Academic journal article WLN: A Journal of Writing Center Scholarship

Metaphors and Ambivalence: Affective Dimensions in Writing Center Studies

Academic journal article WLN: A Journal of Writing Center Scholarship

Metaphors and Ambivalence: Affective Dimensions in Writing Center Studies

Article excerpt

In "Training Tutors in Emotional Intelligence: Toward a Pedagogy of Empathy," Noreen Lape discusses the ambivalence of writing center tutor training manuals regarding emotion, finding in them a tendency "to prepare tutors for encounters with distressed writers by defining or categorizing the problem types and suggesting how to approach them" (2). This is problematic because, as Lape notes, "without theories and concrete strategies for responding to emotions in a session, some tutor training manuals employ a rhetoric that may place new tutors in a defensive position--on alert, waiting for the inevitable problem person to arrive" (2). Unfortunately, this problem is not confined to the pages of tutor training manuals alone.

In this essay, I extend Lape's survey into the other literature that would most likely circulate among writing center practitioners. I examined the archives of the two most prominent journals in our subfield, The Writing Center Journal (WCJ) and The Writing Lab Newsletter (WLN), to see how emotion and affective dimensions have been discussed in the context of the writing center. My findings echo Lape's: just as with tutor training manuals, these journals "concentrate far more on cognitive than affective skills" (2). And, like the training manuals Lape discusses, those articles that address emotion most directly focus almost exclusively on either disruptive behaviors associated with emotion or on what may be considered negative affective dimensions (such as anxiety or anger). I also examine the prevalence of metaphorical language in discussions of emotion and how that language has framed the way emotion has been conveyed. Finally, I explain that although some strands of the focus on negative affective dimensions linger, over time a more positive sense of emotion has begun to emerge in the literature, a sense that examines what emotion has to offer writing center sessions. This newer sense is encouraging for those interested in studying the role emotion plays in the writing center, because there is a dearth of discussion about the affective dimensions of writing center work in these journals. In fact, in the decades of each journal's existence, there have been only a few pieces that deal directly with the subject.

METHODS AND THE WORK OF METAPHOR

I examined the archives of WCJ and WLN for a few reasons. Following Perdue and Driscoll's rationale for examining WCJ to understand the state of writing center research, I chose WCJ "because it is the only peer-reviewed professional journal with article length-manuscripts in the field. It represents a growing body of scholarship and research about writing centers and therefore offers an excellent representation of the kinds of research published within writing center studies" (12). Similarly, I chose WLN because of its practitioner orientation and influential status in the field. As Michael Pemberton points out, "the changes that have taken place in one have quite often been reflected by or been a reflection of changes that have taken place in the other. For this reason, then, the WLN--perhaps more so than any other resource--provides a unique window into the evolutionary process that has made the writing center community what it is today" (23). Thus, the archives of these two journals demonstrate larger trends regarding emotion and affective dimensions in writing center studies.

I searched the archives of WCJ (up to issue 34.1) and WLN (up to issue 39.9-10) (1), reading each issue and identifying articles devoted specifically to emotion or some affective dimension in the writing center. To define "emotion" or "affective," I used categories of affect derived from the Specific Affect Coding System (SPAFF). Originally designed for observing emotional behavior in the context of marital conflict, the SPAFF has since been used for "coding interactions among children, their parents, and their peers ... and even to therapy situations" (Coan and Gottman 267). …

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