“Inventing the university” and artful deviation

“The student has to appropriate (or be appropriated by) a specialized discourse, and he has to do this as though he were easily and comfortably one with his audience, as though he were a member of the academy or an historian or an anthropologist or an economist; he has to invent the university.” -David Bartholomae, “Inventing the University” (1986)

I read this in English 425, and I have been intrigued by this ever since, this notion that we must mimic a genre before we can master it. But what is genre, anyway? Before, I found the predetermined infrastructure of a genre limiting and trite, but I have since realized its utility. Genre tells us where to look for content and where to place our own. But it’s also a signal; adherence to conventions indicates insider status in a discipline.

I am thinking that the capstone project is some sort of test on this front, assessing our ability to see which conventions of our discipline(s) enhance the inquiry of our subject and which conventions only hinder this inquiry. In short, I think we will be assessed on our ability to deviate artfully.

2 thoughts to ““Inventing the university” and artful deviation”

  1. Erica,

    I agree with you completely. I think that the purpose of the capstone is exactly as you say — an exercise to recognize the existence of genres in higher level education, and to challenge ourselves to press their limits. What excites me most about the capstone is the fact that we are offered the opportunity to not only deviate artfully, as you put it, but to actually incorporate other genres into our inquiry as well should we choose to. It isn’t often that students are given the opportunity to blend schools of thought in this way, at least not in the undergraduate experience, and I think it will be an interesting experience seeing what everyone comes up with. Genres have their benefits and disadvantages, to be sure, but maybe another way to think of this is that we are being challenged to function in the absence of one with precise borders, and instead to function in an academic space where genres exist on a spectrum of understanding.

  2. Erica, as you said, mimicking a genre can certainly become “limiting and trite” if artful deviations are not employed along the way. Surely standard conventions must be followed to establish credibility and “insider status,” but where you chose to stretch or break such conventions or expectations will highlight your intentions of writing. The extent to which artful deviation is warranted may seem like a fine line, but remember, we didn’t join the Writing Minor to fill out Mad Libs.

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