Public writing inside and outside the classroom: A comparative analysis of activist rhetorics

Eileen Medeiros, University of Rhode Island


Public writing, or writing in the public sphere, is being heralded as the next step in composition studies. Embedded in public writing is the assumption that it fosters civic engagement and effects social change, the same assumptions that were made about service-learning in the 1990's—assumptions that have turned out to be incorrect, actually. This study is an investigation of those assumptions. Using a comparative methodology, this study examines the types of writing that students are producing in five different public writing classes located around the country and juxtaposes that writing with the writing produced by members of five national activist groups—people who are writing as citizens to effect social change. Materials examined in this study include original student work, syllabi, and activist training manuals. In comparing the two sets of writings—those of students to those of the members of activist groups—it becomes apparent that while public writing in the classroom does exemplify citizenship and activism, it is a citizenship devoid of political action and an activism devoid of mobilization. Students are practicing citizenship in and through their writing in that they are writing about local, national, and international issues in a variety of genres. However, they are not practicing a political citizenship by using their writing to influence those in power to effect social change. In addition, students are addressing issues in an individual, not collective, manner. The public writing produced in the classroom does not much reflect the public writing that is being produced by members of activist groups. This study argues that if the field of composition wants to create a public writing theory and pedagogy that encourages students to write as citizens to effect social change, it needs to consider the practices of activist groups and develop a new model that incorporates those practices into the public writing curriculum. This study offers a new model for public writing, a deliberative collective participatory model, which draws upon the practices of activist groups to develop a theory of public writing that nurtures students' sense of citizenship and effects social change.

Subject Area

Language arts|Rhetoric

Recommended Citation

Eileen Medeiros, "Public writing inside and outside the classroom: A comparative analysis of activist rhetorics" (2007). Dissertations and Master's Theses (Campus Access). Paper AAI3298371.