Skip to content

Composition Forum 34, Summer 2016

From the Editors

Bookmark and Share

Christian Weisser, Mary Jo Reiff, Anis Bawarshi, and Lance Langdon

This volume is the fifth special issue of Composition Forum. Our first special issue ran in Spring 2006 as Volume 15, focusing on Composition and Location, guest edited by Christopher Keller. Shortly thereafter, the editors recognized the interest among our readers in themed volumes devoted to emerging conversations in rhetoric and composition. Consequently, we began soliciting special topics proposals with the goal of making such volumes a repeated feature in the journal. We offered a second special issue in Fall 2012: Volume 26, addressing Writing and Transfer, guest edited by Elizabeth Wardle. Following that, we published a third special issue in Fall 2013: Volume 28, guest edited by Alexis Hart and Roger Thompson, focused on Veterans and Writing. Our most recent special issue, Volume 31 in Spring 2015, focused on Rhetorical Genre Studies, and it was guest edited by Dylan B. Dryer.

The special issues of Composition Forum are among our most frequently cited, so we are thrilled to offer this fifth entry in the series focusing on Emotion. Guest Editor Lance Langdon has compiled a range of insightful and thought-provoking pieces on the subject of emotion, and we believe this volume adds much to an important and complex conversation in writing studies. Of particular note are the “Reflections on Emotional Labor” and the “Assignments in Emotional Literacy” sections, both of which are unique to this particular volume. Guest Editor Langdon provides an overview of the contents of Volume 34 below, along with his introduction to the subject of emotion in composition. Readers who are new to the subject will find it a revealing introduction, while there is much to offer for those who know it well already.

In addition to being our fifth special themed issue of Composition Forum, Volume 34 also marks some editorial changes with the journal. Because of the increased interest in our special themed volumes, Jody Shipka (University of Maryland, Baltimore County) will step into the new position of Special Issues Editor. In this capacity, Jody will help to select cutting edge topics for inclusion in our special issues, choose guest editors to create those volumes, and guide the special issues to publication. We welcome Jody to this important new position and look forward to seeing her vision for special issues take shape in future issues. Contact Jody as the special topics editor if you’d like to propose or guest edit a special issue.

This volume also marks a change in the Interview Editor’s position. Jackie Rhodes has served as the founding Interviews Editor at Composition Forum since Volume 20 in Summer 2009. In that capacity, Jackie has helped to bring readers more than a dozen compelling interviews with noteworthy scholars in the field. In many ways, we believe that Jackie has helped to create and shape the scholarly interview genre in composition scholarship, and her service to the journal has been invaluable. At the same time, we are thrilled to welcome incoming Interviews Editor Brian Bailie (University of Cincinnati) to the CF staff. We are confident that Brian will lead the interviews section in compelling ways. Please send interview queries—not unsolicited manuscripts—to our interview editor.

We continue to use our blog to distribute news and updates about the journal more quickly, and we encourage readers to contribute other timely and pertinent thoughts and information to the blog. Add our feed to your newsreader to receive alerts about new volumes of Composition Forum and other news from the field of rhetoric and composition. Please send questions or comments about the Composition Forum website to

Introduction to this Special Issue: Emotion in Composition (Lance Langdon)

Every day, whether we are teaching writing, administering writing programs, or writing ourselves, emotion is already working for us and against us. However, it is difficult to say with certainty what emotion even is, and we certainly don’t have definitive answers to questions about how it ought to be handled in the classroom and workplace. How do we manage our own emotions when dealing with departmental politics? What is empathy, and ought we to teach it? What makes for an effective emotional appeal, or an ethical one? If we engage in community partnerships, should we encourage our students to get emotional about clients’ problems? Should students write about trauma, and should their teachers join them? How does it feel to fail a student, or to accuse one of plagiarism? How should we deal with emotional writers in tutorials? How do emotions shape communities in social media? How can we best capture emotion in empirical research? What’s the boundary between affect and emotion? And perhaps most importantly, does being emotional help or hinder us when learning to write?

These are some of the questions this special issue attempts to answer, in seven full-length articles, two book reviews, an interview, and a retrospective—and in the shorter pieces assembled in two special sections: “Reflections on Emotional Labor” and “Assignments in Emotional Literacy.”

This issue aims to advance both the theory and practice of emotions in the field of composition, understanding that field as focused on undergraduate expository writing. Our contributors sometimes explore emotion for its own sake, as a philosophical conundrum. More often though, when they touch upon related fields—education, rhetoric, psychology—they bring their insights to bear on the teaching and learning of writing.

In so doing, this issue can only increase the momentum that emotions studies is building, both in composition and in neighboring fields. As Tim Jensen’s article details, the last fifteen years have witnessed burgeoning interest in emotions from across literature, rhetoric, and the humanities at large;{1} also in this issue, Laura Micciche’s retrospective supplies a wide, if necessarily incomplete, view of the multitudinous ways that emotions have been taken up by compositionists.{2} This introduction is not the place to rehearse the details of either overview. But just since last June, when the CFP went out for this issue, three major venues have addressed emotions: the October 2015 PMLA issue devoted to emotions; the first-ever affect theory conference in Pennsylvania that same month—involving leading figures like Lauren Berlant and Brian Massumi; and a special issue of WLN: A Journal of Writing Center Scholarship titled The Affective Dimension of Writing Center Work, to be published in May/June of 2017.

