Worklife Writing (Studies in Lifewriting)

Though most of us spend as much as a third of our adult lives (or more!) at work, we rarely get the occasion to write about work and how it shapes the rest of our lives. Ironically, much of our “work” takes the form of writing–whether it be e-mail, reports, presentations, documentation, note-taking, or other. This course will take your work life (or that of another) as your central topic to write about, documenting the kinds of work required, the conditions of labor, the (increasing) overlap between work time and leisure time, effects on sense of self-fulfillment, goals, desires, etc.—in short, the ways in which work shapes y/our lives.

To accomplish this writing, you will first study some important concepts in life writing, drawing from Smith & Watson’s READING AUTOBIOGRAPHY: A GUIDE FOR INTERPRETING LIFE NARRATIVES.We’ll look at definitions and autobiographical subjects, and we’ll consider the different genres of life narrative proposed by the authors.  Alongside these readings, we’ll read excerpts from some classic texts in the field of work and labor, such as Paul Willis’s LEARNING TO LABOR,Studs Terkel’sWORKING: PEOPLE TALK ABOUT WHAT THEY DO ALL DAY AND HOW THEY FEEL ABOUT WHAT THEY DO, and Henry Mayhew’s LONDON LABOUR AND THE LONDON POOR. To bring our readings closer to home, we’ll also read some selections from the recently released TALKING HAWAII’S STORY: ORAL HISTORIES OF AN ISLAND PEOPLE (Kodama-Nishimoto, Nishimoto, and Oshiro, 2009), such as Henry K. Duvauchelle’s “Hard Work and Pleasures, Too” Robert Kiyoshi Hasegawa’s “Unity of the Family,” or John Santana’s “You’re Your Own Boss, Nobody Boss You.”

With this grounding in place, you will begin writing your own work autobiography or the work biography of another person.  We’ll read chapters from Smith & Watson’s GETTING A LIFE: EVERYDAY USES OF AUTOBIOGRAPHY,and we’ll set up writing groups to help each course participant compose this project.  We’ll consider how anthropologists have approached the task of writing about work life by reading Laura Nader’s “Up the Anthropologist—Perspectives Gained from Studying Up.” Though each person will be composing one long account of his or her work, we’ll also consider how we might spin off collaborative endeavors—either by proposing an edited volume to a print or online publication, forming an ongoing hui devoted to work and writing, or composing a publications link from our course website.  As we ponder this collaboration, we’ll read my article “Writing Workplace Cultures” to get a sense of a hypertext treatment of our topic in the field of Composition Studies.

Major writing requirements include the following: Occasional postings of about 300-500 words to a Discussion Forum in Laulima, worth 10% of your final grade; Regular postings (eight in all) of about 300-500 words to Laulima in response to weekly readings,worth 30%; A term project proposalof about 300 words,worth 10%; A term project draft of about 2,500 words, worth 20%; and a Final term project,fully documented, of about 4-5,000 words, worth 30%. Learning outcomes include: developing a familiarity with the scholarship on life writing in general and on work life writing in particular; developing expertise in posting reading responses to a web forum; composing a project proposal; developing skills as a respondent to others’ writing; and composing a work biography or autobiography. Readings will be compiled in a course packet.