The Everyday Anarchism of Peer Tutoring

Russell Mayo

“A free society cannot be the substitution of a ‘new order’ for the old order; it is the extension of spheres of free action until they make up most of the social life.” ~ Paul Goodman (p. 34)

Approaching the elongated, ground floor room that has been home to the Great Lakes State University (GLSU, a pseudonym) Writing Center for the past decade, one is immediately struck by its lack of solid walls. Rather, floor-to-ceiling windows line the exterior, constituting a modern, minimalist aesthetic. Once inside, these walls of windows offer a sense of openness to the surrounding campus. Light floods in through the long windows as you look out through foliage to the footpaths populated by students criss-crossing the compact urban campus. As plentiful natural light permeates the room from both the south and west, the overhead fluorescent lights typically stay off. The immediate feeling of this long, softly lit room contrasts greatly with the surrounding structures of concrete and steel that represents architecture’s mid-century Brutalist movement, epitomized by the towering 28-story office building nearby. In many ways, that upright, imposing, carceral building stands juxtaposed to the horizontal orientation of this writing center space, both physically and ideologically.

For the past three years, I have been worked closely with the writers, tutors, and directors in the GLSU Writing Center. I’ve worn several different hats there: working as a college writing instructor, a writing tutor, a tutor educator and assistant director, and, most recently, as a participant-observer embarking on an ethnographic dissertation project. In many ways, my writing center work has functioned as a fascinating heuristic: educating me about writing and pedagogy, while challenging many of my preconceived notions around literacy, learning, and relationality in new and exciting ways. This paper is an attempt to describe some of what I have learned thus far from my work in this particular literacy learning space.

As my research is still in its initial phase, what follows may best be described, according to Fitzgerald and Ianetta’s The Oxford Guide For Writing Tutors, as a hybrid of two of the most common writing approaches to writing center scholarship: lore, or a first-hand testimony of experience and practices; and theoretical research, the application of a particular theoretical lens to form an argument about such practices. My intention, then, is to describe the everyday learning practices and pedagogies of the writing tutors with whom I’ve work at GLSU, and the ways in which this space might be understood through the lens of “everyday” anarchism. My research begins with the following question: What might we be missing by not looking at writing centers from an anarchist perspective? My argument is that anarchism has been long overlooked by scholars of literacy and education. Therefore, it’s best to begin with a brief description of how I understand and use anarchist social theory in my work.

Anarchism as a Lens and a Process

Anarchism, as I understand and apply the concept, is a viable but widely overlooked and misunderstood theory of social organization. For centuries, anarchism has offered radical critiques of contemporary social life, developing both anti-capitalist and anti-statist calls for international solidarity and a bottom-up reconstruction of socio-economic structures and institutions. According to Crispin Sartwell, at the heart of anarchist theory is a belief that “all human associations ought to be fully voluntary” (p. 33). Forms of force, coercion, and domination are therefore viewed as inherently unethical, including the many forms of domination that intersectionally permeate our society: including those surrounding race, class, gender, sexuality, and educational status, as well as an imagined separation of humans above the more-than-human world.

Anarchism can also be seen as more than an approach to revolutionary politics, but as a way of everyday life. Drawn from his anthropological work in Southeast Asia, James Scott (2012) has developed a “process-oriented” view of social organization that he calls “everyday anarchism” (p. xii), by which he means an affirmation of the daily practices articulated across centuries of anarchist thought, including mutual aid, voluntary association, horizontality, cooperation, autonomy, and self-management. As an everyday practice, anarchism could be described as a deep-seated penchant for cooperative, egalitarian forms of living that, in spite of wider structures of domination and control, is always a more desirable form of social relations. Following Scott, one of my central claims is that anarchism is not so much an identity but a practice: not a noun, but a verb—an action, a process, and therefore a particular form of relationality.