Surprisingly, despite this burgeoning interest, Micciche’s 2007 Doing Emotion and her and Dale Jacobs’s edited collection A Way to Move remain the only book-length collections in composition studies devoted to emotions.{3} And despite the slew of articles which Micciche documents, important conversations linking emotions and other concerns have yet to be made in many corners of writing studies. My hope is that the fourteen original pieces of research gathered here, along with the retrospective, interview, and book reviews, will not only inform those untouched by emotions studies but also spur new discussion among experts.

Understanding Emotion: Frameworks from Composition and Psychology

Before detailing the contents further, however, let us return to the first question—what is emotion?—and outline a few useful approaches to its study.

Few of us would have trouble naming several emotions that possess us: anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, surprise. This list, incidentally, is Paul Ekman’s initial list of the “basic emotions,” those whose physical expression can be recognized across cultures without additional cues.{4} But are we quite sure of what we’re naming when we refer to an emotion? This is more difficult than it might seem.

Twenty years ago, Lynn Worsham defined emotion as “a tight braid of affect and judgment, socially constructed and lived bodily, through which the symbolic takes hold of and binds the individual, in complex and contradictory ways, to the social order and its structure of meaning” (216). Worsham’s definition emphasizes that the emotions that move us and motivate us are socially construed, even culturally scripted. In other words, all of us are trained regarding the emotional responses merited by objects—be they people or groups or activities. This occurs whether we like it or not; and as Worsham points out, we often feel both ways. In asking us to become aware of the political scripts driving our emotions, Worsham opens up the possibility for critiquing those scripts and the powers generating them. She urges us to remember, as Ellen Quandahl puts it, that “dominant regimes work partly by determining the acceptable emotions” (17).

By putting emotions in the driver’s seat and making us the passengers—“the symbolic takes hold and binds the individual”—Worsham’s definition also recognizes that emotions have power over us, that they exceed our deliberate decisions, and/or underlie them. This insight builds on a long tradition recognizing, and sometimes critiquing, emotion’s power. In the Iliad, for instance, Greek gods possess subjects through emotion, inflaming them with rage and jealousy that often lead to disaster and death. Augustine speaks of emotion as a driving force in the movement of the will, suggesting that even a speaker who draws on God’s reason alone will fail if he foregoes the eloquence of passion. In German, I am told, emotion moves more readily in the middle voice, neither active nor passive but in between. And a look at Merriam Webster shows that such discomfiture is also part of emotion’s etymology: “Emotion comes to English through the old French esmovoir, itself derived from the Latin emovere, meaning ‘to remove, displace’” (qtd. in Jensen and Wallace 1249). Even today, colloquial English reveals our sense of emotion’s force. As James Averill noted, we say that “a person is ‘gripped’ by fear, ‘falls’ in love, is ‘torn’ by jealousy, ‘bursts’ with pride, is ‘dragged down’ by grief, and so forth” (13).

What is remarkable about Worsham’s definition is that it places not just emotion but “the symbolic” as the agent, prompting those of us in composition to consider how that most potent set of symbols—language—mobilizes emotion. For instance, how does it shape our thinking and actions to label sexual desire and caregivers’ attachment with the same term, “love?” And by saying we “fall” in love, who or what are we giving agency for that action? Worsham’s principal concern is with the place of righteous anger in pedagogical settings, but scholars in the two decades since her article was published have addressed a number of other ways that the “symbolic takes hold” of us in the many scenes of composition. To name just a few examples, Ellen Quandahl has studied students’ visceral judgments concerning readings from cultures whose values conflict with their own; Shari Stenberg has mapped methods of response for instructors utilizing a pedagogy of discomfort in discussing politics and practicing service-learning classrooms; Amy Winans has shown how emotion can inform students’ contemplation of their own racial identities; and Laura Micciche has addressed how the metaphor of “disappointment” sticks to WPA work.

Setting aside Worsham’s political definition for a moment, let us take another approach to what emotion is, this one from social psychology. In their 2005 textbook Emotion in Social Relations, Brian Parkinson, Agneta Fischer and Antony Manstead lay out six components of emotions:

The first thing to note is that emotions are related to events that happen in the world (objects and causes) ... Second, emotion implies taking a particular perspective toward events ... (appraisal). Third, when we are emotional, our bodies usually react in some way ... (physiological change). Fourth ... we often feel strong impulses to act in certain ways when emotional (action tendencies) ... Fifth, particular emotions often seem to be associated with distinctive muscular movements that can express what we are feeling to others (expression or display). Finally, we often try to do something about one or more of these different aspects of emotional episodes (regulation). (4)

This definition foregrounds that our emotions signal our relation to the world around us, including the people in it. Put another way, the definition above links inner experiences—such as the “physiological change” that often manifests in quickened breath and an elevated pulse—immediately and always with outer phenomena: precipitating events, ours and others’ display of emotions, and actions we might take under the sway of our feelings.

It might seem obvious to say that our emotions are caused by objects and events, like the disapproving look of a mentor or the glowing praise in the margin of a paper. But what happens when we understand display as a component of emotion itself, rather than something that follows after an internal experience? What if the display rules we learn—concerning which emotions are and aren’t appropriate to show in any given situation—actually influence what we might otherwise understand as private emotional experiences? A blush is natural, yes, inasmuch as we might not be able to stop ourselves from blushing; but we might also blush more when we perceive that others are observing us blushing. And we might laugh simply because others are laughing—their display inciting our own feeling—an event that can be understood as “emotional contagion.” By noting that displaying emotion changes emotion, we upend the usual understanding of an event that happens within an individual and is later expressed to others.

