A Study of Writing within Discipline-Specific Writing Support Centers: Expanding our Definitions

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Virginia Tech


This dissertation explores discipline-specific writing support spaces in an attempt to better understand disciplinary writing from various perspectives. Neal Lerner suggests that writing center scholarship would benefit from interdisciplinary work; therefore, I investigate spaces that are uniquely positioned in disciplines to identify disciplinary questions within writing center work. These spaces will allow writing center professionals to gain a better understanding of the intersections between writing in the disciplines and writing center work, and the writing center's role in student learning, from within the disciplines. We can then integrate these interdisciplinary frameworks into writing center scholarship to broaden perspectives and subsequently better accommodate students across disciplines. This scholarship could offer some clarity as we try to expand our scholarly purview in order to identify some of the questions writing center professionals should be asking.

Through ten interviews from three different academic institution, this dissertation interrogates questions that have been embedded within writing center scholarship for decades. This dissertation shows the prominence of the generalist / specialist debate, the 'students can't write' narrative, and explores a situated learning theory in writing center practice. While there has been valuable research done in writing center research and scholarship in an attempt to move writing centers out of the margins, many writing centers still maintain a marginalized status to some faculty and administrators within their institutions. Unless we shift the perception of, and the narratives coming from, writing centers, we might be replaced by writing support centers that are not affiliated with writing centers. These writing support spaces, as shown in this dissertation, provide students a plethora of discipline-specific resources, often including research and communication. If writing centers do not distinguish themselves as a place that can help students across disciplines, writing centers might move from a marginalized position into having no position within the institution at all.

For writing center scholars, professionals, and students, the findings of this dissertation mean that as writing centers attempt to accommodate students who write in the disciplines, our identity potentially becomes distorted. Therefore, we must pay special attention to the narratives we use in the writing center and subsequently circulate to our faculty. We have an opportunity to reconsider those narratives and offer a new theoretical framework for how we conceive of and define writing center work. If we do not adapt a situated learning theory in writing centers, we might consider other alternatives so that writing support spaces, such as those highlighted here, do not replace writing centers altogether. Those of us who are involved in writing center theory and practice have a responsibility to consider the alternative venues students might seek for help and to, as a community, identify best practices and theoretical frameworks as writing centers seek to accommodate disciplinary writers.



writing center, rhetoric, composition, writing center satellites, writing support spaces