Date of Award

Fall 1997

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Patricia A Sullivan


Henry Louis Gates, Jr. once commented that while he did not "deny the importance, on the level of theory, of the (postmodern) project," such a project did not help him when he was "trying to get a taxi on the corner of 125th and Lenox Avenue" (Loose Canons 37-38). The postmodern project lacked what Gates calls "practical performative force." The purpose of this dissertation is to establish postmodernity's practical performative force for the composition classroom. It addresses four central questions: What is postmodernity? What is its relationship to composition? Why should composition teachers and students care about this relationship? How might composition use postmodernity to create new classroom practices and deal with reoccurring classroom problems?

I believe that postmodern theory, if it can be refigured to match our current historical moment, offers composition two powerful discourses for creating practice and crossing disciplinary boundaries: an epistemological frame that allows for a plurality of diverse and even contradictory pedagogies in one classroom, and a theory of culture(s) that can help teachers negotiate the academic, political, and ethical challenges of today's classrooms. Postmodernity is not, as Lester Faigley's work implies, an abstract theory or research method that composition teachers apply to composition but, as Louise Wetherbee Phelps argues, a cultural condition in which we live.