Date of Award


Document type


Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program


First Advisor

Donna LeCourt

Second Advisor

Anne Herrington

Third Advisor

Sally Galman

Subject Categories

English Language and Literature | Rhetoric and Composition


Due to the public turn in Composition and Rhetoric, many teachers look beyond the academy in order to give students a "real" writing experience for social change purposes. However, as Bruce Horner notes, this denigrates the real work that is done within the classroom. In this dissertation, then, I argue that we can find ingredients for writing for social action in our courses, and we can do so by studying activist students who are already writing for just change. Using a case study methodology, I learn from activist students at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. I find that these students' activist positionalities are co-constructed by their work as students and as activists. Rather than a political space as opposed to an academic space, these students combine them. We can reconceptualize a reductive "student writer" position to an "activist student writer position" where students have agency to make rhetorical decisions to support their activism and use activist practices to strengthen their academic work. With this finding, we can re-conceive of academic space as political and open to "real" writing for social action.

My major finding is that of an affective writing process as necessary for social action writing. This complex textual production takes material life experience and affective investments into account as they interact with students' writing choices to construct a rhetorical situation where change is possible. It is the writing process itself that allows students to make the necessary decisions to reconstitute their emotions to form a socially active text that they take satisfaction in and would want to circulate. I suggest that students writing outside of the classroom can engage in this process and arrive at a sense of affective agency. However, students inside the classroom do not have access to the full affective writing process due to their sense of being more limited in the academic rhetorical situation. This contrast indicates that teachers may support students' social action writing by creating conditions for students to craft their own rhetorical situations to engage with the full affective process that gives rise to social action.