Rhetorical Thinking as Dispositional: An Analytical Framework for Teachers

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Writing Program


Louise Wetherbee Phelps


Rhetorical thinking, Disposition, Composition, Pedagogy, Invention, Experiential knowledge

Subject Categories

Rhetoric and Composition


Since its beginning, modern composition has asked how a writing process understood as a process of inquiry and discovery could be taught systematically. Composition theorists have successfully described the various cognitive and cultural features of this process and the implications of these discoveries for instructional design; however, composition theory lacks a rich description of the interdependence between formal and experiential knowledge when a writer's competence requires flexibility and adaptability. Teachers need a framework which provides an analysis of this interdependence so that they can design classrooms which both transmit essential forms, conventions, and procedures and enculturate students as skilled writers capable of inquiry, discovery, and flexible, adaptable practice. This project uses a theory of thinking as dispositional to describe how formal and experiential knowledge, coupled with judgment and critical perception, are the basis for skillful action in flexible, adaptable practitioners (Perkins, Jay and Tishman 1993).

The dissertation is divided into two parts. The first part identifies the problem of describing rhetorical knowledge for the purposes of educating flexible, adaptable writers. Part One describes three lines of speculation into the cognitive and epistemological dimensions of skillful rhetorical action, Process theory, the Social/post Process critique of process theory and the classical rhetorical arts of invention on modern composition's approach to rhetorical competence. Part Two offers a model of rhetorical thinking as dispositional which accounts for the formal knowledge, informal knowledge, sensitivities and inclinations to learn and act necessary for skillful rhetorical thinking. It proposes a "rhetorical thinking framework" to help teachers describe and define the combination of skills and abilities, sensitivities to occasions for using those skills and abilities, and the inclinations to solve problems that characterize competence. It then analyzes the dispositions involved in skillful use of invention and competence in the use of citation conventions with particular emphasis on technical competence, knowledge of conventions, critical perception and spontaneous action. Finally, the project describes how a view of rhetorical thinking as dispositional changes how the subject matter of writing classes can be expressed instructional design.