While it’s clear that we are far from living in a non-hierarchical world, an everyday anarchist impulse remains, as Colin Ward (2018) writes, “like a seed beneath the snow” (p. 14), and it can be seen in the daily social practices of self-determination, spontaneity, cooperation, and play. As an educator and a scholar, I am particularly interested in how anarchistic values play out in spaces and through relations that would not call themselves “anarchist” per se, but tacitly function as such. Understanding anarchism as a ubiquitous tendency toward voluntary association and mutuality clearly problematizes frequent mischaracterizations of anarchism as a problematic state of chaos and violence on one hand, or as a naive utopianism on the other. As Ward (2018) explains, “far from a speculative vision of a future society, [anarchism] is a description of a mode of human organization, rooted in the experience of everyday life, which operates side by side with, and in spite of, the dominant authoritarian trends of our society” (p. 14). In my work, anarchist social theory functions instrumentally, as a tool to critique coercive and oppressive social relations, while at the same time seeking out and investigating spaces and situations wherein mutuality and cooperation spontaneously develops and flourishes in spite of, and in opposition to, wider oppressive conditions. One such space, as I hope show, is the university writing center where I work. Employing an auto/ethnographic approach, I see invoking anarchism as a way to imbue a radical potentiality of writing center pedagogy.

Informal Learning and Spontaneous Conversations

On a typical day of during the semester, the GLSU Writing Center is abuzz with activity. One can detect an hourly cadence to the tutoring process, as the ebbs and flows of tutors and writers often mimic the wider campus’s schedule. Yet, one never quite gets the sense of a definitive ending. Throughout the day, writers and tutors shuffle in and out, checking in at the front desk, collecting conference forms, printing out papers at the computer station nearby. Students, writers and tutors, come and go, crisscrossing the large, brightly lit room to meet at a number of circular tables scattered.

Upon entering the space through an open door marked “GLSU Writing Center,” a student is greeted by an undergraduate peer tutor working “the front desk” who talks them through a brief check-in procedure while giving them some general forms to fill out about their goals for the session. The student-writer is then directed to one of a dozen numbered work tables scattered across the open room; soon, an assigned tutor is sent over, greetings are exchanged, and the session begins.

Similar to most writing centers, learning at the GLSU Writing Center is practiced not through direct teaching or prescribed curriculum. Rather, learning occurs through a collaboration of the writer and tutor, based on what the writer brings in the form of a paper or assignment and what the tutor can spontaneously offer in response to the writer’s needs and ideas. Staff directors and tutors at the GLSU Writing Center regularly describe their particular writing pedagogy as occurring via “conversations” with other students about writing. These conversations involve an informal and inductive approach to collaborative learning facilitated through a one-to-one writing conference. An individual writer generally makes an appointment for an hour-long session at the Writing Center, often days in advance because of high demand; by the time they arrive, they have already been paired with an available tutor for the hour. Typically, both of these individuals are undergraduate students at GLSU, though occasionally tutoring will involve graduate students like myself as writers or as tutors.

For anyone familiar with writing centers, none of what I have described thus far may seen particularly remarkable. That said, when viewed through an anarchist lens, such an organization of learning comes to represent a marked shift away from mainstream, hierarchical educational practices. To begin with, learning in the GLSU Writing Center is informal, I would say radically so. Learning occurs through informal peer conversation without any prescribed curriculum or formal assessment. Unlike typical classroom relations, students themselves schedule and attend appointments with tutors on an ad hoc basis. That said, some sessions are not fully “spontaneous” in nature: GLSU instructors may encourage students to attend, offering extra credit, or even requiring visits for all students in a particular class to-be scheduled at some point during the semester. Nonetheless, as I describe below, exploring a typical writing center tutoring session and the tutor training materials guiding them, one can detect a diverse, cooperative, spontaneous nature that contrasts significantly with monological educational structures of teacher-led classroom instruction.

