ENGL 6930: Composition Theory

Fall 2015
Mondays 4:00 - 6:40   Hagg-Sauer 343  
Dr. M C Morgan • 218 755 2814
mmorgan@bemidjistate.edu • @mcmorgan • biro.erhetoric.org

Course url: http://biro.erhetoric.org/wikka.php?wakka=CompTheoryFall2015

Required texts

Villanueva and Arola, eds. Cross-Talk in Comp Theory: A Reader; 3rd Edition. NCTE, 2012. ISBN/ISSN: 9780814109779

Lutkewitte, Claire. Multimodal Composition: A Critical Sourcebook. MacMillan, 2014. ISBN-10: 1-4576-1549-5. ISBN-13: 978-1-4576-1549-8


What have you gotten yourself into? Something like this:

A 10-week consideration of

composition theory: an area of rhetoric that developed (in the US; it went a different direction in the UK, which we won’t be looking at) between 1964 and, let’s say, 2001, and flourished in the late 1990s;

a field that originated in response to Ptolemaic thinking about how writing gets written that was dominant in post-WWII teaching and is still practiced today;

a field that developed in support of composition teachers (at the time, mainly women, often spouses to literary academics), to provide theory and practice in a area that had been under-theorized and consequently practiced blindly;

drawing on empirical study (some of it poorly done), cognitive science, social cognition, social science, classical and epistemic rhetoric, structural and transformational linguistics, anthropology, and (it’s sort of buried, but we can see it in retrospect) semiotics;

rejecting Piagtian developmental psychology, behaviorism, mechanical models of the mind, and more accepting of Vygotsky's inner dialogue as a model of language development

apprehensive about formalism, expressionism, journalistic models, and Strunk and White prescriptivism;

that seems to have lost its momentum with the rise of postmo0dernism and deconstruction - although whether that’s a matter of graduate students and post-grads moving away from the subject, or just inertia, I don’t know;

that never quite got enough steam or energy behind it to grow into a proper revolution or even trigger a Copernican paradigm shift (in spite of some assertions), much less a quantum shift;

but that might now (in 2015) be seeing a revitalization, maybe even a sea-change (something rare and strange) (but still no revolution) with the rise of architectonic invention, semiotics, and multimodal composition;

followed by a consideration of a few weeks of

said multimodal composition: a re-consideration of composing that is currently developing in the US, UK, and Oz, mainly in circles of technical, e-rhetorical, and digital poetic boffins;

drawing on theories of social semiotics as applied to visual design and design in general;

in which our study moves away from (natural) language (as we know it: spoken and written) as the sole media of articulation and creation of meaning to involve image, gesture, placement in space and time, et al;

and not ironically bringing both the digital and the material into consideration;

finally, hopefully finally, leaving prescriptivism to the Miss Fiddiches, Lynn Trusses, NPRs, and Sarah Palins of the world;

so that we can start to think of composing as an allencompassingmaterialboundmultimodalarticulationofamomentssemioticconstructionofmeaninginasociacontext;

wherein the rhetor-composer uses material and cultural semiotic resources to best articulate her meaning.

End of lecture.

Your job


Read, make notes on, develop materials for discussion, and discuss, each week, with scholarly curiosity and creativity, the readings selected;

Locate other authoritative readings or materials connected to the week’s readings, and bring at least one additional scholarly source related to the assigned readings to the seminar table each week;

Engage, with the same scholarly sense and sensibility (balcony view; analytical consideration and critical interpretation rather than gut reaction and instant evaluation), the written or multimodal projects put in front of you;

As a final, develop and engage, with the same scholarly sense and sensibility, a project of your own, based on and furthering what we have read and discussed, of which more later in the semester.

My job

Moderate. Supplement where there are gaps. Advise when asked. Ask questions about practice, significance, implications, and knowledge. Define the scholarly realm and practices. Critique. Demonstrate. Evaluate.

How to do your job

Each week locate, read, and compose a critical summary (300 - 500 words) on one scholarly article related to the material we’re reading in common that week. Look at Selected Readings in the text; follow endnote trails on articles, refer to my notes for the week, or do a search. Google Scholar. BSU Library. Bring copies of your summary to the seminar table each week, or distribute it to everyone by email. We will take the first 15 - 20 mins of class to read these summaries with an eye to defining some of the issues in the field. I may not assign this every week, but expect it when it happens.

These outside readings will create an extensive set of materials we can all draw from during the course and afterward. Plan for your academic future. If something captures your interest, read extensively. It might become your final project for this course or a master's thesis.

After the second week, two of you will run the class discussion. Work together or independently to develop a discussion that will engage us for two hours. Focus us on the assigned readings, draw on other material you have read that week, but also bring something more to the table for us to consider: a problem, an issue, an exercise, a reading, a presentation, a debate, a way of proceeding. Set things up to create discussion and generate questions. Anticipate discussion and questions.

Negotiate among yourselves who will present each week. Up to you. You get points each time you present, so it’s in your best interest to present regularly.

If you have any materials for us to consider for the Monday session, distribute them by email in advance (Friday, Saturday, Sunday).

You get points for presenting. You get points for putting your ideas forward. You get points for responding and helping to develop what is put forward. Points = grades.

Suggested Workplan

Take about 4 hours for a first-pass reading of the assigned materials for the week. Don't linger on any one of them too long. Read them all, and expect to return to them later.

Go looking for scholarly materials related to those assigned for the week (library texts and journals; ILL; CCC through library online; Google Scholar).

Return to the assigned readings, and this time focus on an area or point of interest. Spend 6 intense hours (best might be 4 contiguous and 2 to revisit) analyzing and developing materials for discussion for the week.


Lots of points = lots of opportunities to learn = high grade.

Midterm assignment = 10% of your final grade
Final project = 20% of your final grade.
Everything else (presenting, discussing, crits) = 70% of your final grade.
No midterm submitted = no grade.
No final submitted = no grade.
Late materials, midterm, or final = arbitrary grade for the materials.


Join Verb_L, and the BSU English Group and Page on Facebook.

revisions and notes



Student learning objectives designed into the course

This course provides you with the opportunity

To successfully pass this course, you must

At the end of this course

You will not be an expert on the material but you will be familiar with the field, which puts you in a position

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