Review of Black or White: Anti/Racist Campus Rhetorics

Louis M. Maraj. Black or Right: Anti/Racist Campus Rhetorics. Logan: Utah State UP, 2020. 193 pages.

“The fact of the matter is, we wouldn’t have any feminism worth thinking about or writing about without the work of feminists of color.” So opens the call for papers for this issue of Peitho, which goes on to elaborate on the claim and to insist that “we need to center the voices of feminist of color . . . to ensure our feminist futures.” In Black or Right, Lou Maraj answers this call, using the Black feminist philosophy of literacy as the practice of freedom and focusing throughout on how Black relational feminist methodologies and ecologies work to establish Black rhetorical agency as one means of disrupting (“mashin’ up de place” xiii) in order to counter white (institutional and individual) defensiveness—and a whole lot more.

Maraj’s book mixes and bends genres, languages, disciplines, and methods to participate in what Christina Sharpe calls “wake work”—undisciplined, disruptive, fracturing, paradoxical resistances that rupture the “immanence and imminence” of Black death both aesthetically and materially “to move toward Black rhetorical agency” (8). Black or Right embodies Maraj’s personal journey to such agency, opening with the “story of arrival” from his home in Trinidad to the “American dream” at a small northeastern liberal arts college, where he learns that a joint newspaper assignment seems to require a white male to accompany his white female partner and him (“It’s strange. Is this what Americans call a ‘date’?”) to cover the story–and that his freshman English teacher would not recognize, much less value “the lavish prose I was brought up on in the British Caribbean education system. . . Americans want a thesis” (4) Maraj quickly moves to provide a thesis as well as the other accoutrements of white academic discourse—but as this book so richly demonstrates, he learned not just to resist but to unlearn such structures as he “grapples with notions of Blackness in white institutional spaces to theorize how Black identity operates with/against neoliberal ideas of difference” (9) and leads the way to proactive antiracist practices.

The first chapter, “’Are you Black, though?’” explores one such practice, an autoethnographical approach, defined as “an application of African indigenous methodological ‘self-knowledge’” to explore the dynamics at work in one of his classrooms. Recently graduated from his primarily white undergraduate institution, Maraj is now a graduate student instructor teaching a second-year writing class at primarily white Midwestern State University, a class with only three Black-identified students, including “T,” who persistently challenges Maraj, asking him on more than a few occasions “Are you Black?” Maraj uses such encounters to frame a careful analysis of Blackness, informed by Black feminist and indigenous African understandings of relationality and to put forward the concept of Black autoethnography as a rhetoric “to theorize Black, potentially antiracist, agency within rhetoric, writing, and literacy studies” (25). You’re going to want to read Maraj’s full account, as T makes it clear that in his view Maraj’s position “at the front of the classroom” at this mostly white institution calls his Blackness into question–and as he and T negotiate layers and definitions of Blackness and of Black agency; like so much of the rest of the book, this chapter is a page-turner. The Black autoethnographical approach featured in this chapter includes a helpful review of this tradition in rhetoric and literacy studies—in the work of Geneva Smitherman, Keith Gilyard, Jacqueline Jones Royster, Carmen Kynard, Vershawn Young, and June Jordan. These and other “griots-as-scholars” use autoethnography, performativity, and relationality as they theorize, often in narrative ways that contrast with the “standard fare” of academic research.

Chapter 2, “Composing Black Matter/s,” offers hashtagging as another potentially Black-centering and anti-racist practice. In Maraj’s analysis, hashtags “make and remake,” they “permeate” they “code and decode,” representing a “marginalized out of school literacy” (44, 54). Drawing on deep analysis of Black Twitter as well as on scholarship surrounding activities on this site, Maraj argues that hashtags offer a space for Black students to practice resistance at primarily white institutions while at the same time reshaping what we think of as writing and reading—and even thinking. Situating this discussion in the long historical context of commonplace collections/commonplace books, Maraj shows how hashtagging can both challenge and remediate these tools for shaping understandings of the world. My grandmother, whose father fought on the side of the Union in the Civil War, kept a commonplace book that she gave recitations from on “elocution days” in her elementary school. My mother kept a commonplace book all her life, pasting in inspirational passages she wanted to “know by heart” and collecting wisdom she wanted to pass on to her children. Understanding hashtagging as a continuation of this tradition but also and more importantly as a challenge to and reshaping of it—that is, understanding hashtagging as “a creative, analytic composition process with potentials to build, curate, archive, protest, and continue histories that interact with, and themselves constitute, social acts”—well, that’s a brilliant move that I believe will inspire teachers and student writers across the country. Building on Jay Bolter’s concept of “remediation,” Maraj shows how remediated commonplace books/hashtagging can help Black students resist dominant ideologies through communal practices to shape what counts as knowledge even as they guard against co-optation by white institutional ideology. “We’ve heard the fake news,” Maraj says. “Let’s unmake it,” Finally, this chapter also includes a thorough description of Maraj’s “Tumblr as Commonplace Book” assignment, brilliantly illustrated, as well as a provocative discussion of #blacklivematter and #BlackLivesStillMatter, highlighting the dialogic potential of hashtagging, which draws on the historical importance of African-based oral, dialogic traditions.)

#blacklivesmatter plays an important role in Chapter 3, “’All My Life I Had to Fight’” as Maraj reshapes and reimagines literacy events as digital and embodied as well as print or textual and then explores the #blacklivesmatter movement through the lens of what he terms inter(con)textual reading, a practice that looks at the dense web of associations among three particular literacy events: Alicia Garza’s 2014 “A Herstory of the #BlackLivesMatter Movement,” rapper Lamar’s 2016 performance of “Alright,” and a Black Lives Matter Syllabus created by NYU’s Frank Leon Roberts in 2016. This inter(con)textual reading of these literacy events

helps us to not only see connections but also gaps, offering possibilities for meaning to create, fill, and exceed them, or compelling us to seek other texts, subjects, or rhetorical bodies as related foci for analysis. In these ways, Black inter(con)textualality reads/writes Blackness dynamically. (99-100)

This inter(con)textual reading is, as Maraj rightly notes, deeply rhetorical, but its framing within Black feminist relational thinking shows, in his words, “the outside-inside-ness of Blackness in white worlds” and its potential for destabilizing those spaces.

Black Inter(con)textual reading provides a method for carrying out the rhetorical reclamations featured in chapter 4 of Maraj’s book. Defined as “acts of turning stigmatizing racialized attention mapped onto Black identities back onto the gaze of historically white institutions to publicly question/critique their power in moment of fracture,” such reclamations illuminate Black agency at work in white spaces to counter white defensiveness. This multilayered chapter showcases Black disruption through an analysis of three particular literacy events: Black Lives Matter in Classrooms events; a series of public safety alerts; and a YouTube Video (“Administration Threatens Expulsion”), all occurring in the spring of 2016 at Midwestern State University, the not-so-anonymous campus where Maraj was teaching at the time. The detailed description of these events makes for a deeply depressing and distressing—though not surprising—demonstration of just what Maraj means by “white defensiveness,” in this case white institutional defensiveness that every reader of Peitho will recognize. In every instance, Black students speak the truth of racism, clapping back and speaking back to create a rupture or fracture that then allows for rhetorical reclamation of the meanings and instrumentalities of Blackness: “the student protester rallies race conceptually in critiquing the very idea of racialization, in antiracism” in one memorable instance. Especially chilling is Maraj’s discussion of the “public safety” announcements, all of which are deeply racist, and which are resisted and at least partially reclaimed through Black rhetorical agency that rearticulates the “situations we are put with/in in Black non/Being,” where “we were never meant to survive” (131-32).

Maraj’s conclusion, a meditation on “De Ting about Blackness,” takes him back home for the first time since beginning his tenure track position at Pittsburgh—home with its familiar furniture and photos and memories, and with his Mother—where he receives a message from a departmental administrator who wants to make sure that his upcoming undergrad course, “Projects in Black Rhetoric,” is “global” or “transnational” enough to market to other departments. “How Black are you in these fractures?” Maraj wonders: “De ting about Blackness is that thing that also surrounds it, co-constitutes it with its ghosts.” (134) Maraj’s meditation on the word “ting” in Trinibagonian usage shows it to be a verb, noun, pronoun, or “what have you,” and maps its amorphous and elastic qualities that allow for Being and for Doing. This sense of being and doing inside/out, with/in, in/between, both/and are signs of Black disruption and of its “generativity, its polysemy, a multiplicity of possibilities for Blackness to mean and how Blackness could mean” (144). Throughout this meditation, as throughout the entire book, the foundation of Black feminist thinking and practice holds strong, supporting and enabling Maraj as he tries to “undiscipline,” to “mind fractures to find the kind of rest that keeps me waking up as de ting about Blackness always outside of me, asking, other/wise/.” (147). Maraj ends this book with words from Fanon, urging a “true leap” to introduce “invention into existence.”

It seems to me that this is precisely what Maraj has done in Black or Right—introduce invention into existence in a whole panoply of ways. Adding to the work of Royster, Logan, Smitherman, Kynard, Gilyard, Banks, Young, and other griot/scholars, Maraj’s book brings us closer to perceiving and understanding the contours of a complete and robust African American rhetoric, one that is thoroughly theorized as well as practiced

This realization is nothing short of thrilling: I have learned so much from reading and engaging this text, in trying to read it rhetorically, inter(con)textually when possible, to not just hear what Maraj is saying but to listen to his voice and the voices of all the Black feminists who echo through these pages—and to listen to all their messages with purposeful, striving intention. For an old(er!) white woman, it has not been easy to listen in this way. But oh has it been worth the effort.

Work Cited

  • Sharpe, Christina. On Blackness and Being. Duke UP, 2016. Print.    -return to text

DIY Invitational Rhetoric: Engaging with the Past, Promoting Ongoing Dialogues, and Combating Racism

Although invitational rhetoric’s roots reach back to 1995 when Sonja K. Foss and Cindy L. Griffin published “Beyond Persuasion: A Proposal for an Invitational Rhetoric,” invitational rhetoric merits only a brief mention in many composition and communication publications. In fact, Susan Kirtley noted that “for all of its value, invitational rhetoric rarely appears in composition textbooks. When it does come into focus, it is highlighted only briefly as an alternative to argument, and sometimes, in contrast with Foss and Griffin’s description, as merely a less adversarial argument” (340).  Foss and Griffin define invitational rhetoric as a type of rhetoric grounded in “equality, immanent value, and self-determination” that involves audience members “listening to and trying to understand the rhetor’s perspective and then presenting their own” (5). The goal is not simply to exchange ideas. Ideally, “the rhetor and the audience alike contribute to the thinking about an issue so that everyone involved gains a greater understanding of the issue in its subtlety, richness, and complexity (Foss and Griffin 5). As a result, rhetors do not assume their position is superior to their audience’s beliefs. In fact, rhetors “view the choices selected by audience members as right for them at that particular time, based on their own abilities to make those decisions” (Foss and Griffin 6).

Despite invitational rhetoric’s steps toward peaceful communication, two major obstacles diminish the effectiveness of dialogues via invitational rhetoric. The first obstacle involves a lack of engagement with past rhetors. Invitational rhetoric focuses only on present dialogue between living rhetors. Without engaging the past, dialogues remain within the bounds of living rhetors’ knowledge and experiences. Contentious issues often rooted in the past require rhetors to engage with the past to be well informed of the history of an issue. A failure to engage with past rhetors diminishes diverse perspectives that fuel the meaning making process of invitational rhetoric.

The second challenge is a lack of a mechanism to generate ongoing dialogues. Contentious issues deserve more than a “one and done” approach to dialogue. By making private dialogues public, rhetors foster ongoing dialogues that extend beyond their social circles. Diversity resulting from an ongoing dialogue with an increasing number of participants multiplies perspectives while amplifying understanding and meaning making. Ongoing dialogues taking place over a long period of time allow for reflection periods between dialogues. The cumulative dialogues over a long period assist rhetors in articulating their position in the current time and permit them to shift positions as they uncover new meanings in future dialogues.

With the aforementioned challenges in mind, in this article, I argue for a more useful type of invitational rhetoric as I reconsider Foss and Griffin’s theory of invitational rhetoric through a new application that I refer to as DIY invitational rhetoric and utilize Jasmine Sanders’s New York Times article “A Black Legacy, Wrapped Up in Fur” to illustrate DIY invitational rhetoric’s efficacy. In the concluding section, I highlight DIY invitational rhetoric’s value as a feminist rhetorical strategy for combating racism.

Defining DIY Rhetoric

So, how is DIY invitational rhetoric different from Foss and Griffin’s invitational rhetoric? Underscoring the significance of DIY, I build on Foss and Griffin’s theory by adding two new steps that emphasize actions individual rhetors complete before and after dialogues, Before engaging in a dialogue on a specific topic, individual rhetors engage in dialogues with past rhetors through what Jacqueline Jones Royster and Gesa Kirsch refer to as “critical imagination” (71 (1)). To describe critical imagination in action, Royster and Kirsch provide the example of engaging with historical women: “. . . this process involves interrogating the contexts, conditions, lives, and practices of women who are no longer alive to speak directly on their own behalf. We use critical imagination as a tool to engage, as it were, in hypothesizing, in what might be called ‘educated guessing,’ as a means for searching methodically, not so much for immutable truth but instead for what is likely or possible, given the facts in hand” (71 (2)). Using critical imagination, rhetors engage in primary research to listen to the voices of past rhetors as well as formulate questions and possibilities while linking the past with the present. Critical imagination as a DIY process serves as a type of self-education. Questions, patterns, and understandings that emerge through critical imagination unleash fruitful insights that prove useful in dialogues with living rhetors.

Extending the definition of DIY rhetoric, I note the final DIY step I have added to Foss and Griffin’s invitational rhetoric. To promote ongoing dialogue, private dialogues must be made public in order to reach beyond the social circles of a small group of rhetors. For scholars, professional publications serve as outlets for sharing dialogues with a large group of readers that possess the potential to keep the dialogue going orally with their colleagues and in a public written response. For those inside and outside of academia, social media, blogs, podcasts, online videos, and websites serve as mechanism for cascading conversations. Online outlets provide an asynchronous space for rhetors to reflect on cumulative dialogues that have taken place over a long period to arrive at new understandings and maintain a fluid position that continues to evolve with each new dialogue.

Applying DIY Invitational Rhetoric

I now turn to Jasmine Sanders’s “A Black Legacy, Wrapped Up in Fur” to illustrate the efficacy of DIY invitational rhetoric. During an interview with NPR’s Robin Young, Sanders recognizes a need for dialogue. Considering she will one day inherit furs, Sanders contemplates how she will feel about owning her mother’s elegant, beloved fur coats during a time when PETA’s powerful antifur messages permeate social media and television. She recalls the words of her mother, Vivian Jarrett-Irving: “We live on the south side of Chicago. I don’t see those people [PETA] here. They don’t seem to want to be speaking to me anyway” (Sanders, “The Significance”(1)). Sanders echoes her mother’s sentiments by citing a quote from Paul Marie Seniors’s mother: “As soon as black women could afford to buy mink coats, white society and white women said fur was all wrong, verboten, passé” (“A Black Legacy,” D1(1)). The two mothers’ comments illustrate a lack of communication between some African American women, PETA, and others in white communities who hold strong positions related to using animal fur in fashion. In reality, it seems impossible for Sanders to bring the diverse parties together for an actual dialogue, so she engages in invitational rhetoric as she holds her own discussions with African Americans, PETA, and the Zimbals, Wisconsin mink farm owners. Throughout her individual dialogues with the aforementioned groups, Sanders practices Foss and Griffin’s theory of invitational rhetoric as she and her fellow rhetors engage in listening, presenting their positions, trying to understand each other’s perspectives while refraining from persuading with the intention to change the others’ perspectives (5). To illustrate DIY invitational rhetoric’s efficacy, I will focus on Sanders’s use of two DIY steps: engaging with past rhetors via critical imagination and making private dialogues public for ongoing dialogue and meaning making amongst a large group of diverse rhetors.

Prior to engaging in dialogues with PETA and mink farmers, Sanders engages with the past rhetors. Sanders’s mother, Vivian Jarrett-Irving, provides a starting place for Sanders’s research as she reveals the cultural significance of fur for many African American women. For Jarrett-Irving, fur coats, imbued with cultural significance for many African American women, served as a “personal luxury item,” “an important investment,” and reminder of the “six million black migrants who were propelled north by the tenuous hope of something better” (Sanders, “A Black Legacy” D1(2)). Jarrett-Irving, remembering her own mother’s inability to own a home in the early nineteenth century, states, “Federal housing codes that barred fair loans from being offered to black people, as well as other forms of housing discrimination, rendered home-ownership impossible for many black families, and arduous for those who could attain it. So money was put toward other markers of personal prosperity, the kind that retained value and could be passed down to the next generation” (Sanders, “A Black Legacy,” D1(3)). Like houses and land, fur became a vehicle for social mobility in its representation of prosperity that could be passed down to future generations.

To further illuminate her understanding of many African Americans’ position on fur, Sanders explores eighteenth century to the mid-twentieth-century resources and employs critical imagination to uncover questions and possibilities that enrich her understanding and transform her into an informed rhetor. From her research, Sanders learns about the role enslaved and freedmen played in the fur economy and notes fur’s significance in the Harlem Renaissance and its worth in terms of self-expression for modern famous public figures such as Diana Ross and Aretha Franklin (“A Black Legacy” D1(4)). Sanders unearths past voices to deepen her understanding.

Delving into the past through critical imagination allows Sanders to “interrogat[e] the contexts, conditions, lives, and practices” of past Africans Americans’ connections with fur (Royster and Kirsch 71(3)). Through Sanders interrogation of the past rhetors, she uncovers racist practices in the fashion industry. As noted above, Sanders recalls Paul Marie Seniors’s mother saying, “As soon as black women could afford to buy mink coats, white society and white women said fur was all wrong, verboten, passé” (“A Black Legacy” D1(5)). The abrupt shift in fashion trends moving away from fur highlights the role racism plays in fashion. Fashion serves as a dividing force that separates people of color from whites, and sudden changes in fashion prevent many women of color and lower-class women from wearing the latest fashions. The fashion industry through price and frequent shifts in fashion control what people of color wear and the meanings attached to their clothed bodies.