“Working With Writers”: The Normative Values of Peer Tutoring

As a public, urban university serving a wide metropolitan area, the hundreds of students who populate the GLSU Writing Center on any given day are incredibly diverse. Around two-thirds of the students at GLSU are students of color, including an increasing number of international students. These demographics reflect the cultural and ethnic makeup of the surrounding city and university. Additionally, most of the writers and tutors are multilingual and many come with ESL or L2 experiences in school—over one-third of the overall student population reports that English is not their first language. Moreover, with around one-third of students declaring themselves first-generation college students, GLSU is primarily populated with working-class students. Therefore, socio-cultural diversity is both a given and an important aspect of the pedagogical work of peer tutors and tutor training at the GLSU Writing Center.

One can see particular evidence of an inclusive, anarchistic approach by looking carefully at the tutor training materials. Perhaps the single most important text for understanding the values and practices of tutoring at the GLSU Writing Center is the staff handbook, entitled Working With Writers (Aleksa et al., 2017). This 50-page instructional document was created to clearly articulate and guide the beliefs and practices of this particular learning space. While one rarely sees tutors consult the handbook during a typical session, novice tutors have often remarked on the importance of the questions, practices, and strategies described therein. Though directors use additional texts and materials to deepen various points and topics described in the handbook, the in-house development of Working With Writers represents an important “do-it-yourself” approach to the pedagogical autonomy embodied by this unique learning space.

Defining pedagogical theory and practice through their own educational materials—specifically that peer tutoring is based on participatory dialogue as an “anti-oppressive” practice—demonstrates a particularly autonomous sensibility. At GLSU, staff training materials approach oppression intersectionally, encouraging tutors to take “an educational approach that is anti-oppressive,” which is explained in the handbook this way: “We try to be aware of the inadvertent ways education can be biased. Anti-oppressive approaches are especially important in writing education, where writers are more likely to see someone’s response as judgmental” (Aleksa et al., 2017, p. 5). Tutors also read current, critical theoretical writing center literature about the impact of social signifiers such as language, dialect, race, gender, and disability, and tutor training classes regularly discuss how these factors can and do shape—and often impede—students’ ability to gain access to learning writing centers. Such conversations can be a challenge for novice tutors who aren’t yet accustomed to seeing education through a critical, cultural studies lens. The result, though, is that many tutors begin questioning what Grimm describes as our naive “good intentions” as tutors to help, while realizing the value of developing a coherence between anti-oppressive aims and tutoring practices.

The Working With Writers handbook is not just a self-published training manual. It also clearly establishes a set of values and practices, means and ends, that define learning in ways that specifically intersect with anarchist approaches to education. According to education philosophy scholar Judith Suissa (2007), anarchist approaches to education have historically involved a “positive … normative core” of values that guide both pedagogical relationships as well as broader human social relations (p. 62). An anarchist education—whatever it may look like through spontaneous organization and particular local needs—would necessarily support and be guided by a substantial set of norms and values. For anarchists, as well as the directors of GLSU’s Writing Center, autonomy in education does not mean that one is free to do anything; rather, both are guided by a particular ethical positions and practices.

For anarchists, according to Suissa (2007), such values could best be summarized as “individual autonomy, social equality, and mutual aid” (p. 72), reflecting the revolutionary triplet of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity (p. 69). The notion of Liberty or freedom forms an essential value for anarchism, primarily seen through the call for non-coercive, voluntary forms of association and living. Equality operates as reciprocity via the socialist maxim of “to each according to his/her need, from each according to his/her ability,” while differences of needs and ability requires an inclusive belief of a unity-in-diversity (64). Finally, the significantly overlooked concept of Fraternity is an essential motivating force for anarchists, involving non-hierarchical forms of relationality, with “mutual aid, benevolence, and solidarity” forming “the basis for the ideal, stateless society” (70). An insistence on the specific related values of “fraternity” by Bakunin and “mutuality” by Kropotkin makes anarchism a particularly unique and hopeful theory of social relationality.