Similarly, if “action tendencies” are part of emotional experience, then we can’t even know what an emotion is without having some sense of what we might do with it. Put display and action together in considering anger, and we realize that being angry already implies doing something with that anger, even if it’s just tamping it down to avoid an unpleasant scene. And without a readily recognizable outside object for that anger, it might transform into guilt or shame. Something is wrong, we think, but because it seems impossible to do anything to right the wrong, we change our mind and think we must be wrong. If we do so deliberately, we’re engaging in another component noted in the above definition: regulation, i.e., making ourselves feel how we ought to, often by thinking of events in a new light.

This leads to the final point in the definition above, the notion that emotion involves “appraisal.” To feel is already to have reached a conclusion about a situation, a judgment. Many emotions are themselves judgments of whether what has happened is good or bad, and of who deserves credit or blame. If we have failed ourselves, we might feel regret; if we have failed others, guilt; if others have failed us, resentment. The same is true of positive emotions: We feel pride if we have succeeded, gratitude if others have supported us, and so on.

Of course, compositionists and rhetoricians working outside of the social-psychological arena have long considered how emotions are shaped in social scenes. Many scholars, for instance, pull from Aristotle’s Rhetoric, in which he defines anger as “a distressed desire for conspicuous vengeance in return for a conspicuous and unjustifiable contempt of one’s person or friends” (qtd. in Sutton). If we look carefully at this formulation, we can already find all six aspects of the social psychologists’ taxonomy (Unjustified contempt? An appraisal!).

Yet for those of us researching others’ emotions, which necessarily involves asking them what they’re feeling—about their classes, their teachers, their colleagues—the six-part taxonomy offered above stresses that subjects’ accounts of their own emotions are attempts to make sense of a dynamic, multifaceted situation. Too, it helps make clear that explaining emotions alters their character, as people make and remake judgments about the connections between their inner lives and outer events. Take, for example, an instructor who is mad about her class. Depending on whom she’s talking to, she might understand that anger as directed at herself or at her students. She might even change that attribution in the process of explaining it, as happened during one interview I conducted with a pre-service teacher. Would that emotion have been explained differently had she not been speaking to her former supervisor? Certainly. But is there a way to get beyond some sort of relation between the one who feels a feeling and the person to whom that feeling is reported, or later reconstructed? The answer must be no.

In addition to offering this social psychology approach to emotion, I would like to make another suggestion about how we can better investigate the emotions of writing, and that is to listen to our colleagues in education, specifically educational psychology, who have long been researching the relationship between emotion and learning, and even emotion and writing.

Education scholars regularly study several constructs related to emotions, many of which Dana Driscoll and Jennifer Wells collected in their 2012 Composition Forum article under the term “disposition.” Among them are the following: self-efficacy, or confidence, which can influence what emotions we feel as we compose (or, as I found when interviewing a writer with painfully low self-efficacy, avoid composing); monitoring and self-regulation, which refer to the ability to recognize and control one’s emotions; interest, which can take the form of a durable trait—a sustained scholarly agenda concerning a topic, say, rhetorical genre studies—or of a passing state, the pleasure of composing, of finding information and applying it; and, related to interest, flow, the phenomenon of composing seemingly without effort. To these we can add the “outcome emotions” that Driscoll and co-author Roger Powell work with in their article in this issue, including anxiety, shame, and pride.

These concepts haven’t yet taken hold in composition, I suspect, because our field has moved away from cognitive approaches during the social turn. Our emphasis on the rhetorical ecologies in which writers find themselves has made us suspicious of studies that focus on the internal workings—mental or emotional—of individual writers. Yet even if educational research sometimes overreaches in making claims for the replicability of local studies, we can surely find some commonality between the writing occasions in these studies and the situations faced by our college writers. Educational researchers have investigated what motivates student-writers during testing and during self-sponsored research, in personal reflections and in required projects in content-area classes; and this is to name just some of the situations addressed in one collection, Writing and Motivation. Surely those situations strike a chord with many compositionists. And, perhaps making some adjustments, at least some of what they’ve found about elementary and high school students applies to college writers.

In the years to come, I anticipate more of the kind of scholarship Driscoll and her co-researchers have pioneered. Such scholarship will address writers’ motivation and the role emotions play in it, even while recognizing the social factors shaping those emotions. And it will be informed by cognitive approaches that recognize the indispensable role of affect, as did John Hayes’s revision of his and Flower’s earlier model of the writing process.

