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Special Field Exam: Sample Rationale

Composition Studies, Basic Writing, and Race - Steve Lamos

The attached reading list represents a range of work relevant to my special field, a field that examines relationships between institutional discourses and institutional structures in Basic Writing (BW) programs. Scholars in this field typically analyze institutional discourses—including those related to course credit, gatekeeping mechanisms, curriculum design, tracking practices, and media representation—in order to understand and critique problematic BW structures and practices. Individual critiques can differ significantly within the field; for instance, some scholars use discourse analysis to call for the abolition of BW programs (see the “mainstreaming” arguments of Bartholomae, Shor, and Crowley), while others use it to advocate for more moderate reforms within existing BW structures (see Gilyard, Lu, Horner, Stygall, and Soliday). Still, despite these differences, scholars across the field generally agree that analysis of BW discourses is essential to any attempt at BW reform.

Like the scholars described above, I believe that analysis of institutional discourses is central to BW reform efforts. However, my reading list reflects a more explicit interest in discourses of race and racism than is present in most other work in this field. I contend that racialized institutional discourses within BW play a largely unexplored role in the formation and maintenance of programs, and that analysis of these racialized discourses will help us to uncover important new strategies for BW reform. My dissertation will attempt to substantiate this contention through a detailed study of one BW program, the “Educational Opportunity Program” (EOP) at UIUC. The study will trace the operation of racialized discourses throughout EOP’s history, arguing that they have been central to the development, implementation, positioning, and justification of the program in its various forms since the 1960s.

This list establishes my special field across several dimensions. It serves to outline important institutional contexts within BW and composition; to situate BW within larger social, political, and educational trends; to justify interest in discourses of race and racism as key elements of institutional analysis; and to explore methodological techniques used in the field, including those drawn from discourse analysis, historiography, and archival study.

In the section entitled “Histories and Historical Contexts,” I include multiple accounts of the disciplinary, intellectual, and educational climates surrounding BW from the mid-1960s through the present. Texts in this section are drawn from composition and literacy studies, BW work, and histories of reform movements in higher education. Individual texts are chosen to represent major theoretical and pedagogical orientations since the 1960s; together these texts offer parallel (though not identical) narratives that will help to map the complex terrain on which BW is positioned. In addition, some individual texts from this section will serve as objects of discourse analysis, particularly when I argue that BW/composition requires more explicit attention to race within its historical accounts than has traditionally been provided.

In the “Theoretical Framework” section, I include works from a variety of disciplines (including sociology, social psychology, and legal studies) that define and discuss notions of race and racism. Critical Race Theory figures prominently in this section because it focuses regularly on educational contexts: one major strain of Critical Race Theory research theorizes post-Brown school desegregation and its racialized effects, while another analyzes affirmative action programs in educational settings. Because the context of BW is inextricably linked to both post-Brown educational reform and affirmative action debates, careful attention to Critical Race Theory seems both warranted and necessary.

Finally, in the “Methodology” section, I include texts that deal explicitly with methodological and ethical issues in Critical Discourse Analysis, historiography, and archival research. Many of the Critical Discourse Analysis texts included here introduce specific analysis techniques, while others apply such techniques to studies of race and racism. The historiography and archival methods texts in this section outline theories, practical methods, and ethical concerns, particularly those related to the study of institutional documents.