Although I am totally onboard with the idea that context and cognition work together to inform written texts, I find some of the assumptions driving her particular argument troubling. First, the idea that theory and practice are fundamentally separate things kind of reiterates the problem created by opposing cognition and context that she’s attempting to intervene upon. Basically, the article presents theory as a way to talk about and analyze action or “real” practice, effectively drawing clear lines between the two supposed spheres. I get that cognition/context and theory/practice are not the same, but doesn’t the relationship between the two function similarly? How is the dichotomy this article creates between theory and practice all that different than the cognition/context dichotomy that she attempts to question? I think theory and practice, like cognition and context, are much more “interactive” (283) than this article seems to suggest.
Second, I’m having a hard time with how this study focuses everything around the individual writer’s subjectivity, or “individual cognition” (289). Although the article attempts to problematize the individual by claiming that context influences how a writer perceives his or her world, it still asserts that everything is always “mediated” (294) by a “thinking, acting, self-aware writer” (295). In like of the argument that personhood is arguably produced rather than naturally given or essential, the focus on individual subjectivity as the intervening force between context and cognition potentially creates many problems when attempting to perform empirical-like research, right? To me, in regard to research with the aim to gain empirical-like evidence, this focus on the individual writer brings up the question, “which writer?” I understand that she plans to consider the processes of many writers, but even many can’t account for all, which is what an empirical study arguably aims to do. Flowers is not unaware of this problem and attempts to address it throughout the article (the bit with the girl at Purdue stand outs), but such attempts don’t quite satisfy me – using empirical methods to learn about something that is (if based on the individual writer) non-empirical seems counterproductive, at least on the surface.
Side note: the point of this question is not to argue that writers are not individual and self-aware; I think that writers are individual, just not in an “essence of the self” kind of way.
2.) This thought leads to my other question (or set of questions) that have to do more with this week’s reading as whole rather than one text specifically. A common thread among these articles is how their authors focus on the writer’s consciousness (or thought processes) and attempt to place it within a theory or pedagogy. Although the focus on the writer has been prominent in the majority of the articles we’ve read so far, this week’s collection seems to be considering the cognitive component of the writing process in more apparent and self-conscious ways. Bizzell’s article points out the problems with assuming that there are “universal, fundamental structures of thought and language” (481), but the “discourse community” (497) model that she posits potentially carries the very same issues that it attempts to avoid (as she acknowledges in her “Afterthought” essay). Human cognition, it seems, is a tricky monster, especially when trying to generalize it enough to be plugged in to any writing theory or pedagogy. If thinking and thus writing processes are so very different—and so dependent on many, many variables—for each writer, how can a generalized pedagogy of writing ever be the ‘correct’ or ‘right’ one in which all students will fit? And is it (or should it) be the goal of composition studies to discover such a pedagogy, anyway?