Date of Award

8-1-2014

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

First Advisor

Bennett A. Rafoth, Ed.D.

Second Advisor

Virginia Perdue, D.A.

Third Advisor

Michael M. Williamson, Ph.D.

Abstract

This study examines the interplay of theory and practice in writing center work. It uses a pragmatic framework to better understand how three key writing center figures--Harvey Kail, Muriel Harris, and Jeanne Simpson--approach theory and practice. The study specifically examined 34 publications, 152 WCenter listserv postings, and 51 pages of interview transcripts. Identifying ways for the writing center community to engage theory and practice addresses the tension between writing center theorists and practitioners. Although most writing center professionals recognize the value of both theory and practice, they tend to separate the two and favor one over the other. This separation and favoring results in parallel conversations in which many theorists and practitioners either ignore or talk past each other. Administrators and peer tutors are often skeptical of theorists who are seen as disconnected from the day-to-day realities of writing center work, while many theorists have become frustrated with the inability or unwillingness of many administrators and tutors to see how theoretical explorations can usefully inform the day-to-day realities of centers. Because of this, the field fails to benefit from the productive ways in which theory and practice inform each other. Praxis is often used as a means to reconcile this tension, but requiring practice to serve as a laboratory for theory endorses a hierarchical relationship in which theory is superior to practice. This study instead uses the concept of action-and-reflection to consider questions of exclusivity and superiority. Doing so suggests the possibility of a more reciprocal relationship between theory and practice. Kail, Harris, and Simpson point to the possibility of using action-and-reflection in a way that recognizes the pragmatic underpinnings of the writing center field. Employing action-and-reflection recognizes the pragmatic desire to remove obscurities and realize solutions while also emphasizing the necessity of reflecting on writing center work in rigorous, systematic, and communal ways. Such an approach does not necessarily alleviate the theory-practice tension, but it does encourage writing center administrators, peer tutors, and theorists to respond to the pragmatic call to removes obscurities, realize solutions, and better understand writing center work.

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