Comp Theory Week 3 pt. 3

More boring schoolwork. Notes on:

“Is There Life after Process? The Role of Social Scientism in a Changing Dicipline” by Joseph Petraglia. Post-Process Theory: Beyond the Writing Process Paradigm. Ed. Thomas Kent. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1999.

“Early Work on Composing: Lessons and Illuminations” by Sondra Perl. History, Reflection, and Narrative: The Professionalization of Compositon 1963-1983 1999.

Petraglia’s article is the best I’ve read so far. It cuts to the core of process studies as an outgrowth of social-scientism, contrasting both the new and old flavors. The role of research is discussed, only as the shift from theorizing about process into thick descriptions, or ethnographies, which constitute a marginalized role in rhetorical pedagogy. Research, for Petraglia, is work of a purely theoretical nature regarding cognitive processes which have little in the way of direct application in classroom pedagogy. I really must agree. While this method of enquiry is of great use in the social sciences, I don’t feel it has much to do with writing. Exploration of process, for Petraglia, signifies a dead end.

Sociocognitive and other strands of post-process research are more likely to suggest the ways in which the enterprise of composition is misguided and why the explicit teaching of writing— as a rhetorical production— is a losing proposition.

Petraglia argues for a re-assessment of writing instruction which focuses on production. Instead, Petraglia proposes that writing instruction should focus on the development of rhetorical sensitivity teaching students to be better informed consumers of rhetoric. I agree with this wholeheartedly; the mysteries of process belong in psychology. The ability to perceive rhetorical strategies is perhaps the greatest aid in the production of effective rhetoric. Process theory seems like snake oil to me.

I enjoyed the Perl article because she admits to her poorly constructed experiments, and even cites her detractors: “an impure method birthing a bastard knowledge.” Perl provides a deeper context for her assumptions, the assumptions that fueled her experimental design. As I read her earlier articles, I saw that she was destined to find exactly what she was looking for, and the expanded transcripts of this article confirm that. I find it useful to think of how the boundaries of scientific knowledge are failing all around us, and am not surprised by the failure of a “scientific” study of rhetoric. No structure is adequate to describe creativity. I am not looking forward to the exploration of cognitive theory, which I feel has little application to the teaching of rhetoric.