Notes: Allison Carr, “In Support of Failure”

Carr, Allison. “In Support of Failure.” Composition Forum 27 (2013).

failure is cool


Carr (re)situates failure from an assessment-oriented opposite-of-success to offer a queer-affective reclamation of failure in writing pedagogy.

Keywords: Failure, Affect, Queer, Queer Theory, Queer Rhetorics, Composition, Teaching of Writing, Pedagogy


Bartholomae, David. Inventing the University. Literacy: A Critical Sourcebook. Ed. Ellen Cushman et. al. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2001. 511-24.

Burger, Edward. Teaching to Fail. Inside Higher Ed. 21 August, 2012.


“[F]ailure is difficult, maybe impossible, to define. When we talk about failure as a profession, we most often talk about assessment-based failure, which we’ve come to understand as an expected consequence of learning… I want to think about failure, then, as an affect-bearing concept… I want to highlight the inherent affectivity of the judgment and insist that when considered in the context of affect/emotion, failure reveals itself to be a deeply complex phenomenon that bears upon one’s private self-concept as well as one’s sense of oneself as a social being”

“[W]hen we think about re-conceptualizing failure, we have to think not only about the personal realm but also about the sociocultural context in which failure is embedded and throughout which it circulates”

“As an outcome of assessment, failure makes us profoundly aware of our place in social and academic strata. It makes the borders of our physical and emotional selves known to us, and it emphasizes the distance between ourselves and others”

  • I want to know what happens when failure isn’t the silent antithesis of success or the final and unspeakable consequence of struggle or deviance against social and/or pedagogical norms;
  • I want to know if it’s possible to fail without being erased, cast out;
  • I want to know what becomes possible when we stop thinking about education as a forward-moving, product-oriented march toward some mark of achievement, and instead we start thinking of it as something bent more toward chaos.

“A pedagogy of failure, then, would have to account for relationality as well as isolation—how all of the parts work on their own as well as how all of the parts work together, how these expectations are formed as well as how they are stretched or upset by the demands of particular contexts”

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