Kirsch & Ritchie: “Beyond the Personal”

Kirsch, Gesa E. and Joy S. Ritchie. “Beyond the Personal: Theorizing a Politics of Location in Composition Research.” College Composition and Communication. 46.1 (1995): 7-29. Web.


Kirsch and Ritchie’s work here is drawn from a 4Cs workshop on feminism and composition. They and colleagues feel a tension between the feminist perspectives they bring to composition and the existing epistemologies and methodologies of composition that “often presuppose objectivity and gender-neutrality” (8). Kirsch and Ritchie use “politicas of location” to both inform their own multiple stances within the field, but also to explore, “how we do our research” and “who we are in our work” (9) through appeal to lived experience and rigorous reflexive analysis. Kirsch and Ritchie argue that naive appeals to experience risk essentializing and afford the same hierarchical frameworks of privilege they critique. Experience as knowledge, they argue, must be extended to locate the experience of others, “especially those previously excluded or devalued” and not just the self (13). Kirsch and Ritchie continue by exploring the power relationships(cf. Foucoult) and ethical issues inherent in academic work and (ethnographic and other) methods such as soliciting personal information, conducting interviews, etc. They end by arguing for a reconception of ethics as informed by a feminist perspective that resists homogenizing, essentializing, totalizing, away from an “ethic of principle” and toward an “ethic of care” (21) while always striving for transparent communication of the “provisional nature of knowledge that our work generates and the moral dilemmas inherent in research” (24) which is apparent both at the micro/personal scale and the macro/social scale.

Conclusion: “We believe researchers in composition must engage in the same kinds of discussions that feminist researchers are having in other disciplines concerning the ‘politics of location’ in research. We hope to advance that discussion by presenting some of the feminist critiques of philosophical, methodological, and ethical assumptions underlying traditional research” (9).


feminism, methods, epistemology, composition, reflection

Bibliographic Notes

Words: ~10,500

Pages: 22

References: 61

Affiliations: Kirsch: Wayne State; Ritchie: Nebraska-Lincoln


Barton: “Review: Empirical Studies in Composition”

Barton, Ellen L. “Review: Empirical Studies in Composition.” College English. 59.7 (1997): 815-827. Web.

Texts reviewed:

  • Professional Academic Writing in the Humanities and Social Sciences by Susan Peck MacDonald
  • Genre Knowledge in Disciplinary Communication: Cognition/Culture/Power by Carol Berkenkotter & Thomas Huckin
  • Academic Literacy and the Nature of Expertise by Cheryl Geisler

Barton’s review essay is a spirited defense of empirical research in composition. Barton sees a continuing “tension between the paradigms of the empiricist researcher and the humanistic scholar-teacher” (815) in the field of Composition, tracing debates from the nascence of the discipline to heated exchanges between contemporaries.  Barton laments the research that gets lost in methodological squabbling, hoping that her review essay will “bring attention to some recent empirical studies in composition and contributes indirectly to the debate about the value of such research by arguing that empirical studies in composition have reached a new maturity of theoretical frameworks, of methodologies, and of significance (816).

Conclusion: “It would be unfortunate for the field if these ideas about texts, genres, and literacy activities were lost to the charges and counter-charges of meta-argumentation about empirical studies in composition research” (826).


empiricism, research, methodology, review, Geisler

Bibliographic Notes

Words: ~5,900

Pages: 12

References: 21

Affiliation: Wayne State

Berkenkotter: “The Legacy of Positivism in Empirical Composition Research”

Berkenkotter, Carol. “The Legacy of Positivism in Empirical Composition Research.” Journal of Advanced Composition. 9.1/2 (1989) pp. 69-82. Web.


Berkenkotter responds to two JAC articles by David Foster and John Schlieb whO lament the residue of positivist frameworks in composition research, as contrasted to hermeneutic approaches. Berkenkotter traces a history of positivist thought (Comte, Durkheim, Mill) through the social sciences, with opposition from social science idealists (Dilthey & Weber): “Understanding these differences between nineteenth century positivism and idealism as they related to the emerging fields of the social and human sciences is important if we are to place our own debates over knowledge in composition studies into a cultural and historical context” (72). The rise of logical positivism as assembled from the works of the Vienna Circle introduced the empirically-centered verifiability principle of meaning, later taken up by American behaviorists. Berkenkotter then explores the rhetorical analyses of Bazerman, Swales, McCarthy, et al., showing how discourse communities shape meaning and knowledge through their selective attentions, and how the APA Publication Manual operates as a “charter document” (77). Berkenkotter then engages in an analysis of a research methods monograph, demonstrating how a positivist worldview is rhetorically invented. Conclusion: “In short, I suspect that the fear of a positivist-minded hegemony that I see hermeneutically trained colleagues ritually professing is the product of a sort of epistemological ethnocentricity. To the extent that we do not understand each other’s models of knowing, rivalry and hostility are, I think, inevitable” (79).


methods, empiricism, hermeneutics, research

Bibliographic Notes

Words: ~6,000

Pages: 13

References: 23

Affiliation: Michigan Tech

Kinney: “Classifying Heuristics”

Kinney, James. “Classifying Heuristics.” College Composition and Communication. 30.4 (1979). 351-356. Print.

