Notes: Katja Thieme & Shurli Makmillen, “A Principled Uncertainty: Writing Studies Methods in Contexts of Indigeneity”

Thieme, Katja, & Shurli Makmillen. (2017). A principled uncertainty: Writing studies methods in contexts of indigeneity. College Composition and Communication, 68(3), 466-493.


Thieme & Makmillen situate research methods as reproducing disciplinary epistemologies and trouble assumptions of validity and universality by situating research methods as a principled response, drawing on indigenous rhetorics and genre theory.

Keywords: cultural rhetorics, disciplinarity, genre, indigenous rhetorics, methodology, research methods, rhetoric, writing studies


Bhattacharya, Kakali. (2007). Consenting to the consent form: What are the fixed and fluid understandings between the researcher and the researched? Qualitative Inquiry, 13(8), 1095–115.

Cole, Daniel. (2011). Writing removal and resistance: Native American rhetoric in the composition classroom. College Composition and Communication, 63(1), 122–44.


“At the heart of critical questions on a method’s transparency and reproducibility are concerns about what it is that is being reproduced if research follows the path of established forms of inquiry” (p. 468).

“References to methods are a shorthand that is similarly indicative of community practices and allegiances. Like genre names, method references focus on central but isolated aspects of a process that involves rich and varying sets of steps and interactions. These shorthands can create a sense of stability and naturalization” (p. 469).

Notes: Pamela VanHaitsma, “Queering the Language of the Heart: Romantic Letters, Genre Instruction, and Rhetorical Practice”

VanHaitsma, Pamela. (2014). Queering the language of the heart: Romantic letters, genre instruction, and rhetorical practice. Rhetoric Society Quarterly, 44.1, 6–24.


VanHaitsma, in studying 19th Century letter writing manuals and letters, argues that these genre instruction manuals taught heteronormative rhetorical practices of letter writing, but in this instruction created moments of queer repurposing or adaptation.

Keywords: genre, queer, queer rhetorics, rhetoric, writing studies


“In teaching ways of being, genre instruction in the romantic letter was heteronormative insofar as it systematically normalized opposite-sex relations—and, just as importantly, particular versions of them” (p. 8).

“Yet, even as manuals taught a heteronormative conception of romantic relations, they provided resources for composing queerly gender-crossing forms of address” (p. 10).

“Manuals did not teach that writers compose romantic letters simply to develop romantic relationships, or to develop conversations within romantic relationships about a range of topics, such as politics. Instead, manuals taught that the purpose of romantic letters was to court or be courted in pursuit of marriage between a man and a woman” (p. 16).

“Yet even as manual instruction was mainly heteronormative, it taught the romantic letter genre as open to nonnormative adaptation through gender-crossing address, unrestrained outbreaks, and queer repurposing. In other words, however normative genres and genre instruction may be, they are not entirely settled; they are flexible and susceptible to queer challenge and repurposing” (p. 20).

Computers and Writing Reflection: Writing is Multimodal

All writing is multimodal. It’s one of 37 “threshold concepts” in writing studies published in Linda Adler-Kassner and Elizabeth Wardle’s Naming What We Know. The word “multimodal” appears across FYWP outcome statements. Multimodality appears to be a central value in writing studies, but how is it implemented, how is it defined, and how is it assessed and housed in FYWPs?

Many of my early conversations with faculty around multimodal composition alluded to some of these questions. One even compared it to many notions of literacy that too easily become some sort of apparently “neutral good” that has a tricky definition. It doesn’t quite mean computers; it doesn’t quite mean words in a row writing.

In my reading Jody Shipka’s “Rethinking Composition/Rethinking Process” chapter in Toward a Composition Made Whole, I am understanding a definition of multimodal composition that may not utilize a certain technology, but rather, argues for an understanding of composition that calls attention to the technologies used to produce that writing. She writes, “By asking students to examine the communicative process as a dynamic, embodied, multimodal whole–one that shapes and is shaped by the environment–students might come to see writing, reading, speaking, and ways of thinking and evaluating as “a function of place, time, sex, age, and many other elements of life” (Malstrom 1956, 24)” (26). This sort approach mixes object-oriented ontology with multimodality in a compelling way that forces an understanding of technologies and environments for writing that shape the writer and what is produced as a function of that space, time, object, etc. This kind of encounter with an object unessentializes and deinstrumentalizes objects and process for the production and evaluation of a given text. Instead, it calls for an encounter with the impression the objects of production have on the composition through the recognition of the liminal spaces objects and environments afford.