To be clear, the three long-time directors at GLSU do not identify as anarchists. But for them, peer tutoring reflects a particular ethical commitment to autonomy, equality, and fraternity enacted via literacy learning. This can be seen throughout the handbook and is summarized mostly succinctly in the following maxim: “To help tutors create the supportive atmosphere needed for writing development, this handbook emphasizes an educational approach called ‘anti-oppressive’” (5). The normative values expressed in tutor education at GLSU are that tutoring itself can be oppressive, often inadvertently so, and therefore tutors must approach each session with the specific intent of interrupting the dominant social hierarchies that encode in our daily lives and interactions.

In fact, a closer look into the GLSU Writing Center’s self-published handbook and everyday tutoring practices offers even further evidence of how these anarchistic values play out pedagogically, particularly in the four-step tutoring pedagogy that peer tutors regularly employ during their sessions: the Introductory, Collaborative, Concluding, and Reflective Stages. While tutors often remark that “no two sessions are the same,” it is typical to see writers and tutors engaged in these specific stages in most sessions. I will limit my focus here to just the first two stages—the Introductory and Collaborative Stages—as they reveal much about the everyday anarchism if peer tutoring at GLSU.

Tutoring and Autonomy: “Building Your Tutoring Practice”

Walking past the dozen or so round tables of peer tutors busily scribbling notes and chatting with writers, you won’t see anyone using the Working With Writers handbook to guide their sessions. Yet, if you were to sit down with any tutor and listen in to the conversation, you’d be very likely to detect the four major stages that demarcate the tutoring praxis at GLSU. The reason for this is that the handbook plays a major part of the required, semester-long tutor training course, which helps to instill a broad pedagogical structure and related set of values for tutoring. Novice tutors have regularly reported that, while this approach is unlike their past experiences of learning or tutoring, these particular moves quickly become second nature with practice.

Reading past the introductory statistics on student writers and early descriptions of “anti-oppressive” educational theories in the Working With Writers, we come to an important section of the handbook entitled “Building Your Tutoring Practice” (Aleksa et al., 2017, p. 20). Here, tutors are offered a detailed discussion of the pedagogical practices that help to explain how peer tutors facilitate learning at GLSU. To help them through the spontaneous challenges and demands of peer tutoring, tutors at GLSU’s Writing Center are encouraged to employ a four-step process while also allowing for a great deal of improvisation along the way. As the title of this section of the handbook makes clear, the aim is not pass down a precise formula for tutors to follow: Peer tutors are told to “[t]hink of a writing center session as a genre” (Aleksa et al., 2017, p. 21), one which follows a loose set of socially-constructed conventions for a particular purpose. In this way, peer tutors are given a general set of values, goals, and guidelines, while they are encouraged to organically develop their own approaches as they learn and grow as a tutor.

According to the handbook, peer tutoring sessions should begin with an “Introductory Stage.” Here, tutors are encouraged to do a number of things: introduce yourself; learn and use the writer’s name; “take a few minutes to break the ice and converse to set a friendly tone for the session”; learn about the assignment, the course, the purpose that brings that has brought the writer in; and finally, based on this information, “negotiate an agenda for the session” with the writer, mutually deciding on a plan of action for the 45-minute session (21). To an outside observer, this stage might seem more like a friendly, informal conversation between students rather than a conversational approach to literacy education that tutors have been specifically coached to implement.

As many of the tutors and directs at GLSU attest, “breaking the ice” and then “setting the agenda with the writer” are perhaps two of the most important moves of the peer tutoring process. Moreover, these moves are specifically employed to establish a sense of autonomy between peers in a non-hierarchical learning environment: Writers are greeted by name and encouraged to take charge of the topics and focus of their learning in the session; tutors work to facilitate this particular genre of tutoring, as opposed to an authoritarian, “fix-it shop” approach which dictates right and wrong that writing centers scholars since Stephen North and have long eschewed. A sense of autonomy is felt by tutors as well, in that directors are rarely “on the floor” or directly observing while sessions are happening, and even then they are not listening over tutors’ shoulders to the conversations being had.

