Basic writing (un)written : a critical discourse analysis and genealogy of developmental English in Texas



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The purpose of this study was to investigate the discourses that author basic writing in Texas and question how instructors of basic writing at a community college are constructed as well as constructive through discursive practices. Elements of Critical Discourse Analysis (Luke, 1995-1996; Faircloth, 2000) were employed to analyze primary source documents, publications, presentations, meeting minutes, public forum transcripts, professional literature and policies pertaining to the practice of developmental English since the adoption of the Texas Academic Skills Program and the Texas Success Initiative. The discourses of failure, economy and science were identified as authoritative systems of conventions and norms that operate through the practice of basic writing. A Foucaultian genealogical lens was then applied both to explore the power relations and categorizations processes that undergird the material consequences (Valle, 2005) of the discourses as well as to identify how the narratives of basic writing faculty intersect with the discourses. Findings suggest that the discourses of failure, economy, and science function in a reciprocal manner to promote distorted truth claims about students and basic coursework that effectively limit possibilities for and lend to increased governmental control over the future practice of developmental education. The instructors’ stories, however, provide critical disruptions to the discourses. Viewing their alternative understandings of basic writing alongside the recurrent statements that have constructed popular understandings of developmental English, this study foregrounds the urgent need for more research from practitioners within the field and better channels of communicating their scholarship and professional experiences in the public arena.