An ecological approach to writing center studies

Christopher Dorn, Purdue University


Although writing center practitioners often discuss issues of space and materiality in informal settings, formal writing center scholarship has historically neglected the immediate conditions of the physical environment. Physical environment is often described, but rarely do scholars attempt a thoroughgoing articulation of a theory of space. While a small selection of articles address particular environmental dynamics in some detail, hardly any work has been done to consider the totality of a physical environment as it relates to its human users. To redress this oversight, this thesis proposes an ecological approach to writing center studies. Three theoretical strains in particular inform this approach: J. J. Gibson's theory of affordances, the field of situated cognition, and the sophistic concept of embodied kairos. Central to an ecological approach are the assumptions that humans and environments share a deeply interconnected mutuality with one another, and that writing centers are complex systems with overlapping layers of things, people, activities, and rhythms. Chapter 1 reviews writing center scholarship of the last 100 years that considers questions related to the physical environment. Chapter 2 outlines the three theoretical strains and explains their relation to writing center studies. The final chapter, in order to apply some of the terms and concepts of an ecological approach, presents a case study of the Purdue Writing Lab.




Bergmann, Purdue University.

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