Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Writing Program


Louise W. Phelps


Composition, Emotion, Pedagogy, Politics, Social Justice, Writing

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities


This dissertation examines theories of emotion in politically contentious discourse in order to better understand the implications for teachers and students in composition classrooms where critical pedagogical practices lead to contentious political work. I suggest that partly as a result of the social and political turn in composition studies, the expectation for disrupting the normative political values and beliefs of students has become part of the curriculum in many writing classrooms. Yet teachers and students charged with such learning goals may be largely unaware of and unprepared for the role emotion might play in this teaching and learning situation. I argue that it is both ethically imperative and pragmatically in our best interest to better understand the complexities of the intersection between emotion and politically contentious discourse.

Drawing on a variation of grounded theory methodology called "situational analysis," I examine two seemingly separate sites of inquiry, a politically contentious discussion among teachers in composition and rhetoric, and materials from a new teaching assistant practicum, that together help begin to illuminate the less than visible influences and importance of collective emotion in contentious political discourse in the writing classroom. In chapter one I establish the exigency for the project and provide an historical account of the divergent paths that have led to politically contentious discourse in writing classrooms. In chapter two, I develop a working definition for the concept of emotion and suggest particular theoretical frames from political sociology useful to the analysis of emotion. Chapter three provides an explanation and justification for the use of situational analysis as a methodological way forward in exploring relational factors involved in the situation of inquiry. Chapter four analyzes a politically contentious discussion among professionals in composition and rhetoric, which highlights the autonomous power of collective emotion to open and reinforce social division. In chapter five I examine steps that scholars in composition and rhetoric have taken toward understanding the implications of emotion in politically contentious classrooms, and argue that there are important gaps in this work, particularly with regard to the range of experience of the teachers taking on the challenge of critical pedagogy in first year composition. The final chapter examines a particular site of such teaching work, a new teaching assistant practicum, through materials collected retrospectively from teachers, students and mentors. In sum, this dissertation argues for first steps we might take to ensure a more productive way forward for teachers and students in classrooms where politically contentious work is part of the writing curriculum.


Open Access