Charney: “From Logocentrism to Ethocentrism”

Charney, Davida. “From Logocentrism to Ethocentrism: Historicizing Critiques of Writing Research.” Technical Communication Quarterly. 7.1 (1998): 9-32. Web.

Charney’s companion essay to “Empiricism is not a Four-Letter Word” continues a spirited defense of empirical/objective research methods, methods which are, she argues, often essentialized into categories that crumble upon close scrutiny.

Charney explores the history of empirical approaches which she begins with Braddock et al. From the 1960s through the early 1980s, empirical approaches were encouraged (despite relatively few studies) and critiqued. Interest grew in process and, concomitantly, rhetorical theory. Empirical methods employed during this time included:

  • textual analysis
  • rhetorical criticism
  • think-aloud protocols
  • ethnography
  • quasi-experiments

Charney locates a critical turn toward hermeneutics in Barton’s review of CCCC Chair’s addresses. Charney traces a lineage of empirical critiques through the 1980s and postulates Romanticism as the underlying impetus for the humanist study of composition. The critique of empiricism reaches its zenith through the 1990s, spurred strongly by Berlin and social constructionism.

Conclusion: “It seems that the stronger the relativism one adopts with respect to claims about the world (i.e., the more one rejects logocentrism), the more one may be inclined to essentialism about the character of people making claims about the world. In other words, the more one flees logocentrism, the more one may be com- pelled towards an equally unsatisfactory ethocentrism” (28).

“Neither Romanticism nor Classicism is fundamentally true or false, moral or immoral. Both outlooks are legitimate humanist perspectives—and both play a role in scientific discovery. Both may be and have been used to foster political and social justice. Both are capable of misappropriation by ideological tyrants. It is time to stop conflating methods and values. It is time to admit that while facts and methods may never be represented neutrally, the values associated with them are not preordained” (28).


empiricism, humanism, history, rhetoric, composition, logocentrism, ethnocentrism

Bibliographic Notes

Words: ~9,200

Pages: 22

References: 61

Affiliation: Texas-Austin


Charney: “Empiricism Is Not a Four-Letter Word”

Charney, Davida. “Empiricism Is Not a Four-Letter Word.” College Composition and Communication. 47.4 (1996): 567-593. Web.

Circumplex structure of personal values

Charney provides a vigorous defense of empiricism. Charney first shows how the lived world of research is more complex than generalize polemics against certain methods (i.e., empiricism does not necessarily equal positivism; “Objectivity then is not a fixed feature of particular methods [571]). Charney bristles at critiques that conflate and totalize Next, Charney responds to radical critiques of science and empiricism, showing how “dogmatic skepticism” (vs “absolute scientism”) can be traced through philosophy and then locates it in the field of composition (cf. Bizzell, Conners, Berlin), specifically showing counter-intended results in technical and professional writing (574). 

“Rhetorical theory reminds us that while facts may never be represented neutrally, the values associated with them are not preordained” (576).

Charney details the motivations behind objectivism (e.g., skeptical public, clear communication), and further explores the overstatements of critiques against science, including ironic assertions of being blind to social construction. Charney is most forceful in responses to empirical methods, which are characterized as detaching and elevating researchers over the people who are their objects of study. Such a rhetorical stance, Charney insists, produces “characterizations [that] smack of the worst kind of exclusionary identity politics” (581). Denigrating purity, Charney argues for mixed observational/qualitative and experimental/quantitative methods, citing their mingling as complementary overlap and methodological restraint (584-85).

Conclusion:  “Our over-reliance on qualitative studies and repeated disparagement of objective methods is creating a serious imbalance in studies of technical and professional writing-and the same may be true in composition studies as a whole” (589) … “To promote the growth of a complex and interconnected framework of knowledge and methods, we need both qualitative and quantitative empirical methods” (590).


empiricism, objectivity, ethnography, subjectivity, methods, research

Bibliographic Notes

Words: ~12,000

Pages: 26

References: 46

Affiliation: Penn State

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