Third Space/Fourth Genre

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Kara Wittman


This essay begins with a question: how can we understand composition teachers as third space workers—occupying what Fred Moten and Stefano Harney call the “nonspace,” the “undercommons” fugitive from the dominant cultures of the university—the “third spaces” that slip the major organizing power structures of higher education? This essay argues that composition teachers, working on and around the fracture between “critical” thinking and professional assimilation—a false opposition, but nonetheless one from which tensions and contradictory impulses emerge—also work in and on a space that can both acknowledge and evade these organizing mandates. We find this space in the form of the essay, at once the ubiquitous, compulsory pedagogical form for writing instructors, and also the inspiration for some of the most radical arts collectives of the twentieth century. These experimental film collectives, I argue, show us that the essay is not only a Trojan horse for professional-managerial training and ersatz “critical” practice; it can also be a collective space, an energetic space for creative organization and resistance. Own fraught object of instruction and study is also a liberatory, communal third space. This essay be, and has been, a space for collective sense-making, a “pariah space” where ideas, values, voices, and aesthetic forms come into contact in order to tell things differently, to resist. On the one hand, the essay can open up a “site of enunciation” that isn’t just the analogue of Homi K. Bhabha’s third space but is in fact a version of that space. On the other hand, the writing center and the composition classroom, the spaces of writing instruction, can or should also—at their best—capture moments of essay-writing as moments of fugitive collaboration and potential: third space thinking and collectivizing.

Article Details

Academic Labor in the Third Space
Author Biography

Kara Wittman, University of California, Berkeley

Kara Wittman is Associate Teaching Professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley. From 2016-2023 she served as Director of College Writing and Assistant Professor of English at Pomona College, where she was also the Founding Director of the Center for Speaking, Writing, and the Image. She specializes in rhetoric and writing, pedagogy, British literature of the long-nineteenth century, and the theory, history, and politics of the essay form. Her work has appeared or will appear in Reader: Essays in Reader-Oriented Theory, Criticism, and Pedagogy; WLN: A Journal of Writing Center ScholarshipCollege Composition and CommunicationWriting STEAM: Composition, STEM, and a New Humanities; Failure Pedagogies: Learning and Unlearning What it Means to FailThe Critic as Amateur; the Cambridge History of the British Essay; and the Edinburgh Companion to the Essay. She is the editor, with Evan Kindley, of the Cambridge Companion to the Essay.