The Center for Writing Studies

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Graduate Resources

Special Field Exam: Sample Rationale

Writing In/Across the Discipliness - Karen J. Lunsford

A writer with a diverse background, I identify with researchers who wish to continue redefining Writing Studies by expanding our interests beyond first-year composition. My special field title suggests several issues associated with this expansion: What might it mean to write "in" a discipline? and what counts as "a discipline"? How do writers engage in work "across" disciplines, as when they collaborate on multidisciplinary teams or engage in interdisciplinary studies? What might Writing Studies scholars present as their "own" disciplinary knowledge to writers/readers who align themselves with different disciplines? Broadly speaking, in other words, what are the different contexts in which to situate writing, how might they be defined, and how might they be studied? With universities implementing Writing Across the Curriculum programs, and with businesses calling for more interdisciplinary research as well as collaborative production teams, these questions have become pressing.

My first section (Theory and Practice) responds to these questions by including texts that address different, but related, aspects of writing/reading contexts. Some titles address questions of defining "disciplinarity" per se, whereas others address (potentially) constituent factors of writing/reading contexts: issues of authorship, audience, collaboration, community, situated practices, genre, argumentation, narrative and discourse. Many titles present the social constructionist/constructivist and activity theories that underlie much current thinking about defining context. Finally, several titles discuss scientific and business/professional contexts, for these issues appear particularly acute in these areas (and one question is why they do).

The first section also incorporates several titles that address my dissertation interest, Toulminian argumentation and the pragmatic philosophy that informs it. Toulmin's model and its variations have been described in Writing Studies as transdisciplinary, as abstract representations of argumentation that may be applied to specific arguments from virtually all disciplines as well as everyday life. Yet Toulmin claimed repeatedly that his model is mediated by each field's (his term) standards; even though the model has field-invariant characteristics, it is also field-dependent and must be employed with "one eye on" an argument's context. This aspect of Toulmin's theory has been overlooked in existing research. My dissertation will address how writers/readers/researchers may situate Toulminian arguments in context.

I expect that my dissertation will employ both historical and qualitative research. I believe that the opening chapter(s) will position Toulminian argumentation within Writing Studies histories. Subsequent chapters will present two research studies on writers/readers in specific settings. Thus, the second section of my exam list includes two sets of Research Methodologies: a qualitative section that combines selected ethnographies with discussions about how to implement ethnographically informed techniques in Writing Studies and a historical section that features texts on historiography in addition to several histories of Writing Studies as an emergent discipline. Both sets of texts address questions of ethics, research techniques and the representation of findings.