expense.  M. provides three alternative academic “heroes” to demonstrate what tactical work in communities might look like.  Lastly, M. turns to hope as a way to organize and inform  work in the field.
  • Problem orientation: charity – these is the area that needs fixing and is worked through using strategic initiatives  and long-term plans.
  • Tactical orientation: projects that emphasize that the part of the soul that is creative, competent and vibrant to celebrate, encourage, or develop those aspects of a body that are already working (xix).  (locally defined, action oriented, contingent, contextual)
  • Bloch on hope:  hope is a critical utopian articulation of a ‘future anticipated’ (18).  In this sense, hope is an unrealized, open vision toward which one keeps working.   Hope is embodied by three desires: emotional desire or longing, cognitive reflection or analysis, and action (18-9).  “To hope, then, is to look critically at one’s present condition, assess what is missing, and then long for and work for a non-yet reality, a future anticipated.


1.     Is M.’s use of ‘strategy’ and ‘tactic’ another metaphor for the tension between ‘ideology’ and ‘discourse’?  In other words, is she rejecting the work of Welch in this piece by concentrating on the tactical instead of the strategic/ideological?

2.     Is Bloch’s notion of “hope” commensurate with Hardt and Negri’s idea of multitude?  In other words, the continually happening revolution seems to be at the heart of their articulation (a revolution of kairos or becoming).  Does Bloch’s philosophy speak to this sort of subjectivity?

Berlin on “epistemic” rhetoric:  writing as “a product of the interaction of the writer, the particular audience addressed, the community at large, and the subject considered” (Writing Instruction In School and College English, 1890-1985)

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