Theorizing Composition: A Critical Sourcebook of Theory and Scholarship in Contemporary Composition Studies

Theorizing Composition: A Critical Sourcebook of Theory and Scholarship in Contemporary Composition Studies

Theorizing Composition: A Critical Sourcebook of Theory and Scholarship in Contemporary Composition Studies

Theorizing Composition: A Critical Sourcebook of Theory and Scholarship in Contemporary Composition Studies

Excerpt

The last twenty-five years have witnessed extraordinary changes in the academic specialization variously described as Composition Studies or Rhetoric and Com- position. What was noticeable about the field in its infancy was a preoccupation with practice, a de-emphasis on theory, and an exclusive reliance on writing process. As its disciplinary status has grown, Composition Studies has expanded its focus, reconceptualized the writing process, and embraced a wide range of contemporary critical perspectives, with the result that constructs like poststruc- turalism, social constructionism, gender, and genre, which were largely unknown in 1965, now dominate discussion. Louise Phelps characterizes the newly emerg- ing field of Composition Studies as having already passed through "a purely pragmatic phase, aimed at establishing the most effective teaching methods" (45), and arriving now at a phase that is "fully theoretical." Some critics have complained about a theory glut and argued that the field has become preoccupied with theory.

As the intellectual context of Composition has changed to give theory a new legitimacy and a privileged position, journal articles and conference presenta- tions are filled with "theory talk," some of it highly complex and confusing. One cause of puzzlement is that the new interpretations and visions of the field and the language in which they are expressed are contingent upon a multiplicity of theories, not a universally acceptable framework. Some of these theories, such as reader-response criticism, have been grafted onto traditional curricula and have informed practice; others, such as social constructionism, have only begun to take hold of the field; and some, such as genre theory, are too new for us to judge their effect. The result of this theory boom is that Composition Studies has emerged as a highly interdisciplinary field that draws on the schol- arship of many other specialties and has a discourse in which multiple perspec-

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