Peer review, a collaborative learning tool that emerged in the 1980s as a response to the failure of traditional writing pedagogy to meet the demands of students hitherto excluded from higher education (Bruffee; Trimbur), is intended to help students cultivate a sense of authority over the texts they produce and to support them as they position themselves as members of scholarly or professional communities. Yet questions about equity in peer review (PR) remain vexing: Does PR, which remains widespread in the writing classroom, work as intended for all students, or can it reproduce the same hierarchies and systems of oppression that it seeks to destabilize?

In my dissertation, Ideologies of Language and Disability in College Writing Peer Review, which I will defend in April 2018, I use qualitative methods to examine how student beliefs about social difference shaped PR discourse in two sections of first-year composition at a linguistically diverse and non-selective regional university in the Midwest. My data include:

  • 43 hours of interviews, including 11 focal students interviewed three times over the course of the semester
  • 33 hours of peer review audio-recordings
  • Semester-long ethnographic observations
  • All student writing, including drafts, finals, and peer review materials
  • Instructor feedback on student work

Drawing on theories of markedness and authorship, I show how students conflated perceptions of normalcy in ability and standardness in language. As a result, some students positioned themselves as ‘caregivers’ in relation to their disabled or multilingual peers. Caregivers spent more time reviewing than being reviewed, a hierarchical dynamic that allowed them to exercise more authority than their peers. Yet, authority was not just connected to more time, i.e., chronos; it also depended on timing, i.e., kairos, here, the ability to enter a conversation so as to be persuasive. Theorizing inclusive models of peer review, I argue, means showing students how to claim a non-hierarchical power in the real-time exchanges of classroom discourse.