Rhetorical possibilities : reimagining multiliteracy work in writing centers
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As multimodal composing plays more prominent roles in academic, professional, and public life, writing centers are challenged to take on multiliteracy work, and some have even gone so far as to redefined themselves as multiliteracy centers. However, writing centers that take on this work will find process theory, which has dominated writing consulting since the 1970s, inadequate for the task. A study of the history of the higher- and lower-order concern prioritizing strategy demonstrates the shortcomings of process pedagogy-based tenets of writing center practice. They represent historical vestiges of the field’s struggle for disciplinary legitimacy rather than a response to exigencies of composing. Teaching multiliteracies instead demands a rhetoric-based approach. This project explores what such an approach would mean for the writer/consultant interaction, consulting staffs, the writing center’s institutional identity, and centers' role in the public sphere. I redefine the role of writing consultant as rhetoric consultant and propose a writing/multiliteracy center-specific pedagogy of multimodal design. The focus then turns to finding definitions of centers that can shape their evolving identities and construct multiliteracy work as integral rather than an add-on. Drawing upon Kenneth Burke’s frames of acceptance, I examine the limitations of the field’s defining mythologies and propose a way forward in identity formation, shaping definitions of writing/multiliteracy centers that are at once stable and flexible. Finally, this project argues for a fresh interpretation of the center’s core identity as a democratizing force. John Dewey's definition of publics helps to define the field's democratizing mission as a project of extending access to education to diverse groups of people. Projected growth in the number and diversity of higher education enrollments offers writing/multiliteracy centers important opportunities to shepherd underrepresented groups through college. However, a more ambitious democratizing mission stands within reach: the changing landscape of composing challenges centers to support composers who want to take active roles in the public sphere. This project proposes pedagogical shifts that make public work possible.