More questions than answers about Critical/Cultural Studies

Fulkerson’s article served as an important introduction to the field for me. I found it fascinating to see how much has changed in composition and how much has stayed the same since I was an undergrad in the 80s. Of greatest interest to me in this article was Fulkerson’s overview of the Critical/Cultural Studies approaches, mainly because even though I’ve been aware of the trend toward cultural studies, I had only a vague understanding of how this has impacted the English department, particularly the writing program. I’m hesitant to just jump on the Fulkerson bandwagon critiquing CCS, but I certainly have some questions about this “social turn.” Maybe you can help me out by offering an opposing viewpoint to Fulkerson or by recommending some other readings. (I imagine this topic will be revisited since it appears that Berlin is in the CCS camp.) Here are some of the questions I had after reading Fulkerson:

  1. Why has writing instruction been removed from First Year Writing (at least by CCS advocates)? It does appear that writing is not as much taught as merely expected, much as in other writing-focused courses.
  2. How is a course of the description Fulkerson provides justified as being in the English department? As he points out, the pedagogy and axiology of CCS is much akin to that of courses in the departments of history, sociology, anthropology, or environmental science (661).
  3. What has happened to learner needs and expectations? If students are interested in exploring these ideas, plenty of avenues exist for this in other departments (see #2). As Durst discovered, what students—those “career-oriented pragmatists”—expect from a writing course is “dramatically at odds with the views and approaches of the teacher” (664). Do students’ goals (career and otherwise) have a place in the curriculum?
  4. Aren’t those who are insisting that writing courses must teach resistance to hegemonic discourse in fact practicing a form of hegemony? Fulkerson points out that the texts for examination in the CCS course are those “judged important by the teacher” (662) and that assessment of student writing amounts to judging how well the student has reflected the teacher’s views (“contemporary mimeticism”) (663). With only one perspective represented in readings and with the balance of power clearly still in favor of the professor thanks to his/her greater knowledge and ability to dispense grades, it seems that the ideal of the democratic classroom has been supplanted by further hegemony. Or is this just Fulkerson’s anti-CCS bias?
  5. Is the purpose of FYW to teach values? I laughed when I read Durst’s account of the angst of the first-year teaching assistants lamenting that their students didn’t listen to NPR or read the Atlantic Monthly, but I was frankly astounded when I read of their struggles to define their goals: “Was the goal to teach them better values or better writing or both?” (664) Who exactly is it that decides what these “better values” are?

Although I’ve centered on the CCS aspects of this article, the other areas of focus in Fulkerson’s article were equally intriguing to me, and I look forward to reading others’ blog posts about them. The disunity within the discipline of composition as Fulkerson outlined left me troubled and realizing that with such a lack of consensus, it is more critical than ever that someone wanting to teaching composition have a clear view of the competing composition theories and be able to articulate his/her own theory.