Written Discourse: A Constructivist Perspective
Nancy Nelson Spivey
Carnegie Mellon University*
A constructivist theory of discourse processes portrays readers and writers as building, shaping, and elaborating meanings when they understand or produce texts. In this view, written texts are merely sets of graphic marks that can serve as cues to those meanings that are constructed mentally through comprehending and composing. I begin this chapter with a discussion of the metaphorical theory of constructivism, which has had a powerful impact on conceptions of reading and on research in reading during the past two decades. Then I use the construction metaphor as I move beyond the reading process to examine dimensions of composing. My emphasis is on social aspects of communication: the relationships that writers have with readers of their texts, the relationships that they have with other writers whose texts they use and transform, and the relationships that they have with co-constructors who help them build their meanings. I conclude with notes toward an integrative conception of communication that challenges conventional distinctions between reader and writer and between reading and writing.
Discourse theories are often metaphorical in nature. For instance, Romantic theories of composing have, in extended metaphors, likened the writing process to growth of a plant (cf. Abrams, 1953; Rohman &____________________