Review of Glenn and Mountford’s Rhetoric and Writing Studies in the New Century: Historiography, Pedagogy, and Politics
Author(s): William P. Banks
William P. Banks (pronouns: he, him, his) is the Director of the University Writing Program and the Tar River Writing Project and is a Professor of Rhetoric and Writing at East Carolina University, where he teaches courses in writing, research, pedagogy, and young adult literature. His essays on digital rhetorics, queer rhetorics, pedagogy, and writing program administration have appeared in several recent books, as well as in College Composition & Communication, College English, and Computer & Composition. He has edited multiple recent collections of scholarship, including Re/Orienting Writing Studies: Queer Methods, Queer Projects, and Reclaiming Accountability: Improving Writing Programs through Accreditation and Large-Scale Assessments.
Glenn, Cheryl and Roxanne Mountford, editors. Rhetoric and Writing Studies in the New Century: Historiography, Pedagogy, and Politics. Southern Illinois UP, 2017. 320 pages.
In the game of chess, the queen is often valued for being the most versatile figure on the board; she can move in any direction, and unlike her royal counterpart, she’s not confined to moving one space at a time. As a young person learning the game, I did whatever it took to get her off the back row in the hopes that once free, she would whip around the board, taking out my opponent’s pawns, knights, and bishops. For many in our field over the last several decades, Andrea Abernathy Lunsford has often played a similar role: a brilliant and agile scholar with eclectic interests, Lunsford authored many of the first articles in our field on major topics from assessment and basic writing, to feminist rhetorics and historiography, to new media composing. When I was a new graduate student and teacher 25 years ago, “Lunsford” felt like an indexical shortcut for finding research and scholarship that could help me out on just about any topic.
The power of Glenn and Mountford’s collection Rhetoric and Writing Studies in the New Century, a collection that reads like a festschrift in honor of Lunsford’s varied contributions to our field, lies in the nimble way that the writers engage one of the matriarchs of our field in order to imagine what teaching and scholarship in the 21st century might look like. While Lunsford’s work on collaboration and co-authorship suggests that she might object to the royal appointment my chess metaphor enacts, the fact remains that the work she has done over her distinguished career has opened many areas of study for the new and experienced scholar-teachers alike. In this collection, we see how several of these areas of study continue to be central to our shared work in rhetoric and writing studies. The first half of this collection focuses on student writing and literacy, while the latter half asks us to pay attention to rhetorical histories, both ancient and modern; throughout, however, the authors challenge us to imagine what is different about writing and rhetoric in the 21st century—and what tools we may have to better understand shifts in language, composition, and politics.
In Part One, several authors take up Lunsford’s foundational work on authorship and collaboration, and raise important questions about how authorship might continue to figure into contemporary beliefs and practices involving literacy. In “Troubling the Waters: Religious Persuasion and Social Activism,” Shirley Wilson Logan looks back at the writings of Amanda Berry Smith, a nineteenth century evangelist and missionary who traveled extensively to teach people from India and West Africa about her religion. In writing about her travels and experiences, Smith blends “religious and social activism in various evangelical settings” in ways that demonstrate an “awareness of racial and gender differences, especially in her own country” (41). Through her reading of Smith’s work, Logan asks us to consider why Smith and similar authors have not been included in our anthologies of black women writers, and how we might bring them together with the writers of slave narratives and abolitionist speeches from the same time in order to have a more complete understanding of the rhetorical dimensions of nineteenth-century authorship.
The other two essays in this section explore the intersections of collaboration and authorship in order to query how we understand these concepts in two very different contexts. In “Collaboration, Authorship, and the Resistance to Change,” Lisa Ede asks us to explore what, if anything, has changed around our notions of collaborative writing, particularly in how academic institutions understand this work. Reflecting on the collaborative work she and Lunsford did in the 1980s and 1990s, Ede notes that “at the level of pedagogical and scholarly practice resistance to significant change surrounding issues of collaboration and authorship is much more powerful, and much more entrenched, than we ever could have imagined when we began our work thirty years ago” (49). Ede leaves us with a significant challenge: she recognizes that our disciplinary expertise and research should make us “acutely aware of the extent to which academic assumptions, practices, and structures work against collaboration” (52), yet we also know how important this collaborative work is. So what can we do about this problem? How do we advocate for our colleagues and the academy to value the richness and complexity that emerges from collaborative authorship? And what might that look like if we did?