Personally, I have launched two separate studies along these lines, both incorporating motivational constructs from education. In the first, I use interviews with writing students, tutors, and fellow faculty to get at student-writers’ emotions in an interdisciplinary humanities program. In the second, I address a summer transitional program for disadvantaged students, using a survey and focus group to outline the emotional aspects of feedback and revision for students on the cusp of college. If these studies are successful, they will reinforce what other researchers have known for some time: we need not stipulate a universal subject or transcultural “basic emotions” to investigate what our student-writers are feeling as they plan, compose, and revise. One model for such work is Alice Brand’s 1989 book The Psychology of Writing. Despite the “the” in its title, the book finds different emotional patterns in the several groups studied, among them professional writers, writing teachers, novice poets, and first-year students. Indeed, as Micciche notes in her retrospective, some of the most interesting anthropological work over the last fifty years has pointed to the differences in cultural vocabularies surrounding emotion, with, for instance, some cultures valuing and encouraging anger and others prohibiting its expression. Similarly, we have an opportunity to trace the emotional affordances of different local cultures of writing. Where and in what situations do shame and pride manifest most frequently? How about ennui, anxiety, sadness, and joy?

Special Section: “Reflections on Emotional Labor”

Such investigations of emotions in situ prompt an obvious question: What emotions arise in the sites within academia with which we’re most familiar—teaching, learning, and administrating?

This question remains hard to answer, for emotions remain elusive prey within composition studies. Feeling rules are strong about which emotions are worthy of admission, and discussion. In interviewing secondary teachers, for instance, Rosemary Sutton noted that they rarely spoke of anger, instead referring to their “frustration,” an emotion milder in intensity and less likely to imply a culpable subject on the receiving end.

Thus, one aim of the first special section, “Reflections on Emotional Labor,” is to surface for discussion these emotions. The “Reflections”—conceived of as personal essays of about 1500 words but often shaping up as short articles of about 2000 words—describe, theorize, and reflect upon the emotional labor and emotional performances required of writing instructors, writing tutors, and writing center administrators. One model here was the reflective section of recent CCC issues, with the initial thought being, as one of my colleagues put it, “You don’t need to write an 8000-word essay in order to feel an emotion.”

One manner of understanding emotion is as a signal from the self to the self about whether our goals are being realized. For this reason, reflections upon our (and others’) emotional labor and narratives of it can serve as mirrors in which to better see those commitments and their consequences. Collectively, these accounts show that our emotional experiences aren’t as individual as we might think.

In naming the section “Emotional Labor” and in soliciting contributions for it, I had in mind Arlie Hochschild’s groundbreaking 1983 investigation, The Managed Heart, which employed extensive interviews and fieldwork in documenting the “deep acting” required of those in the service industries—namely flight attendants and bill collectors. Educators (notably Rosemary Sutton) have since applied the notion to educators’ emotional performances, documenting “feeling rules” that dictate what emotions we strive to communicate in the classroom, not to mention which we feel comfortable admitting to when asked, and which are taboo.

In the first Reflection—First, Do No Harm—Sarah DeBacher and Deborah Harris-Moore reflect not just on their own feelings, but also on their writing students’ in the wake of trauma. In doing so they weigh in on some of the same questions raised in Composition Forum #28, a special issue on Veterans and Writing (see in particular Molly Moran’s interview with trauma and writing researcher James Pennebaker). They also contribute succinct and moving narratives of their own. DeBacher, herself a victim of Hurricane Katrina, is relieved to find herself teaching FYC again following the storm, but she almost immediately runs back into trouble when she takes up a campus call soliciting storm narratives. She wonders whether she has done the right thing by assigning such a narrative and finds herself in a bind when tasked with grading it. Harris-Moore, too, is still struggling to come to grips with trauma when she returns to teach, in her case from a shooting rampage that killed six students near campus. How to speak of the event? How to get students talking? Or perhaps silence is the answer? In light of recent shootings and in anticipation of other disasters that will no doubt arise, such questions merit attention. Even as they movingly tell their stories, DeBacher and Harris-Moore point to resources that can guide others facing similar dilemmas.

The next four Reflections engage in systematic data gathering, whether through survey or interview, to investigate emotional labor. Ann Biswas’s Unbalancing Acts couples her own shifting response to adjudicating plagiarism with an empirical study of other instructors’ emotions about it. She notes that whether instructors respond as what she terms “nurturers,” “adversaries,” or “diplomats,” many of them experience anger, sadness, betrayal, and failure. In a finding that speaks to just how compelling our professional “feeling rules” are, these feelings sometimes provoke them to question their very identity as teachers. Biswas concludes that “we better maintain emotional balance by talking to each other and listening more often and more closely to how this powerful experience makes us feel,” and she offers practical ways for WPAs to encourage such conversation. Jacob Babb and Steven Corbett’s From Zero to Sixty also addresses instructors’ emotional responses to a trying situation: student failure. Corbett and Babb find that regardless of whether students fail papers or fail courses, their instructors most often feel disappointed, concerned, and frustrated. However, Corbett and Babb do note some differences between the two situations, and they explore possible explanations for the disparity, as well as the possible impact of full- or part-time status on those feelings.

Together, both articles highlight a few of the most emotionally difficult labors of writing instructors—convicting students as cheats and labeling them as incapable—and they thus point to the institutional structuring of instructors’ emotions. Though not regularly called upon to perform the anger of, say, Hochschild’s bill collectors, instructors are nonetheless emotional implements who enforce institutional gatekeeping functions which may conflict with their training and scholarship. (For instance, we understand plagiarism as a contestable, socially negotiated category, yet we still convict and punish as though it were not.) Both authors see their Reflections as pieces of larger projects addressing the same issues, and I hope that others continue to interact with them in sketching out the emotional labors of instructors of differing status and in different settings.

