Post-structuralism, a theory of signs for written texts, would seem an obvious resource for a field like Composition Studies that has "writing" at its center. Yet the post-structuralist turn in Composition Studies is hamstrung by the deep division between camps in the field that are committed to political critique on the one hand or to textual critique on the other. In this polarization, too often post-structuralism is posited as mere ludic play, while serious political critique is considered the domain of other bodies of research, such as social-epistemic rhetoric.
Political critique is especially important at this historical juncture for academia, where the neoliberalization of the university means a less just university. While social-epistemic rhetoric is necessary to a political critique, social-epistemic rhetoric is insufficient because it lacks a micropolitical critique--one that works at the level of specific institutions (in this case, the university). The exemplary case of social-epistemic work that is necessarily political but insufficiently micropoiltical is David Bartholomae's "Inventing the University." In this essay, he argues that composition teachers must teach first-year writing students the conventions of academic discourse as one would teach the social conventions of any culture in order to acculturate the newcomers.
This project posits queer theory as a micropolitical post-structuralism: a theory that can co-articulate post-structuralism and social-epistemic rhetoric, while paying attention to the kind of institution into which students are expected to be acculturated (academia). Queer theory, with its critique of heternormativity, has obvious political implications. At the same time, with its post-humanist notion of the subject and of semiotics, queer theory is post-structuralist.
This dissertation proposes that composition teachers use the concept of "drag" in queer theory to "teach academic discourse in drag," which means to teach academic discourse as a kind of identity--like gender--that students "perform" without identifying with or subscribing to the institution--neoliberalized academia--from which its emanates. I propose a "rhetoric of drag" for post-structuralist composition teachers who are critical of the neoliberal university. This professional rhetoric consolidates the diverse attempts in social-epistemic rhetoric to teach academic discourse while critiquing academia for its neoliberalization. But the metaphor of drag does more than consolidate existing statements in Composition Studies: the metaphor of "drag" politicizes the process of acculturation in a way that "inventing" does not. The metaphor of "drag" draws attention to how the discourse of any oppressive institution--be it heteronormativity or academia--is exclusionary, oppressive, and compels a creative, parodic response. By teaching academic discourse in drag, college writing teachers give students the opportunity to reconcile the need to learn the discursive conventions of academia even while resisting the institution of academia. The act of disidentification that "drag" offers has special purchase for marginalized students--first-generation students, students of color, and working-class students--who already have a resistant or oppositional relationship to academia. Teaching academic discourse in drag acknowledges this oppositional stance, a stance that we can expect to become more prevalent the "non-traditional" student becomes the norm in our writing classrooms.