I want to turn for a few moments to position this inquiry within traditionally important concerns of composition/rhetoric: namely, the revival of invention and the emergence of what has been called "epistemic rhetoric." Richard Young's 1978 article "Paradigms and Problems: Needed Research in Rhetorical Invention" provides one significant demonstration of the deep roots this investigation possesses.
Coming four years before Maxine Hairston's article "The Winds of Change: Thomas Kuhn and the Revolution in the Teaching of Writing," Young speaks of a paradigm shift away from the current-traditional rhetoric's teaching of writing as a product to an emphasis on invention and the teaching of writing as a process. As Janice Lauer has documented, the new focus on invention in the 1960s was the primary means for reviving interest in rhetoric and calling for change in the field (74). Lauer points specifically to Gordon Rohman and Albert Wlecke's 1964 research into "pre-writing" (and Rohman's 1965 CCC article), Edward Corbett's Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student, and Richard Young and Alton Beckers first accounts in 1965 of tagmetric invention as significant milestones in this new emphasis on invention and rhetoric within composition/rhetoric (78-80). Young recounts this time period as a crisis in the field of composition/rhetoric in which the current-traditional paradigm was "repeatedly attacked for its failure to provide effective instruction in what is often called the ‘prewriting stage’ of the composing process and in the analytical and synthetic skills necessary for good thinking" (400). He blames the failure for the development of the skills of invention on the field's response to the problem from within the paradigm of current-traditional rhetoric. He points specifically to the vitalist, or Romantic, assumption that the creative processes behind the generation of writing "are not susceptible to conscious control by formal procedures" (399). The uniqueness of the creative act cannot be formulated or taught; hence, current-traditional rhetoric's emphasis on the final product and the exclusion of the art of invention (398-99). Speaking in 1978 at the point when this revolution against the current-traditional paradigm was consolidating the writing process paradigm and the new discipline of rhetoric/composition, Young states:
It is no accident that the shift in attention from composed product to the composing process is occurring at the same time as the reemergence of invention as a rhetorical discipline. Invention requires a process view of rhetoric; and if the composing process is to be taught, rather than left to the student to be learned, arts associated with the various stages of the process are necessary. (401)
Speaking assuredly about the importance of "the skills invention is designed to cultivate" for effective writing, Young voices a key question—how are they to be cultivated?(399). He ends his essay voicing the need for more research, specifically stating, “we lack detailed accounts of pedagogical devices associated with theories of invention” (410). Although coming over thirty years later, my own inquiry into the pedagogical activity of teacher-prompted rhetorical reflection can be seen as answering Young’s call for research into just such a pedagogical device.
Although Young can be seen to be influenced by the stage view of the writing process, Flower and Hayes’ (1981) re-conception of the writing process as recursive, and an increasing view of the entire writing process as an inquiry process (Elbow, Odell, Hillocks Inquiry) has led to the belief that invention does not happen only at the beginning of the writing process, but occurs throughout the activity of writing from start to end. Rhetorical reflection, then, represents a pedagogical activity meant to re-engage writers in inventional thinking. The pedagogical practice of invention and reflection both connect in these areas:
· Invention and reflection both are heuristics of guided inquiry
· Productive invention and reflection are both seen as requiring similar states of ambiguity or a sense of a problem to trigger and guide them
· The prime concern invention and reflection share is an interest in determining and negotiating the writer’s rhetorical stance
Stance is a significant concept because it helps to bridge what Lynette Hunter calls the either/or split she believes rhetoric has suffered from between seeing rhetoric as a “theory of strategy or technique alone” or as a “pursuit of truth or expression of belief” (4). Invention is not just about generating ideas and making meaning; it is about communicating those meanings to someone else within a particular context. As Hunter states, “Stance is a rhetorical term for indicating not what someone believes, … but how he believes. Stance enacts the meeting of the human being with the world” (5). Invention, and by extension rhetorical reflection, are primarily concerned with helping the writer to position themselves and their ideas in order to communicate effectively. Wayne Booth in his influential 1963 article “Rhetorical Stance,” represents rhetorical stance as a balancing of the various elements of the writing situation and claims, “it is this balance, this rhetorical stance, difficult as it is to describe, that is our main goal as teachers of rhetoric” (141). Finding this balance is not limited to any “pre-writing” stage or activities, and rhetorical reflection is one important pedagogical activity meant to help writers find, problem-solve, and pursue their rhetorical stance throughout the writing process.
