Revolution Lullabye

August 28, 2007

CCR 735 Notes 8/28

Filed under: Uncategorized — by revolutionlullabye @ 2:28 am

Phelps, Louise Wetherbee. Acts, Texts, and the Teaching Context: Their Relations within a Dramatistic Philosophy of Composition. Dissertation. Case Western Reserve University. January 1980.

Phelps traces the history of composition in the 19th and 20th centuries, citing that until the 1960s, composition was a field and a community of teachers who shared pedagogical knowledge about the first-year composition course. When, in the 1960s, composition began to assert itself as a true discipline, scholars realized that the field could not be based on practice and product-centered scholarship alone: process, the study of the act of writing, was essential for building theory. Phelps question is whether or not process is a large and fruitful enough topic to build an entire field around or is it just one question that will point the field into larger and more comprehensive areas of inquiry, such as around the concept of act. She then analyzes how process is taken up in the composition community – what it means, how it is applied, and its strengths and weaknesses for being a point to center a discipline around. Phelps sees three implications for the focus on process for composition: an emphasis on studying human performance rather than objects or rules, a recognition of historicity and how things change over time, and an emphasis on empirical methodologies. To Phelps, the centrality of process in composition points to a diachronic position in the field, a paradigm shift from the mostly synchronic investigation in linguistics in the 20th century. She also notes a change in the relationship between theory and experience – with process, experience can create theory, not just prove it, so practical knowledge is valuable to the theoretical identity of the field. Phelps argues that the term process is too limiting, that changing composition’s focus from process to act will open up opportunities in research and inquiry that would not be considered if the field solely concentrated on the writing process, as defined by Emig and other early scholars.

Quotable Quotes

“My question is this: is process a powerful and comprehensive enough concept to organize a whole universe of discourse for composition, within which we can develop coherent knowledge about a well-defined subject matter? Or is it rather a limited concept with the crucial historical function of pointing us toward a broader, deeper, more fertile and complex notion, that of act?” (9)

“Any key term is highly suggestive. In addition to its defining features, it implies a host of other ideas, attitudes, approaches, and so on, and through these it links up with other networks of ideas on many level. To make judgments about the usefulness of a term, we must pursue as many of these implications as we can. At the same time we need to consider how the term is actually being applied in a historical context, and how that application limits or opens up further possibilities” (14).

Notable Notes

synchronic – taking an object of study out of time; understanding it in suspension outside of the real world (what linguistics was doing in the most of the 20th century)

diachronic – studying that object within the flow of time and understanding how it evolves and changes and grows (what linguistics was doing in most of the 19th century) More interested in performance.

Good overview of argument at end of page 14.

Phelps, Louise Wetherbee. “The Dream of Pattern Language: Revisiting the Choice between Structure and Context.” 5 October 2000.

Phelps applies architect and designer Christopher Alexander’s pattern language for design to writing studies, specifically citing Noam Chomsky’s generative grammar. Her points include: 1. that patterns can generate words, but not meanings; 2. patterns are determined in dynamic use, not a closed act; 3. the design act necessarily entails experimentation outside the pattern; 4. the social and political (and other) context can cause patterns to fail in one situation and succeed in another. Phelps described Alexander’s realization that no pattern language can take in the complexities of context as a shock, and likened his shock to the shock the field of composition experienced in the late 1980s when it took its political and social “turns.”
Phelps describes this shock – the realization of the slippery nature and pervasive effect of context – as the choice between structure and context for composition scholars. She argues that the field chose to create a binary between the two and sided with context, erasing form as an area of serious study and thus crippling the field’s ability to understand it.

Quotable Quotes

The dream of Alexander’s pattern language: “is that the answer to this problem [finding new forms to fit new contexts] can be found in formal structures or rules that contain in themselves the possibility of good design independent of, or prior to, their use.”

“From my perspective, the grounding of discursive meaning in context did not erase the possibility of symbolic structure, but posed even more urgently an absolutely fundamental issue: how are we to understand the relationship between the order of form, as represented in textual and other symbolic expressions, and the order of life – the material environment, the social semiotic context, and human activity?”

There is a “need to analyze closely the processes by which form codes situations heterogeneously in both print and online environments, and to reap the rewards taht may come of making more sophisticated comparisons between them.”

“We cannot ever forget or give up the dream of the pattern language entirely, because at its deepest it represents the heuristic power and generative functions of form, the mediating capacity of text to shape people and their environments and be shaped by them.”

Notable Notes

Pattern language – develop a system and a productive theory whereby you can create design/rhetorical solutions through applying tested patterns in new environments.


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