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

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

D’Angelo: “The Search for Intelligible Structure in the Teaching of Composition”

D’Angelo, Frank J. “The Search for Intelligible Structure in the Teaching of Composition.” College Composition and Communication. 27.2 (1976): 142-147. Web. 21 Jan. 2015.

D'Angelo's Taxonomy
D’Angelo’s Taxonomy of the Content of Composition


Braddock Award, pedagogy, composition crisis, disciplinarity, teacher training, rhetorical situation, modes of discourse

Bibliographic notes:

Words: ~3,000-3,500

Pages: 5

References: ~19

Author Affiliation: Arizona State University


“This multiplication and confusion of terms, goals, and means has obscured writing or one kind of reading over our ability to see our field of inquiry another, to evaluate papers chiefly clearly and to see it whole” (143).

“in view of this latest ‘crisis’ in composition, few teachers today would take seriously Warner Rice’s proposal, made in 1960, that freshman composition be abolished” (142).

D’Angelo calls for “a new unity and order to the field” (147). As argued in Stephen North’s Making of Knowledge in Composition, this article situates itself in a time of crisis, affording an exigent call to disciplinarity. References range from classical rhetoric to tagmemics with a heavy dose of Alexander Bain. D’Angelo grounds his taxonomy (above image) in the modes and forms of discourse alongside the rhetorical concerns of audience, writer, and purpose. The positivist overtones are striking.

Enduring tropes:

The skills gap and underprepared students

The debate over the content of composition

Progress narrative (both at the level of student and curricula)

Crowley: Composition In The University: Historical and Polemical Essays

Crowley, Sharon. Composition In The University: Historical and Polemical Essays. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press. 1998. Print.


composition history, disciplinarity, labor conditions, academia, rhetoric, English, FYW

Five or more citations:

Norman Foerster (16 works)

Robert Conners (8)

James Berlin (7)

John Dewey (6)

Janet Emig (5)

John Gerber (5)

One sentence summary:

An often cranky jeremiad delving into the emergence and stature of rhetoric and composition as the undervalued and sometimes scorned torchbearers of FIrst Year Writing.

Seminar reading response:

In Crowley’s book of essays, rhetoric has had a rough ride in the past few centuries. In “The Invention of Freshman English,” Crowley sees rhetoric as fundamentally at odds with the rise and projects of English as a field in an American context where “Freshman English renders the bourgeois subject docile” and “the study of literature renders him or her ‘sensitive, creative, imaginative and so on'” (77-78). In “The Bourgeois Subject and the Demise of Rhetorical Education,” Crowley’s history sees rhetorical studies elbowed out of higher education by the likes of aesthetics. In “Literature and Composition: Not separate but Certainly Unequal,” literary scholarship turned “inward” and rhetoric (as the study of how discourse operates in the wider world) was considered by the likes of James Morgan Hart as sophistic in the worst way (83). In “Around 1971: The Emergence of Process Pedagogy,” Crowley uses rhetoric as synonymous with composition, detailing the rise of process pedagogies as a turn away from a “current-traditional rhetoric” that became endemic to FYW (206).

As I work through Crowley’s polemics, I’m struck by how, unlike North’s text (and even Phelps’ text to a certain degree), Crowley explores the interconnectedness of rhetoric and composition, often conflating them entirely, and elsewhere distinguishing them in detail. In her history of the rise of Freshman English, for example, Crowley sees the turgid trappings of current-traditional compositional pedagogies as undesirable offshoots of FYWs near universal existence as a gen ed requirement. That kind of composition, Crowley argues in the final chapter, stands in stark contrast to the rhetorical models of ancients such as Quintilian. Crowley argues throughout, it seems, for the reabsorption of rhetoric as content within composition.

The significance of the tensions mentioned here reminds me of the big house of composition (and English more generally) that I live in, especially as analogous to North’s conceptualizing of the “house of lore.” While I’m convinced of and support much of what Crowley advocates in terms of the rheotrization of FYW, the tensions she details remain. While this post will not delve into the labor issues that Crowley details, such conditions surely continue to contribute to the aforementioned tensions. That is a discussion that moves well beyond rhet/comp and English departments, though. So my two-cents into the kitty this week revolves around the (in)tractability of FYW tensions.

1) A practical question: What kinds of strategies might a WPA take when attempting to realign, or even maintain, a FYW program within a “big tent” English Department that may feature non-rhet/comp lecturers, a heavy reliance on contingent labor, and GTA’s whose area of scholarly interest lie outside of rhet/comp scholarship teaching FYW?