Instructors, of course, aren’t the only ones in academia who are stressed out by competing demands. In Writing Center Administration and/as Emotional Labor, Rebecca Jackson, Jackie McKinney, and Nicole Caswell illustrate the emotional demands on writing center directors through two intriguing case studies. The article focuses on two tenure-track faculty members who have become directors as their first choice of career—persons whom the authors describe as “our most conventionally prepared participants (in arguably the most ideal positions).” Yet Jackson, McKinney, and Caswell find these two struggling with emotional labor in their first year on the job and for the same reason that Biswas noted regarding plagiarists: inadequate preparation for, and discussion of, the job’s emotional components. If we can say these two directors also suffer from our society’s “emotional illiteracy,” Alison Perry’s Training for Triggers highlights how one writing center makes time for emotional education. Staff and tutors meet to discuss emotionally difficult sessions, and they make sure that tutors can schedule a time out to decompress after particularly taxing sessions. Perry concludes that a good writing center ought to “educate our staff about empathetic engagement with clients, and ... create ... a supportive work environment that promotes self-care.”

Taken together, these five Reflections accomplish the goal of the section: to make visible and subject to discussion the emotional labor of our everyday working lives. These Reflections reveal the movement within subjects tasked with moving others through institutional imperatives: teaching, ranking and sorting, administering, coaching. At the least, acknowledging these feelings makes visible the necessary yet unseen labor of academia. Elsewhere, I have discussed how admitting inappropriate feelings, such as dislike for students, allows for identification and bonding among those admitting likewise, “reciprocal vulnerability, a chance to open up about the challenges we face in the workplace and the difficulty we have in responding to them in appropriate ways.” But perhaps, drawing on Freire, we might even call this work conscientization (or conscientização in Portuguese)—critical consciousness. To acknowledge feelings allows us also to address the ideology of feeling rules, the reasons and power behind our notions of what is and isn’t appropriate for display. Shame is a good prompt for such investigation. Why, for instance, might a teacher be ashamed of feeling sadness over a student’s failure? Or of not feeling sadness? Is there shame also for an administrator who feels indecisive about whom to please?

As pragmatists, answering such questions can help us discover ways to act. A few authors in this section suggest as much, offering prompts and protocols to use in training us for the emotional demands of our jobs. We might also think of reforms: relieving the particular pressures of faculty-as-plagiarism-enforcer, for instance, with contract language explicitly laying out instructors’ responsibilities in the adjudication process, or spelling out the expectations for failure rates. But we can also pause for a moment with simple acknowledgement of these feelings. This is what others are telling us these jobs feel like. How does that match with our own experiences? And if we feel differently, what does that say about our particular situatedness?

Special Section: “Assignments in Emotional Literacy”

The above section brings attention to the emotions we experience as writing professionals, but what about the writers we teach? The second special section, “Assignments in Emotional Literacy,” is intended for instructors to use with such an audience. This section showcases four assignments that can be used in expository writing classrooms in college, each presented in an essay of about 2000 words.

All of these assignments take as a given that emotion forms a crucial aspect of our experiences, and some make use of the fact that emotionally charged rhetoric compels others’ attention and actions. Each author explains the theory informing the assignment and the assignment’s pedagogical goals—including how the assignment draws on students’ emotions and/or increases their understanding of emotion. Most also discuss how the assignment plays out in the classroom. Finally, to make it easy for other instructors to adopt and adapt the assignments featured here, each includes as an appendix a full-length prompt in both PDF and Word format.

Twenty years ago, Worsham’s Going Postal: Pedagogic Violence and the Schooling of Emotion argued that school imposes a symbolic violence on students in the silencing of emotions linked to resistance or a dissident politics and that it does so differentially along lines of race and class. Worsham suggests that when composition teachers “claim a role in producing, in the real existing world, a different way of feeling,” they thereby “reclaim education as a terrain of struggle crucial to the reconstruction of a public political culture.” These Assignments take seriously Worsham’s claim that “our most urgent political and pedagogical task remains the fundamental reeducation of the emotions” (216).

Christine Martorana’s Real/Ideal Research Project certainly speaks to that concern. Martorana guides student writers through three stages as they first narrate, then research, and finally speak back to an inequity they have experienced personally. Emotion forms part of the experience itself and its recollection in the first, “real” stage of the project; writers also have the option of crafting emotional appeals as they form a response to the inequity in the project’s final stage, a response intended to bring about a more “ideal” world. Martorana’s prompt ought to promote discussion about how emotion and reason fold into one another and how they can help us to uncover, and perhaps rectify, injustice.

Steven Alvarez’s Ethnography, Foodways, and Emotion through Mexican Food Writing also takes up questions of social justice from a less obvious starting point: foodways literacies. After illuminating food’s potential in sensual pedagogy, Alvarez describes the greater economic cultural structures in which food is produced and circulates, and he documents resources available to instructors who would bring ethnographic food research home, be it through tasting or interviews with producers, or through tracing food’s emotional resonances.

The third of these Assignments, Outlaw Emotions in the Literacy Narrative, includes a moving narrative of its own. Rosanne Carlo describes how, by pursuing a PhD, she estranged herself from a beloved family member, Nonie. Carlo’s brief tale is strong support for her argument that literacy narratives too often occlude such sacrifice when they trope literacy as success. Even more importantly, Carlo offers a series of questions (e.g., “Have you ever judged someone for being too literate or not literate enough?”) through which to push student writers into challenging such tropes in their own narratives.

