The Culture Wars and Shifts in Linguistic Capital: For Combining Political Economy and Cultural Analysis *
Department of Anthropology
State University of New York at Albany
Albany, NY 12222 (USA)
Table of Contents
- Theories of Social Reproduction & Higher Education
- A Case Study of College Composition Programs
- A history of gender and labor
- A difficulty with difference
- A dynamic of fragmentation and control
- Differences in Regular and Basic composition: Linguistic Capital
- Use of syntactic forms
- Expectations about writing
- Interactional orientations to text or talk
- Linguistic capital in context
Eric Hobsbawm's The Age of Extremes (1996), a magisterial survey of twentieth-century history, has a chapter entitled "The Social Revolution 1945-1970." In it we learn that the postwar period saw a tremendous growth in institutions of higher education worldwide, not just in North America and Europe -- we are all I think familiar with that story -- but also in Latin America, Africa, and much of Asia. This development seems to have been of little concern to anthropology. The discipline does have a flourishing interest in the study of primary and secondary education, albeit often driven by domestic policy concerns; the professional organizations do attend to the ebb and flow of graduate enrollments and Ph.D. employment, as shown in Anthropology Newsletter reports; the intellectual currents shaped by the American and European student movements of the 1960s are of interest to anthropological theorists (Dirks, Eley, & Ortner, 1994); and cultural anthropologists are sometimes aware that higher education of indigenous peoples can lead to social revolt (Dregorori, 1991) as well as complicate the ethnographic encounter (Lee & Ackerman, 1994). But interest in higher education as an institutional zone crucially important in much postwar capitalist development, and therefore strategically important for understanding the relation between culture and economy under contemporary capitalisms this has been left to others, such as the sociologist-anthropologist, Pierre Bourdieu.
There has been greater interest among professional anthropologists in the so-called culture wars. Multiculturalism became a lively public issue in the early 1990s, with the controversy over the revision of Stanford University's Western Civilization core curriculum, and with the wider debate about the legacy of Columbus. Reflecting this, the American Anthropological Association Annual Meetings in 1992 had many panels devoted to the issue of how texts and curricula might represent distinct social groups, whether this was a good or bad thing, and how anthropologists understood "culture" differently from other disciplines (eg. Turner, 1994). More generally, as people who make our livings in or around universities, we are loosely aware of the controversies about college curriculum and Western intellectual traditions, in which books such as The Closing of the American Mind (Bloom, 1987), Tenured Radicals (Kimball, 1990), and Illiberal Education (D'Sousa, 1991) have been at the forefront of a well-publicized, conservative-led debate about the consequences of fragmented knowledge, professorial ambition, and curriculum reform in postsecondary education. At root in the debate about curriculum and the state of the university is an Arnoldian conception of liberal education and the ideal of a "common culture," a unifying set of texts and values that would transcend the divisions of class, gender, and race. However, as Jacoby has recently argued in Dogmatic Wisdom (1994), much of the debate about culture and curriculum in higher education is a displacement of the political-economic onto the cultural-representational.
Briefly, Jacoby argues that the public debate about "whose knowledge is to be represented" has become a narrow dispute among elites about the politics of representation, one which ignores the overall political economy of higher education -- in particular, that it is a massive, stratified system which allocates different kinds of knowledge to differently placed students. Whether in the books of conservative critics or left defendants of the new textual canons, such as Graff (1992), the debate about college curriculum focuses on the situation at elite institutions, which serve at most 5-7% of American college students. That is, whether put forth by conservatives or left-liberals, the culture war arguments and analyses ignore the circumstances of most American higher education, the vast "second tiers" of four year institutions, as well as the community college systems, in which a highly fragmented, business- and occupation-oriented curriculum -- neither Arnoldian nor post-modern in its priorities -- has long been dominant. The cultural debate ignores as well the drastic economic restratification of higher education, occurring during the 1980s and 1990s and partly masked by elite ethnoracial diversity.
Jacoby is not arguing that campaigns to have women's or African-American history enter the research tradition and school curriculum are not important, nor that debates about the political bases of intellectual traditions are irrelevant, but he is arguing that the debate about curriculum has been abstracted from the prevailing economic conditions of higher education. The challenge, of course, is to understand how the political economic and cultural are related, without lapsing into the familiar reductionisms: either (1) the view that culture is simply derived from the economic; or (2) the view that the economic is separate from and vulgarly unnecessary to the understanding of things cultural. We need instead to develop analyses of relationships between the symbolic and the material, asking how cultural distinctions inform economic processes and, conversely, how economic processes underlie cultural practices.