Through uncovering past racist practices via critical imagination, Sanders becomes an informed rhetor equipped with a foundation for improving her understanding of complex present perspectives and practices. In “A Black Legacy, Wrapped Up in Fur” Sanders addresses PETA’s position as she recounts footage from their advertisements and includes the following statement from PETA’s past senior international media director, Ben Williamson: “We like to think of ourselves as P.R. for animals” (Sanders, “A Black Legacy” D1(6)). Although Sanders disapproves of PETA’s cruel letter to Aretha Franklin for wearing fur and their juxtaposition of marginalized people’s suffering and animals’ suffering in commercials, Sanders communicates her understanding of PETA’s position. In turn, PETA expresses an interest in Sanders’ position, so Sanders meets with a spokesperson from PETA to discuss her position. She tells PETA’s spokesperson as well as NPR’s Robin Young that she is “fur ambiguous” (Sanders, “The Significance”(2)). Justifiably, Sanders’s “fur ambiguous” position stems from her acknowledgement of the complexity of the issue (“The Significance”(2)).  As a person who values conservation and veganism, Sanders could easily assume an anti-fur position, but through critical imagination and dialogue, she recognizes the complexity of the issue.

In applying the final DIY strategy, making private dialogues public, Sanders ensures dialogues continue with diverse groups. Sanders shares information about her dialogues in “A Black Legacy, Wrapped Up in Fur” in The New York Times and in an NPR interview with Robin Young. NPR invited listeners to voice their perspectives on NPR’s online forum. By making private dialogues public through publication and providing an online forum for ongoing dialogue, Sanders exemplifies DIY invitational rhetoric’s relevance in twenty-first century. Dialogue involving contentious issues deserves more than a “one and done” approach. Ongoing dialogue amongst diverse improves rhetors’ understanding of complex issues.

As diverse rhetors listen and contribute their own perspectives, the online forum serves as a space for “giving the world a chance to explain itself” (Barrett 147). In this example of DIY invitational rhetoric, Sanders’s readers and listeners are invited to enter multiple rhetors’ worlds to enhance their understanding and share their own perspectives in NPR’s online forum. Dialogues taking place amongst listeners around the world in the online forum showcase a diverse range of truths as rhetors articulate their positions regarding racism and fashion, animal cruelty, and environmental concerns related to the faux fur production. With each new post, rhetors weave together new strands of discourse as their positions and understandings continue to evolve.

Closing Remarks

To conclude, I want to recognize two ways that DIY invitational rhetoric serves as a vehicle for feminist intervention in the deteriorating public discourse of our time by combating racism.

Ethical Representation and Giving Voice to the Oppressed 

DIY invitational rhetoric’s emphasis on engaging with past rhetors via critical imagination and making private dialogues public for ongoing conversations provides an opening for rhetors to ethically represent the oppressed and fight racism. As mentioned earlier, Sanders’s mother along with other African American women were never afforded the opportunity to explain to those outside of their culture why they wear and value fur. Invitational rhetoric allowed Sanders to listen and attempt to understand her mother’s position as well as past rhetors’ positions. Through her work, Sanders serves as a “negotiator, someone who can cross boundaries and serve as a guide and translator for Others” (Royster 34). As a translator, her work with DIY invitational rhetoric helps to produce ethical representations of communities misrepresented due to racism. To outsiders, African American fur enthusiasts appear as proponents of animal cruelty. However, Sanders’s research and dialogues disclose many African Americans’ historical ties to fur as tool for social mobility in a racist world that impeded their social mobility. Through a published dialogue and interview, Sanders, as a negotiator, crosses boundaries as she translates African Americans’ connection to fur for readers outside of African American communities.

Self-Education 

Helping to combat racism, DIY invitational rhetoric’s emphasis on engaging with the past assists white rhetors in self-education prior to engaging in dialogues related to race. In “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle to Master’s House,” Audre Lorde emphasizes the need for self-education: “Women of today are still being called upon to stretch across the gap of male ignorance and to educate men as to our existence and our needs. This is an old and primary tool of all oppressors to keep the oppressed occupied with the master’s concerns. Now we hear that it is the task of women of Color to educate white women . . .” (113). Lorde underscores the need for individuals, specifically white men and women, to do their own racial and cultural work, meaning work to educate themselves instead of relying on others to serve as educators. Engaging with past rhetors via critical imagination gives current rhetors valuable insight prior to engaging in dialogues centered on race.

Works Cited

  • Barrett, Harold. Rhetoric and Civility: Human Development, Narcissism, and the Good Audience. State U of New York P, 1991.     –return to text
  • Foss, Sonja K., and Cindy L. Griffin. “Beyond Persuasion: A Proposal for an Invitational Rhetoric. Communication Monographs, vol. 62, no. 1, 1995, pp. 2-18.     –return to text
  • Lorde, Audre. “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House.” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches. Crossing Press, 1984, pp. 110-13.     –return to text
  • Kirtley, Susan. Considering the Alternative in Composition Pedagogy: Teaching Invitational Rhetoric with Lynda Barry’s What It Is. Women’s Studies in Communication, vol. 37, no. 3, 2014, pp. 339-57.     –return to text
  • Royster, Jacqueline Jones. “When the First Voice You Hear is not Your Own.” College Composition and Communication, vol. 47, no. 1, 1996, pp. 29–40.     –return to text
  • Royster, Jacqueline Jones, and Gesa E. Kirsch. Feminist Rhetorical Practices: New Horizons for Rhetoric, Composition, and Literacy Studies. Southern Illinois UP, 2012.     –return to text (1), (2), or (3)
  • Sanders, Jasmine. “A Black Legacy, Wrapped in Fur.” New York Times. 4 Mar. 2019, p. D1. http://www.nytimes.com      –return to text (1), (2), (3), (4), (5), or (6)
  • —. “The Significance of Black Women Owning Fur.” Interview by Robin Young. WBUR, 4 Mar. 2019, http://www.wbur.org/hereandnow/2019/03/04/sanders-black-women-owning-fur      –return to text (1) or (2)

Review of Black Women in Politics: Demanding Citizenship, Challenging Power, and Seeking Justice

Jordan-Zachery, Julia S., and Nikol G. Alexander-Floyd. (2018). Black Women in Politics: Demanding Citizenship, Challenging Power, and Seeking Justice. SUNY P, 2018. 275 pages.

Introduction: Personal Intersections

Many years ago, I covered local politics for a progressive newspaper in a mid-sized, progressive Southern town. I reported the election of its first female mayor and, a few years later, its first Black mayor — Terry M. Bellamy, who was also the town’s youngest mayor ever. Soon after her election, a white, male reporter at the mainstream newspaper asked Bellamy how she was going to balance motherhood, a private-sector career, and the part-time job of mayor. She countered, “If I was a man, would I be asked this question?” The unspoken answer was, and still is, of course not. In my own later interview with the mayor, we laughed about the incident. We did not, however, talk about its racialized, class-based subtext. The town’s first female mayor came from modest privilege, a housewife-activist whose children were grown, her husband a prominent doctor. I am a white, queer woman with working-class roots. Our experiences with sexism and misogyny were by no means exchangeable. What, then, does it mean to call ourselves feminists in the 21st century?

My current research project, for example, explores the rhetorical ecology in which #nastywoman rhetorics wrangle with election-season representations of Kamala Harris, the first Black / South Asian woman to become vice president of the United States of America. For this project, I have visited such works as Deborah Atwater’s history-oriented overview, African American Women’s Rhetoric, and Gilyard and Banks’s On African-American Rhetoric. My search also steered me toward an anthology edited by two leaders in political science and gender studies: Julia S. Jordan-Zachery and Nikol G. Alexander-Floyd, editors of the interdisciplinary, activist tome, Black Women in Politics: Demanding Citizenship, Challenging Power, and Seeking Justice. In this review, I offer intersectional reflections and summaries of the book. That is, rather than proceed chapter by chapter, I begin with an overview of the book’s scope and purpose; move on to discuss the book’s thematic yet topical structure; discuss several exemplary chapters; and finish with a short reflection.

Overview: Intersectionality as Activism

I say “activist” because Jordan-Zachery and Alexander-Floyd cast the collection with Black feminism’s explicit call for social justice, supported by intersectionality as a “generative” framework. In the co-written introductory chapter, “Black Women’s Political Labor,” they seed this ground with a Zora Neale Hurston-inspired metaphor of Black women tilling the soil not for others but for themselves. Jordan-Zachery and Alexander-Floyd describe how Hurston situates Janie, a fictional character in Their Eyes Were Watching God, at the intersection of race, class, and gender. As Jordan-Zachery and Alexander-Floyd briefly demonstrate, a Black feminist, intersectional analysis reveals how Janie deals with multiple, multidimensional oppressions and how she becomes a woman tilling the land for herself. They extend the metaphor to academia, asking:

“Black women academics and others have asked: For whom are Black women tilling? Is their labor for their liberation or solely to be used as part of the liberation efforts of others? And how do Black women [scholars as well as others] envision the manifestations of their political labor?” (xv)

Their answer is Black Women in Politics. From section to section and chapter to chapter, the editors present topics as wide-ranging as Black women’s health in the UK, Black nationalist women’s work in a World War II-era US newspaper, author Toni Morrison’s democratic-literary praxis, and former first lady Michelle Obama’s anti-obesity campaign. Such topics are arranged by section, such as Black Feminist Policy Analysis (see Table 1). Jordan-Zachery and Alexander-Floyd also present a variety themes, including “Black Women’s Self-Actualization” and “Moving from Silence to Voice” (see Table 2). The women who explore such topics and themes come from diverse disciplines — historian Keisha N. Blain, scholar-activist K. Melchor Hall, health educator Jenny Douglas, political scientist Keesha M. Middlemass, and English professor Judylyn S. Ryan. Though I was mildly disappointed to find no works by rhetoric or composition scholars, Jordan-Zachery and Alexander-Floyd’s collection opens new and fertile ground, giving us both a rich, interdisciplinary resource as well as a challenge for continued research.

To orient readers to these aspects of the book, in the co-written introduction, they remind us that intersectionality was defined by Black feminists in the 1960s and ’70s and later formulated by Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989 as three-dimensional (structural, political, representational). As such, it has long been focused on “investigating the multiple dimensions of Black political women” (xix), from community activists to elected officials to women affected by (and affecting) public policies and practices. Reaffirming intersectionality’s Black feminist roots, Jordan-Zachery and Alexander-Floyd cast the collection around citizenship, power, and justice. That is, they not only center the selected works on Black women’s political labor but also on the labor of Black scholars committed to tilling new academic fields. Such co-labor is needed, they argue, because most of the research related to Black women has been limited to descriptive, often one-dimensional work. Worse, say Jordan-Zachery and Alexander-Floyd, most of the Black women working in masculinized fields like political science have been invisibilized, their research inadequately supported, their findings omitted or tokenized.

In one of her two solo chapters, Jordan-Zachery declares, “Research is a political act” (30). It matters whose work gets published, what their research is about, and whether other scholars cite those works. Therefore, research should not only expand our knowledge but make a difference in the policies and practices that affect Black women as well as the representation of Black women in a variety of forums. Thus, Black Women in Politics is an academic anthology but also a political act.

That is, Jordan-Zachery and Alexander-Floyd’s specific activist aim is to create a garrett, which they define as a productive space promoting “justice as the goal of academic inquiry” (xxxiii). Such a space allows allies and Black women scholars alike to examine the issues that Black women face and respond to, from crime and punishment in the US to the masculine geopolitics of the Caribbean (xxxiii). The garrett is also a place in the sense of a site for mentoring and fostering scholars at various levels in their career, for sharing knowledge across disciplines, and for inspiring new inter- / intra-disciplinary work. On the other hand, Jordan-Zachery and Alexander-Floyd acknowledge that intersectionality has been critiqued as too focused on identity politics and its activist inclination somewhat diminished by popularity and misuse. They insist, nonetheless, that intersectionality “has always been aimed at assessing and challenging those forces that impeded full expression of political participation and facilitating personal, social, and communal well-being” (xviii). It is more than a multidimensional framework, in other words. Reconnected with its Black feminist roots, intersectionality is a social-justice project.

Structure: Sections, Chapters, and Themes

If readers drop into one chapter initially, as I did, they may miss an added element of the book as a whole: The editors arrange it as an intersectional matrix from the first chapter to the last. That is, the arrangement of sections, chapters, and themes supports their arguments about intersectionality, Black feminism, and interdisciplinarity. The arrangement is further supported by the variety of disciplines and perspectives represented by the authors of individual chapters. Thus, Jordan-Zachery and Alexander-Floyd offer multiple entry points into the collection. First, they divide the book into four topic-based sections. These sections are intersected by four broad themes explored via various disciplines, for a total of 12 chapters. Sections converge and diverge, inviting readers to trace themes, delve into sections, or focus on specific areas (such as history, literature, politics, or public-health policy). Section titles group the featured works at a topical or content level: “Black Woman Doing Intersectionality Work,” “Black Feminist Policy Analysis,” “Diasporic Black Women and the Global Political Arena,” and “Discourses, Movements, and Representations” (see Table 1).

Table 1: Sections in Black Women in Politics
Introduction (“Black Women’s Political Labor”)
Section I: Black Feminists Doing Intersectionality Work
Section II: Black Feminist Policy Analysis
Section III: Diasporic Black Women and the Global Political Arena
Section IV: Discourses, Movements, and Representation

Jordan-Zachery and Alexander-Floyd describe these sections as “content areas” that deal with “various cases and a wide range of methods to analyze how Black women, nationally and globally, are working or ‘tilling’ in service of themselves’” (xxxiii). For example, cases include Jamaica’s first woman president in Section III (“Diaporic Black Women”) and US public policy regarding HIV/AIDS orphans of color in Section II (“Policy Analysis”). Methods vary from interviews to discourse analysis, examining measurable data as well as detailing the broader contexts not just in the US but in the UK, the Caribbean, and Central America. In the opening section, for example, Jordan-Zachery and Alexander-Floyd explore a topic (“Black Feminists Doing Intersectional Work”) by quantifying the lack of published scholarship and sharing their own experiences.

Themes, on the other hand, weave through sections and chapters: “Moving from Silence to Voice,” “Invisibility and Unmasking Power Structures,” “Black Women’s Self-Actualization and Black Masculinist Politics,” and “Space Making and Self-Actualization” (see Table 2). For example, the “Voice” theme describes Middlemass’s chapter on post-incarceration Black women. As the second article of the second section, its overall theme concerns “locating and giving voice to diverse Black women,” say Jordan-Zachery and Alexander-Floyd, while its overall topic, content, and section “explore[s] policy boundaries and how Black women respond to such” (45). Black women are often silenced, individually and by group, overtly and covertly; this erasure affects how Black women deal with public policies, cultural stereotypes, and so forth. In terms of both section/topic and theme, therefore, Middlemass introduces readers to women like “Eve and Janaye … who poignantly articulate how policies consistently fail them and other previously incarcerated Black women” (xxv). Their powerful stories, which Middlemass delves into via phenomenological methods well suited to interviews, surface the failure of the policies and practices that these women encounter at the intersection(s) of being Black, female, and a felon navigating post-incarceration, everyday life.

Table 2: Critical themes in Black Women in Politics
Moving from Silence to Voice
Invisibility and Unmasking Power Structures
Black Women’s Self-Actualization and Black Masculinist Politics
Space Making and Self-Actualization

Content: A Chapter Sampling

The Middlemass chapter represents one entry into the book, but I was first drawn to Grace E. Howard’s Section IV chapter on former first lady Michelle Obama’s anti-obesity campaign. The section includes Ryan’s analysis of author Toni Morrison’s oeuvre and Tonya M. Williams’s examination of activism and reproductive justice in three Southern states. Morrison, in her chapter, covers all major themes presented in the book. She undertakes a discourse analysis of Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign by exploring the intersection of Black stereotypes, media representations, masculinized political arenas, and the (quite white) cultural constraints of being a first lady. For example, Howard examines gendered, racialized characterizations of Michelle Obama in mainstream media; the characterizations stem from long-standing tropes about Black women as “the obese Mammy … [or] the sexually voracious Jezebel … [or] the Welfare Queen” (224). Howard argues that Michelle Obama “deracializes” or distances herself from such tropes, thus establishing her own space (self-actualization) but in many ways reifying white, elitist, masculine hierarchies. Howard’s work, as all the chapters do, demonstrates depth and complexity.

Another rich work comes in the “Diasporic” section from Thame, who looks into the political rise and fall of Jamaica’s first female president, Portia Simpson-Miller. Thame documents how Simpson-Miller, aka “Mama P,” rose through the ranks of a very masculinized political system in which she made space for herself as both nurturing mother and disciplinarian, ultimately failing to “shift the context of gender power” (155). While similar to the triple bind faced by Black US women running for public office, Simpson-Miller’s case is particular to Jamaican culture and socioeconomics — a point that reinforces the editors’ assertion that Black women’s actions and experiences are not monolithic.

The book hits its most powerful stride with chapters on public policy. I group four chapters in this vein, which Jordan-Zachery calls “intersectionality-based policy analysis” or IBPA: Jenny Douglas’s examination of Black women’s health policies in the UK, Jordan-Zachery’s own research on HIV/AIDS orphans in the US, Middlemass’s “Hiding in Plain Sight,” and Tanya Williams’s work on Black Women’s reproductive-justice activism. Three of these works are situated in the analysis-oriented Section III, while Williams’s work is in the final section (“Discourses, Movements, and Representation”).

