Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Writing Center Theory & Tutoring Pedagogy Disjunction

Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Writing Center Theory & Tutoring Pedagogy Disjunction

Article excerpt


Writing center theory is assumed to influence peer tutoring pedagogy. In reality, the latter appears to be influenced more by institutional and social concerns than by theory. This paper explores the theory-pedagogy disjunction and details the circumstances surrounding it.


It would appear that there exists a direct connection between writing center (WC) theory and peer tutoring pedagogy. This, however, is not always the case. Although most contemporary writing centers have developed from a central philosophy about the nature of language and knowledge production, their tutoring pedagogies are often influenced by institutional and social considerations that result in a dichotomy between their philosophies and tutoring practices. To appreciate this dichotomy, one must understand the nature of writing center theories, peer tutoring pedagogies, and the institutional and social factors that divide theory and practice.

Writing Center Theory

Writing center theory is ensconced within composition theory, which reflects epistemological considerations that permeate the academic community. The two most important epistemologies that have shaped composition and writing center theories are Romanticism and Social Constructioinsm. Romanticism, which is also referred to as humanism, views knowledge as a construct that is immediately accessible and individually knowable. Although there is debate as to whether such knowledge is external or internal to the individual, there is agreement that knowledge is preexisting rather than socially constructed. As Christina Murphy notes,

   Romanticism is less concerned with consensus and more focused on the
   development and enrichment of the individual. In this philosophy,
   social and cultural contexts are de-emphasized in favor of an
   exploration of the individual's consciousness and inner-
   subjectivity. (119)

Subsumed under the romantic/humanist epistemology are two influential writing center theories: the current-traditional and the expressionist. Although these theories are connected to directive and non-directive tutoring pedagogies, respectively, they share in common the belief that knowledge is something to be identified rather than created. However, the current-traditional and expressionist theories differ as to the methods that one should use to uncover knowledge. Whereas the current-traditional theory views knowledge as a product that one learns from others, expressionism views it as a process of self-discovery.

In contrast to romanticism is social constructionism. Heavily influenced by poststructuralists such as Foucault and deconstructionists such as Derrida, social constructionism asserts that knowledge is socially created. According to George Hruby, "[Social] constructionism deals with knowledge formation [...] between participants in social relationship" (51). In essence, social constructionism is a reaction to the romantic assumption that uncovering knowledge is inherently a solitary activity.

In Lev Vygotsky's "zone of proximal development," one can see evidence of this resistance to the solitary nature of knowledge production. According to Vygotsky, "What [individuals] can do with the assistance of others might be in some sense even more indicative of their [...] development than what they can do alone" (85). Social constructionist epistemology has resulted in the social constructionist writing theories currently popular in writing centers. However, this paper argues that the non-directive tutoring practices so prevalent in tutoring manuals such as Leigh Ryan's The Bedford Guide for Writing Tutors are more heavily influenced by institutional and social considerations than by writing center theories subsumed under either the romantic or social constructionist epistemologies.

The dichotomy between romantic and social constructionist philosophies has had significant influence on the theories that writing centers have espoused at various stages of their development. …

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