Writing Words & The Written Word: The University and Endemic Crisis

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(Thesis) Ph.D.
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"Writing Words & The Written Word: The University and Endemic Crisis" asks what it would mean to re-examine writing in the university as a pedagogy but also as the university's defining structure, particularly in light of the ongoing conversation surrounding the 'crisis' in the university. Critical evaluations of the dominant writing pedagogies have often traced their origins to the Romantics. In this dissertation I argue that it is actually in the Reformation and the accompanying beginning of vernacular English writing education where we can locate a new origin to writing education: one that favours literary writing and eschews rhetorical writing pedagogies. This new origin is particularly useful in understanding the ways this bifurcation of writing—into literary and all other forms of writings—became a key method of assimilation of language and culture in British colonies. The connection between colonialism, empire and the two branches of writing that developed in the colonial academy reveals something that has often been overlooked when thinking about the 'crisis' in the university: that it is better understood as two separate, but interrelated, crises. Previous scholarship has often conflated (situated, contingent, local) crises of the funding of the university and its members—tenured scholars, contingent instructors, administrative staff, students, and others—with what is spoken of as a 'crisis in the humanities.' The latter, however, is a specific and much more diffuse problem that is traceable to the development of the specialized university in the 19th century and generally concerns the public's appraisal of humanist modes of inquiry. Naturally, these two crises intersect, but examining them separately explains some of the difficulties scholars have encountered in discussing the academy's 'crisis.' This is perhaps most notable is the tendency of university English departments to rely on types of reading as a method for combatting the 'crisis.' The focus on reading serves to reaffirm the bifurcation of writing within the university and continues to support a colonial university that works to maintain colonial infrastructures outside the university. Indeed, the dual conception of writing—the literary, to be read and representative of a national identity worthy of scrutiny and study, and the other, accounting for every other type of writing produced—has become part of the foundation of our contemporary universities. This dissertation presents a case for the conscious re-centring of writing in the story of our universities and argues that a reconceptualization of writing's role, and indeed writing itself, across the academy would better allow for the meaningful and lasting change that scholars of the university have long sought.
298 pages.
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Thesis advisor: Zwagerman, Sean
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