Douglas, whose background encompasses women’s studies, virology, and sociological research, focuses on how Black Caribbean-born women in the UK are marginalized by racialized and gendered discrimination in the workplace, their communities, and the country’s healthcare system. For instance, both male and female Black Caribbeans are at high risk of hypertension, but males are more likely to receive treatment in the UK, while the women are not even included in studies that might inform a workable approach to their health concerns. A key strength to Douglas’s work is that she provides valuable background on Black Caribbean culture in the UK, historic migration patterns, the UK health system, and much more. In short, she demonstrates the interconnectedness and multiple dimensions of the topic.

Jordan-Zachery explores a similarly complex field in her solo “Lost Tribes” chapter, using intersectionality to critique policy and practice gaps. In particular, she points out that the US pays more attention to HIV/AIDS orphans in other countries than it does at home, and that non-positive Black children, found at the intersection of already marginalized, stigmatized, often poor Black women, are particularly invisibile in the system.

Williams’s chapter, on the other hand, takes an alternative approach to IBPA: She looks at the issue from the perspective of activists and nonprofits that “always resist” — Black women and Black women-led groups fighting for reproductive justice in the context of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (i.e., “Obamacare”). Williams draws on interviews with activists in Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas but also provides an in-depth look at the ACA’s application in three Southern states. This approach allows Williams to dissect the mainstream, single-axis approach to health policies and practices that are overly focused on Black women’s limited access to health services while ignoring the entangled issues of poverty, environmental issues, and health literacy.

In another example of giving voice by way of interviews, Hall did extensive fieldwork in Honduras for her research about the Garifuna women who turn communal bread making into political action. An overarching theme of her findings is “Space Making,” set in the “Diasporic Black Women” section. The Garifuna women — whose people were dubbed “Black Carib” by British occupiers, classified as “Negro” by the state, yet recognized by the World Council of Indigenous People — practice “nontraditional political resistance” (118). That is, without engaging directly with the Honduran state, they make, sell, and market their ereba (cassava) bread. This communal practice enables them to push back against land-grabs of their ancestral homes, against masculine-feminine delineations within their own culture but also in government, and against a socioeconomic, political system that favors mestiza women at the expense of indigenous and/or Black women. Making bread also very much supports the transmission and preservation of their culture.

Another aspect of cultural transmission comes in Ryan’s chapter on author Toni Morrison’s work as political engagement. Ryan first situates Morrison’s body of work in the broader context. For example, she says that Morrison, like Ralph Ellison, demonstrates a “literary preoccupation with US democracy” (196) but, on the other hand, represents a cast of Black women connected in some way with the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s (Audre Lorde and Alice Walker, for example). In particular, Morrison demonstrates a commitment to presenting characters “who would otherwise … be considered marginal” (198). In A Mercy, for example, Morrison’s portrayal of a Black woman character writing during the early colonial period in the US helps explore aspects of slavery, class, and trauma that we (Americans) tend to forget or whitewash.

Writers far less known are the subject of Blain’s chapter on the Black nationalist women who wrote for New Negro World from 1940-1944. These women supported “universal Black liberation” (165) but labored in a field dominated by men. Furthermore, where current scholarship tends to focus on the many mainstream Black-owned and Black-run publications of the day, Blain focuses attention on Black nationalist women who “articulated a vision of Black emancipation and endorsed Pan-Africanism.” That is, they aligned with John Garvey’s controversial version of “Black pride, African redemption, economic self-sufficiency, racial separatism, and political self determinism” (168, 170). Blain, in short, recovers a little-known history of Black women carving out a space for themselves in a masculinized movement.

Conclusion

Earlier in this review, I mentioned disappointment that no rhetoricians or compositionists were featured in Black Women in Politics. However, I took a cue from Alexander-Floyd’s quantification of political science research and scanned the past year’s issues of Rhetoric Society Quarterly: I found only one article title including the words “Black woman,” three that mention “women” or “woman,” and only one that includes the word “racist.” A more detailed review would likely show that scholarship about or by Black women in rhetoric is just as scarce as their scholarship in political science. As Jordan-Zachery and Alexander-Floyd argue, there’s work to be done. Rhetoricians, compositionists, graduate students, advanced undergraduates, and other researchers should be inspired by Black Women in Politics to till new fields or help expand the garrett. Like me, such readers and scholars will find Black Women in Politics very helpful for understanding the power and potential of intersectionality in the 21st century.

Review of Feminist Connections: Rhetoric and Activism Across Time, Space, and Place

Fredlund, Katherine, Kerri Hauman, and Jessica Ouellette. Feminist Connections: Rhetoric and Activism Across Time, Space, and Place. University of Alabama Press, 2020. 290 page.

In feminist rhetorical studies, there is a long history of interest in both historical rhetoric and digital rhetoric. However, as Katherine Fredlund, Kerri Hauman, and Jessica Ouellette demonstrate in their edited collection Feminist Connections: Rhetoric and Activism Across Time, Space, and Place, these two subfields have had limited overlap in recent years. The editors introduce a new methodology, Rhetorical Transversal Methodology, to provide a mechanism for identifying and investigating the shared rhetorical practices that emerge across historical and digital work. The collection, which features essays that span a wide range of eras, locations, media, and contexts, invites us to find compelling parallels between current feminist activism and antecedent feminist rhetorical work. This collection is an invaluable contribution to the field of feminist rhetorical studies (FRS), and builds successfully on previous works, such as Royster and Kirsch’s Feminist Rhetorical Practices.

Feminist Connections is made up of thirteen essays that explore feminist rhetorics from a wide range of locations, time periods, and modes. Tarez Samra Graban, in the foreword “Writing Against Reactionary Logics,” frames Feminist Connections, noting that the contributors’ cross-historical approach allows us to reframe our understandings of both feminist and digital rhetorics; Graban writes that, through this collection, “readers can gain insight into how historical conversations about the feminist and the digital came to be subsumed under nonfield paradigms” (xv). Graban also introduces the importance of including interstitiality in feminist research, explaining that interstitiality provides a frame to “recognize what occurs between organizations, their archives, their practices, and their beliefs that cause some figures to come perpetually under erasure due to systemic ways of looking” (xii). Like Royster and Williams, Feminist Connections pushes us to consider and attend to the “spaces left” in both the historical record and our contemporary work.

In their introduction, “Exposing Feminist Connections,” the editors present the collection’s central intervention, Rhetorical Transversal Methodology (RTM), and explain how this methodology provides a way to draw connections between digital and historical feminist work in rhetoric and composition. Using RTM, researchers can find pathways and common ground between rhetors that might not share time, space, or place. This methodology emerged out of the editors’ realizations that despite the disconnections between these two subfields, “the same rhetorical practices” have been discussed in both of these subfields (3). RTM works to illuminate the rhetorical strategies and practices that connect digital and historical work, with the goal of “allowing researchers to uncover rhetorical practices that are used repeatedly by specific groups with specific goals (across time, space, social identity markers, technology, etc.)” (4). This methodology aims to decenter “linear conceptions of time, fixed ideas about space, and a privileging of content and media,” and has uses both in and outside of feminist rhetorical studies (5-6). Each chapter in Feminist Connections takes up this methodology, finding shared threads through time and space. In the nonlinear spirit of RTM, Fredlund, Hauman, and Ouellette have chosen to organize the collection according to “three feminist rhetorical frameworks: revisionary rhetorics, circulatory rhetorics, and response rhetorics,” rather than by time period, or “by rhetor or purpose” (12-13). This organization of the collection clearly expresses the editors’ intervention, and the essays that make up Feminist Connections work together to demonstrate the efficacy of finding parallels across feminist rhetorical strategies throughout history.

Revisionary Rhetorics

Kerri Hauman introduces the first section, “Revisionary Rhetorics,” writing that this group of essays “acknowledges and builds on the fact that revision is something FRS scholars have been doing for decades in order to expand the definitional and location scopes of rhetorical action” (17). The four essays in this section attend to complexities of temporality; Hauman writes that these chapters “provide FRS scholars with additional models of revisioning intended to build on and reckon with past feminist rhetorical action as well as cautionary tales intended to benefit future feminist rhetorical actions” (21). The section begins with Jill Swiencicki, Maria Brandt, Barbara LeSavoy, and Deborah Uman’s “Seneca Falls, Strategic Mythmaking, and a Feminist Politics of Relation,” which interrogates the importance of Seneca Falls as a feminist “origin myth” through a description of the Seneca Falls Dialogues, a two-day event that aims to make “feminist connections…that account for and acknowledge past injustices and engage in activities that create different, more just relations” (23, 25). The authors examine their practice of “strategic mythmaking” that both acknowledges the symbolic power of Seneca Falls and simultaneously “transforms the epistemic privilege of that place, valuing the interstitial spaces that contemporary, intersectional feminist connections require” (36). Next, Tara Propper’s “Epideictic Rhetoric and Emergent Media: From CAM to BLM,” examines both the activism of the Say Her Name movement as part of “a much longer history of black women’s use of emergent media and public memorialization as a means of interrogating and participating in in the public spaces, resources, or spheres of representation that were historically denied to black citizens,” including Pauline Hopkins’s Famous Women of the Negro Race column, which appeared in the turn-of-the-century periodical Colored American Magazine (41). More specifically, Propper highlights the epideictic nature of both of these forms of public memorialization, and argues that “feminist media activists then and now have been able to navigate such hurdles by appropriating technologies of literacy, including mass media and social media outlets, to recuperate a history of black stories, experiences, and activism, allowing readers to see themselves as part of a larger public sphere of actors” (57). In “Recruitment Tropes: Historicizing the Spaces and Bodies of Women Technical Workers,” Risa Applegarth, Sarah Hallenbeck, and Chelsea Redeker Milbourne analyze recruitment rhetoric that encouraged women to take up jobs as telegraphers, stenographers, and coders at various points in history and argue that “recruitment discourse…contributes to gendered divisions within emerging proessional fields” (60). The authors use RTM to highlight patterns in recruitment discourse through time and caution that “we must be wary of how recruitment tropes sometimes draw loosely from feminist discourses of empowerment but produce long-term effects that are disempowering” (71). The section concludes with Kellie Jean Sharp’s essay “Take Once Daily: Queer Theory, Biopolitics, and the Rhetoric of Personal Responsibility,” which studies how the birth control pill “has mediated current understandings of gender of sexuality” to better understand how medications such as the HIV preventative Truvada may “influence bodies, identities, and sexualities now and in the future” (76). Sharp argues that while these medications have had positive effects for many individuals, the author’s analysis is also “a caution against relying on one resource or tactic in the fight for sexual liberation” (86). Collectively, these essays explore ways scholars in FRS can expand our understanding of revisionary histories and rhetorics, in order to better connect historical and digital work.

Circulatory Rhetorics

Section two, “Circulatory Rhetorics,” features another four essays that employ a framework of circulatory rhetorics that Ouellette describes as a framework that “speaks to the evolving nature of rhetorical encounters and interactions” and “investigate[s] those interactions and intentions through analyses of the rhetorical practices and strategies employed by and between feminists of different spaces, places, and eras” (90). Essays in this section engage with the participatory nature of digital media, while also “reflecting on, remediating, and revisiting feminist strategies of the past” (90). First, Kristin Winet’s chapter, “She’s Everywhere, All the Time: How the #Dispatch Interviews Created a Sisterhood of Feminist Travelers” argues that in addition to viewing interviews as a method, feminist rhetorical studies should consider “the interview as genre…that can foster a space for coalition building” (96). Using both historical and contemporary digital travel media interview series as a lens through which to view interviews as a feminist practice, Winet concludes that “the interview series is a tale of circulation, of solidarity, and of community building” and that “we must critically examine the ways in which our everyday communities use interview series to ideologically shape, constrain, and ignite social relations in digital spaces” (105). Building on Winet’s description of feminist rhetorical practices in digital spaces, Kristin E. Kondrlik’s essay “From Victorian Noves to #LikeALadyDoc: Women Physicians Strengthening Professional Ethos in the Public Sphere” draws parallels nineteenth-century writing about female physicians’ ethos and the 2016 #LikeALadyDoc conversation on Twitter. Through analysis of both popular fiction and digital media, Winet demonstrates that “both nineteenth-century and contemporary women physicians engaged popular media to circulate re-articulations of what it means to be a physician and a woman in a time of shifting gender norms” (123). In “Feminist Rhetoric Strategies and Networked Activist Movements: #SayHerName as Circulatory Activist Discourse,” Liz Lane explores the Say Her Name movement’s blending of social media discourse with “traditional black rhetorical strategies such as the African tradition of nommo (a performative naming tactic), the discursive practice of call-and-response (a circulatory tool), and the Greek storytelling practice muthos (a narrative mechanism)” (127). In combining these rhetorical strategies in a digital space, Lane argues that “networked hashtags create kairotic, decentralized social movements that circulate feminist identities” (139). To round out the section, Lisa Blankenship’s “From US Progressive Era Speeches to Transnational Social Media Activism: Rhetorical Empathy in Jane Addams’s Labor Rhetoric and Joyce Fernandes’s #EuEmpregadaDoméstica (I, Housemaid)” works to connect two women dedicated to labor rights, turn-of-the-century American reformer Jane Addams and contemporary Brazilian labor and women’s rights activist Joyce Fernandes, and “explores how rhetorical empathy functions in the labor rights rhetoric of these two complex, compelling women, one hundred years00and in terms of digital technology—light years removed from one another” (146). Using both Addams’s Columbian Exposition speech and the stories Fernandes has shared on social media from domestic workers, Blankenship shows that while “both Fernandes and Addams compel their audiences to view domestic workers as individuals with lives and histories of their own,” juxtaposing these two figures reveals “a significant shift within intersectional, transnational women’s rhetorical practices” (156-157). The essays in this section of Feminist Connections highlight the ecological nature of feminist rhetoric—the complex networks inherent to all communication and rhetorical engagement.

Response Rhetorics

The collection’s third section, “Response Rhetorics,” contains the final five essays, which expand our understanding of response. Fredlund writes that “the chapters in this section use RTM to consider how those without power use rhetoric to respond to those with power—recognizing that our theories of rhetoric all too often fail to consider how hostile or unreceptive audiences impact rhetorical choices and effects” (161). The section starts with Skye Roberson’s chapter “‘Anonymous Was A Woman:’ Anonymous Authorships as Rhetorical Strategy,” which connects women’s anonymous writing in Victorian-era periodicals and on Reddit. Roberson asserts that this chapter “demonstrates how women resist the traditional boundaries of authorship by subverting our ideas about authorial identities, agency, and silence” (169). In “Tracing the Conversation: Legitimizing Mormon Feminism,” Tiffany Kinney examines similar rhetorical strategies employed by Mormon feminists in both the 1970s and 2010s to “forge connections among women and establish Mormon women’s legitimacy” (182). Kinney asserts that these women’s rhetorical invention processes and delivery strategies work to create legitimacy both for “long-term change” and to “forge pathways to immediate incremental changes” (194). Next, Clancy Ratliff examines commonplaces in the images of the suffragist movement and in early feminist blogging in “The Suffragist Movement and the Early Feminist Blogosphere: Feminism and Recent History of Rhetoric.” Ratliff argues that RTM should be applied to “work in the recent history of rhetoric,” and that “we can also study online discourse as feminist histories of rhetoric, not only as digital media artifacts or pedagogical strategies” (197). In “Mikki Kendall, Ida B. Wells, and #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen: Women of Color Calling Out White Feminism in the Nineteenth Century and the Digital Age,” Paige V. Banaji highlights Mikki Kendall’s creation of the #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen hashtag and Ida B. Wells’s critique of Frances Willard’s lack of support for the antilynching movement, demonstrating that “in these two stories, two women of color, separated by over a century, engage in the feminist response rhetoric of calling out” (215). Banaji argues that “calling out and listening are necessary rhetorics of response to white feminism” and that these strategies are also important for the “health” and “growth” of feminism overall (224-226). Bethany Mannon’s “The Persuasive Power of Individual Stories: The Rhetoric in Narrative Archives” examines three collections of personal narratives—letters that appeared in Ms. magazine, Moraga and Anzaldúa’s This Bridge Called My Back, and the digital storytelling project My Duty to Speak—to explore how personal narratives “connect generations of feminist activism” (232). Mannon writes that “personal narratives have been a productive way to bring dissension and conflict to the activist table” and that these narratives “respond to existing power structures” (242). Taken together, the five essays in this section show the wide range of strategies employed by feminist rhetors to respond to challenging audiences or exigencies.

Conclusion: Looking Across Time, Space, and Place

To conclude the collection, Kristine L. Blair’s afterword, “(Techno)Feminist Rhetorical Action: Coming Full Circle,” reflects on the collection, noting that Feminist Connections works to “triangulate three diverse modes of inquiry, the historical, the feminist, and the technological, simultaneously deploying concepts of interstitiality and intersectionality to avoid essentializing both women and feminists as universal groups” (246). Blair also highlights how successfully this collection allows the past and present to “speak to each other…grounded in an emphasis on revisionist, circulatory, and responsive rhetorics that call readers to action” (250). This interconnectedness sets Feminist Connections apart and demonstrates the value of RTM to scholars in FRS and other disciplines. In my own work, I anticipate using RTM to connect my interests in both digital rhetoric and in archival research. As a graduate student, I have “tried on” both of these subfields as I begin to narrow my research interests and identify long-term projects. For example, though my interest and research regarding ethics and representation has primarily been focused on archives up until now, these same concerns are replicated in the rhetoric of social media and digital media. While these threads have previously felt disparate, Feminist Connections and Fredlund, Hauman, and Ouellette’s methodological intervention provides a way to take these projects on together and find pathways between historical and digital rhetorics.

Other readers of Feminist Connections might take up this new methodology and incorporate it into new and emerging research projects, as RTM provides an opportunity to frame projects in both historical and digital rhetorical research, especially those related to activism and social movements. Moreover, readers can enact RTM in ongoing research projects; the methodology might uncover novel ways of approaching an existing research site or present a fresh approach to research questions. This collection will be valuable to scholars in FRS and beyond—perhaps even in fields such as women’s studies or history. In addition, Feminist Connections would fit well in any number of graduate-level classes, especially those focused in the history of rhetoric, feminist rhetoric, or research methods.

