Challenging the Narrow View of What Research Should be in Composition Studies

Presented by Lisa DeTora and Risa Gorelick.

Lisa DeTora is a Masters student at Albany Medical College, and Risa Gorelick is the chair of the Research Network Forum; together, they are working on a book on the rhetoric of food writing called Consumptions. Their presentation discusses research in composition studies. They start by stating one challenge of understanding research in the composition field is in determining what is in and what is out of composition. They cite two organizations, the Popular Culture Association and the CCCC, as examples of this difficulty. The Popular Culture Association deals with large amounts of composition content, and the CCCC deals with large amounts of popular culture content. To those serving on tenure and promotion committees, a review of a composition scholar’s credentials might reveal seeming inconsistencies. DeTora and Gorelick argue that the composition field is very diverse and interdisciplinary, and they argue that those reviewers should be aware of the vast scope of research conducted in the field.

Their conversation offers examples of how the variety in their own research has proven to be a benefit and a liability in their own professional histories. Many departments in the country have specific ideas of what a professor in composition should be doing, whereas the field of composition itself is much more open. Thus, both DeTora and Gorelick have encountered both support for and raised eyebrows in response to their research work from their past employers. One concern that most faculty members have is how their research will be viewed by tenure committees, and DeTora and Gorelick acknowledge that much of the research scholars do must sometimes be viewed as products to be sold for promotion and tenure. These are the practical concerns that sometimes run contrary to the growing variety present in composition studies.

They then engage in a discussion of institutional review boards (IRBs) that further suggest that many departments want scholars to be single-focused, easily labeled people who do specific things. In composition, this is a concern because composition scholars often delve in a wide variety to topics. IRBs seems to be data driven concepts that narrow the field to greater constraint points than the presenters would desire.

They next discuss their upcoming book about food writing as an example of the variety available in the composition field. They discuss the topics they cover, including using food to teach writing, examining food writing conventions, and looking at rhetorical situations related to food blogs, shows, and cookbooks. Students engage with writing in a new and interesting way, particularly in introductory writing classes. Students get opportunities to utilize digital technologies beyond the basic essay as well.

They return to their previous discussion of the limitations scholars face in tenure committees and grant review boards. They again state that many departments want to “check off a box” concerning scholars, showing a failure to understand where the field of composition studies is moving. While creating jobs outside of the academy is not a practical solution to the problem, the presenters do suggest that graduate students continue to push the boundaries of the traditional view of composition studies with their projects and dissertations.