November 30, 2010 | Uncategorized  |  781 Comments

Cheryl Johnson’s “Participatory Rhetoric” caught my attention with the notion that the reader and text are not the only entities in the rhetorical relationship–that, additionally, there is a third party “mediating” the reading of the text: “I have wondered how much my students’ of my racial/gendered body informs their reading of the literary texts” (389). Her discussion of the “Janus-faced” role in which she finds herself highlights several vivid examples of the problematics of teaching (and I’m inclined to leave it at that–teaching–because I believe that all teaching, no matter the subject, includes these issues); despite this, her conclusion disappointed me: “It is clear, however, that as we continue to find and include other, previously marginalized voices in the curriculum, we will encounter some students who will resist what we require them to read, and some who will challenge our ability to teach certain texts, arguing that our very presence and voice displace the cultural integrity of the text” (396). Considering her own examples (however “extraordinary” and “specific” they are), I react with indignation on behalf of those students who feel emotionally and psychologically that they cannot finish a text: I do not feel that it is appropriate to force students to finish a text simply because you, the instructor, find value in that text–in fact, I find it morally questionable to force a student to read a text that causes her enough psychological stress that she visits you in your office to discuss it. (When Johnson notes, for instance, “[m]y inability or unwillingness to force her to suspend her own subjectivity compromised my professionalism and my commitment to the integreity of African-American literature,” it seems that she misses the point–forcing a student to suspend her own subjectivity would have a more deleterious compromise.)

This issue, this problem, relates to something mentioned in chapter eight of Naples’ book:

Everything we do, then, as teachers, has moral overtones. Through dialogue, modeling, the provision of practice, and the attribution of best motive, the one-caring as teacher nurtures the ethical ideal. She cannot nurture the student intellectually without regard for the ethical ideal unless she is willing to risk producing a monster, and she cannot nurture the ethical ideal without considering the whole self-image of which it is a part. (179)

I’m lucky to have always been nurtured rather than forced to learn by teachers and professors. As a senior earning my BA degrees, I took a postmodern lit. class; one of the books we read was E. L. Doctorow’s Book of Daniel: although I have (fortunately) never been the victim of sexual violence, I have a hypersensitivity to the subject, and a scene early in the novel nearly made me physically ill. I approached every professor with whom I had class (including the actual instructor of the course) and demanded how such a thing could be considered “Literature.” We talked it out; eventually–i.e., a couple weeks later–I resumed reading, finishing the book and participating fully in class discussions. My instructor, however, never tried to force me to read–she respected what I said and felt and simply suggested that the scene to which I was responding so viscerally was the worst so that continuing to read would be safe. What if I had been a victim of sexual violence? Would I have wanted her to push me to read? I’m not convinced that I would have. Johnson’s students, one dealing with his father almost dying and the other dealing with sexual abuse, were facing real-life traumas, and I don’t think any professor should consider it ethical to push students past those traumas.

One of the most thought-provoking concepts in Mary Sheridan’s piece is Dorothy Smith’s notion of documentary realities, or the idea that “[i]nstitutionally important texts reflect and construct” social relations (5). This is a given, I think, but it’s not something of which most people, especially college students, are conscious. Encouraging ourselves to pay attention to the ways in which textual practices (co-)construct reality advances an understanding of the values of our culture and, by extension, promotes social change.

Chapter three, focusing on “girls in crisis” and “girl power,” made an interesting point with regards to texts produced by young women and what those texts represent. On page 44, Sheridan notes, “These activists argued that, even if they didn’t adopt the feminist label, girls and young women are agents in their world.” My gut reaction is to ask, “Why should identifying with a label have anything to do with being an agent?” This relates to a thought that I had later in the reading, where Sheridan writes, “To ratify girls as public actors beyond the realm of conceptual privatization, activists need also to heed girls’ own representations which resonate beyond girl culture. … In fact, girls seem ambivalent about being socialized into feminist, consumeristic, and other images of womanhood” (50). I wonder, considering this quotation, if resistance to feminism doesn’t occur sometimes because feminism is not perceived as being genuine–that is, do the questions directing feminist research work altruistically to benefit society or selfishly to benefit feminism, itself? I understand that literacy may not be the liberating, mythical thing it is rumored to be, but it seems as though literacy is nevertheless poised to pursue, if not eventually resolve, matters of oppression.

