Phelps, Louise Wetherbee.
"The Domain of Composition." Rhetoric Review 4 (1986):
Phelps frames the field of composition studies by identifying its domain, a
term she uses both as "a scene of action" and also "a space one controls."
Tracing through each of these senses of "domain," Phelps accounts for the field
in 1986 by moving through three sections: I. Core; II. Margins; and, III.
Vision. A disciplinary domain, according to Phelps, has these elements: "a group
of inquirers, a characteristic attitude toward phenomena, the objects of inquiry
themselves, the means of inquiry, its purposes, and scenic factors" (2).
Because written discourse is central to our work, compositionists themselves
become entangled with their research; teaching, after all, depends upon symbolic
action not only as an object of study, but as a kind of activity. Phelps
acknowledges the uses of "performance" to describe what happens when reading
writing texts; she explains the tension between naturalistic views of language
view it as best left to its own developmental trajectories and, on the other
hand, school-directed approaches to literacy education that adopt "skill" as a
way to account for the "indeterminate and fluctuating" competencies that range
between experts and non-experts. She also points out that "some of the
linguistic, cognitive, and social knowledge needed to coordinate [reading and
writing] activities must be studied consciously before it can become tacit in
use" (7). In discussing the margins or borders of composition studies with
other disciplines, Phelps calls for "syntopical research" (15). The core
of composition studies as she accounts for it here is oriented "to
symbolic interaction and from development" (14).
"My object is to push outward from the expanding conceptual core of the
domain, defined in terms of symbolic action, to its margins, where composition
encounters other disciplines and recognizes its own limits" (2).
"[Shoptalk] offers a vocabulary of distinctions among such concepts as
technique, skill, strategy, tactics, craft, art, know-how, and knowledge" (8).
"Recent research has submitted this idea [production w/o consideration of
reading or consumption] of writing to a critique and moves toward integrating
the writer’s composing act into a more comprehensive notion of written discourse
as a complex social process by which discoursers co-construct meaning" (3).
"That is to say, written discourse as symbolic action can only be understood
ecologically, in terms of its rich interactions among acts, meanings, and
reality, rather than by a reduction of its texture to ideal elements and rules"
"event psychology" (17), "natural attitude" (6), "personal development" (9),
"keyed" (Goffman) (13), "literacy as a power to act in the world" (10), "a
network of primary discourse acts" (13)
- Related sources:
- Burke, Language as Symbolic Action, UCalifornia Press, 1968.
- Vygotsky, Thought and Language. Alex Kozulin, ed. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1986.