This semester, I took a linguistics course called the Politics of Language. On the last day of class, the instructor split us into small groups and prompted us to think about how language is political. The overlying idea of my group was that the political-ness of language lies in the idea of power. As our discussion progressed, we began talking about writing, and the strict parameters set forth by high school instructors. I found myself tying the conversation to the Writing Center, because my last consultation for the semester ended with a conversation between me and the student I was working with about this very thing. She expressed the difficulty she had in college writing because those strict guidelines were not there. So, going back to the linguistics conversation, this came into play. But that was where it turned interesting.
One of the other students in my group asked an interesting question. He said something along the lines of, "Isn't the Writing Center essentially reinforcing those guidelines? I mean, isn't the Writing Center based around the idea of getting students to write better? And if they are there to get students to write better, doesn't that mean that there is a standard of writing that they work from? I found myself instantly on the defensive. I did not want my precious Writing Center to be looked at as institutional. By this, I mean that I didn't want to have my work in the center looked at as some sort of control over the way students write. But, in a sense, even the most organic of centers, even the ones that revolve around the idea of being student led, are in some ways institutional.
As the semester draws to a close, I have been thinking a lot about agency in writing. I have felt throughout my college career that I have a fair amount of agency in the writing I do, but to my disappointment, I have come to a sad realization. The writing I have done, though mine to a degree, is really the product of a system. It belongs not only to me, but to a host of other people and ideas as well. The most obvious is the fact that academic writing is based on a set of guidelines set forth by the instructor, so of course it would follow that the instructor has claim to an extent. But it goes further. Language itself is a system, and there are rules that govern its use. Though we can manipulate them to a small extent, the rules that are involved in the use of language have to play a part in the creation of written works, so that means that language itself has some ownership. As well, we can look at semiotics. For each word, there is a meaning that goes along with it. Even though each person may have a slight deviation of the meanings, there is a basic idea that is universal. So, there goes another chunk of the pie. I think you all get the point here.
I realize this may sound a bit ridiculous to you, but it begs the question, how much of our own writing do we own? This has been an incredibly tough concept for me to grapple with, and I figured maybe some of you would have some insight that would help.