I’ve come up with the following questions for our discussion with Mary Sheridan:

  1. In chapter one of Girls, Feminism, and Grassroots Literacies, she observes that the “mean girl” wave and the sexualization of girls were not caused by the media but were “options” reflected by the media. Could she elaborate on how/why these are “options” rathern than consequences of culture?
  2. Sheridan notes that her research for the book “works against the trend in popular press books that address the perils of female culture that rely heavily on anecdotal evidence”–how does she see feminism and personal narrative (i.e., anecdotal evidence) informing  and/or relating to each other?
  3. Could she discuss differences/similarities between third- and fourth-wave feminism? Did the understanding/conceptualization of ethnography change?

Translating Intent

November 2, 2010 | Uncategorized  |  171 Comments

Among the questions that this week’s readings brought to mind, one that recurred frequently concerned the intent behind feminist research. Nancy Naples describes the ethical dimensions of standpoint theory:

Postmodern analysts of ethnographic practice emphasize how relationships between researchers and those whose lives they study are dynamic and ever-changing. Furthermore, from this perspective on power, I argue, members of the groups or communities we research are also active participants in the research process and can play powerful roles in shaping what we come to know about their lives and the communities in which they live and work. (37)

Her words echo the positions of Selfe and Hawisher in last week’s reading, in which the authors observe that their project  eventually became focused on “learn[ing] more from and with the participants [they] studied rather than just about them” (9). What I wonder, though, is how successfully ethical caring translates into practice–does the altruism and goodwill of the researcher truly establish a mutually informing relationship with the participant? I ask because Selfe and Hawisher’s description of their evolving project triggered an uneasy feeling in the back of my mind:

[The project] belonged, as well, to the people we interviewed and surveyed–their words and their stories were continual reminders that they had claimed the intellectual ground of the project as their own. When we turned to the participants featured in the Literate Lives project, finally, and asked if they would be willing to co-author their chapters, the great majority of those whom we approached accepted, only a few preferring to maintain their anonymity and privacy. (9)

So a researcher asks a participant to, well, participate in co-authoring the write-up of the project. The participant accepts; the report is written; the researcher receives a publication–what does the participant earn? Is co-authoring enough? Is self-discovery–in support of a project whose goals are not precisely your own–enough?

I suppose that I’m having a hard time understanding how, practically speaking, feminist research is really any different than traditional modernist research. The jargon is altered, more P.C., but are the effects truly more beneficial?

McKee and Porter’s piece, “Feminist Research Practices in Cyberspace,” is an invaluable read for teachers of writing. The authors problematize the tenets of feminist research as they come into contact with digital discourses. Citing six concerns of feminist research, they articulate a broad understanding of the “ethical researcher,” which thus informs their own position within the article. They discuss, too, the “identity” of the ethical researcher, concluding that–no different from feminist research principles applied in reality–the researcher must maintain a mutually open and respectful relationship with participants.

Synthesis & Response
The piece by Kris and Heidi McKee especially intrigued me. Its title, “Older Adults and Community-based Technological Literacy Programs: Barriers and Benefits to Learning,” initially caught my attention, but the content held me rapt throughout. Kris and McKee, discussing the problematic relationship between older adults and technological literacy, call to attention the current social arena(s) in which those older adults could and should be more comfortably acquiring literacy skills. They shrewdly point out that the “digital divide based upon age is potentially just as detrimental to individuals and society as the divide based on cultural and economic resources” (n.p.). This suggests, then, that devoting attention to the problems of technological literacy acquisition in older adults has tentative connections to literacy acquisition (and strategies for heightening it) in traditional students, as well.

I have a personal reaction to this piece. About halfway through, the authors quote a woman named Rachel: “It’s a psychological thing when an older person … when you look at the computer you just feel totally overwhelmed, like this thing is some kind of monster.” Working in the Writing Center at BG as well as at the university library as an undergrad, I’ve encountered numerous adult or “returning” students who needed help working with computers. At Northern Kentucky University’s library, more than a few students came to me at the information desk almost in tears because they didn’t know how to search the databases for information; at BG, one of my regular students has, more than once, nearly dissolved in hysterics when the computer “wouldn’t do” what she “want it to do.” Kris and McKee, discussing functional literacy, observe, “Before individuals can critique, challenge, and repurpose computers and online communication practices, they first must know how to use a computer and how to engage in those practices.” I concur: my regular student, in under two months, has gone from barely being able to log in to MyBGSU to creating a PowerPoint presentation—she’s integrated her own opinions and desires with the capabilities of technology.

