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Goldblatt, Eli. Expressivism as “Tacit Tradition.” CCC, Feb. 2017. Posted 03/15/2017.

Goldblatt, Eli. “Don’t Call It Expressivism: Legacies of a ‘Tacit Tradition’.” College Composition and Communication 68.3 (2017): 438-65. Print.

Eli Goldblatt explores what he considers the “subtle legacies” (442) of a “much maligned movement” in composition studies, expressivism (439). His locates his exigency in conversations about the value of a “literacy autobiography” he recently published. These discussions led him to believe that this form of writing did not meet his colleagues’ definition of respectable academic work (438-39).

For Goldblatt, expressivist tendencies may be rejected by theorists but persist in much recent work in the field, creating what Christopher Burnham and Rebecca Powell call a “tacit tradition” within the field (qtd. in Goldblatt 440). Goldblatt argues that recognizing the value and influence of expression will lead to a sense of writing that more fully integrates important aspects of what actually inspires writers.

Graduate students, he reports, often learn about expressivism via the scholarly debate between David Bartholomae and Peter Elbow in 1989 and 1991; such theoretical work cast personal expression as too grounded in the individual and “lacking in a political analysis of the composing situation in schools” (440).

Yet, Goldblatt observes, students often prefer “personal writing,” which they may consider “relatable” (439); his graduate students exhibit interest in the role of the personal in literacy activities in their own research (440). He posits, with Burnham and Powell, that the research from the 1970s by James Britton and his associates reveals “some sort of Ur-expressive drive [that] stands behind all writing” (440).

Goldblatt traces overt strands of expressivism through the work of such scholars as Sherrie Gradin and Wendy Bishop (440-41). He posits that some resistance to expressivism in composition may be traceable to concerns about the kind of research that would lead to tenure and promotion as the field began to define itself within departments heavily populated by literary critics (445). He notes “two stigmas” attached to expressivism: one is its centrality to high-school pedagogy; in its effort to establish itself as a respectable college-level endeavor, composition distanced itself from methods practiced in K-12 (446). Similarly, the field set itself apart from creative writing, in which, Goldplatt recounts, instruction in his experience emphasized “aesthetic achievement rather than self-actualization” (447).

Wendy Bishop, who characterized herself as “something-like-an-expressivist” (qtd. in Goldblatt 448), subsequently became CCCC chair. Goldblatt notes her defense of her pedagogy against the claim that expressivism

keep[s] students in a state of naiveté, [doesn’t] prepare them for the languages of  the academy, . . . and “emphasize[s] a type of self-actualization which the outside world would indict as sentimental and dangerous.” (Bishop, qtd. in Goldblatt 447-48; quoting from Stephen M. Fishman and Lucille Parkinson McCarthy)

Still, Goldblatt contends, her stance was “more admired than imitated” (448), doing little to recuperate expressivism within the field.

Despite his own commitment to poetry, Goldblatt acknowledges the importance of composition’s “social turn” and the power of the “social-epistemic rhetoric” promulgated by James Berlin and others. Still, he finds the rejection of expressivism problematic in recent movements in college writing such as the focus on transfer and the “writing about writing” program advocated by scholars like Elizabeth Wardle and Doug Downs. Goldblatt worries that too much emphasis on “school success and professional preparation” (441) undercuts “two  impulses” that he posits underlie the need to write: “the desire to speak out of your most intimate experiences and to connect with communities in need” (442).

Goldblatt examines “habits of mind” that he associates with expressivism in the recent work of four scholars who, he believes, would not explicitly call themselves expressivists (443). In Goldblatt’s view, Robert Yagelski’s Writing as a Way of Being “seems both anchored in and estranged from expressivism” (448). Yagelski’s focus on “the ‘writer writing’ rather than the ‘writer’s writing’” seems to Goldblatt a “phenomenological” approach to composing (448) that values the social impact of relationships at the same time it encourages individual self-actualization (448). Goldblatt compares Yagelski’s views to Ken Macrorie’s in his 1970 book Uptaught in that both reject “standardized instruction” in favor of “writing as a means to explore and enrich experience” (450), undoing a “false binary” between writing for the self and writing to engage with the world (448).

In Adam Banks’s Digital Griots, Goldblatt finds the personal entering through voice and style that both invoke the African-American tradition while “consciously modeling that social boundaries everywhere must be crossed” (451). Banks recounts “personal testimony” from young African Americans for whom individual storytelling establishes solidarity while creating connections with the past (452). Goldblatt notes that unlike early expressivists, Banks rejects the sense that “all expression is drawn from the same well” (453). Instead, he “remixes” many different individual voices to generate an implicit expressivism as “a deep and dialogic commitment to the individual within the swirl of events, movements, and economic pressures” (453-54).

