Degree Type


Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

David R. Russell


While compositionists have long grappled with what the first-year composition (FYC) course is and can do, the literature has rarely focused directly on FYC motives, nor offered an analysis of FYC motives using empirical data to focus on the ways teachers are constrained and afforded in their attempts to achieve various FYC motives. This dissertation provides motive-related data collected over two years, conducts an analysis of current official disciplinary and programmatic motives in light of the institutional position of the FYC course, and offers a method for resolving the motive-related contradictions that became apparent in the analysis. This method involves examining FYC at the macro (disciplinary), meso (programmatic), and micro (classroom) level simultaneously.;This dissertation uses activity theory to examine how motives mediate activity in the first-year composition course at one institution. Analyzing FYC in relation to its motives using a macro/meso/micro layer activity method illustrates not only that contradiction has historically been no stranger to FYC and its motives, but also the ways in which contradiction affects FYC teachers and their students in one local program. My analysis of macro layers of the discipline---including its history, professionalization, and the emergence of "official" FYC motives (in particular, the WPA Outcomes Statement)---coupled with analyses of motives at the meso and micro layers of one FYC program illuminated contradictions related to motives that are not apparent when examining only one layer of activity.;Several themes were apparent throughout the layers of analyses: first, the increasing recognition by the field of Composition of the specialization of discourse and the consequences of the specialization of discourse for a general skills first-year composition; second, "the critical" as a primary unofficial motive for FYC and as a primary concern of the field of Composition; third, FYC is intended to teach rhetorical skills for use in the university and beyond but the position of the course within the institution may push teachers toward teaching isolated skills that may or may not transfer to other writing contexts.



Digital Repository @ Iowa State University,

Copyright Owner

Elizabeth Ann Wardle



Proquest ID


File Format


File Size

205 pages