Shirley Brice Heath approaches this dilemma differently in “When Not to Write: Reflections on Words, Books, and Authors.” Like Ede, Heath initially offers an important critique of how the modern academy has made little progress in recognizing and valuing the ways that authorship and collaboration have changed dramatically in the last one hundred years: “academic assessments rarely tap into any of these ‘new’ ways of talking, reading, and writing among today’s teenagers. What is demanded in these assessments comes from assumptions regarding the dominance of information presented in extended texts, interactive deliberative discourse, and means of expression tied to academic subjects and ways of reasoning, comparing, and analyzing” (31). At the same time, Heath seems far less open to new ways of reading, writing, and thinking than this initial critique suggests. Instead, she falls back on unsubstantiated “kids today” commentary about “‘swiping’ replac[ing] keyboarding” with the result that “language will increasingly decline as the way into informational access” (35). Lunsford’s work on new media composing practices, however, challenged us to imagine young people as composers who bring with them a host of innovative ways for engaging and producing texts, even as they benefit from open and engaging mentors who can challenge them to bring together old and new ways of making meaning.
In Part Two, Glenn and Mountford provide chapters from contributors who take student writing both as something to respond to and as something to study, a move that Lunsford and others helped to initiate and which now seems foundational to Rhetoric and Composition as a field. Key to this work is a recognition that the traditional genres of student writing, formalized historically in the various methods of exposition that remain a common textbook framework, have given way somewhat—and should—to projects that are “remixed, mashed up, and code-meshed” (7). Suellynn Duffey’s “Teaching in Place: A Crucial Connection between the English Department and Its Community” reminds us how much our work in Writing Studies has often been shaped by our local conditions. By focusing on students as writers, or developing basic writing programs like Lunsford did early in her career, or by shifting our attention to the digitally mediated methods of communication we see young people around us engaging in, we pay attention to concerns that are both hyper-local and yet also connected across broader networks of communicative practices that seem continually to be shifting and changing around us. For Duffy, attention to the ways that graduate students are learning to teach writing—and what “writing” means in the 21st century—has reminded her about the value of local, connected, and material inquiry as a way to shape our research and our discipline, maintaining those powerful links among theory, research, and pedagogy that are hallmarks of our field.
In taking the visually-inspired work of student composers seriously, Alysa J. O’Brien asks in “Visual Rhetoric, Intercultural Writers: The University’s Turn” that we make yet another shift as a discipline, “this time to look outward and foster intercultural writing practices” (87). Building on Lunsford’s ideas around secondary literacies in Writing Matters, O’Brien offers the concept of “tertiary literacies” in order to argue that “academic institutions need to foster …‘intercultural writers’ who are able to communicate globally and across cultural differences through ‘multimediated’ writing” (83). While it is not necessarily clear in this chapter how universities will foster this sort of writer, it is intriguing to imagine how O’Brien’s tertiary literacies might engage teachers and students in recognizing how our primary and secondary literacy practices intersect and inter-animate each other and thus enable something new to happen. Melissa A. Goldthwaite asks us to make a similar shift in “Pushing Generic Boundaries in Rhetoric and Composition: Three Sites, One Reader’s Response.” She writes, “By experimenting with form, ethos, and style—by pushing generic boundaries and engaging in serious play—writers and scholars can expand not only their own rhetorical options and tools but also open up new spaces for reader response, reflection, and appreciation” (121-22). Both O’Brien and Goldthwaite have taken up Lunsford’s work on multimodality and digital composing practices and moved it forward to ask engaging questions about how we understand, value, and respond to this work when we see it from students—and what steps we might still need to make as teachers in order to evoke differently mediated compositions.