The last of the four assignments, Jennifer Campbell’s Talking about Happiness, sounds the most optimistic note of the issue. Campbell argues that first-year composition is uniquely situated to “help students develop strategies for managing stress and increasing well-being.” Accordingly, Campbell’s Assignment taps into the emotionally rich research method of face-to-face interviews, requiring writers to interview three generations of people about happiness and well-being and to reflect upon the personal implications of their findings in both an academic research paper and a piece of journalism.

Articles, Book Reviews, Retrospective, and Interview

Moving into the articles section of the special issue, which includes seven full-length pieces of research addressing emotion, we find Jill Belli responding to the kind of assignments Campbell proposes in Why Well-Being, Why Now? Belli grants that such projects have potential to increase students’ well-being. However, she traces an alternate genealogy of our current interest in well-being through the positive psychology movement, and she asks us to reconsider whether that movement’s conservative tendencies agree with the progressive aims of many writing educators. Yet Belli also points to sympathies between the two camps and suggests ways in which we in writing studies might help shape conversations and practices of well-being to reflect what we know of writing pedagogy and what we want from education.

Eric Leake’s Pedagogies of Empathy includes a similar section questioning the political roots of our current attention to empathy, titled “Why Empathy, Why Us?” Still, though Leake is careful to present the perils of empathy, he makes a persuasive case that empathy matters. After defining what empathy is—in short, the imagining of another’s predicament—Leake outlines two approaches we might use in the classroom to promote empathy. The first is a critical approach to empathy as rhetoric; this would highlight and critique the uses to which empathy is put, including the maintenance of hegemony. The second approach, which Leake calls “empathy as disposition,” I would describe as pedagogical or developmental; it includes strategies for attempting to inhabit another’s perspective through reading and writing, though without giving up the critical attention involved in empathy as rhetoric. In weaving together scholarship from inside and outside composition, Leake makes a persuasive case that empathy has long stood at the center of rhetoric and that it deserves a return.

Julie Prebel’s Engaging a ‘Pedagogy of Discomfort’: Emotion as Critical Inquiry in Community-Based Writing Courses draws on some of the same scholarship regarding listening and empathy, but does so in the context of a course in which students write with the community, specifically by producing documents in collaboration with non-profit organizations providing education, healthy housing, and social and economic justice. Prebel finds her students wrestling with a host of emotions, among them shame, anger, and unease, as they engage in deep listening with community partners. She then outlines how such feelings can become a resource, both for students’ own reflections on their ethical commitments and for writing that forwards community members’ interests. Drawing on a range of theories, Prebel shows how instructors can listen with support to students’ emotional responses in order to inhabit a pedagogy of discomfort, one that often results in personal transformation and can sometimes even result in political change.

If Prebel shows how students’ learning involves discomfort, Ben Batzer’s Healing Classrooms points toward the teacher’s discomfort as an asset in the classroom. Batzer’s article mixes personal narrative—focusing on the trauma inflicted on him by his own father’s fraudulent use of his name—with more traditional scholarship. That scholarship includes a history of expressivism’s engagement with emotion and a synthesis of various theories about trauma and about writing’s ability to heal it. Batzer argues that teachers who risk opening up about their own traumas with students are effective leaders in classes in which student-writers process theirs. Batzer, like DeBacher and Harris-Moore, is careful to distinguish writing instructors from therapists. Still, by asking us to explore how the writing classroom can become a place for the teacher to learn and grow emotionally along with students, Batzer asks us to rethink our professional roles and responsibilities and offers himself as a case study of the mutual benefits of his approach.

Dana Driscoll and Roger Powell also ask us to rethink a core concept in composition—transfer—asking how emotions help to make learning stick, or not, in an article titled The Impact of Emotion on Writing Development and Writing Transfer. If this issue sometimes counterbalances our society’s denigration of emotion by lauding the role of emotions in learning, Driscoll and Powell’s study points out that while emotion can be generative, it can just as often be disruptive. Combing through data from six years of interviews, they often find emotions—say, hate for an instructor or a topic—preventing knowledge transfer as much as facilitating it. Driscoll and Powell also find wide variation in students’ emotionality with regard to writing, with some approaching their learning less emotionally (rational interpreters), others more so (emotional interpreters), and a final group using metacognitive practices to manage their emotions (emotional managers). They conclude with practical suggestions for helping all types of students to monitor and control their emotions in ways that facilitate their learning.

Another pedagogically oriented article is Tim Jensen’s Textbook Pathos, which updates Gretchen Moon’s 2003 study in examining how composition textbooks address emotions. What Moon found then, Jensen finds today: Most textbooks either ignore or marginalize emotional appeals. But he offers an important exception in Rhetorical Analysis: A Brief Guide for Writers, which, Jensen writes, “engages multiple theories of emotion; shows the consequences of emotion for history, language, and culture; and interrogates, rather than reinforces, binaries between reason and emotion, mind and body,” all while drawing from classical and contemporary theory. I highlight this title myself because I see one mission of this issue to be the return of emotions, including the art of passionate appeal, to the center of rhetorical education. Yet Jensen’s focus isn’t simply on this single text, but on the reasons for the paucity of emotional knowledge in many texts and on the impact of these texts on classes taught by adjunct, graduate-student, and even full-time instructors who lean upon them for their own understanding of pathetic appeals. And again, Jensen closes with small ways to include emotions in everyday lessons, beginning by defining emotions and then asking readers to name a few—like restlessness, amusement, exhilaration.

