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01. Remix Pedagogy and Contrapuntal Reading

01. Remix Pedagogy and Contrapuntal Reading


My second panel at #HASTAC2013 was a panel on Digital Pedagogy: Dialectical and Analogical Praxis with Bryce Peake, Ashley Young, and Oriana Gatta (Oriana graciously offered to join us as one of the speakers when we put out a last minute call for presenters, as we had an extra space). Here is the transcript of my talk:


I’m going to talk about what we do in the university classroom, particularly in the work that I’ve been doing the past year teaching freshman composition. I’m going to focus on what I have come to think of as remix pedagogy that’s very much inspired by the work that I did in Virginia Kuhn’s class at the Institute for Multimedia Literacy thinking about remix theory and making remix videos. I’m going to draw from my experience teaching a freshman composition class for USC’s Writing Program, especially because this is a class that has a lot of rules, boundaries, and standards tied to it. It’s also that class that students dread taking. I think it’s important to identify and talk about the different kinds of work we do in the university, particularly because the university is a site of power -- so how can we find ways of thinking and doing in the university classroom that can help us rethink how we access, share, and produce knowledge in different ways?

Wasn't it necessary to overturn the admissible order of intellectual values?

I begin here with a quote from Jacques Ranciere’s The Ignorant Schoolmaster because I want to talk about exactly this: how do we enact a kind of pedagogy that can disrupt the accepted order of intellectual values that have been absorbed by departments as the norm, and that those in power don’t particularly want to change?

By remix pedagogy in the composition classroom, I mean a kind of teaching and learning that depends upon the collision of different spaces, different texts, different media, different voices, and I also want to extend it to what Jack Halberstam has talked about in his talks on anarchism: the notion of wild knowledge production, and what an encounter with what he calls “unruly knowledge” might look like. In a class that is as structured as the one I teach, the only possible relationship is to try and find the cracks that would allow me to intervene in ways that counter the traditional approaches.

I use Edward Said’s idea of contrapuntal analysis because I think it is directly related to the remix approach I am interested in: for Said, contrapuntal reading is one in which we read back to uncover “what was once forcibly excluded,” and even though he is talking about empire and colonialism, I think this is a relevant and useful methodology to use in the composition classroom -- it allows us to think about conversations with students about their place in the university and in the system. These conversations take really interesting turns when they happen at a place like USC, where I teach, a rich private school in stark contrast with the South LA neighborhood it’s situated in. My methodology is also very much influenced by what Fred Moten and Stefano articulate in "The University and the 

To the university I’ll steal, and there I’ll steal,” to borrow from Pistol at the end of Henry V, as he would surely borrow from us. This is the only possible relationship to the American university today…. In the face of these conditions one can only sneak into the university and steal what one can. To abuse its hospitality, to spite its mission, to join its refugee colony, its gypsy encampment, to be in but not of—this is the path of the subversive intellectual in the modern university.

This idea of “stealing,” and to be in but not of, is an idea that I link with remix methodology. In her article on “Remix video and the crisis of the humanities” published in the Transformative Works and Cultures journal, Kim Middleton refers to how “the most skillful remix artists create a delicate equilibrium between the poles of “constraint and creativity” – I think the classroom should serve as the canvas or platform on which educators can become skillful remix artists in order to break down boundaries. 

In breaking down boundaries in the composition classroom, I also like to go back the New London Group’s multiliteracies approach to pedagogy that takes into account the “burgeoning variety of text forms associated with information and multimedia technologies,” and that goes beyond formalized, monolingual, monocultural forms of language. By this, I mean engaging with not just books and articles, but also using music, videos, and images to intervene in conversations and practices in composition and expression.

I want to illustrate the importance of this idea of finding spaces to work differently in the university classroom by telling you a story of what happened when my class and I tried to take the first step in this direction. This was also my first step into remix pedagogy. Inspired by the unconference model and by conversations with people from other departments, I wanted to create a space where we could engage in both physical and digital spaces, so we spent a class in which students mingled and took on (performed) identities of logical fallacies, grammatical errors -- things that are typically taught in a composition classroom. I had also reconfigured the physical space of the classroom so that it resembled more of an open working space where students have space to walk around and mingle, but also still have work stations.

After spending the first half of class mingling and performing logical fallacy identities in a Mocktail Party, we then went to our work stations and worked together annotating bell hooks’ essay, "Choosing the Margin as a Space of Radical Openness," on Google Docs (a less sophisticated version of Commentpress) -- a form of “unruly knowledge” where knowledge doesn’t have to be perfect because it’s a way to uncover new knowledges and to ask questions (even when students simply wrote "I don't understand this"), and where text (words) collide with different media.

It was truly one of those moments where I felt like I had a breakthrough. One of the revelations that came out of that session was that I had greater rapport with the students, and when I asked what the experience was like for them annotating and commenting together, some of them asked, “can we have more collaborative work like this? Can we have a paper assignment like the one we just did?” After telling them that I had rules and regulations to follow, one of them said, “We won’t tell."

Upon hearing this student's comment, I realized how ideas in Moten and Harney's formulation of the university and the undercommons were enacted right there in the classroom. What's important here is that we just need to create spaces – it’s not that there is anything inherently wrong with the composition class; it’s that the ways that had been set were simply not working for the students.

Rethinking knowledge production is, therefore, very much a pragmatic and pedagogical concern, and the classroom should become a space for a dynamic exchange of information where there is more pleasure than anxiety, and where production of knowledge happens with the students being an integral part of the process of creation. 



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