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Writing across the curriculum program development as ideological and rhetorical practice

Carolyn J Fulford, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Few research studies have focused on WAC program development. Those that exist do not examine the ideological grounds for programmatic changes. This dissertation explores the dynamics of such changes through a four-year ethnographic study of WAC program development at a small, public, liberal arts college. The study employed extensive participant observation, interviewing, and document collection to trace how curricular and cultural changes around writing take shape and what ideologies and rhetorical practices come into play during that complex change process. The site for the study is of special interest because WAC there was in transition from an informal coalition focused on changing culture and pedagogy to a potentially institutional program equally invested in curricular reform. My study documents the interactions that characterize the change process, using Jenny Edbauer's conception of rhetorical ecology for its explanatory power in non-linear discursive environments. I analyze rhetorical encounters between a wide range of institutional constituents, including administrators and faculty from multiple disciplines. In these encounters, higher education's historic ideologies surface and interact in complex ways with WAC's ideologies. Using critical discourse analysis, I unpack these interactions and ideological multilectics, examining how language and values circulate among multiple users, texts, and sites within the rhetorical ecology of one college, influencing the shape of program developments. WAC scholars suggest that contemporary practitioners need to forge alliances with other cross-curricular initiatives in order for WAC to continue as a viable educational movement. My analysis of how WAC advocates at one college positioned their efforts in relation to other curricular changes reveals both benefits and costs resulting from such alliances. Although alliances can produce significant reforms, working with groups that have divergent ideological premises risks positioning WAC in subordination to others' ideological priorities. Two intertwined strategies appear to mitigate this problem: (1) ideological recentering on WAC's core theoretical commitments and (2) formation of recombinant multilectics by identifying the ideologies in play and considering how, or whether, core WAC ideological commitments align with them. Acts of recentering that incorporate deliberate multilectics may be key survival strategies for WAC programs as they interact with other cross-curricular initiatives.

Subject Area

Rhetoric|Higher education

Recommended Citation

Fulford, Carolyn J, "Writing across the curriculum program development as ideological and rhetorical practice" (2009). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3379960.