Tiffany Rousculp’s Rhetoric of Respect recounts her creation and administration of the Community Writing Center at Salt Lake City Community College (454). Goldblatt finds Rousculp addressing tensions between progressive Freirean motives and her recognition that community members from a wide range of backgrounds would have personal reasons for writing that did not accord with the specific goals of the “sponsoring institution” (455). Although honoring these individual goals may seem antithetical to a social-epistemic approach, Goldblatt writes that the Center’s orientation remained deeply social because, in his view of Rousculp’s understanding, “individuals can only be seen within the web of their relationships to others” (456). Only when able to escape the constraints of the various institutions controliing their lives and select their own reasons for writing, Goldblatt posits, can individuals “exert agency” (456).

Sondra Perl’s On Austrian Soil depicts a teaching experience in which she worked with native Austrian writers to explore the legacy of the country’s Nazi past. Stating that he connects Perl not so much with early expressivism as with the origins of the process movement (458), Goldblatt notes her interest in the “personal, even bodily, experience of composing” (457). In his view, her experience in Austria, though painful in many ways, highlights the ways in which students’ emotional positioning, which can both inspire and limit their ability to write, must often become a teacher’s focus (458). Moreover, Goldblatt stresses, the learning both for individuals and the group arose from the shared emotions, as Perl connects what she called each student’s “wonderful uniqueness” (qtd. in Goldblatt 459) with “the socially oriented responsibility” of ethical behavior (459).

Goldblatt hopes for an understanding within composition of how a sophisticated approach to expressivism can infuse writing with the “intentionality, joy, seriousness, and intimacy available in the act of writing” (461). He worries that the writing-about-writing agenda “elevates the study of writing over the experience of writing,” an agenda perhaps appropriate for more advanced writing majors but complicit in what he sees as higher education’s current “hostility toward intellectual play and exploration” in the service of completely managed institutional priorities. He proposes that recognizing the power of expressivism can fuel compositionists’ hopes that students will embrace writing:

Without an urgency that is felt as personal, a writer will always be looking to the teacher, the boss, the arbiter for both permission to begin and approval to desist. (461)


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Scott, Tony. “Unseeing” political economies in composition. CCC, Sept. 2016. Posted 10/27/2016.

Scott, Tony. “Subverting Crisis in the Political Economy of Composition.” College Composition and Communication 68.1 (2016): 10-37. Print.

In a special issue of College Composition and Communication on the impact of economics on writing education, Tony Scott examines the impact on composition studies of a disconnect between scholarship and practice. Scott argues that this disconnect has its roots in the prevalence in the current culture of “neoliberalism,” a mindset in which economic forces promote a permanent climate of fear and crisis. This climate relies on fear to facilitate the privatization of areas of daily life that were once part of the social and political domain.

To understand how norms of fear and crisis influence writing education, Scott recommends the use of “political economics study” (12). This methodology “examine[s] dynamic relationships between political processes, institutions, work, affordances, and everyday assumptions, relations, and behaviors” (12). It seeks to understand “how particulars relate to whole ecologies” (12).

As an illustration of how political economics influences relations between the particular and the whole, Scott adopts the metaphor of “unseeing” from China Mieville’s novel The City and the City, which depicts two populations living in immediate proximity to each other without “seeing” each other and recognizing the differences that define them (11). In Scott’s view, scholarship in composition “unsee[s]” the material conditions on which it depends and with which it co-exists (29).

Scott cites sociologist William Davies, for whom neoliberalism functions through “the pursuit of disenchantment of politics by economics” (15; emphasis original). This disenchantment takes the form of “direct, government-facilitated, private sector intervention into public services and social domains” (13). In such an economic environment, “market logics” and the view that markets can recognize and facilitate the most effective measures in all areas of daily life become the norm (14). Scott cites composition scholarship dating back to arguments by John Trimbur in 1991 that writing education risks succumbing to privatization because of factors like its reliance on powerless contingent labor and the size of the market it offers to for-profit enterprise (14).

According to Scott, neoliberalism promotes crisis in order to suggest that only the technocratic expertise of market experts and economists can re-establish stability. He contrasts the “classically modern model” of economic cycles, in which periods of stability rotate with downturns that will be corrected through innovation and critique (27), with neoliberalism’s need for a “perpetual” sense of “competitive uncertainty” in which “precarity” imposed by the elimination of various social support systems guarantees that individuals will see themselves as isolated, beset, and in need of a competitive edge, especially in monetary terms (28).