Feminist Connections is a timely collection of important work in feminist rhetorical studies. The editors’ new methodology, Rhetorical Transversal Methodology, provides an excellent framework for rhetorical research both in FRS and in the wider field of rhetoric and composition. Rather than remaining tied to chronologically- or geographically-bound strategies of organization, Fredlund, Hauman, and Ouellette’s RTM offers a new way to approach research in rhetoric and composition, and allows us to locate “transversals” between historical and contemporary rhetors. RTM makes room for broadening our research beyond traditional boundaries of time, space, and place.

Works Cited

  • Royster, Jacqueline Jones, and Gesa Kirsch. Feminist Rhetorical Practices: New Horizons for Rhetoric, Composition, and Literacy Studies. Southern Illinois University Press, 2012. -return to text
  • Royster, Jacqueline Jones, and Jean C. Williams. “History in the Spaces Left: African American Presence and Narratives of Composition Studies.” College Composition and Communication, vol. 50, no. 4, 1999, pp. 563–584. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/358481. -return to text

Review of The Borders of AIDS: Race, Quarantine, and Resistance

Chavez, Karma R. The Borders of AIDS: Race, Quarantine, and Resistance. University of Washington Press, 2021. 246pp.

Cover art of book being reviewed

As I sat down to record my reflections on Karma Chávez’s new book, The Borders of AIDS: Race, Quarantine, and Resistance, news broke that the Biden administration had directed the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement (HSS) to hold unaccompanied migrant children at the detention camp in Carrizo Springs, Texas. Originally built to shelter oil field workers, the Carrizo Springs facility will now serve as a COVID-19 quarantine station for more than 700 unchaperoned teenagers, many of whom are fleeing conflict and climate catastrophe in Central America (Foster-Frau). The proposed ten-day quarantine period has been met with opprobrium by migrants’ rights advocates, immigration lawyers, and human rights activists who argue the policy breaks US law, which states that minors can only be held at the border for 72 hours before being transported to another facility or reunited with family (Amnesty International). While government officials maintain that this coerced, unlawful quarantine is a temporary pandemic containment measure, rumors abound that the HHS is looking to reopen another notorious child detention camp, this time in Homestead, Florida, which was unceremoniously shuttered in 2019 due to unsanitary living conditions, rampant abuse allegations, and corruption (Foster-Frau).

Borders. Containment. Disease. Quarantine. These are the recurrent themes in news reports of the country’s shameful treatment of migrants. They are also all central foci of Chávez’s immediately urgent and immensely creative monograph. Continuing her career-defining interest in the rhetorical dynamics and transformative political potential of transnational, queer coalition building, The Borders of AIDS is a rhetorical history of the HIV/AIDS epidemic that centers the experiences of groups typically obscured by mainstream and queer histories of the AIDS crisis: migrants, Black sex workers, and HIV-positive Haitians. Spanning the first 12 years of the crisis in the United States (roughly 1981 – 1993), Chávez contributes important additions to the AIDS archive by shifting focus from the work accomplished by mostly white, mostly middle class, cosmopolitan AIDS activist groups like AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, or ACT UP. Instead, Chávez draws from queer of color, migrant, and feminist traditions to recover an alternative history of AIDS, one that is attuned to how the epidemic affected (and continues to affect) those on the borders of civic and national belonging.

Despite being written largely before the beginning of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, The Borders of AIDS provides a prescient conceptual framework for understanding how the real or imagined threat of contagious disease inheres diffuse (trans)national struggles over the nature of belonging, citizenship, and the stability of the nation state’s ideological and material boundaries. Wisely, when Chávez does reflect on the COVID-19 pandemic in her book’s prologue, she avoids and, indeed, even urges against the impulse to make easy, reductive comparisons between the AIDS crisis and our immediate moment. “There are some important ways that AIDS can help us understand COVID-19 that do not require analogies,” she maintains, favoring a more measured, contemplative approach that looks for ways that the AIDS epidemic helps us “understand the deep logic of white supremacist, anti-Black, settler colonial nation-states like the United States” (vii). And, in fact, as her book demonstrates so well, when we refrain from engaging in over-motivated comparison, we are able to notice how contagion simultaneously powers and articulates the dynamic, exclusionary violence undergirding the hegemonic machinations of democratic citizenship itself.

Chávez convincingly argues that the segregating, exclusionary, and necropolitical forces that emerged during the early AIDS epidemic were manifestations of a larger organizing principle, which she names “alienizing logic.” For Chávez, an alienizing logic “refers to a structure of thinking that insists that some are necessarily members of a community and some are recognized as not belonging even if they physically reside there” (5). Readers will likely find ample areas of overlap between Chávez’s notion of alienizing logic and existing radical democratic critiques of liberal democracy. However, whereas that scholarship often limits itself to the properly political realm, Chávez’s alienizing logic is more dexterous and portable. Alienizing logic contours both the political and the quotidian. In fact, the utility of her term comes precisely from its mobility, or, to use her phrasing, its “blurriness” (5). Alienizing logics don’t fortify firm, concrete, unchanging borders between those enveloped within the ambit of legally legitimized citizenship and those positioned outside of it. Instead, alienizing logics structure flexible exclusions that are concerned more with one’s imagined fit within the white supremacist, anti-Black, heterosexual, cis nation state. Alienizing logic can be attached to any minoritized and queer(ed) subject, though this attachment manifests and is experienced differently. Throughout her book, Chávez takes pains to distinguish between those who are alienized as the result of non-conferred legal status and those who, despite possessing legal legitimacy, are nonetheless rendered “alienized citizens” (9). Theorizing and tracing the implications of alienizing logic are Chávez’s most important additions to feminist and cultural rhetoric’s critical repertoire. A sensitivity to the scalar operations of alienizing logic compels a cultivated sensitivity to how the shifting privileges conferred by the nation state both reinforce and destabilize traditional societal divisions. Indeed, it is in the space between reinforcement and destabilization that unexpected coalitions can be forged as groups work toward greater solidarity with those positioned across diverse continua of oppression.

The Borders of AIDS charts the various ways that immigration and citizenship status come to “matter as additional sites of power and oppression that impact people’s experiences with HIV/AIDS and the ways that HIV/AIDS becomes an opportunity to enact alienizing logic” (p. 11). The book develops over the course of five chapters, which are broken into two sections. The first section, “Alienizing Logic and Structure” outlines how official and mainstream discourses coalesced to render both the quarantining and banning of people living with HIV/AIDS as a natural, commonsense response to the problem of AIDS. Section two, “Resisting Alienizing Logics,” tells the story of the surprising and sometimes turbulent coalitions built by queer and otherwise marginalized activists as they struggled against alienizing HIV/AIDS quarantine policies. Together, these two sections weave poignant, richly contextualized case studies to recover a necessary history of how America’s pernicious, exclusionary citizenship practices get activated in moments of biomedical crisis.

Chávez uses the first chapter to establish her book’s historical and conceptual foundations, presenting readers with an expansive rhetorical history of quarantinism in the United States. Rather than accounting for the epidemiological legitimacy of quarantine as a disease mitigation strategy, Chávez is more concerned with unpacking the term’s “symbolic baggage.” “Quarantine,” Chávez argues, “raises specters of plagues, leper colonies, yellow warning flags nailed to the doors of the infected, and deadly epidemics” (23). Putting into conversation more than two hundred years of official and popular texts about the mitigation of infectious disease, Chávez demonstrates that the impulse to quarantine runs parallel to more defuse geopolitical anxieties about the promiscuous (trans)national movement of people, practices, goods, and intimacies. As Chávez points out, the alienizing impulse of quarantine is inherent in its definition. Unlike its close associate, isolation, which denotes the cornering off of people actively displaying signs of sickness, quarantine technically refers to the preemptive segregation of those who might have been exposed to a contagious disease (21). While seemingly slight, this semantic difference has important implications for the book’s critical orientation: calls for quarantine operate along familiar lines of social exclusion, where a group’s proximity to pathologized social conditions such as Blackness, poverty, foreignness, and sexual difference, functions diagnostically to warrant coerced confinement or, worse, expulsion from the nation state itself. Chávez suggests that the widespread use of the word quarantine to describe both the isolation of the sick and the containment of the possibly ill attests to the persistent strength of alienizing logics as well as contagion’s capacity to subject differently marginalized groups to continued biopolitical discipline and surveillance under the auspices of public health (22).

Chapter two, “AIDS and the Rhetoric of Quarantine,” queries how it was that the quarantining of those newly diagnosed with AIDS became a popular, though never truly realized, AIDS mitigation strategy, despite early scientific agreement that AIDS was not transmitted through casual contact. Chávez argues that the force of AIDS quarantine rhetorics resulted not as much from a desire to prevent the spread of AIDS but rather from the impulse to discipline recalcitrant socio-sexual behavior. That the criminalization of AIDS resulted from sex negativity has long been a staple of gay and queer accounts of the AIDS crisis. Chávez veers from these familiar critiques, however, by studying how powerful political actors used the epidemic to exaggerate the threat posed by Black HIV-positive sex workers. As a mode of disciplinary visibility, quarantine relies on perpetual surveillance and monitoring. The felt intensity of quarantine is amplified when it targets those already deemed deviant. Chávez explains that “Black women’s lives are frequently subject to surveillance, scrutiny, and confinement” (53). The possibility of an AIDS quarantine, therefore, puts the vulnerable, already over-surveilled Black sex worker at risk in two ways: first, it would shine light on labor practices that rely on opacity; second, and relatedly, it would further isolate Black sex workers from larger AIDS activist networks, making coalition building difficult. Through deftly handled, pathos laden accounts, Chávez challenges her readers to notice how quarantine rhetorics perpetuate Black social death. Crucially, however, she does this without rendering HIV-positive Black sex workers inert and non-agentive (49). By centering the complexity, vibrancy, and humanity of HIV-positive Black sex workers, Chávez constructs a work of recovery in the truest sense, providing rhetorical scholars with a clarifying rubric for how to work against the pervasive anti-Blackness found within domestic alienizing logics.

While the alienzing logic surrounding HIV/AIDS was not strong enough to warrant the quarantining of people diagnosed with HIV/AIDS as a domestic public health policy, it did shape immigration law. In chapter three, “National Common Sense and the Ban of HIV-Positive Migrants,” Chávez again demonstrates the malleability of alienizing logic, this time as it structured the debates surrounding the eventual codification of a blanket exclusion of HIV-positive migrants from pursuing legal recognition or entering the United States. Despite widespread disagreement about whether or not a ban would sufficiently lower staggering national HIV/AIDS rates, Chávez shows how seemingly incommensurate positions were bridged with appeals to what she terms “national common sense.” Chávez’s national common sense announces an inherently nativist impulse within the social imaginary that “encourages judgements that ‘everyone’ knows are good for the nation,” namely “the protection of national borders and the protection of the proper citizenry” (76, emphasis in original). Of course, this “everyone” indexes only those who are granted legitimate recognition within the nation state. Chávez demonstrates that bipartisan appeals to a national common sense alibied the canard that AIDS was a foreign disease that penetrated the membranes of the national body and thus “reinforced deeply conservative views about the importance of national borders and the limits of belonging to a national community” (76).

In chapter four, “Boycotts and Protests of the International AIDS Conference,” Chávez pivots from explicating the various ways that alienazing logic structured the US’s domestic and foreign policy, drawing attention instead to the unexpected, transnational coalitions that formed in resistance to the decision to host the 1990 and 1992 International AIDS Conference (IAC) in the United States. Both international AIDS activists and leading AIDS researchers threatened to boycott the IAC in protest of the US’s ban on HIV-positive migrants. Chávez persuasively argues that these collective efforts attest to the rhetorical value of boycotts as an agitational protest tactic that uses “moral and political pressure,” not just economic incentives, to affect change (108). Beyond recuperating the boycott as a legitimate strategy for forging coalitions across difference, the chapter also productively intervenes in unnuanced mainstream histories that pit AIDS activists against members of the medical establishment. Chavez’s reading of the IAC boycotts shows how activists ushered both IAC’s organizers and AIDS experts into a rhetorical protest space, one that used “the threat of possible death through withdrawal of participation” to send a “powerful message” to politicians about the urgent need to overturn the immigration ban (129).

Chapter five, “AIDS Activist Media and the ‘Haitian Connection,’” continues Chavez’s investigation of transnational coalition building by studying how queer alternative media (re)presented the plight of HIV-positive Haitians. The chapter works toward two ends – one historical, the other conceptual. First, Chávez makes a much-needed contribution to the early AIDS archive by recovering the implications of the so-called “Haitian Connection,” which is a euphemism for the popular, acutely racist idea that AIDS somehow originated in Haiti. By reading together initial media reports on AIDS in Haiti and the eventual indefinite quarantining of HIV-positive Haitian refugee seekers at Guantánamo Bay, Chávez shows that Haitians were targets for both constitutive elements of alienizing logic: quarantine and ban (133). Second, the chapter functions as a case study in alternative media’s capacity to fashion transnational solidarity among differently marginalized groups (134). Without diminishing the tremendous consequences of queer media’s pervasive whiteness, Chávez considers how queer outlets like the New York Native and ACT UP’s DIVA TV challenged the alienization of HIV-positive migrants. She argues that queer media reflected the geopolitical and cultural complexity of AIDS in Haiti in a way that was absent from scant mainstream coverage. More specifically, Chávez zeros in on the ways that members of the queer media sought to build solidarity with HIV-Positive Haitians by articulating the racist, contradictory as well as militarized and criminalized treatment of Haitians (150). Chávez thus makes a compelling case for the historical importance of alternative media, especially as it makes visible the conditions of subalternity that are obscured in the official, public memory of the AIDS crisis (156).

The potency of Chávez’s alienizing logic is in full display in her book’s conclusion, “Against the Alienizing Nation.” If the preceding chapters evidence the term’s heuristic value by showing readers how the threat of contagious disease affected the multiply marginalized, then this final chapter pushes us to imagine ways of organizing against alienization. An exemplar of critical rhetorical analysis that could be taught on its own, the chapter probes the expansiveness of alienizing logic, showing that “alienizing potential” is at the heart of the United States’ political imaginary, where the only “inalienable right” bestowed to the nation’s chosen sons is the “right to alienize” (164).

Chávez writes that one of her hopes was that “by thinking through alienizing processes, we will begin to grasp the ‘alien’ as a coalitional position that incorporates seemingly disparate groups within its purview” (159). The “alien” refuses tidy distinctions between self and other, inside and outside, citizen and foreigner. The “alien” reveals the material and ideological violence perpetrated by white supremacist, cisheteropatriarchal nationalism while holding itself accountable to the unequal distribution of that violence. It shows us that emerging out of the dire consequences of alienizing logic are the mutually inflected forces of agitational resistance and coalitional networks of (trans)national care. Ultimately, while I agree that the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the COVID-19 pandemic are not analogous, when viewed from the coalitional stance of the “alien,” they both have the potential to remind us of something important: if contagious disease belies the impossibility of the nation state’s boundaries, then the networks of solidarity, aid, and fellow feeling that also grow out of biomedical crises are themselves boundless.

As a white gay man, I have grown accustomed to emplotting myself within a static AIDS narrative. This narrative begins in 1981 when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention first identified signs of advanced immune collapse in men who looked like me, acted like me, and had sex like me. It ends around 1996 with the introduction of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART), the so-called AIDS cocktail. Along the way, these same men who looked, acted, and had sex like me protested, marched, lived, fucked, loved, and died by the tens of thousands to demand government action and public attention. While the indomitable influence of these efforts cannot be denied, this crude narrative itself circulates an alienizing logic that suggests AIDS and AIDS activism somehow belongs to white gay men. Recently, Jih-Fei Cheng, Alexandra Juhasz, and Nishant Shahani have urged for a pluralized understanding of the AIDS crisis, contending “[t]he Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is not merely a crisis in epidemiological terms; rather it is an uneven and varying spatialization and temporalization of crises” (1, emphasis added). Through her development of alienizing logic, Chávez offers rhetorical critics a way to pluralize and track the turbulent distribution of not just the crises surrounding HIV/AIDS but also the crises that structure the conditions of life and struggle under contemporary liberal democratic regimes.

Works Cited

    • “Carrizo Springs Detention Facility Cannot Become Status Quo for Children.” Amnesty International USA, www.amnestyusa.org/press-releases/carrizo-springs-detention-facility-cannot-become-status-quo-for-children/. -return to text
    • Foster-Frau, Silvia. “First Migrant Facility for Children Opens under Biden.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 24 Feb. 2021, www.washingtonpost.com/national/immigrant-children-camp-texas-biden/2021/02/22/05dfd58c-7533-11eb-8115-9ad5e9c02117_story.html. -return to text

Disturbing White Perfectionism in the Graduate Student Habitus

As we work together to restore hope to the future, we need to include a new and strange ally—our willingness to be disturbed. Our willingness to have our beliefs and ideas challenged by what others think. No one person or perspective can give us the answers we need to the problems of today. Paradoxically, we can only find those answers by admitting we don’t know. We have to be willing to let go of our certainty and expect ourselves to be confused for a time. (Margaret Wheatley 34)

It may be easy for antiracist feminist graduate students and faculty to agree with the opening epigraph, even to feel its truth deeply. Yet, for graduate students especially, in a university context whose primary function in society is to house and produce knowledge, “admitting we don’t know” and allowing ourselves to “be confused for a time” can be challenging to embody. Despite important feminist epistemological interventions that have challenged academic norms of objectivity, impartiality, and certainty (Wynter and McKittrick, Collins, Haraway) and despite the simple fact that being a scholar should imply a positive stance towards lifelong learning, contemporary academic cultural norms still demand the steady performance of mastery and certainty. Navigating one’s performance within this paradox can be especially difficult for the university’s newest professional initiates, the graduate students. In a recent study investigating impediments to success in the field of composition, Dana Lynn Driscoll, S. Rebecca Leigh, and Nadia Francine Zamin found that despite not asking interviewees about imposter syndrome directly, over 40% volunteered their (negative) experiences of it. To survive an intimidating environment, graduate students learn to hide away vulnerability and present a knowledgeable front while striving for perfection.

