Faigley, “Competing Theories of Process: A Critique and a Proposal”

Faigley, Lester. “Competing Theories of Process: A Critique and a Proposal.” College English48.6 (Oct. 1986): 527-542. (16 pages)

Much like Berlin, Faigley is writing in response to assumptions that the paradigmatic shift to process-centered teaching of writing marks a widely accepted consensus and thus discipline of writing; rather, Faigley outlines the varying ways that compositionists understand the structure of the composing process. Here, Faigley outlines three dominant theoretical views of composing—the expressive view, the cognitive view, and the social view—and describes the historical impetuses for these three theoretical views. He also offers his critiques of each of these three views before offering a synthesis.

  1. The expressive view: Faigley uses Rohman and Wlecke to lay the basis of this view. Namely, Roham and Wlecke ground the expressive view of composing in the idea that thinking is both separate and antecedent from writing; thus, the essential qualities of good writing is integrity, spontaneity, and originality. Faigley describes how other expressive theorists challenge each of these qualities validity. Integrity, for example, would encourage writers not to parrot ideas expressed by others (including one’s own culture) because it is a mark of insincerity; however, if a writer is bound by these cultural ideas, it is impossible to tell whether they are being insincere. Spontaneity, then, is aligned with the idea that thinking and writing are separate; thus, spontaneous writing is the most authentic. However Elbow would point out that thought, in fact, grows from writing so they are accordingly intertwined. Likewise originality denotes a natural genius, but in contemporary expressive theory, there may be an innate potential in the unconscious mind. Referencing Giroux, Faigley notes how Giroux would find the expressive view of composition inadequate in accounting for social contexts.
  2. The cognitive view: The cognitive view is grounded in the ability by these theorists to depict the complexity of the composing process is computer-like structures. In many ways, theorists operating in this view see the need to legitimize composition theory by aligning it with a more “’scientific consciousness’ among writing teachers” (534). Giroux, as Faigley writes, “would be highly critical of any attempt to discouver universal laws underlying writing” (534).
  3. The social view: this third view is closely aligned with discourse communities. As Faigley writes, “human language (including writing) can be understood only from the perspective of a society rather than a single individual. …[the social view] rejects he assumption that writing is the act of a private consciousness and that everything else—readers, subjects, and texts—is ‘out there in the world.” Succinctly, the social view is grounded in how “the individual is a constituent of a culture” (535). For educators, the idea of expert-novice is then challenged. Bartholomae, for example, notes how novice students at the university level must contend with the language of the academic community they have entered in order to develop expertise. Ethnographic methodology is embraced by and within the social view of composing.

In his synthesis, Faigley values a historical awareness in critiquing and developing these theoretical views of the composing process. An ideal process theory would re-evaluate and integrate these three perspectives together—this, of course, is unlike Fulkerson who sees the mixing of these perspectives would denote modal confusion.


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