In this view, the resulting constant call for austerity attenuates social structures while empowering technocrats who argue that market forces are best positioned to control crises (28). An overall effect, Scott contends, is that neoliberal solutions to crisis supersede “more fundamental critique and change” that might challenge “status quo free market capitalism” (28).

Scott contends that composition studies has accepted the pervasiveness of crisis, citing its prominence in recent conference agendas, for example, the theme of “Risk and Reward” at the 2015 Conference on College Composition and Communication. Scott argues, however, that such agendas provide “no explicit identification of what people fear or why” (20; emphasis original). Crisis begins to look like “its own exigency” (20).

Through an examination of arguments by scholars like Bruce Horner and Elizabeth Wardle, Scott locates the power of this mindset in debates about the role and value of disciplinarity. In his 1991 discussion, Trimbur worried that professionalization and academic status would lead compositionists to become “deeply implicated in the reward system, division of labor, and meritocratic order that have privatized literacy” (qtd. in Scott 13). Scott sees Trimbur’s concern borne out in the ongoing “exchange value” of publication and research (19). In Scott’s view, this meritocratic impulse has increasingly led to the isolation and disempowerment of scholars and experts in writing education, whose authority, Scott maintains, threatens the incursion of private forces into public domains (21). Although graduate students continue to receive the “official” curriculum that promotes ideas, theory, and theory-driven research, this work constructs scholars as “self-entrepreneurs” (18) at the same time that, in Horner’s words, they are

increasingly losing control over the means to the production of knowledge—now accomplished in ‘partnership’ with business and industry—and its circulation, in publications and in teaching” (qtd. in Scott 21).

Scott argues that graduate students simultaneously receive an “‘unofficial’ education” as they experience teaching as TAs and contingent faculty (18-19). The importance of this distinction, for Scott, is that the scholarship that provides exchange value in composition does not “see” the material landscape in which teaching actually occurs. This dissociation leaves the everyday practice of teaching open to the introduction of more and more commercial influence as technocratic ways of providing and measuring learning, for example through competency-based assessment, steadily remove teachers from the learning equation (17).

Scott’s premise is that scholarly conversations about the direction of composition often do not recognize how the material circumstances in which the scholarly ideas must be enacted are not configured to accommodate those ideas. For example, while characterizing Byron Hawk’s proposal that composition studies should “recover vitalism” in order to create “new ways of seeing invention and pedagogy,” Scott expresses concern that Hawk’s “study makes almost no mention of composition’s institutional contexts or terms of labor” (23).

Similarly, he sees in Sidney I. Dobrin’s proposal that writing studies divest itself of responsibility for pedagogy a path toward irrelevance. Scott contends that composition’s connection to pedagogy provides the support apparatus for research like Dobrin’s, which, without grounding in a realistic view of political economy, would appeal only to “a small, cloistered realm of rhetorical scholars” (24). Scott cites Wardle to point out that composition further endangers its authority through the use of non-credentialed teachers like graduate students, suggesting to policy makers that expertise is not needed to teach writing (21, 22).

Thus, Scott argues, composition scholars seem preoccupied with the crisis embodied by austerity and precarity but have not adequately come to grips with what is happening in classrooms as market forces take over teaching.

Composition does need disruptive new ideas, and those ideas can be fundamentally transforming when they engage composition work at the ground-level economies where it is actually being performed. (29)

Scott recommends more research on the effects of commercial software like plagiarism-detection programs and attention to the outsourcing attendant on increasing globalization, but he also advocates the development of pedagogies that unite teachers and scholars not only in promoting innovative ideas but also in implementing “the just, ethical work and learning environments that would need to be in place for them to be realized” (33).


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Blythe and Gonzales. Using Screencast Videos to Capture What Students Do. June CCC. Posted 09/08/2016.

Blythe, Stuart, and Laura Gonzales. “Coordination and Transfer across the Metagenre of Secondary Research.” College Composition and Communication 67.4 (2016): 607-33. Print.

Stuart Blythe and Laura Gonzales describe a study of students’ writing practices using screencast videos to record their activities. They hoped to shed light on the question of whether students “transfer” their learning in first-year writing classes to other contexts.

Five researchers recruited students from multiple sections of a cross-disciplinary biology course that met a university-wide requirement (610). Coordinating with the professor in charge of a large lecture section, the researchers distributed index cards to students in the smaller discussion sections, instructing students willing to participate in the study to provide contact information (612). Ultimately twelve students agreed to take part (613).