As noted earlier, Bourdieu has been one prominent social theorist interested in the role of education, and particularly higher education, in mediating between the cultural and the economic. In well-known works he has argued for a theory of reproduction in which the school is conceptualized as an institution which distributes a class-differentiated relation to the dominant classes' symbolic wherewithal, that is, their cultural and linguistic capital (Bourdieu & Passeron, 1977; Bourdieu, 1984, 1989; see also Gouldner, 1979, for similar arguments). There have been many critical responses to these proposals. The nature and field-specific efficacy of cultural capital has been widely discussed and disputed (e.g. Erickson, 1996); many have pointed out that it remains unclear just which interactional and textual mechanisms are involved in imposing and transmitting an elite cultural and linguistic capital (e.g. Collins, 1993a; Hasan, 1998); while others have questioned whether there is a unified school knowledge being imposed (e.g. Nespor, 1987). Nonetheless, this theory, in which the "rich get richer and the poor get poorer", has a plausible ring to it, the more so as class stratification increases in educational systems ostensibly devoted to equal opportunity, as has been the case with the education system in 1990s America (Jacoby, 1994; Shumar, 1997). In addition, Bourdieu's own studies do not simply analyze capital dynamics. The concept of habitus -- variously defined as embodied social structure, as schemes of judgement, perception, and action derived from one's position in the social order, and as preconscious "second nature" -- has often been conjoined with analyses of capital(s), for example, in studies of university writing (Bourdieu & Passeron, 1977), popular culture (Bourdieu, 1984) and literary production (Bourdieu, 1993), to provide nuanced accounts of class relations and cultural practices.
One challenge for those engaging Bourdieu's research program is the question of the comparability of different national systems. In this case, how does one align a Bourdieuian analysis, which suggests a centralized educational system dominated by a distinct, elite national culture -- our stereotype of France and French schooling -- with the highly differentiated American system of higher education? This problem grows more pointed if we grant that one traditional locus on elite cultural capital, the humanistic learning represented by the baccalaureate in the "liberal arts", is of declining significance as a "universal code" of the dominant classes, both in popular culture and in college curricula (Ohmann, 1987; Herron, 1988). If there is no one cultural "master code" then what are the sources and pathways of symbolic domination?
One way of developing this question is suggested by Guillory's (1993) historical study of cultural capital and literary canons. Guillory argues that humanistic learning, the basis of a classical liberal arts education, is no longer the idiom of dominant classes. In his analysis, much of the debate about literary canons and cultural inclusiveness is a displacement, in which the long historical role of the school in regulating access to valued texts and forms of language is misrecognized in an imaginary pluralistic relation between texts and social groups. He further argues, most pertinently for what follows, that the site for the production of a contemporary linguistic capital, that of college-certified "standard language", is no longer the domain of literature instruction and literary language, rather it is the domain of college composition. Since the argument is complex, let me reiterate and develop a few key points. The symbolic value of canonical literature and philosophy, the core of liberal arts, has fallen; it is no longer the cultural capital of the dominant classes. Instead the linguistic capital produced and disseminated in college composition programs -- a practice of writing disconnected from familiarity with high culture texts -- is supposed to be the new common language. However, as is the case with all class sociolects that proclaim their universality, their commonality and their standardness, the language of composition presumes difference and exclusion. Marking the boundary between literate language and the barbarian sociolects, college composition is the zone of a special linguistic labor, producing and distributing an ostensible common language that is also the condition and sign of class mobility via college.
In what follows I will develop an analysis of college composition as a zone of labor in postsecondary institutions, the site of production of this new linguistic capital. I will present a case study that portrays, albeit sketchily, both historical and contemporary aspects of institutional function in this particular arena of knowledge-and-language. The case study is drawn from a year-long ethnographic and sociolinguistic study of the program history and classroom dynamics of college composition programs at a large university on the East Coast, henceforth called "Urbane U". My original research (e.g. Collins, 1993b) examined the growth of "Basic" or remedial writing as well as Regular composition, that is, the development of tracked writing programs. It examined how the separate programs were originally conceived and justified, under whose administrative jurisdiction they operated, who taught the courses, what kinds of students were tracked into each, and what the classroom dynamics were like. The discussion is organized as follows: first, common features of both Regular and Basic composition programs are discussed, with the focus on the characteristics and experiences of teachers and on what might be called systemic dynamics; then a lengthier account of differences in the programs is presented, with primary focus on aspects of students' linguistic capital.
A salient feature of both Basic and Regular composition programs was the gender of the workforce and how these programs fit into the changing labor politics of the university. In the 1950s and 1960s, College Composition had been a relatively small affair at Urbane U. It was handled in a course, English 10, which was administered and taught by English Department faculty, who were overwhelmingly men. By the late 1980s, however, Basic composition was run as a large, free-standing program, and Regular composition was a much larger part of English Department business than it had been in previous decades. The English Department faculty had been reduced in size from the mid-1970s onward, from over 90 faculty to 61, and this had an interesting effect on gender proportions within the department. Although the percentage of women faculty in English had increased slightly from the 1960s-1980s (from 28% to 32%), and a group hired as assistant professors in the 1960s and early 1970s had worked their way through the ranks from instructors to associate and full professors by the end of the 1980s, there had been no absolute growth in female faculty from the early 1970s to the late 1980s. Instead, there had been a slight decline 1979-1989 (from 22 to 20 faculty members). Although there was a slightly higher proportion of women faculty in the department in the later decades, this was because there were fewer department faculty overall.
