Reflection, Detours, and Postpedagogical Practice

Megan M. McIntyre

“Writing is at the North: cold, necessitous, reasoning, turned toward death, to be sure, but by that tour de force, by that detour of force which forces it to hold on to life. In fact, the more a language is articulated, the more articulation extends its domain, and thus gains in rigor and in vigor, the more it yields to writing, the more it calls writing forth”  (Derrida 1974, 226).

Writing itself is a tour, a meandering past, with, in, among, and around experiences and articulations of experience. Writing pedagogy, especially postpedagogy [1], can be a similar beast: teachers expose, engage, and let learn. They do not necessarily teach in the traditional sense; instead, they open space and possibility for interacting, creating, and articulating.

Postpedagogy is exemplified by play, creative innovation, a de-centering of teacher authority, and intense and specific reflection (Arroyo; Lynch; Rickert; Santos, et al.; Santos and Browning; Santos and Leahy; Santos and McIntyre; Ulmer). None of these characteristics is unique to postpedagogical approaches to writing classes. Rather, advocates of postpedagogy are invested in combining critical pedagogy’s emphasis on students’ co-construction of classroom practices and assessments with an attention to digital and multimodal compositions, playful experimentation, and reflective practices. At the same time, postpedagogy advocates a move away from the confrontational approaches that can sometimes characterize cultural studies and critical pedagogies and toward a more exploratory approach (Rickert; Santos and McIntyre; Ulmer).

First coined by Gregory Ulmer in his Applied Grammatology (1985), postpedagogy exists for Ulmer in opposition to notions of mastery, objectivity, and clarity for its own sake; however, there was little (if any) discussion of the term in the two decades following Applied Grammatology. Thomas Rickert’s 2001 essay “Hands Up, You’re Free” returned to and reintroduced Ulmer’s post-pedagogy. In that article – and later in his conclusion to Acts of Enjoyment – Rickert examines Berlinian cultural studies pedagogies and argues that such approaches, despite their good intentions, often lead not to transformational, freeing moments but rather performances of consciousness-raising and increasing cynicism.

Working from Rickert’s Acts of Enjoyment (2007) and Ulmer’s Internet Invention (2003) and Electronic Monuments (2005), Marc Santos, Sarah Arroyo, and others have worked to articulate and investigate postpedagogical curricula and practices. These accounts of postpedagogy in practice most often offer examples of how postpedagogy might alter how we teach video/multimedia compositions and other kinds of non-traditional texts; however, postpedagogy as a framework for classroom practice and student writing experiences might also allow us to teach more traditional texts via less traditional approaches. For her part, Arroyo, in her discussion of participatory pedagogies and video compositions, argues that postpedagogy makes “space for innovation” and encourages creators to work toward “inventions that do not conform to pre-established conditions or ideologies” (Arroyo 110). Santos and Leahy argue that postpedagogy allows students to “pursue their own investments and cope with the attendant risks” (94), while Santos and McIntyre identify postpedagogical practices by their commitment to “student-directed learning” and “to crafting assignments and environments that force students to articulate their own concerns that shape the purpose, audience, and/or medium of their work” (n. pag.).  And though she doesn’t use the term postpedagogy, Jody Shipka’s work exemplifies these goals, especially in her emphasis on the power of articulating choices and completing reflective work (“This is (Not!) an Easy Assignment”; Toward a Composition Made Whole).

The touristic impulses of writing and the writing classroom, especially the postpedagogical writing classroom, need ever-changing maps, an accounting of expectations and realities that offers opportunities for reflective practices. In fact, postpedagogical goals require sustained reflective assignments that ask students to re-tour their work and reconsider their sometimes-harrowing experiences, in a postpedagogical classroom. Taken together, the postpedagogical authors I discuss above share a common conviction: the uncertainty inherent in (what I’d identify as) postpedagogical approaches can be transformed in productive ways via reflective practices: “We also believe that the reflective process helps them analyze their own anxiety, and frame their own confusion in productive terms” (Santos and McIntyre). For Santos and McIntyre, as well as Leahy, Arroyo, and Shipka, these reflective moments are vital opportunities for students to move from a single project to a broader understanding of themselves, their processes, and wider rhetorical practices.

This emphasis on reflection, then, opens questions of why and how: why is reflection such a foundational part of postpedagogical practice? Why is such a re-tour necessary and useful? And how can we best craft reflective opportunities that ask students to consider their development of projects, process, and practices?

In terms of the question of why, reflective practices offer opportunities to revisit challenging experiences and make sense of the sometimes harrowing exploration and confusion engendered by postpedagogy. Barthes’ punctum, to which Ulmer repeatedly returns, represents an interruption, a surprise, an eruption, and it is almost always painful; Ulmer casts this pain as useful, important, and productive in moving beyond the static practices of literate, modernist education. This pain, then, necessitates response, analysis, and reflection. In particular, to teach in the postpedagogical vein is to recognize and structure spaces for such ruptures and to craft opportunities for students to make sense of their experiences. In their multimodal article, “Our [Electrate] Stories,” Santos and his co-authors take great pains to remind us that postpedagogy almost always includes confusion and perhaps even pain: “the punctum's sting, like all stings, can hurt” (Santos et al.). This pain sometimes manifests as frustration: “Such experimental pedagogy can frustrate students; as Jody Shipka notes, it can be a painful experience” (Santos and Browning); other times, it manifests as anxiety: “The process of developing these (hopefully) transferable skills, however, was, for many students, a painful and anxiety ridden one” (Santos and McIntyre). Whatever its form, though, any account of postpedagogical practice, any advocacy for postpedagogy as a useful orientation toward teaching writing must grapple with this pain and look for ways to mitigate it.

