Revolution Lullabye

January 31, 2009

Lindemann, A Rhetoric for Writing Teachers

I’m beginning to see the value (you would hope!) in reading through all these guides for beginning teachers of composition. I now know the basic issues that new teachers face, what the field (in general) thinks that it’s important for them to learn or know about (and in turn what their students should learn and know about.) The same common theories and many of the same texts are referenced in both, both in the book and in attached bibliographies, creating sort of a “canon” for important texts for beginning composition teachers (I’ll be reading some of them next.) But, most importantly I think, from an administration point of view, I now know a lot of the approaches taken to instruct beginning teachers about the teaching of writing, and I can draw on these texts in creating a syllabus for that kind of course (or for less formal, less intensive teacher-training.) I like the theoretically-grounded approach Lindemann takes in this text, and I think the one-author (rather than anthology) approach makes the text more coherent and cohesive, a more intimate and straightforward guide for new teachers, but one with a lot of meat and nuances.

Lindemann, Erika. A Rhetoric for Writing Teachers. 4th ed. New York: Oxford UP, 2001.

This guide for writing teachers, in its fourth edition, approaches the teaching of writing from a rhetorical perspective, emphasizing teaching a rhetorically and theoretically-grounded concept of writing to students and seeing the act of teaching (and all that is part of that job) as a rhetorical enterprise. The book is divided into three major sections. The first, “The Composing Process,” defines key terms like context, code, and message, and explains the stages of the writing process, highlighting the social nature of writing. The second, “Rhetorical Theory and Practice,” offers three chapters about the fundamental concepts in rhetoric, linguistics, and cognition that writing teachers must know, citing major names and theories, and goes on with other chapters about invention and revision strategies and the study of discourse and style (paragraphing, sentences, and words.) The third section, “Teaching as Rhetoric,” has chapters on assignment creation, response, evaluation, course design, and writing with computers (added for this edition.) Lindemann points out why writing instruction is so important for students – for economic power, social necessity (to live and interact with others in society), and for personal meaning-making – in the introduction of the text. She sees students and their instructors as writers both struggling to make meaning and urges teachers to have the “courage” to give up some of the control and authority those teaching other disciplines might have in order to meet and interact with their students as writers.

Quotable Quotes

“Theories give coherence and direction to the practical. They demonstrate the complexities of the writing process and the importance of teaching it well” (9).

Inspiration from Donald Murray: We, like our students “wrestle with the difficult process of creating meaning through language” (305).

“What is truly basic to composition – a person communicating with another person” (305).

Notable Notes

end of the book contains an extensive timeline of important dates in rhetoric and composition and a bibliography of selected texts


January 1, 2009

Hodge and Kress, Social Semiotics

Hodge, Robert and Gunther Kress. Social Semiotics. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1988.

The authors, who developed a theory of usable (or critical) linguistics in their 1979 book Language as Ideology, wrote Social Semiotics to address two limitations in their linguistic theory: the lack of focus on “the primacy of the social dimension in understanding language structures and processes” and the inattention to the meanings inherent in non-verbal messages (such as in aural, behavioral, and visual codes.) Their study, which begins with an overview of twentieth-century linguistic theory, explaining the structuralist foundations of Saussure and Peirce, highlights the importance of social context in the meaning-making process. That context includes ideology, the current logonomic system, history, and social relationships. Drawing from Durkheim (and Marx), Hodge and Kress point out that there are two parts of every social message – power and solidarity – and show, through examples ranging from sub-population accents and antilanguages to the Biblical debate over the pronounciation of “shibboleth” and from classic Davy Crockett and Two-Gun Lil cartoons to the traditional Greek familial relationships showcased in Sophocles’ plays, that every meaning-making act is a social strategy to position one person or group in power and authority over another, who confirms their power through by going along and acting in solidarity with the rest of society. For both social control and an understanding of truth and reality, there is an interdependence between those in power and those being controlled.

There is a good appendix with definitions of Hodge and Kress’s key terms and concepts from pages 261-268.

Quotable Quotes

“Meaning is produced and reproduced under specific social conditions, through specific material forms and agencies. It exists in relationship to concrete subjects and objects, and is inexplicable except in terms of this set of relationships” (viii).

“Genres only exist in so far as a social group declares and enforces the rules that constitute them” (7). What is captured in genres is the relationship between the participants.

“Meaning is always negotiated in the semiotic process, never simply imposed inexorably from above by an omnipotent author through an absolute code” (12). Social semiotics is interested in what happens (expected and not) in the action between participants.

“Every semiotic act has an ideological content” (40).

“Every semiotic structure inevitably exists in space and time” (163). You cannot ignore the temporal dimension, for with history, you can understand large-scale structures that inform the meaning of small, individual semiotic acts.

Notable Notes

Jokes are a reversal of the logonomic code – they are broken rules, subversive, oppoistional discourse, drawing from Halliday’s antilanguageĀ (78)

Logonomic code – a set of rules about meaning-making and communication, based on an entire system of thought, which orders society by explaining who may make and receive messages and knowledge under what circumstances and with what behaviors (4)

Key words: formality, informality, constraint, energy, open, close, accents, T form/V form, truth, reality, modality, genre, logonomic, ideology, message, semiotic, act, participants, power, solidarity, social construction, system, history, context, control, style, grammar, metasign, group, cohesion

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