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Composing Research

Composing Research: A Contextualist Research Paradigm for Rhetoric and Composition

Copyright Date: 2000
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    Composing Research
    Book Description:

    Cindy Johanek offers a new perspective on the ideological conflict between qualitative and quantitative research approaches, and the theories of knowledge that inform them. With a paradigm that is sensitive to the context of one's research questions, she argues, scholars can develop less dichotomous forms that invoke the strengths of both research traditions. Context-oriented approaches can lift the narrative from beneath the numbers in an experimental study, for example, or bring the useful clarity of numbers to an ethnographic study.A pragmatic scholar, Johanek moves easily across the boundaries that divide the field, and argues for contextualist theory as a lens through which to view composition research. This approach brings with it a new focus, she writes. "This new focus will call us to attend to the contexts in which rhetorical issues and research issues converge, producing varied forms, many voices, and new knowledge, indeed reconstructing a discipline that will be simultaneously focused on its tasks, its knowledge-makers, and its students."Composing Researchis a work full of personal voice and professional commitment and will be a welcome addition to the research methods classroom and to the composition researcher's own bookshelf.

    2000 Outstanding Scholarship Award from the International Writing Centers Association.

    eISBN: 978-0-87421-322-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Linguistics, Education

Table of Contents

    (pp. 1-7)

    The history of composition studies is one of conflict and struggle. As a field relatively new to the academy, we have struggled to be valued, debated our very roots, and created tension among ourselves as researchers and teachers. The current debate between quantitative and qualitative researchers in composition has been discussed before. In that respect, this work is not new because it emerges from the firmly-established rift between humanists and scientists, between ethnographers and experimentalists.

    Buthowwe have debated about research methods is of greater concern here thanthatwe have debated: in other words, the rhetoric of our...

  2. 1 COMPOSITION RESEARCH: Issues in Context
    (pp. 8-27)

    The call for proposals for the 1998 NCTE Convention in Nashville, Tennessee, began with composition’s newest and most popular tool: the anecdote. The call for proposals was focused on the local, the personal, and the emotional. In sharp contrast to previous calls that often placed a particular annual convention (and its theme) in a larger context—the overall field of teaching English, broad issues facing educators, or current social and political trends educators need to address—NCTE President-Elect Steiner instead told a story about “Maria”:

    The semester had gone well, and I was giving the final exam to my senior...

  3. 2 RESEARCH IN COMPOSITION: Current Issues and A Brief History
    (pp. 28-55)

    Current debates about research methods have often focused on where and how researchers view reality and evidence. Because we debate the value of evidence—rather than the contexts from which we gain that evidence—the rift between different kinds of researchers has resulted in stereotypes: ethnographers have criticized the rigid, controlled, decontextualized methodology of the experimental researcher; experimentalists have, in turn, perceived the observations of the ethnographer as loose and error-ridden. In the middle, some researchers have acknowledged a wide range of methodologies stemming from varied epistemologies in what is now called “methodological pluralism” (Kirsch, 1992).

    Schriver (1992) illustrated the...

  4. 3 NUMBERS, NARRATIVES, AND HE VS. SHE: Issues of Audience in Composition Research
    (pp. 56-86)

    Our growing defense of qualitative research and storytelling in composition is accompanied by passionate arguments against the older, traditional research paradigm—a passion that, as conversation with others in the field has made clear, makes some of us look the other way or lash out at the “old school” whenever conversation turns to the older tradition. That paradigm, for many, has grown out of a male-dominated tradition, places too much value on mathematics, and is written in a stifling, disinterested style that is unpleasant to read (and write).

    More importantly, our abandonment of “traditional” research has been praised for allowing...

  5. 4 FROM EPISTEMOLOGY TO EPISTEMIC JUSTIFICATION: Toward a Contextualist Research Paradigm
    (pp. 87-118)

    As rhetoricians, we have a long history of debate and verbal bantering. From Plato’s attack on Gorgias, to Aristotle’s criticism of contemporary handbooks, to Ramus’s arguments against Quintilian, to the nineteenth-century “art vs. science” debate, to our own time in which we debate the kinds of knowledge we value and the kinds of research we should conduct, the very foundations of what we believe is accurate in our field have seemed to shift rapidly from the start.Howwe see those foundations, however, how we frame our debates, both past and present, is at issue here. On the one hand,...

    (pp. 119-163)

    My M.A. thesis was a cross-cultural learning styles study in which I tested the applicability of field dependence-independence measures as a means of assessing cognitive style among minority groups. I finished the project in the summer of 1993. Traditional in format, my thesis reviewed the literature from researchers who have asserted that African-Americans, for example, have a holistic, field-dependent (in contrast to an analytical, field-independent) learning style based on instruments and theories developed by Herman Witkin in the 1940s and 50s. I, too, gave one of those instruments but introduced at the same time a new instrument that had not...

    (pp. 164-189)

    In the most traditional form, research reports often exclude personal experience or even the use of first person, resulting in texts that sometimes sound awkward (“the authors conclude …”) or impersonal and a-contextual (“the literature has failed to show …”). Our own sensitivity to context in composition studies has guided the perception that such traditional reports are, therefore, insensitive to context. As shown in chapter five, this is not the case, as Oliver articulated answers to most of the questions in the Contextualist Research Paradigm Matrix. However, the appearance of the traditional report is a part of the perceived problem....

  8. 7 PREDICTOR VARIABLES: The Future of Composition Research
    (pp. 190-204)

    To fully embrace the Contextualist Research Paradigm, we must take other steps that will enable us to do so. This chapter will focus on specific recommendations for changing the direction of our research trends: reconsidering MLA as a style manual, understanding the exclusionary voices of our storytellers, incorporating our research in our teaching, training our researchers more completely in a wider range of research methods and statistics, and embracing numbers as natural phenomena. All of these specific recommendations are made with an eye toward the overall context of our field’s quest to define itself and construct its boundaries in an...

    (pp. 205-209)

    What will composition look like in the future if we abandon numerical evidence entirely and tell stories instead? How would we tie all of those stories together, and how, exactly, would we find them useful to our teaching? We might learn one day that our postmodern critique of scientism has resulted not in a new understanding of the role science plays in our culture, but in a chaotic individualism through which we amass a body of scholarship we are ultimately unable to contain, describe, or, in the end, use. How will our field be portrayed to others if constructed of...

  10. REFERENCES for Eileen Oliver’s “Writing Quality, etc.”
    (pp. 210-214)