Fulkerson, “Composition at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century”

Fulkerson, Richard.
"Summary and Critique: Composition at the Turn of the Twenty-first
Century." CCC 56.4 (2005): 654-687.

Fulkerson’s ten-year follow-up to earlier reports on the condition
of composition studies
concludes with premonitions about the field’s
and the "new theory wars" (681). As a "map [of] a
large and complicated region" (679), "Composition at the Turn of the
Twenty-First Century" advances speculative claims (probabilities?) based
on what Fulkerson calls "indirect evidence." Given that he ends up
mentioning North’s 1987 concerns in The Making of Knowledge about the
sustainability of composition studies
given methodological pluralism,
it’s worth raising questions about just how different "indirect evidence" is
from "lore"–the tacit knowledge circulated informally by practitioners
who represented the largest segment of the field (rel. to researchers and
scholars). Fulkerson suggests that the divergence in the field at the turn of
the twenty-first century goes well beyond methodologies, extending to matters "axiological,
pedagogical, and processual
" (681).

Fulkerson admits "frustration" as his motivation for trying to make
sense of the field every ten years. He compares two teaching sourcebooks,
one from 1980 and another from 2001, and based on a comparison of their
tables of contents
, concludes that the new chapters (ch. 5-8, pp. 656)
represent "variations of the major new area of scholarly interest in composition
as we begin the twenty-first century, critical/cultural studies (CCS)" (657). Of
course, both teaching guides do very little to address writing technologies
and new media
; the more recent guide includes one essay by Charlie Moran.

To explain the disunity of the field that now applies to perspectives beyond
methodologies, Fulkerson presents a grid, which he says the work of his
essay will fill in.

Fulkerson Grid - Composition's Pedagogical Quandary

Fulkerson spends most of the pieces, however, on expressivism,
critical/cultural studies
, and procedural rhetoric, as these are the
perspectives best represented in the journals. Current-traditional rhetoric, on
the other hand, lingers as a given. Fulkerson’s presents a hard critique
of critical/cultural studies, noting that it suffers from "content envy,"
finds itself more concerned with "’liberation‘ from dominant discourse"
than with "improved writing" (660), involves indoctrination, and
displaces attention to writing with too much emphasis on reading (665).
He also addresses the current state of expressivism and procedural rhetoric
(which he identifies as "the dominant tradition of composition in the 1970s and
1980s" (671). Accordingly, it’s fairly clear that composition studies has grown
more complex, and this Balkanization presents problems for the field and
especially for teacher training. Fulkerson concludes with seven implications
(complexity; disagreement about what is good writing?; smorgasbord confusion;
public responsibility to articulate what we do; no ultimate answer; must be
resolved at program level; and mess this creates for coherent graduate

Four general perspectives (rows):

  1. Current-Traditional
  2. Expressivism
  3. Critical/Cultural Studies
  4. Procedural Rhetoric (subdivisions: "composition as argumentation,
    genre-based composition, and composition as an introduction to an academic
    discourse community" (671))

Four questions (columns):

  1. The axiological question: in general, what makes writing “good”?
  2. The process question: in general, how do written texts come into
  3. The pedagogical question: in general, how does one teach college students
    effectively, especially where procedural rather than propositional knowledge
    is the goal? And
  4. The epistemological question: “How do you know that?” which underlies
    answers to all the others. (657-658)

Conclusions and implications (679)
See responses in
57.4 (2006)
and also in the carnival.

Key terms: frustration (654), comp-landia (655), composition landscape (655),
axiological consensus (655), pedagogical diversity (655), Kuhn’s "paradigm
shift" (656), content envy (665), indoctrination (665), process and post-process
(669), indirect evidence (669), argument (671), genre (674), Bartholomae and
discourse community (677), stasis theory (677).

"My central claim is that we have diverged again. Within the
, we currently have three alternative axiologies (theories
of value): the newest one, “the social” or “social-construction” view, which
values critical cultural analysis; an expressive one; and a multifaceted
rhetorical one" (655).

"These four chapters [5-8 in Tate et.al.’s A Guide to Composition
] represent variations of the major new area of scholarly
t in composition as we begin the twenty-first century,
critical/cultural studies
(CCS), showing the impact of postmodernism,
feminism, and British cultural studies" (657).

"Just as no one actually knows how widespread CCS composition courses
are, the same is true for expressive courses grounded in the views and
experiences of the student authors. We have lots of indirect evidence for
both" (669).

"In contemporary composition practice, I see rhetorical philosophies
taking three different emphases: composition as argumentation,
composition, and composition as introduction to an academic
discourse community
" (671).

"Genre-based courses and CCS courses thus share an extensive
focus on close reading of texts and on culturally determined patterns,
but the goals of the reading differ. In the CCS course, the students are to
read critically and cite
the texts read in their own papers on related
topics. In the genre course, the readings serve as discourse models from
which students can generalize. Both approaches presume that texts are
socially constructed
and intertextual" (675).

Related sources:
Berlin, James. "Contemporary Composition: The Major Pedagogical Theories."
College English 44 (Dec. 1982): 765–77.
Hairston, Maxine. "Diversity, Ideology, and Teaching Writing." CCC
43 (May 1992): 179–93.
North, Stephen M. The Making of Knowledge in Composition: Portrait of
an Emerging Field.
Upper Montclair, NJ: Boynton, 1987.