We see from this brief survey how rhetorical reflection links to pivotal concerns of invention our discipline has had from its inception. However, if the links of rhetorical reflection to the story of invention ended here, my own inquiry would not have adequate relevance for writing instruction today. The answer to Young’s call for research is documented in his 1987 summary of research on invention within the collection Teaching Composition: Twelve Bibliographic Essays. His summary filled thirty-eight pages and significantly was placed first. In the introduction to their 1994 Landmark Essays on Rhetorical Invention in Writing, Young and Yameng Liu declare that developments in theory and research since World War II have “established invention as the central theoretical issue of rhetoric and composition and its study as one of the most fertile and dynamic areas in discourse studies” (xiii). This statement, however, represents the high water mark for invention in recent times.
The emergence of postmodernism and its reconceived notion of the subject (that is, the writer who writes) challenged invention and put it on the defensive (Atwill xvi). John Clifford in his essay “The Subject in Discourse” summarizes the 20th century critique of the traditional humanist view of the writer that underlay many of the assumptions of invention within the writing process held by many rhetoric/composition revivalists of the 60s and 70s. Clifford summarizes this view and the basis for undercutting this view:
For the traditional humanist, the writer has always been seen as a creative individual, the locus of significance, the originator of meaning, an autonomous being, aware of ends and means, of authorial intentions and motivations. … but rarely is the writer thought of as the site of contradiction, as being written by social or psychological forces that might diminish the clarity of consciousness or the singularity of individual intentions. (39)
The writer is written rather than writing, and agency for determining meaning and intentions is placed outside the individual rather than inside the individual’s consciousness. Clifford summarizes succeeding waves of critique of the autonomous self from structuralism, to psychological criticism, to post-structuralism: “As a result, the independent and private consciousness formerly endowed with plentitude and presence, with a timeless and transcultural essence, becomes in postmodern thought a decentered subject constantly being called on to inhabit overdetermined positions, the implications of which can be only dimly grasped by a consciousness written by multiple, shifting codes” (40-41). Michel Foucault’s statement from The Archeology of Knowledge represents one particularly influential postmodern critique of the “autonomous subject”: “it must now be recognized that it is neither by recourse to a transcendental subject nor by recourse to a psychological subjectivity that the regulation of its enunciations should be defined” (1444-1445). Writing, or discourse, is not created and invented (“regulated”) by the writer; instead the writer and his or her text are determined by discourse and social forces outside the writer. In short, traditional notions of invention heralded by Young and other early rhetoric/composition scholars are impossible from the postmodern position. If a new bibliographic essay on the studies in invention by our field were published today, it would be hard pressed to fill thirty-eight pages as Young did in 1987. Instead, as Atwill notes, interest in invention waned and all but disappeared in the 1990s to the marginalized place it holds today (Rhetorical Invention 2).
The post-postmodern correction to this stripping of the subject’s agency is to return some control to the writer, to acknowledge that in the face of multiple outside influences the writer still shapes and forms their meaning in ways determined (to a degree) by themselves. Helen Foster’s conception of “networked subjectivity” and Anis Bawarshi’s conception of genre’s interaction with the writer present alternative, broader views of the writer who writes and is written.
Figure CVB: Helen Foster’s Networked Subjectivity (Foster 113)
Foster’s aim is to conceptualize a more complex picture of the “relation of the subject to itself, to others, and to the world” believing that this complex perspective still offers significant agency to the writer (and the teacher) who is aware of this positionality. She seeks a point of stasis between traditional notions of the writing process and the radical notions of post-process scholarship with its overdetermined notions of the writer. For her, she finds this point of common concern and assumptions within social/cultural scholarship: “this scholarship effectively moves us off overdetermined notions of the individual and toward theorizing (1) the complex networks with(in) which writers are imbricated by merely being and (2) the complex networks that influence and pressure the act(or) of writing” (Foster 40-41). Figure CVB illustrates her graphical representation of the material and conceptual space of what she refers to as the “writer/writing/network” which she labels as “networked process.” Foster and Bawarshi each present “invention” as a form of negotiation that must be accomplished by the writer as he or she writes, where the writer has a significant role in this negotiated process. Thus, from my perspective we have the reawakening of invention in writing studies, and my own inquiry into rhetorical reflection can be seen as aligning with this new expanded view of the subject and its possibilities for invention.