There were, however, areas of relative and absolute growth in the number of women teachers, though not of women faculty. Female instructors were a slight minority of all composition instructors in 1979 (44%) and a strong majority in Basic writing courses by 1989 (65%). The latter, in particular, was a large program that typically ran more than 100 courses each semester. The instructors in these programs were not employed as full-time faculty, however, but on a part-time basis as graduate teaching assistants or as adjuncts, with curriculum and staffing decisions made by a few administrators.
It is fully consonant with recent developments in higher education (see Shumar, this issue, and 1997) that a large portion of labor-intensive pedagogic work was shifted from a permanent faculty to a dispersed, part-time teaching workforce. And it is no accident that the majority so situated were women: in the political economy of American capitalism, women and African Americans have historically served as sources of flexible low-wage labor. There is also a pertinent symbolic-subjective dimension to these social structural generalities. As a number of feminist explorations of the habitus concept have argued, the intersection of female identity and class mobility is pervaded with ambivalence. In case studies exploring class-and-gender habitus, Reay (1997, 1998) has argued that conceptualizing class-as-habitus can allow us to understand how class background influences a woman's sense of self and entitlement, without being part of a conscious sense of self, especially in educational arenas. Similarly, Krais (1993) has argued that gender habitus -- originating in a deeply ingrained and taken-for-granted sense of male/female -- pervades the world of work, leaving women especially disposed to feel "as if they did not belong" (p. 173) and susceptible to symbolic violence, such as job definitions that slight their abilities or interactions that routinely ignore their contributions. With this in mind, it is quite interesting that in writing programs, the formal centralizing of curriculum and staffing was counterposed to a de facto fragmentation and diversification of curriculum and staffing. Before discussing this, however, let us examine some other commonalities.
With this structural inequality and positional ambivalence in mind, let us turn to examine how teachers in this study experienced the diversity of student background and the differentiation of knowledge characteristic of contemporary universities. Both teachers whose classrooms I directly researched commented in end-of-the-year interviews on what might be termed "the university as an unsafe place." Their remarks alluded to the complex ways in which larger issues of college curriculum, student diversity, and the fragmentation of knowledge influenced classroom exchanges as well as their retrospective assessments of the university and their roles as instructors.
One instructor, CW, had taught a Basic writing course in which students were often uncertain as to what was expected and often reluctant to enter into text-focused exchanges. As we will subsequently discuss, there were various reasons why the Basic curriculum was puzzling to students. Their inclination to ignore text-focused discussion distinguished them from the Regular composition students in the study, but their avoidance of certain controversial topics suggested a "noncurricular" aspect of the difficulty-of-difference in educational settings.
This had become painfully obvious during a mid-semester classroom session, when a discussion of a writing topic ("What does the prevalence of cosmetic surgery tell us about American society?") drifted uneasily onto the issue of race. It was the time of pop-icon Michael Jackson's widely published facial surgery and skin bleaching, and it turned out that "the prevalence of cosmetic surgery" could "tell us" different things about American society. Both African-American and white students made veiled allusions to the issue of racial stigma and pride. As the conversation unfolded the inclination to avoid overt reference to race came to seem a fascinated repression, as racial stigma/denial was tensely discussed in studiously race-neutral terms ("being ashamed of who you are..." vs. "you should be free to choose how you look...").
Thinking back on the issue, and on the question of how to make university learning connect to students' lives, CW, who was concerned to make education both relevant and liberating, discussed what she had learned about the constraints on classroom discussion:(1) Not a place where people feel safe
CW: ... And the University sets a different tone. And everybody recognizes it. And you are stuck in it. And you have to work within that. And it's not a place where people feel safe. To deal with some things.... Consequently, when issues like racism comes up, people don't want to talk about it...
The other instructor, VD, had taught Regular composition. Although she was also new to the university, she was typical of Regular instructors in having had previous teaching experience. Her students were more comfortable with classroom expectations and entered into discussions more readily, about writing texts and other topics, including a mannerly discussion of race when it concerned Martin Luther King and his "Letter from a Birmingham Jail." However, in a late-semester discussion of writing and education, it turned out that most class members were quite cynical about the value of a liberal arts education, or for that matter any educational value beyond the strictly monetary. Thinking back on this and other issues during an interview, VD argued that students had to be instrumental in their orientation to college study, for few in the institution actually thought about their interests. She felt it was her duty to "wise them up" about the real priorities of the institution and their place in it:(2) "Nobody at this university cares about you"
VD: See, I tell my students, I say "Nobody in this university cares about you". I tell them in class, I tell them in conference. They understand that "Everybody here is doing something else. Okay, and you are around to help pay for that..." I tell them (inaudible). These tenured professors, they are here studying other stuff. They want to write their books and publish their stuff and they teach you so they can get the money to pay for that stuff. So they can finance their own research." So I tell my students "Understand that nobody at this university cares about you, you've got to care about your own."
Both teachers' observations point to the indirect effect of student diversity and institutional priorities on students' willingness to engage one another or accept pedagogical goals, both in classroom exchanges and over the longer term. CW's comment addresses the difficulty of engaging significant issues, like those of race or class, in an environment that feels "unsafe" to teachers as well as students. Despite the modern university's oft-repeated commitment to diversity and dialogue, students tracked into stigmatized writing courses know only too well that universities are also about hierarchy, evaluation, and exclusion -- processes often manifestly connected to class and racial background. VD's comments describe a different kind of danger for students at a large university, that of indifference rather than intolerance. Her comments allude to a different problem of diversity, that of the fragmentation of knowledge, such that the research of "tenured professors" has little to do with undergraduate teaching and learning.