Focusing on invention, Kinney argues for an expanded definition of heuristic. Dissatisfied with definitions that restrict invention heuristics to linear, left-brain, rationalistic thinking, Kinney expands the inventive framework for heuristics to include empiricism and intuitionism in addition to rationalism: “These three ways provide us with a set of exhaustive, mutually exclusive classes for all possible heuristic procedures” (352). Kinney unpacks the history and usage of each of the heuristics, noting especially that his argument is not to malign rational approaches to invention but to call for, “balance in our heuristics and a defense of intuitionism in the face of sustained current attack” (354). Conclusion: “Teaching students that writing depends solely upon rational modes of thought limits them to one half their potential as writers. Teaching rational heuristics while excluding empirical and intuitive ones imposes that limit” (355).


Invention, heuristic, empiricism, rationalism, intuition, pedagogy

Bibliographic notes

Words: ~3,500

Pages: 5

References: 9

Affiliation: Virginia Commonwealth

Mailloux: Disciplinary Identities

Mailloux, Steven. Disciplinary Identities: Rhetorical Paths of English, Speech, and Composition. New York: The Modern Language Association of America. 2006. Print.

Mailloux opens with a history of the diaspora of rhetoric within the American university and an examination of the rhetorical forces that shape disciplinary identities within and outside of English Departments. Mailloux points to a number of path-forming splits, including the rhetoric of writing/speaking split between composition/communication and the invention/hermeneutic split between rhet-comp/lit-culture. Disciplines, Mailloux says, are “the transformation of practical wisdom into accredited techniques, of phronesis into techne” (5). Notably, Mailloux points to the split between Speech and English in the early twentieth century as formational moment in the fragmentation of rhetoric in the academy. Mailloux points three “monumentally influential” books published around 1960 by Gadamer, Perelman, and Kuhn that “argue for the interpretive nature of all disciplines” and hail a “return of rhetoric to the humanities and related social sciences” (16).

Mailloux’s method of rhetorical hermeneutics traces paths through the terrains of theory, tradition, politics, identity, and time. His method seeks “a phronetic tracking of rhetorical paths of thought, treating rhetoric as a tool and topic, tracing the rhetoric of thinking and thinking about rhetoric (65).  Mailloux’s response to the state of rhetoric is one of optimism and action: “To remedy this disabling fragmentation and disciplinary isolation, I recommend continuing our efforts art cros-disciplinary cooperation” (129).  In addition to contributing to the “social, political, and cultural environment that extends beyond the university,” Mailloux calls for a comparative cultural rhetoric, a framework within which “rhetoricians form different departments should come together in interdisciplinary centers, on the model of current humanities centers throughout the country” (130).

Bibliographic Tracings

Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

Chaim Perelman, The New Rhetoric

Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method

Selfe: Technology and Literacy in the Twenty-First Century

Selfe, Cynthia L. Technology and Literacy in the Twenty-First Century: The Importance of Paying Attention. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP. 1999. Print.

Bright Shiny Objects

Selfe explores the intersection of technology and literacy, primarily through the rapid rise of computer use in the late Twentieth century. Selfe argues that prevailing social, economic, and political inequities and myths about literacy are perpetuated in the widespread call for increasing levels of computer literacy: “I try to identify the effects of this new literacy agenda, focusing specifically on the serious and shameful inequities it continues to generate within our coultre and the public education system” (xix). Selfe analyzes how the Clinton Administration’s Technology Literacy Challenge, as a national literacy project, perpetuates and extends to computers literacy myths such as the positivist notion of inevitable individual progress through literacy. Such myths are exasperated through soundbites and pop science that misdirect attention: “our cultural tendency to sketch complex technology issues and the technology-literacy link along the lines of a reductive binary–technology as boon or technology as bane–encourages a widespread lack of attention to the complexities and nuances of the issues with which we are now faced” (39).

Selfe traces the roles of government, education, ideology, and families (i.e., parents) in the construction and maintenance of literacy myths and the legacy inequities that such myths afford. In a time when computers were relatively novel to scholars in the humanities, composition, and language studies in general, Selfe finishes with a call for engagement and awareness: “By paying attention to the unfamiliar subject of technology–in sustained and critical ways, and from our own perspectives as humanists–we may learn some important lessons about how to go about making change in literacy instruction” (134). Selfe advocates action through situated knowledge and practice in local, institutional contexts (from pedagogy to committee work, programs, and in departments), in professional organizations, through scholarship and research, through networked infrastructure, wider political and civic efforts, and through teacher education and coalitions.

technology, literacy, computers


Terry Eagleton, Ideology: An Introduction

James Paul Gee, Social Linguistics and Literacies: Ideology in Discourses

Bruno Latour, ARAMIS or the Love of Technology

Hiatt: “The Feminine Style: Theory and Fact”

Hiatt, Mary P. “The Feminine Style: Theory and Fact.” College Composition and Communication. 29.3 (1978): 222-226.

Hiatt tests the theory of “group-style,” in particular proposition that there exists masculine and feminine styles, by collecting and analyzing data from 100 books (50 authored by men, 50 authored by women). Her study takes a 2,000 word sample from each book. Hiatt finds that “there is a feminine style that is not the same as a masculine style,” while cautioning against the conclusion that “either style is a ‘norm'” (223). In addition, “of greater interest, perhaps, is the discovery that the masculine style and the feminine style do not always differ in the commonly perceived or described ways” (223). Hiat concludes that , “there is, in other words, clear evidence of a feminine style and sound justification for the theory of group style.”

Style, Masculine, Feminine, Braddock Award

Words: ~2,900

Pages: 4

Citations: 2

Affiliation: Baruch College (CUNY)