Ecocomposition can be horribly misunderstood. To paraphrase Arlene Plevin, it is more than just smuggling in a few texts about trees. Yet more and more, we are beginning to understand writing as an ecological endeavor. By this, I do not mean "context." Marilyn Cooper made that fairly clear in 1988. Rather than an abstract set of categories operating on writing, the act of writing itself generates such categories in specific configurations. Writing becomes shaped by these things in a kind of feedback loop -- a dynamic interaction between writing and the world.
This is different from the ways others have theorized complex networks of writing. Yjro Engrström, for example, proposed this diagram
to describe any act of communication. Engeström's model follows activity theory. Stemming from Vygotskyian psychology this understands consciousness not a separate from the environment, but in relation to it. As such, it goes quite a great deal toward establishing an ecological system in which a consciousness uses socially given symbols in an attempt to accomplish a goal within that system. Since the system is social, the accomplishment of a goal requires the enlistment and coordination of others; it is thus an activity rather than an action.
It is also true that this system is dynamic and not static. Bakhtin's concept of refraction holds that the system is necessarily changed with each utterance. However, the environment in such theories is limited to the social. As in social construction, there is no recourse to an outside reality, or, if there is, it is one of physical limitations that impede the social. Amos Hawley's sociological theory of human and natural relationship does just this.
If "nature" just places limits on the social, then is this relevant to writing studies only insofar as nature provides available resources such as ink, papyrus, or silicon? Not quite. Researchers such as Paul Prior might point out how nature constitutes the "artifacts" plane of his pentagonal model. However, such theories are predicated on an exploitative relationship between nature and society. Nature imposes limits that society continually seeks to supersede.
There is, then, an ethical dimension in ecocomposition that activity theory does not address. If writing is a dynamic interaction like a feedback loop, then how can we understand that interaction without resorting to exploitation? This is one of the central concerns of ecocomposition, though not the only one.
Thus, for my dissertation, I wanted to see just how that feedback loop between "nature" and individual writers occurs. So, I selected a course where students actually wrote in as well as about nature. And the most immediate place to see this was in student journals.