Notes: Louise Wetherbee Phelps, “The Domain of Composition”

Phelps, Louise Wetherbee. (1986). The domain of composition. Rhetoric Review, 4(2), 182-195.


Phelps engages the field of composition’s basis as a field to argue for a loose definition of composition’s core values. Phelps contends that this core is centered around the writer’s act of writing and that, while much of the field’s previous work has been spent in exploring composition’s relationship to other fields, the field of composition must also continue to explore itself as a unique discipline.

Keywords: composition, disciplinarity, literacy, rhetoric, symbolic action, writing studies


Reither, James A. (1985). Writing and knowing: Toward redefining the writing process. College English 47, 620-28.

Michael Cole et al. (1978). Mind in Society: The Development of Higher Psychological Processes. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.


“So one must characterize a disciplinary domain via the relationships among the following elements: a group of inquirers, a characteristic attitude toward phenomena, the objects of inquiry themselves, the means of inquiry, its purposes, and scenic factors fall within the field” (182).

“A focus on the relational structure of written discourse presupposes that it is a form of symbolic action, like speech. Even though the text as a mediate act makes it possible for actual writing and reading performances to be remote in time and space, it also determines the fact that these actions are defined by their reciprocity. The construction of linguistic meanings is inherently intersubjective and collaborative, so that one cannot examine the constituent writing and reading acts (which may appear to be private and largely mental) except in terms of their relationship” (183-184).


In his discussion of language performances, to what extent is language performative in writing practices?

What are the ways in which the interdisciplinary inquiry within composition can be limiting?

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