Blythe and Gonzales review studies by multiple scholars that find little or no evidence of transfer of first-year writing content, supporting Doug Brent’s “glass half-empty” interpretation of the issue of transfer (608). Along with Elizabeth Wardle, as well as Linda Adler-Kassner, John Majewski, and Damian Koshnick, Blythe and Gonzales posit that the learning involved in writing is difficult to research because it is non-linear and, according to Joseph Petraglia, does not yield to “‘well-structured’ formulas or algorithms” (qtd. in Blythe and Gonzales 608). The authors also propose that researchers may be handicapped by their use of “a limited set of methods” such as interviews and focus groups (608).

Blythe and Gonzales contend that their use of screen-capture technology improves on interviews because, unlike an interview, this method does not rely on memory or the interaction between the interviewer and interviewee but rather reveals what actually happens “in that moment” of actual composition (Raul Sanchez, qtd. in Blythe and Gonzales 613). The authors also state that, unlike think-aloud protocols, screencast videos do not add an unfamiliar, distracting element to students’ processes; they note that many students “reported forgetting that their work was being recorded” (614).

Students were instructed to upload three fifteen-minute videos over the course of their composition process (613). Each student then joined a researcher in an “artifact-based interview” designed to overcome the failure of the screencast process to record the student’s reasons for various choices (614).

In choosing the biology course for study, the researchers expected to analyze genres such as lab reports, but were surprised to find that “students were being asked to write arguments using published sources,” specifically involving the use of DDT to control malaria (610).

Citing Michael Carter’s use of the term metagenre to denote “ways of knowing and doing that cross disciplines” (610; emphasis original), Blythe and Gonzales locate the biology assignment in such a metagenre. Following Carter, the authors distinguish between “knowing that,” which designates “unique sets of knowledge” specific to each discipline, and “knowing how,” indicating “share[d] ways of knowing” (610). In this view, these “ways of knowing” constitute metagenres (610). Four metagenres listed by Carter are problem-solving, empirical inquiry, research from sources, and performance (610-11). The biology assignment falls into the cross-disciplinary metagenre of “research from sources.”

The software allowed the researchers to code thirty-six videos capturing student composing processes and to generate “visualizations” or graphs that recorded student movement among the texts they worked with as they wrote (614. 616). Major patterns in student processes emerged from this coding and from the interviews in which students affirmed the categorizations recognized by the researchers’ analysis (614).

Three major conclusions resulted. First, “[s]tudents select sources rhetorically” (615). Specifically, students chose sources that they thought would meet their instructors’ approval (622). Although they used Google to generate ideas and plan, they cited only information from library databases and Google Scholar, as specified by the assignment (623). In conducting searches, the students did not venture beyond the first entry in a results list and thus often cited the same sources (624).

The authors remark that:

Students were not concerned with learning about DDT and malaria as intended by the assignment guidelines. Instead, students used sources to constantly ensure they were meeting the assignment requirements in a way that would please their instructor. (622-23)

Second, “[s]tudents coordinate multiple texts” (615). The screen captures revealed that students moved rapidly among six different kinds of texts, for example, from their drafts to websites found on Google to the assignment rubric (618). They spent an average of 12.14 seconds on each type of text (619). The preferred process was to paste text from sources into the paper, reword it, then cite, resulting, in one student’s example, in the construction of the paper “sentence by sentence” through the search for “necessary piece[s] of information” (620).

While Blythe and Gonzales agree that pasting and rewording might constitute what Rebecca Moore Howard terms “patchwriting,” they contend that using what Shaun Slattery refers to as “textual coordination” to “find bits of text from multiple sources and rework them into a new text designed for a particular purpose” resembles the process followed by professional writers engaging with a topic on which they lack expertise (627). They cite Howard’s claim that this writing technique can be useful in “finding a way into” a new discourse (qtd. in Blythe and Gonzales 627). The authors argue, though, that students lack the social and professional networks that scholars like Stacey Pigg and Jason Swarts find underpinning the work of professional writers. Students relied on the assignment rubric for their understanding of the purpose and possibilities of their task (628).

Third, students do not generally credit their college writing courses for teaching them the skills they deem important in crafting a paper. All students in the study stated that they used strategies learned in high school; Blythe and Gonzales found that many relied on “adjusting the same basic structures” like the five-paragraph theme (625). First-year writing, according to this study, served as “another space in which they get to practice the writing strategies they learned earlier in their academic careers” (626). Such practice, students seemed to believe, contributed to improvements in their writing, but interviews suggested that their sense of how these improvements occurred was vague (626).

The authors close with recommendations that first-year-writing instruction can usefully focus on “expand[ing] the resources and networks” that can contribute to students’ writing processes, introducing them to “specialized communities or connections” (629). Blythe and Gonzales further suggest that transfer studies might attend more carefully to what Elizabeth Wardle calls “meta-awareness” about writing, particularly awarenesses that students bring to writing classes from prior experience (630).