Sharon Crowley

Sharon Crowley is professor of English at Arizona State University. She is the author of Composition in the University, The Methodical Memory, and the textbook Ancient Rhetorics for Contemporary Students.

Toward a Civil Discourse

Rhetoric and Fundamentalism

Toward a Civil Discourse examines how, in the current political climate, Americans find it difficult to discuss civic issues frankly and openly with one another. Because America is dominated by two powerful discourses–liberalism and Christian fundamentalism, each of which paints a very different picture of America and its citizens' responsibilities toward their country-there is little common ground, and hence Americans avoid disagreement for fear of giving offence.
Sharon Crowley considers the ancient art of rhetoric as a solution to the problems of repetition and condemnation that pervade American public discourse. Crowley recalls the historic rhetorical concept of stasis–where advocates in a debate agree upon the point on which they disagree, thereby recognizing their opponent as a person with a viable position or belief. Most contemporary arguments do not reach stasis, and without it, Crowley states, a nonviolent resolution cannot occur.
Toward a Civil Discourse investigates the cultural factors that lead to the formation of beliefs, and how beliefs can develop into densely articulated systems and political activism. Crowley asserts that rhetorical invention (which includes appeals to values and the passions) is superior in some cases to liberal argument (which often limits its appeals to empirical fact and reasoning) in mediating disagreements where participants are primarily motivated by a moral or passionate commitment to beliefs.
Sharon Crowley examines numerous current issues and opposing views, and discusses the consequences to society when, more often than not, argumentative exchange does not occur. She underscores the urgency of developing a civil discourse, and through a review of historic rhetoric and its modern application, provides a foundation for such a discourse-whose ultimate goal, in the tradition of the ancients, is democratic discussion of civic issues.

Composition In The University

Historical and Polemical Essays

Composition in the University examines the required introductory course in composition within American colleges and universities. Crowley argues that due to its association with literary studies in English departments, composition instruction has been inappropriately influenced by humanist pedagogy and that modern humanism is not a satisfactory rationale for the study of writing. Crowley envisions possible nonhumanist rationales that could be developed for vertical curricula in writing instruction, were the universal requirement not in place.
Composition in the University examines the required introductory course in composition within American colleges and universities. According to Sharon Crowley, the required composition course has never been conceived in the way that other introductory courses have been—as an introduction to the principles and practices of a field of study. Rather it has been constructed throughout much of its history as a site from which larger educational and ideological agendas could be advanced, and such agendas have not always served the interests of students or teachers, even though they are usually touted as programs of study that students “need.”

If there is a master narrative of the history of composition, it is told in the institutional attitude that has governed administration, design, and staffing of the course from its beginnings—the attitude that the universal requirement is in place in order to construct docile academic subjects.
Crowley argues that due to its association with literary studies in English departments, composition instruction has been inappropriately influenced by humanist pedagogy and that modern humanism is not a satisfactory rationale for the study of writing. She examines historical attempts to reconfigure the required course in nonhumanist terms, such as the advent of communications studies during the 1940s. Crowley devotes two essays to this phenomenon, concentrating on the furor caused by the adoption of a communications program at the University of Iowa.

Composition in the University concludes with a pair of essays that argue against maintenance of the universal requirement. In the last of these, Crowley envisions possible nonhumanist rationales that could be developed for vertical curricula in writing instruction, were the universal requirement not in place.

Crowley presents her findings in a series of essays because she feels the history of the required composition course cannot easily be understood as a coherent narrative since understandings of the purpose of the required course have altered rapidly from decade to decade, sometimes in shockingly sudden and erratic fashion.

The essays in this book are informed by Crowley’s long career of teaching composition, administering a composition program, and training teachers of the required introductory course. The book also draw on experience she gained while working with committees formed by the Conference on College Composition and Communication toward implementation of the Wyoming Resolution, an attempt to better the working conditions of post-secondary teachers of writing.