Space-people-language: A grounded theory of a place-based pedagogy in a first year writing class

William Burns, University of Rhode Island


This qualitative study uses grounded theory and teacher research to describe and analyze a place-based composition assignment experienced by a first year writing class at the University of Rhode Island in Fall 2004. Results suggest that participants used interconnecting spatial, social, and discursive techniques to construct familiarity and comfort in campus and writing environments, making explicit the relationships between spatial awareness, rhetorical strategies, and composing practices. These relationships have been previously theorized upon but have not resulted in in-depth qualitative accounts of pedagogical experiences. This study of spatial, rhetorical, and pedagogical theories and methods explores these relationships using the critical lenses of cultural geography and spatial composition as reflected through maps, tables, photos, artifacts, and participant interviews and essays. What can students in a writing class gain from a more critical understanding of space and place? What can instructors gain from a spatial analysis of their own practices? Are there similar strategies to how student writers approach unfamiliar spaces, texts, and assignments? What pedagogical practices can help students critique their spatial experiences and their writing skills? Can grounded theory be utilized to analyze and interpret the experiences of instructors and students in place-based composition class? Utilizing extensive student contributions and feedback in which participants informed all stages of the research process, this study suggests that the connections between spatial conditions, social relationships, and the practices of writing be experienced as multiple, mutually constitutive, and always involved in how writers locate, position, and situate themselves in writing spaces, classroom spaces, and textual spaces. The theory put forward by this dissertation proposes that space and physicality are crucial parts of the writing process and composition pedagogy, and spatial awareness and qualitative research can be used to help students become more informed writers and composition instructors more informed teachers. This theory also argues that including more critical views of space and place could enhance present interests and movements in composition such as visual rhetoric and public writing. ^

Subject Area

Language, Rhetoric and Composition|Education, Higher

Recommended Citation

William Burns, "Space-people-language: A grounded theory of a place-based pedagogy in a first year writing class" (2006). Dissertations and Master's Theses (Campus Access). Paper AAI3239902.