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Theory and Composition Studies

FAQ: What are the theories from different disciplines that inform the study and practice of writing? (Rich Haswell, updated 2005)

Theory and the Teaching of Composition: A Short Bibliography (updated 2005)

Rich Haswell

Study and practice of writing can be informed by many theories from many different disciplines. Probably we composition teachers ought to range around a little more.
This a starter list—a start for further study. Each item locates one or two readable introductions to the theory written not from a composition perspective; [and then in square brackets, if available, a book applying the theory to composition studies].

Activity theory: [Charles Bazerman & David Russell (Eds.), WRITING SELVES/WRITING SOCIETIES: RESEARCH FROM ACTIVITY PERSPECTIVES, WAC Clearinghouse, 2002]

Articulation theory: Stuart Hall, REPRESENTATION: CULTURAL REPRESENTATIONS AND SIGNIFYING PRACTICES (Sage, 1997). [John Trimbur, “Articulation Theory and the Problem of Determination,” in Olson, Gary A., & Sidney I. Dobrin, eds. COMPOSITION THEORY FOR THE POSTMODERN CLASSROOM, Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1994.]

Attribution theory: G. Weary, M. A. Stanley, & H. H. Harvey, ATTRIBUTION (Springer-Verlag, 1989).

Chaos theory: James Gleick, CHAOS: MAKING A NEW SCIENCE, (Penguin, 1987).

Cognitive theory: Jerome S. Bruner, BEYOND THE INFORMATION GIVEN: STUDIES IN THE PSYCHOLOGY OF KNOWING (Norton, 1973)

Communication theory: John Stewart, LANGUAGE AS ARTICULATE CONTACT: TOWARDS A POST SEMIOTIC PHILOSOPHY OF COMMUNICATION (SUNY UP, 1995); or Ernest G. Bormann, COMMUNICATION THEORY (Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1980)

Culture theory: Henry Giroux & Stanley Aronwitz, POSTMODERN EDUCATION

Developmental (age-span) theory: Nancy J. Evans, Deanna S. Forney, Florence Guido-DiBrito, STUDENT DEVELOPMENT IN COLLEGE: THEORY, RESEARCH, AND PRACTICE (Jossey-Bass, 1998). [Rich Haswell, GAINING GROUND IN COLLEGE WRITING (Southern Methodist UP, 1991)]

Deviancy theory: James D. Orcutt, ANALYZING DEVIANCE (Dorsey P, 1983); Michel Foucault, DISCIPLINE AND PUNISH (Vintage, rprt, 1995)

Discourse theory: Timothy W. Crusius, DISCOURSE: A CRITIQUE AND SYNTHESIS OF THEORIES (MLA, 1989) [Gail Stygall & Ellen Barton (Eds.), DISCOURSE STUDIES AND COMPOSITION, Hampton Press, 2002; Charles Bazerman & Paul Prior (Eds.), WHAT WRITING DOES AND HOW IT DOES IT, Erlbaum, 2004]

Embodiment theory: M. de Certeau, THE PRACTICE OF EVERYDAY LIFE, trans. S. Randall (U of California P, 1985); Jean Lave & Etienne Wegner, SITUATED LEARNING: LEGITIMATE PERIPHERAL PARTICIPATION (Cambridge UP, 1991). [Christina Haas, WRITING TECHNOLOGY: STUDIES ON THE MATERIALITY OF LITERACY (Erlbaum, 1996)]

Expertise theory: Carl Bereiter and Marlene Scardamalia, SURPASSING OURSELVES: AN INQUIRY INTO THE NATURE AND IMPLICATIONS OF EXPERTISE (Open Court, 1993) [Michael Carter, “Idea of Expertise: Cognitive and Social Dimensions,” COLLEGE COMPOSITION AND COMMUNICATION 41 (1990): 263–286]

Expressivist theory: Suzanne K. Langer, PHILOSOPHY IN A NEW KEY: A STUDY OF SYMBOLISM OF REASON, RITE, AND ART, 3rd ed. (Harvard UP, 1974)

Feminist literary theory: Toril Moi, SEXUAL/TEXTUAL POLITICS (Routledge, 1985)

Feminist theory: Hester Eisenstein, CONTEMPORARY FEMINIST THOUGHT (G. K. Hall, 1983)

Genre theory: [Carol Berkenkotter & Thomas Huckin, GENRE KNOWLEDGE IN DISCIPLINARY COMMUNICATION: COGNITION/CULTURE/POWER, Erlbaum, 1995].

Hermeneutic theory: Peter Szondi, et al., INTRODUCTION TO LITERARY HERMENEUTICS (Cambridge UP, 1994). [Timothy W. Crusius, A TEACHER’S INTRODUCTION TO PHILOSOPHICAL HERMENEUTICS (NCTE 1991)]

Identity theory: Kenneth Gergen, THE SATURATED SELF: DILEMMAS OF IDENTITY IN CONTEMPORARY LIFE (Basic Books, 1992); Rom Harré, THE SINGULAR SELF (Sage, 1998)

Ideology theory: Mike Cormac, IDEOLOGY (U of Michigan P, 992) or Jorge Larrain, THE CONCEPT OF IDEOLOGY (U of Georgia P, 1969; rprt 1992).

