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Rewriting Composition

Rewriting Composition

Terms of Exchange

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Bruce Horner


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About the Book

Bruce Horner’s Rewriting Composition: Terms of Exchange shows how dominant inflections of key terms in composition—languagelaborvalue/evaluationdiscipline, and composition itself—reinforce composition’s low institutional status and the poor working conditions of many of its instructors and tutors. Placing the circulation of these terms in multiple contemporary contexts, including globalization, world Englishes, the diminishing role of labor and the professions, the “information” economy, and the privatization of higher education, Horner demonstrates ways to challenge debilitating definitions of these terms and to rework them and their relations to one another.
Each chapter of Rewriting Composition focuses on one key term, discussing how limitations set by dominant definitions shape and direct what compositionists do and how they think about their work. The first chapter, “Composition,” critiques a discourse of composition as lacking and therefore as in need of being either put to an end, renamed, aligned with other fields, or supplemented with work in other disciplines or other forms of composition. Rather than seeing composition as something to be abandoned, replaced, or supplemented, Horner suggests ways of productively engaging with the ordinary work of composition whose ostensible lack is assumed in the dominant discourse. Subsequent chapters apply this reconsideration to other key terms, critiquing dominant conceptions of “language” and English as stable; examining how “labor” in composition is divorced from the productive force of social relations to which language work contributes; rethinking the terms of value by which the labor of composition teachers, administrators, and students is measured; and questioning the application of conventional definitions of professional academic disciplinarity to composition. By exposing limitations in dominant conceptions of the work of composition and by modeling and opening up space for new conceptions of key terms, Rewriting Composition offers teachers of composition and rhetoric, writing scholars, and writing program administrators the critical tools necessary for charting the future of composition studies.


Bruce Horner is the Endowed Chair of Rhetoric and Composition at the University of Louisville, where he teaches courses in composition, composition theory and pedagogy, and literacy studies. His previous books include Terms of Work for Composition: A Materialist Critique, recipient of the 2001 W. Ross Winterowd Award for the most outstanding book on composition theory, and Writing Conventions, coauthored with Min-Zhan Lu. Horner is also a coeditor of Cross-Language Relations in Composition, winner of the Conference on College Composition and Communication Outstanding Book Award in 2012, and Reworking English in Rhetoric and Composition: Global Interrogations, Local Interventions


“Rewriting Composition is a major reckoning with the field, a deep interrogation of composition’s own terms of understanding. The rigor of its cultural materialist approach has a startling effect, treating the familiar in new and unsettling ways. This hasn’t happened in a long time.”—John Trimbur, Emerson College
“Read this book to understand the self-defeating abstractions we have accepted as truths in our composition work. Horner powerfully demonstrates an escape route from ‘business as usual’ by reframing composition as the dynamic, always translingual work that we and our students do. Most vitally, read his book to understand how recognizing difference as the norm of language practice can help us redefine composition as the work people do with written language, negotiating meaning and producing knowledge in social locations—in the composition classroom especially.”—Jeanne Gunner, vice chancellor and professor of English, Chapman University