Masters Theses

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts



Major Professor

Jeffrey M. Ringer

Committee Members

Jessica Grieser, Lisa King


The purpose of this study is to examine the presence and perceptions of politics in first-year composition (FYC) courses. Though the “political turn” of composition studies has been the subject of much scholarship since the 2016 election, very little empirical research has been conducted in this area. As a result, this study seeks to fill that gap with empirical, mixed-methods research that examines the political perceptions of both students and instructors in FYC courses.

I begin this work by reviewing the long, fraught history of politics in rhetorical education and propose several frameworks that are helpful for clarifying this debate, including democratic deliberation and rhetorical empathy. Through 38 survey responses and 13 semi-structured follow-up interviews, I explore when, how, and why politics come up in FYC courses and how participants perceive themselves and other people as political actors in those courses. Though most of my student participants had largely apolitical experiences, instructors had a better sense for the political diversity of their classes and engaged with politically charged content with varying degrees of success.

In addition, I examine how my participants’ beliefs align with Roberts-Miller’s (2004) models of political discourse. My results demonstrate that, in their composition courses, my participants largely based their ideas on the liberal model of discourse and the deliberative model of discourse, though other models occur as well. Based on my research, I contend that composition instructors should reflect on what underlying assumptions about political discourse lie beneath their pedagogical choices. I also argue that, in order to productively integrate politics in their courses, instructors should leave behind thesis-based argument and lecture-based pedagogy in favor of exploratory argument, collaborative teaching styles, and facilitating a classroom environment rooted in listening and empathy.

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