Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Gian S. Pagnucci, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Michael M. Williamson, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Jean Nienkamp, Ph.D.


Identity has, for some time, been a feature of discussions of social and political issues under the cover of Cultural Studies. In Composition, however, identity has not often been discussed in its psychological or individualistic terms, even as studies have shown that identity is the major influence on what and how people write (Newkirk, 1997; Bracher, 1999; Alcorn, 2002; Tobin, 2004; Tingle, 2004). Resistance to psychological identity in composition is likely due to a lack of understanding of identity, apprehension about how identity can be addressed in composition classes, and how writing that helps students construct their identity might look. This dissertation examines identity in composition and seeks to define and explore the nature of identity, to understand its role in writing, and to then open a new dialog within Composition Studies. Identity is the central feature of literacy (Bruner, 1990; Gergen, 1995; Heller, 1997; Finn, 1999; Brandt 2001; Spellmeyer, 2003); as a projection of self, identity is the means by which we join a community. McAdams (1993) and Nienkamp (2001) provide two concepts which provide a framework for the role of identity in composition: the mythic self and the rhetorical self. Erikson (1959) provides support for the idea that first-year composition is the right time and the right place to develop writing projects which assist students in constructing their adult identity. Psychologists Kohut (1966), Lacan (1977), and McAdams et al. (2006) and compositionists Newkirk (1997), Bracher (1999), Alcorn (2002), and Tobin (2004) support the idea of the influence of identity on all linguistic activity, especially the composing processes of the young writers who enter first-year college composition classes. This theoretical study compares both composition and psychology texts with the experiences of the researcher-as-writer and researcher-as-writing-instructor through the use of narrative inquiry. By correlating insights developed through self-narrative with psychoanalytical scholarship, an understanding of identity and its influence on the writer and the effects of writing on identity construction is explored. This will lead to new ways of addressing identity as an important function of the first-year composition class.