The issue of fragmentation brings me to a final characteristic of both programs. In the history of each program, and in their joint place in the current university, we see contrary tendencies toward centralization and fragmentation. Although the relation between increasingly- diverse student bodies and slowly-changing college curricula has been much discussed (Bourdieu & Passeron, 1977; Herron, 1988; Jacoby, 1994; Rose, 1989; Shumar, 1997), less attention has been given to the simultaneous centralization and fragmentation of the teaching workforce. What was striking about the program history and program demographics of both Regular and Basic writing at Urbane U. was that both programs had centrally-administered writing curricula, with week-long, pre-semester training workshops given to a changing workforce. The teaching staff were in poorly-paid, part-time positions -- they were "casual labor" in the words of one former program administrator -- and they had little or no say in the development of the curriculum. Perhaps in response to these conditions of routinized work, many teachers ignored or substantially revised the assigned curriculum, modifying the explicit program statements where they saw fit. CW, for instance, stopped using the assigned text in class midway through the first semester. She reported that this was a common practice. VD had noticed that "grammar and usage" did not receive priority in either teacher-training workshops or the official curriculum guidelines, but that concern with grammar and usage did figure prominently, though tacitly, in the group exercises during which novice teachers practiced evaluating student essays. And so she emphasized grammar and usage early and consistently in her courses. Instructors like CW and VD were not permanent faculty developing and implementing curricula, nor, however, were they simply adhering to an administratively designed curricula. Rather, they were novice teachers relying on teacher common sense, but doing so in situations of high workforce turnover. In this situation we find dispersed pedagogic knowledge and authority despite formal curriculum standardization.
Having characterized some general features of the writing programs and of teacher experiences of classroom and curriculum, let me now turn to differences in the writing courses and in particular in the students' discursive backgrounds. Before analyzing differences in students' linguistic capital, let me give a brief sense of the two classrooms that were the focus of the study of classroom dynamics. Within the first week of a semester of participating and observing in a Regular and Basic writing course, I was struck by a number of contrasts. An obvious one was the apparent racial demographics. There were a higher proportion of African American students in the Basic remedial course (half of those regularly attending) than in the Regular course (a quarter of those regularly attending). Another initial contrast was in displayed social class. The students in the Basic writing course wore less stylish clothing; their hair tended to be simply cut; jeans and leather or other sturdy jackets were common; and women and men tended toward stockiness. Students in the Regular writing course wore the more fashionable pastels of that year, loose baggy shirts, shorts, and slacks; their hair was cut in a variety of styles, ranging from well-presented traditional to fashionably punk; and the women's bodies were more conventionally "feminine", suggesting exercise, tanning, and diets. The impression of race and class differences in the composition of students was borne out by subsequent interview and archive information: African American students were over-represented in the Basic writing courses generally (33% vs. 16% university-wide), as were students from working-class backgrounds (see Collins, 1993b, for discussion and figures).
In addition to the student demographics, the general atmosphere was also different in the two classrooms. In both the Regular and Basic writing courses, the students showed collective and individual difficulties in understanding just what the teacher expected of them. In the Basic writing course, however, this difficulty was much stronger and persisent. It was frequently and repeatedly expressed, in students' questions to the teacher ("What do you mean by...?") and in CW's questions to the students ("Do you understand?"); in the sub rosa muttering that accompanied many classroom lessons, and in conversations that I had with the teacher and various students outside of the classroom.
There were many reasons for this differing sense of what was expected, but one was difference in pedagogy. As I have discussed elsewhere (Collins, 1993b, 1994), students in the Regular composition program received a more straightforward, directive composition curriculum, with composition rules and text models explicitly presented. Basic students, conversely, had a curriculum which focused on the writing process, took their personal experience as a primary topic, and was less directive about what constituted the range of acceptable writing genres in college courses. Due to space limitations, I cannot discuss how these curriculum differences interacted with differences in student linguistic capital, but I should note that this curricular difference can be understood in terms of Bernstein's (1975) distinction between "visible" and "invisible" pedagogies. Briefly, the "visible" pedagogy conceives of education in terms of performance levels or criteria which curriculum specifies and learners much achieve. It is sometimes called "traditional" learning. "Invisible" pedagogy conceives of education in terms of students' underlying competences, and curriculum is often individualized, with less overt evaluation. It is sometimes called "holistic" or "student-centered" learning, and the "writing process" paradigm is an exemplary case of such a model of pedagogy. Relevant to our discussion, in his original analysis Bernstein argued, and in subsequent studies he and collaborators have provided supporting evidence (Bernstein, 1996a, 1996b), that the pedagogies are understood and valued differently by distinct class fractions.
