Tingle and Self-Development

Nick Tingle’s
Self-Development and College Writing
(2004, SIU Press)
proposes a psychoanalytic stance on the "transitional space" of the
composition class.  Tingle’s argument leans heavily on Robert Kegan’s five orders
of consciousness–a quasi-Piagetian theory of stage-based psychological
development.  Phase one accounts for ages 2-6 (which, taken literally,
suggests pre-birth through the first twenty-four months of life are
non-conscious…discuss).  Tingle explains that some of the
discord felt between teachers and students can be attributed to our varied developmental
positions.  College-level writing students, in Tingle’s framework, match up with the third order of
consciousness (16), which is often defined by institutional forces and tends to
celebrate subjectivity (as in adolescence).  The fourth order in this model
accords with "’a qualitatively more complex system of organizing experience’"
(16); it is a more sophisticated order of self-truth that "somehow break[s] the
identifications of the self with its social roles" (17).  Tingle writes
that the modern university is designed to support students’ movement from the third
to the fourth order of consciousness, but because such moves involve
destabilization and "narcissistic wounding," the writing class might function to
enable and support.  Furthermore, writing teachers are often positioned at
the fourth order of consciousness (if not the fifth, which he correlates with
postmodernism (20)).  Teachers, therefore, must attend to their own
stage-orientation when defining viable writing projects and articulating
developmentally-appropriate expectations.  It can prove disastrous, in other
words, when fourth-order teachers presuppose their third-order students to be more
psychologically advanced.  Among the consequences: shame, embarrassment and humiliation (89).

In his discussion of selfobjects (citing Heinz Kohut)–"a person, place, thing or
activity that is conducive to a person’s sense of psychological stability or
centeredness, no matter how momentary or provisional" (8), Tingle seems to be
arguing for a more permissive relationship to language than is commonly
available, a relationship supportive of students’ affective attachments to
selfobjects. Explicitly questioning selfobjects can be
unsettling, and this unsettling happens across the university curriculum. 
It should be undertaken with considerable caution, according to Tingle.

After he frames the psychoanalytical theories to support his project, Tingle
works through a series of specific applications in chapters 2-4:  an
anxiety-producing unit on biodiversity through which students struggle with
scientific discourse (c. 2), a critique of Donna Qualley (self-reflexivity) and
David Bartholomae (transitioning into the academy) on the grounds of becoming
what you are not (there are psychological implications, T. explains, and he
doesn’t accept that entering the academy requires one to conform, to parade
false selves (c. 3)), and a lesson he learned about allowing for affective
attachment and subjective responses from students in a writing assignment he
devised around Stoicism–specifically Epictetus’ The Enchiridion (c. 4).

So far, I’ve tried only to describe what Tingle does in this project rather
than my response to it.  We’re reading it for a course in methodology, and,
depending on the degree of generality, I can imagine saying that Tingle is doing
several ambitious and complicated things at once.  In simplified terms, one
question, I would say, stems from his interest in the breakdown between teachers
and students (why do they write lousy summaries? (c.2), why do teachers feel
personally slighted when students bash selections for reading? (c. 3), and why
would a student revert to the safe domain of personal anecdotes and highly
subjective/personal claims following more a more daring critique of assigned
reading? (c.4)).  Each of these anchors a chapter in this short book, and I
would say that Tingle does reasonably well to develop thoughtful and instructive
ways of responding to each question making use of psychoanalytic theory. 
The book closes with clear emphasis on allowing and encouraging the use of "I."
My struggle in all of this, however, is that I’m skeptical of the orders of
consciousness.  They’re just too clinical, too diagnostic, too teleological
and too classificatory to hold up when we broaden the lens on development to a
more varied group of students or when we open onto the blended developmental
domains enveloping the institution.  What if, for instance, students of the
fifth order are mixed in with students of the third order?  What happens
when those teetering between orders 3 and 4 interact with others who are
clinging–the result of recovering from destabilization–to order three? 
Or when a batch of essays comes in, some from consciousness 3.0 and some from
consciousness 4.0? 

I don’t want to go too far with negative responses, but I do want to leave a
few crumbs on the trail suited to later retracing.  I wondered about
micro-development and developmental error (what constitutes a full shift from
3.0 to 4.0? is the shift ever complete?  are we constantly waxing between
orders of consciousness? or is the most agile consciousness symptomatic of 5.0–pomo?). 
I also thought about Tingle’s use of embodiment and the new media notion
of enframing (bc I’m looking at Hansen right now too).  And I thought the
project tipped cynical on technologies (8, 149) and also on the developmental
aspects of recreational facilities (152).  

