Can Writing Studies Claim Craft Knowledge and More?

Robert Johnson’s recent CCC article, “Craft Knowledge: Of Disciplinarity in Writing Studies,” argues that “craft knowledge” can function effectively as a warrant for disciplinary legitimacy.  He sets up “craft knowledge” against an Aristotelian backdrop of techne, or arts of making, and advances a view of “craft knowledge” as a solution to still-raging disputes over the disciplinary status of writing studies (notably not “rhetoric and composition”).  “Still-raging” is casting it too strongly; unsettled and ongoing are perhaps better matches with the characterization of those disputes in this speculative discipliniography–an article that imagines felicitous horizons for the field. As I read, I wasn’t especially clear whose conflicted sensibility would be rectified by invoking craft knowledge. Among Johnson’s concerns with the status of writing studies are 1) that it does not carry adequate clout (or recognition, for that matter) necessary for grant writing and 2) that it does not influence neighboring fields whose inquiries would be, by the input of those trained in writing studies, enriched.

On the problem of disciplinary status for grant writing, Johnson writes,

When the traditional disciplines–the so-called established fields of inquiry and production–work in an interdisciplinary manner, they in most cases still hold onto their disciplinary identity. This is painfully evident for those in writing studies when applying for external grant funding.  On the application forms from such agencies as the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Institutes of Health (NIH), and even the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), for example, applicants must identify their resident discipline in order to be eligible. (680-681)

Have recent changes with CIP codes impacted this?  I don’t know; I am not currently working on any grants.  But I did find the CIP 23.13 categories and language extraordinarily helpful last winter during my program’s meetings for MA curriculum revisions. Perhaps this classification scheme will soon extend disciplinary identification options beyond the National Research Council to the agencies Johnson names. Certainly the codes are recent development and one that ought to propel writing studies in the direction of improved statistical tracking for disciplinary activities, like dissertation projects.

The second problem–reciprocity–amounts to disciplinary neglect: writing studies scholarship is not cited frequently enough outside of writing studies scholarship: “I see little evidence that writing voices are heard, let alone cited, by the scholars in [the history and sociology of science and technology]” (681).  This issue came up in the carnival two summers ago. I wish I could say with great confidence that we have a good grasp on what is being cited and where. I offer this not because I doubt whether Johnson is correct.  For a “most telling example,” he points to How Users Matter, a 2005 edited collection from MIT Press: “Virtually no one in writing studies, rhetoric, or usability studies is cited” (681). A more comprehensive study of citation in neighboring/overlapping fields would, of course, ground such a claim even more deeply and, as well, serve as a basis for investigating what import field-external citation has on disciplinary legitimacy in other cases.

I’ll let these notes rest here for now. I learned a lot from reading Johnson’s Platonic and Aristotelean retracing of techne through five aspects of its four causes (676+), especially where he complicates ethics for the technite and the phronomoi (679). While I felt a bit distracted by the thicket of metaphors in the “Interlude” section (i.e., duck, swords, swipes, paths, forest, and soup), and while I am more at ease than Johnson seems to be with the idea of writing studies (or rhetoric and composition, as I prefer to think of it, unhip though this may well be), I do find disciplinarity enriched by the idea of “craft knowledge,” whether we aim for interdisciplinary ventures, as Johnson would like us to, whether we continue to wage legitimation efforts with large-scale research agencies, or both.

Johnson, Robert. “Craft Knowledge: Of Disciplinarity in Writing Studies.” CCC 61.4 (2010): 673-690.


  1. We’re on the same cosmic plane. I just blogged about the same essay. Accidental carnival in the works?

  2. A happy coincidence, indeed. Haven’t been enough carnivals lately, accidental or planned. Come one, come all, I say.

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