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6 Implications of a Social Perspective on Rhetorical Invention FROM THE NINETEENTH CENTURY TO THE PRESENT, RHETORICAL invention in composition has been rooted in radical individualism. I have argued that a view of invention as the act of an atomistic individual producing a discrete text is severely limited-that it misleadingly divorces the individual from the social realm and fails to account for much of what happens when writers invent. Invention should be reconceived, I have suggested, as a social act: one in which individuals interact with society and culture in a distinctive way to create something. With this view, invention may be seen as an act encompassing symbol-using activities such as speaking and writing, often involving more than one person, and extending over time through a series of social transactions and texts. The generation of what one comes to know and say is brought to completion by others who receive and execute the action. What implications does this view have for writing, for scholarship and research, and for the teaching of writing? Changes compatible with a social view of invention have in fact already begun. In recent years there has been growing advocacy for teaching composition as a collaborative learning process of writers with teachers, writers with peer tutors, and writers with readers in workshop groups. Articles, books, workshops, and conference papers have suggested ways to structure and improve these various interactions. 1 At the same time, the increasing attention being paid to writing across the curriculum 122 Invention as a Social Act and writing in the world of work reminds us of the importance of composition directed towards something other than the theme for English 101. Since much of the inventing done in other disciplines and professions is collaborative, these developments encourage us to regard invention as a social enterprise. New directions are evident not only in teaching but also in research . The development of naturalistic research on writers in their normal composing situations makes it possible to study invention in a more realistic and comprehensive way than, say, by looking at one writer in an experimental setting who invents material to produce one draft of a text. \tVhen we observe inventors over a period of time in their natural habitats, we find that in fact they do interact with others, although such activities have often been "controlled out" in experimental studies. In all these endeavors-collaborative instruction, writing across the curriculum, and naturalistic research -changes in practice have preceded the articulation of corresponding theory. Clarifying our theoretical perspective should enable us to see more clearly what has already been accomplished and hasten the process ofchange already under way. Beyond these incipient changes in teaching and research, a view ofinvention as a social act has many additional implications. My discussion of these is meant to be suggestive rather than exhaustive. At present it is probably impossible to see fully what this perspective implies; like many composition theories and pedagogics, this book does not completely escape the individualism that has infused all arenas-political, economic, intellectual, and social-for so long that it is difficult to avoid entirely its impress. Gregory Bateson remarks that "we are most of us governed by epistemologies that we know to be wrong." 3 Given the status quo, however, there are a number of things we can begin to do as writers, researchers, and teachers to put into practice a view of invention as a social act. Implications for \Vriters As writers who adopt this perspective, we will regard invention as an act that involves both the creation and the continuing use of a text, extending through readers' responses, revision, publication, criticism, and defense. \Ve will value invention not just as a method Implications of a Social Perspective 123 of retrieving what we already know, but as a process that constitutes our inquiry. We will understand the value of cultivating relationships with those with whom we invent and of attending more carefully to ways ofenabling the creativity of others. It is in our interest to recognize the influence of social collectives on what and how we invent, attempting to make explicit their tacit rules so we can decide which to abide by or what the consequences may be if we do not. Wliters in all discourse communities should attempt to clalify and possibly expand the prevailing sense of what constitutes collaboration and how it should be acknowledged. Many of us are careful to acknowledge what we borrow from texts by dead or absent...


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