Thursday, April 20, 2017

On Shadow Academia

I've been kicking around this notion of "shadow academia" for a couple of years, inspired by the definition of Shadow Cabinet from the British parliament system:

The Shadow Cabinet is a feature of the Westminster system of government. It consists of a senior group of opposition spokespeople who, under the leadership of the Leader of the Opposition, form an alternative cabinet to that of the government, and whose members shadow or mark each individual member of the Cabinet.[Wikipedia]

Shadow Academia as I am coming to conceptualize it describes the activities of a group of academics usually (but not always) outside of the Anglophone Centre (US, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand) whose activities and scholarly output resemble those of the Anglophone centre at a surface level and are done in ways that somehow mimic "traditional" Anglophone-centre academia, but are not recognized by and/or are clearly and deeply sub-par when compared to "traditional" academia. I have to be careful here, because good work can be and is done in shadow academia, but its key feature is mimicry or aspiration to appear to be Anglophone-centre without being so. This is a loose definition that I'm just trying to develop, so bear with me, but I think Shadow Academia includes, on both the student side and the scholar side, what I'd call "para-academic" institutions and practices.

These include, on the scholarly side:

(Potentially) predatory journals and publishers: Much has been written about this, and a colleague and I have a book chapter on the subject out soon, but essentially these are publishers that charge a premium for a rubber-stamped "peer-reviewed" publication. Crucially, these journals/publishers are frequently branded as "international" and are published in English, and the majority of the scholars who publish in them are from the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and Eastern Europe -- places where the requirements for promotion are strict and involve publishing in English-language international journals. Not all these publishers are strictly "predatory" -- many exist in a copacetic and symbiotic relationship with academics in non-Anglophone-centre contexts who need the publication venues and are unable to get published in more "mainstream" journals. Graduate students in the Anglophone centre are often taken in by these publishers, publishing articles in journals that only sound legitimate or publishing dissertations with vanity presses. While these things can help scholars in other contexts, they can damage the careers of people aspiring to work in the Anglophone centre.

Spamferences - Similar to predatory publishers, these are conferences that exist pretty much solely to pad CVs, make money for organizers, and, occasionally, give academics excuses to travel to tourist destinations.

The next two on my list are more student-facing, and rather than mimicking Anglophone-centre practices, they exist in tandem with or in a sort of meta-relationship to Anglophone-centre academic institutions and practices:

Ghostwriting/contract cheating services: These exist in an interesting grey area between legitimate and necessary services like editing and tutoring. Often targeted at international students via flyers on university campuses or social media platforms, these are basically paper-writing services staffed by grad students or out-of-work PhDs who will write pretty much any academic paper, from a short essay to a thesis or dissertation, for a chunk of cash. I can say anecdotally that there's a perception among academic staff that this type of cheating is rampant among international students -- particularly those from China -- in the Anglophone centre. I personally don't believe this, but I've been surprised in the past and hope to do more research on it.

Test prep, study abroad prep, and study abroad agencies -- I mostly know these in a context that involves the Chinese international student diaspora, if you will, though they all exist across the globe. This is basically a para-academic industry focused on prepping students to go abroad. New Oriental is the prime example, but there are myriad businesses with varying degrees of legitimacy and/or shadiness. Some are clearly unethical/illegal -- stories of faking credentials abound -- but others are more ambiguous, like the tutoring/exam prep services advertised at my institution, taught by recent graduates who can provide current students with notes, copies of old exams, etc.

There are probably more businesses that would fit into the rubric of Shadow Academia (holler at me with suggestions), and I'm not sure that all four things listed above all belong in the same general category. But the fact is, these mini-industries would not exist if there were not a huge demand for education and/or scholarly activity that is perceived to have at least the four following allegedly positive qualities:

  • English-medium
  • International
  • "Western"
  • Association with "Highly ranked" universities 
This is what I'm thinking so far. This is more complex than I've had time to get into here, but this is developing. Let me know what you think.

