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Basic Writing, Developmental Education:

Using Located Agency to Resist Neoliberal Rhetorics and Instrumentalist Practices

Basic Writing Electronic Journal (BWe)

Guest Editors:

Darin Jensen, Des Moines Area Community College

Emily Suh, Indiana University Southeast

Please direct inquiries to Darin Jensen darin.l.jensen@gmail.com.

Send submissions to darin.l.jensen@gmail.com & basicwritingejournal@gmail.com.

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In the age of neoliberalism and attacks on Basic Writing and Developmental Education, we ask how do programs resist and foster best practices in the face of austerity, deprofessionalization, and the instrumentalization of education, which reduces education to a mere economic outcome? Neoliberalism predicates a reality dominated by market ideologies, particularly those prizing efficiency, austerity, production, and competition over other values (Welch and Scott; Saunders; Stenberg). Faculty advocacy is essential to preserving best pedagogical practices that serve students and a rich vision of our profession in the face of these pressures.


Recent voices from two-year college writing studies have called for reconceptualizing faculty identities as teacher-scholar-activists (see Andelora; Sullivan) to resist the enactment of neoliberal ideologies and preserve the democratic function of education. The teacher-scholar-activist identity in local communities of practice can provide models for resisting the instrumentalization of education witnessed in the over-reliance on data-driven decisions, inauthentic placement measures, adjunctification of labor, lack of professionalism, lack of shared governance and more. However, the theorization of the teacher-scholar-activist model requires reporting of on-the-ground efforts to form networks of locally situated teacher-scholar-activism (Kahn and Lee).


We invite submissions that demonstrate located agency within a variety of institutional and pedagogical contexts. We recognize this work as coming from the idea of “located agency,” a practice where faculty take responsibility for their locations and become activists and change agents for the good of the profession and their students (see Stenberg). Examples of this work, such as graduate student externships to train basic writing instructors (Jensen and Ely) and establishing a statewide organization for developmental educators as happened in Nebraska at the Nebraska Developmental Education Consortium (NDEC) in 2016, are just two instances where practitioners and scholars integrated their circumstances and found ways to persevere.  We invite examples of how basic writing and developmental educators assert themselves as “teacher-scholar-activists” to establish viable local responses to austerity measures and neoliberal logics.  In addition, we’re interested in transdisciplinary collaborations from any perspective, including programmatic, curricular, and placement among others.  We welcome submissions not only from basic writing faculty and developmental educators, but also faculty from other disciplines as we see our work as transdiciplinary. We especially welcome submissions from two-year college faculty and open admissions institutions.

Here are some of the questions prospective authors might examine:

  • How has your Basic Writing and Developmental Education program developed local practices to preserve best pedagogical practices and outcomes for students?

  • How has your program responded to pedagogically promising aspects of the local environment?

  • How has your program dealt with austerity measures?

  • How has your program responded to top-down instrumentalist reforms? For example, how have programs responded to legislative and administrative mandates which undermine best pedagogical practices?

  • How have your placement and assessment measures changed to meet these challenges?  

  • How have teachers linked neoliberalism and classroom practice? Are there adjustments to syllabi, assignments, textbooks? What are the pedagogical/instructional practices being enacted to resist neoliberalism and austerity measures?

  • What local teacher-scholar community communities of practice have been created by faculty? What best practices and models can faculty provide for the others?

  • What transdisciplinary or transprofessional practices have you enacted to resist “silos”?

  • What is the role of adjunct faculty and what agency do they claim in the development and implementation of best pedagogical practices, especially considering institutional resistance and poor working conditions?

  • How does public perception of developmental education shape classroom practice or institutional policy to reflect educational ideologies?

  • How have faculty, programs, and departments dealt with or mitigated the effects of deprofessionalization stemming from austerity and the implementation of neoliberal logics?

  • How are writing/tutoring centers transdisciplinary spaces of located agency?

  • What theoretical and/or pragmatic contributions do the fields of writing center studies and literacy studies offer to developmental educators, especially in collaborative resistance to austerity measures and neoliberal logics?

  • Have neoliberal discourses positively influenced our teaching and institutions?  How might developmental educators enact their agency to benefit from neoliberal discourses?

Submission guidelines appear on the BWe website http://bwe.ccny.cuny.edu/. We welcome both webtexts and traditional print essays 12-25 pages in length (exclusive of works cited) and formatted in MLA style, 8th edition.  Submissions will be accepted through May 1, 2018 and responded to no later than September 1, 2018. If revision is requested, a final revision must be submitted to Guest Editors Darin Jensen and Emily Suh by December 1, 2019.

Interested contributors can view examples in the following resources:

Branstand, Jeremy. “A Service-Learning and Transfer-Oriented Approach to Teaching Developmental Reading and Writing Students.” Basic Writing e-Journal, 13, 2014, pp. 1-15.

Brewster, Cori. “Basic Writing Through the Back Door: Community-Engaged Courses in the Rush-to-Credit Age.” Basic Writing e-Journal, 13, 2014, pp 1-24.

Carter, Shannon. “Writing About Writing in Basic Writing: A Teacher/Researcher/Activist Narrative.” Basic Writing e-Journal, 8-9, 2009/2010.

Fox, Tom. “Basic Writing and the Conflict Over Language.” The Journal of Basic Writing, 34, 2015, pp. 4-20.

Shivers-McNair, Ann, and Joyce Olewski Inman. “Story-Changing Work and Asymmetrical Power Relationships in a Writing Center Partnership.” Basic Writing e-Journal, 13, 2014, pp.

Sullivan, Patrick. “Ideas About Human Possibilities’: Connecticut’s PA 12-40 and Basic Writing in the Era of Neoliberalism.” Journal of Basic Writing, 34, 2015, 44-80.

Voorhees, Terry. “Tearing Down the Walls; Towards an Interdisciplinary Field of Basic Writing.” Basic Writing e-Journal, 8-9, 2009/2010.

Works Cited

Andelora, Jeff. “The Teacher/Scholar: Reconstructing Our Professional Identity in Two-Year Colleges.” Teaching English in the Two- Year College vol. 32, no. 3, 2005, pp. 307-322.

Jensen, Darin, and Susan Ely. “A Partnership Teaching Externship Program: A Model That Makes Do.” Teaching English in the Two-Year College vol. 44, no. 3, 2017, pp. 247-263.

Kahn, Seth, and JongHwa Lee, eds. Activism and rhetoric: Theories and contexts for political engagement. Routledge, 2010.

Nebraska Developmental Education Consortium. “About.” Nebraska Developmental Education Consortium. Partnerships for Innovation, 2017. https://nebraskadeved.org/about/.  Accessed 8 January 2018.

Saunders, Daniel. “Neoliberal Ideology and Public Higher Education in the United States.”  Journal for Critical Education Policy Studies. vol. 8, no.1, 2010, pp. 42-77.

Stenberg, Shari J. “Beyond marketability: Locating Teacher Agency in the Neoliberal University” Composition in the Age of Austerity, edited by Nancy Welch and Tony Scott, University Press of Colorado, 2016, 191-204.

Sullivan, Patrick. "The Two-Year College Teacher-Scholar-Activist." Teaching English in the Two-Year College. Vol. 42, no. 4, 2015, pp. 327-350.

Welch, Nancy, and Tony Scott, eds. Composition in the Age of Austerity. University Press of Colorado, 2016.