What Matters Who Writes? What Matters Who Responds?

Andrea Lunsford, Rebecca Rickly, Michael Salvo, and Susan West

Let me just suggest, however, that the discursive practices of our students are already straining this concept nearly to the breaking point. You may have read the essay in a recent Harper's  magazine written by a free-lance writer of sorts, one who writes term papers for college students in Canada. If you have not read it, I recommend it as one eye-opening account of textuality as commodity; students in this essay buy these essays in much the same way they would buy a chair, a cd, or a ticket to the theater, as something they have paid "good money" for and can now use. On my own home turf, a dissertation study of research-based writing done by 24 undergraduate students at four different class ranks, at three different institutions, and in seven different classes reveals what would normally be labeled "plagiarism" in 23 of the 24 cases. Let me hasten to add that the 24 students were volunteers for this dissertation project; they submitted all materials, all notes, drafts, and so on, to the researcher. They were, moreover, for the most part pleased with their work; they appeared to the researcher to have nothing to hide, even in the case of an honors chemistry student who used, completely without attribution, a large part of a former student's data--or of a second-year student whose research comprised a patchwork of sources, most of them unattributed. This dissertation study suggests that the re  in research is highly operative for many students and that they are in some ways perhaps more comfortable with this sort of collective production than we are.

As a final note on the ways in which notions of ownership--or knowledge or intellectual property--inform our classrooms, let me simply say that this model of ownership defines everything about the academy, and much about our public and private middle- and high-schools as well. The business of education, from this viewpoint, can be seen as accessing and trading knowledge packages--accumulating them and then using them for advancement--toward grades, toward graduation, toward admission to graduate school, law school, medical school, business school, toward jobs, toward promotion and tenure, and so on and on and on. But what if, perhaps quite suddenly, this "business" of knowledge production and barter is no longer profitable, no longer where the value is? What happens if the knowledge products educational institutions have reserved as their prerogative are now readily accessible to anyone, anywhere, anytime? What happens if the producers of that knowledge, the romantic "authors" or even "author functions" are so widely dispersed as to be invisible, parcelled out in so many ways and through so many different hands that "ownership" cannot be fixed to a person or persons? What happens if the electronic revolution effectively destroys old systems of the "right" to copy, to copyright? What then?

By way of answering this question, let me suggest some of the issues that teachers like us need to address most urgently. The first I would name is the issue of authority, a word that is attached etymologically and historically and powerfully to the term "author." Where will authority in our classrooms lie? If "authority" is not situated in the texts we produce and consume--the canon, let's say, or the textual products of our discipline--and if it is not situated in ourselves as embodiments of the "author" principle, as stable and autonomous and radically individual selves who own these knowledge products and who can dispense them, if we like, to our students, if authority is not situtated in our rights to own such knowledge, where might we then situate classroom authority?

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Postmodern (un)grounding * Collaboration * Copy(w)right/Ownership * Possible Futures

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