Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.



Committee Chair

Journet, Debra S.


Rhetoric--Study and teaching (Higher); Academic writing--Study and teaching--Social aspects


Scholars in rhetoric and composition have heralded a new way of thinking about writing, referring to the change as a paradigm shift (Hairston, Young) or naming the new direction a "social turn" in rhetoric and composition (Bizzell, Bruffee). Within the writing classroom, this emphasis on the social has encouraged pervasive use of three practices: use of personal experience in writing; contextualization of student writing; and collaborative learning. Although all three practices fall under the larger "social" rubric, practitioners draw warrants from numerous theoretical constructs which often represent very different or even opposing philosophies. This study attempts to gain greater understanding of the social movement in rhetoric and composition by examining the most influential groups within the movement--those who draw warrants from feminism, Marxism, and social constructionism. The study points to inconsistencies and overlap among theoretical groups and highlights the intricate nature of practices that are often referred to and used in manners that belie their complexity. In using the term "personal experience writing," scholars have conflated the autobiographical and intimate with personal experience that represents a broader, more general daily experience, creating unexpected problems in the composition classroom. Teaching writing in context is defined differently by different theoretical groups; at the same time, early expectations for such "teaching in context" movements as writing across the curriculum are largely ignored today. And claims for collaborative learning often do not play out as expected, partly because efforts to relinquish authority to students and to "force" students to cooperate create other problems. There are consistencies across theoretical groups, but different ideas about how best to serve students places a very different emphasis on most social practices. This examination points to the complicated relationship between theory and practice and to the need for classroom teachers to understand the theoretical underpinnings of their methodology.