College compositionists' identity, authority, and ethos: What composition studies can still learn from the "Battle of Texas"
AuthorHolmes, Devon Christina
KeywordsLanguage, Rhetoric and Composition.
AdvisorMountford, Roxanne D.
MetadataShow full item record
PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
AbstractIn 1990, Linda Brodkey designed "Writing about Difference," a sophisticated first-year composition course at the University of Texas at Austin, where she served as director of lower-division English. The topic of the course was difference, and several of Brodkey's colleagues, inside and outside the English department, publicly criticized the course. Before long the local press and national publications, including the Washington Post and the New York Times, had picked up the story. The controversy was a defining moment for composition studies, characterized by a collision of competing discourses regarding the identity, authority, and ethos of composition studies and compositionists. This dissertation locates the controversy at the moment in the field's history when composition studies had achieved the status of a serious discipline, yet was increasingly vulnerable to media attacks. In analyzing the discourses associated with the controversy, this study argues that a pragmatic perspective might have empowered Brodkey to alter the dynamics of her situation. Moreover, it establishes that the discourses of the Writing about Difference moment resonate with the discourses circulating in composition studies today, suggesting that today's compositionists might similarly engage a pragmatic approach in order to create compromise and change when faced with seemingly irreconcilable discourses about their role and the nature of their work. Chapter I grounds the controversy historically by discussing the intellectual and cultural trends that led up to the Writing about Difference moment. Chapter II introduces pragmatism as an approach that can help composition studies to alleviate some of its problems with identity, authority, and ethos. Chapter III presents a narrative of the controversy, a description of Brodkey's syllabus, and an analysis of the ideological assumptions underpinning the discourse of her critics. Chapter IV examines Brodkey's response to the assault on her identity, authority, and ethos and explores how a response grounded in pragmatism might have altered the dynamics of the situation to produce more favorable outcomes. Chapter V explores how pragmatism can empower teachers of first-year composition to become activist intellectuals who honor their own desires for innovation while simultaneously honoring the expectations of the "others" who constitute their local contexts.
Degree ProgramGraduate College