Elizabeth Wardle and I have been having a pleasant exchange on one of my earlier posts, and we hit upon a discussion of post-process composition. I don’t know if there are any real histories of post-process. There’s Richard Fulkerson’s Composition Studies article, which indicates the term was first coined in 1994 by John Trimbur and Anthony Pare. However, I would think that you could go back earlier, even to the late 80s, and see the post-process movement there. In fact, you could even say something like Ira Shor’s Critical Thinking in Everyday Life was post-process in some respect, and that was 1980.
As it happens, Shor’s book was one of the first, if not the first, book I read in comp theory when I entered grad school in 1992.
I think there are many varieties of post-process composition. It’s a kind of an attempt to capture the various ways that rhet/comp scholars have moved beyond, built upon, and/or rejected the dominant writing process school of thought. In general though, and from my perspective, post-process is a recognition of the social and cultural dimensions of writing. On the one hand, it’s Berlin’s social-epistemic rhetoric, which is strongly Marxist from my view. On the other hand, it represents the impact of Foucault and cultural studies on our understanding of the role of ideology/power in discourse and representation. That’s not to say there was no recognition of social/political issues in rhet/comp before then. Obviously that isn’t true. However, I think it’s equally obvious that postmodern theory and cultural studies offered radically different and powerful ways to examine these questions, with the result being that some rhet/comp folks shifted their thinking about writing and teaching to such an extent that they no longer could think of themselves as holding the process positions they once held. They were post-process.
In my PhD program (U-Albany) in the mid-nineties, post-process was certainly the dominant composition approach, especially among the graduate students. There was a strong Marxist contingent across the doctoral program and a strong emphasis on "theory" as well. By 1996, when I started writing my dissertation, post-process seemed such the normal way of looking at things, that my diss could probably be best described as post-post-process composition theory: a critique of the pedagogic strategies that had evolved in post-process and their explicit liberatory objectivies, which I found "problematic" (the grad student’s favorite word). Reading Victor Vitanza and Greg Ulmer got me started down that path.
I then went to Georgia Tech where the FYC program doubled as intro to cultural studies and students read Marx, Raymond Williams, Foucault, Bourdieu, etc. No one ever talked about process that I can recall. Of course, we still had students write drafts, do workshops, get feedback, and revise. But that wasn’t a theory to us anymore than filling a beaker with chemicals and holding it over a Bunsen burner is a theory to a chemistry student. That said, we could (and some did) critique the process as an ideological mechanism for interpolating subjects into particular postiions–as "student writers" for example.
What changed for me was the real emergence of the web in the late nineties and my introduction to the field of new media studies that accompanied it. Working in hypertext and web design led me slowly to realize that writing wasn’t what I had assumed it to be. New media studies helped me to think about the technological-material dimensions of writing. So for the past five or so years, I’ve been thinking about writing as a material-technological process, which includes thinking about thought as material and technological.
Here is where I get to plug my book, The Two Virtuals, which will be out this summer from Parlor Press. My book really explores this idea by looking at two conceptions of the virtual. On the one hand there’s the technological virtual–the way emerging technologies create new kinds of mediated-informational spaces and networks to which we link in a kind of distributed cognition. On the other hand, there’s a philosophical virtual, which is an alternate theory of materiality, alternate to the dominant philosophy which hinges on a conception of essence (e.g. there’s some essential characteristic of a tree that makes it not a bush). Virtual philosophy offers a different explanation for how materiality unfolds and diferentiates into the world we experience. As such, it is really a theory of compositional processes. That is, it is literally a theory of how the material world is composed, a theory that includes the composition of thought and the composition of writing.
The philosophical virtual envelops the technological virtual, so they are not in opposition or dialectic to one another. However, the philosophical virtual offers a useful context for understanding the role emerging technologies play in networks of distributed cognition and composition.
So I suppose I am post-process in the sense that I continue to teach writing by asking students to study writing, both the object and the practice, and try to figure out what it is and how it works and how they do it and so on. Some folks may even insist that that’s the process approach. That’s fine with me. Obviously the difference is that I’m thinking about writing in a way that’s really not even in a category of composition theory as far as I know. And I don’t mean that as a boast, nor do I mean to suggest I’m the only one out here thinking in these (or related) terms–b/c there are too many people to list here, but some of them are on that blogroll.
I guess I’ll end with a quote that’s stuck with me a long time. In Fragments of Rationality, Faigley writes "many of the fault lines in composition studies are disagreements over the subjectivities that teachers of writing want students to occupy" (17). I have found that to be the case. I think it’s a post-process type observation to note that composition is about the interpolation of students as certain kinds of subjects (as education itself generally is–from a cultural studies perspective). Even post-process comp, with its emphasis on liberation, desires students to occupy positions of critical literacy. Since I read that, more than a dozen years ago, I’ve been wondering if teaching writing can be something other than that.