Authority to Speak: Sites of Production, Multimodal Composition, and the Will to Write
Hagaman, Madeline Marie
In the composition classroom, authority has historically been yoked to paradigms of the self, subjectivity, and agency. In the wake of Postmodern critical theory's destabilization of the subject and new media's transformative effect on writing practices, scholars in the fields of Rhetoric and Composition have worked to articulate classroom practices that reflect and enact these theoretical shifts. However, these practices often revolve around a single paradigm of the writing subject, and in so doing, students develop a narrow version of authority. In this essay, I will argue for what I am calling a "practice of authority," designed to help students mobilize, negotiate, and deploy the authorizing moves embedded within a particular discourse, genre, or site of production. Authority, as I define it, is perceived credibility. Credibility can be understood as a certain kind of expertise or knowledge within a particular field, but I am more interested in how a writer generates credibility. What forms does credibility take in language practices? What sorts of rhetorical moves make that credibility visible to members of the community with which you chose to communicate? And finally, how can we help our students to recognize, negotiate, and deploy the authorizing moves that are valued within a given form. Investigating recent scholarship in genre criticism and rhetorical ecologies, I argue that a practice of authority can not only help students to enter existing discourses, but through an emphasis on multimodal composition, it can also help students to become active shapers of what constitutes authority within a given site of production. This essay concludes with a sample set of assignments built to help students develop a practice of authority.
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