Investigating Students’ Reception and Production of Normalizing Discourses in a Disability-Themed Advanced Composition Course

Hilary Selznick


In this article. I report on an IRB-approved auto-ethnographic study of a disability studies-themed rhetoric and compositon course that I designed and taught at a midsize Midwestern university. This study examines students multimodal life-writing compositions, "normal commonplace books (journals of students' encounteres with the assumptions--or commonplaces-- of normacy), and classroom discussion, asking: How do students' use normalizing discourses in relation to disability and other marginalized identity categories? And, how might educators pedagogically intervene in such discourses? Ultimately, I found that exploring "discourses of normalcy" might help educators access students' experiences with disability, and consequently, redress the hegemony of the norm. The study revealed that students were more likely to use normalizing discourses in their written responses rather than in class discussions. Similarly, the instructor intervened in these problematic discourses in written feedback rather than verbally in classroom exchanges. The study also proved that after exposure to critical disability studies, students were more willing to discuss other social issues relating to race, sexuality, religion, and class. In keeping with the aims of the special issue, the results of this study suggest one way to teach disability studies content to a variety of audiences, and details an approach used by a teacher-researcher to study a DS classroom.


disability; pedagogy; rhetoric and composition; normalcy

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Copyright (c) 2015 Hilary Selznick

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ISSN: 2159-8371 (Online); 1041-5718 (Print)