Invisible Colleges in Rhetoric and Composition

* updated with a note on data collection 5/2/15

The Invisible College was introduced in Diana Crane’s book Invisible Colleges: Diffusion of Knowledge in Scientific Communities. The idea is a foundational part of sociology of science. Crane suggests that the memberships of knowledge communities influence the diffusion of ideas and what communities come to know and think about. Crane’s idea is similar to Lave and Wenger’s Communities of Practice, Knorr Cetina’s Epistemic Cultures, or Swales’s Discourse Communities. Crane was writing in the early 70s, and the idea seems fairly commonplace in the social sciences and humanities.

Crane is particularly useful because she focused on networks that influence communities. Following Derek de la Solla’s bibliometric approach to history, she uses citation networks as a methodological approach to identifying invisible colleges. In her book, she focused on faculty in the hard sciences.

This idea has relevance for other disciplines, though, and I’ve been playing around with approaches to better understand rhetorical studies, rhetoric of science, and professional and technical communication.

For the last couple of days I’ve been collecting the PhD institution of faculty in programs associated with the Doctoral Consortium of Rhetoric and Composition. These programs are the primary producers of PhDs in rhetcomp in the United States. Although they aren’t citation networks, they are institutions that shape the questions that their graduates ask. So viewing an Invisible College this way is a hybrid Crane/Institutional Critique approach.

By collecting information on faculty’s graduating institutions, I collected information on the institutions feeding the faculty of the majority of rhetcomp faculty in the U.S. Practically, I did this by going to the websites of Doctoral Consortium programs, identifying their faculty, and then finding their alma maters and year of degree. The ProQuest Dissertations database helped a lot.

This collection isn’t as straightforward as it seems. I decided not to count visiting faculty or continuing lecturers (unless they were directing a program), for instance. Some faculty were difficult to distinguish as contributing to rhetcomp. Rhetcomp is usually a part of an English department, and some departments will imply their rhetcomp program is healthier than it is by sticking more faculty into a rhetcomp “specialization” on their website. I used my best judgment to distinguish whether a faculty member would be actively contributing to the rhetcomp research and education. I didn’t want to limit it to folks who were not actively doing rhetcomp work in the 70s or earlier 80s because the field is fairly young, and a midcareer shift in interests was common. Lots of the rhetcomp faculty (especially early on) were trained in literature.

Of course, having been a part of a department, I can also say that there would be disagreements between faculty within the department about who would be considered part of a rhetcomp teaching/research mission, so that made it easier. Keep that in mind.

I haven’t analyzed this data seriously yet, but here’s a few interesting notes.

1.) There were 119 unique programs that fed the Doctoral Consortium.
2.) 54% of the consortium faculty were accounted for by 20 programs. Those twenty programs are:

Purdue University (39)
University of Texas at Austin (28)
Pennsylvania State University (27)
Carnegie Mellon University (20)
University of Michigan (18)
University of Wisconsin-Madison (18)
Ohio State University (18)
University of Minnesota (17)
University of California at Berkeley (16)
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (16)
University of Louisville (15)
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (14)
University of Washington (13)
Iowa State University (13)
University of Arizona (13)
Michigan State University (11)
University of Illinois at Chicago (11)
University of Iowa (10)
Texas Christian University (10)
Miami University (9)

3.) The median graduation date of these faculty was 1999.
4.) Four of the faculty graduated from non-U.S. institutions. All of those were European: Sofia University, University of Durham, University of London, and Bar-Ilan University.
5.) If faculty weren’t from a rhetcomp background, prior to 1995 they’d likely have a literature background. After 1995 they were likely to be from Education, Linguistics, or Curriculum and Instruction programs.

I’m about to do a time-series analysis of this dataset. Just eyeballing the data, it’s clear that many of the schools had a specific time period when they were generating faculty for the doctoral consortium. For instance, University of California at Berkeley’s alumni primarily graduated between 1980 and 1995. They’re alumni (minus one outlier) don’t hit the median mark. Conversely, Michigan State had 11 alumni, 10 of which graduated after 2000.

More soon.

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