PAB & Paper #1

Source 1: Connors, Robert J. “Crisis and Panacea in Composition Studies: A History.” Composition in Context: Essays in Honor of Donald C. Stewart. Eds. Ross W. Winterowd and Vincent Gillespie. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1994. 86-109.

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This is an image of the first page of Connors’ article. 

My search through the literature begins with a source that is considered a staple of the  master narrative in Rhetoric-Composition. I’ve heard Connors references multiple times, but needed to read his words directly to better understand where the field has been. While Connor’s uses the term Composition Studies, I believe he is referring broadly to what we have come to term Writing Studies or Rhetoric-Composition (I alone assert these as as synonyms, not Connors) in his “Crisis and Panacea in Composition Studies: A History”– filled with information to help illustrate the progression– from the origin of the field, through its many iterations, to today. This progression, according to Connors, is best characterized as a series of crises and panaceas.

Connors says the history of our scholarship has two primary emphases: (1) story of crisis (cultural and professional), and (2) a series of enthusiasms and the pedagogies that grow from that enthusiasm. Thus, the title: crisis and panacea. While Connors offers many examples, a few that resonated for me include: the Henry Alford and Adam S. Hunt texts that call out rampant illiteracy as a cultural crisis and the consequent panacea of freshman English courses introduced at Harvard.

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Henry Alford’s reproach of literacy skills, especially in the United States. 

Another example is the crisis of the 60’s when Rhetoric-Composition was at the height of its struggle to become a recognized discipline and the panaceas of professional conferences like the Dartmouth Conference of 1968 and the re-emergence of rhetoric to anchor scholarship and pedagogy of the field with the historically significant trivium.

Connors sees the contemporary call and response (crisis and panacea) as moving further and further from pedagogical roots as he notes that the scholarly world deals more with “philosophical or interpretive  issues than with quotidian problems  of teaching writing” (102). So, composition scholars are in a great position, while composition practitioners are still plagued with all the same old problems we’ve seen all along.

Connors also seeks to examine the meliorism inherent in early scholarship in this field in order to better understand our current positions. So much of this field’s early scholarship concerns itself with the conditions provided to the scholars themselves that we find ourselves assuming (maybe erroneously) that we can improve those conditions by writing about them extensively. We’re still, in fact, highly melioristic. We believe that what we research, theorize, and teach will result in a better world (102). For many of us, the meliorism is the attraction to the profession. Without that belief that we were making progress in some small way, many might opt for alternative careers.

One key line from Connors’ piece is this: “only by understanding the future by the light of the past will we escape the bondage to temporary excitements that has made too many of our crises a e the bondage to temporary excitements that has made too many of our crises and panaceas into profitless exercises on the stage of a misunderstood present” (103). The crisis and panacea has kept us moving as a field. In looking at our field’s history this way, we are better prepared to see any new crisis/panacea in light of those that came before (103).




For more information of Connors’ scholarship and life, see Sullivan’s “In Memoriam.”




Source 2: Paul A. Prior and Karen J. Lunsford. “History of Reflection, Theory, and Research on Writing.” Handbook of Research on Writing: History, Society, School, individual, Text. Ed. Charles Bazerman. Routledge, 2013, 81-96.

This image depicts the first page of Prior and Lunsford’s text.

Paul Prior and Karen Lunsford look to diversify the already-prolific histories of the field, claiming to be more inclusive, more global, and more interdisciplinary.  They see writing research as a more unified discipline, less narrow in scope, for the future. Their article “History of Reflection, Theory and Research on Writing” is a self-proclaimed “prolegomenon to a history of writing studies” (82). To account for the widespread approach taken by Prior and Lunsford, I’ve broken this entry into sections to help maintain the original organizational scheme of the article in order to capture its far-reaching scope:

Prior and Lunsford frame their history by first defining terms, naming what has motivated reflections on writing, and expanding existing frameworks for a more comprehensive history. Writing is meant to be “understood expansively, in all five of its meanings and as a multimodal phenomenon” (82). There are four reasons to account for the motivation and reflection on writing: (1) “writing involves the development of a script along with technologies and tools and distribution,” (2) the need to reproduce literate technologies and systematize discourse, (3)  achieving a mobility and a permanence that allows for continued and deeper reflection, and (4) written texts offer new means of representation, inviting reflection, but we also recognize the power of writing to “mediate knowledge communities and govern organizations and societies” (83).

Historically, it’s only in the final centuries BCE do we have evidence of how people began to understand writing and its reproduction (84). For example, Greece saw rhetoric as civic participation, taking a back seat to oral delivery and China reserved writing for civic rhetoric of the rulers and in India, there was a Hindu rejection of writing and Buddhist acceptance (writing sermons). Globalization has now spread concepts of writing across territory.

The following five themes provide a thematic organizing principle for the remainder of the article. These themes are meant to counter previous master narratives and instead provide a series of lenses through which to view the under-explored histories of the emergence of writing studies.

Theme 1: Authorship. Authorship (or authenticity) has always been a concern.

did muhammad author quran
Questions of authorship of the Qu’ran continue today.

Taking up the theme of authorship, it’s easy to find issues that cross time, cultures and disciplinary boundaries (page 85). Examples include: authorship to stabilize Islamic law, authenticity of Muhammad’s word or the authorship (occurring much later) as an issue in Europe when copyright laws asserted ownership over printed texts (circa 1800s). Many more contemporary notions of authorship have been challenged due to the collaborative nature of writing.


Theme 2: Translation Studies. Translation of a text as it travels to new places has high consequences (page 85). Examples include: arguments over which texts of Jewish heritage are worthy of translation and and which dialects to privilege. Arguments over word-for-word or segment-for-segment translations, or arguments over whether the translator should be an expert in both original and source languages. Newer academic trends (like post colonialism) assert concepts of polyvocality, subversive phrasing, subaltern voice (87).

Theme 3: Orality vs. Literacy. Examples of these disciplinary roots include: Plato who reflects Socrates’ fear that writing would limit our need for memory and would somehow make us feel like we had knowledge that we hadn’t rightfully gained (i.e. we just read it, not discovered it), afraid of knowledge that does not invite dialogue.

hindu oral instruction
Image depicts a Hindu God speaking to a disciple.

Furthermore, the Hindus believe strictly in oral instruction, not written instruction, depicting another form of suspicion over that which is written.


More contemporary debates of orality vs. literacy include the “great-divide” theory which was preferred in the 60’s and 70’s to describe the phenomenon of separating oral from literate people (87), with literacy associated with advanced thinking.

Theme 4: Beyond Comparative Rhetorics.  Prior and Lunsford begin with the distinctions drawn by Aristotle on the poetic vs. the dialectic (logic) in the early years of Western rhetorical theory, but moves quickly to accounts of diverse rhetorical inquiry (e.g. the fluid, meta-discourse of the Chinese tradition alongside the writing/reading practices that have been shaped by high-stakes testing as early as 600 BCE).

china high stakes tsting
Image depicts a large room, filled with exact rows of students, diligently testing (presumably).


Theme 5: Writing, Science and Society. The examples here (e.g. science report writing and its reliance on text) are more contemporary, implicitly arguing that the focus on the value of writing and linguistics and textual analysis in disciplines beyond Comp/Rhet are relatively new.

Prior and Lunsford set out to prove that there’s great value in taking a far more global approach to historicizing this field than the traditional grand narratives account for. There’s a rich pool of research to be done across cultural boundaries and disciplinary boundaries.