Review of Re/Orienting Writing Studies: Queer Methods, Queer Projects
Author(s): Gavin P. Johnson and Cody Jackson
Gavin P. Johnson is an Assistant Professor at Christian Brothers University in Memphis, TN. He earned his PhD at The Ohio State University in 2020, and he investigates the interplay between queer rhetorics, digital media pedagogy, and composition theory. His work is published in Composition Studies, Peitho, Pre/Text, Journal of College Literacy and Learning, and is forthcoming in Computers and Composition as well as multiple edited collections.
Cody Jackson is a PhD student in rhetoric-composition at Texas Christian University. His research and pedagogy are focused on the intersections between queerness, disability, and archival praxis. Cody explores the material implications and influences of anti-ableist composition, theories of time and composing, and queer composition studies. Cody is currently working on a larger set of projects that address the ways material conditions of graduate students and contingent faculty impact circulations of knowledge and disciplinarity. He is currently the Book Review editor for the Journal of Multimodal Rhetorics and a co-chair for the Disability Studies Standing Group for the Conference on College Composition and Communication.Tags: 22-3, book review, queer rhetoric, writing studies
Banks, William P., Matthew B. Cox, and Caroline Dadas, editors. Re/Orienting Writing Studies: Queer Methods, Queer Projects. Logan: Utah State UP, 2019. 223 pages.
This review has two goals: First, we do the work of tracing some of the key arguments made by the authors of Re/Orienting Writing Studies: Queer Methods, Queer Projects. Second, we offer some thoughts on the current state of queer rhetorics research and the possibilities available to the field, especially our feminist allies, when we reflect on and re/orient our terms, methods, and methodologies. However, these two goals do not happen in isolation or in a this-then-that fashion. Instead, we utilize the more collaborative mode of dialogue to bounce ideas around, interspersed with quotations, zines, and critical commentary. In doing so, we invite readers to re/orient their thinking through the rhetorics of intentionality, rhetorics of forgetting, and rhetorics of failure suggested by Banks, Cox, and Dadas in their introduction. This might mean that you ask, “how does a queer rhetoric of intentionality shape methods of data collection or methodologies for understanding research purposes and contexts? (13). Or “What do we do with failure?” (13). Or “why [have] certain tropes, conceits, or values picked up steam in writing studies and c[o]me to occupy a central place in our journals and books and why [have] others have been (strategically) forgotten? How has forgetting those things been advantageous to certain researchers, composers, institutions? Why? What is it about these shameful figures that has made us forget?” (15). Or don’t.
Gavin: Or, perhaps, let’s begin again. Re/Orienting Writing Studies, after all, is definitely not the beginning of this conversation. [stares at shelves of scholarship in queer theories]
Cody: I’m thinking, as I sit here in the midst of trying to shed some of the brain fog that’s been lingering around, how to approach a review essay like this. On one hand, we want to discuss the elements of the text, as any review essay must do. On the other hand, we want to reach out for ways of doing queer work, specifically queer methods of engaging the labor of reviewing. Though I’m not exactly sure it’s as evenly divided as this. Should we use GIFs here? I feel like GIFs would be nice.
This edited collection, published by Utah State University Press, contains eleven chapters and a forward. Each chapter describes the author’s(s’) project and reports on the ways in which each author engages a queer method/ology. The authors offer individualized definitions of queer. But beyond offering individual visions of queer they also orient and reorient …
queer/ness as identities/theories/writings/methods/methodologies/beings.
The authors and this collection are uninterested in offering a singular mode of queer/ing rhetoric and writing studies. We orient and are re/oriented as needed, or, perhaps, as desired.
30. Don’t be Faithful or loyal to institutions, disciplines, or persons to whom others say you must be speaking. (Waite 46)
33. Don’t become an authority on your subject. (Waite 46)
54. Ignore subject agreement, how normative, how boring, howunplural. (Waite 47)
Gavin: GIFs would be cool. Non-stationary images that don’t act in /normal time/ seem appropriate. But then we have to consider the limits of Peitho. Can Peitho’s infrastructure handle constant movement? Playful modes? Non-normative reviews?