The problem that occupies this short essay is that perfectionism in the graduate classroom1 impedes graduate students’ ability to engage in the vulnerable, imperfect, often deeply uncomfortable self-work of antiracist personal transformation. There is a growing body of scholarship that seeks to make antiracist transformation in higher education not only theoretically acceptable, but actionable (see Condon and Young). This essay invites consideration of actionable transformation at the level of the graduate student habitus, an area that is undertheorized in the larger feminist project of institutional transformation for justice. I will briefly demonstrate the connection between perfectionism and White2 supremacy culture before considering what it might entail for the feminist faculty of rhetoric and composition to disentangle (White) perfectionism from its complicated place in the graduate student habitus.

White Supremacy Culture in the University Habitus

White supremacy culture has always been the dominant culture in the United States and thus has also dominated within United States institutions of higher education. Dismantling Racism Works defines “White supremacy” as “the idea (ideology) that White people and the ideas, thoughts, beliefs, and actions of White people are superior to People of Color and their ideas, thoughts, beliefs, and actions.” With White supremacy culture’s immanent presence in the United States, those residing in its spaces absorb its beliefs, suspicions, preferences, and “intuitions” inescapably and continuously with varying degrees of awareness. The university offers no escape. At the university, as Barbara Tomlinson writes in Undermining Intersectionality,racist premises and perceptions are always at work, operating “invisibly and institutionally through a series of taken-for-granted procedures and commonsense positions” (24). These “taken-for-granted procedures” and “commonsense positions” help to produce the habitus, a concept I draw from Pierre Bourdieu to reference the always-in-process interaction and interconnection of culture, normalized behaviors, habits, dispositions, ideology and even the socialization of emotions. I maintain that engaging in antiracist transformation is extremely difficult for individuals to do when White norms continue to dominate their community’s habitus. Thus, I argue, an important step in facilitating the conditions for antiracist transformation in the field of rhetoric and composition requires disentangling White norms like perfectionism from its habitus.

Practicing White Perfectionism in the Graduate Classroom

While critiques of perfectionism are likely familiar to feminist scholars, the re-vision for which this essay advocates entails understanding perfectionism as specifically White—a pillar of White supremacy culture—and recognizing how normalizing perfectionism obstructs antiracist transformation in the graduate student habitus.

As a graduate student myself, one especially influential site where I see (White) perfectionism cultivated in ways that forestall antiracist transformation is in the kind of criticism graduate students often learn to practice in the graduate classroom. I suggest that there is a connection between the normalization of what Karen Barad describes as a “destructive” rather than “deconstructive” practice of academic criticism and the perfectionistic lens through which graduate students learn to critique themselves and others. In New Materialism: Interviews & Cartographies, when asked “Why has critique run out of steam?,” Barad responds:

Critique is all too often not a deconstructive practice, that is, a practice of reading for the constitutive exclusions of those ideas we cannot do without, but a destructive practice meant to dismiss, to turn aside, to put someone or something down—another scholar, another feminist, a discipline, an approach, et cetera. (Dolphijn and van der Tuin 49)

While it is unlikely that graduate educators intentionally teach destructive practices of criticism, in the absence of explicit “deconstructivist” instruction, and perhaps also because of contemporary “cancel culture”3 outside the classroom, graduate students often resort to finding fault with assigned texts. In Tomlinson’s words, problematic practices of criticism contribute to the “unarticulated fears and social dangers” that “pervade academic culture,” as “graduate students learn to rely on reading practices that attack and disparage texts rather than analyze them” (11). Reading to find fault with the text is White perfectionism as practiced through reading.

Destructive criticism easily transfers to other perfectionistic habits of mind that perpetuate White supremacy culture in graduate student contexts. In “White Supremacy Culture,” an antiracist transformation guide for organizations, Tema Okun explains that in institutions where perfectionism dominates, “little appreciation [is] expressed among people for the work that others are doing.” What is “more common is to point out either how the person or work is inadequate.” Further, “mistakes are seen as personal…i.e. they reflect badly on the person making them as opposed to being seen for what they are – mistakes.” When graduate students apply this thinking to themselves and others, consciously and/or subconsciously, it obstructs collective sociality, preserves existing norms and hierarchies, and prevents students from being willing to make the inevitable mistakes required to unlearn internalized racism in community with each other. Damaging in part because they are “used as norms and standards without being pro-actively named” (Okun), naming White supremacy characteristics in the graduate classroom is an important first step towards challenging them. What would happen if faculty invited discussion of these perfectionistic practices and challenged their place in academic norms?

Left unnamed, destructive criticism enables and feeds off “white fragility.” Robin DiAngelo defines white fragility as a “state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves” (103). The perfectionistic classroom practices described above—being hyper critical of one’s self and others, looking for fault, confusing “making a mistake” with “being a mistake,” and the threat of being defined by one’s ignorance—breed, I argue, precisely this fragility. Fragility then shows up in the room as defensiveness and as emotional intolerance for “being wrong,” which prevents the norms themselves from being challenged. Though it may not be visible to faculty, graduate students are often tense in the classroom, hypervigilant of how they suspect others are judging their and everyone else’s contributions. Unfortunately for antiracist transformation, hypervigilance and the willingness to be disturbed are mutually exclusive mentalities. One cannot approach the deeply uncomfortable work of introspecting on one’s White supremacist socialization from the perfectionist, competitive, fragile, and fearful disposition that graduate culture often engenders.

Proposing An Anti-Perfectionism Intervention

To dismantle White perfectionism’s long-standing place in the academic habitus, graduate educators will need to reconsider revered concepts like criticism, productivity, and mastery. In what follows, I propose four ideas for how graduate faculty might disturb the grip of perfectionism and instead cultivate conditions that would enable students and by extension, departments, to undertake antiracist transformation.

To counter White perfectionism, Okun proposes cultivating a culture of appreciation. Patriarchy may have coded the concept of “appreciation” as feminine, soft, frivolous, and unacademic in its binary opposition with the tough, cool, masculine rationality of “criticism,” but perhaps for this very reason an appreciation of appreciation may be the antidote feminist academics need to cultivate in a historically patriarchal institution. While the suggestion may seem elementary to seasoned feminist educators, what may be new is the connection between appreciation and antiracist transformation. To read “for the constitutive exclusions of those ideas we cannot do without,” as Barad suggests, faculty could guide graduate students to first summarize and discuss aspects of the text they find useful and only then consider how scholars might build on the work. Historicizing readings for how they contributed in their original context can help students see the processual, always-ongoing nature of scholarly production as well. Students who internalize the practices of a culture of appreciation rather than perfection will likely feel less defensive or “fragile” when confronting their complicity in a problematic system.

If another driving force of perfectionistic culture is faculty’s sense of obligation to help students gain “mastery over” a subject area, perhaps the concept of “mastery” deserves reconsideration. I suggest faculty re-imagine “mastery” to reflect existing feminist scholarship about the importance of positionality and partiality to knowledge production and acquisition. Feminist faculty often already teach graduate students the importance of continually interrogating how their positionalities influence their research perspectives. How might faculty apply this existing praxis to revise what “mastery” means in their department? What if the how of approaching scholarship became as important as the what a graduate student must know? Once subject area mastery requires graduate students to demonstrate a thoughtful, nuanced understanding of their own positionality with respect to their subject area to avoid reproducing oppressive structures, then antiracist training could become a more exigent part of graduate training.

Disentangling perfectionism from graduate culture to enable antiracist work might also be aided by bringing mindfulness into the graduate classroom. The work of transformation, whether in the classroom or outside of it, requires individuals to sit with the discomfort of having longstanding, internalized hegemonic ideologies disturbed. Mindfulness practices can cultivate the conditions necessary to sit with discomfort. Similar to “appreciation,” the language of “mindfulness” might raise the hackles of those who have been enculturated to prize “rigor” and “rationality.”4 But I would argue that a mindful approach to learning and being in the classroom enhances one’s ability to think “rationally” and “rigorously” about one’s positionality and the epistemological frameworks in which they have been conditioned to think.

In addition to mindfulness, explicitly championing a “growth mindset” is another way graduate faculty might actively foster a disposition necessary to engage in personal antiracist transformation. A growth mindset sees making mistakes and getting things wrong as necessary to the messy process of learning and growth (Dweck). The contrasting “fixed” mindset that typically results from the American education system prioritizes being or looking “right” over taking the risks required to learn and grow. Imposter syndrome combined with a fixed mindset can leave graduate students unwilling to reveal what they don’t know for fear of exposing themselves as “frauds”. Naming the importance of growth mindset in the graduate classroom could help impart positive affect rather than fear to students’ willingness to “be disturbed,” to engage in difficult conversations, and to interrogate their own complicity in structural harm. In short, growth mindset can help make the classroom a space of antiracist transformative potential.

An Invitation for Further (Re)Consideration

My goal throughout this essay has been to consider how the conditions for antiracist transformation can be created in an environment (the university) whose habitus of perfectionism normally prevents students from being able to take on antiracist transformation as individuals, scholars, and educators. While I hope to have offered some meaningful suggestions to these questions throughout this short essay, my goal, as the call for this subsection of Peitho suggests, is not so much to answer the questions I raise as to provoke their further (re)consideration.

Given that perfectionism functions as a pillar of White supremacy culture, what would it mean for each of us, as scholars, leaders, and educators, to actively push back against our internalized perfectionism in an institution that demands perfectionistic habits? How can graduate programs cultivate in graduate students the humility, the willingness to be vulnerable in community, and the “willingness to be disturbed” that is required for the imperfect process of antiracist transformation?

End Notes

  1. In this essay, I refer primarily to “the graduate classroom” as a shorthand for all of the spaces and sites where graduate students’ academic habitus forms. I encourage readers to consider spaces outside the classroom that contribute to the perpetuation of perfectionism as well. -return to text
  2. In this essay, I capitalize the “W” of “White” to signal that despite perhaps well-meaning intentions to downplay the presence of a coherent White culture, White culture indeed exists and its norms usually dominate in traditionally White institutions like the university. This paper hopes to make the connection between White supremacy culture and the White norms of American universities clear and to provoke readers to challenge White norms that perpetuate White supremacy in American universities. By capitalizing the “w”, I underscore that Whiteness and White ideology are not neutral and require confronting. -return to text
  3. “Cancel culture” is the contemporary American cultural practice of shaming and/or ostracizing a member of the public or of a particular community– professional or otherwise– for making offensive remarks, for engaging in offensive behavior, or for having remarked or behaved offensively in the past, whether intentionally or not. Social media has made it possible for anyone with a social media account to “cancel” anyone else publicly at an unprecedented pace and scale and with an unprecedented permanence. I believe this pervasive cultural practice has seeped into the collective consciousness of at least the current generation of graduate students who may consciously or not self-censor remarks that they fear may be perceived as offensive rather than risk the danger of saying the wrong thing in front of classmates. This also means that making remarks that “cancel” is safer than making remarks that risk being canceled. Cancel culture has quite suddenly made the stakes of even inadvertently offensive speech dire, particularly in professional settings. To be clear, I do not mean to suggest that offensive remarks should go unchallenged, only that they should be treated as useful opportunities for learning and dialogue, rather than result in immediate ostracism. The process of learning requires that learners can become aware of what they don’t know and interrogate their existing understandings in order to reconsider and come into better understanding. Cancel culture, in my opinion, hinders learning, growth, and dialogue. -return to text
  4. I enclose these favorite terms of academic culture within quotation marks in order to trouble commonsense assumptions about their meaning and value. -return to text

Works Cited

  • Bourdieu, Pierre. “Structures, habitus, practices.” The logic of practice (1990): 52-65. -return to text
  • Collins, Patricia Hill. Black feminist thought: Knowledge, consciousness, and the politics of empowerment. routledge, 2002. -return to text
  • Condon, Frankie and Vershawn Ashanti Young, editors. Performing Antiracist Pedagogy in Rhetoric, Writing, and Communication. WAC Clearinghouse, 2017. -return to text
  • Diab, Rasha, Thomas Ferrel, and Beth Godbee. “Making commitments to racial justice actionable.” Condon, Frankie, and Vershawn Ashanti Young, editors. Performing Antiracist Pedagogy in Rhetoric, Writing, and Communication. WAC Clearinghouse, 2017. -return to text
  • DiAngelo, Robin. White fragility: Why it’s so hard for White people to talk about racism. Beacon Press, 2018. -return to text
  • Dismantling Racism Works, DRworksBook, www.dismantlingracism.org/. -return to text
  • Dolphijn, Rick & Iris van der Tuin. “Interview with Karen Barad.” New materialism: Interviews and cartographies (2012): 48-70. -return to text
  • Driscoll, Dana Lynn, S. Rebecca Leigh, and Nadia Francine Zamin. “Self-Care as Professionalization: A Case for Ethical Doctoral Education in Composition Studies.” College Composition and Communication 71.3 (2020): 453. -return to text
  • Dweck, Carol S. Mindset: The new psychology of success. Random House Digital, Inc., 2008. -return to text
  • Haraway, Donna. “Situated knowledges: The science question in feminism and the privilege of partial perspective.” Feminist studies 14.3 (1988): 575-599. -return to text
  • Okun, Tema. “White Supremacy Culture Characteristics.” DRworksBook, http://www.dismantlingracism.org/White-supremacy-culture.html. -return to text
  • Tomlinson, Barbara. Undermining Intersectionality: The Perils of Powerblind Feminism. Temple University Press, 2018. -return to text 1 or 2
  • Wheatley, Margaret. (2002). Turning to one another: Simple conversations to restore hope to the future. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers. -return to text
  • Wynter, Sylvia, and Katherine McKittrick. “Unparalleled catastrophe for our species? Or, to give humanness a different future: Conversations.” Sylvia Wynter: On being human as praxis (2015): 9-89. -return to text

Hitting the Limits of Feminist Rhetorical Listening in the Era of Donald Trump

Research on women’s rhetorics has tended to center on women whose beliefs align with contemporary liberal feminist politics—usually historical figures such as suffragettes, female preachers, and union organizers—and eliding the rhetoric of conservative women. Back in 2002, Carol Mattingly noted that feminist scholars tended to seek out the rhetoric of groups that “most resemble academic feminists” ideologically regardless of the actual scope of their influence (101). For example, feminist scholars “praise” the leaders of the National Woman Suffrage Association because of its liberal values over the more conservative Women’s Christian Temperance Union, although the latter had significantly greater membership (Mattingly 102). In their 2012 survey of the field of feminist rhetorical criticism, Jacqueline Jones Royster and Gesa Kirsch noted the field’s continued focus on liberal women and stressed the importance of a broader, deeper, and more inclusive view of women’s rhetoric. Royster and Kirsch recommend looking at “places at which we have not looked seriously or methodically before” in the hopes that such analysis will help feminist rhetorical scholars “think again about what women’s patterns of action seem to suggest about rhetoric, writing, leadership, activism, and rhetorical expertise” (72). And yet, in in her review of the field written 13 years after Mattingly’s work and three years after Royster and Kirsch’s, Charlotte Hogg finds, “a continued reluctance to engage conservative women who fall outside our feminist frameworks even as we celebrate the field’s multiplicity and continue calls for further breadth” (393). As a result, Hogg asks, “What can be learned from rhetorical practices that don’t forward the kind of radical women’s agendas that have permeated our scholarship?” (392) Ideally, this research would lead to a more capacious and inclusive definition of feminism.

Inspired by these calls, my intended sabbatical project was to conduct 20 long-form, semi-structured interviews with women ages 19-25, who identified as conservative and religious. I wanted to know: How do these women articulate the intersection of their female, religious, and conservative identities? When I began talking about this project, people warned me that the interviews would be too hard to listen to, or that students would refuse to talk to me at all because I have a reputation as a “liberal” or “feminist” professor (true). Nevertheless, I persisted, because I had done this before. Previously, I did a yearlong ethnography of a sorority on my campus, where I heard a variety of things I disagreed with on a visceral level and I was able to listen with an open mind. All my publications were ethnographies rooted in interview data; I knew how to get an interviewee to open up and how to shift directions when an interview was not going well. I had a semester-long sabbatical yawning before me to figure out how I wanted to analyze and frame my data.

And yet, in the fall of 2019, after conducting only eleven out of the twenty interviews I had planned, I stopped interviewing.

I quit, I think, because I was unprepared for the physical and emotional experience of listening. Please listen with me to a segment from an interview. I invite you to also pay attention to your own physical, embodied experience of listening to this segment.

Interviewer: Do you consider yourself a feminist? Why or why not?

Madison: I don’t know if I fully understand the whole definition of what being a feminist is. I am completely for women standing up and making change. And I think, for me, being the president of College Republicans, that was one reason. The [past president] was male, and he came to me and he said, “When I was thinking about who I wanted [to be president], essentially, the president of College Republicans is the face of the GOP here on campus. That’s who we are.” And he said, “I couldn’t think of anybody else that would uphold it better than you, which is why I’m asking you to do it.” And so I very firmly believe in women stepping up and moving this country forward, I think that we’ve played a huge role. And I think that a lot of times, it is undermined. And sometimes I’ve wondered about that too, saying that I’m a woman and I’m the president of College Republicans. How I feel sometimes, that if someone stood up and said, “Oh, yeah, I’m a woman and I’m the president of College Democrats,” that would be applauded. But if I say that I’m a woman and I’m the president of College Republicans, I feel like that’s going to get downplayed. Again, why would you want to do that? [Because Republicans] don’t believe in progressivism for women? And that’s really not true, they do. We do. And I think that’s very much emphasized in the fact in Trump’s cabinet, I think if you look at it, he has a lot of women that are working for him. . . Back when he was initially starting up his real estate business, he had a lot of women who were sitting in positions for his business. And when he decided to take over as President of the United States, he made Ivanka the head of Trump International. And I think that’s huge, because here we are, here we have the President of the United States, here is a man that is considered the leader of the free world, and he’s stepping up and saying, “I want a woman to take over what I have to leave in order to lead this country.” And I think that that was something that was very powerful. And I wish people understood that a little bit more and understood and saw how many women he has employed for him too, because I think that that would lead them to say he does believe in women and having equality for women.

