What happens when we write?
Contemporary composition theory might be separated into two approaches to that apparently
simple question: theories primarily concerned with what happens inside the writer, and theories primarily concerned with what happens outside the writer.
Cognitive theorists, for example, have focused their inquiries on the mental processes
of the writer. Beginning with the tenets of faculty psychology before calling upon the work of Jean
Piaget, Jerome Bruner, Eugene Gendlin and many others, there were great hopes that
we could uncover the internal processes that occur during the writing process. Others, influenced by Romanticism or psychotherapy, were less interested in the writer’s
cognitive processing than with the creative process and its possibilities for self-expression.
More contemporary composition theorists, however, have focused on the implications
for writing of gender, race, and class and consider writing not a private, solitary
act but a profoundly social one. Invoking such theorists as Lev Vygotsky and Mikhail Bakhtin, even the notion of a
writer’s “voice” has social implications. Other voices––such as those of Michel Foucault, Pierre Bordieu, Kenneth Burke, Stuart
Hall, and Hélene Cixous––can be heard in contemporary composition theory, encouraging
us to more deeply consider our answers to that deceptively simple question that will
guide our inquiry: What happens when we write?
This seminar is a core requirement for those in Composition Studies. All graduate students interested in English, Education, or writing in general are
welcome and will likely find ways that the subject matter of this seminar intersects
with a very broad range of scholarly interests.