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Special Field Exam: Sample Questions

Writing In/Across the Disciplines - Karen J. Lunsford


1. Bakhtin (1986) claims that every utterance must be seen as a response that engages with previous utterances and anticipates future ones. I'd like to begin by explaining how this list has been shaped/selected—by focusing on my previous experience with Toulmin and disciplinarity, what issues that experience raised, and why I think these issues ought to be addressed.

Positioning Toulmin's work in philosophical & writing studies contexts

2. Toulmin has been identified as and/or has identified himself as a pragmatist, as Wittgenstein's student, and as a philosopher engaged with Aristotelian traditions (for example, syllogistic logic as practiced by Toulmin's contemporaries). How are the works [Uses of Argument (1958), Human Understanding (1972), Introduction to Reasoning (1979/1984)] on the special field list positioned in respect to

3. How have these movements (pragmatism, ordinary language philosophy, Aristotelian traditions) informed—or not—the uptake of Toulmin's work on disciplinarity and of his model first in speech communications research/theory and then in writing studies research/theory?

4. How has Toulmin's model been positioned in writing textbooks? How might our understanding of these different positionings be informed by the historical/textual frameworks provided by Berlin (1996), Connors (1997), Harris (1997), Hawhee (1999), Gale & Gale's (1999) collection, and Russell (1991)?

Resituating Toulmin's work

The following questions assume that current antifoundationalist theories must be taken into account when discussing Toulminian models, either in the classroom or in research. After all, 40+ years have passed since the model was first introduced, and the assumptions upon which it originally rested have changed.

5. Toulmin's explanation of his model assumes an interlocutor. How might research on rhetors/audiences [e.g. Bakhtin (1981/1986), Elbow (1999), Flower (2000), Grant-Davie (1997), Johnson (1997), Lunsford & Ede (1984/1996), Porter (1992), Yancey & Spooner (1998)] inform the ways in which the model may be construed? What limitations of the model does this research suggest?

6. According to Toulmin, the model must be interpreted with "one eye on" its context. In Uses and in his Introduction, "context" is primarily defined as a "field." Both the appeal to "context" and its primary equation with a "field" raise several issues:

7. "Context" has been reconceived since Toulmin wrote his texts. The manuscript to be submitted to Written Communication suggested one way in which context might be defined for a research project in writing studies. Yet the manuscript also raised questions for me that I'll be taking up again in the dissertation:

Other research issues

8. {This question arises from my research with the DKRC.} How might genre-as-activity research [Bazerman (1988 & 1994), Dunmire (2000), Miller (1984), Mirel (1998), Myers (1990)] as well as the historical research by Hawisher et al. (1996) inform a study of the co-construction of new scientific work, new online genres and new technologies? What limitations are there in these frameworks?

9. Rhetoricians of science have been somewhat cynically called parasitic on science (for example, by Lyne, 1998). Gaonkar (in Gross & Keith, 1997) has blamed rhetoricians for claiming that their approaches are universal. How might writing studies researchers better position their work vis-à-vis science?

10. A new ethical issue has begun to develop for qualitative research. Human Subjects procedures for protecting participants' anonymity rest upon presenting only part of the picture. For example, a researcher in the past may have quoted a participant's work (without citation) under the assumption that the likely readerships for the researcher's publications and the participant's publications would be different, and that it would be unlikely for someone to put information from the two publication domains together easily. However, many texts are now online in some form, so that it is possible for anybody to search for a participant's original article/text by entering quoted phrases into a search engine. (Analogously, students might post their writings to the World Wide Web, again making it possible for someone to use a search engine to track down the original.) How might we extend the discussions of ethics [Porter (1998), Anderson (1998), Brodkey (1996), Kirsch (1999), Sullivan & Porter (1997) and these articles from Mortensen & Kirsch (1996)—Durst & Stanforth; Chiseri-Strater; Blakeslee, Cole & Conefrey; Dautermann] to address this new situation caused by new information technologies?

11. One of the concerns ethnographers have expressed is that their work will be seen as "merely" novels. Yet narrative—including literary narrative—appears regularly in scientific and social scientific accounts. How might narrative research [Kelly & Zak (1999), Ochs (1994, 1992), Blyler (1996), Clifford (1986), Van Maanen (1988)] better inform our understanding of science and how we "write it up"? In what ways do Latour's (1996) and Cintron's (1997) narratives blend literary and ethnographic features to produce new genres of research?

12. Recently, I have been engaged in two projects that have been attempting to decenter authority and the creation/presentation of knowledge. In the first, Joyce Walker, Liz Rohan and I have been experimenting with presentation styles and with website design to facilitate large-group collaboration for "official" presentations (such as at the 4C's and articles that may arise from those presentations). In part, this effort to decenter our authority mimics our experiences with teaching in the computer classroom. In the second, Chip, Melanie Huston and I have been working on a "collaboratory," which is a web-based workspace designed to facilitate collaboration among group members as well as among other people (the public, students) who may become interested in our research. In both projects, my colleagues and I assume that it is better to avoid the "sage-on-stage" style of teaching, better to distribute resources as well as the responsibility for actively engaging with them, and better to acknowledge the co-construction of knowledge.

Looking forward

13. Finally, I would like to discuss plans for the dissertation. I am imagining a 3-part dissertation, and I plan to focus each part on how the Toulmin model may be taken up as a dialogic model rather than solely as a logical or evaluative model. {This question goes on to outline the 3 parts and possible research sites. About 1 ½ pages, single-spaced.}