Lauer, Janice M. “Dappled Discipline”

Lauer, Janice M. “Composition Studies: Dappled Discipline.” Rhetoric Review 3.1

(1984): 20-29.

Lauer paints composition studies as a complex and often misunderstood discipline, and she spends time supplying a synopsis of prior scholarship to establish footing in the field. She defends composition studies as a multidisciplinary and multimodal arena, pointing to complications in its position as a discipline unto itself and solidifying its credibility as a social field of study. She lends power to the work with a nod to its role in the fight against illiteracy, and examines the dangers and risks involved – particularly the danger of attaching empirical notions to a discipline whose very culture depends on openmindedness. This piece functions to highlight the reciprocity between theory and practice and challenge the ways that educators translate ideas into pedagogy.


Dynamic Perspective (21), Illiteracy (21), Nature of Written Discourse (21), Powers of Inquiry (21), Multidisciplinary (21), Multimodality (22), Epistemic Court (22), Social Field (25), Reciprocity (26), Tone of Study (27)


Stephen Toulmin, Human Understanding (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1972).

Jurgin, Habermas, “Theories of Truth,” trans. Richard Grabau (unpublished manuscript,

Purdue University); Brant Burleson, “On the Foundations of Rationality: Toulmin,

Habermas, and the a priori of Reason,” Journal of the American Forensic

Association, 16 (Fall, 1979), 112-27.

Thomas Farrell, “Knowledge, Concensus, and Rhetorical Theory,” The Quarterly Journal

of Speech, 62 (1976), 6-8.



“Social fields like composition studies depend on attributions of consensus that act as preconditions for arguing against the validity of any theory … Those who advance new theories of invention must presuppose consensus in the scholarly community about the conception of writing as a process; those who propose new models of composing must presuppose consensus about the appropriateness of modeling” (23).

“In social fields, advocates have two kinds of audience: 1) the epistemic court of experts and 2) larger affected populations for whom social knowledge exercises a rhetorical function, attempting to gain their acceptance of its conclusions and to induce their action” (24).

“Although most composition scholars consider their theories and conclusions to be fallible, when their work gets translated by others into pedagogy, it sometimes gets prematurely promulgated as truth” (24).

“Like the blood vessels in the eye being used today for identification instead of fingerprints, the tone of a discipline provides a finer grain of distinction among fields” (27).

“Unlike the slaughter in some fields in which proponents of one persuasion struggle in mortal combat with those of another and unlike the more covert warfare in other fields in which newcomers carve out niches for themselves by enlarging loopholes in previous work, composition scholars huddle together in the face of tidal waves of problems whose solutions demand collaboration” (27-28).


With the fluid nature of research and theory and the required openminded-ness, can one ever truly be a master in the field of composition studies? Can we accept that our level of flexibility and generosity toward new ideas and commitment to growth secures our place as competent compositionists/scholars of composition/teachers of composition ?

In a field less concerned with technical absolutes, how do we assess student progress? Can we gauge the effectiveness of our instruction? Are our outcomes essentially measured by social change?

What is the level of collaboration in the field currently? Is Lauer’s emphasis on collaborative thinking still embraced by composition studies theorists 30 years later?


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