The End of Composition Studies (Hardcover)

The End of Composition Studies By David  W. Smit, Douglas D. Hesse (Foreword by) Cover Image
By David W. Smit, Douglas D. Hesse (Foreword by)


In this provocative and persuasive treatise, David W. Smit calls for an end to the hegemony of writing instruction as an academic field. Setting forth an innovative new model for what it means to be a writing teacher in the era of writing across the curriculum, The End of Composition Studies urges a reconceptualization of graduate work in rhetoric and composition, systematically critiques the limitations of current pedagogical practices at the postsecondary level, and proposes a reorganization of writing instruction to make it the responsibility of all academic units.


The End of Composition Studies calls into question two major assumptions of the field: that writing is a universal ability and that college-level writing is in some sense foundational to advanced learning. Instead, Smit upholds, writing involves a wide range of knowledge and skill beyond the sentence level that cannot be solely learned in writing classes but must be acquired by immersion in various discourse communities in and out of academic settings. In other words, students do not learn to write in order to prepare themselves to write in a particular community; they need to be part of the community in order to learn how to write in that community.


Smit proposes that the field of composition should recognize the conceptual limits of what instructors may be able to know about how people learn to write by offering writing instruction in academic units most closely associated with the knowledge and genres students want or need to learn. Scholars, he says, should be trained to live in two worlds: one of composition theory and pedagogy and another of the discourse practices of particular communities. Similarly, they should be trained both as writers of the discourses they teach and as social critics of the communities they will help students join.


The End of Composition Studies also analyzes the limits of six major concepts in the field: what writing is, how writing is learned, how we compose, writing as a social practice, writing as thinking, and writing as the transfer of abilities from one context to another. These concepts, along with other paradigms and models that are used to understand how people write, are already known and widely accepted, making a complete reconceptualization of writing unlikely. As a result, Smit asserts, future research in the field will be what many scholars characterize as postmodern: research will be historicized, contextualized, and contingent, limited in what it may tell about writing and its instruction.


In response to these limitations, The End of Composition Studies provides a compelling rhetoric and rationale for eliminating the field and reenvisioning the profession as truly interdisciplinary—a change that is necessary in order to fulfill the needs and demands of students, instructors, administrators, and our democratic society.

About the Author

David W. Smit, a professor of English and the director of the Expository Writing Program at Kansas State University, is the author of The Language of a Master: Theories of Style and the Later Style of Henry James. His articles have appeared in Journal of Advanced Composition, Rhetoric Review, Rhetoric Society Quarterly, and other journals.

Praise For…

“ A major and salutary contribution to debates about the future of rhetoric and composition.” — Stephen North, author of The Making of Knowledge in Composition: Portrait of an Emerging Field

The title, as Smit says at the outset is a pun, but both meanings apply. Smit is trying to define what should be the end / goal of composition studies but also urging for the end/finish of composition studies (and the teaching of writing) as it now exists. He suggests that writinginstruction not be so narrowly tied to English or Writing Departments, but rather be tied to particular discourse communities. Thus for some­one to teach Writing in the Health Sciences (as I happen to be doing this quarter), that someone would have been formally trained in such writing in graduate school (which I most certainly was not). It is odd, I think, that at first I thought it was radical to suggest that teachers of "writing across the disciplines" should actually formally study writingin those disciplines. Is it not indeed a modest proposal to suggest "that graduate programs in composition studies be organized in order to promote the training of compositionalists as writers of particular kinds of discourse, as scholars of particular discourse communities, and as specialists in pedagogy"? (195)

To suggest that writing teachers should have practice doing the kinds of writing they teach is a sort of Emperor's New Clothes moment.

Isn't it obviously so? Shouldn't writing teachers be selected on the basis of their skills as "writer-practitioners of the kinds of writing they are going to teach"? And shouldn't "universities require portfolios with a broad range or writing from a variety of disciplines, professions, and workplaces as the student nears graduation"? And shouldn't graduate students, in Rhetoric and Composition (and in English) be trained as writers? Smit points to a survey of doctoral programs in rhetoric and composition that revealed "of seventy-two programs, only thirteen have any requirement, or even an option among requirements, that students take a writing course."

While perhaps Smit falls back too often on the Wittgensteinian trick of showing that most of the time most people (writers included) don't have any idea what the words we are using actually mean, this book is, as Steven North says on the back cover, "a major and salutary contribution about the future of rhetoric and composition." It will be salutary indeed even if we start following only this one of his many recommendations: train writing teachers as writers.

— John Boe

Product Details
ISBN: 9780809325856
Publisher: Southern Illinois University Press
Publication Date: December 1st, 2004
Pages: 272
Language: English