Self-Contradiction in Faculty's Talk about Writing: Making and Unmaking Autonomous Models of Literacy


  • Andrea R. Olinger University of Louisville



autonomous model of literacy, ideological model of literacy, white language habitus, disciplinary writing, WAC, WID, academic literacies, faculty writers, discourse analysis


In Writing Across the Curriculum/Writing in the Disciplines and Academic Literacies, researchers have produced compelling evidence of the disjunction between faculty members’ assertions that good writing is universal—i.e., the autonomous model of literacy—and faculty’s own tacit practice of discipline-specific conventions. In studies of race and language in education, scholars have identified disconnections between what teachers profess to value—e.g., students’ right to their own language—and how they actually grade. Contradictions are a natural part of any ideology, and these are commonly understood to demonstrate the resilience of the autonomous model. In this article, however, I introduce a set of theoretical tools from the sociology of scientific knowledge—namely, the concept of interpretative repertoires and of variability in participants’ interpretations as an analytic resource—that can reveal cracks in the autonomous model. Although these tools are over thirty years old, they have not circulated widely in literacy and composition studies. I apply the tools to text-based interviews with two faculty writers who had espoused universal “rules” for writing. After identifying apparent disconnections between the rules and their own practices or those of other writers with whom they worked, I present this evidence to them and analyze their explanations: They maintain that the rules still apply, but their accounts are complex, shifting, and self-contradictory. These case studies reveal, rather than its strength, the inherent instability of the autonomous model. Ultimately, I hope that these research tools can, in conjunction with systemic efforts, aid in dismantling the construct of “good writing” and its inherent privileging of white language practices.

Author Biography

Andrea R. Olinger, University of Louisville

Andrea R. Olinger is an associate professor of English and the director of Composition at the University of Louisville, where she studies disciplinary writers’ representations and practices of style, writing across the curriculum/writing in the disciplines, writing teacher development, and research methodologies. She is a coeditor of Diverse Approaches to Teaching, Learning, and Writing Across the Curriculum: IWAC at 25 (with Lesley Erin Bartlett, Sandra L. Tarabochia, and Margaret J. Marshall). Her articles have been published in such journals as Research in the Teaching of English, Written Communication, and Rhetoric Review.




How to Cite

Olinger, A. R. (2021). Self-Contradiction in Faculty’s Talk about Writing: Making and Unmaking Autonomous Models of Literacy. Literacy in Composition Studies, 8(2), 1–38.