Pemberton, Michael A. "Modeling Theory and Composing Process Models." CCC
44.1 (1993): 40-58.
Pemberton examines models in composition studies by taking into
account Flower and Hayes’ cognitive process model of writing and its mixed
reception. In one sense, then, this essay is an account of uptake.
But there’re more. Pemberton opens up many generative, provocative
questions about the status of modeling in rhetoric and composition. He
works through a stasis of definition (what are models?) and explains some
of the givens (models simplify) and assumptions (models are
mechanistic and positivistic; they are "partial isomorphs" of any complex
phenomena) that have inhibited the production and circulation of models in the
To demonstrate the range of possible critiques of models, Pemberton cites
Duhem, who argued against models because they weren’t positivistic enough; on
the other end of a spectrum, he refers to critics of Flower and Hayes’ models
who disclaimed them because they were too positivistic. This would
indicate a full range of critical and evaluative treatments that is not
explicitly tied to the activity of inventing models. Such critiques,
perhaps, are more common when models are scarce or when their persuasive
viability is undermined by their hybridity (as they often mix the
discursive and non-discursive, the visual and the abstract, bridge the
theoretical and its basis in data).
The essay is divided into seven sections: Opening, Models as Conceptual
Frameworks (42), What Constitutes a Model? (44), Models as
Simplifications (47), Models as Misleading Representations (48),
Implications for Theory and Composition Discourse (52), Conclusions
(54). Even though this is a follow-up to Flower and Hayes’ model
(addressing, very generally: what has come of the modeling of writing behaviors
in the wake of Flower and Hayes?), it expands well beyond that moment by adding
a layer (turning to the meta of modeling practices, modeling theory).
Where models are treated as critical frameworks, Pemberton provides the
Data – – – Models – – – Theories – – – Paradigms
His point with this is that each of the elements are "hierarchical,"
"interdependent," and "contiguous." Of course, even as they potentially bridge
data and theories, models (when they are scarce and monumental, as with Flower
and Hayes’) are easy targets for critique. Simplification and
misrepresentation are hazards (and exceedingly common bases for critique), as
Pemberton rightly points out, but these should not prevent us from learning to
make models, from using models to persuade and to mobilize (as Latour
Returns: terminological confusion related to "models" (44b), subject
and source for a model as relates to Kuhn’s ‘preferred analogy‘
(45b), the principle of selection (research is always reductive
and limiting (48)) (46b), Emig’s inquiry paradigm (model as… or
method as…) (54c).
Also work through Berthoff’s critique of reductionism. How can visual
models be abstract? General vs. abstract // study vs. sting (Barthes)…power
of expansion and third meaning? (47b)
Pemberton ends the essay with a series of questions that, should we take up
the work of modeling, we ought to sort through, address, etc.
Phrases: positivism (40), composing processes (41), paradigms (41), empirical
scholarship (41), theory-building (41), modeling theory (42), conceptual
frameworks (42), distillation of data (44), ‘possibility’ proofs (45), Kuhn’s
‘preferred analogy’ (45), partial isomorphs (45), mechanistic (46),
simplifications (47), incompleteness (53).
"To Duhem, meaningful understanding was intimately linked to scientific
rigor, mathematical exactitude, and representational precision; since models
were simplifications, their descriptions were unreliable and their utility
questionable at best. In an age when positivism had not yet been
supplanted as the dominant ideology guiding scientific inquiry, Duhem criticized
models for their failure to be positivistic enough" (40)."
"Comparatively little attention has been paid, however, to the issue of
modeling in composition studies, despite its central role in the
interpretation of research data and the sheer number of models which exist to
describe writing behaviors" (42).
"Before we can accurately interpret, evaluate, or employ any model of
composing processes–or fully understand how several such models can coexist–we
must be thoroughly informed with the knowledge of exactly what a model is, how
it can be used effectively, and what its limitations are" (42).
Significant here is Pemberton’s mention of thresholds for coexisting models.
How many can we have? Why not x+1? How many are too many? When they are
dynamic and abundant rather than static and scarce, how is their intervention
(or bridging between data and theory) different?
"The interdependence of these conceptual frameworks is reciprocal, operating
in both a ‘bottom-up’ and ‘top-down’ fashion" (42).
"The terms ‘subject’ and ‘source’ can therefore be used to characterize the
nature of the modeling relationship. We can assert, for instance, that any
subject we wish to model–be it a tangible artifact or an intangible
process–has a finite set of properties whose precise number is bounded, in
part, by our ability to perceive and identify them" (45). Finitude?
"In addition, the model itself–or more properly speaking, the preferred
analogy which is used to shape the model–will embody a number of intrinsic
properties that do not properly belong to the subject being modeled" (45). See
Wood, The Power of Maps, c. 5 and Monmonier, How to Lie with Maps,
on generalization (rel. to abstraction).
"We must be careful, therefore, to guard against the urge to dismiss,
preemptively, the value of a model merely because it contains imperfections"
"The moment we decide what we want to investigate and how we want to conduct
our research, we automatically delimit our field of inquiry and define its
"As I have already discussed the nature of such critiques, I will not belabor
the issue further than to reiterate the point that incompleteness is an
unavoidable epistemological weakness common to all models and all methods of
data collection" (53).
"Researchers need to address questions such as: What are my methodological
assumptions? What factors are likely to be included or excluded by my mode of
inquiry? What assumptions shape the way I make my observations and interpret
data? How are my representations likely to simplify writing processes, and how
are they likely to misinterpret them? How to the epistemic tenets which ground
my model compare with or connect to the tenets that ground the models of
Black, Max. Models and Metaphors. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1962.
Emig, Janet. "Inquiry Paradigms and Writing." CCC 33 (Feb. 1982): 64-75.
Lauer, Janice. "Heuristics and Composition." CCC 23 (Dec. 1970): 396-404.