Technological Performativity: Mapping the Rhetoric of Student Valuation and Identity in Composition Textbooks
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For composition teachers who subscribe to critical pedagogy and employ some form of writing textbook--such as anthologies of readings, manuals of rhetoric, handbooks of grammar rules, and composition books that combine all three--the questions concerning writing textbooks are essential. The questions are essential because the answers they invite expose how the books may support and thwart the mission of critical pedagogues to empower students, as they reflexively teach them to analyze, create, and enact the discourse of a democratic society. As they adopt books for their classrooms and programs, teachers and writing program administrators (WPAs) might ask, How can we conscientiously and reflexively use textbook X to prepare students to create writing that shapes their lives in a democracy? With its instructional apparatus, how can we employ textbook X to empower our students' voices in the classroom? What ideological functions might textbook X serve? These representative questions regarding textbooks suggest some of the core values of critical pedagogues in composition studies.Many studies about writing textbooks have directly and indirectly addressed these questions as scholars have investigated anthologies, manuals, and composition books for their ideological functions, publication practices, and reflection of contemporary theory and historical circumstances. The extant research theorizes about the rhetorical effects of writing textbooks on race, class, and gender identity and on the types of thinking and writing the books promote. Though the scholarship on writing textbooks is extensive and productive to help critical pedagogues accomplish their goals, a review of the literature reveals additional areas left unexplored. One unexplored area of significance for critical pedagogy includes the implications of the taken-for-granted use of the word <italics>tool<italics> and its cognates when scholars refer to books for writing instruction. This dissertation develops <italics>technological performativity<italics> to investigate the implications of calling writing textbooks <italics>tools<italics>. Technological performativity is a theory and methodology that draws upon the work of Martin Heidegger and Andrew Feenberg in order to understand the nature of tools and technological systems, and it borrows from Judith Butler's theory of performativity in order to determine the possible rhetorical effects of one type of discursive tool. Heidegger and Feenberg argue that tools and technological systems have the potential to devalue and enslave tool-users. Butler argues that recurring discourse has the potential to multiply and limit identity possibilities. Because they are discursive tools, writing textbooks have the potential to devalue and enslave the tool-users and multiply and limit user identity. The potential devaluation and limitations presented by the use of writing textbooks are contrary to critical praxis.This dissertation develops the theory and methodology of technological performativity as an analytical approach to uncover and map the valuation and thinker-writer identity in writing textbooks. The methodology of technological performativity includes a two-part analysis. The first analysis uses descriptive linguistics and the rhetorical concept of epideictic discourse to determine the valuation process between the tool and tool-user. Valuation, or the value relationship between reader and book, is examined because critical pedagogy assumes a student-centered classroom as a key goal of its mission. In the case of composition textbooks, the rhetoric of the lessons, heuristics, and instructional apparatus constitute the valuation process and celebrates, disparages, and ignores the tool-user. The second analysis of the methodology uses conceptions of basic epistemological categories from across the disciplines to understand the types of thinking-writing roles students are asked to perform and thus the identities they are asked to assume. Through an understanding of the thinker-writer roles encouraged by writing textbooks, teachers and WPAs can help students prepare to participate actively in a variety of roles and shape their many rhetorical contexts. The results of a two-part analysis of four top-selling composition textbooks in this study reveal opportunities for enhancing the value of student-readers and multiplying identity possibility--that is, opportunities for resisting Heidegger's danger of enslavement, thwarting Butlerian normative violence, and supporting critical pedagogy. Additionally, the results suggest a correlation between enhanced student-reader value and critical thinking and writing.