Electronic Theses and Dissertations



Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Committee Chair

Joseph Jones

Committee Member

Lowel Kim

Committee Member

Joshua Phillips

Committee Member

Scott Sundvall


From the recognized beginning of the laboratory movement in composition instruction, teachers have sought to employ new and more practical methods useful in developing student writing. Such trends continue today as new generations of students enter the academy and new challenges emerge. From such conditions, we might see how components within a system of activity work together to meet objectives and develop outcomes within the shared dialectic of an activity system. Individuals and groups increase the potential for contradiction identification, thus, opportunities for solutions increase through mediational activities. With this idea in mind, this dissertation reviews writing center-related scholarship from 1887 through today to trace emerging contradictions in laboratory teachings epochal movements. The end goal, then, is to define how resolutions to those contradictions have given rise to our modern conceptualization of the writing center. Using Cultural-Historical Activity Theory (CHAT), this dissertation interprets the development of writing centers from their earliest beginnings. Through the evaluation of textual artifacts, I present the development of current writing center praxes in stages: a Formative Period; an Interim or Clinical Period; a Modern period; a Theoretical Period, and an emerging Activist Period. As a result, I look to provide modern writing center practitioners with a thorough history of writing center practices: what shaped them, through what contradictions they arose, what precipitated those contradictions, what resolved them, and what lies ahead. As communities like writing centers re-create themselvesthrough pushing and pulling, conflict and resolution, tension and releasethey birth new conceptualizations of realities. In the end, this dissertation uses CHAT to present a narrative about the development of writing center work that continues to unfold in new and dynamic ways. As a result, what may be most useful through this historical analysis is the way in which writing center practitioners may use CHAT to chart a way forward using the very framework used as the basis of this projects analysis. Today, writing centers may offer new ways to address a pedagogical order designed to challenge racism, homophobia, and other injustices through ongoing reading groups, curricular revision, and other faculty development efforts. Through learning our history, I believe we may more adequately position ourselves to shape our futures.


Data is provided by the student.

Library Comment

Dissertation or thesis originally submitted to ProQuest