Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.



Committee Chair

Horner, Bruce M.

Author's Keywords

Trauma; Writing; Hurricane Katrina; Post-traumatic pedagogy; Service learning


Hurricane Katrina, 2005--Psychological aspects; Writing--Psychological aspects; Psychic trauma in literature; Crisis in literature


The discourses of "trauma" and "post-trauma" have become pervasive in representations of life as it is lived in contemporary globalized culture. As new media technologies make the world more accessible, we become accustomed to overwhelming social, political, and personal circumstances, and we come to see "trauma" everywhere, all the time. My dissertation project responds to the presence of "trauma" in the writing classroom, as it appears purposefully in pedagogies designed to respond to it, and as it appears naturally through the interests and experiences of students and teachers who come into contact with national, natural, or personal disaster. Specifically, I question how ideas about "trauma" and "post-trauma" circulate in composition and rhetoric studies from other disciplinary sites like psychology, history, and trauma studies, as well as how these ideas are changed when invoked by composition and rhetorical scholarship. Drawing on theories of cultural and civic rhetorics by scholars such as Ralph Cintron, Steven Mailloux, and Nedra Reynolds, I investigate tropes of disaster and recovery across theses diverse disciplinary boundaries. My goal is to assess the strengths and limits of "posttraumatic" writing pedagogy that rely on these tropes and encourage students to respond to disaster through personal writing or variations on service learning education. Both of these approaches, I argue, can result in a "musealizing" of lived experience (Huyssen), or passively recording the painful details of students' social and political lives at the expense of critical understanding. Such a view of experience ignores the social and material circumstances that initiate and sustain the conditions which make some individuals and groups more susceptible to "trauma" than others. I ground my investigation in a study of published articles, classroom archives, and personal interviews that record the experiences of teachers and students working at New Orleans area universities in the semesters after Hurricane Katrina. Through the middle chapters of my project, I focus on instructor narratives of post-Katrina life and classroom work, as well as archived student writing from several courses in the University of New Orleans' "Writing after Katrina" Archive. These interviews and archival documents reveal how public, institutional, and disciplinary pressures resulted in policies and practices that reinforced an unreflexive turn toward expressive or service-oriented writing. More often than not, these pedagogies are justified in terms of student "need" (i.e. students need to tell stories in order to heal or students need to serve their communities in order to feel part of them). Importantly, while these records reflect the need for a better understanding of how writing classrooms might respond to disaster, they also show how some instructors and students challenge the urge to prioritize narratives of victimization. My project concludes by teasing out alternatives and positing an approach to critical writing pedagogy that offers strategies for teachers and students working in the context of disaster to resist the dominance of the musealized narrative through intersections of experience, empathy, and civic engagement.