Hesse, Douglas. “Journals in Composition Studies, Thirty-Five Years After.” College English 81.4 (2019): 367-96. Print.
Douglas Hesse surveys journals in rhetoric and composition as of summer 2018. Among his goals is to examine changes in the field as evidenced in the journals based on a comparison with a similar list compiled by Robert J. Connors in 1984.
Connors’s original list contained fifteen journals; Hesse’s considers forty-five “identified presently or historically with composition studies,” using as a “foundation” the journals on Connors’s list (369). Hesse recounts locating lists of journals from such sources as recommendations for graduate students; he examines publication histories and tables of contents for listed journals and selects journals for his survey based on criteria of “centrality,” such as being included on multiple lists, and “diverse directions and interests,” which leads to the inclusion of more specialized journals dealing with ongoing interests and trends in the changing field (369).
Among the challenges of Hesse’s project was determining which journals “count” as belonging in rhetoric and composition (370). For example, he states, not all “rhetorical criticism” addresses issues related to the teaching of writing, even though scholars within the field may cite journals with this focus. Hesse excludes journals focusing on visual communication, as well as those more attuned to business and technical communication and to creative writing because, in his view, “these fields increasingly have become . . . distinct from composition studies” (370). Connors excluded Quarterly Journal of Speech, and Hesse follows this lead (370).
For a “subset” of articles examined more closely, Hesse counted articles and pages in articles, a task requiring him to decide how to define “article.” Ultimately, inclusions like book reviews and editors’ introductions were not counted as articles (371).
At the outset, Hesse notes “the increased density of citation,” which he attributes to the increased availability of information within the maturing field (371). He argues as well that electronic access means that the accumulation of a full set of hard copies of prestigious journals no longer indicates “a symbolic means of identification, even consubstantiation, with disciplinary conversations” or an indication of authority (368).
A first section addresses what Hesse calls the “[e]stablished [n]eighborhood,” which includes the twelve journals from Connors’s list that are still extant and still relevant to composition (376). These include major NCTE offerings such as College English, College Composition and Communication (CCC), and Research in the Teaching of English. Hesse also analyzes “established neighborhood” selections like Composition Studies (378) and Teaching English in the Two-Year College (379), as well as WPA: Writing Program Administration, which had just assumed journal status as of Connors’s study and indicated a shift toward professionalization of WPA work (380-81). Two journals on the foundation list address writing-center issues (379-80).
In the process, Hesse notes reductions in membership rates for NCTE, as well as the institution of a small fee for journal subscriptions, which he speculates may mean that composition scholars now choose specific journals more in keeping with their interests (376). He also notes a shift in several cases from a focus on classroom practices to writing as an object of study in itself, for example in CCC and similarly in Composition Studies, which was once Freshman English News but has since dropped that subtitle (377-78).
Hesse’s evidence also suggests that edited books have taken over some of the roles of journals and that emerging journals covering more diverse interests are less likely to be published by professional organizations like NCTE (381).
For Hesse, journals that have come, and in some cases gone, since Connors’s study constitute “new writing studies neighborhoods” (381). The publications examined suggest that as composition became a more distinct discipline, interests ranged beyond first-year writing and “canonical texts and genres” to more diverse and broader areas (381). Hesse examines journals addressing writing across the curriculum and a number of offerings that deal with technology and writing (382). Computers and Composition and Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy both request submissions that are not bound to print traditions (383). In the 1990s, Hesse reports, these journals invited the question of the value of online publication for tenure and promotion committees. That so much publication now does occur online means, for Hesse, that “the question has obviously been settled,” although, in his view, print as “embodied in the pdf” remains a “default design” (384).
He examines recent journals with an empirical bent like The Journal of Writing Research and Assessing Writing, opening in the process the issue of competing methodologies in writing studies: journals that feature empirical studies, he writes, rely on a social-sciences model, while others choose more qualitative, “humantistic” models emphasizing textual analysis or interpretation (384). Hesse reports that the more empirically oriented journals tend to have an international focus (385, 392). A wider range of methodologies as well as an international approach characterizes the “leading empirical research journal in composition studies for years,” Written Communication (385). Hesse determines that empirical research “is not very sexy to the field’s mainstream” (392).
Other new neighborhoods explored by Hesse include publications dealing with narrower areas like “community-engaged writing” and responding to writing (386). Writing on the Edge sponsors creative non-fiction and interviews with prominent writers (387). Hesse notes a trend toward “narrative and the personal essay” in several mainstream journals and suggests that these inclusions may become more common (387).
Noting that he could discuss many more examples given enough space, Hesse concludes that the “fragmentation” Connors predicted (388) has occurred, with a resulting “erosion of an informational commons” (389). Of concern for both is the possibility that the “fraternity and consubstantiality” once extant in the field might no longer pertain (Connors, qtd. in Hesse 393). Hesse posits that the wish for a more unified field might be an elitist sentiment, with the proliferation of areas a sign of a mature discipline (393).
Hesse proposes other trends, including a rift between attention to classroom practice and rhetorical scholarship (392-93), and a turn to the politics both of power versus literacy and of composition itself, although he argues that on the whole, publications are “mostly talking about writers and writing” despite their differing bents (391).
A discussion of strategies for sustainability as new journals emerge (390-91) dovetails with concerns about the future of academia in general and Hesse’s sense that the traditional gatekeeping function of journals is valuable (389-90). As a product of care and attention to quality, Hesse contends, a peer-reviewed journal with its longer production times and enhanced scrutiny
demonstrates faith in continuity, an ongoing act of passing the present forward, confident this issue’s articles will bend the field for better, however scantly—and so will the next. (393)