For readers familiar with the breadth of Lunsford’s work and her commitments to social and restorative justice, Part Three: “The Politics of Rhetoric, Composition, and Writing in the Academy” will come as no surprise. The essays in this section engage the ways that rhetorical and civic education are interconnected projects, commitments that have been central to much of Lunsford’s research, scholarship, teaching, and mentoring. In “Citizenship, Rhetoric, and Pedagogy,” Gerard A. Hauser makes the case for rhetoric as a central part of higher education: “By helping [students] to develop rhetorical competence, rhetorical education also plays a major role in helping students understand civic responsibility, act responsibly, and, we hope, grow in performances of citizenship as public work” (138-39). Hauser goes on to argue for “civic professionalism,” which involves the intersections of two traditional ethical frameworks—“do no harm” and “is it safe?”—with a third framework, to “advance the public good”: “Civic commitment is not an inherent part of the disciplines; it comes from regard for the intersection of disciplinary practices with the well-being of those in the larger communities they touch” (139). Hauser offers three “modest” but important proposals if we want to maintain the civic values that have been central to rhetorical education in the West. One, we should “rethink the professional part of graduate education” in order to remember the interconnected role that citizenship and rhetoric have always had (142). Second, we should be expanding, rather than narrowing, “opportunities for graduate and undergraduate students to engage in public rhetoric” (143). Finally, Hauser asks that we turn our own and our students’ attention to texts that he calls “the canon of American democracy,” among which he lists texts like the Declaration of Independence, the Gettysburg Address, Anthony’s “Women’s Right to the Suffrage,” and King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” Likewise, for John J. Ruszkiewicz and Davida Charney, larger questions like the ones Hauser poses about civic and rhetorical education should be central to our thinking about the rhetoric majors we develop. In “Who, Then, Is the Rhetoric Major?” they suggest that current scholarship on our majors “treat[s] the students themselves only indirectly or instrumentally” (154) and they argue that our prospective students are “seeking a major more aspirational than those driven chiefly by job market skill—important as they are. They appreciate the intellectual skills and perceptions that a broad-based, intellectually challenging program in writing and rhetoric provides” (156). Both of these contributions remind us that the work of rhetoric is not simply instrumentalist or utilitarian; rhetoric is a world-making project that can excite our students and empower them to be agents of change in the work-a-day worlds they are currently or will soon be part of when they graduate.
Mountford and Glenn’s contribution to this collection, “Networked Feminism: Mentoring in the New Economy,” engages issues of justice and rhetoric by focusing on the ways that we can develop more effective mentoring frameworks for ourselves, our students, and our larger discipline. Mountford and Glenn look first to their own feminist mentor models, Andrea Lunsford and Lisa Ede, to highlight how feminist engagements with mentoring might look different from the top-down models that have traditionally dominated the academy, and Western rhetorical traditions more generally. Recognizing that “many women want mutually nourishing relationships with their mentors” (177), they unpack that concept to recognize what feminist mentoring can mean: “to cooperate without domination or submission; to respect and work with our mutual strengths, perceptions, and vulnerabilities; and, therefore, to stimulate the formulation of new ways of working together in the fields of rhetoric and writing” (177). Highlighting the limitations of mentoring frameworks like the “feminist-guru” model and the generational model, they instead advocate for a network model, one which recognizes “the constellations of connections among individuals, [among the] generations of individuals, scholarship, and information that comprise the field of rhetoric and writing studies” (187). Ultimately, the networks they envision are about both “in-reach” and “out-reach”: “Our hope for the future of rhetoric and writing studies is that we create a network of feminist mentoring that pays forward, backwards, sideways, and diagonally at the same time that it frames a scholarly and humane model of high expectations, rigorous preparation and execution, and (always) open communication” (191).
