Revolution Lullabye

September 11, 2007

CCR 735 Notes for 9/11 Nystrand

Filed under: Uncategorized — by revolutionlullabye @ 12:13 am

Nystrand, Martin, Stuart Greene, and Jeffrey Wiemelt. “Where Did Composition Studies Come from?: An Intellectual History.” Written Communication 10:3 (July 1993) 285-333.

Part 3: Language, Literature, and Composition through the Structuralist Lens of Social Constructionism

In the 1980s, scholars of langauge, writing, and literature were interested in how the social context affects the production and the reading of texts and argued that there could not be only one interpretation, given the ever-shifting historical circumstances of both readers and authors. This view of language as a social phenomenon (esp. Labov) challenged the Chomskian structuralist view that was in vogue a decade before. Compositionists began to see the importance of teaching across genres and departments (writing across the curriculum movement) and claimed that writers do not write solitarily or independently; they are always a member of a community (a discourse community), and that community restricts some of their choices. 

Quotable Quotes

“Structuralism, in both its constructivist and social constructionist incarnations, generally superseded formalism and assumed, as noted above, that human behavior and institutions can be explained only by elucidating the mediating structure of an underlying abstract system…Whereas formalist critics like the New Critics focused on text elements to uncover their meaning, structuralists examined such elements to decode an underlying, universal system” (292).

Part 4: Dialogism in Language, Literature, and Composition

Bakhtin developed a third perspective on language, different from both formal structuralism and social constructivism: dialogism. Dialogism means that the self (and meaning) only exists when others around, because the self’s identity is formed through the relationships with those outside of it. Meaning in discourse is created in dialogue. According to Bakhtin, the fundamental unit of language is the conversation turn, since the meaning of any utterance is determined by the utterance’s relationship to other utterances. Any understanding of discourse must be situated in the actual social context in which it was created and used – language is fundamentally DYNAMIC.

Halliday developed a theory of language that contrasts with Chomsky’s view that there are innate language rules embedded in the human conscious; Halliday’s theory is environmentalist – langauge is both a way of knowing and a way of doing, of constructing knowledge. Language both organizes the world and allows people to communicate world experiences with each other, and an individual’s context shapes the experiences he will communicate. Texts develop meaning, then, out of the dialogic, dynamic relationship between them and their readers – it is a meaning that is always developing and is never the same from reader to reader. Context is created by the writer and the reader.

Quotable Quotes

“Meaning is ‘dialgoic,’ reflecting writers’ attempts to balance their goals with the expectations that they believe their readers bring to a text” (294).

“The individual and the social provide neither competing nor even alternative perspectives on meaning in discourse; rather, context and cognition operate always and only in an interpenetrating, cocon-stitutive relationship” (295).\

“Dialgoism and functionalism have attacked the neoplatonic strategies of structuralism, challenging the validity of underlying universal forms” (300).

“Cognitive and social domains interact and overlap in a dialectical, coconstitutive relationship: The work of cognition is ‘always already’ social. ‘Discourse does not reflect a situation, it is a situation’ (Holquist, 1990, p. 63)” (300).

Notable Notes

Some binary (and more) pairs: structuralist/functionalist; structuralism/social constructionism/dialogism

Part 5: Thematic Development in Conceptions of Language, Literature, and Composition since 1940

What has happened to the fields of composition, linguistics, and literary theory since 1940? In trying to understand the nature of both langauge and meaning, they have gone from formalism to structuralism to functionalism/dialogism. Composition in particular has moved from examining the text outside of context to viewing it as an individual act of cognition through the process movement to seeing it in a greater social and historical context. Study in grammar and syntax went from being prescriptive to descriptive; individual cognition has been enriched by an understanding of a socially situated cognition. Reader response has become a necessary component of understanding texts, as seen by the increase in portfolio assessments, which showcase the writer’s ability to write for a variety of rhetorical situations.

Here are some of the new sites of scholarship in langauge study:

  • moving beyond canonical texts to studying popular culture, bridging towards interdisciplinary fields like feminism, multiculturalism. Also, investigating the writing of school students, business professionals, nonacademics instead of focusing primarily on formal academic expository writing.
  • everyday conversation and writing is regarded as important as formal speech, writing, and texts. They are worthy enough of study because real theories and practices can emerge from them.

Quotable Quotes

Current interest in amalgamating cognitve and social orientations into either dialogical or sociocognitivie perspectives seems to derive almost entirely from responses to theoretical frameworks and research agendas rather than from the demands of instruction. In short, a new scholarly discourse has emerged during the past two decades so that the context for ideas about writing – the site of action projects – is now an interdisiplinary writing research community as well as a pedagogical forum” (314).

Notable Notes

Great chart on pg. 302-303 about formalism, constructivism, social constructionism, and dialogism.

The conclusion from pg. 312-314 does a good job of summing up the article and the historical movements that have affected research on language in the field of composition.


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