If Jensen names emotions to address our emotional illiteracy, Julie Nelson’s An Unnecessary Divorce: Affect and Emotion probes the names we use to address feeling itself: “emotion” versus “affect.” For those unfamiliar with affect theory, this article offers a useful introduction. Nelson discusses a starting point for many compositionists’ conversations regarding affect: Brian Massumi’s The Autonomy of Affect, which draws on Spinoza in understanding affect as simply intensity. Nelson explains that readings of Massumi have emphasized his divorce of affect from emotion, meaning that discussions of affect have broken off from discussions of emotion within composition studies. Nelson outlines how “affect” and “emotion” can be remarried, understood together as shades in a spectrum. Also, impressively, Nelson launches in the same article a second project: an examination of affect/emotion circulation through Twitter and other social media platforms in the BlackLivesMatter movement. The result is a compelling account of how feelings create communities in these spheres.

Those interested in further exploring the affective potential of social media might begin with Candice Rai’s review of a recent communications title on that topic: Zizi Papacharissi’s Affective Publics: Sentiment, Technology and Politics. As Rai explains, Affective Publics shows how hashtag conversations amplify feelings and awareness around political issues, and it analyzes how such conversations create affective bonds, even community. In addition to thoroughly presenting Papacharissi’s argument, Rai does those of us in writing studies a favor by resituating the text for use in writing classrooms, both undergraduate and graduate.

Our other book review, Roxanne Rashedi on Christy Wenger’s Contemplative Pedagogies, serves as a useful introduction to the contemplative movement, which would bring yoga to writing classes. In the years to come, this may prove the main vehicle through which emotions are taken up in the theory and practice of composition. It is thus worth noting how Rashedi places Wenger’s text in the context of the movement’s recent advances, including the contemplative SIG at CCCC. Also of interest is Rashedi’s discussion of Wenger’s claims about embodiment and emotion and her own questions about the role of spirituality, and student agency, in the practice of yoga.

Two longer pieces from established emotions scholars round out the issue. Laura Micchiche’s Retrospective on her 2007 Doing Emotion asks us what it means to stay with emotion. Micciche revisits her 2007 monograph’s arguments for doing emotion, as WPAs and in the classroom. She also discusses a wealth of related scholarship in rhetoric and composition attending to different aspects of emotion, including its role in understanding and working against racism and homophobia. Micciche also traces emotion’s circulation in recent political movements and details how scholarship in nondominant rhetorics points the way in recognizing emotion as central to discourse. And finally, in an interview with Daniel M. Gross, Gross argues for an expansive rhetorical approach to emotion studies, one bridging composition, psychology, history, politics, and even theology. Speaking to compositionists, Gross begins by talking about writers’, teachers’, and administrators’ emotions, not in the classroom but in co-curricular activities. The conversation also touches on contemporary political issues, such as the putative waning of affect in postmodern society, the revaluing of love in Third Wave feminist scholarship, the angry white male, and the BlackLivesMatter movement. Later, Gross brings his philosophical training to bear in discussing the vocabulary of emotion studies, including “pathos” and “affect,” returning us to the question with which I began this introduction: how to understand emotion itself.

Emotion in Composition: Future Directions

I hope that this issue is only the beginning of a renewed focus on emotions within composition, however we choose to define them. Certainly the articles included here show that composition can not only keep pace with developments in other fields regarding emotions but also contribute to them, even drive them.

This issue may be larger than most, but I still did not have the space or time to include the vast majority of the nearly one hundred proposals I received; many worthy research avenues remain unexplored. This issue does not do nearly enough in addressing feminist developments in emotional inquiry. Other proposals that have stuck with me include emoticons, which many of us use to clarify and brighten everyday communication; their absence feels ☹. And what of trigger warnings, another hot topic when this CFP was launched, and one of continuing interest: What responsibilities do instructors have in avoiding traumatizing their students? And how can they do so while ensuring students do engage with the injuries of racism and the like? Also overlooked is the simple question of whether required writing classes can and should be enjoyable, even pleasurable. And despite Rashedi’s nod in the direction of religion in the Wenger book review, a sustained consideration of emotionality in religious traditions is absent. What, for instance, are we to make of the transcendental source of speech, Parā, in the Vedic paradigm? Nor does the issue quite answer the CFP’s call to “account for the ebbs and flows of interest and disinterest, annoyance and curiosity, that carry the daily teaching and learning language.” And what about what Sianne Ngai might call “ugly” emotions? Unsexy attitudes like paranoia? Finally, should we be making accommodations for students’ differing dispositions, such as introversion, in our classrooms? These and other lingering questions suggest that we will have plenty to talk about in the years to come.

