Cooper, “The Ecology of Writing”

Marilyn. "The Ecology of Writing." College English
48.4 (1986). 364-375.

Setting out from Hairston’s 1982 embrace of "a process-centered theory of
teaching writing" to "process, not product," what happens when writers write has
been reduced, hazardously, to a simplistic cognitive process. The cognitive
process model idealizes the solitary author, isolating the author from
the social world. Cooper emphasizes a social turn: language is essentially

Ecology does not equal context, which, read through
Burke’s pentad, concerns individual language acts. An ecologist, on the other
hand, takes into account the systemic effects of writing.
Ecological systems are "inherently dynamic" (368). The systems are
(distinguishable) and also interwoven. Intimacy and
power are two determinants of the interactions between writers.
Ecological systems are also moderated by cultural norms and textual

Cooper introduces the primary metaphor for ecological systems: the web.
She begins to discuss audience in terms of such a model. Audience becomes
real in an ecological model.

Terms: "writing theory" (365c), tyranny of the solitary author ideal (366),
writing as a "way of acting" (373).

"Like all theoretical models, the cognitive process model projects an
ideal image
, in this case an image of a writer that, transmitted through
writing pedagogy, influences our attitudes and the attitudes of our
students toward writing" (365).

"Such changes in writing pedagogy indicate that the perspective allowed by
the dominant model has again become too confining" (366).

"What I would like to propose is an ecological model of writing, whose
fundamental tenet is that writing is an activity through which a person is
continually engaged with a variety of socially constituted systems
" (367).

"Thus, though the grammar allows one to assign labels to important aspects of
a situation, it does not enable one to explain how the situation is causally
to other situations" (368).

"An ecologist explores how writers interact to form systems:
all the characteristics of any individual writer or piece of writing both
determine and are determined by the characteristics of all other writers and
writings in the system" (368).

"The systems are not given, not limitations on writers; instead they
are made and remade by writers in the act of writing" (368).

"As should be obvious, the perspective of the ecological model offers a
salutary correction
of vision on the question of audience" (371). It
renders audience real rather than imagined–the outcropping of a mental

"Writing, thus, is seen to be both constituted by and constitutive of these
ever-changing systems, systems through which people relate as complete, social
beings, rather than imaging each other as remote images: an author, an
audience" (373).