Cody: I’m watching you type this and I feel like a voyeur. Just noting this for the record.
Fig. 1. Gif of dog gazing at fish until fish attacks. via GIPHY
Cody: In their forward to the book, Pamela Takayoshi recognizes that the type of queer work, or “queer methods,” we seem to long for “cannot arrive fast enough” (xi).
Gavin: And lord knows that queer turn in rhetorical studies has been slow! (cf. Alexander and Wallace; Cox and Faris; Morris & Rawson; Rhodes).
Cody: So…queerness is, at the same time, too slow and too fast? Something we can’t keep up with and also something we’ve left behind…stuck between orientations almost. What might re/orientation-as-praxis feel like? I guess that’s what I’d like to ask, and I think what this book gestures at repeatedly.
Gavin: I think so, and we can see Banks, Cox, and Dadas working through this in the introduction. They offer us three rhetorics which emerge from queer method/ologies: rhetorics of intentionality, rhetorics of failure, and rhetorics of forgetting (12-16). With these rhetorics, the editors are re/orienting us away from standard research exigencies. That is, the exigencies I see in this project are not the “realization of a gap in the scholarship” but rather an intentional orienting that puts us in contact with failed research or research topics rhetoric and writing forgot. Take, for example, Michael Faris’s chapter, which argues that scholarship has forgotten sex (the embodied act) as a rhetorical force and should turn toward an ontological orientation that privileges “affects, desires, and sensual life” (143). Or, perhaps, G Patterson’s point that marginalized communities are failed by quantitative research methods because such approaches attempt to remove outliers and clean the data.
When we look for X, what are we strategically forgetting in order to keep X in focus? How could we acknowledge that tension in our work? Why might we need to forget X in order to discover Y? (Banks, Cox, Dadas 16)
I am not trying to convey who I am, I am trying to arouse others’ desire or be open to encounters. (Faris 137)
Queered assemblages of health and medicine, then, rather than counterstories of health and medicine, male spaces to question biomedical practices and discourses that construct bodies of health within paradigms of “normalcy.” (Novotny 121)
Interpreting one’s data queerly isn’t just about embodying one’s participants; it’s about calling attention to how these bodies are (un)able to move through political space. (Patterson 68)
As we work to diversify rhetorical research through an interconnected queer and cross-cultural lens, we are not merely adding voices to rectify their absence within writing studies—we are working to redraw boundaries of rhetorical knowledge and paradigms, remapping the terrains of rhetorical studies within the global turn of rhetoric and composition with reflex, critical, and accountable cautions. (Adsanatham 91)
Cody: I’m also almost forced to point out the need for neuroqueer (cf. Yergeau, 2017) interventions in the work we come into contact with on queer rhetorics and queer/ing composition.
Gavin: I agree, and a discussion of neuroqueerness, crip theory, and disability is missing in this collection. I wish that that growing part of the scholarly conversation would have made its way into these pages—such frameworks don’t just re/orient us but change our very notions of the moves of orientation.
Cody: As I’m following your keystrokes, lightning bolts keep pinging…ideas forming and swirling. For instance, I’m still entangled with the Foreword and some of the metaphors deployed there. Takayoshi mentions that “this book provides a theoretical window onto the importance of understanding the knowledge-making practices involved in research” (xiv). They also state that “Queer theories…are foundational theories for anyone interested in writing and identity…” (xiii). And, I agree with this. I’m just lingering for a bit in the imagery of the home, because there’s something about disciplinarity that keeps us within the metaphor of “the home.” We hear a lot of talk about “disciplinary homes.” What happens when we take this metaphor, and that of the Burkean Parlor for that matter, and reorient ourselves? Maybe another way of asking: what happens when we cruise the Burkean Parlor? When we dare to disrupt the notion that there are ever seamless entries and exits in and out of discursive circulation(s) of knowledge. I’m rambling now, I think. But a crucial point that Stacey Waite makes in her chapter: “Don’t stay ‘on topic.’ Drift gleefully off. Get lost” (44). So, at the moment, I’m lost, and maybe that’s okay.
