Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



This study explores power and empowerment in writing center peer conferences. Arguing against the notion of “hierarchical” and “collaborative” conference categories, it suggests that because both participants enact power in conference interaction, conferencing power dynamics exist on a continuum. Issues of ownership are also placed on a continuum (and associated with enactments of power); this study argues against idealized notions of tutees “owning” their texts and conferencing goals. It distinguishes between empowerment in a practical sense (associated with improving writing skills) and in a political sense (associated with increasing critical awareness). The research involved ethnographic methods: it followed two peer tutors through a 3-credit hour, semester-long preparation course and through their first year working as writing tutors; also, 48 conferences involving the two tutors were audio-recorded. Additional methods involved discourse analysis of 8 complete conference transcripts, as well as analysis of several audio tapes and partial transcripts. The two tutors were involved extensively in data analysis; the study emphasizes their involvement, their perceptions of power and empowerment, and their influence on data analysis and coding procedures. Political empowerment was rare in the conferences examined; however, practical empowerment was encouraged within a range of conferencing dynamics. Empowerment, however, could also be hindered within a range of dynamics: more hierarchical exchanges sometimes gave tutees little opportunity to practice concepts or demonstrate learning, while more collaborative exchanges sometimes seemed confusing and frustrating to the tutee. Thus, the study suggested the importance of tutor flexibility in employing and adjusting conferencing approaches. It also suggested that tutors are empowered by conferencing; both tutors planned to become teachers and felt their tutoring experiences would strongly affect their teaching. The writing center’s ability to empower students may lie especially in its ability to expose potential teachers to political issues associated with teaching, writing, and language.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Sarah L. Liggett