Berkenkotter, Carol. “Paradigm Debates, Turf Wars, and the Conduct of Sociocognitive Inquiry in Composition.” College Composition and Communication 42.2 (1991): 151-69. Print.

  • Berkenkotter begins the essay by highlighting the disjunct between theoretical work (Bruffee, Bizzell, Berlin) that foregrounds the writer in a matrix of social, historical, and ideological forces vs. cognitive work (Flower, Hayes, Bereiter, etc.) that foregrounds the writer as an active, constructive agent of meaning.  She does this in order to suggest that as of yet, Rhet/Comp has been unable to both foreground the material conditions of culture at the same time that it foregrounds the writer as agenic subject.  I view this framing as another (albeit ideologically heavy) emphasis on the communicational vs. the mediational aspects of our methodology (151).
  • Purpose of essay:  “examine from historical, social, and methodological perspectives the roots of some disciplinary quarrels that have polarized our thinking in composition studies, and have thus acted as obstacles to reading and evaluating research and to training graduate students to conduct multimodal inquiry” (ibid.).
  • Berkenkotter recognizes that the “cognitive” is often treated from a methodologically empirical perspective while the “social” is treated from a methodologically ethnographic/naturalistic standpoint (152).
  • B. claims that the schism between social vs. cognitive or qualitative vs. quantitative in rhet/comp is actually “historically situated in the changing conditions within academic culture, and that hybrid disciplines such as ours reflect power struggles within academic culture over turf, as well as the debate that has been raging in the social sciences and elsewhere over just what constitutes a human science” (152).
  • Berkenkotter claims that a central reason why attacks on empirical methodologies have occurred in the 1980s is the politicization of the field of English studies vis-a-vis literary theory.  Because lit theory is the largest growth sector in English and Textual Studies, it feels the need to rail against any methods that aren’t hermeneutic in orientation – in other words, it lambasts methods that claim an “ideology of science” (158).  Combined with the growth of rhet/comp departments and graduate programs, this politicization of the institution of English has resulted in inexorable attacks on empirical/cognitive research in the field.
  • B. recognizes that these sorts of attacks are really damaging and dangerous to a field that is inherently built upon interdisciplinary inquiry into the multiple modes of writing and meaning-making that constitute “writing” from the grammatalogical perspective (159).
  • B. defines “sociocognitive research in rhetoric and composition” as “research that looks at the complex relationship among language use (cultures and communities), the development of knowledge structures (schemata) on which language use depends, and the situated, indexical character of schemata” (159).
  • B. looks to Heath’s Ways with Words as a prime example of locating cognitive structures/activity inside social systems.  As she notes, “the social situatedness of the development of cognitive structures manifested in language behaviors . . . . have had major implications for teachers and researchers interested in the complex relationship between cognitive/linguistic development and cultural context” (162).
  • In Berkenkotter, Huckin, and Ackerman’s work on the discourse community of graduate study at Carnegie Mellon University, the authors stop short of claiming that “Nate” (actually Ackerman) was ideologically interpellated by neo-Marxist criticism in his education; rather, they claim that he became aware of and began manipulating a “multi-dimensional linguistic space” of multiple discourse communities.  He enacted particular identities in order to speak particular ways so that he could master the textual conventions and practices of his audience – ino, he was being rhetorical (163-4).
  • A KEY CLAIM:  “we were interested in showing how Nate’s growing awareness of the persuasive function of referencing (see Gilbert) enabled him to position his claims within a particular community’s accepted knowledge.  In this respect we saw the construct of the discourse community – as it can be discerned through its textual practices – as being central to the kind of language acquisition that we had documented” (164) – here we get the socio and cognitive in one claim.
  • B. notes that we live in a post-positivist world; “neither empirical nor hermeneutical inquiry is privileged, but rather each furnishes the basis for one kind of warranting.  Thus, in a hybrid field such as composition studies, there will be diverse lines of reasoning and warranting (each with its underlying argument field) competing in the marketplace” (165).  This results in the cultivation of what B. calls “epistemological ecumenicalism” or the recognition of a wide range of knowledge constituting systems from across disciplines.  Doing so allows grad students to take up inquiry “in order to make informed choices, rather than being led to questions and methods socially sanctioned within individual scholarly communities or specific graduate programs” (166).
  • In closing, B. recognizes the importance of both paradigms of research, noting that “Need we choose sides between quantitative and qualitative or empirical and hermeneutical approaches to our objects of study?  How can efforts of the empirical research community enrich rather than rival the efforts of those who see the needed work in composition to be done in the areas of cultural studies, critical theory, and feminist theory?  Finally, how do we help develop our graduate students to conduct multimodal inquiry?  For surely they well need to draw from diverse disciplines and methodologies to extend their knowledge(and ours) of how language users acquire their ‘ways with words’ in multicultural and multidisciplinary contexts” (166).

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