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Care and Rigor in Higher Education

Marsellas, Nick (2021) Care and Rigor in Higher Education. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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Resistance to social justice work in the university has for decades argued that care and rigor are incompatible and imbalanced mandates of the institution – an argument I refer to as the care/rigor dichotomy. Rigorous pursuit of truth, so these critiques go, has been abandoned in favor of a political commitment to care. These critiques elide much of the violence students face, as is seen in university justification of police violence to students, and they reframe as moralism the rigor inherent in many pedagogical care practices, particularly those that benefit marginalized students. The care/rigor dichotomy is undergirded by an anti-sentimentalist intellectualism that emerges with the rise of social Darwinist eugenics in the mid-19th century and builds momentum through the austerity politics in the neoliberal era. These political and intellectual movements situate the care/rigor dichotomy within the question of authority, reframing students, particularly marginalized or politically active students, as children in need of stern discipline.

Drawing from queer, trans, and leftist frameworks of ethical authority, I argue for more deliberate acknowledgment and interweaving of care and rigor in university pedagogy. I build on my experience in composition pedagogy and teacher training, arguing that the practice of multicultural content scaffolding adheres to the care/rigor dichotomy and that we should instead foreground rigorous opacity in discussions of marginalized identity. I also highlight queer BDSM practices of consensual discomfort and street medic negotiations of hierarchical and horizontal teaching to argue for more nuanced approaches to classroom authority and responsibility.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Marsellas, Nicknim77@pitt.edunim77
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairMiller, Benjaminmillerb@pitt.edumillerb
Committee MemberCampbell, Peter Odellodell@pitt.eduodell
Committee MemberScott, Khirsten Lanesekle37@pitt.edukle37
Committee MemberWaite,
Date: 8 October 2021
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 30 June 2021
Approval Date: 8 October 2021
Submission Date: 24 June 2021
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 179
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > English
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: care; rigor; queer; trans; leftist; composition; pedagogy; university
Date Deposited: 08 Oct 2021 19:15
Last Modified: 08 Oct 2021 19:15


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