Collaboration and Control

Today our next group leads discussion on Lunsford’s “Collaboration,Control, and the Idea of a Writing Center,” and I don’t really have a clear idea of what they’ll do. (These are always a bit exciting that way–what’ll happen next?)

Once we’re done, I’d like us to talk about one of Lunsford’s central arguments, that writing centers should be “Burkean Parlors.” What is a Burkean parlor? Here’s Kenneth Burke explaining it:

Imagine that you enter a parlor. You come late. When you arrive, others have long preceded you, and they are engaged in a heated discussion, a discussion too heated for them to pause and tell you exactly what it is about. In fact, the discussion had already begun long before any of them got there, so that no one present is qualified to retrace for you all the steps that had gone before. You listen for a while, until you decide that you have caught the tenor of the argument; then you put in your oar. Someone answers; you answer him; another comes to your defense; another aligns himself against you, to either the embarrassment or gratification of your opponent, depending upon the quality of your ally’s assistance. However, the discussion is interminable. The hour grows late, you must depart. And you do depart, with the discussion still vigorously in progress.
The Philosophy of Literary Form 110-111

And here’s a video on the same thing:

After we read (or watch) this, it could be useful to talk a bit about her specific argument. Does Lunsford say how, or why? Where does this argument arise in her article, and how does she use it?

What elements or understandings would be needed to sustain this Parlor? What I mean is this: say you’re sitting in one of these “parlors” in real life, like at a party or over a pizza box, and having a conversation about an idea everyone’s invested in. What agreements, implied or not, keep you all sitting there and still working/playing with the idea? What elements in the parlor-type conversation keep you participating in it, or at least don’t drive you away?

Time left over will be spent talking in groups and sharing out:

  • Where have you seen productive forms of collaboration? What were they, and how did they “work”?
  • What kinds of things do people DO or SAY in order to create and sustain productive collaborations?
  • Do these forms of collaboration seem like or unlike the Burkean Parlor above?

Hey! I'm a professor of Rhetoric and Writing in the English dept. at Chico State. Also disc golf player, indie music listener, and vanilla Marxist.

Leave a Reply