Response to Jody Shipka’s Towards A Composition Made Whole
Mediation brings awareness in a manner by breaking down composition, a process often thought of as a singular sterile linear event, into its true form as a mess of constraints, environmental factors, and failed attempts. As I completed Jody Shipka’s Towards A Composition Made Whole, her framework’s focus on mediation started to clarify some of my thinking on capital-C Composition. Shipka’s framework works to bring greater awareness to the composing process for those enrolled in the course, “[making] the invisible visible so that it can be acted on differently” (Shipka 128), and this goal of greater awareness within an individual composing process has great potential for (re)inspiring student’s thoughts regarding the more complex composition of social systems.
Shipka argues that rather than a traditional focus on discreet skill-building, a composition course can instead offer people an opportunity to investigate their decision-making throughout the composing process, focusing on how composing is mediated by historical, social and technological factors. The responsibility placed on peopled enrolled in the course to generate their own products, operations, resources and appropriate conditions keeps the class rigorous, and dispels, at least my own, cynical presumptions about its inanity, a diversion on equal footing with adult coloring books. Remarkable about Shipka’s framework, and something she understates, is that the focus on historical, social and technological factors not only benefits students’ awareness about how they compose or what occurs while they compose, but also initiates questions about the way their bodies and the systems those bodies operate it in can also be mediated and considered with the same degree of rigor. And what I like about that is that it’s not something that needs to be stated in the course least it ends up configuring the course into one on social and political discourse.
Also of interest in Shipka’s framework is the manner that it disrupts progress narratives. The framework illuminates the importance of problem recognition, reframing problem recognition not as whistle blowing (with all its negative connotations about needlessly disrupting systematic order and delaying production), but as a means to understand and improve by increments the way composition is navigated. Focused on transparency, people reflect on how “breakdowns, disruptions, or conflicts encountered throughout the process impact, whether for good or ill, the process of making and its outcomes” (Shipka 77). The framework acts a balm to the shame that often results from feeling as if you’re the sole person facing a set of challenges, and makes recognizing the problems of your composing process an empowering activity. Given that these aspects of the framework are themselves withdrawn in Shipka’s description, how much should instructors working with the framework explicitly bring focus to the expanded social realms that their awareness may take people enrolled in the course and the way the framework engages people in discussions of shame? How do we discuss with our students the ways emotion mediates the composing process without being reduced to practicing old-school expressivist theory?