Learning theory: Margaret Gredler, LEARNING AND INSTRUCTION: THEORY INTO PRACTICE 3rd ed. (Prentice-Hall, 1996); Roger M. Tarpy, CONTEMPORARY LEARNING THEORY AND RESEARCH (McGraw-Hill, 1997).

Liberatory pedagogy theory: Paulo Freire, PEDAGOGY OF THE OPPRESSED, (Continuum Pub. Group, 1970; rev. ed. 1995)

Literacy theory: John Oxenham, LITERACY (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1980); [Alan Purves, THE SCRIBAL SOCIETY: AN ESSAY ON LITERACY AND SCHOOLING IN THE INFORMATION AGE (Longman, 1990)]

Marxist literary theory: Raymond Williams, MARXISM AND LITERATURE (Oxford, 1977); Terry Eagleton, CRITICISM AND IDEOLOGY (NLB, 1976)

Narrative theory: Dan P. McAdams, THE STORIES WE LIVE BY: PERSONAL MYTHS AND THE MAKING OF THE SELF (Morrow, 1993); Peter J. Rabinowitz, BEFORE READING; NARRATIVE CONVENTIONS AND THE POLITICS OF INTERPRETATION (Cornell UP, 1987).

Organization theory: Anne Wilson Schaef, THE ADDICTIVE ORGANIZATION (Harper San Francisco, 1990).

Performance theory: Richard Schechner, ESSAYS ON PERFORMANCE THEORY (Routledge, 1988)

Popular culture theory: Arthur Kroker, Marilouise Kroker, & David Cook, PANIC ENCYCLOPEDIA (St. Martins, 1989), Greil Marcus, LIPSTICK TRACES (Harvard UP, 1989.

Post-Colonial theory: Edward Said, CULTURE AND COLONIALISM (Vintage, 1994 reprint).

Psychological type theory: Thomas C. Thompson, ed. MOST EXCELLENT DIFFERENCES (Center for Applications of Psychological Type, 1996); [George H. Jensen & John K. DiTiberio, WRITING AND PERSONALITY (Black-Davies, 1995).]

Poststructural literary theory: Catharine Belsey, CRITICAL PRACTICE (Routledge, 1980);

Pragmatics theory: Geoffrey N. Leech, PRINCIPLES OF PRAGMATICS (Longman, 1986); [Walter H. Beale, A PRAGMATIC THEORY OF RHETORIC (Southern Illinois UP, 1987)]

Reading theory: Frank Smith, UNDERSTANDING READING, 5th ed. (Erlbaum, 1994). [Louise M. Rosenblatt, THE READER, THE TEXT, THE POEM: THE TRANSACTIONAL THEORY OF THE LITERARY WORK (Southern Illinois UP, 1978)]

Reader-response theory: Jane Tompkins, READER-RESPONSE CRITICISM: FROM FORMALIST TO POST-STRUCTURALISM. Baltimore, Johns Hopkins, 1980; Elizabeth Freund, THE RETURN OF THE READER (Methuen, 1987); [Richard Beach, A TEACHER’S INTRODUCTION TO READER-RESPONSE THEORIES (NCTE, 1993)]

Rhetorical theory: Sonja K. Foss, Karen A. Foss, & Robert Trapp, CONTEMPORARY PERSPECTIVES ON RHETORIC (Waveland Press, 1985). [Sharon Crowley, THE METHODICAL MEMORY: INVENTION IN CURRENT-TRADITIONAL RHETORIC (Southern Illinois UP, 1990)]

Social constructivist theory: Rom Harré, SOCIAL BEING (Blackwell, 2nd. ed. 1993); Peter L.Berger & Thomas Luckmann, THE SOCIAL CONSTRUCTION OF REALITY (Anchor, 1967). [Charles Bazerman, SHAPING WRITTEN KNOWLEDGE (U of Wisconsin P, 1988)]

Social interaction theory: Erving Goffman, INTERACTION RITUAL: ESSAYS ON FACE-TO-FACE BEHAVIOR (Pantheon, 1982)

Social rhetorical theory: Kenneth Burke, LANGUAGE AS SYMOBLIC ACTION (U of California P, rprt, 1986)

Speech-act theory: John R. Searle, SPEECH ACTS (Cambridge UP, 1969); [W. Ross Winterowd, COMPOSITION/RHETORIC: A SYNTHESIS (Southern Illinois UP, 1986)]

Value or axiology theory: Archie Bahm, AXIOLOGY: THE SCIENCE OF VALUES (World Books, 1984)

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