Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Joseph Moxley, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Meredith Zoetewey, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Pat Nickinson, Ph.D.


Methodology, Qualitative, North, Beaufort, Brandt, Carroll, Thaiss, Zawacki


This thesis looks at Stephen North's 1987 claim of the limits of ethnography in composition research and looks at modern, published research studies to see how they have heeded North's warnings.

In 1987 Stephen North claimed that the future of ethnographic methodology in composition research was doomed unless those who would adopt this qualitative technique understood its limitations. North argued that each ethnography is only valuable as an individual study, that individual studies are not cumulative towards some absolute and discoverable positivistic model of knowledge. This warning of the problem and limitations of modern qualitative ethnography was issued over 2 decades ago; how have we done? Does the modern composition researcher who uses ethnographic methodology heed North's warning not to generalize, or do they just tip their hat at North and do it anyway? But regardless of North's dire predictions and warnings, it is apparent that ethnography as a research methodology (in its many disputed forms) is here to stay in composition studies.

This thesis provides a sample of research ethnographies published since North's 1987 warning and looks at the methodologies, narrative style, and theoretical conclusions used by some current researchers. By using a close rhetorical analysis which compares the language choices and theoretical positions of those well-received studies against the idea of the non-cumulative nature of ethnographic study, I will contrast what modern researchers say they will do versus what is presented within their published work.

Using North's and others' claims on the limitations of generalizable knowledge and hypotheses-testing fallacies of ethnographic methodology for research in composition studies, this thesis first defines the research questions, offers a definition of methodological terms in context of rhetoric and composition research, offers a background of critique, and applies this critique to a sample of post-North published dissertations and monographs.