Summing Up Composition (Durst)

Durst, Russel K. “Writing at the Postsecondary Level.” The Norton Book of Composition Studies. 1st ed. New York: Norton, 2009. 1655-1689. Print.

Durst’s chapter is summative, and thus difficult (or perhaps unecessary) to summarize at length, but it provides an interesting birds-eye-view of the field from an “important studies” angle. This shall be brief:

Focusing on 1984-2003 (i.e. the years since Hillocks’ Research on Written Composition), Durst points out major trends or ‘waves’ (Kemp’s term?) in composition scholarship, the theories and methods used in writing studies, and ideas and developments influencing the field since its move out of a process-dominated approach. A good, broad history organized around three central figures in composition scholarship: the student writer, the instructor, and the contexts for writing. The student is still fairly generalized, but this time from an ideological rather than skills perspective. The teacher is politicized, broadly conflicted between theory and praxis, between indoctrinator and iconoclast, but (in curriculum and scholarship) more called to develop students in sensibilities and dispositions and awarenesses (rather than particular writing abilities). Contexts of assessment, technology, and institutional problems dominate new directions in research especially. Durst’s final conclusion is that composition is “in something of a rut” with few serious challenges to writing process approaches, a generic acceptance of the social turn, and a lack of a definitive, powerful orthodoxy within the discipline itself to work against.

Expect reflections of my own on this, after I work more of them out a little more in another medium.


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