Date of Award

Fall 1994

Project Type


Program or Major

Reading and Writing Instruction

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Patricia A Sullivan


In this inquiry, I draw from theories in feminist epistemology, ethnography, and hermeneutics that consider the role of subjectivity in the construction and assessment of understanding in order to examine the process of reflexivity and explore its significance for learning.

I define reflexivity as a response triggered by an individual's dialectical encounter with an other (person, culture, text or other part of the self) whereby the individual begins to identify and critically examine his or her knowledge and assumptions. Using students' writing from my composition classes, I suggest how writing and reading, especially essayistic writing and reading, might be used to create the conditions that invite and support reflexive thought in the writing of personal or exploratory essays, in the process of reading and responding to complex texts and during collaborative research projects. At various points in the inquiry, I turn back on myself to interrogate my own assumptions and claims. I show how understanding, the process and product of a subject's transaction with an other, develops a layer at a time with examples from my students and my own intellectual history.

Reflexive awareness can lead persons to more complicated understandings of their subjects and themselves, and such understanding has both cognitive and ethical implications. The reflexive stance requires an agent who is capable of openness and "ethical deference," toward others and who has enough autonomy and self-trust to be able to withstand his or her own rigorous self-scrutiny. Reflexive inquiry and the cultivation of reflexive habits should be an aim of any pedagogy that seeks to help students negotiate multiple perspectives. Composition courses have a dual responsibility to teach students to compose their own understandings and to examine the implications of their compositions.