Exploring Disruption

Ritchie and Boardman’s chapter “Feminism in Composition” provides an interesting historical survey, as they call it, of women in the field of composition and how they have used feminist thought to help shape and change the field. They survey the history of feminism in composition through three overlapping tropes: inclusion, metonymy, and disruption. This seems an effective way to explore the commonly ignored history of feminism in composition.

I would like to take a moment, however brief, to explore disruption a bit further. While Ritchie and Boardman’s chapter focuses on the past, I would argue that all three tropes are still in use by feminists in composition today and are still incredibly necessary, particularly disruption. Ritchie and Boardman argue that it is dangerous to rely too heavily on disruption as it “may be only temporary” and “it’s easy to push disrupters to the sidelines, to stop listening to them and to marginalize them once again;” they also point out the rhetorical skill required to successfully disrupt and subsequently maintain the conversation (614). To me, this concluding section of their essay feels too dismissive of disruption, as though they are trying to downplay its usefulness because they know that “disruptions can create tension and anger even among feminists,” which is a testament to the fact that feminism itself is embedded within a system that resists it (611).

I argue that disruption is still incredibly necessary because it is one of the only ways to shake things up, so to speak. Simple inclusion and metonymy aren’t enough to engender feminist thought in composition (or, indeed, in society at large) when the system in which we are trying to include women (and other marginalized groups) is built around marginalization. Disruption is key, in my opinion, to actually changing the institutions in which composition takes place.


1. How can we encourage¬†constructive disruption in our writing classrooms? (By constructive disruption, I mean disruption not for disruption’s sake, but for the sake of teaching our students different ways of approaching and thinking about writing.)

2. In what ways do you see disruption still in use in composition today? Can you think of any composition theorists who employ disruption in their work?


One thought on “Exploring Disruption

  1. I appreciate that you are focusing on the role of disruption in the present rather than simply the past. I would like to answer your question about how to encourage students to engage in constructive disruption because I think that disruption could be a valuable strategy to engage students in analysis and cultural awareness. I think that disruption could easily align with existing ENGL 120 assignments like the rhetorical analysis or commentary, depending on whether they want to analyze existing discourses or make a broader comment on the implications of rhetoric in these discourses. I argue that giving students opportunities do engage in disruption can deepen their critical thinking and cultural awareness. However, it may also be difficult to do because some (or even many) students may find it daunting, since many would not have experienced this practice in high school. Thus, it may be useful to model many examples of texts that use rhetoric to perpetuate stereotypes as well as disruptive texts that challenge these discourses so the students can deepen their understanding of the significance and impacts of disruption.

    I might also suggest broadening disruption beyond feminism so students can still think critically about cultural rhetoric but find a topic that they may be more interested in. Working at the Center for Writers, I have noticed that many students express frustration when their instructors limit them to a specific theme that they do not necessarily have an interest in. While feminist disruption would be a valuable subject for them to engage in during the class, I think giving them more freedom in picking a topic for their final paper can also be useful. Disruption could be applied to discourses other groups of people. Giving students the option to apply disruption to discourses other than those surrounding women may also give them the chance to think critically about other aspects of our culture.


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