In addition to curriculum-pedagogy contributions to the clarity or obscurity of classroom expectations, students' varying sense of "what was expected" also derived from linguistic difference. In what follows, I construe linguistic difference broadly as involving not just grammatical or dialectical variation but also interactional contrasts and diverging expectations. In thinking about those forms of linguistic difference which are both overtly and covertly at issue in situations of examination and classroom pedagogy, we will draw upon Bourdieu's concepts of capital and habitus: the concept of capital for its assumption that all social practices are part of structured fields of value (Bourdieu, 1984; Collins, 1993b); the concept of habitus for its emphasis on the socially generative unconscious that is an interactional orientation as well as a historical product (Bourdieu, 1977; Krais, 1993).
One form of linguistic capital is found in linguistic constructions which are characteristic of spoken and written registers. Features of so-called nonStandard and vernacular varieties of English are often devalued or prohibited in written Standard English. In a study of syntactic variables in the spoken and written language of Urbane U. students and metropolitan-area professionals, Kroch (1982) identified relative clauses and subject-verb agreement as features which distinguished (1) written from spoken language and (2) the speech of professionals from working-class vernacular speech.
In order to explore the pertinence of Kroch's findings, I analyzed the occurrence of writing-associated non-restrictive relative clauses ("My uncle, who was always generous, gave me tickets to the games that summer) and writing-stigmatized nonstandard subject-verb agreement ("Both teams was great that year") in a small sample of student essays. The sample consisted of eight placement exams, which had been written in the summer before the academic year of the research in order to determine program placement. Four of the essays were by students who were subsequently assigned to Regular composition, and four were by students who were assigned to Basic composition. Table 1 shows the results:
|Non Restrictive Relative Clause (N)||23||15|
|Nonstandard Verb Agreement (N)||1||10|
As we see, Regular essays show a higher frequency of valued relative clauses per essay (though not per word), and a low frequency of stigmatized verb agreement; Basic essays, conversely, show a lower frequency of such relatives, and a higher frequency of nonstandard verb agreement. In grading the essays, program examiners rated the exams of those placed in Basic lower than the exams of those placed in Regular Comp, and it is quite plausible that this evaluative act was influenced by the different syntax, since, for example, the Basic essays had "red marks" on their nonstandard constructions.
Another area of difference involved students' familiarity with types of writing. The placement tests themselves revealed a difference in what we might call test-taking strategy. Basic writing students wrote on assigned test topics, but after initially framing the question, they often did not refer back to the content of those test topics. Regular writing students not only used the topic in initially framing their essay, they were also more likely to refer back to the particular content of those test items. In a word, they were much more focused on the test item itself, and used that item as a grid for framing a more successful answer in the ritual of examination. It was also clear as the writing courses progressed that Basic writingg students had more difficult knowing just what was expected in certain kinds of analytic writing, such as was required in their fourth and final assignment, when they had to compose a "position paper" on some public issue.
The difficulty Basic writing students had with analytic writing was plausibly due to a lack of familiarity and practice. In extensive interviews I conducted with the Regular and Basic writing students, as well as intensive follow-up interviews conducted with selected successful and unsuccessful students from both courses, a consistent difference was that Basic writing students had spent much of their high school careers writing journals and personal response papers. As high school students they had occupied second-tier curriculum tracks and had, as is reported for other parts of the country (see Applebee, 1984), spent much time writing narratives and journals and little time practicing analytic essays. Regular writing students, especially those who had the easiest time with the course, had a very different preparation, with analytic writing emphasized during the last two or entire three years of high school. In other words, they were primed for a curriculum which required mastery of analytic, relatively nonpersonal exposition. Such familiarity can be discussed in a language of "expectations", but I will argue that this familiarity is not just a matter of expectations, which suggests an overly explicit conscious awareness, but also a matter of school-inculcated orientations to textual types, that is, an effect of prior scholastic habitus.
Let us now consider a final dimension of linguistic difference, a socially-inculcated orientation to language that is best understood as a linguistic habitus. In the Regular and Basic writing classrooms students showed different interactional orientations -- orientations to text or talk -- which pervaded various classroom practices, whether students were commenting on a paragraph one of their classmates had written or discussing some published piece of writing. Two examples are briefly contrasted below. The first is from the Regular writing classroom, about midway through the semester, as part of a discussion they had of Martin Luther King's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail". A segment of the discussion is excerpted in (3). Note that the conversation is orderly, with no overlaps, and that the teacher (VD) repeatedly and successfully focuses their attention on the actual written text, for example, in lines 13-14, 20-21, and 23.(3) Orientation to text
1 VD: Why is Martin Luther King writing this letter? 2 NJ: Some- some ministers had written a letter criticizing what he had done .. so he decided 3 to respond to what they had said. 4 VD: O.K., so this letter is a response.. What do you think about this response.. Was it good 5 enough? .. Yes sir. 6 MS: I thought it was very well written and it was captivating as far as reading.. I mean it was 7 hard putting down.. it was very powerful in the way he stated the evidence.. 8 VD: Powerful in what way? 9 MS: In- in the way he drew his analogies and just basically what he had to say in response 10 to what the ministers had said 11 VD: O.K. [....] um.. The ministers complained about several different things and Martin 12 Luther King in- this letter responds to them point-by-point.. Before we get to that.. 13 What do you think about his.. uh rhetorical devices.. He used various kinds of 14 arguments in this letter.. What are some of the arguments that he used? 15 KH: [long response, professing uncertainty about "arguments" but asserting that MLK used 16 approaches in action and language that appealed to "intelligent people"] 17 VD: And what are some of the methods he used to try to get intelligent people to see his 18 point? 19 RS: Nonviolence. 20 VD: That's right.. nonviolence .. but in the particular letter .. what are some of the things 21 that he says? 22 FH: He uses rhetorical questions. 23 VD: O.K., such as? 24 FH: Here he's talking about there being just and unjust laws and [xxx] he asks what is the 25 difference between a just and unjust law. 26 VD: He drew the distinction between just and unjust law.. and what was that?
