Note: This is the blurb about my talk at the opening session in Houston, April 7th. It’ll be printed in the program, but I wanted to share with the blogosphere.
We watch with concern the various external and internal scavengers that nibble away at our disciplinary, scholarly, and teacherly activities and autonomy, and we sometimes bemoan our position in the humanities as we rage against the machine of STEM political priorities. We sheepishly explain how important we are to the university and society, apologize while not apologizing even as we ask, like Oliver Twist, for some more because we know, we feel, that what we do is valuable—self-evidently valuable.
Despite that belief, the value of what we do is not self-evident to anyone outside this room. That value is a proposition that has to be argued, not just once, but over and over, in many forms, from stories to empirical data, and in many settings, from governing bodies to the popular press.
Many of us have difficulty balancing the good we do versus the need to argue for it constantly, about contextualizing our priorities as writers, researchers, and teachers within organizational strategies and mission statements. We are empowered by the stability of a maturing discipline and its centrality in the cosmos, but we also fear the instability of politics, economics, and society as they seek to “fix” what’s wrong with education. We are both on the vanguard and in the crosshairs.
I would argue that we act within this conflicted milieu cautiously, moving slowly, pursuing incremental change, a runcible process from a position of what we already know to a new position of what we also know. And this isn’t a criticism: such an approach comes rationally from working under bureaucracies, time and space constraints, budgets, and material reality. I think this condition applies equally to our classrooms as to this conference, this organization.
At last year’s CCCC Convention in Tampa, I invited the membership to think differently about the conference and about our discipline with a theme of Risk and Reward. I attempted to disrupt the conservatism of incremental change by instituting new modes of presentation, such as the Action Hub for working and learning together, poster sessions so that more members could get on the program, and Ignite presentations that highlighted member innovation.
In this year’s chair’s address, “Making, Disrupting, Innovating,” I continue that theme by making the somewhat risky case that we need to push ourselves well outside of our own comfort zone as an organization and a discipline, much as we ask our students to do. I argue that, in addition to well-known and celebrated threshold concepts of our field, writing is also about making, disrupting, and innovating—on the page, in the classroom, in our programs, in this organization, within our field and beyond to the broader world of higher education, the workplace, and society.
The term “disruptive innovation” has been fashionable amongst high tech gurus and organizational theorists for fifteen years, and refers to the need to abandon traditional practices that, while comfortable, are ultimately harmful precisely because of their comfort. While the concept sometimes evokes a mindless (and needless) overthrow of conventions, it also serves as an encouraging nudge for innovators upon whose inventions such disruption depends.
We are those disruptors, those dreamers of dreams—or at least I argue that we can be. I think we should make more disruption and less accommodation. We should focus more on making and makers and less on outcomes assessment and bureaucrats. We should celebrate writing innovation, and encourage innovation in writing, writing research, writing programs, and writing organizations.
I invite you to attend this talk, where I plan to get out of my own comfort zone, share/enact examples of disruptive practices in teaching, conferencing, researching, and writing, and brainstorm with you how we may see with new eyes and new methods the innovative and disruptive possibilities of our organization and our discipline.