In Rhetorical Listening: Identification, Gender, Whiteness, Krista Ratcliffe stresses the importance of listening for “cultural logics,” or the way someone makes sense of the world (26). This segment presents much to analyze in terms of cultural logics. For Madison, Trump’s promotion of women to positions of power is enough to label him as an advocate for women, setting aside the beliefs Donald Trump may have about women or other ways he has treated them. She also believes that a woman in power should not be criticized because she does not hold a specific set of beliefs, but rather that all women should be honored for their achievements. Madison advocates for a kind of conservative feminism where men in power appoint women to powerful positions, paralleling the president of the College Republicans who asked her to be the future president, and Trump’s appointment of Ivanka Trump to lead Trump International.

The analysis I’ve just done, however, is the easy part. This analysis was also completed from the comfortable remove of my home office, on sabbatical, in slippers and stretchy pants while the kids were at daycare.

The reason I quit interviewing was not this privileged moment of scholarly remove: it was in the moment. The hard part was the discomforts and tensions I experienced sitting across from Madison and the other women I interviewed. In the moment of listening—the face-to-face embodied experience—my face gets hot. I feel panicky. My hands get sweaty. As Laura Micciche writes, “The extralinguistic quality of emotion leads to messier, harder-to-clutch meanings that circulate around and through texts, people, classrooms and cultures—a set of meanings best accessed through a conjoined emphasis on performativity and embodiment, because the body is the site through which emotions are imbued with liveness” (51). The “liveness” of my emotions on my body overrides other parts of my brain telling me that I need to continue the interview, be a good listener, and keep an open mind. Reviewing my transcripts, I can see how often I change the topic when I begin to feel this way or I end the interview entirely.

I turn to other ethnographers who have dealt with the problem of listening to disagreeable voices, but there too I find a kind of safe theoretical distancing that doesn’t tell me what to do in the moment. In Angels’ Town: Chero Ways, Gang Life, and the Rhetorics of Everyday, Ralph Cintron argues that “an ethnography of emotions would [assume] that emotions have a public dimension, that anger and nastiness, say, do not well up from the interior of a person but are distinctly shaped along systemic lines” (130). Cintron’s solution is to avoid looking at “nasty” individuals, and instead to look at the “ideologies that shaped their conditions, beliefs, and action” (130-131). This is a gracious way to theorize a difficult interviewee from the comfortable remove of the ethnographic write-up, but I’m still caught in the moment of sitting across from this person (and I’m thinking about how the word “nasty” has a dramatically different resonance in 2020 than it did for Cintron in 1998). In her 2008 article about racism in an all-white high school, Jennifer Seibel Trainor argues that some of the students’ racist beliefs aren’t about race at all, but that “school scaffolds the emotioned frameworks within which racist discourses become persuasive” (85). Like Cintron, Trainor looks at the systemic lines that shape her interviewee’s belief systems, noting how these systems support and feed racist beliefs.

Both Cintron and Trainor strike me as inordinately generous to their interviewees, an emotion that feels like it was in abundance before 2016. Being able to analyze your data with some remove implies that you survived the interview in the first place. Both Cintron and Trainor acknowledge these in-the-moment feelings but seem to be able to persist beyond them because they are able to look at where these emotions come from. But I am not inspired to persevere and keep analyzing, because these conservative discourses join the conservative discourses that we have been awash in for the last four years.

Returning to Ratcliffe for help, I find that listening is described as a largely pleasant experience. Ratcliffe calls it “a stance of openness” (1), like a yoga pose. She talks about listening to both “harmony and discordant notes”(25), as though listening to conservative political rhetoric is similar to listening to my 4-year-old sing “Let It Go” charmingly off-key. Ratcliffe inverts the common idea of “understanding” to standing under—“Standing under discourses means letting the discourses wash over, through, and around us and then letting them lie there to inform our politics and ethics” (205)—as if listening is like lying on the beach and letting waves wash over you. At worst, Ratcliffe writes that listening may make us “uncomfortable” but that is “good” because “such discomfort simply signifies already existing problems and underscores the need for standing under the discourses of ourselves and others—and listening” (210).

But ever since 2016, conservative discourses are not washing over me; I am drowning in them. My phone’s “push” notifications sometimes feel like someone is actually shoving me. “Uncomfortable” is how I feel in my overheated office in the dead of winter; “running away and joining a commune” is where I’m at now. In The Cultural Politics of Emotion, Sara Ahmed argues that “emotions can move through the movement or circulations of objects. Such objects become sticky, or saturated with affect, as sites of personal and social tension” (11). In the current political climate, conservative discourses have become so fully “saturated” with intense negative affect for me that the “personal and social tension” I feel when hearing more conservative discourses becomes overwhelming.

Previous scholars tackling conservative discourse have done so from the safe remove of archives or other secondary sources (see for example McRae). While these constitute a type of rhetorical listening, historical scholars do not experience the in-the-moment anxieties I experienced (nor are the voices they are listening to likely to vote in the next election).

As a white woman, I’m also aware that my whiteness, as well as my position as a heterosexual, married, middle-class mother of two, offers me what Charles Gallagher calls “methodological capital,” which builds trust and cooperation and encourages the women I interviewed—all of whom were white—to speak to me frankly about their political beliefs. In “White Ethnography: (Un)comfortable Conveniences and Shared Privileges in Field-Work with Swedish Migrant Women,” Catrin Lundström writes of her own whiteness as methodological capital that “was not necessarily a spoken characteristic, but still constituted a feeling of something we had in common, and could be seen as a prerequisite for telling ‘white stories’.” (76). Lundström expresses concern that interviewing spaces where “white stories” are told have the potential for merely reproducing hegemonic beliefs rather than critiquing them (76).

In my interviews, I too heard “white stories” because regardless of my actual beliefs or my reputation on campus, my whiteness created a safe space for these women expressing the white narratives of anti-immigrant sentiment or defense of police officers. Ethnographer Amy Best argues that whiteness is an “ongoing interactional achievement” because the ethnographic is interview is an “interactional context through which the researcher’s racial identity and the racial identities of those under study are actively managed, negotiated, and solidified” (897). My whiteness, which offers me the methodological capital to conduct the interview in the first place, also allows in the rhetoric of whiteness, which exhausts me. In the interviewing moment, I am using my whiteness as a tool to get my interviewees to open up to me, but when they do, I realize I don’t want to engage in their particular brand of whiteness talk. Thus, I want to quit everything.

I ask myself: Who else is going to listen to conservative women if not me as a privileged, post-tenure white woman? If I bail on this, am I becoming the privileged white men in my department who delight in refusing to do service work, oblivious to the fact that that work still has to get done and likely will be done by junior faculty, often a woman or person of color? Is this just more white fragility? If so, do I just “tough it out”?

If we are going to be responsible feminist rhetoricians in the present and future political climate, we need to be able to see conservative women in their contradictions and complexities without canceling them. Feminist standpoint theory has taught us to embrace the many lived experiences of women for all of their complexity because “a representation of reality from the standpoint of women must draw on the variety of all women’s experiences” (Jagger 64). So here are the question I pose to feminist scholars:

  • If certain discourses become saturated with negative affect, how can we listen anew and fresh? To work the metaphor, how do we wring out the sponge?
  • How do we listen to discourses that don’t just make us “uncomfortable” but which trigger anger or pain? Or exhaustion and frustration?
  • How do we use our privilege responsibly to listen to “white stories” and how do we write about them in a way that does not merely maintain their hegemony?

I will offer one small success here, which, for me, has entailed abandoning the idea of interviewing as peaceful communion. Qualitative researcher Douglas Ezzy offers the metaphor of “communion” for understanding the goal of a qualitative interview. In communion, the interview is “largely based on an understanding of friendly feelings and intimacy, to optimize cooperative, mutual disclosure and a creative search for mutual understanding” (164). Post-2016, the new “communion” might be bonding over things that really piss us off and reminding ourselves and each other that the patriarchy is the reason we are mad. Since the election of Donald Trump, I have made a concerted effort to introduce gender as a factor when women share their frustrations with me about being the only competent one at their office, or having work dumped on them, or worrying about their appearance, the tone of their emails, or that they’re coming off as bossy. “Men never worry about that,” I say. I did so in an interview with Hannah, a senior psychology major enrolled in ROTC who identifies as “Republican” and “personally very conservative, but also . . . socially more liberal and economically more conservative.”

Interviewer: Do you consider yourself a feminist?

Hannah: Yes.

Interviewer: Okay. Tell me about that.

Hannah: I think the term feminism is under attack because . . . everyone should be a feminist because the definition is equal rights and it’s not against men in any way. But definitely being in male-dominated organizations such as ROTC, [my feminism has] gotten much stronger since I started [in] that organization because I realize the power dynamic between men and women and the issues that causes for women.

Interviewer: Can you give me an example of that?

Hannah: Yeah. So, just . . . There’s a big issue in the army and ROTC with sexual harassment and assault. I think, especially with the Me Too movement, things like that, men are very wary of their interactions with women. So, male cadres [supervising officers] have different interactions [with female cadets] than they do with the male cadets. So, that kind of gives the male cadets a leg up because they’re able to interact with them in a more personal level without offending them in any way.

Interviewer: Well, that’s crap.

Hannah: Yes.

Interviewer: Oh, okay. So, they’re more cautious around you?

Hannah: Yes.

Interviewer: Interesting. And you can tell this?

Hannah: Yes.

Interviewer: It’s just like the vibe you get, or . . .

Hannah: Right.

Interviewer: Okay.

Hannah: And then, I also call it the bro culture. The army has been called a lot of times a “boys club” because they . . . There’s the more innocent end of making sports references and things like that, to the more extreme end of just straight up favoritism . . . If there’s a really great performing male cadet and female cadet, the male cadet will be ranked higher. If there’s a really poor performing male and female cadet, the male cadet will be ranked higher, and people tend to agree with this trend.

Interviewer: I’m sorry that happened.

In this embodied moment, I was able to validate Hannah’s frustration, and (I hope) offer her an outlet for someone who would listen and believe her. And we share an eye roll together, and that’s a real moment of communion. In Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger, Rebecca Traister writes that one of anger’s most important role’s is as “a mode of connection, a way for women to find each other and realize that their struggles and their frustrations are shared, that they are not alone, not crazy” (230). I worry that as an ethnographer, as a rhetorical listener, and as a woman, I have been conditioned to tamp down my anger in the name of fostering “friendly feelings and intimacy” (Ezzy 164). This is unhealthy for me, but it also disconnects me from other women, like Hannah, who are also mad but conditioned to tamp down their anger as well. Maybe the one thing that unites us as women is that we’re pissed.

Works Cited

  • Ahmed, Sara. The Cultural Politics of Emotion. New York: Routledge, 2004. -return to text
  • Ezzy, Douglas. “Qualitative Interviewing as an Embodied Emotional Performance.” Qualitative Inquiry, vol. 16, no. 3, 2010, pp. 163-70. -return to text
  • Gallagher, Charles A. “White like me? Methods, meaning, and manipulation in the field of white studies.” Racing Research, Researching Race. Methodological Dilemmas in Critical Race Studies, edited by France Winddance Twine and Jonathan W. Warren, New York University Press, 2000, pp. 67–92. -return to text
  • Hogg, Charlotte. “Including Conservative Women’s Rhetorics in an ‘Ethics of Hope and Care’,” Rhetoric Review, vol. 34, no. 4, 2015, pp. 391-408. -return to text
  • Jagger, Alison M. “Feminist Politics and Epistemology.” The Feminist Standpoint Theory Reader: Intellectual and Political Controversies. Sandra Harding, ed. New York, Routledge, 2004. pp. 55-66. -return to text
  • Lundström, Catrin. “White Ethnography: (Un)comfortable Conveniences and Shared Privileges in Field-Work with Swedish Migrant Women.” NORA: Nordic Journal of Women’s Studies, vol. 18, no. 2, 2010, pp. 70-87. -return to text
  • Mattingly, Carol. “Telling Evidence: Rethinking What Counts in Rhetoric,” Rhetoric Society Quarterly, vol. 32, no. 1, 2002, pp. 99-108. -return to text
  • McRae, Elizabeth Gillespie. Mothers of Massive Resistance: White Women and the Politics of White Supremacy. New York, Oxford University Press, 2018. -return to text
  • Micciche, Laura. Doing Emotion: Rhetoric, Writing, Teaching. Portsmouth, Boynton/Cook, 2007. -return to text
  • Ratcliffe, Krista. Rhetorical Listening: Identification, Gender, Whiteness. Carbondale, Southern Illinois University Press, 2005. -return to text 1 -return to text 2
  • Royster, Jacqueline Jones, and Gesa E. Kirsch. Feminist Rhetorical Practices: New Horizons for Rhetoric, Composition, and Literacy Studies. Carbondale, Southern Illinois University Press, 2012. -return to text
  • Trainor, Jennifer Seibel. “The Emotioned Power of Racism: An Ethnographic Portrait of an All-­White High School.” College Composition and Communication, vol. 60, no. 1, 2008, pp. 82­-112.
    -return to text
  • Traister, Rebecca. Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger. New York, Simon & Schuster, 2018. -return to text

 

The Praxis of Listening in Feminist-Relational Research

I sat in a circle of women I had never met before. Strangers to each other, we had gathered to sample a themed writing course about women and aging at a non-profit communal writing center called Women Writing for (a) Change® (WW). We engaged in freewriting about our current and future lives, or simply followed our muse, and then shared passages with the group who were encouraged to take notes. Listening to women’s reflections—for example, how life was supposed to be about them, their dreams, even as they shared life with others—and noting the phrases that resonated within the group created an intellectual and emotional connectivity among us (Blewett and Boehr 24-5). In reading back, women collectively crafted a new text woven from shared experiences. Intrigued by this dynamic relational environment, I decided to dedicate my dissertation research to explore women’s motivations, experiences, and responses to writing in a gendered community (Enabling Spaces 22(1)). Focusing on three women who had suffered traumatic experiences, I knew that the praxis of engaged listening needed to build the framework of my methodology (75).

As a non-native speaker of English who has lived in different countries, I am sensitive to difference and change. I was curious to examine what writing towards change can mean to individuals and how it may connect with rhetorical practices and surroundings at WW. As a participant observer, I engaged in class activities and conducted semi-structured interviews with ten selected participants, eager to learn about their responses to practices and interactions. Specifically, I wished to excavate women’s voices from enforced or chosen silences and make them heard (10-1).

Writing scholars Beth Daniell and Peter Mortensen posit that research as an “accumulation of knowledge about gendered literacy is not aimed at constructing generalizations about women . . . [but] about putting diverse representations of women’s literacy practice on display so that we can begin to understand how literacy rewards women and what it costs them” (emphasis original, 31). To me, “and” was the operative word. To reveal the many aspects of gendered literacy, particularly to recover and amplify women’s voices, we need to listen closely and empathically. In this essay, I reflect on my experience using Carol Gilligan’s(1) voice-centered Listening Guide (LG) as an analytical method to deeply engage in listening to women’s stories and remain alert to contextual elements and my own positionality.

Psychologists Jeanne Marecek, Michelle Fine, and Luise Kidder suggest that qualitative research aims to “unravel mysteries, to be surprised and jostled by what turns up . . . embark[ing] on an intellectual adventure without a map or even a clear destination” (31). As I unraveled the stories of participants in this study, I was moved by the intensity with which women relived their stories and lifted the protective layers from their truths about audience, environment, and change—dimensions that proved important across all participants. I felt empathy and bewilderment, even irritation, during these interviews. Inhabiting the roles of a participant, interviewer, and analyzer taught me to listen with attention, care, and critical self-reflection.

I remember sympathizing with one woman as she talked about loss—her absentee father, her self-value, and ultimately her physical voice as a psychosomatic reaction (Enabling Spaces 143(2)). I recall becoming distracted, even irritated, as another participant kept interrupting and talking over my voice (148). I realized that I physically shifted away from one interviewee and needed to remind myself to keep an open mind while she expressed her conservative political beliefs and controversial view of feminism in what I perceived as an aggressive manner (100). Using Gilligan’s(2) LG as an analytical method helped me to probe into women’s stories and examine the different dimensions of voice in a relational and sociocultural context. Paying attention to these dimensions enriched my stance of empathy and engaged openness as a feminist-relational researcher (Schultz 2003; Ratcliffe 2005) and guided me towards a deeper connectivity and understanding, particularly in difficult and controversial communications.1

A Polyphonic Relational Method

After each class session, I wrote reflective personal vignettes to maintain a record of my observations, emotions, and positionality. I also kept a journal to help me organize my thoughts and keep track of arising questions and concerns. Jotting down random notes and documenting the decisions I made along the way helped me to funnel my emotional reactions to women’s stories and make meaning. After the 2016 presidential election, I wrote about the “shock, disbelief, and a highly emotional atmosphere . . . One woman cried and articulated her shock and grief about the situation . . . . [while another] expressed discomfort with last week’s discussion about the two presidential candidates. She wrote that as a Republican, whose views about candidates and politics differed from most women’s, she had felt lectured and disenfranchised. She had kept her silence. I asked myself whether this particular woman had not felt safe and trusting enough in the circle as a container or safe holding space of their words to speak out against others, to speak a different truth” (Personal Vignette).