As I think is clear from a brief inspection of the excerpt, the students readily respond to VD's efforts to focus their attention on the specifics of King's letter, which is being discussed as a text example of techniques of persuasive argument.
A contrasting example is taken from the Basic writing classroom, also from a mid-semester lesson, and it is given in (4). The excerpt occurred during a discussion of a paragraph that the teacher had presented for classroom critique. Although the teacher tried to keep students focused on the written text, that text seemed to serve merely as pretext for a tightly-focused and animated conversation, which ranged widely over the legitimacy of tests (lines 6-16), the difficulties of test situations (19-31), and the general value of education (37-44), but did not remain focused on the paragraph or on writing. When the teacher (CW) tries to return the discussion to the text in lines 32-33, she is unsuccessful. Instead, one of the students, CG, takes the floor away with a well-timed assent followed by a story in lines 37-44 that contradicts the point raised by the the teacher ("tests tap relevant stuff" versus "my brother did badly in school but well in life"). Finally, CW wrests control back in lines 45-46.(4): Orientation to talk
1 CW: ...What about that phrase "They weren't calculated to measure engagement". They 2 weren't calculated- did not- those- the speaker felt that the tests weren't designed 3 to measure..um.. how much she cared, how much she 4 learned.. whether you're thinking 5 CG: That's true 6 KM: That's because uh like the tests we had to take.. um.. in entering college..[xxxx].. Those 7 people who are reading them.. They don't know any of us- They never seen us before or 8 anything. And we were in there for five hours. They don't know how much stress and .. 9 just to be there.. and know that you're taking a test .. a test for college .. That's a lot of 10 pressure on you right there 11 So I mean you could just write anything down.. just so you could just get up and leave 12 cause you're tired and everything 13 CW: So you feel that the test 14 That the test measures your ability to take a test 15 KM: Right 16 CW: But it doesn't, I mean, it measures your ability to take a test and that's all 17 KM: Yeh, that's it 18 .... 19 KM: When we took it we only had one five minute break 20 CG: one yeh 21 .... 22 CG: [xxx] You had your English, you had your Reading, you had your Math.. And all you 23 wanted to do was like get out of there Because you're like sitting there, you're moving 24 around and you can't get comfortable anymore 25 KM: You're right 26 Yeh, even though you do know the material you can make a mistake because you're 27 tired 28 CG: Right 29 Chorus: Yeh, right, uh huh 30 KM: just draggin on 31 Chorus: Yeh, right .... 32 CW: So with this paragraph do you do you think that this statement supports that the- uh 33 the speaker is.. concerned about stuff like that.. and that 34 KM: Uh huh 35 CW: that it's relevant and that it has anything to do .. with what's been learned? 36 CG: Yes Yes 37 CG: Yes of course because in school.. my brother did really bad in school in the tenth grade 38 and earlier.. [xxx] he like proved everything wrong.. he like.. I mean in the tenth grade 39 he was.. he got old enough to be kicked out.. and he went to the Vice Principal and 40 said .. um "Can I please complete tenth grade.. I'll go to tech 41 CW: hmm 42 CG: school and I'll shape up and everything" .. and .. he finished and graduated and 43 everything.. And he went in the Navy and he did real good in there and he came out after 44 five years and has a real good job.. has his own boat .. and he used to go [xxx] 45 CW: O.K. I have another question about this paragraph Yeh O.K 46 Right.. I need to get this back to writing.
Because the transcript excerpt in (4) is of a less orderly instructional conversation than that depicted in (3), let me briefly identify some of the features that show this is a lively, focused conversation, if not a mannerly teacher-led exchange. To gain a sense of what I have called "talk-orientation", note the tightly orchestrated speaker and supporter exchanges between KM and CG in lines 22-28. CG gives her account in two parallel sets of three "You VERB" clauses ("You had your X" and "You're SITTING/MOVING/NOT COMFORTABLE"). KM tightly overlaps an asserting "You're right" on the last clause of the second set (line 25), and then gives her parallel list of three "You PREDICATE" clauses ("You KNOW/CAN MAKE/ARE TIRED"). At the end of KM's contribution, CG and the entire classroom assent with close timing in lines 28-31. These exchanges illustrate well-known features of oral argument and narrative, for example the three-part parallelisms in CG's and KM's terms (Hymes, 1996), and they show the close interactional timing characteristic of engaged interlocutors who share a sense of the purpose of ongoing discourse (Gumperz, 1986), but they are not closely focused on writing, on the paragraph excerpt with which the teacher opened the exchange.