I can hear this echoed in composition’s past in Kathleen Blake Yancey’s 2004 CCCC address, where she calls attention to the way that technology is rapidly and dramatically creating and changing genres and understandings of literacy. She writes that students are writing more on their own than ever before with these (then) new technologies. Though not articulated in quite the same way as Shipka’s (2011) chapter, Yancey seems to be calling attention to this same understanding of composition; one that encounters the modes of production and recognizes their contribution to the production of that text. The idea that all writing is “interfacing,” I find a compelling way to conceive of texts as creating interaction and invitation.

This is certainly something that I strive for in my own pedagogy. The idea of making as composing is language that I’m slightly more familiar with, largely coming out of the hacking vs. yacking debates in the digital humanities and the maker movement. I’ve attempted to structure the courses I teach around this idea of multimodal composition and emphasize the means of making a text to call attention to the underlying assumptions about what a text is and the technologies that go into its production.


Notes: Neal Lerner, “Writing is a Way of Enacting Disciplinarity”

Lerner, Neal. (2015). Writing is a way of enacting disciplinarity. In Linda Adler-Kassner & Elizabeth Wardle (eds.) Naming what we know: Threshold concepts of writing studies. Logan: Utah State University Press, 40-41.


Lerner states that the writing that occurs within a given discipline evokes and invokes a set of disciplinary values and boundaries, and that the writers of that discipline at a given time are (re)creating those values each time they compose. In this way, writing is the enactment of the discipline’s values, both in its communication of ideas within its field and reproducing its values in a given text.

Keywords: citations, composition, disciplinarity, genre, threshold concepts, writing studies


Connors, Robert J. (1999). The rhetoric of citation systems: Part 2, competing epistemic values in citation. Rhetoric Review, 17(2), 219-45.

Hyland, Ken. (1999). Academic attribution: Citation and the construction of disciplinary knowledge. Applied Linguistics, 20(3), 341-67.


“In sum, the relationship between disciplinary knowledge making and the ways writing and other communicative practices create and communicate that knowledge are at the heart of what defines particular disciplines” (40).

“On a larger discursive level, any disciplinary genre speaks to the process by which members of a discipline shape, make distinct, and value its forms and practices of knowledge creation and communication, and these processes, in turn, are shaped by the histories of those genres” (41).


In what ways is the enactment of disciplines in writing performative? How can we make student writers aware of the histories they enact when they write in a given genre to make aware the tacit expectation of the rhetorical situation in which they are writing?

Are disciplinary boundaries only fluid insofar as the (en)actors choose to evoke or communicate within them? Is what is created by this fluidity an evolution of a genre, a hybridity, or a new genre altogether? How might these transgressive texts communicate to their intended disciplines?

Notes: Tony Scott & Asao B. Inoue, “Assessing Writing Shapes Contexts and Instruction”

Scott, Tony & Asao B. Inoue. (2015). Assessing writing shapes contexts and instruction. in Linda Adler-Kassner & Elizabeth Wardle (eds.) Naming what we know: Threshold concepts of writing studies. Logan: Utah State University Press, 29-31.


Scott and Inoue discuss the ways in which the assessment of student writing impacts the relationship that writers have with writing, the limitations that this relationship brings, and the impacts this relationship brings to genre and the content of writing. Scott and Inoue articulate that this relationship defines the context in which composition occurs, situated in an assessments-oriented environment.

Keywords: composition, first-year writing, genre, pedagogy, threshold concepts, writing assessments, writing program administration, writing studies


Gould, Stephen J. (1981). The mismeasure of man. New York: E.W. Norton.

Hanson, F. Allan. (1993). Testing testing: Social consequences of the examined life. Berkley, CA: University of California Press.


“[A]ssessment is not neutral: it shapes the social and rhetorical contexts where writing takes place, especially in school. Any assessment or evaluation applies specific values and also encourages writers to adopt those values” (30).

“Institutions can use assessments to inform teachers and students while lending them agency, or they can align prescribed curricula with assessment outcomes to determine the focus of teaching and circumscribe the scope of students’ writing. Writing assessment can thereby function as an intentional means of controlling the labor and creative latitude of teachers and students” (30-31).


Is there space in writing assessments to value writing that may inhabit a space outside its defined scope? What might that space look like and how can it be enacted? In what ways would assessing these kinds of writing trouble the tacit values in writing assessments and the expectations of the labor in writing? And in what ways can those performing assessments be reflective about these issues?

If writing assessments determine the contexts for writing and are, in turn, given their own shape within a given context, in what ways are those values enacted–further, in what ways can the values of writing assessment be made explicit to student writers who have to intuitively inhabit this context?