Monday, March 20, 2017

The next four years of conferences on my radar

This was a crazy conference year -- CCCC, AAAL, TESOL, CASDW/Congress -- too much. Not even done yet -- I'm just starting the season and I'm spending all my PD money. I need to pace myself a little, and I think I can.

so, assuming 2017 is basically over for me conference-wise, here's what's on my radar:

2018: Basically nothing, which is fine by me. Save some of that pro-D money. Maybe I'll write something. Maybe I'll go to Congress (CAAL/CASDW) in Regina for a couple of days. Possible involvement in hosting a conference at end of summer, but TBA.

2019: Congress (CASDW/CAAL) at UBC first week of June = no-brainer. For sure. Not much else on the radar.

2020: AAAL and TESOL are in Denver, which is where my in-laws live. Pretty sure.

2021: CCCC is in Spokane, where my parents live. Pretty sure.

Not sure where SSLW/IAWE are but if they are in cool places I might try to hit each one up 1x in the next 4 years too.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

On doing writing but not composition

I wrote this on this bus this morning, inspired by Frederik DeBoer's piece " We Don't, In Fact, Know What Works in Composition.

While a large portion of my teaching and research involves the teaching, learning, and practice of academic writing (much of it at the undergraduate level), I do not or cannot primarily consider myself a “compositionist.” There are a two major reasons for this that I can discern:

1)    My academic training. I have an undergraduate degree in English literature and “creative” writing, and an MA in English, but after that I made a fairly clean break with “English” as a discipline. (I’ve talked about thisbefore, but like many people who plant their flag in a vague territory called “writing,” I’m obsessed with disciplinarity.) Even while I was in my MA program, I aligned myself mainly with applied linguists even as I enjoyed reading and writing things for more rhetoric and composition oriented courses. Doing a PhD in language and literacy education and becoming firmly ensconced in the world of scholarly applied linguistics and English language teaching (even though, again, I primarily have taught writing across my career) has made me feel more acutely the gap between what I know about and what people who work in English departments know about. I went to MLA precisely one time, and even though there were people whose work I’ve read and who you could say are somewhat “in my field” there, overall I felt alienated and bemused. I will attend my first CCCC this year; I have a feeling I’ll feel a little more at home there, but not as much as I would at AAAL, TESOL, or (especially) SSLW. I commented at SSLW two years ago that identifying as a second language writing scholar actually makes me feel more confident about being able to fall in with various crews at different conferences. I don’t know if I feel equally at home in all the conferences I go to, but I could imagine continuing to rotate between, say, AAAL, TESOL, CCCC, and SSLW (with a side of IAWE) for some time without feeling too out of place. (The ability to do this is probably largely thanks to Paul Matsuda, who is active in all those organizations, as far as I know. Matsuda is probably an unconscious model for many young L2 writing scholars, his prolific output and late-night hours notwithstanding.)

2)    My location in Canada. I’m only now, after 6 years of PhDing at UBC and 1 1/2 years into my first job at a Canadian university, coming to terms with the blessing (not curse) of working on writing in the Canadian milieu. At first I was frustrated that in Canada there is not much of a tradition of “college writing” in the way there is in the US, and that scholarship from Canadian universities is rarely recognized by those in the US who teach writing to university students. However, as I start to take another look at US-based composition studies – which I remember thinking was remarkably myopic and US-focused, even when I was an MA student 10 years ago – I’m thankful that I can do “writing stuff” in Canada without getting mired in the kinds of political and cultural issues that US composition does. Not that they don’t do good or interesting work – many of them do – but many (not all) US comp teachers, when I encounter them at conferences, seem to have an interest in doing something that doesn't look all that much like the work I’ve been doing at Canadian universities for the last 8 years. That said, work on academic writing in Canada is – or can be – a small community under a big tent. There are people who do political and cultural studies work under this tent, and there are teachers of technical writing, and people who run writing centers, and applied linguistics, and so on. It’s my hope – through my recently begun co-editorship of the Canadian Journal for Studies in Discourse& Writing/Redactologie—to bring as many people under this tent together as possible. I don’t know what this means for our relationship to US composition – and I’m reluctant to use a word like “our” there or to even suggest that I know what it would mean for “Canada” and “America” to have a “relationship” in this field – but I hope to be able to play some part in building a small but broad community of scholars who care about, among other things, writing in higher education.