In the final section of this collection, “The Impermanence of a Canon,” two of the authors engage with feminist historiography, following the path that Lunsford encouraged in Reclaiming Rhetorica: Women in the Rhetorical Tradition. Specifically, Susan C. Jarratt’s “The Empress and the Sophist: Power and Artistry in Third-Century Greek Rhetoric” works to recover the rhetorical contributions of Julia Domna, whose Eastern/Syrian identity and place in rhetorical history have been effectively erased for centuries. Domna, Jarratt argues, demonstrates “that any easy dismissal of ancient rhetoric as ‘Western’ and ‘male’ is a mischaracterization” (201), but a story of rhetorical history that we continue to tell despite the growing evidence of alternative traditions and figures in the ancient world. Moving to more recent history, Nan Johnson’s “Rhetorical Education at Catholic Colleges for Women in Ohio 1925-1940” examines “a clear increase in [the] number and range of rhetoric, writing, and public speaking courses” during the years between the two world wars. Johnson’s study adds to the growing historical scholarship which disrupts the once-dominant narrative that very little was happening at this time within rhetorical education beyond strict textbook formulas and an obsession with grammatical correctness.
The other authors in this section engage with transnational rhetorical perspectives in order to challenge the rhetorical canons that remain part of our discipline. Elizabeth A. Flynn’s “Feminist Perspectives on Postcolonial Rhetorical Practices: Spivak’s Cosmopolitan Erudition and Nazer’s Surveilled Silence” challenges readers to re-imagine a postcolonial and transnational feminist rhetoric, one which recognizes a need in our scholarship to disrupt the simplistic canon-building of star scholars by integrating the voices of those less often heard or recognized. In this chapter, for example, Flynn reads Spivak’s theoretical work on subalternity with and against Nazer and Lewis’s Slave: The True Story of a Girl’s Lost Childhood and Her Fight for Survival in order to “focus on women from diverse backgrounds,” which “mitigates the tendency to place any one woman at the center and thus the tendency to iconize individual women” (245). Finally, Bo Wang’s “Translating Nora: Chinese Feminism and Global Rhetoric” makes a similar sort of transnational move by exploring how Ibsen’s A Doll’s House has been translated and produced in contemporary China, juxtaposing a classic of Western theatre with transnational analytical frameworks. For Wang, “Nora’s many trips to China illuminate the discursive relationship between China and the West in the modern and contemporary period” (256). Wang challenges our discipline to engage in “transrhetorical practice” in order to “think about the question of ‘speaking from’ and [to] consider native, noneuroamerican rhetorics as coeval contributions to a globalized canon” (270).
In closing this collection with a version of his powerful CCCC address from 2015, Adam J. Banks, in “Ain’t No Walls Behind the Sky, Baby! Funk, Flight, Freedom,” reminds us of a powerful critique of the ways that disciplinarity can become sedimented and stale, when rhetoric’s power should remain in its “funk,” in the ways that language at its best can be disruptive, unsettling, and powerfully anti-normative:
I want funk to be our guide not just because the rest of the academy feels too clean and too serene to me but because intellectual life is funky. It is messy. […] I want funk to be our guide because that is the only way we can close the huge gaps that exist between our professed ideals and our practice, the only way we can own our privilege within oppressive spaces. […] Funk means we are willing to deal with messiness and complexity. (282)
The spirit of resistance that Banks embodies in this piece is reminiscent of the ways that Andrea Lunsford has worked both to engage and resist the very field for which she is typically seen as a founding member. As one of the “queens” of Rhetoric and Composition, Lunsford helped create many of the programs, practices, and theories that established our field, and which now several generations of emerging scholars have challenged, critiqued, and revised in their efforts to move us forward. For those of us who have continued to pay attention to what Lunsford is doing, we’ve also seen a scholar-mentor who not only welcomes those critiques but who also continues to encourage a diverse group of new talent to push our collective thinking further. The essays that Glenn and Mountford have collected in Rhetoric and Writing Studies in the New Century: Historiography, Pedagogy, and Politics engage many of Andrea Lunsford’s important contributions to our discipline, but they do so not merely to praise her. By picking up important threads from her career-spanning scholarship, the authors here show us how their own work breaks new ground, often because of those important earlier contributions. Readers will find in this collection a beautiful diversity of perspectives and projects, and an important reminder, ultimately, of how much our field’s current trajectories are indebted to the careful scholarship and hard work of women like Andrea Lunsford. This collection is a festschrift in the best sense of that term, a festival of writing that will no doubt encourage even more people to read and engage with Lunsford’s impressive corpus of work.