In his keynote address at the biennial Watson Conference titled “The Work of Rhetoric in the Common Places,” Jeff Grabill put forth an argument he had been ruminated on for twenty years. He focused attention on a methodology of public rhetoric and encourages the field to consider the various (unlimited?) acts which give rise to a public activity—be this activity an individual speaking up during a meeting or Rosa Parks refusing to relocate on the bus that fateful day in ‘55. For Grabill, “rhetoric makes things” and he urges us to locate the actions that contributing to the things and not just to the things themselves. Locating these actions invites us to seek out origin stories.
During the Q & A, Kevin Roozen asked Grabill about what attracts him to the unseen, the mundane, the every day—really, what attracts him to things. In his response, Grabill sketched out a metaphor or plumping, which struck me. Grabill mentioned that he doesn’t pay attention to the pipes in his house until something goes wrong. The pipes hold a lot of power in his house and when they are not working, everything gets thrown out of wack. And more importantly, these pipes are (largely) invisible—largely forgotten until something goes awry. Grabill argues power resides in invisible infrastructures, and he believes his job is to help people see invisible things, to pay attention to the plumping.
Within my scholarship I am attracted to the invisible; I am attracted to analyzing, explicating the literacy practices of college sports, specifically sports which rely on a large corpus of text to enact practice. This reliance often takes the form of plays, such as a basketball or football play, and is enacted through delivering this play either privately in practice or publicly during a game situation.
While college sports, particularly high-revenue sports such as men’s basketball and football, garner seemingly unlimited attention from the general public and media outlets (ESPNU generates 24/7 content on college sports), within the field of writing studies, little attention to paid to these practices. Nothing new here. Academia and athletics have a long, tangled, mercurial (and thousands of other adjectives) relationship within American higher education. The text in which student-athletes engage are complex, multimodal texts which call upon the mind AND the body of the user to work collectively during the understanding and enactment of the text.
Returning to Grabill’s metaphor of pipes, my colleagues (local and global) think about college sports when something goes awry: when a student-athlete plagiarizes a paper, when administrators funnel more money into sports and less into academics, when scandals rip across the college sport’s landscape.
But here I am in Louisville, Kentucky wondering what would happen if my colleagues more directly considering the pipes of college sports? What would happen if we collectively investigated the invisible literate practices of college sports?
In his talk, Grabill labeled himself an outsider. I identify with that label. When I mention to colleagues my research focus, I often get glazed eyes and an occasion anecdote about attending a college football game one time way back in the day.
But power lies in college sports. And this power is dictating the direction of my higher education institutes. Let’s get in there and play with the pipes. It isn’t as fun when I am doing in alone.