In the 1980s, Gilligan’s LG was designed as a feminist relational method to surface the voices of those who had been muffled or silenced by socio-cultural contexts. As my research focused on three women who had survived traumatic experiences, I was particularly interested in exploring what helped them break their silences and embrace change (75-6). Gilligan, et al. emphasize that the LG “is a method of psychological analysis that draws on voice, resonance, and relationships as ports of entry into the human psyche” (“On the Listening” 157). While paying attention to presence, silences, suggestions, and interruptions in interview situations represents good practice in qualitative research (Lucas and Strain 269), tuning into the nuances of participants’ articulations of self in connection to others challenges a researcher to further engage with the whole person in context. This associative approach expands the notion of voice as it analyzes narrative “for understanding the ways research participants make meaning of their experiences” and surroundings (Sorsoli and Tolman 497(1)). Specifically, Gilligan aimed to establish a non-binary, not masculine gendered, approach to examine voice in its complexity so that researchers can explore the interactive dynamic of emotion and reason, self and others, seclusion and context. Analyzing voice as a multilayered and corporeal form of communication allowed me to tune into women’s realities, revealing the interconnection between different voices, and how they may align, contradict, “interrupt or silence one another or weave in and out . . . in counterpoint” in their struggle to make sense of the world (“The Listening Guide” 70(3)). Engaged and mindful listening helped me to follow this meandering path, while its recursive and rigorous process demanded my full attention on a psychological, intellectual, and emotional level.

For the semi-guided interviews, I had prepared an Interview Guide that focused on my overarching research question broken into smaller, open-ended ones “to orient the interviewee and engage . . . her with . . . [my] research interest” and make her feel comfortable (Josselson 41). Taking handwritten notes of reoccurring terms and phrases helped me to stay focused and develop further, “experience-near” questions that evolved from each situation (47).

Analytical Rigor as Feminist Ethos

The LG(4) demands a minimum of four successive readings, called listenings, of each verbatim transcribed interview. Each listening focuses on a different lens to illuminate the dimensions of participants’ inner thoughts, feelings, and reactions to reliving events and the interview situation.2 In the first listening for the plot, I aimed to identify major themes that emerged from the narrative. Leaning on entries in my journal, I reflected on the relational aspects that framed the interviews to remain critically aware of my own emotions and stance. This listening served as a critical apparatus to support a feminist-relational approach and limit the risk of overlaying the interviewee’s voice with mine. Its self-reflective mode and attention to contextual elements prepared further interpretative entry points to make audible the different strands of identified voices. As I was reading, I color coded line by line what I heard as evolving and reoccurring topics. I marked key words and added comments in the margins as to how topics may connect to my research interest and develop into major themes. Transferring these color-coded and loosely grouped dimensions to a different sheet of paper served as a mnemonic visualization, a colorful map to detect places of interest for further analysis.

In the second listening, I focused on distilling participants’ I-voices from the text as a representation of self in context. According to Gilligan, “voice is embodied and resides in language . . . ground[ing] psychological inquiry in physical and cultural space” (“The Listening Guide” 69(5)). In other words, voice provides ways to explore how a person experiences the self in relation to surroundings, documenting “the interplay of inner and outer worlds” in their complexities (69(5)). Extracting each I-phrase (pronoun and verb) and “record[ing] these phrases in the order of their appearances in the passage” created an associative path of the individual psyche (Gilligan and Eddy 78). The distillation of self from other voices also helped to identify competing positions that might warrant further exploration. Re-reading my color-coded lines and following each voice strand at a time, I then marked other pronouns and their respective verbs in the passage. In so doing, I followed the I-voice, or “self voice,” alongside a potentially contemplative or outreaching You-voice and other personal pronouns and documented them in separate lines (Sorsoli and Tolman 502(2)). The resulting I-poems verbally and visually revealed women’s presentations of self in relation to others. For example, as Anne talked about her depression and writing as a lifeline within her isolation, the corresponding I-poem visualized her solitude in one singular column of I-phrases: “I lived alone/I felt/I felt terrible/I had no voice/I had no audience” (lines 529-31(1)). In contrast, when talking about a receptive audience and writing in community, she shifted to present tense, and her words exude joy and anticipation: “I can play/I can create/I can design words/I can feel good” (lines 556-60(1)). Probing deeper into aspects of community, her depiction of self becomes more nuanced, shifting from a reflective self voice, “I have to go back/I have a feeling/. . ./I think” (lines 694-704(1)), to desiring a space in which women can grow together: “We are connected/We live in community/We all are programmed/We need other people” (lines 697-8(1)).

Tuning into the rhythm, moves, and use of pronouns in women’s voices during the third (and fourth) listening for counterpoint, I followed their close dance in relation to my research interest. Innovative to the LG, this step employs “the musical aspect of listening . . . for nuance, for modulations and silences” to complicate findings and validate complexity (“The Listening Guide” 72(6)). Focusing on passages with multilayered strands of identified voices, I re-listened to one at a time for potential tensions and contradictions between them. This phase challenged me the most as I felt drawn into women’s stories. Anne’s emotional intensity still resonated within me, and I wrestled with her words to make meaning, reflecting that “writing is a tool, but a receptive audience is an umbilical cord to the world . . . Despite my temporary disconnection, or rather irritation because of being talked over, I feel deeply connected when she describes her suffering in loneliness, writing to her self, feeling almost schizophrenic, and hoping that God—someone—would listen” (lines 531-2(2); Personal Journal).

In Anne’s story, the first listening had identified three major thematic voices: breaking isolation, writing as a journey towards self-discovery, and change. The second listening had confirmed her goal to escape physical and emotional seclusion and the joyful experience of a new-found receptive audience. Writing was her lifesaver, and she seemed ready to experiment with language and share her stories with a wider audience. However, I sensed a tension in her voice of change as it remained intertwined with the strands of self-discovery, the need for a non-judgmental audience, and issues of gender. The contrapuntal listening revealed that she still needed the safety of a gendered space to continue on her journey and strengthen her confidence to, eventually, reach outward.

Listening and Change

As I worked on the final cross-case analysis, I realized a change in my sensitivity to the words of others and reflected how the LG might be used in other interactions and research. Listening repetitively made me re-think my positionality, question preconceived notions, and double-check associations. In what other situations might learning to listen instill this urgency to remain open and connected to women’s different truths as a manifestation of respect? How else might we use recursive listening to explore the interconnection between women’s self-portrayals, silences, and experiences of self among others? What other possibilities might this method offer for difficult kinds of communication?

I realize that without listening for tension in intersecting voices, I would have missed important insights, such as Anne’s need for the shelter of a women-only space, or another woman’s vulnerability and self-deprecation veiled by what I had initially interpreted as aggressiveness. I encourage others to explore how the praxis of listening offers socio-political agency and propels feminist research to make heard the voices of marginalized populations and reveal opportunities for growth deriving from difference.

End Notes

  1. See Enabling Spaces, pp. 106-60, for the in-depth analyses of three women; see pp. 161-207 for the analysis across participants. -return to text
  2. See Enabling Spaces, pp. 67-105, for methodology. -return to text

Works Cited

  • Anne (pseudonym). Personal Interview. 5 December 2016. -return to text (1) or (2)
  • Blewett, Kelly, and Christiane Boehr. “Women Writing for (a) Change: Nurturing Voices, Enriching Lives.” 3 December 2014. Topics in Composition, U of Cincinnati, Student Paper. -return to text
  • Boehr, Christiane. Enabling Spaces: A Rhetorical Exploration of Women Writing in Community. 2019. University of Cincinnati, PhD dissertation. OhioLINK Electronic Theses & Dissertations Center. http://rave.ohiolink.edu/etdc/view?acc_num=ucin15535133573856. -return to text (1) or (2)
  • —. Personal Journal. 26 May 2017. -return to text
  • —. Personal Vignette. 14 Nov. 2016. -return to text
  • Daniell, Beth, and Peter Mortensen, editors. Women and Literacy: Local and Global Inquiries for a New Century. Taylor and Francis, 2007. -return to text
  • Gilligan, Carol. “The Listening Guide Method of Psychological Inquiry.” Qualitative Psychology, vol. 2, no. 3, 2015, pp. 69-77. doi: 10.1037/qup0000023 -return to text (1), (2), (3), (4), (5), or (6)
  • —, et al. “On the Listening Guide: A Voice-Centered Relational Method.” Qualitative Research in Psychology: Expanding Perspectives in Methodology and Design, edited by Paul M. Camic, Jean E. Rhodes, and Lucy Yardley, American Psychological Association, 2003, pp. 157-72. -return to text
  • —, and Jessica Eddy. “Listening as a Path to Psychological Discovery: An Introduction to the Listening Guide.” Perspectives on Medical Education, vol. 6, no. 2, 2017, pp. 76-81. doi: 10.1007/s40037-017-0335-3 -return to text
  • Josselson, Ruthellen. Interviewing for Qualitative Inquiry. The Guilford Press, 2013. -return to text
  • Lucas, Brad, and Margaret M. Strain. “Keeping the Conversation Going: The Archive Thrives on Interviews and Oral History.” Working in the Archives. Practical Research Methods for Rhetoric and Composition, edited by Alex Ramsey et al., SIUP, 2010, pp. 259-77. -return to text
  • Marecek, Jeanne, Michelle Fine, and Louise Kidder. “Working between Two Worlds.” From Subjects to Subjectivities, edited by Deborah L. Tolman and Mary Brydon Miller, New York UP, 2001, pp. 29-41. -return to text
  • Ratcliffe, Krista. Rhetorical Listening: Identification, Gender, Whiteness. SIUP, 2005. -return to text
  • Schultz, Katherine. Listening. A Framework for Teaching Across Differences. Teachers College Columbia UP, 2003. -return to text
  • Sorsoli, Lynn, and Deborah L. Tolman. “Hearing Voices. Listening for Multiplicity and Movement in Interview Data.” Handbook of Emergent Methods, edited by Sharlene Nagy Hesse-Biber and Patricia Leavy, The Guildford Press, 2008, pp. 495-515. -return to text (1) or (2)

Students’ Written Responses to Holocaust Survivor Nessy Marks

My five friends and I made a commitment to each other in the ghetto… Whoever survives must teach and tell the others. I am the only survivor, and I have kept my promise. (Nessy Marks)

Holocaust survivor Nessy Marks’ letter archive came to us – the students and faculty in a Feminist Methods seminar1 – because the other archives to which it had been offered could not give it a home. When Marks passed away in 2011, numerous museums and archives took her personal papers and artifacts, but one of her most valued possessions, a collection of thank you letters written by the thousands of American students to whom she spoke about the Holocaust during her lifetime, was not one of the items they selected for preservation. Luckily, Dr. Elyce Rae Helford, director of Jewish and Holocaust studies at MTSU, saved this archive and gifted it to our class. As the epigram for this manuscript highlights, Marks committed to tell her story of the Holocaust were she to survive, and she lived out this promise by speaking to school-age children, the people she believed would be most important to reach in order to prevent future violence. Our class worked together as a research team to document and categorize each artifact within the recovered archive, and with the help of Lauren Blade, a Research Assistant for the project, we were able to digitize the collection and add metadata. Our next step is to create a searchable database so that other feminist scholars can access and use the archive for further research.

Nessy Marks’ Life

Nessy Wolpert Marks was born in Pӧszeiten, Lithuania in 1924. In October 1938, the Nazis occupied Pӧszeiten, and Marks, along with her parents and four brothers, were relocated to the Kovno ghetto. In order to survive the relentless cruelty of the Nazi regime, Marks was at first sent into hiding with a local Catholic family in the hopes that she might have a chance for survival. She later accepted transport to a farm in northern Germany where she stayed until liberation in 1945.

In December 1947, Marks relocated to Tennessee to live with family in the United States. Soon after, she met and married her husband and gave birth to their four children. When she died in 2011 at the age of 87, she had travelled the U.S., speaking to students about her experiences during the war. Marks had kept the promise she made to her friends while in the Kovno ghetto: to tell their stories to the world (Tennessee Holocaust Commission). Upon recalling her vow in an interview, she stated:

it devastates me to this day but I do go into schools, I do go into churches and I’ve spoken to tens of thousands of people by now. I have files and files, when I was young and dumb I threw the thank you letters, threw the letters away but I still have on file at least 1500 letters, you know, of students and teachers. (Oral History)

In this interview extract, Marks demonstrates an awareness of the value of these letters, and our research team concurs that these texts hold significant power and insight.

Description of the Archive

In total, the archive is composed of more than 1500 letters and personal artifacts from Marks’ life, such as newspaper clippings, conference programs, and photographs. The letters, which are the focus of our study, were written between 1960-2006 by students ranging in age from 9 to 19 years old. It is likely that some of these children would have had immediate family members who survived the Holocaust, adding another layer of nuance to their reception of Marks’ survivor narrative.

Marks’ documents are preserved in the order and state in which we received them – eight binders with letters encased in plastic sleeves. The letters are organized such that student letters from a particular class are adjacent to each other; however, instructor name and grade level are not always noted. Further, different classes are not organized chronologically within binders. We include sample letters with our findings below and have removed identifying features from these donated letters.

Feminist Approach to the Archive

Sharlene Nagy Hesse-Biber posits that a project can be “considered ‘feminist’ when it is grounded in the set of theoretical traditions that privilege women’s issues, voices, and lived experiences” (3). Marks’ personal archive of student letters represents such a project – one that demonstrates the effect her lived experiences had on those with whom she shared her story of survival. Approaching Marks’ letters with a feminist lens allows us to not only consider the potential knowledge to be gained from undervalued texts (such as handwritten letters) and undervalued rhetors (such as adolescents), but brings forth a marginalized voice whose commitment to telling her story of the Holocaust and warning future generations about the repercussions of unfettered violence was her life’s work.

As feminist scholars have well-demonstrated, “thousands of men’s lives have been recognized and recorded for centuries across cultures, [but] women’s life stories have been documented far less often, even forgotten” (Brooks). Marks was a volunteer educator, wife, and mother, but because these titles go largely unacknowledged as part of the domestic sphere, her work has not received the attention and understanding it deserves. Marks’ story is particularly important because “the problem of integrating victim testimony into the history of Nazism and the Holocaust has emerged as one of the new developments in recent Holocaust historiography” (Betts and Wiese 6). The purpose in recovering this archive, then, is to highlight Marks’ contribution and claim such space as worthy of feminist scholarship and research.

Methodology

Our research team worked together to establish agreed-upon codes for our data analysis. We shared and discussed our findings collectively, recursively honing and revising codes, and subsequently analyzing the trends we observed in individual artifacts. We acknowledge that the context in which we conducted our research – a feminist research methods graduate course – influenced how we interpreted our data, and reflecting on our own subjectivities was focal to our coursework. Practicing such reflexivity of course prompts “researchers to account for their personal biases and examine the effects that these biases may have on the data produced” (Hesse-Biber 3).

Findings

The first letter (Figure 1) that we examined was written by a fourth grader in 1968. The student thanks Marks for her visit and notes how “exiting” (sic) Germany must have been during the Holocaust. In fact, the student notes, without judgment, that after her talk “Some of the fourth graders were playing [Holocaust] on the playground.” Although there was a collective gasp in the room when we read this aloud together, upon further reflection we came to recognize that this reaction – students playing – was the way they were able to make sense of something so horrifying, something that defies sense-making.

More troubling than this student’s admission of “playing Holocaust,” however, is the number of students who seemed detached or disconnected from Marks’ often graphic retelling of her experiences, though we recognize such a reaction, again, as a common response to difficult material. This apparent dissociation demonstrates what psychologists in trauma studies have identified as “compassion fatigue.” In “The Fragility of Empathy After the Holocaust,” Carolyn Dean cites this condition as a common concern in Holocaust education, as people become numb to narratives and images of suffering as a form of self-protective dissociation.

Of course, the accounts represented in these letters are not necessarily “true” representations of student perceptions of the Holocaust. Instead – we suggest just as interestingly – they offer differing written responses across ages and places to a survivor narrative. For instance, some students only refer to Marks’ “experiences” but do not use the word “Holocaust,” and some simply avoid reference of either term.2 Further, we were surprised by the relatively low percentage of students whose letters – in any capacity – mentioned violence, not only because of the centrality of violence in any account of the Holocaust, but especially because Marks’ retellings focused on the atrocities that surrounded her.3

This absence – of direct references to the Holocaust in much of the discourse within the archive – underscores the real threat of discarding these letters: forgetting the violence that occurred under the Nazi regime and opening ourselves up to the possibility of recurrence. Decades after the Holocaust, anti-Semitic hate crimes remain widespread. According to the Anti-Defamation League, “assault, harassment and vandalism against Jews remain at near-historic levels in the U.S.,” and anti-Semitism is rising globally, with over one-billion people expressing anti-Semitic views in a 2014 poll. As our research team worked with this archive, our goal became clear – to keep Marks’ voice alive and make this archive accessible to others to help prevent detachment and avoidance of Holocaust narratives.

Image of a letter from a student to Nessie Marks thanking her for speaking with them about communinism, fascism, and being in the concentration camps.

Figure 1, Letter B3-L4

Within the corpus of student letters written to Marks, two strategies emerged for affiliating with and demonstrating care for Nessy Marks as a survivor. In particular, 1) writers used collective pronouns to affiliate with Marks and construct themselves as patriotic protectors taking on what they saw as American responsibility;4 and 2) letter writers identified ancestry as a strategy for affiliation, accepting Marks’ story either as one that absolves them of guilt or connects them to painful narratives.5

Attention to Pronoun Use: Representations of Patriotism and Empathy

The changing use of pronouns in the letter archive was particularly notable and reflective of what communication scholars Kathleen Haspel and Karen Tracy have identified as ways that authors use pronouns to affiliate or disaffiliate with particular groups or ideas. For instance, in their analysis of the discursive strategies used during a disagreement at a school board meeting, Haspel and Tracy note how the use of “we and they simultaneously express alignment and affiliation with some people and disaffiliation and nonalignment with others” (148).

Similarly, we noted as particularly marked letters expressing students’ patriotism and militarism through the use of inclusive pronouns. One set of letters, dated from 1986, are largely characterized by their expressions of a sense of American duty and responsibility to world security, with “we” rhetoric heavily relied upon. The use of this repeated collective pronoun throughout the corpus, particularly in the late 80s, suggests a common belief among the students that the United States “won” the war and “saved” the Jewish people from the Nazis; this ideology aligns with a renewed sense of patriotism constructed in America in the 1980s (Rajecki et al.).