In our discussions of tutoring in my staff education classes, novice tutors at GLSU often speak of the importance of establishing “trust” or affinity with the writer. Likely a stranger who does not know the tutor, writers are often used to hierarchical learning and may not be familiar with a horizontal approach to peer tutoring. Tutors report that they often employ small-talk during this stage to signal “peerness” while also to learn about the writer and their work, listening for clues that might help them better assist the writer during the session. What year are you at GLSU? Have you been to the writing center before? Are you enjoying your Freshman Composition class, or has it been a struggle for you? Have you written an annotated bibliography before? Are you interested in the “monuments debate”? Have you taken a side on the issue yet? Questions like these help to establish a context for tutoring. Showing an interest in the writer’s responses and relating one’s own experiences as a GLSU student reinforces an anarchistic sense of mutuality and support for the work to come.

Spontaneity and the Prefigurative Politics of Tutoring

“In addition to helping with writing and building partnerships with writers,” as the Working With Writers handbook states, “the tutor has the responsibility of creating opportunities for the writer to participate” (Aleksa et al., 2017, p. 5). At this early stage in the process, such participatory pedagogy takes the form of what tutors and directors often call “Setting the Agenda.” Here, tutors are expected to make a plan for the session with, not for, the writer. This sort of horizontal decision-making process offers the writer agency over their learning, which contrasts starkly typical classroom pedagogy. These two opening approaches to tutoring-as-conversation— “Breaking the Ice” and “Setting the Agenda”—develop mutuality while indicating a high tolerance for spontaneity. Tutors learn very early on that there is no set script to tutoring, and many embrace the individual creativity they have in a fairly autonomous work environment.

That said, the autonomy developed by peer tutors is fleeting. Students usually take their writing back to classrooms controlled by instructors; many tutors often leave the GLSU Writing Center to go work in clothing stores, coffee shops, and restaurants. Indeed, it’s important to note that I don’t imagine the anarchism of the writing center idealistically extending beyond the walls of the center. In fact, in a recent internal survey regarding the climate of the GLSU Writing Center, around half of those surveyed reported feeling some conflict between “what I am expected to do as a tutor and my own view of what I should do,” with some noting a discrepancy between the center’s “non-directive” tutoring methods and the wider pressures of high-stakes assessments and stringent expectations for “standard” English that that GLSU writers often struggle against. These tensions signal an interesting contradiction for tutors and directors, one which I hope to continue to explore in my own research.

That said, the anarchist notion of “prefigurative politics” may offer a particularly helpful concept for grappling with such contradictions. As David Graeber (2007) explains, anarchists argue that the practice of organizing voluntary associations itself “sets out to begin creating the institutions of a new society ‘within the shell of the old,’ to expose, subvert, and undermine structures of domination but always, while doing so, proceeding in a democratic fashion, a manner which itself demonstrates those structures are unnecessary” (p. 7). In this way, the everyday autonomy of learning and working at the GLSU Writing Center can be viewed in an entirely new light: prefiguring a model of what an anarchist education could look like, while offering a clear contrast with mainstream hierarchical pedagogical practices. Of course, such attempts at prefiguration will always run up against the problems of the contextual status quo. But, as the Paul Goodman quote referenced earlier suggests, expanding the “spheres of free action” is the perhaps anarchism’s sine qua non.

Indeed, from an anarchist perspective, the very existence of a viable, alternative educational project and social relationality existing “within the shell of the old” university functions as a potent critique of the dominant, top-down, competitive, individualist social relations in both schools and the wider society. As I see it, the everyday anarchism of learning at the GLSU Writing Center tacitly poses the following question: If students can learn to write with peers in an ad hoc manner, what then is the purpose of a mainstream writing classroom or instructor? In other words, how might writing centers stand as a living example of the power of “writing without teachers,” as Peter Elbow phrased it decades ago? Whether seen through the lens of an anarchist concepts of autonomy or prefiguration, GLSU’s Writing Center is remarkable in its ability to operate as a semi-autonomous learning space that explicitly seeks to resist wider forms of domination by organizing learning in radically informal, horizontal ways.

