Composition Theory

Critigal Pedagogy Collaborative Timeline (30)

We will attempt together to build a timeline that collects and pins in time selected moments and events that are significant for critical pedagogies (or their offshoots and cross-currents). These might include key publications, conference presentations or gatherings, events in the lives of scholars and teachers and activists, experimental schools, policy changes, and more. The timeline will rely on (free) software, TimelineJS, that we will take time to learn together. The entries (or input fields) for the timeline are made in a Google Sheet, and the viewport (or resulting interface) will be posted on our class blog at

The purpose of this project is to gather and reconcile the divergent discoveries we encounter in our readings, discussions, and genealogy traces. Ideally, the timeline will build up, taking shape over the fifteen weeks of the semester and thereby chronicling our time together, while also serving as an index for patterns, anomalies, lulls, and omissions. Around Week 10, we will pause to review how the timeline is taking shape and deliberate together about what we might want to do with it insofar as agreeing about its sufficiency for our localized learning this semester, or perhaps deciding to write about it and submit it for possible publication (e.g., in Kairos or Present Tense).

In terms of scope and pacing, the contributions you will make to the timeline may be individual or small group (pairs, trios, etc.). We'll focus on the timeline every other week or so, dedicating time to it in-class. You should plan to contribute approximately 5-6 entries (i.e., one every other week; solo or collaboratively made); each entry may be textual, or it may include other elements, such as image or video, as we will learn. How, then, should you think about the timeline as you proceed? If you notice something in the reading you think would be worthy of adding to the timeline, make a note of it. You have a document in your Google Folder for recording such notes. Or if you happen across something outside of the reading you think belongs on the timeline, bookmark it or record it in your notes. Collected notes of this sort will inform our check-ins about the timeline and ensure that we have materials to build with when we set aside in-class time for its development.

Nineties (30)

Nineties are focused pieces of writing that combine scopic awareness, style, and response to the assigned reading in the form of a question or a connection. The number ninety refers to wordcount; so, a ninety is a 90-word response. But because we don't want to inconvenience ourselves too much with counting, a ninety can be between 85 and 95 words. Below 85, not a ninety. But above 95, in that case it must carry to the next multiple, 180 words (or, more precisely, 175-185 words). The logic of 90s owes to Lauren Berlant and Kathleen Stewart's The Hundreds, a project where they wrote in dialogue with one another while adhering to units of writing that were 100 words or a multiple of 100. For ENGL5054, the goal each week is to write at least one Ninety. The goal for the semester is to write toward 20 nineties, or to aspire to the number of 90s that correspond with any particular grade on the grading contract in your Google Folder. Some Nineties may be prompted and composed in class. Others may be prompted and written outside of class. Others may be self-sponsored and altogether unprompted. And others still may be written and posted in dialogue with the initial entries made by peers. Other caveats and conditions apply: 1) nineties may be featured in class as focuses for our whole class or small group discussions in any week; 2) you are encouraged to develop nineties dialogically that respond to entries made in the past two weeks (or so); and 3) you can pass on writing nineties in two different weeks. Nineties are to be posted on the class blog (login here) and also copied/pasted in the designated document in your Google Folder. They must be posted each week in your Google Folder no later than 1 p.m. before class on Monday. Nineties can also be used as starters for or as smaller pieces, for example, serving as an entry on the timeline or factoring into your genealogy trace project.

I have added an annotated 90 to the document in your Google Folder where you will record the entries you develop this semester. The annotated version notes that each entry should include the following: a) title, b) datestamp, c) body text, d) wordcount, e) initials and author count (tally for you this semester), and f) sources, including associative references, listed with last name and year. Finally, although we won't be reading The Hundreds this semester, let's consider together whether we want to designate the final entry (or perhaps a portion of the reflection) as an exercise in indexing the entire collection. That is, in The Hundreds, Berlant and Stewart commission four indexers who revisit the entire collection of entries to discern patterns and to compose a gloss on the set. We'll talk through this more in class; the possibilities, I think, are more generative than daunting, but I'd like for us to resolve together whether we want to make space for indexing the collective set near semester's end.

