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. While on the one hand I will take 1949 as one defining moment in the formation of “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, it would be a fallacy to think that the field begins in a single historicized moment, when many of its influences reach further back, or when they challenge 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 use “whole theories” (e.g., disciplinarity, rhetoric-is-epistemic, social construction, discourse, etc.) to ground our investigation of Rhetoric and Composition in specific chronological moments, while being aware of what that chronology necessarily excludes. This approach also 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., digitality, ecocomposition, disability, race, voice, radical pedagogy, visual rhetoric, collaboration, assessment, performance, style, revision, 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 have a comprehensive sense of critical issues in the field and a more critical understanding of those issues that reflect your own interests, in and beyond the university. You will also have accomplished the following:

  • 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; and
  • learned different reading and research methods for tracing germane developments throughout our course texts.