Harm Reduction as Pedagogical Praxis: Confronting Capitalism in the University Classroom

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Caitlin Mackenzie


Abstract: In this essay I bring together two spaces—street needle exchange and the university classroom—to explore harm reduction as an epistemological model that can be adapted pedagogically in our rhetoric, communications, and composition classes. I first identify capitalism in the classroom as an insistence on mastery and the relentless call to know, acquire, and achieve. I then offer harm reduction, a public health practice that rejects these iterations of capitalism, to instead ask how we might meet students where they are and how we might forego the rewards of telos for the discomfort of process and mess. I’ll argue in this piece that reducing the harms of capitalist-based writing and knowledge requires considered attention to the ways we are lured toward production (what we might even call “deliverables”). I explore the epistemological nodes of harm reduction—its emphasis on temporality and its privileging of process—as methods for teaching writing, rhetoric, and communications while also offering a pedagogical case study along the way.

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