English Ph.D. Dissertations


Affective Possibilities for Rhetoric and Writing: How We Might Self-Assess Potentiality in Composition

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


English (Rhetoric and Writing) PhD

First Advisor

Kristine Blair (Committee Co-Chair)

Second Advisor

Lee Nickoson (Committee Co-Chair)

Third Advisor

David Tobar (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Sue Carter Wood (Committee Member)


My dissertation, Affective Possibilities for Rhetoric & Writing: How We Might Self-Assess Potentiality in Composition, presents a reconceived approach to teaching self-assessment practices to writing students in college writing classrooms by combining practices of reflection with consideration of potentiality. As defined in this project, potentiality is a quality of student writers and of their writing−a capacity for change, growth, and development into the future. These findings are built upon an empirical study of four first-year writing students, who were interviewed about their own assessment practices, both in terms of their writing processes with specific texts and in terms of their own conception of themselves as writers. I situate my data within contexts of writing assessment, feminist scholarship, affect studies, and liminality. At the crossroads of these varying conversations are concerns about literacy and agency, as well as about capacity and potential. Haswell and Haswell (2010) advocate for writing assessment practices that honor and encourage student writers' sense of authorship. They conceive of this sense of authorship as being intimately tied to a notion of potentiality. How to define, identify, and attend to potentiality are the questions that I consider through the lenses of feminist scholarship and affect studies. Feminist scholarship promotes literacy as a means to achieve identity and agency in the spaces around us, in education and in practice. In the spaces between texts and agents, feminism finds possibility for change and for access to power that seems tied to fixed positions. Similarly, affect studies draws attention away from subject positions and subjects to focus on the interactions and expressions that pass between agents. My analysis of the data from my empirical study includes a definition of potentiality informed by these aspects of feminist scholarship and affect studies. My project demonstrates that potentiality can be defined as a quality in student writers and their writings, and that is it worthwhile to help students identify their own potentiality as a means of developing a sense of authorship that will enhance their use of writing and the impact that they might have on their environments through literate activity. This project also demonstrates that student writers function in liminal space, where their identities and their sense of authorship is neither determined nor fixed, but flexible and open to change and development. In this liminal space, writing students might learn practices that help them in defining and following their own trajectories as interactive and interaffective agents. As a result of these findings, I call for writing studies scholars to consider new practices of self-assessment for student writers that go beyond reflection on past writing projects, processes, and portfolios. By teaching and practicing self-reflection that attends to future goals and desires, writing instructors can promote a sense of authorship that imbues student writers with literacy and agency that extends further than the academy, fulfilling feminist and cultural goals for a liberatory education.