Reimagining students' writerly authority: Co-investigation and representations of student writers in composition studies

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Writing Program


Rebecca Moore Howard


Authority, Student writers, Composition studies, Autobiographical writing

Subject Categories

Rhetoric and Composition


In composition studies, there exists a tension between representations of students as, on the one hand, deficient non-writers and, on the other, full-fledged authors. This dissertation offers classroom co-investigation into authorship theories as an intervention into this tension. I begin with a critical examination of the patterns of negative representations of students in composition scholarship, especially scholarship grounded in the teaching testimonial. Drawing on Michel Foucault's concept of the "author-function," I posit a "student function" that results from such patterns. Next I examine two of the most pervasive pedagogical strategies for authorizing the work of student writers. In Chapter 2, I draw on Pierre Bourdieu's concepts of capital and field to construct a theoretical framework for analyzing the pedagogical practice of circulating student writing outside the classroom. In Chapter 3, I draw on feminist autobiographical theory to analyze composition studies' pedagogical assumption that autobiographical writing authorizes students as writers. Chapters 4 and 5 draw on the work of two required writing courses at Syracuse University--a first-year academic writing course, and a second-year research writing course--to demonstrate the possibilities that co-investigation offers when composition studies approaches student writing as writing that can contribute to the knowledge of the field. To successfully engage students in co-investigations of student authorship in a writing classroom, teachers must be willing to share the scholarship of composition studies with students. Teachers can only do this if the field represents students in more responsible ways. One of the most important findings of this research is that students identify themselves as writers or as non-writers in response to their understanding of teachers' expectations --and, when students read the scholarship of composition, of teachers' published representations --of them as writers or as non-writers. I argue in this dissertation that an important step toward more responsible representations of students is to solicit and publish students' responses to those representations. Only once we come to recognize students in the scholarship as knowledge producers--and ourselves as teachers who approach student writing responsibly--will we read our own students' work as possible contributions to the knowledge of composition studies.