Gavin: Defining a disciplinary home is really hard when we engage in[queer]y. For example, as we work through this book, I’m drifting between documents and composing cover letters for the academic job market. I’ve been a rather promiscuous scholar in that I don’t do one thing and stick with it. I don’t just study writing. I don’t just study rhetoric. I don’t just study queer culture. I don’t just study digital communities. Such a diversity of interests—really, I’m willing to write about whatever momentarily catches my attention—makes it hard to qualify (quantify?) myself as a scholar. But reading this collection of essays has helped me understand that my unique orientation as a researcher is what moves me through this precarious academic world. Doing things differently, engaging in[queer]y, this collection suggests, is intentionally messy, open, unstable…just like the knowledges, languages, communities we wish to study.
Cody: I think this “in-between” feeling is a queer terrain, really. Jean Bessette’s chapter on queer historiography makes this point within the context of archival method. Your examples illuminate something that I think needs to be foregrounded a little more in conversations about queer method. That is, how can we acknowledge the embodied ways we simultaneously inhabit and “drift” in and out of disciplinarity? For instance, how can queer methods work to transform the material realities of our discipline and local contexts while also reaching outside of the academy, as so many queer scholars do, to remind us that queer praxis has never been anything but embodied? Asking how we can queer disciplinarity while also clinging on to it for dear life, is another way of putting it, I guess.
Gavin: I see a number of the authors struggling with it in their chapters. And I’ve definitely felt it too. In her chapter, Hillary Glasby turns to a “failure-affirming methodology.” So much of that argument is built around Jonathan Alexander and Jacqueline Rhodes’s notion of the impossibility of composition, and I think it falls into the same issues that Alexander and Rhodes run into in their work; that is, in working against the idea of composition’s disciplinarity they reinforce its power. Queer composition is impossible because the very people who seek to queer composition say it is impossible. It ignores, to some degree, the generative nature of queerness and the issue of practicing a queer methodology.
In the context of this collection, we might ask, how does a queer rhetoric of intentionality shape methods of data collection or methodologies for understanding research purposes or contexts? (Banks, Cox, Dadas 13)
Queerness at its core embraces ambiguity, excess, and instability, whereas methods represent logics that provides structure for inquiry. So when we discuss a queer method, we are discussing a contradiction in terms: unstable and ambiguous logics and ways of knowing. (Kuzawa 150)
Queering the field’s methodological lenses will involve exploring how queer theory can be used to disrupt objectivity, neutrality, and normativity. Because professional writing research had historically been associated with objectivity, we believe it is all the more important that we draw on queer notions of disruption, or “messiness” to reorient that work. (Dadas and Cox 190)
Where is race in queer rhetorics?
- Adsanathan, Chanon, viii, 10, 17
African American Vernacular English, 36
Ahmed, Sara, 4, 123, 169, 170, 176
Anzaldúa, Gloria, 27, 39, 30, 31, 32, 33
Buddha, 86, 87, 89, 90, 92n5
Buddhism, 17, 86, 87; bicultural
……….perspective of, 88; men/women privileges in, 92n9; understanding of, 90
- civil rights, 8, 195
Combahee River Collective, 33
critical race theory (CRT), 114-115
Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples (Smith), 20
discrimination, 28, 59, 66
diversity, 83, 171, 178, 182
ethnicity, 158, 171, 194, 198-99
Eurocentrism, 75, 76, 83
Indigenous Methodologies: Characteristics, Conversations, and Contexts (Kovach), 20
intersectionality, 116, 130, 177, 179
Lorde, Audre, 31, 155
Muñoz, José Esteban, 78, 101, 188
Pritchard, Eric Darnell, 202
Puar, Jasbir K., 71, 116, 122
race, 78, 114, 139, 158, 171, 189, 194;
……….technical communication and,
- racism, 36, 55, 170
REDRES, 17, 76, 92n10; illustrating, 86-
……….91; methodology of, 79-86
Rhetorical Listening: Identification,
……….Gender, Whiteness (Ratcliffe),
- sexuality, …racialized perverse, 116…
students of color, 70, 178
whiteness, narratives of, 114
women of color, queer, 37
Chanon Adsanatham’s chapter “REDRES[ING] Rhetorica: A Methodological Proposal for Queering Cross-Cultural Rhetorical Studies” offers the most direct engagement with queerness and race. Specifically, this chapter approaches non-Western views of rhetoric, but is clear to remind readers,
Any attempt to queer rhetorical studies cross-culturally, however, raises complex issues. To begin with, studying non-Western rhetorics in the context of the West is already a complicated undertaking; it involves selecting, interpreting, and negotiating unfamiliar concepts from one culture and re-representing them to another—all of which has epistemic and ethical consequences. (75)
To aid in this work, Adsanatham offers a methodology of REDRES: Recontemplation, Defamiliarization and Reevaluation, Ethics of Care, Seeking Incongruities.
