Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Mark McBeth

Committee Members

Amy Wan

Jessica Yood

Subject Categories

English Language and Literature | Rhetoric and Composition


Composition, Rhetoric, Expressivism, Pedagogy


This dissertation explores the theory and practice of expressivism as a pedagogy viable for the twenty-first century. Expressivism, in its inception (1960s), was wrongly perceived in many ways for the seemingly superfluous nature of its intentions; mainly it was targeted as an elitist, individualistic approach to the teaching of composition, only seen as suitable for a privileged student body. What was entirely overlooked that expressivism offered, were the more conventional ideologies and activities, such as process theory and peer review—things we use and cherish to this day. What I discovered through archival research was that expressivism then was inadvertently divided into two camps: the radical expressivists and the moderate expressivists. The former camp having no direct names of association, the latter holding some of the biggest names in the field of composition pedagogy: Peter Elbow, Donald Murray, and Ken Macrorie. It was the former camp that stigmatized expressivism with the label that it has carried all these decades, while the important work that we continue to use has been disregarded as belonging to expressivism in the first place. Despite its sordid past and current reputation, I look to expressivism, in all it has to offer, as not only being a useful means of composition pedagogy, in general, but particularly for more diverse and underprivileged student bodies, seeing how certain elements, such narrative and journaling, can lead to awareness and even activism through sharing stories and experiences in the classroom. I turn to my own classroom experiences and the work of my students, who mainly come from working-class and/or backgrounds of poverty, to show how the use of expressivist frameworks has proven beneficial in our composition classrooms. I look to the history of expressivism first to see how it was used, where it was used and in what contexts, seeing its short-lived stint in college composition. I then look to the history of CUNY (The City University of New York) where I teach, to see how expressivist frameworks may or may not have been used in the composition classroom as the time of expressivism’s inception intersects with CUNY’s Open Admissions Policy. From here, I turn to the current-day classroom to confront the issues of sharing personal experiences and stories in public spaces, as expressivism does, and lastly I confront the issue of students’ use of their own language in writing—an ideal I feel coincides very much with expressivist practice in regards to adhering to the authenticity of the writer. I have come to call this practice “neo-expressivism,” as in my research and writing I have had to consider both the good and bad that came with expressivism—not to disregard “the bad,” but to reconsider it, rework it, and create a pedagogy that welcomes everyone and their unique experiences.