Writing centers conjure up homey images: the coffee pot, the comfy couch, the pedestal table around which student writers and the consultants collaborate, and the hearty ivy plant that's outgrown its clay pot, perched on a shelf crammed with everything anyone would want to know about writing. Less "at home" is the scholarship that documents, interrogates, and celebrates writing center work in the realm to which it would seem most appropriate: composition studies, particularly within The Norton Book of Composition Studies.
Since the 1970s, writing center scholarship has been deficient in the realm of composition studies. The lack of inclusion is in part due to composition theorist' perceptions of writing centers. In "The Idea of a Writing Center," Stephen N. North debates that theorists such as Maxine Hairston problematizes writing centers as places for students to go when they have writing deficiencies (67). In "The Winds of Change: Thomas Kuhn and the Revolution in the Teaching of Writing," Hairston stigmatizes writing centers by stating,
Following the pattern that Kuhn describes in his book, our first response to crisis has been to improvise as hoc measure to try to patch the cracks and keep the system running. Among the first responses were the writing labs that sprang up about ten years ago to give first aid to students who seemed unable to function within the traditional paradigm. Those labs are still with us, but they’re still only giving first aid and treating symptoms. They have not solved the problem. (444-45).
Hairston’s article is positioned first in the “Theories of Composition” section of The Norton Book of Composition Studies. The placement of this article, leads composition scholars who read this book to think that writing centers do not belong in composition studies, in fact it indicates that writing centers are only places for relief.
The absence of writing center scholarship in composition studies is a primary reason why researchers, like Hairston, think about writing centers on the peripheral. To further writing center's placement on the outside of composition studies, Joyce Kinkead indicates in “The National Writing Centers Association as Mooring: A personal History of the First Decade,” that writing centers should be place in the "special interest" groups.
First, CCCC did not entirely meet the needs of this special interest group. [She] suspect[s] that writing lab directors attending CCCC in the 1970s did not find sufficient sessions on their special interests and also felt that proposals for sessions were viewed by conference organizers as peripheral. (35)
Out of the CCCC perception, writing center directors created their own journals and organizations (Writing Center Journal (WCJ), 1980;The Writing Lab Newsletter (WLN), 1977; the National Writing Center Association; and the International Writing Center Conference) as a resource for the increasing scholarship on writing center theory and practice.
Even though writing center scholars felt the need to create their own resources, they still situated themselves on the outside of composition studies. The need to resituate writing center theory and practice into the composition conversation is essential to future of composition studies and writing centers alike. Writing centers, much like composition classrooms, have had to rethink theories and practices for teaching students in the global and digital age.
More vitally, in the current writing center conversation (2009-2012), is the importance for writing centers to move to a more multimodal, multiliteracy, and globalized theory of practice. No longer does the current-traditional, collaborative, or process theory of writing apply to writing centers or composition classrooms; instead theories and practices are moving towards newer models that encompass multipractices, multilanguages, multimedia, diverse cultures, new processes, new media, and new forms of collaboration.
For example, In The Norton Book of Composition Studies, Cynthia Selfe and Gail E. Hawisher present a call for this transition in composition theory and in their article "Literacies and the Complexities of the Global Digital Divide." The authors present the issue of globalization and technology in that
We cannot hope to understand any literacy until we understand the complex social and cultural systems--both local and global--within which literacy practices and values are situated. Hence, we cannot hope to understand digital literacy--in Nigeria, China, or the US and western Europe--with simplistic references to a global digital divide. (1518)
The authors then conclude "the definition of both literacy and digital literacy are far from stable over time, so we must examine these practices and attendant values of digital literacy" (1518).
With the realm of writing center scholars, they attempt to explore the practices that Cynthia Selfe and Gail Hawisher present. One particular scholar, Nancy Wilson, addresses the issue of globalization and presents new thoeries and practices for writing centers. She states in “Stocking the Bodega: Towards a New Writing Center Paradigm,”
We must also consider how globalization has impacted real world writing (we speak now of Englishes, alternative rhetorics, and of ‘overlapping interests and heterogeneous or hybrid publics’); diverse perspectives and voices are more prominent on our campuses. In other words, while knowing the master discourse of the academic community remains valuable, that community and the world at large now have multiple master discourses, depending on the rhetorical situation. (1)
Writing center researchers, like Wilson, as well as composition researchers realize the importance of the globalization shift in rhetorical discourses. With both types of researcher coming to the same understanding of transitioning issues in student writing bind writing center work to composition theory.
Another issue that breaks the composition perception and brings the writing center out from the peripheral to the center is the idea of community. Joseph Harris (a contemporary composition theorist in The Norton Book of Composition Studies) references in “The Idea of Community in the Study of Writing,” the importance of recognizing these different discourses:
“One does not first decide to act as a member of one community rather than some other, and then attempt to conform to its (rather than some other’s) set of beliefs and practices. Rather, one is always simultaneously a part of several discourses, several communities, is always ready committed to a number of conflicting beliefs and practices” (755).
Harris, represents how community, language, and culture are a part of the writing and composition community. With the same frame of community, language, and culture, which are embedded (because of composition theory) within writing centers theory, writing centers have moved beyond the remedial places of tutoring to the "grammar" and have progressed to become whatever the student needs.
It is with the idea of writing centers catering to students' multiple discourses, multiliteracies, and new media that situates writing centers in the composition conversation. To view how we situate this conversation and our proposal within The Norton Book of Composition Studies click here.