Gavin: And then there is Cox and Dadas chapter on queering professional writing. Could there be a more disciplined discipline? Or Nikki Caswell and Steph West-Puckett’s chapter on assessment! A queer approach to writing that is professional and the assessment of writing?! It is quite a beautiful contradiction, and one I’m happy to sit with in discomfort. What I really like about Cox and Dadas’ chapter is how they navigate the critiques coming from professional writing scholars. They are determined to bring cultural rhetorics and queer praxis to a stiff discipline regardless of the protests of the establishment. Similarly, Caswell and West-Puckett suggest a queer validity inquiry (QVI) to push against assessment’s critical validity inquiry (CVI). A QVI is “messy, scattered, lateral half-drawn” (175) and, in a way, represents the assessment of writing more validly then traditional approaches that seek to normalize results. Those chapters, to me, is perhaps the most radically queer (not in its writing—that goes to Waite) of the collection. Cox and Dadas and Caswell and West-Puckett as well as G Patterson are working on and against crystalized disciplinary structures that many queer scholars have abandoned. I really love the queering of a decidedly unqueer institution. Re/claiming spaces that were never designed for queer bodies or queer knowledges. I do, of course, recognize the high potential of failure here. But, as we are reminded throughout, failure is also queer.
[A rhetoric of failure (summarize it yourself, see pg. 13 & 14)]
Queer methodologies seek to expand not only representation for non-normative individuals but also ways for representing them and their complexities and paradoxes. (Glasby 39)
A failure-oriented practice of assessment would fail to be commodified, refusing to participate in these neoliberal ideological frames. As such, it would take a critical stance toward using assessment instruments to build collective capacity in our student populations and in our programs, foregrounding an understanding that writing, learning, and literacy are social practices enacted, shared, and embodied cultural networks (Caswell and West-Puckett, 180). How can we think beyond assessment as a validating protocol and, instead, as a process of queering and undoing the historical trajectories of composition theory and practice? In other words, a failure-oriented practice of assessment risks the inevitability that assessment—as a normalizing enterprise—must be undone.
60. Don’t come to conclusions. Come to other things: inquiry, questions, failures, side roads, off-road. (Waite 48)
- Alexander, Jonathan and David Wallace. “The Queer Turn in Composition Studies: Reviewing and Assessing an Emerging Scholarship.” College Composition and Communication, vol. 61, no. 1, 2009, pp. 300-320.
- Cox, Mathew B. and Michael J. Faris. “An Annotated Bibliography of LGBTQ Rhetorics.” Present Tense: A Journal of Rhetoric in Society, vol.4, no. 2, 2015, n.p.
- Morris, Charles E., III, and K.J. Rawson. “Queer Archives/Archival Queers.” Theorizing Histories of Rhetoric, edited by Michelle Ballif. Carbondale: Southern Illinois State UP, 2013, pp. 74-89.
- Rhodes, Jacqueline, editor. Queer Rhetorics, special issue of Pre/Text: A Journal of Rhetorical Theory, vol. 24, 2018.
- Yergeau, Melanie. Authoring Autism: On Rhetoric and Neurological Queerness. Durham: Duke UP, 2017.