The Basic writing students seem collectively to manifest a sense of interactive text, in which written text occasions relevant talk on felt issues of the moment, in this case, questions of the validity of tests and the value of education. This is of course congruent with our assumptions about an ideal(ized) dialogue of critical engaged literacy practices, but it was not a legitimate display of knowledge, for the pedagogical task had been to critique the form of the paragraph. The teacher had been frustrated by her inability to keep the students focused on the form of the text, a recurring difficulty, and I would argue, one based in a collective disposition -- a linguistic habitus -- for talk- rather than text-focused interaction (See also Gee [1996, pp. 166-181] for a similar difference in social-class-based orientations to text versus talk.)
The differing use of syntax, expectations about writings, and orientations to talk versus text are all aspects of Regular and Basic writing students differences in school-relevant discursive resources, their linguistic capital and habitus. We have briefly mentioned the pedagogical framework of the two programs, in which those least prepared for institutional expectations -- Basic students -- were given an "implicit pedagogy", a pedagogy based on the commendable assumption of a shared competence or capability (see Bernstein, 1996b), but one which left most students puzzled as to just what was expected of them and why (see also Collins, 1993b; 1994). Let us now relate this case study of a capital-and-curriculum configuration to the more general argument.
In one sense, the argument is quite straightforward: at Urbane U., as at many colleges and universities, Basic and Regular composition were the linguistic gates through which all students had to pass. Incoming students all had to take a writing proficiency examination, and based on the scoring of this exam, they were placed into either Basic or Regular writing. In the official university curriculum, it was necessary to complete Basic writing before entering Regular composition, and it was necessary to complete both courses before taking advanced levels of undergraduate study. Both programs of writing were self-consciously understood by administrators and teachers as imparting a general-purpose skill, and this "basic skill" was viewed as the necessary pre-condition for subsequent post-secondary education. They were also explicitly conceived as a training and practice of writing separate from and more practical than the prior English Department literary style of writing informed by a syllabus of poetry, essays, and literature (see also, Guillory, 1993, and North, 1987).
The actual program and classroom realities were of course more complex. Teachers in both Basic and Regular composition drew on diverse printed sources, both literary and non-literary, in an effort to provide textual models for their students, and the selection was perhaps most diverse in Basic writing, since the official curriculum emphasized an experiential, writing process model, and offered the fewest textual models. More pertinently, students often took advanced courses before completing the composition requirements, and in extreme cases, a student would satisfy all requirements for graduation before completing Basic writing. This poses the interesting question, raised whenever credentials are bypassed: how necessary is the credential -- or, in this case, the linguistic capital -- to the status to be occupied or work to be performed? Taken together, the Basic and Regular composition programs with their entrance and exit exams were the site of institutionally-regulated "capital conversion" processes (Bourdieu, 1984). In the exams and placement procedures of these programs, high school students as well as transfer students from community colleges found out how their prior composition courses and apparent composition proficiencies were judged at the university. If judged as poor, the students were placed in Basic writing, and their course of study subsequently lengthened, since Basic writing did not contribute formal credit to the BA degree. If judged as good, or skilled, the students were placed in Regular composition courses.
As we have seen, there were also clear differences in the social characteristics of students placed in each writing track: students placed in Basic writing were more likely to come from working class and minority backgrounds. Their style of spoken English, which carried over into their writing, was more likely to differ from the grammar and usage conventions of academic writing. They also tended to come from urban public schools or parochial schools, both of which, according to student interviews, did not give them much practice in writing essayist argument. Conversely, students placed directly in Regular composition tended to come from middle class, suburban, non-minority backgrounds. Their spoken style was less likely to violate conventions of academic writing, and they typically had attended suburban public schools or private nonparochial schools, where they had received considerable rehearsal of the essayist style of writing expected in the college writing courses. In brief, Regular composition students possessed more linguistic capital, because of their spoken dialects and their previous education, than their Basic writing counterparts, who, like the underprepared students in Rose's (1989) classic study of Basic writing programs, found their previous educational strategies and attainments ill-suited to their new institutional context.
That institutional context was complex: Urbane U. was a large university which reflected internally the greater hierarchy and stratification of post-1960s higher education in the United States. Restructuring of the university meant that a dispersed "flexible" workforce had to grapple with a reified concept of writing-as-skill detached from particular discipline-based writing traditions. Basic students were assigned to a remedial, preparatory zone, outside the Regular college curriculum. Although on the face of it this should confer no stigma -- after all, special preparatory education is what affluent parents buy for their children -- was palpable stigma felt at the assignment: "It's like being told you're LD [Learning Disabled]" was how one interviewee put it. In addition, Basic students were taught by the least experienced instructors. Since Basic writing courses were widely acknowledged as more difficult to teach, and the curriculum was felt to be more constraining, teachers who had experience and could prove their merit typically arranged to teach Regular composition. The irony, of course, was that those with least experience and institutional authority to determine curriculum were given the task of teaching those whose knowledge and expectations were least likely to fit the curriculum, and who suffered the lowest pass rates in their writing classes.