Fraternity and Reciprocity: The “Collaborative Stage”

Following the opening phase of ice-breaking and agenda-setting, tutors are then encouraged to move into the “Collaborative Stage” of the tutoring process. This means following the agenda that was just set with the writer, while remaining flexible and open to the possibility that shifts may emerge during the session. This collaborative stage of the tutoring process could be considered the “real work” of tutoring, wherein students’ writing and ideas are shared, discussed, questioned, and revised. That said, this too may not appear to an outsider as clearly pedagogical, in the ways that teaching and learning are typically structured. That’s because, as Grutsch McKinney (2013) explains, the pedagogy of writing centers is often considered “iconoclastic” because

their various iterations are non-traditional when compared to the typical institutional approaches to education; writing centers often have no teachers, no lesson plans, no requirements for attendance, no credit, no schedule, no requirements for what should be taught, no grades. (p. 38)

Rather, the collaborative pedagogy that is sought in peer tutoring is often incredibly conversational, spontaneous, and improvisational, with both tutors and writers talking back and forth about a piece of writing, consulting websites and research, jotting down notes and ideas, considering a variety of options for language, syntax, organization, and expected audiences.

Overall, the GLSU handbook states the following as the aim of this stage: “Your goal is to seek opportunities to make the conversation reciprocal. Both you and the writer should rely on each other to move the session forward. You can create reciprocity several ways, most importantly by listening carefully” (Aleksa et al., year, p. 21-22, emphasis added). Other ways to encourage collaboration and reciprocity, according the handbook, include the following:

attending to body language…taking the time to consider their questions and comments…using pronouns like “we” rather than “I,” or using the writer’s name throughout the session…play [the role] of note-taker…involve the writer in making decisions about both changes in the paper and directions of the tutoring session…keep in the forefront the Writing Center principle of respect for writers. (p. 22)

Here, collaboration and reciprocity are the key guiding values and approaches for tutors. These expectations actually mark an important connection with anarchism, namely the social ethic of fraternity.

Although speaking of “fraternity” on a college campus may bring up unwanted correlations to male Greek houses, this concept marks a vital connection between writing centers and anarchism. The undertheorized concept of fraternity is an essential understanding among anarchists and tutors at GLSU. Fraternity, often equated with brotherhood or solidarity, can be described as a feeling or attitude toward others guided by a sense of friendship, mutual aid, and common interest. According to Patricia White, fraternity involves “feeling a bond between oneself and others as equals, as moral beings with the same basic needs and an interest in leading a life of one’s own” (quoted in Suissa, p. 67). While fraternal mutuality is not generally learned in our competitive, individualistic schools or wider social contexts, anarchists suggest that such values and practices are natural for human organization and development, and therefore can be learned in the right circumstances. In fact, as James Gee suggests, a sociocultural perspectives suggest that such social affinities are indeed essential to literacy learning.

Developing mutuality in a competitive society and educational system does not occur easily. At GLSU, tutors are urged to proceed with caution. The social power of a tutoring relationship can very well develop a hierarchical, oppressive sense of other-ing for those who see tutees as beneath them and in need of help. Certainly this can and does happen at the GLSU Writing Center. Tutors are therefore specifically encouraged to grapple with social, identity-related hierarchies that have the potential to mar the intended goals of mutuality in the GLSU Writing Center. Horizontal relationality is sought through a quality described in the Working With Writers handbook as “peerness.”