2) A more theoretical question: Beyond historiography, how might one trace the contours of disciplinary influence in rhet/comp scholarship? In other words, how might I trace/surface the influence of literature, cultural studies, linguistics, or even the relative weight of rhetoric or composition studies themselves in a corpus of scholarship? How could data mining or other methodologies surface skeletal structures and influences of disciplinary overlap that might not be apparent now.

Phelps: Composition as a Human Science

Phelps, Louise Wetherbee. Composition as a Human Science: Contributions to the Self-Understanding of a Discipline. New York: Oxford UP. 1988. Print

Composition, Rhetoric, History, Interdisciplinary, Contextualism, Discourse

Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

Michael Polanyi, The Tacit Dimension

Calvin Schrag, Radical Reflection and the Origin of the Human Sciences

Phelps begins by laying the cultural ground from which the discipline of rhetoric and composition emerged. Alongside other social sciences, Phelps argues a contexualist approach in composition, a third way [middle path?] between Newtonian positivism and radical postmodernism [the overly suspicious hermeneutics raced back to Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud]. Phelps history of composition privileges rhetoric which , she argues, “reposition[ed] composition within the global ecology of knowledge” (45). Phelps attacks shallow considerations of process, arguing that the paradigm shift which brought it about (a focus shift from product to process), was no paradigm shift at all; rather, it was a reemphasis/polarity-shift of a problematic dualism (136). Phelps also points, notably, to “discourse” as a root metaphor for composition (50) while, later, also charging composition professionals with an imperative to “step back and from and deconstruct our sedimented conception of discourse structure in order to carry out a reconstruction. In that reconstruction, discourse is essentially dance, event, pr pattern of symbolic energies in which the discourser participates, ordered or structured with the aid of cues laid down by the writer in the text for himself and the reader” (156).

Like North’s text, Phelps sees an overemphasis on practice as problematic for composition. In the final chapter, Phelps makes this explicit: “teachers … stubbornly assert the priority of the practical and concrete over ‘theory’” (206). And, like North, Phelps sees the over-embrace of the practical as a threat to disciplinarily.

The primary distinction between the two texts (aside from their treatment of rhetoric, which I won’t find much time for here) might be described through their alternative approaches to the development of composition’s emergence. I would characterize North’s approach as having an inward-focus. North’s account primarily grapples with the emergence of Composition through modes of inquiry that insiders to Composition would recognize and identify with. Phelps’ outward focus, on the other hand, spends considerable time situating composition’s emergence alongside, and from within, broader intellectual and philosophical turns (e.g., the turn from positivist Newtonian frameworks in the sciences, the turn from the radical subjectivist counter-turn, and the contextualist ground made appealing to many of the social sciences through the work of Ricoeur, Habermas, et al.) All that is not to say that either is strictly inward- or outwardly focused: North gives some context external to the world of comp, and Phelps spends a considerable amount of time grappling with composition’s more parochial interests (the process movement and frameworks of discourse, notably).

I find Phelps’ history, and text, more satisfying overall. Her philosophical contextualization of composition seems to provide a richer, more nuanced argument for disciplinarity, which is what I take to be the central project of both texts. Phelps account is more ambitious, traversing dense philosophical thickets, visiting various social scientific realms, mining subdisciplines within psychology, and weaving each thread (to mix metaphors) back into the emergence and development of composition. I’m sympathetic to such ambitious accounts; I envision my own work as striving toward such rigorously attuned contexts. The danger of such ambition, of course, is to play fast and loose with ideas without contributory or interactional expertise. But the interdisciplinary nature of composition (Phelps likens it to medicine) seems to call for such ambition. So, here’s what I find worth discussing [in an upcoming seminar meeting] in terms of my own agenda.

1) What are the processes by which one goes through when one is working to incorporate scholarly material from other disciplines to account for a lack of expertise in selected disciplines? In other words, what is, or should be, my bullshit detector process when writing about other disciplines? How exhaustively do I check my (if I’m being cynical) cherry-picked research? Peer review from fellow compositonists isn’t very helpful when delving knee )or even ankle) deep into developmental cognitive neuroscience, is it? Is making friendly with a colleague in the Psychology Department enough? My sense is that each case is contextual, of course, but what kinds of processes exist to inform such questions?

2) What other disciplines contribute most to composition research? Phelps attends to this question in various places throughout the text, and it seems to me that bibliometric methods might provide some insight. What kind of cross-disciplinarily fertilization existed in the emergence of composition in the 50s and 60s? Can “turns” in composition be tracked and traced through reference to extra-disciplinary attention? Do connections to external disciplines/fields shift between composition’s subdisciplines? Between composition’s journals? And is it possible to anticipate “turns” by tracing extra-disciplinary connections?