What I have tried to show in the foregoing is the plausibility of conceiving college composition as the site of regulation of linguistic capital, that is, the site of the production, distribution, and valuation of an academic writing, disconnected from the humanist traditions and texts that many of us may think of as foundational to the liberal arts, but conceptualized as a "basic skill", that is, the common linguistic coin of college education. Such a perspective provides a theoretical lens on the debate about culture-in-curriculum, correctly perceiving it's non-central role in the political economy of higher education, while not losing sight of the school's institutional role in symbolic regulation, in this case in linguistic certification of "the ability to write". We should not, however, view the relation between education and society in a simple formula of social class, linguistic code, and educational outcome. Although composition programs may be the institutional site for the regulation of linguistic capital, educational institutions themselves are complexly enmeshed in political and economic processes, as many of the papers in this special issue illustrate.
To take one example from this study, the co-existence of administrative centralization and de facto dispersal found in curriculum and teaching in the writing program is typical of much of higher education as an academic worksite. That most of the fulltime teaching faculty have ignored the working conditions and institutional status of their part-time colleagues (whether Ph.D. adjuncts or graduate students) means that an increasing amount of college teaching -- 40% is a figure typically cited (Nelson, 1997) -- is done by people who are removed from faculty contexts of curriculum development. Typically, they are handed a routinized curriculum, administered by someone (whether program administrator or department chair) quite far removed from the exigencies of teaching in that particular sector of the curriculum; and these part-time teachers, like those in Regular and Basic composition, must then "cope". At issue is a fundamental feature of life under so-called New Capitalism: job insecurity and a dialectic of control and fragmentation (Gee et al., 1996; Hobsbawm, 1996; Shumar, this issue). The improvisational activities of the most exploited teachers in higher education -- their "coping" -- is likely to have general tendencies. It may result in a more implicit curriculum, a softening of the statement of insitutional expectations (Bourdieu & Passeron, 1977), and a blurring of the boundary between discipline-based knowledge and popular culture (Bernstein, 1996a). We may applaud or deplore this development, but it is part of conjunctural crises affecting higher education in countries such as France (Bourdieu, 1989) and the United Kingdom (Bernstein, 1996a) as well as the United States (Bowles & Gintis, 1976; Herron, 1988).
Analyzing linguistic capital and the institutional site of its production and dissemination renders manifest the dense intertwining of the political-economic and the symbolic in higher education. College has become a generalized experience and, given the imperatives of market logic, it is also highly stratified (Bowles & Gintis, 1976; Shumar, 1997). College education supposedly provides a common experience and a common written standard for all; as our President ceaselessly reminds us "All students should have the opportunity to to college". But college is and always has been a class boundary, and now of course there is considerable internal segmentation among the college educated. The colleges most U.S. students will attend have been bypassed by the debate about "Western" or "multicultural" knowledge. Such colleges have no dominant curricular form beyond what Jacoby (1994), reporting on a large-scale survey of college curricula, calls "Office Management 101", the business and vocational courses that have long been a staple of American high schools and community colleges as well as many fourr-year institutions. But throughout the system of American higher education there are "College Comp" and "Basic writing", gateway courses for those seeking to hold onto or gain a position in an insecure, downsized middle class.
The lessons of "Office Management 101" also apply to the university as a workplace: higher education now has an internal two-tier economy separating those with full-time positions from part-time or temporary employees with low pay and few benefits (Nelson, 1997; Shumar, 1997). The dynamics of gender and labor in the preceding case study raise the question of how composition programs, the site of production and consumption of the new linguistic capital, became women's work. There are obvious economic dimensions -- the drive to cheapen labor associated with feminized labor (Apple, 1986; Hobsbawm, 1995); and there are less obvious dimensions -- the effect of gender on the strategies of pedagogic authority, as well as commitment to pedagogic authority (Collins & White, 1995; Knoblauch & Brannon, 1993). Regarding the latter, I have suggested that concepts such as habitus may provide insight into the interaction of gender and class in the constitution of and commitment to such authority.
Grappling with such issues has several implications for modes of anthropological research. Within the subfield of the discipline called "anthropology and education", we need historical analyses of programs and institutional contexts, as well as synchronic analyses of classroom dynamics. Within linguistic and cultural anthropology, we need to remember the legacies of Marx, even if that legacy is currently out of fashion. Higher education is a key zone for theorizing the relation between the cultural and the economic in contemporary capitalist societies, for exploring the protean shapes of class conflict and class domination, and for confronting the mysteries of value, whether those of culture or of capital. But the discipline of anthropology's methodological tradition of theoretically-grounded ethnography also has an important contribution to make. We need concepts such as capital and habitus which enable us to better understand the complexity of class in its co-constitution with gender, but we also need contexts as well as concepts. That is, we need situated analyses of knowledge and subjectivity as well as framing analyses of politics and economics; we need studies of the routine, everyday practices, through which we live the institutional structures of higher education, with which we enact the culture and dream the dreams of contemporary capitalism.