About ENC 5700

ENC 5700 provides an overview of foundational theories in the field of Composition Studies, from the mid-twentieth century to the present, with an emphasis on theoretical turns that have acted—or do act—as intellectual landmarks. Its overarching goal is to familiarize you with the conversations situating writing, rhetoric, literacy, teaching, and institutional discourse so that you can enter into and contribute to those conversations. This requires both a global understanding of the field (i.e., its historical arcs and various philosophical orientations) and a local understanding of the field (i.e., the issues generating talk and the agendas that various individuals bring to the conversation). 

The field’s foundations and conversations continue to grow, making it difficult to take either a purely synchronic or a purely diachronic approach to our reading. On the one hand I will take 1949 as one defining moment in the formation of “Composition Studies” (or “Rhetoric and Composition”), owing to the organization of the first meeting of the Conference on College Composition and Communication in that year. On the other hand, many of the field's influences reach further back, challenging our ability to define the field’s origins according to a single ideology or intellectual framework. To cope with this dilemma of beginnings and origins, we will read synoptically through the field, selecting some signature turns on which to focus. In some cases, this means we are focusing on ideas that are situated in a particular decade, but we will allow those ideas to help us look forward and back, so that we can identify their possible antecedents and their more contemporary expressions.

Reading synoptically allows us to ground our investigation of Composition Studies in specific chronological moments, while also being aware of what that chronology excludes. This approach  allows us to see feminist, multicultural, and technological perspectives at work throughout our whole syllabus, rather than relegating those perspectives to single decades. Finally, this approach equips us to investigate particular “aspects” or topics (e.g., race, radical pedagogy, collaboration, assessment, dis/ability, digitality, ecocomposition, visual rhetoric, performance, style, service-learning, etc.) by reading across various theoretical turns and by realizing that many of these “turns” are still ongoing. By the end of the semester, you will likely have accomplished the following:

  • learned ways to comprehensively investigate the critical issues in the field, so as to better understand how those issues reflect your own interests, in and beyond the university;
  • developed a critical vocabulary for theoretical work in Composition Studies;
  • interrogated historical timelines for the development of Composition Studies and considered competing perspectives on the rise of the field;
  • investigated connections between the history and theory of composition and those of related disciplines, i.e., rhetoric, communication, philosophy, literature, technical and professional writing, and English education;
  • acquired a range of advanced reading and research methods for tracing germane developments throughout our course texts, and for use in your own scholarship and teaching.