Early in the handbook, Aleska et al. (2017) write the following: “What makes peer tutoring distinct from other educational methods is its emphasis on the tutor’s responsibility to create ‘peerness’—that is, respectful relationships with other students and opportunities for those students to participate in a conversation about their writing” (p. 4, emphasis added). Peerness happens, according to the handbook, when peer tutors seek to honor the following three obligations: “creating relationships with writers based on respect,” “creating conversations in which both writer and tutor participate,” and “being an ongoing learner who reflects on and analyzes tutoring, even when it seems to be going well” (5). While tutors’ and writers’ social identities are certainly not ignored, tutors learn to be “supportive” and “collaborate” in spite of entrenched social hierarchies by forging solidarity across such potentially problematic lines.

When asked what they enjoy most about tutoring at the Writing Center, and why they do it, many of the tutors I’ve taught and spoken with express two reasons: one is that they feel a sense of accomplishment helping their peers by sharing their knowledge as students and writers; and the second is that they value how much they themselves learn about writing, as it is widely practiced across classes, fields, and majors at GLSU. Taken together, I interpret these ideas to indicate that peer tutoring at GLSU often develops an anarchistic sense of mutuality or fraternity amongst peers. Mutuality and collaboration are therefore not simply friendly ways to help others. They also form an ideological consistency with the theory and practice of an anti-oppressive learning space.

All of this seems to suggest tutoring at the GLSU Writing Center seeks to balance the myriad experience and identities that writers and tutors bring to session. According to Fitzgerald and Ianetta, this involves negotiating two competing logics central to composition and writing center work. On one hand, the authors note a number of “centripetal” theories of writing and tutoring that involve rhetorics of coherence, community, and unity of purpose in suggesting that “All Writers, Writing Situation, or Writing Centers are Alike” (Fitzgerald & Ianetta, 2016, p. 29). On the other hand are a series of “centrifugal” theories explicating various forms of individuality, difference, separation, and conflict, according to which “All Writers are Different” (33). My analysis of the materials and practices of tutoring at GLSU suggests that “centripetal” and “centrifugal” theories are both respected as opposite yet complementary forces, the yin and yang of peer tutoring. Moreover, an attempt is made to balance these competing logics, a synthesis that can also be seen in anarchism’s simultaneous embrace of social equality and individual liberty through mutuality or fraternity.

Conclusions: Anarchist Critique and Writing Center Pedagogy

Overall, I have offered my view of tutoring at the GLSU Writing Center as fostering an informal, spontaneous form of literacy learning that might well be described as anarchistic. While some might equate the daily chaos and disorder of working in a writing center with anarchy in a pejorative sense of the word, I am working to develop a different lens with which to view literacy learning in informal spaces such as writing centers. What I hope to offer with my application of “everyday anarchism” to the daily work of a seemingly typical university writing center is two-fold. First, I hope to present an account of the radical alternative that many informal pedagogical spaces such as writing centers can offer for critical literacy educators and scholars. Additionally, I hope to illustrate the ubiquity of “everyday” anarchist values and tactics even within our currently contingent, alienated, neoliberal realities. If these values are at play in the daily work of undergraduate peer tutors at a university writing center, where else might we find the anarchist tendencies of spontaneity, cooperation, mutuality in our daily lives? How might we begin to organize ourselves in ways that reject unethical coercion, unwarranted authority, unnecessary competition, illogical hierarchy?

In the end, while some peer tutors and writing center directors might talk about “anarchy” in the writing center, few if any would ever describe their work as associated with anarchism in any way, including those at GLSU. Yet, it is my contention that re-presenting writing centers as affinity spaces of social learning through an anarchist lens offers rich potentials. It may help us in re-envisioning our work by embracing more radical conceptions of non-hierarchical learning and cooperative social relations that have long guided writing center practitioners, while at the same time developing what Porter et al. advocate as “institutional critiques” for transforming higher education policies and practices along more voluntary, cooperative, egalitarian lines. The everyday anarchistic practices of a writing center like GLSU’s may embody the sort of free spheres of action that we must work to extend.


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