Disciplinary articulation in rhetoric and composition

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Jacob Sebastian Babb (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site: http://library.uncg.edu/
Kelly Ritter

Abstract: This dissertation examines how nomenclature and the act of naming shapes disciplinary identities for scholars and teachers of rhetoric and composition. The discipline is named differently by many of its members, sometimes called composition studies, writing studies, composition and rhetoric, rhetorical studies, or rhetoric and writing. The different conceptualizations of the discipline invoked by the names point to a sense that the field is unstable, although this instability is not inherently negative. I argue that the differences in how we articulate our understanding of the discipline through the names we choose for it show that the disciplinary ground remains unstable and that our disciplinary identities continue to require further (re)defining. However, this disciplinary instability may be the chief strength of rhetoric and composition, making it a field that adapts to changes in epistemological and institutional circumstances. The project, a contemporary disciplinary history, engages in metadisciplinary inquiry by focusing on the development and progression of rhetoric and composition as an intellectual endeavor from the mid-twentieth century to the present. I rely on textual analysis of scholarly and curricular materials such as conference programs, academic journals, program descriptions, and dissertations; these sources enable me to examine how the discipline is articulated in both implicit and explicit ways. Descriptions of doctoral programs, for instance, illustrate different methods of privileging certain perspectives of the field, usually through the core curriculum that program architects have agreed are vital training for incoming members of the discipline. The multitude of disciplinary names suggests a lack of consensus among members of the discipline regarding how the boundaries of the discipline are defined, generating what I call disciplinary identity discomfort, a revision of Massey's notion that our identities are in crisis. I posit that disciplines, and thus disciplinary identity, are formed by a tension between two forces: epistemological and institutional. Epistemological pressure is exerted within the discipline by scholars whose work establishes or challenges the boundaries of research deemed legible to other members of the community. External groups, such as university administrations, accreditation organizations, and legislative bodies, exert institutional pressure that shapes disciplines as well. Institutional pressure is especially important to the historical development of rhetoric and composition because of the continuing perception of literacy in crisis, leading to popular and legislative calls for increased instruction in reading and writing (and to what Mike Rose calls "the myth of transience"). Decisions about the institutional placement of rhetoric and composition (within English departments, independent writing programs, or communications departments, for instance) also inform disciplinary identity, as well as legislation about literacy or funding for research in the humanities. A discipline is thus the product of a complex interaction between scholars and teachers who attempt to create coherent, if varied, intellectual spaces for their work and social and political influences, both local and national.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2013
Discipline, English Studies, Rhetoric and Composition, Writing Studies
English language $x Rhetoric $x Study and teaching

Email this document to