Closely allied to the reawakening of invention within the field of composition/rhetoric is the emergence of “epistemic rhetoric” and notions that through writing we discover and construct knowledge. Often referred to by influential scholars and teachers like Donald Murry, Peter Elbow, and James Britton as “writing as discovery,” theories of epistemic writing were based on the critique of current-traditional (and modernist) notions of language as a container for thought. Since language is conceived of instead as the substance of thought, our use of language is the way in which we shape and form our thinking. We have already seen this notion expressed in the work of Elliot Eisner who says that through representations of reality we are engaged in constructing that reality for ourselves. Britton presents this view as he summarizes the thinking of Susan Langar: “We give and find shape in the very act of perception, we give and find further shape as we talk, write or otherwise represent our experience” (“Spectator Role” 150). Kenneth Dowst in Eight Approaches to Teaching Composition summarizes what he calls “The Epistemic Approach.” In this description, he voices these same assumptions about the relation of language and thought: “The way we use language, then, seems not only to reflect but in part to determine what we know, what we can do, and in a sense who we are. … our manipulation of language shapes our conceptions of the world and of our selves” (69). This epistemic quality of language use underlay representations of the entire writing process as a process of discovery and, as Ann Berthoff called it, the “making of meaning”: “Composing … is a means of discovering what we mean to say, as well as being the saying of it” (Berthoff 20). This perspective on the power of writing was significantly confirmed by Judith Langer and Arthur Applebee’s 1987 study How Writing Shapes Thinking and would underlie the enormous growth of Writing Across the Disciplines (WAC) programs in American colleges and universities. The concept of “write to learn” is grounded in these assumptions about language and in particular the nature of writing as a means for this discovery and construction of meaning and understanding. Dowst presents a description of the unique epistemic qualities of the act of writing:
While one in effect composes his or her world by engaging in any sort of language-using, it is by means of writing that one stands to learn the most, for writing is the form of language-using that is slowest, most deliberate, most accessible, most conveniently manipulable, and most permanent. While a person’s short-term memory can hold at any time only six or seven “bits” of information, a written paragraph can hold thousands. It can fix them while a writer experiments in connecting bits in various ways, in replacing some with others, in supplementing them with others, in rearranging them, in abstracting and generalizing from them. (69)
Rather than being the means by which we clothe already-formulated thoughts, writing as an epistemic tool serves as the means for shaping, constructing, and deepening thinking. It is this tradition within our discipline of epistemic rhetoric that I want to connect with my own inquiry into rhetorical reflection. Reflection as a form of thinking about thinking and action happens in many forms either in non-discursive ways (simply in our head), by talking, or by writing. My focus is upon written reflection, and we can see from this brief summary of epistemic rhetoric’s place within our discipline how my own inquiry fits within the same assumptions about the power of writing to form and shape our thinking that have informed our field for many years.
While rhetorical reflection shares in many of the positive assumptions about the value of invention and epistemic theories of writing, it also shares the same questions and ambiguities about these activities. Young in his 1978 article voices the lack of certainty of how to promote the skills of invention and the doubt surrounding invention’s effectiveness, and he devotes special attention to research on competing theories of invention. Interestingly, his questions about determining the adequacy of these theories are the same that apply to current views on reflection:
1. Does it [the theory of invention] do what it claims to do? That is, does it provide an adequate account of the psychological processes it purports to explain? And does it increase our ability to carry out these processes more efficiently or effectively?
2. Does the theory provide a more adequate account of the processes and more adequate means for carrying them out than any of the alternatives. (405)
Here we have in a more sophisticated form the “open question” of reflection. Implicit within the use of teacher-prompted activities to promote reflective thinking are “theories of reflection” which contain claims and assumptions about what happens when students reflect and what results will happen (or ought to happen) because of the reflection. Indeed, we can see by a re-examination of the two research questions of this dissertation how much this inquiry aligns with that advocated by Young:
What is the nature of Rhetorical Reflection within the activity of writing, and how does it work in relation to the learning and practice of freshman writers?
Can we generate a grounded theory that offers an understanding of rhetorical reflection and how it works that is useful for teachers of writing?
This research project seeks what Young calls an “adequate account” of rhetorical reflection.
It seeks to answer whether our theorizing about reflection fits with an understanding of reflection generated from grounded theory. It hopes to generate a theory of rhetorical reflection that may offer a theory that better matches students’ actual practice of reflection and proves useful in productive ways for teachers?
What the proceeding literature review will do is describe our field’s development of a theory of reflection, with special attention directed towards in-task reflection. We will see our field’s various attempts to answer the question of the adequacy and effectiveness of this theory. However, as Kimberly Emmons points out, our field has closely examined or questioned how reflection works for writers, “Our attention as theorists has been focused on promoting the habit of reflection in our students rather than on questioning its mechanisms” (“The Legacy of Process: Self-Reflection”). What this review will reveal is how we have built our theory of reflection by importing theories uncritically and crudely into our own teaching practice. We have predominantly based our practice upon theories built from other theories or from classroom experience. The nature of our theory building and resulting practice has resulted in a gap in our ability to account sufficiently for reflection and the persistence of the open question regarding reflection.