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Managerial Unconscious in the History of Composition Studies

Managerial Unconscious in the History of Composition Studies

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Donna Strickland


E-book (Other formats: Paperback)
5.5 x 8.5, 1 illustrations

Studies in Writing and Rhetoric


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About the Book

In this pointed appraisal of composition studies, Donna Strickland contends the rise of writing program administration is crucial to understanding the history of the field. Noting existing histories of composition studies that offer little to no exploration of administration, Strickland argues the field suffers from a “managerial unconscious” that ignores or denies the dependence of the teaching of writing on administrative structures. 

The Managerial Unconscious in the History of Composition Studies is the first book to address the history of composition studies as a profession rather than focusing on its pedagogical theories and systems. Strickland questions why writing and the teaching of writing have been the major areas of scholarly inquiry in the field when specialists often work primarily as writing program administrators, not teachers. 

Strickland traces the emergence of writing programs in the early twentieth century, the founding of two professional organizations by and for writing program administrators, and the managerial overtones of the “social turn” of the field during the 1990s. She illustrates how these managerial imperatives not only have provided much of the impetus for the growth of composition studies over the past three decades but also have contributed to the stratified workplaces and managed writing practices the field’s pedagogical research often decries. 

The Managerial Unconscious in the History of Composition Studies makes the case that administrative work should not be separated from intellectual work, calling attention to the interplay between these two kinds of work in academia at large and to the pronounced hierarchies of contingent faculty and tenure-track administrators endemic to college writing programs. The result is a reasoned plea for an alternative understanding of the very mission of the field itself.


Donna Strickland is an assistant professor of English at the University of Missouri-Columbia and a coeditor of The Writing Program Interrupted: Making Space for Critical Discourse.


"The Managerial Unconscious offers an insightful reading of composition history that cuts through tired debates about composition management and labor to give readers a productive re-imagining of the work of composition. Both a revisionist history and a call to action, Strickland demonstrates that composition denies the field's managerial identity at its own cost."—Bruce Horner, author of Terms of Work for Composition: A Materialist Critique 

"Strickland reads composition programs, past and present, as hierarchical workplaces, and the teaching of composition as a rough-and-tumble, complex economic enterprise. Without flinching she calls for our field 'to bring a critical, curious, and even skeptical attention' to the managerial, that is, to writing program administration. Her carefully wrought argument merits the attention of 'comp bosses' and faculty alike."—Lucille M. Schultz, professor emerita, University of Cincinnati

"An important and deeply original work of scholarship that allows the profession to pull back the curtain and recognize its fundamental managerial identity. Over the course of this next decade, I expect The Managerial Unconscious to become one of the most important works focused on the connection between our professional identity and the labor system that supports it."—Steve Parks, author of Gravyland: Writing beyond the Curriculum in the City of Brotherly Love

"Scholars and teachers of composition and rhetoric need to understand the economies in which they work, and The Managerial Unconscious is a central text, successfully arguing that managerialism is not confined within the subfield of writing program administration but instead informs the entire discipline of composition and rhetoric."—Rebecca Moore Howard, professor of writing and rhetoric, Syracuse University