The New Work of Composing

The New Work of the Book in Composition Studies: An Introduction

Debra Journet, Cheryl E. Ball, and Ryan Trauman


As you will see in the video below, we have adopted but transformed many print book conventions for this edited collection. We highlight these design choices because we understand that The New Work of Composing exists at a nexus between established and new ways of defining scholarly book-length projects. And we believe that it will be important for future digital book authors to adopt a similar kind of reflexivity, at least as the genres, technologies, and objects of the digital scholarly book become established. We invite you to watch the short video then return to explore the rest of this Introduction.

Questions about the affordances of digital scholarly books have particular resonance for composition studies because of our disciplinary focus on textual production as well as reception. We are consequently well positioned to ask what kinds of rhetorical, epistemological, or aesthetic consequences ensue from the digital remediation of the scholarly book. Our field was among the earliest in the humanities to teach and to conduct research digitally. We have a long-standing history of digital publication in journals. We also have a tradition of self-reflexivity about the nature of scholarship in our field: both the kinds of knowledge we hope to produce and the ways of representing that knowledge. And while early composition research began primarily with journal articles, we have recently seen the book come to the forefront as a token of disciplinary growth and maturity (Mortensen, 2008). It is thus appropriate that the new digital scholarly book begins in part with composition studies. As we have constructed this project—one of the earliest examples of a "born digital" scholarly book—we have tried, therefore, to ask not simply what economic consequences ensue from moving from print to digital production (a site where, in our experience, much academic conversation stalls out), but also to consider what new kinds of disciplinary knowledge a digital book can promote. That is, we have asked what do we as composition scholars want from a digital book?

Responding to these questions has involved us in complex decisions not only about content but also design—decisions we see as inextricably connected. That is, as we have pushed ourselves to consider the nature of this project, we have continually returned to its similarities with and differences from other scholarly books: books as object, technology and genre, which we explore further in the Book Cultures section of this Introduction.