Special Interest Group discussion in another class, Critical Issues in the Teaching of Writing: Histories, Theories and Practices of Writing Centers and One-to-One Teaching, brought me Stephen Davenport Jukuri’s chapter in Stories from the Center, “Negotiating the ‘Subject’ of Composition: Writing Centers as Spaces of Productive Possibilities.” The chapter is great, and I recommend it to anyone who wants to think about subjectivities and identities in teaching and learning, but there’s a moment that I’d like to bring up here, when Jukuri invokes Foucault and the idea of two, opposing voices that subjects might use.
Jukuri cites Kurt Spellmeyer’s Common Ground (1993) that inherent in language is two opposite poles of positionality: between “fitting students into over- and predetermined positions” and “letting them do and say whatever they want” (60). Spellmeyer thinks about Foucault’s “Discourse on Language,” and the two voices that map onto these positions: the voice of “Institution,” which offers the “safety of roles prepared in advance” (Spellmeyer in Jukuri, 60), and the voice of “Inclination,” which is based on an ideal of utter and complete freedom from social constrictions or roles. The latter is a myth, of course; the former, terrifying, and, probably also a myth in reality.
Jukuri adds to Spellmeyer/Foucault here, though, and says that there is a possibility for a third voice:
“It would be a voice that can learn to work between those two extremes, to facilitate a mutual negotiation between the individual and the institution, working with individuals not only to occupy and employ a multitude of subject positions but to gain some control over their construction, to negotiate their terms, to re-create them, and to open up new fields of possibilities for ourselves and each other” (60, emphasis mine).
My group members smartly name this the voice of “Acknowledgement,” in which one is aware of the Institution and the Inclination, and their false binary opposition to one another, and learns to not only work between and among them but learns to make them both work for her.
I see this working with my own thinking about internet expression and storytelling as a Foucauldian digital confessional in that we are usually given two options online: we can fit ourselves to the confessions demanded by Facebook, Twitter, etc.; accept the privacy settings as they are; embrace our subject positions OR we can resist; create groups that value and privilege an open kind of communication, art, creativity, experience. These are not necessarily mutually exclusive–that is the myth–and maybe the Acknowledgement of the interplay between the two, Acknowledgement of the ways in which inclinational expression is institutional, and institutional expression is inclinational, can create a middle-space, a third voice, a space of negotiation and re-creation that answers the problem of the digital confessional.
Jukuri, Stephen Davenport. “Negotiating the ‘Subject’ of Composition: Writing Centers as Spaces of Productive Possibilities.” Stories from the Center: Connecting Narrative and Theory in the Writing Center. Eds. Briggs, Lynn Craigue, and Meg Woolbright. Urbana, IL: NCTE, 2000. 51-69.