Degree Type


Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Dorothy A. Winsor


The technical writing classroom, where instructors come from English while most students have expertise in science and technical fields, creates a complicated dynamic of authority. Despite these complications, little technical communication research addresses classroom authority. Composition provides considerably more discussion of classroom authority but is often predicated on the belief that (1) authority rests solely with instructors, and (2) such authority is inherently negative, particularly for students.;Drawing on classroom observations and the work of composition scholars and post-structural theorists, this dissertation argues that classroom authority is best understood as a series of negotiated relationships between instructor and students and among students. Although influenced by external structures such as institutional status, expertise, and gender, authority manifests in interactions between individual instructors and students.;In the study, two discursive structures in particular shaped instructor-student authority. First, the institutional structure of the university, particularly the relative status of those in the class, placed the instructor in a hierarchical position over the students, a structure which individuals could complicate but never escape. But while students and instructors did sometimes experience this traditional authority structure as a constraint, both groups also benefited in specific ways. Authority was further complicated by the different expertise of those in the class. As students advance further in their own fields, they bring increased discipline-specific expertise to classroom relationships. When students had disciplinary expertise that the instructor did not, they were able to assert authority in ways not encouraged by institutional structure. Different forms of expertise, combined with other structures of cultural power, such as gender, created a complex web that instructor and students negotiated when developing authority relationships.;Student-student authority has received little scholarly attention despite increasing pedagogical interest in assigning students to collaborative projects. Students face two challenges to asserting authority with peers: (1) an educational system focused on individual success, and (2) an institutional structure that encourages students to engage in non-hierarchical, socially-based peer relationships. Despite these challenges, students did find ways to assert authority and work together by calling on discipline-based expertise to frame their authority assertions or by imitating other types of authority relationships (e.g., instructor-student).



Digital Repository @ Iowa State University,

Copyright Owner

Terri Ann Fredrick



Proquest ID


File Format


File Size

209 pages