James D. Williams – “Counterstatement: Autobiography in Composition Scholarship”

Williams, James D.  “Counterstatement: Autobiography in Composition Scholarship.”  Rev. of Situating Composition: Composition Studies and the Politics of Location, by Lisa Ede; Self-Development and College Writing, by Nick Tingle; and The End of Composition Studies, by David W. Smit.  College English 68.2 (2005).  209-225.  JSTOR.  8 April 2014.

Williams here is very, very critical of the trend of using autobiography in lieu of research to describe writing.  I think he clearly sums up many of the major concerns in academia surrounding the use of life writing as a “critical” tool.  I need to check if he says this directly, but the crux of his argument indicates that autobiography is being used here in a rhetorical rather than scholarly manner, that the “personal experiences” primarily serve to reinforce preexisting ideological divides in the field of Composition Studies.  Also, I think it very interesting that Lisa Ede is among those he criticizes.  He does find her work interesting and useful, but he does critique her use of the autobiographical turn.

I find this article particularly relevant for creative writing pedagogy in that creative writing is so frequently described as “unteachable.”  Since there aren’t as many theories of how creative writing is learning (and far fewer data-driven studies), popular culture often relies on autobiographical works such as Stephen King’s On Writing to “understand” the process of learning to write.  And so Williams’s critique in Composition Studies would probably not work as well in Creative Writing Studies, though I’m not sure.  The source to compare with would be Diane Donnelly’s Establishing Creative Writing Studies as an Academic Discipline.  Also, Sarah Allen’s discussion on the use of the personal essay in the classroom may benefit from a comparison with Williams.

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