Practices of value: A materialist view of going public with student writing
Grounded in my interests in the possibilities presented by digital distribution and composition's focus on the public turn, this project questions what a move to the public means for writing students. Building on the work of compositionists, such as Bruce Horner, John Trimbur, and Amy Lee, who question the ways in which teaching practices and contexts position our students, I examine the public turn to better understand the implications of the assumption that going public itself leads students to value their texts more highly. To this end, I conducted a teacher-research project to study the relationships among student texts, valuation, and distribution through the lens of circulation--an understanding of the interconnected nature of production, distribution, exchange, and consumption grounded in Marxist thought. Circulation stresses not only the ways student texts move, but also how such movement shapes the ways student writers approach the act of composing and the relationships they establish with their labor. Only by investigating such relationships can we truly assess what kind of "value" accrues in writing that "goes public" for both the writer and the larger textual economies in which she is working.
Although my findings support the publication of student writing, they also show that assuming value comes with publishing alone is problematic. Instead, I argue that a move to the public must be grounded by students' active decision making as well as a materialist view of the classroom. That is, a pedagogical approach grounded in the notion of circulation--an approach that invited students to consider the significance of distribution and to make their own decisions about how and why their texts might be made public--positioned students as decision makers who frequently "felt like writers" as they questioned the ways in which their texts are valued and the relationships they form with their labor. "Going public" alone does not, as a practice, necessarily lead students to revalue their writing. Instead, I argue that it is only the meta-critical awareness of circulation, audience, and distribution (and their effects on one's writing) that lead to such a rethinking of value.