A few terms: extrospection (63), transitional space (4), extreme transition (48),
academic irrelevance (149)

To end, here are two passages that I found interesting for different reasons. 
Again because I’m simultaneously reading into Hansen, the idea of tour-able
objects sparked a few ideas.  Digital images, enframing and the body’s
indeterminacy (as the nexus where all information is contending, I guess?) all
twist the real/imaginary distinction set up here, in Tingle’s summary of Sartre:

In The Psychology of the Imagination, Sartre argues that we are able
to take a tour of a real object.  I see this tree as a real tree and am
aware that I am situated relative to it so that I can see only one side of the
tree; to see the real thing, I must tour it and walk around the tree.  As I
walk around the tree, I see it as a series of profiles.  Moreover, relative
to the real thing, as we tour it, Sartre says, we may experience surprise. 
We may be surprised for example that one side of the tree has been struck by
lightning or another side covered with moss.  The real object Sartre
contrasts with the imaginary object, a "tree," say, constructed in imagination. 
One cannot, he says, be surprised by an imaginary object; further he argued one
can learn nothing from an image, because our knowledge of it is there all at
once and put there by our imagination (8-14). (71)

And this, a passage of student writing cited by Tingle reminded me of Sirc’s
bread-only comp.  Stuffed birds…heh.  Reading Freire with the
children of bankers.  Oy.

I know you [the teacher] think Freire is hot stuff and has something to say
or otherwise you probably wouldn’t have assigned it.  I, however, think
what he has to say sucks.  Everything he says and most of what you said in
class too suggest to me that all of the education I had in high school was a
waste of my time.  I have been stuffed like a little birdie.  Well, I
wonder what Mr. Cranston, my favorite teacher would have to say.  He was a
good guy and not a bird stuffer.  As far as I am concerned, Freire is
insulting Mr. Cranston.  Don’t get me wrong.  I am not going to say
any of this (mostly because I am not conscious of any of it).  I am going
to try to write your damn essay and I will "respond" to Freire but I am going to
do it my way.  Oh, and by the way, my father is a BANKER. (87)


  1. You might want to check out the review essay at the end of the latest College English. It deals with Tingle’s book (and two others) in terms of autobiography and composition scholarship.

  2. Thanks for the lead Jeff. I’ll try to have a look at the review before class meets tomorrow. Our reading as framed for the course was casting nets for theory and method, but it’s an interesting turn to see his project as autobiography. As autobiography it might mix in with what you wrote the other day about Corder and Macrorie.

  3. I’m going to have to read this, I see. I’ve always been fascinated by developmental models. They’re kind of like racialized stereotypes: they may be based on verifiable observation of individual members of the set, but when they’re applied to other members of the set in question, their outcome is mostly harmful. Yet they are seductive. So I keep reading developmental models (Piaget, Kohlberg, and most horrifying, Perry, William G., Jr. “Examsmanship and the Liberal Arts.” Examining in Harvard College: A Collection of Essays by Members of the Harvard Faculty. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP, 1963.), and I keep rejecting ’em. Maybe Tingle’s will have a different effect on me.

  4. Well, among the pluses is that it’s a quick read. I think there’s some value (some would call it negligible, of course) in developmental models. Tingle is heavy on Kegan, Kohut and Winnicot; he does very little with Piaget other than including the name in this list of those commonly associated with the stage theories of cognitive-psychological-social development. James Williams’ review in the November CE points out some of the rough spots, too, including the problems of how little Tingle explains/complicates “narcissistic wounding” and the lack of context/background about other efforts in comp/rhet to adopt psychoanalytic approaches. So it’s an interesting read for a few reasons, and yet I’d also attach a handful of qualifications and caveats with any recommendations to read it.

  5. Thanks folks for reading Self-Development; thanks too for pointing out problems with it. I was not clear about the application of the stages; yes, in one room one could have students at different stages and applying a single mode to all could be damaging. But I would expect, excepting cases of pretty severe damage, most people in a classroom are pretty much at the third stage. The stage of “common sense,” the stage in which common sense of taken for “reality.” The move to the 4th order requires stepping out of that at least momentarily. Maybe that answers another question. I think people go back and forth between the levels depending on the situation. Mostly we live in the third order, that of common sense, but one can develop the capacity to “rise” to modernist consciousness. And most of us who have gone any distance in the educational system can do it without much thinking about it.

    I would like to say something about the review in CE because, while I think you folks ask significant and interesting questions about SD, I felt that Williams’ review distorted the book. He uses my it, as well as the other two in his review, to make some sort of point in the debate in comp. studies between the social scientists and those who think also of composition as an ethical enterprise (deeply embedded in the politics of the institution). My book simply is not about that; I wasn’t interested in situating the book relative to comp. studies. I was trying to write a book that fellow teachers might read that might give them a way to think about some of the problems one confronts in the classroom. That’s one reason it’s short.That’s why too I tried to write as honestly as I could about my trials and tribulations as a teacher. I wanted to suggest that teaching can be “narcissitically wounding” also for the teacher, and hoped that his/her awareness of this fact might help instructors understanding the kinds of destablization students might undergo as they move into the educational system.

    Bulldog rightfully notes that I knock recreational fascilities. Probably it was a stupid remark but I was thinking of the way schools now advertise themselves, not on the basis of learning, but on the basis of their fascilities. Certainly recreational fascilities have developmental possibilities

    Thank you for the questions you raise. They give me things to think about–maybe something for a clarificatory article or book or something. So I would appreciate hearing anything else you might have to say.

