In the field of composition and rhetoric, postmodernism is sometimes understood in terms of the emergence of a number of “textualist epistemologies” (Aitchison and Lee 2006: 266). Simplifying somewhat, we can say that in the early-twentieth-century knowledge was generally approached as some sort of exalted state of mind, in which the knowing subject stands in a privileged relationship to the empirical world. Then, with the rise of both structuralism and positivism (the so-called “linguistic turn” in both anthropology and philosophy of science), knowing became a particular linguistic ability. Post-structuralist thinking was thereafter informed by the conspicuous role of writing in contemporary, and especially, of course, academic culture. Thinkers like Barthes and Foucault subjected the privileged position of “the author” to what has become a very influential critique, and Derrida would declare that there is nothing “outside the text” for our writing to refer to. Composition scholars took these developments on board, and by the mid-1990s a “post-process” movement was emerging, which, to some, meant abandoning the “rhetoric of assertion”. Indeed, there were even some who argued that one of the consequences of the new textuality should be to rethink our traditional views of plagiarism.
[Note: this post is part of an ongoing project described here. I'll be offering some meta-reflections on this project over at Jonathan Mayhew's blog, Stupid Motivational Tricks.]