Questions for Kris
There seems to be a tendency in some feminist researchers/writers to “play the blame game”–to waste time and words condemning people and/or actions when those words and time could be better utilized in crafting proactive solutions. Is this related in/descended from the notion of the “angry butch feminist”?
2. Why is a feminist classroom or, more generally, a feminist goal desired in place of a simply egalitarian classroom and democratic thought? Why is seeking to make a classroom a democratic space not enough? What does feminism offer that is more beneficial to students than an egalitarian/democratic space?

Reading Summaries

October 20, 2010 | Uncategorized  |  4,717 Comments

In “Feminist Rhetorical Practices: In Search of Excellence,” Gesa Kirsch and Jacqueline Royster resituate feminist rhetoric: detailing its past trajectory, they argue that standards of excellence in the field have and are continuing to change. Thus, new or revisioned means of considering and engaging (con)texts are necessary: critical imagination, strategic contemplation, and social circulation. They seek through these practices to push forward the feminist model of inquiry to better accommodate and challenge the shifting, socially negotiated standards of excellence.

In “Making Pathways,” Kathleen Ryan examines her pursuit of methods for textual research within feminist rhetorical studies. Her solution to the lack of appropriate strategies is a feminist pragmatic rhetoric, which “stresses situated knowledge making and acting in the world to better the world” (90). Guided thus, she identifies recovery and gender critique as methods most beneficial for further exploring feminist rhetorical studies.

Engaging theory of the flesh, Bernadette Calafell in “Rhetorics of Possibility” examines the relationship between personal and academic experience. She posits the necessity of identity in reading critically and actively—identity, that is, can operate as a theory (105). Without such a personal stake, text is rendered hegemonic space, ergo the need for a theory that counters that which has been universalized.

In “Researching Literacy as a Lived Experience,” Joanne Addison follows the development of a theory of feminist literacy research. Citing two major flaws in the field (a lack of empirical research and a lack of resources concerning such research), she identifies feminist standpoint theory as the approach most effective in forwarding feminist research politics and methodologies.


October 19, 2010 | Uncategorized  |  853 Comments

I’m a little perplexed by contradictions that I sense in feminist theory–contradictions that don’t seem to lend themselves to any deep insights.

Main point one: According to feminist pedagogy, the classroom should be democratically structured–yet I don’t see a functional application of such a structure in the real world. Any classroom with an instructor will necessarily be rendered less than ideally democratic…

Main point two: We explicitly stated at the beginning of the semester that none of us present in class should be the need to apologize for our opinions or statements. Yet I’ve been instructed to apologize profusely for an incident that wasn’t something I could control–which doesn’t seem very much in keeping with our earlier class philosophy…

Of the four essays in section one, I read K. J. Rawson’s “Queering Feminist Rhetorical Canonization,” Wendy Hesford’s “Cosmopolitanism and the Geopolitics of Feminist Rhetoric,” and Ilene Whitney Crawford’s “Growing Routes: Rhetoric as the Study and Practice of Movement.” I was surprised to find that all three incorporated, to some degree, the idea of movement, whether that movement takes place across theoretical/abstract boundaries or across physical landscapes. What struck me was how movement seems to have become more than a key term in feminist studies–how it has become something of a topos for feminism.

In her article, Rawson describes an understanding of two methodologies for examining feminist rhetorical canons “in terms of movement”:

For feminist rhetorical recovery scholarship, the movement is often from individual figures or particular groups to theorizing about the contribution of those figures or groups. … Feminist rhetorical theory, on the other hand, moves from a broader rhetorical theorizing to focus on individuals by engaging a single, though complex, topic or conceptual category and applying it to specific examples of rhetorical practices. (40)

Noting that the notion of “woman” is problematic and limiting in considering discursive works, she ultimately decides that both approaches would benefit from a “queering” of the “methodological norms that define feminist recovery and gendered analysis in rhetorical studies” (41).