    Also I will get a hold the Hansen book. It sounds interesting.


  6. That’s a good point about the CE review, Nick. In places it did seem to build up a critique of what might’ve been (comparison without comparables). Williams’ question about comp scholarship borrowing and appropriating lenses and knowledges that are (more neatly) associated with other disciplines is perhaps one of the most enduring questions for the field.

    One of the difficulties I had with the notion of levels or orders of consciousness is what I would prefer to call fluctuation–a kind of fluidity or waviness that would allow consciousness of students and teachers to shift and morph more radically, from moment to moment. It might be that this sort of variability matches with the fifth order of consciousness (pomo). But it would be interesting to explore the question of what happens when third- or fourth-order teachers interact with fifth-order students (or what would happen if we admitted a more wildstyle or fragmented consciousness to the third order).

  7. Derrick, seems sort of like two questions there. Within the immediate of the classroom I think there is a good deal of fluctuation in the diverse subjectivities operating at the moment. It’s hard to see though because students are playing at being students and teachers are busy being teachers. The authority structure produces relatively specific ways of being. Students, trying at least occasionally to concentrate, tend to push out thoughts or feelings or modes of consciousness that don’t fit what they take to be the situation. Things leak to the surface though in looks of boredom, fits of yawning, going stone faced. I look out and right in front of me as I am trying to make a point a young woman is doing a cross word puzzle. I am not too troubled though because she told me that doing a puzzle helps her to concentrate in class; she sorts of slides in and out of the class. I think of the puzzle as a sort of soothing mechanism for anxieties raised by the class maybe, or by other things. So I do think there is fragmentation too in the classroom though I am pretty sure this isn’t what you mean by the wild consciousness of the fifth order.

  8. Hi, I’d like to join this conversation. When I picked Self-Development as one of the three books we’d read for the theory section of the methods course, I did so for at least two reasons — one, I was moved by the idea of narcissistic wounding and Kohut’s ‘demoralizing’ of the narcissism and arguing that narcissistically satisfying relations are essential to the stability of the self. I think that narcissitic wounding — related to the social emotions of shame and humiliation — explains a lot of what happens in classrooms. I’m especially interested in how shame and desire are linked in discussions about diversity in classes — that is, how the desire to know about others, to relate to others, to locate oneself in relation to others, is deep and important, and so the possibility of mispeaking or saying the wrong thing is always there, always opening up the possiblity of shame, or a breach in the relationship. The idea of narcissistic wounding seems helpful here. The other reason I picked the book is that it is very hard to draw from a huge and complex scholarly tradition like psychoanalysis, explain key concepts to readers who might not know enough, and then use those concepts to read classroom events and student work and teacher struggle. I think Self-Development does a pretty good job of it, and I think Williams’ review is problematic, almost an intentional misreading of the book, forcing it into an argument he wants to make and defensively claiming that good teachers (apparently like himself) would never feel things like wounding and rage.

  9. I am glad that SDCW packs enough wallop to be used in a graduate methods class.

    Margeret pretty much hits the nail on the head with her mention of narcissism. That�s the most important part of the book for me. Kegan and his levels of consciousness gave me something relatively recognizable upon which to hang my more psychoanalytic theory of self development. I am glad that I did a pretty good job of using the psychoanalytic concepts in illuminating ways. That would mean that I did accomplish pretty much what I set out to do. That�s what the editor of the series wanted: a relatively clear introduction to a psychoanalytic way of talking about pedagogy in the writing course.

    But that was hard. Psychoanalysis is hugely complex; I actually know quite a bit about it. In every draft of the book, though, I had to cut and cut at the more arcane and jargon laden theoretical stuff in an effort to pin the concepts to more experiential matters. Still, I didn�t get it all in. In spite of what I tried to do a number of readers still think I am talking about �pathological� narcissism; or narcissistic personality disorder. I was trying to talk about �normal� narcissism. By that I mean the not so hidden desire to live in and to �create� an environment more or less responsive to one�s needs, wants, ideals, and ambitions. But frequently the environment does not respond to, mirror, or affirm one�s ideals or ambitions; the result is narcissistic wounding or what Winnicott calls �disillusionment.�

    So assisting a student into the move into modernist thought is tricky. One wants to avoid shaming, embarrassing, humiliating, or generally de-stabilizing the student. At the same time without a degree of destabilization the student would remain where he or she is. Depending on the stability of the student�s self, wounding can be good; it may be a form of what Kohut calls �optimal frustration.� With optimal frustration, the student might come to temper his or her narcissism in realistic ways. The belief for example that one�s beliefs are actually out there somehow in the world and all one does in expressing one�s beliefs is represent the real is itself a very narcissistically charged relation at the level of ideation to reality. The student who comes to challenge this belief may experience wounding but also liberation as he or she becomes more responsible for his or her beliefs as beliefs.

    But that�s enough for now.


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