Productive Unease at the UWC


Lately at the writing center, I've been thinking about productive unease.

I got the term from Johanna Drucker, a professor of bibliographic studies at UCLA. Drucker applies the concept of "productive unease" to the discomfort that scholars feel when they approach digital tools. This unease, she writes "is ideally a provocative friction, an irritation that prompts further thought and engagement. "

I've been thinking about how to apply this concept to writing education. Unease has long been an important part of my work as a writing consultant, both because there are some practices that I feel uneasy about, and because I have long believed that moments of unease - those long, awkward silences in the middle of a session - can be vital to a successful consultation.

I have never seriously interrogated where that uneasiness comes from before now, however.

For example: I experience the most discomfort as a writing consultant when I find myself disagreeing with a student's argument. Occasionally during consultations I encounter arguments that reinforce discourses of racism, classism, ableism, colonialism. My discomfort comes from the tension between my role as a scholar and my role as a writing consultant. I feel uncomfortable because I do not consider it appropriate to address the assumptions underlying these claims during a consultation. Instead, I talk about sentence structure.

I wonder: What is the relationship between scholarship and pedagogy in the writing center?

For example: I have frequently been told that awkward silences are a necessary element of good education; that being a good teacher requires developing some kind of immunity to this discomfort. Why immunity? The idea, I think, is that silence is a necessary precondition for serious thought, and that students must be forced, by way of discomfort, to think seriously.

I wonder: Do students really need to be tricked into serious thinking? 

I do hope that this blog can be a space to explore these uneasy spaces further. How would you answer these questions? What aspects of writing center practice make you uneasy?