The question of how is a bit more challenging to answer. Ulmer’s pedagogical endeavors seem to be driven by a central question: “what would a writing be that produces understanding without representation?” (Ulmer, Heuretics 66). Because of his performative writing style, though, even Ulmer’s most practical texts (his textbooks Internet Invention and Electronic Monuments) require explication. Over the last half-decade or so, a number of articles have emerged offering practices that seem designed to explicate Ulmer’s central question and offer practices that might lead us toward a pedagogy that works toward understanding without demanding representation. For their part, Santos and Browning argue, “[I]n place of literacy’s interest in fostering synthesis, Ulmer’s electrate invention prioritizes receptivity and reflection” (n. pag.) Reflective apparatuses, then, seem central to Ulmer’s postpedagogical impulses.

Links between reflection and postpedagogical learning are also reflected in studies by postpedagogues. In particular, Santos and Leahy and Santos and McIntyre both offer evidence that consistent reflection (via an ongoing blog project for Santos and Leahy and via repeated postmortem reflection questions for Santos and McIntyre) was vital in helping students make connections between challenging assignments and broader – even transferable and adaptable – learning. Santos and Leahy point specifically to one student’s end-of-semester blog for evidence that reflections – which ask students to revisit their previous work and make connections between that work and their wider creative and learning processes – allow students to move from anxiety and confusion to learning. In her reflection, Elizabeth argues that

the thoughts and experiences that I have had throughout my life gave me the words to fill this blog. However, I never expected to gain so much back in return from what little it seemed like I had to offer to this web page. By sharing bits and pieces of my life and love for my horses, I broadened and expanded my own knowledge. (Elizabeth, 2010, para. 2 as qtd. in Santos and Leahy 92)

Elizabeth’s account of her learning process in this reflective piece matches the connections that students in Santos and McIntyre’s study of their postpedagogical classrooms. In one of his project postmortem reflections, one student from that study frames his experience this way:

At the beginning of the semester, …people weren't ‘riding the line between’ as much as they were falling into pits of ‘hopelessly lost.’ The result of this was a lot of frustration that started out rather unproductive, but through experience, was transformed into productive (n. pag.)

As Santos and McIntyre argue, their study suggests, “it is the process of reflection—the postmortem—that transforms the unpredictable creative moment into (perhaps) a repeatable method.”

Ultimately, then, the specific character of reflective assignments is less important than the presence and consistency of reflection over the course of a term. Ulmer’s postpedagogy requires opportunities to re-tour experiences and return again to discover how sometimes painful learning experiences can be made productive.


[1] As I note later, this term first emerges from Gregory Ulmer’s work in Applied Grammatology and is later taken up by Thomas Rickert, Marc Santos, Sarah Arroyo, and others. It is not meant to indicate an end to the enterprise of teaching but rather a less certain approach that encourages play, co-construction, and experimentation while eschewing traditional hallmarks of cultural studies pedagogies à la James Berlin.

Works Cited

Arroyo, Sarah J. Participatory Composition: Video Culture, Writing, and Electracy. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 2013. Print.

Derrida, Jacques. Of Grammatology. Trans. G. C. Spivak. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1974. Print.

Rickert, Thomas. Acts of Enjoyment. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2007. Print.

- - -. "Hands Up, You’re Free: Composition in a Post-Oedipal World." JAC: A Journal of Composition Theory 21 (2001): 287-320. Print.

Santos, Marc C. and Ella R. Browning. “Maira Kalman and/as Choric Invention.” Enculturation 2014. Web. 19 Feb. 2015. <>.

Santos, Marc C., et al. “Our Electrate Stories: Explicating Ulmer’s Mystory Genre.” Kairos 18.2 (2014). Web. 19 Feb. 2015. <>.

Santos, Marc C. and Mark H. Leahy. “Postpedagogy and Web Writing.” Computers and Composition 32 (2014): 84-95. Print.

Santos, Marc C. and Megan M. McIntyre. “Toward a Technical Communication Made Whole: Disequilibrium, Creativity, and Postpedagogy.” Composition Forum 33 (2016). Web. 26 September 2016. <>.

Shipka, Jody. “This Was (Not!) an Easy Assignment: Negotiating an Activity-Based Multimodal Framework for Composing.” Computers and Composition Online. Bowling Green State University, 2007. Web. 14 Dec. 2011. <>.

- - -. Toward a Composition Made Whole. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2011. Print.

Ulmer, Gregory L. Applied Grammatology: Post(e)-pedagogy from Jacques Derrida to Joseph Beuys. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985. Print.

- - -. Heuretics: The Logic of Invention. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994. Print.

- - -. Internet Invention: From Literacy to Electracy. New York: Longman, 2003. Print.

- - -. Electronic Monuments. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2005. Print.



Megan M. McIntyre is the Assistant Director of Dartmouth’s Institute for Writing and Rhetoric. Her research focuses on how technologies alter our conceptions of rhetoric, pedagogy, and writing program administration. She has published work in Composition Forum, Peitho, and Kairos.