Collaboration as theory and practice

Andrea Lunsford, Stanford Program in Writing and Rhetoric

Seminar on People, Computers, and Design
Stanford University May 11, 2001

Collaboration, once an offense punishable by death, is now a catchword as well as a much-desired goal of science, education, and industry. Even humanists and artists have begun to talk about collaboration as a mode of scholarly production, as in literary theorist Jonathan Arac's call for humanities "collaboratories" or historian Jay Winters's call for the kind of public history projects that simply cannot be carried out by any one individual scholar. Research on writing in general and collaborative writing in particular indicates that, in practice, writing is still figured as primarily a solitary, autonomous activity--in spite of the extensive critique of enlightenment theories of subjectivity, the (as it turns out, somewhat premature) announcement of the "death of the author," and abundant evidence that writing is actually a highly social activity.

In this presentation, I will explore some of the reasons underlying the persistence of the concept of writing as individual and solitary, focusing particularly on the institutional structures that promote hyper-individualism and discourage collaboration. I will then describe three new projects being undertaken by Stanford's first-year writing program next year: the new Stanford Writing Center, set to open in September; the new writing and multimedia teaching classroom being developed in Meyer and also set to open in September; and the Stanford Study of Writing, which will follow roughly 15% of next year's incoming class through their four years of college work. Each of these projects aims, though in different ways, to challenge the image of the solitary writer and to engage students in participating in, and analyzing, various modes of collaborative inquiry and writing, all of which are informed by and carried out through technologies. My hope is that that those participating in the seminar will help me refine these projects in ways that may then contribute knowledge to Stanford's Human-Computer Interaction Program.

Andrea A. Lunsford is Professor of English and Director of the Program in Writing and Rhetoric at Stanford and a member of the faculty of the Bread Loaf School of English. Her interests include rhetorical theory; collaboration and collaborative writing; histories of writing; and issues of intellectual property related to writing and teaching writing. She has written or coauthored thirteen books, including Essays on Classical Rhetoric and Modern Discourse; Singular Texts/Plural Authors: Perspectives on Collaborative Writing; and Reclaiming Rhetorica: Women in the History of Rhetoric, as well as numerous chapters and articles. Her most recent book is a college textbook, Everything's an Argument.

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