Composition Theory Genealogy Trace (30)

The composition theory genealogy trace inquires into a turn, theory, or figure, establishing not only what it is and why it is important, but also recognizing and detailing its lead-ups in the precursors and antecedent factors that influenced it. The turn, figure, theory is up to you to select, and you have much to select from, both in relationship to critical pedagogy and in the field more broadly. You might, for instance, look into Robert Brooke's work on "underlife," which he adapted from Erving Goffman, and which was subsequently addressed in a piece we will read by Ira Shor, as well as by others. A genealogy trace of underlife, then, would historicize the concept across a small selection of scholarship, introducing it, discussing its significance (and possible applications), and detailing the ways it shifts through uptakes. Like underlife, other terms and concepts enter the field, enter into scholarship and thereby evolve, and gain or lose traction over time. The genealogy trace may document something that steadily and evenly picked up steam, that fizzled quickly to nothing, or that perhaps rested dormant-seeming as a 17-year brood cicada who takes nearly two decades before it emerges, flies, and can be heard. Preferably, the trace will span two decades or thereabouts, so the precedents will be demarcated in time longer than, say, a few years or a single graduate program of study; in this sense, the trace should aspire to be multi-generational.

The focus for our class will present you with numerous possibilities and options for focusing this project, and I have uploaded several additional readings in the Canvas Files for you to browse, accordingly. But you are welcome to orient the project to your own emerging questions and interests, as well. The genealogy trace could take its focus on any number of disciplinary turns, theories, or figures, so you have quite a bit of leeway for deciding how you want to focus this project. As you begin, know that multimodal elements are welcomed and encouraged; or you can develop this as a multimodal text; OR you can also produce a conventionally textual essay: you get to decide, and we'll talk quite a bit about this as the semester plays out.

The scope of this work should be between 2300-3000 words, adhering, where relevant, to APA (preferred) or MLA (optional) guidelines. We will talk about your ideas during our conference on Sept. 19; a proposal draft (~150-200 words) is due on Sept. 26; a half draft (~1000 words) is due for peer review on Nov. 7, and the completed genealogy trace is due on Dec. 5.

Reflection (10)

For this semester's sign-off (due Monday, December 12), write a reflection that 1) accounts for significant shifts or insights in terms of how you understand critical pedagogies as significant for Rhetoric and Composition/Writing Studies, or 2) identifies selected, specific moments of insight linked with course readings, course activities or conversations, writing and responses you received, or any other self-initiated extension of the course that you consider meaningfully connected to the course goals or to the teaching you aspire to do. This is a semi-formal reflection in that its style and format should adhere to APA 7; if you cite sources, it should include a references page. The reflection should be at least 1000 words but not more than 1800 words.

Additional ungraded, or credit/no credit, items include the following.

At least one check-in meeting to discuss your work

Because individual, informal conversations offer a valuable opportunity for considering researchable questions, as well as for tailoring the course to your emerging interests and priorities, I have scheduled one on one conferences for us on Monday, September 19. These 20-minute meetings function as check-ins about how the class is going and about how your ideas are coalescing with regard to the Genealogy Trace proposal.

One notes/annotation snapshots

At least once during the semester (indicated on the course schedule) upload to your Google Folder a snapshot of your reading notes. These can be Brooke Notes, marginalia, or some other notes system of your choosing. Please remember that PhD students include assigned readings from coursework on their preliminary exams reading lists; as such, this is an informal check-in designed to make sure you have a handle on an annotation system that is workable and sustainable for you.

In-class writing, activities, and heuristics

Several in-class writings, activities, and heuristics constitute an invaluable element of the course. Engaged, attentive participation during class makes a positive difference in the experience of the class for you and for your peers.

Contact Information

Derek N. Mueller, PhD
Professor of Rhetoric and Writing
Director of the University Writing Program
Department of English
Virginia Tech
Office: 315 Shanks Hall
Fall 2022 Office Hours: T, 1-3:30
Phone: +1-734-985-0485