Date of Award

Fall 1998

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Patricia A Sullivan


The influence of postmodern theory on studies in composition and rhetoric has led to important questions for the teaching of writing: In light of/after postmodernism, what role does/should theory play in classroom practice and how can it best inform pedagogy? In writing and in the world at large, how do we define and where do we locate agency?

I argue that the goal of composition courses should be to help students learn to use discourse to represent the interests of themselves and others and effect change in a postmodern world--to become active citizens by becoming better rhetoricians. In order to achieve such goals teachers of writing need to develop practices that give more productive attention to the issue of subjective agency in college writing and beyond. Agency--the capacity to recognize and negotiate existing power relations and use discourse to act in the world on behalf of oneself and others--is not possible without attention to our understanding of the "self" or the "identity" of the writer.

All writing, however academic or transactional, has an autobiographical component. In an effort to characterize and extend our understanding of the connection between a writerly self and public agency in both theory and practice, this dissertation explores autobiography as both a genre and a methodology in the composition classroom. Through the results of my experience teaching a second-year composition course focused on the relation between academic and personal writing, I argue for the importance of narrative in critical pedagogy.

Our most pressing task is that of reenvisioning the relationship between theory and practice in a way that acknowledges how we both write and are written. While critical theory has created a crisis of agency, it also provides us with tools for understanding how our selves, as well as culture, are constructs always in process. Rhetoric can help us and our students productively negotiate an ethical relationship between discourse and lived experience, and use writing to take action in the world.