The Materiality of Language

The Materiality of Language

Gender, Politics, and the University
David Bleich
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 06/28/2013
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 978-0-253-00772-8
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Winner, 2014 Conference on College Composition and Communication Outstanding Book Award

David Bleich sees the human body, its affective life, social life, and political functions as belonging to the study of language. In The Materiality of Language, Bleich addresses the need to end centuries of limiting access to language and its many contexts of use. To recognize language as material and treat it as such, argues Bleich, is to remove restrictions to language access due to historic patterns of academic censorship and unfair gender practices. Language is understood as a key path in the formation of all social and political relations, and becomes available for study by all speakers, who may regulate it, change it, and make it flexible like other material things.

Author Bio

David Bleich is Professor of English at the University of Rochester and author of Know and Tell: A Pedagogy of Disclosure, Genre, and Membership and The Double Perspective: Language, Literacy, and Social Relations, among other books.


“The Materiality of Language sees the human body, its affective life, social life, and political functions as belonging to the study of language. To recognize language as material and to treat it as such, maintains David Bleich, is to remove restrictions to language access due to historic patterns of academic censorship and unfair gender practices.”

“A powerful, first-rate book on a crucial topic. It offers a great interpretation of the sacralization and ascendancy of Latin as a language supporting what Bleich calls 'an elite group of men.'. . . This is a brilliant codebook to academic language and its coercions.”
 — Dale Bauer, University of Illinois

“A critique of male-dominated modes of language use, their roots in the founding and administering of the university, their effects on what can and can't be studied, and their spill over into popular culture. . . . This critique roams broadly over science, social science, [and the] humanities, and both the critique and the alternative are powerfully rendered.”
 — Deborah Brandt, University of Wisconsin-Madison

“Powerful, engaging, beautifully written, a slam-dunk of an argument for the materiality of language. As erudite as it is, it's also accessible and even funny.”
 — Tom Fox, California State University at Chico

“A potentially foundational text in an emergent field [of] language studies, whose work is to break up the monopoly Linguistics and Philosophy have had on the study of language. . . . The insight that the affective operation of language is elided in nearly all approaches to [language] acquisition is brilliant and astounding. . . . The analysis of subject creation as an affective process of recognizing and sharing the same affective state and language as the means for materializing affective states . . . is fascinating and persuasive. . . . One of the book's distinctive features is the use of gender as a key normative analytical lens throughout. It would be difficult to exaggerate how rare this is among language thinkers, and how productive it is for the arguments here.”
 — Mary Louise Pratt, New York University

“In provocative and compelling fashion, David Bleich writes of matters fundamentally important to composition and rhetoric. Bleich eloquently links crucial issues of language with their implications for our students and the ways we choose to teach them. Throughout this lucid and important work, Bleich encourages us to return to the importance of language and its centrality to authority and access.”
 — Deborah H. Holdstein, Columbia College Chicago

“The scope and depth of Bleich’s work in The Materiality of Language are impressive. This book offers intriguing views of historical developments in language philosophies, the ways in which rigid views of language have supported institutional hegemony and androcentrism, and the positive implications of acknowledging language’s materiality. The systematic links he draws among language, gender, institutions, and politics offer generative insights that will certainly be of interest to scholars in rhetoric and composition.”
 — Rhetoric Review

“[The author's] thesis is interesting and provocative. He argues forcefully for the relevance of language, construed as a material entity, across a wide range of disciplines (and to life in general), and challenges the focus on treating language as a cognitive phenomenon and studying it in abstract terms.11/7/13”
 — New Books in Language

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Table of Contents

Introduction: The Contested Subject
Part One: The Materiality of Language
Chapter 1: Premises and Backgrounds
Chapter 2: Received Standards in the Study of Language
Chapter 3: Materiality and Genre
Chapter 4: The Unity of Language and Thought
Chapter 5: Materiality and the Contemporary Study of Language
Chapter 6: Recognizing Politics in the Study of Language
Part Two: Language in the University
Chapter 7: Frustrations of Academic Language
Chapter 8: The Protected Institution
Chapter 9: The Sacred Language
Chapter 10: Language Uses in Science, the Heir of Latin
Chapter 11: Language and Human Survival
Chapter 12: The Materiality of Literature and the Contested Subject
Works Cited and Consulted

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