Autobiography and Theories without Data

Autobiographical explanations of theoretical frameworks can provide the false assurance of affective verification.  This is particularly true in creative writing pedagogy, where many articulation a of “how one should teach” are supported with autobiographical (i.e. anecdotal) evidence rather than research data.  This is exactly what James D. Williams criticized in works by Lisa Ede and others in Composition Studies.

Williams’s main point, I think, is that autobiography can become the tool of unchecked ideology.  The Theory Wars skirmishes between Gary Olson and Wendy Bishop certainly raised this question, particularly when Olson accused Bishop of using her personal experiences of “creative” writing as a means to undermine not just theories, but the expertise of theorists.

Unfortunately, creative writing does not lend itself well to “rigorous” research practices.  Especially in cases where much of an author’s work may arise as a response to or escape from trauma, the “anecdotal” evidence from a single writing instructor may provide some of our most important evidence and exploration of an otherwise unheralded trend.

I myself will be depending on this as I write my dissertation.  Much of my understanding of the role of “muscle memory” in writing is contextualized throughly own experiences of having my wrist injured, operated on, fractured, and operated on again.  I’ve seen how my writing changed through the transitions from handwriting to typing to left-handed typing.  I’m now typing this post using my thumb on my iPhone.  And now using two thumbs, to see if maybe I can learn to iPhone (v) even faster.  But one fast thumb is still faster than two because of habit and experience.  Which makes me suddenly wonder if students might do better on their essay writing if we asked them to type everything using their preferred texting platform…

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