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Date of Award


Document Type

Restricted Thesis: Campus only access

Degree Name

Master of Arts in English Composition



First Reader/Committee Chair

Dr. Caroline Vickers


This study presents empirical research to contribute to the ongoing debate between Writing Center (WC) scholars concerning theoretical conceptions and perceptions of tutor and tutee roles and identities as peers, novices, and/or experts. The study explores how symmetrical (peer) and asymmetrical (expertnovice) identities are locally co-constructed and reconstructed in turn-by-turn utterances between WC tutors and tutees. Audio-recorded data of 30-minute WC conferences were collected and micro-analyzed within the parameters of Conversation Analysis. The data reveal that, contrary to the label of peer tutoring, tutors and tutees more frequently reinforced their macro-level statuses as experts and novices, respectively. For tutors, expert identities were co-constructed by using tag questions, controlling turn and topic allocations, less frequently ratifying tutee’s contributions, and by rejecting the tutee’s contributions—either what the tutee wrote or said—more frequently; at the same time, tutees co-constructed their own noviceness by more frequently ratifying the tutor’s contributions, more frequently boosting ratification, less frequently rejecting the tutor’s contributions, less frequently controlling turn and topic allocations, and by not asking tag questions.

Where the macro-level expert-novice dichotomy was more easily reinforced micro-interactionally, achieving peer identities involved cooperative coconstruction by the tutor and the tutee. The data suggest that peer identities required the following conditions to exist: (1) tutors who wished to distributeagency to their tutees in order to co-construct a more symmetrical—or peer— relationship had to less frequently employ interactional strategies that index their own expertise; (2) tutees had to accept the agency that tutors distributed to them, which contributes to tutee empowerment; (3) tutees had to use interactional strategies that typically indexed expertise for tutors—such as turn and topic control and use of tag questions—and decrease the frequency of interactional strategies that index their own noviceness, such as frequent ratification and boosting; (4) tutors and tutees had to share evenly balanced frequencies of the interactional strategies that index both expertise and noviceness; (5) tutors and tutees continued to re-establish conditions 1-4 throughout the conference to maintain a symmetrical power relationship. Shifting the agency from the more powerful tutor to the less powerful tutee accomplishes two things: tutee empowerment and establishing a more symmetrical power relationship between the tutor and the tutee. This study contributes to the small, but growing branch of research that seeks to better understand how scholars’ theoretical perceptions of tutor and tutee identities as experts or peers compare to the in-the-moment representations of tutors and tutees that empirical research reveals.