Dis-ability in composition textbooks: A rhetoric of difference




Martin, Deb

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This work brings together three different but complementary perspectives on language as social practice: (1) critical discourse analysis as presented by Norman Fairclough; (2) the rhetorical analysis of Kenneth Burke; and (3) social semiotic analysis as explained by Robert Hodge and Gunther Kress. Using these methodologies, I investigate structures at work in creating the concept of dis-ability in college composition textbooks. It is here that language and literacy, power, ideology, and epistemology collide and often reveal inconsistencies. Rhetorical strategies, both deliberate and unconscious, are developed and practiced in the immediate world of the everyday and influence the academic writing taking place in composition courses. Invisible assumptions of all writers are, in a way, coded in their use and interpretation of language and symbols. By raising the collective understanding of such devices at work in our language and in the dominant pedagogy, we are better able to understand how such structures inscribe attitudes and influence behavior. The overarching purpose of this study is to shed light on how the composition profession constructs dis-ability. This purpose is achieved by focusing on three primary questions: How is the concept of dis-ability constructed in composition textbooks? How does the language of composition texts contribute to, challenge, or otherwise subvert dominant constructions of dis-ability? What implications can these findings have for writing practices? Findings indicate that although there is a conspicuous absence of disability as a category of difference, the trend is moving toward inclusion. When disability is included, essentialist portrayals of people with disabilities prevail due largely to constraints of the textbook genre and of publishing in general, along with the limits of current traditional argument form that influences composition pedagogy today. Additionally, little attention is devoted to uncovering dominant ableist assumptions working to create disabling conditions. Students are not encouraged to consider their own role in social maintenance and change through language use. While many of the readings included in chapters on disability are timely and compelling, often there remains a cognitive disjunction between the readings and the editorial apparatus.



Education, Language, literature, and linguistics, Composition textbooks, Rhetorical strategies, Rhetoric