Acknowledgments: My thanks to Daniel Gross, for getting me started on emotions and keeping me going, to Steve Parks for suggesting this special issue, and to Jonathan Alexander for offering input on the CFP. I would also like to thank my colleagues at UC Irvine—Maureen Fitzsimmons, Jens Lloyd, and Jasmine Lee—for their editorial input. Allison Dziuba deserves special thanks for her tireless attention to proofreading as editorial assistant, as does Kevin Brock for his equally conscientious approach to web publishing. I would also like to thank the editors at Composition Forum for their assistance throughout this process, including Christian Weisser, Mary Jo Reiff, Anis Bawarshi, Elizabeth Wardle, Lori Ostergaard, Greg Giberson, Jim Nugent, Brian Bailie, Jackie Rhodes, Jody Shipka, and Jeanne Marie Rose. Finally, I thank the anonymous reviewers for their unrequited labors in the name of knowledge and, most importantly, the contributors for their patience and dedication throughout the editorial process.


  1. Among the more prominent thinkers Jensen mentions are Martha Nussbaum, whose work on empathy has been taken up outside of the humanities, and Lauren Berlant and Sara Ahmed, who have explored the rhetoric and cultural politics of emotions. (Return to text.)
  2. Micciche enumerates recent scholarship on “tutoring practices, transnational literacies, research methods, WPA issues, digital media, contemplative pedagogy, disability, and cognitive research,” as well as “plagiarism, immigrant literacy practices, disability, political rhetoric, contingent faculty, writing assessment, historical research, and classroom pedagogy.” Her bibliography supplies authors for each. (Return to text.)
  3. This is not to ignore a recent collection addressing mental illness and its role in creative writing and literature, titled Affective Disorder and the Writing Life, or Sarah Benesch’s Considering Emotions in Critical English Language Teaching: Theories and Praxis, which is devoted primarily to English instruction for speakers of other languages. (Return to text.)
  4. Naming and numbering “basic emotions” has the drawback of erasing cultural influences that help create emotions and delimit their expression (see comments below). But as Eve Sedgwick has argued, there is something to be said for dispensing with binaries and considering emotions as a discrete number of fundamentally different phenomena. (Return to text.)

Works Cited

Augustine. De Doctrina Christiana. Translated by Roger P. H. Green, Oxford UP, 1995.

Averill, James R. Anger and Aggression: An Essay on Emotion. Springer-Verlag, 1982.

Benesch, Sarah. Considering Emotions in Critical English Language Teaching: Theories and Praxis. Routledge, 2012.

Brand, Alice Glarden. The Psychology of Writing: The Affective Experience. Greenwood, 1989.

Hayes, John R. A New Framework for Understanding Cognition and Affect in Writing. Perspectives on Writing: Research, Theory, and Practice. International Reading Association, 2000, pp. 6-44.

Hidi, Suzanne, and Pietro Boscolo, editors. Writing and Motivation. Elsevier, 2007.

Hochschild, Arlie Russell. The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling. U of California P, 2003.

Horton, Stephanie Stone, editor. Affective Disorder and the Writing Life: The Melancholic Muse. Palgrave MacMillan, 2014.

Jensen, Katherine Ann, and Merriam L. Wallace. Introduction: Facing Emotions. Emotions, special issue of PMLA (Publications of the Modern Language Association of America), vol. 130, no. 5, 2015, pp. 1249-1268.

Langdon, Lance. Analysis. Feeling Engaged: An Audio Archive. Accessed 20 Aug. 2016.

Longaker, Mark Walker, and Jeffrey Walker. Rhetorical Analysis: A Brief Guide for Writers. Longman, 2011.

Massumi, Brian. The Autonomy of Affect. Cultural Critique, vol. 31, 1995, pp. 83-109.

Micciche, Laura R. Doing Emotion: Rhetoric, Writing, Teaching. Boynton/Cook, 2007.

Micciche, Laura, and Dale Jacobs, eds. A Way to Move: Rhetorics of Emotion and Composition Studies. Boynton/Cook, 2003.

Moran, Molly. Writing and Healing from Trauma: An Interview with James Pennebaker. Composition Forum, vol. 28, 2013, Accessed 20 Aug. 2016.

Parkinson, Brian, Agneta H. Fischer, and Antony S. R. Manstead. Emotion in Social Relations: Cultural, Group, and Interpersonal Processes. Psychology Press, 2005.

Quandahl, Ellen. A Feeling for Aristotle: Emotion in the Sphere of Ethics. A Way to Move: Rhetorics of Emotion and Composition Studies., edited by Laura Micciche and Dale Jacobs, Boynton/Cook, 2003, pp. 11–22.

Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity. Duke UP, 2003.

Stenberg, Shari. Teaching and (Re) Learning the Rhetoric of Emotion. Pedagogy, vol. 11, no. 2, 2011, pp. 349–369.

Stenberg, Shari J., and Darby Arant Whealy. Chaos Is the Poetry: From Outcomes to Inquiry in Service-learning Pedagogy. College Composition and Communication, vol. 60, no. 4, 2009, pp. 683-706.

Sutton, Rosemary E. Teachers’ Anger, Frustration, and Self-regulation. Emotion in Education. Ed. Paul A. Schutz and Reinhard Pekrun. London: Academic Press, 2007, pp. 259-274.

Winans, Amy E. Cultivating Critical Emotional Literacy: Cognitive and Contemplative Approaches to Engaging Difference. College English, vol. 75, no. 2, 2012, pp. 150–170.

Worsham, Lynn. Going Postal: Pedagogic Violence and the Schooling of Emotion. Journal of Advanced Composition-JAC, vol. 18, no. 2, 1998, pp. 213–245.

Bookmark and Share

Return to Composition Forum 34 table of contents.