Similarly, if more forthrightly, the other two articles discuss movement and its relation(s) to oppression. Wendy Hesford looks at feminist cosmopolitanism in light of feminism’s “formations of global citizenship,” both good and bad (54). Describing a more responsible, well, response, she writes that

we need to rethink how we theorize the spatial and temporal as part of a transnational feminist rhetorical methodology, which brings together transnational feminist studies and rhetorical studies through critiques of cosmopolitanism and its particular focus on the consumptive practices of vision and spectacle. (55)

Most explicitly, though, Ilene Whitney Crawford records her own movement, both literal and figurative, with regards to understanding the literacy and lives of women in postwar Vietnam:

I am writing Vietnam rather than writing about Vietnam. This distinction marks intellectual movement I have made since 2002. … But I could not make this intellectual movement of inventing the form my work is taking, of clarifying its purpose in relation to its audience, of conceptualizing my role as rhetor … until I practiced physical movement on local terms often enough to rewrite my own emotional landscape, until I grew different routes and roots, until I loved being a part of writing a twenty-first-century Vietnam more on its own terms. (84)

Intriguingly, both Hesford and Crawford view movement as change. It’s a metaphor neither new nor particularly hard to understand, but what interests me about it is how all three authors comprehend the complex theorizing that we as scholars do as an activity. In a way, theorizing as activity allows a more personal or more vested stance, especially if such theory has a practical turn involving participants in a study–both the researcher and the researched might benefit from such active theory. But I wonder, then, if there isn’t an assumption that movement always leads to change for the better. Hesford, for instance, seems to assume that “queering” feminist recovery and gendered analysis would open up to us a wider, less biased array of discursive, but I don’t see any guarantee of that. If anything, queering the methodologies, despite Hesford’s statement to the contrary, would seem to attract a body of GLBT-etc. discourse that would create yet one more canon.

Wading through Schell’s introduction to Rhetorica in Motion, I happily came upon Barbara Biesecker’s statements about feminism. While feminist research epistemology, methodology, and method are proving insightful and thought-provoking, I’ve been having trouble reconciling those ideas of critical, self-reflexive thought with my previous experiences of feminism–in particular, the sense of victimization that seems to pervade feminist discourse. Biesecker’s comments, then (as quoted by Schell), fascinated me:

[Biesecker] contends that if feminist scholars want to “produce something more than the story of a battle over the right of individuals between men and women, we might begin by taking seriously post-structuralist objections to the model of human subjectivity that served as the cognitive starting point of our practices and our histories.” (13)

I sometimes feel that “battling” is all that goes on in feminist discourse–not necessarily battling to make up for past wrongs,  but battling merely for the sake of showing off a nonconformist position. Schell goes on to discuss Biesecker’s ideas for “account[ing] for the ‘formidable differences between and amongst women'” in order to “‘address the real fact that different women, due to their various positions in the social structure, have available to them different rhetorical possibilities, and, similarly, are constrained by different rhetorical limits,'” which, in theory, sounds great, but I don’t know that what I hear in arguments such as Naples’ view of the gendered social contract is pure genuine concern for others.

In chapter seven, Naples descends into an argument that is, at times, dangerously close to a rant. In our readings so far, I’ve really come to respect her–what she writes about “community control” in chapter six, for instance, feels timely and valuable–but her negatively criticism of the discursive frames upholding supposedly oppressive welfare policy seems to veer off the path of rhetoric. I’m the first one to acknowledge rhetoric’s inherent social nature, and feminist rhetoric, of course, is even more explicitly so, but thirty pages of the same point made a dozen different ways is, well, over the top. Indulging in victimization discourse, Naples writes,

I demonstrate how the assertion of a new consensus on a redefined social contract participated in a broad discursive framing that privileged individualist and coercive behavioral strategies such as workfare and inhibited the incorporation of structural analyses into the resultant welfare policy. (109)

This demonstration, I feel, could have been achieved in half as many pages as she chooses to use. (So I guess it’s what I perceive to be superfluousness in her argument that makes me bristle.)

My point here, though, is that Naples crosses some line that I have yet to articulate–she becomes overly critical and overly self-reflective so that, essentially, this chapter on the misused social contract reads like a Facebook rant dressed up in academic language. Systems will always exist. Biesecker brings up Derrida, and his idea of le jeu is pertinent here: in trying to point out the flaws in a patriarchal and hegemonic system, Naples steps into another, equally limiting system, one of her own design–a system of perceiving victimization in all things.

