Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Claude Mark Hurlbert, D.A.

Second Advisor

Gian S. Pagnucci, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

David B. Downing, Ph.D.


In this dissertation, I argue that curricular choices in Composition are overdetermined by the academic labor system and its negative effect on the status of composition theory. Despite the growth of disciplinary knowledge, composition programs are still staffed largely with underpaid and under supported faculty and graduate students, many of whom have not studied composition theory in any depth. In some institutions, a single compositionist may act as Writing Program Administrator, supervising a temporary staff. While some colleges and universities have taken steps to reform the teaching and staffing of composition, too many have not. I intertwine theory and narrative as a means of arguing my central premises. I contend that this combination 1) can make theory more accessible, 2) can encourage scholars to consider more carefully the effects of context on theorizing, and 3) can improve the status of teaching narratives. I argue that, in the corporatized university, Composition studies and composition theory are devalued. In order to rationalize the wide use of contingent and graduate student labor and a renewed emphasis on assessment, administrators must treat composition theory as superfluous. Compositionists become token luxuries, unnecessary to the curriculum when persons with no expertise in Composition can be hired to teach writing. Moreover, administrators maintain material circumstances for faculty that resist theory’s incorporation into composition teaching and curricula. Further, I contend that three models of composition teaching, which I believe can be used in reductive and theoretically weak ways—grammar study, focus on academic discourse, and assessment preparation—are perpetuated because they support the means and goals of the corporate university. This matters greatly, I will explain, because: 1.) the quality of composition teaching suffers; 2.) the largely untenured, under-prepared and underpaid workforce suffers; and 3.) the state of composition teaching will not change en masse unless we directly address the intersection of composition theory and composition labor. Finally, I describe the ways I employ composition theory in my pedagogical practice and in my public writing.