Academic journal article College Composition and Communication

Interrogating Disciplines/Disciplinarity in WAC/WID: An Institutional Study

Academic journal article College Composition and Communication

Interrogating Disciplines/Disciplinarity in WAC/WID: An Institutional Study

Article excerpt

Many campuses, like ours, have long-established Writing across the Curriculum/Writing in the Disciplines (WAC/WID) programs in the belief that writing across or in all disciplines will enhance student learning. A central WAC premise is the idea "that writing is highly situated and tied to a field's discourse and ways of knowing, and therefore Writing in the Disciplines (WID) is most effectively guided by those with expertise in that discipline" ("Statement" 1). Structuring this premise are two traditional ways of understanding disciplines: as epistemological and as institutional. This article explores the tensions that arise when these traditional conceptions of disciplines bump up against the lived practices and interests of WAC/WID program stakeholders, which we conceive of as disciplinarity.

Traditionally, WAC/WID programs have taken the notion of discipline as a given, when, in fact, discipline is a concept that can be understood in multiple ways. In one conception, disciplines constitute scholarly communities, epistemological and knowledge-making units that "define which problems should be studied, advance certain central concepts and organizing theories, embrace certain methods of investigation, [and] provide forums for sharing research and insights" (Repko, qtd. in Reybold and Halx 323). Under this definition, disciplines function as communities of practice that enable faculty, graduate students, and undergraduate students to explore specialized content by enacting particularized ways of knowing and doing. As communities of practice, disciplines also produce students capable of conducting research and creating discipline-specific writing-the special domain of WAC/WID.

If, instead, disciplines are defined in institutional terms, they are generally equated with academic departments. Since seminars were instituted in German universities in the late nineteenth century, departments have organized teaching and learning (Kruse 333). As institutional entities, disciplines offer career paths for new and established scholars. These administrative units also shape the allocation of resources, spaces, audiences, recruitment, mentoring, and technologies-the tools for acquiring and consolidating influence within a broader university context. Because WAC/WID programs are often implemented at the departmental level, by institutional stakeholders such as faculty, graduate student instructors (GSIs), and department administrators, department and discipline can become synonymous-with the result that the institutional view of discipline, as an organizing principle of WAC/WID, has remained relatively uninterrogated.

Disciplines are traditionally characterized by a degree of insularity, and even stasis, in which writing serves as the "gateway" to the "disciplinary assembly line" (Walker 132), where knowledge remains bound and stable. Both the institutional and epistemological perspectives thus position disciplines as bordered and relatively fixed because they have "as their primary and privileged referent the discipline itself," whose "primary purpose" is, as Anne Marcovich and Terry Shinn put it, "to forward its endogenous disciplinary learning" ("Regimes" 38). In this view, a WAC/WID curriculum becomes one means of initiating novices into the disciplinary community and apprenticing them to the "core competenc[ies], expectations and identity" of the field (Marcovich and Shinn, "Where" 589). Though this may seem an unflattering portrayal of the WAC/WID movement, the outlines of this seemingly self-perpetuating machine may be seen in the founding documents of many WAC/WID programs, including our own at the University of Michigan, which, established in 1978, constitutes one of the longest-running programs of the "longest running educational reform movement" ("Statement" 1).

In this article, we detail a recent review of the University of Michigan's Upper-Level Writing Requirement (ULWR) that challenged us to think about discipline and disciplinarity in more complex ways. …

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