Towards the end of her article, Debra Journet hits upon an issue with personal narrative that has long bothered me:

But I do believe that it is important to recognize that we have invested a great deal of intellectual capital in rhetorical conventions that primarily use ethos (rather than method) to provide evidence that the researcher has produced an authentic account of her experiences or observations. That is, a great part of our “index of reality” rests on textual conventions to suggest that the researcher has “been there.” But what aside from representational preferences convinces us of the emotional or experiential authenticity of the account? (10; emphasis added)

Personal narrative appears little different to me than especially sophisticated, intellectual memoir. Why, then–or how–does it stand on its own rather than exist within the genre of memoir? I suppose feminist researchers (or expressivists) would argue that personal narrative is bolstered by a certain epistemology that memoir doesn’t share–personal narrative seeks to explore how individual experiences inform the methods of researching and the resulting narrative exchanges between writer and reader. Nevertheless–and this is brought up in Addison and McGee’s introduction–unless there’s some sort of action or activism stemming from the narrative, I don’t see much of a difference between it and memoir.

Susan Latta’s chapter from Addison and McGee included a point towards its conclusion that resonated with me: “However, I stand by the validity of my hybrid study and write-up, one that reflects the current conflicting nature of research methodologies in my field as well as the conflicts in my own subjectivities” (20). My questions as to the nature of the personal narrative aside, I have to applaud the directness of Latta’s statement, which describes feelings I harbor but haven’t yet been able to express so eloquently. As a writer, teacher, and researcher, I tend to feel torn among my interests and goals: I want to work on my novel, but I have a draft due for one class and a panel proposal due for another–and I wouldn’t mind enjoying a few free moments with my husband, puppy, and cats. In theory, I should think of those various details and separate and describing different mes, but, practically, they all overlap and influence one another–who I am at home definitely affects how I am at school, as well as how and what I write, and those, in turn, affect the me I take back home (this, of course, assuming that I’m not writing at home, which I tend not to do). To borrow Latta’s words, I feel hybridized by the conflicts in my own subjectivites and in my chosen career field–which, in a way, certainly lends itself to the purpose and act of personal writing…

I didn’t expect the three readings for this week to overlap as much as they did. I knew roughly what to expect from McNiff and from Naples, but I was surprised how much Kirsch and Ritchie’s article complemented the other two pieces. Very carefully, each author (or pair of authors) addresses the inescapable relevance of the personal to experience and, most importantly, knowledge–yet the goals of the pieces differ: McNiff seeks to illustrate the messiness of action research in, well, action; Naples documents her own development as a feminist and researcher; and Kirsch and Ritchie ask teachers and researchers to acknowledge their our “split selves” so that we may avoid becoming “blinded” by our own master narratives.

McNiff has become a favorite of mine, so I was disappointed that it wasn’t his writing but the analysis of a dissertation that we were to read for this week. Nevertheless, what Siobhan Ni Mhurchu says of her own growth as a teacher is striking: “I am now clearer about my own potential, the positive power of believing in my own capacity to improve the quality of my life, and I think I have transferred this assurance to the students” (83). This comes after devoting herself mind and body to the goal of reforming her method of assessment in the classroom. She seems to have planned and carried out the institution of portfolios very carefully, but she does acknowledge one unforeseen issue. With regards to reflection, she notes that students were unfamiliar with evaluating their own work. Her solution is simple yet revolutionary: “I decided that I should establish a set of criteria to help the children review their work and analyse its merits” (77). In the end, Siobhan achieves several successes, including learning about herself, helping the children take joy in their own learning, and encouraging the school to formally adopt portfolios as assessment tools.

Documenting a development, a maturation, of self as “messy” as Siobhan’s, Naples describes herself navigating the world of theoretical circles. She cites her beginning in socialist feminist analysis and moves to a point where her stance integrates that of several theories: “My strategy for negotiating these challenges has been one of praxis, namely, to generate a materialist feminist theoretical approaches informed by postmodern and postcolonial analyses of knowledge, power, and language that speaks to the empirical world in which my research takes place” (24). Just as Siobhan does, Naples incorporates herself and her world into her research. There is no separation between her as the researcher and what she researches–what she does is who she is.

Self and location don’t escape Kirsch and Ritchie, either. They argue that it is “not enough to claim the personal and locate ourselves in our scholarship and research”; rather, they challenge readers to examine themselves through the lenses of culture and ideology and through the eyes of others in order to acknowledge their selves as “split,” or fragmented (8). Location becomes central to the discussion because it is location that demands that we, as researchers, remain reflexively aware of ourselves–in order to research adequately, we must be aware of our personal values, history, etc., and how those affect our expectations and methods in doing research.

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