Although many of the letters utilize “we” to demonstrate care and community, violent expressions of force and/or military use are often written in first person. The desire for violent reactions to Marks’ story are expressed in a singular way through the use of the pronoun “I,” while expressions of guilt and patriotism are usually demonstrated in a collective sense. The following letter excerpt (Figure 2) is a representative example of the students’ use of violent notions of duty or responsibility to save the Jewish people, as in, “When I really think about it, I wish I could have formed an army and killed Hitler.”

Image of a letter to Nessie Marks from a student teeling Nessie that her talk with them was "great," that the student didn't like what happened to the Jews during the holocaust, and that the student believes the US should have stepped in sooner to help save lives during the war.

Figure 2, Letter B4-L6

In further constructions of empathy,6 the frequent use of the pronoun “I” demonstrates affiliation with Marks as a survivor. While we would expect “I” to be used frequently in a personal letter, “I” seemed to function metonymically, such that the child writer stood in for the Jewish people in the context of the thank you letter. This tendency is illustrated in the following excerpt (Figure 3): “I will never forget when you said that children with dark hair were thrown into trucks and suffocated. I realize I am the only person in my family with dark hair, and I could have been mistaken for Jewish, but I’m really Polish.”

Image of a letter to Nessie Marks from a student thanking her for coming to talk to them and sharing the student's realization after that talk that the student would have been the only child of their family killed for having dark hair.

Figure 3, Letter B8-L13

Letters we coded as empathetic are also marked by their use of collective pronouns “us” and “we.” These samples demonstrate a sense of solidarity and a shared need to atone for the atrocities suffered by Jews during the Holocaust. The letters coded as sympathetic overwhelmingly utilize the pronoun “you” as a mechanism for expressing concern while also using Marks’ story as a transferable lesson for a universal audience. These expressions of concern and words of advice are demonstrated in Figure 4: “[I] hope you can sleep tonight” and “You should never come home and say you are starving.”

Image of a letter to Nessie Marks from a student thanking her for telling them about Hitler and the Holocaust, relating the lesson the student learned from the talk, and offering the hope that Mrs. Marks would be able to "sleep tonight."

Figure 4, Letter B8-L7

Ancestry as Connection to Narratives of Guilt and Pain

While pronoun use is one significant strategy to affiliate with Marks, many letters also use heritage as a way to connect to Marks and her experiences. In particular, students of Jewish descent shared expressions of inherited pain and solidarity. One student writes, “A lot of what you [Marks] said has really affected me because many of my distant family either died or did survive the Holocaust. So many things you said also happen[ed] to my family.” This account attempts to establish a direct connection to Marks’ experiences in order to form a common bond with Holocaust victims.

Conversely, in Figure 5, one letter writer claiming to have ties to Germany thanks Marks for not condemning her descendants: “I am of German descent and I really would like to thank you for saying it was not our fault my grandma’s aunt’s boyfriend Adolf Hitler turned against the Jews and other races.” This account expresses a sense of inherited guilt that was demonstrated in several of the letters written by students claiming German heritage, but it simultaneously takes pains to connect the writer to Hitler, a strange tension worthy of further analysis.

An image of a letter from a students to Nessie Marks thanking her for coming and talking with them about the Holocaust, conveying the inspiration the student took from it to learn more about it, noting that the student, being of "of German decent," is thankful that Marks said Hitler and the Holocaust were not the fault of the student's family.

Figure 5, Letter B2-L21

Conclusion

If we do not properly document and preserve historical materials such as Marks’ letters, what stories of Holocaust survivors will stop being told? What lessons will we fail to learn? It is our responsibility as feminist scholars and researchers – the people who strive to recover the voices of the underrepresented – to ensure that the voices of Holocaust survivors such as Marks continue to have a presence in our history, scholarship, and collective memory.

This archive represents a way to keep Marks’ story alive – through the letters written to her from appreciative students, and the personal documents that give us small glimpses into her lived experiences as a Holocaust survivor. We have only begun to discover the rich experiences within this archive. Our goal is that the recovery of Marks’ personal belongings and the digitization of these letters will allow others to find value in this archive and, perhaps most importantly, allow Marks to continue to keep her promise to those five friends she lost in the Kovno ghetto so long ago.

Questions & Considerations for Future Engagement

This study demonstrates the importance of examining non-traditional forms of knowledge (such as underappreciated archival material and works produced by children) critically and seriously in order to broaden the definition of what is considered worthy of academic study, particularly for scholars interested in feminist recovery work. Marks’ archive of letters represents an untapped opportunity for feminists in rhetoric, writing studies, communication, archival studies, Holocaust studies, discourse analysis, and beyond. The following research questions offer only a starting point for further exploration.

  • In what ways does this archive demonstrate the power of storytelling and its ability to keep a community (Holocaust survivors) and a historical event (the Holocaust) alive?
  • What knowledge can be gleaned from examining changes in children’s responses to the Holocaust over time? (Especially in times of war and/or violence)
  • What implications does this archive offer for teaching social justice to adolescents? How can we make sense of their reactions to violence?
  • In what ways does this archive contribute to public memory of the Holocaust in America?
  • What does this archive reveal about the discourse of heroism in American society?
  • How can public engagement with this archive provide a generative opportunity for learners at all stages? (Particularly at a moment when hate speech and crimes are on the rise in our country)

End Notes

  1. Our research team included Elizabeth Williams (first author on this manuscript), Kate Pantelides (faculty member), Katherine Musick, Michelle Joyner, Nailah Herbert, and Helen Wilds. Their contributions are included in this summary of our work in progress. -return to text
  2. Michelle Joyner’s research focused on the element of detachment in the student letters. -return to text
  3. In one sample of letters, for instance, 30% mentioned violence, torture, etc. in broad, general, or vague terms; only 21% mentioned specific acts of violence. -return to text
  4. Helen Wilds and Nailah Herbert focused on this aspect of the archive. -return to text
  5. Katherine Musick focused on this aspect of the archive. -return to text
  6. Nailah Herbert was especially interested in this aspect of the letter in her analysis. -return to text

Works Cited

  • “Anti-Semitism in the US.” Anti-Defamation League, 2020, www.adl.org/what-we-do/anti-semitism/anti-semitism-in-the-us. -return to text
  • Betts, Paul, and Christian Wiese. Years of Persecution, Years of Extermination: Saul Friedlander and the Future of Holocaust Studies. Continuum, 2010. -return to text
  • Brooks, Abigail. “Feminist Standpoint Epistemology: Building Knowledge and Empowerment Through Women’s Lived Experience.” Feminist Research Practice. Edited by Sharlene Nagy Hesse-Biber and Patricia L. Leavy, Sage, 2007, pp. 53-82, doi: 10.4135/9781412984270. -return to text
  • Dean, Carolyn J. “The Fragility of Empathy after the Holocaust.” Cornell UP, 2004. -return to text
  • Haspel, Kathleen, and Karen Tracy. “Marking and Shifting Lines in the Sand.” The Prettier Doll: Rhetoric, Discourse, and Ordinary Democracy, edited by Bruce E. Gronbeck et al., U of Alabama P, 2007, pp. 142-175. -return to text
  • Hesse-Biber, Sharlene Nagy. Feminist Research Practice. Sage, 2014. -return to text 1 or 2
  • Marks, Nessy. Oral history interview with Eric Epstein. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 24 July 1996, www.collections.ushmm.org/search/catalog/irn513419. -return to text
  • “Nessy Marks.” Tennessee Holocaust Commission. 2009, www.tnholocaustsurvivorsarchive.org/people/nessy-marks/. -return to text
  • Rajecki, D. W., et al. “Documentation of Media Reflections of the Patriotic Revival in the United States in the 1980s.” Journal of Social Psychology, vol. 131, no. 3, June 1991, pp. 401–411, doi: 10.1080/00224545.1991.9713866. -return to text

From Resilience to Resistance: Repurposing Faculty Writers’ Survival Strategies

Writing, Like a Road Trip

 

Writing’s like a road trip: trying to get to the next stop

this factory process of keeping things moving

Trying to get to the next stop,

he said up the body count,

It’s more assembly line thinking,

so I’m upping the body count

Trying to get to the next stop

now I want to sit a while before going to the next place

Those months that I didn’t do much

hurry, think of a project

Where I was just sad

I don’t see the end of it.

Good ideas don’t come out of busy days.

This poem, composed in the words of faculty writers, offers a glimpse of the anxiety that results from pressure to produce high stakes academic writing. It captures the resilience of writers, their persistence, their willingness to do what must be done to proceed, to get to the next stop, even when there is no end in sight. In doing so, the poem surfaces embodied, emotional dimensions of faculty members’ lived experience of writing for high stakes publication. I propose that by highlighting the complex relationship between unique and shared experiences, the one and the many, data poems like the one above put pressure on common assumptions about resilience and productivity that fuel success for some faculty more than others. In this article, I use poetic inquiry1 as part of a feminist research methodology(see Appendix A) that probes public-private, mind-body, and intellect-emotion binaries to reveal multiple, complicated truths about building a healthy academic writing life (Faulkner 7).

Unfortunately, efforts to develop a critical, material, multidimensional understanding of faculty writers’ needs and experiences are relatively rare. Whereas emerging scholarship offers a rich sense of the lived experiences of graduate student writers (Madden, Eodice, Edwards, and Lockett, 2020), faculty are a new focus for the field of writing studies (Hedengren), and what scholarship exists does not always take such a holistic, humanistic approach. Geller and Eodice’s groundbreaking collection Working with Faculty Writers is one of the first to “delve into who faculty writers are, and who they might be, and consider the theoretical, philosophical, and pedagogical approaches to faculty writing support” (Geller 9–10). Focusing on what works in particular institutional and programmatic contexts, the collection paves the way for more intense scholarly inquiry in the area (Hedengren 165). Although faculty writers have been the subject of studies in the field of composition and rhetoric (Sonderlund and Wells; Tulley; Wells and Sonderlund) and in other disciplines (Ezer; Sword), research tends to focus on best practices, behaviors, and habits of mind of successful academic writers. As I argue elsewhere (Tarabochia), the approach problematically reinforces dominant success narratives and fails to represent or support diverse “trajectories of becoming” (P. Prior). Without a sense of how writer and human development happen “across the trajectories of a life” (P. Prior) rather than within particular domains, we as writers and as mentors (both institutionally appointed and informal), may inadvertently reinforce misguided assumptions about what it takes to succeed in high stakes academic publishing and actually thwart many faculty writers’ holistic growth and development.

I focus on the construct of resilience because resilience implicitly shapes assumptions about faculty writers’ struggles and successes and impacts faculty members’ writing lives in underacknowledged ways. Although resilience is rarely evoked directly in scholarship on faculty writers, various constructs of resilience undergird efforts to help faculty respond to the challenges of writing for publication and persist in the struggle to earn tenure; these constructs shape faculty writers’ self-perceptions and evaluations of their writing practices and products. Valuing and encouraging resilience may seem like an accepted moral good, but uncritical pursuit of and demand for resilience can be dangerous; thus resilience deserves a closer look in this context.

To theorize resilience, I begin with definitions from ecology, psychiatry, and psychology that understand resilience as the capacity (of a system or individual) to absorb disturbance (Walker and Salt xiii), to bounce back after difficulty (Southwick and Charney 8), to adapt to adversity (Comas-Diaz et al.), to demonstrate “hardiness” and “surviv[e] stress” (Kobasa and Puccetti, and Rutter qtd. in Jordan 29). In this view, resilience is a valuable mechanism for sustaining a person or a system; it is an uncontested good.

However, scholars have problematized the notion of resilience, from educational (Gallagher, Minter and Stenberg; McMahon), race-based (Bachay and Cingel; Griffin), queer (Cover; Meyer), disability (Hutcheon and Lashewicz, “Individuals”), indigenous (Reid), and feminist (Bracke; Flynn, Sotirin and Brady; McMahon) perspectives. For example, resilience is often associated with “individual persistence” (Fulford 231), neglecting “relationality and mutuality as constitutive dynamics of resilience” (Flynn, Sotirin, and Brady, 5). Prioritizing personal traits can obscure systemic forces that demand resilience from some more than others. Resilience can also be problematic when it is indexed to the status quo (Lerner). The goal of resilience is typically to return to “normal” after a challenge or disturbance. However, when “normal” constitutes a state of oppression, the aim of returning to rather than transforming original conditions becomes questionable. As Sarah Bracke points out in her feminist critique, traditional forms of resilience can actually limit the capacity to imagine and pursue transformation because resilience depends on the very dispossession it seeks to overcome (65).

Scholarship on resilience in higher education tends to focus on undergraduates (Gallagher, Minter and Stenberg), while few scholars consider resilience in the context of faculty success (for example see Cora-Bramble and Cora-Bramble et al.). Resilience is not a featured concept in studies of faculty writers per se; the term does not appear in the index of recent publications (Ezer; Geller and Eodice; Sword; Tulley). However, my conversations with participants in a longitudinal research study designed to investigate faculty writers’ lived experiences revealed significant adversity (i.e. rejection, self-doubt, guilt and shame), suggesting that resilience may be a central and potentially problematic construct shaping writers’ self-perceptions of their struggle to publish or perish.

I interrogate resilience from a feminist perspective because I take seriously emotional, material, relational, psychological, embodied aspects of writers’ lives and processes, dimensions that are typically ignored or devalued in institutional contexts designed to objectively celebrate the disembodied intellectual prowess of upper middle class white men. My method of interrogation, poetic inquiry, works as a “feminist embodied analysis” through which I make myself vulnerable, “show[ing] my bodily engagement with participants and research ideas” using poetry to “understand, describe, and query embodied experiences [my own and participants’] in everyday relational life” (Faulkner 22).2  Before offering an extended found poem, I will briefly describe the longitudinal qualitative research study that generated the field texts from which the poem was composed and explain how resilience emerged as a point of investigation.

Capturing Lived Experience of Faculty Writers: A Research Study

In 2016, I began a longitudinal study that involves interviewing faculty writers every spring for up to six years to understand their experiences of their writing lives. My interview approach, broadly rooted in Robert Kegan’s Constructive-Developmental Theory of self-evolution, seeks to shed light on how participants make sense of their experiences and their lives.3 Loosely following the design protocol described by Lahey et al., interviews begin with a self-inventory in which participants jot down memories or experiences from their writing lives related to 10 words—angry, anxious/nervous, success, strong stand/conviction, sad, torn, moved/touched, lost something, change, important—and use their notes to guide the interview. Kegan and colleagues found these words directed interviews to “ripe areas,” leading interviewees to establish “ongoing awareness of themselves” (Lahey et al. 202). Using emotion to prompt self-reflection and experiential meaning-making resonates with the feminist methodology guiding my project. It honors embodied emotion (emotion related to original experiences, memories of which are triggered by words on the cards, and emotions that emerge in the moment as a result of recalling memories of being angry, sad, torn, etc.) in a context (academic writing) that tends to privilege the mind. The inventory allows both me and the participant to “take a break from the ‘outside’ world and to settle into [ourselves]” (Lahey et al. 203), promoting feminist values of relationality and deep listening. The protocol empowers the interviewee; I never see the cards so participants have the privacy to “generate a fuller pool of experiences to select from in the interview” and an opportunity to decide what they are willing to share (Lahey et al. 203). Many faculty writers find the inventory and interview process meaningful for their private thinking, reflection, and growth. Many share how rarely they are invited to reflect on their writing lives and how grateful they are to revisit experiences about which they carry strong, sometimes unprocessed emotion.

The study is ongoing; participants have joined and left the study since it began in 2016 and 25 people are currently active. In this article, I offer a snapshot, analyzing transcripts gathered from 21 participants in spring 2018.4 Participants were recruited from three different institutions, all wanted or needed to write for publication, and most were initially recruited from facilitated faculty writing groups. Most were tenure track or recently tenured in 2018. They come from several field areas and disciplines, though mostly from Social Science and Arts & Humanities. Most self-identified as white women, one woman is Black, one man Iranian, one man mixed race and three people chose not to specify race or ethnicity.5

Over the last several years, I’ve experimented with approaches to preliminary data analysis and generated insights about the relation between graduate student and faculty writer development (Tarabochia & Madden), the role of emotional labor in writers’ developmental trajectories (Madden & Tarabochia), how transformative experiences inform learning transfer for faculty (Tarabochia & Heddy), and how self-authorship works as a lens for understanding and supporting faculty writer development (Tarabochia). I’ve also used exploratory coding strategies rooted in constructivist grounded theory (Charmaz) such as open and focused coding to mine subsets of the data for larger themes or points of interest. My consistent engagement with data, my extended relationship with participants, and my own experiences as a faculty writer inform the subjectivity (researcher and human) from which I offer the artistic representation at the heart of this article. Many issues indicative of the type of adversity that calls for resilience have been consistently present for me as a faculty writer and in the stories participants tell about their writing lives (See Appendix A).

Found poetry: A Feminist Interpretive Approach

Found poetry is an arts-based approach to representing qualitative interview data, what Laurel Richardson (“Writing”) calls a “radically interpretive” “social science art form” (964; Richardson “Nine Poems”; “Poetic”; Butler-Kisber “Whispering Angels”; Qualitative; Janesick). A critical, decolonial methodology, arts-based research (ABR) challenges claims to objective Truth, foregrounding instead “multiple and complicated truths” (Faulkner 7) at the level of “intuition, perception, emotion” and embodiment (McNiff 4; R. Prior x). Relevant for feminist researchers, found poetry can “demasculinize” social research by offering alternative representations of knowledge and dismantling claims to objective analysis, foregrounding the interpretive labor of researchers and readers (Richardson, “Poetic” 879). By “jarring people into seeing and thinking differently” (Leavy, “Method” 24), arts-based practices support activist goals, moving readers to action by offering a more provocative re-creation of experience compared to traditional, linear science-oriented prose. As Richardson (“Poetic”) points out, the “body responds to poetry. It is felt” (879, original emphasis).

The approach is particularly valuable for examining resilience because it engages the complex relationship between the individual and the collective. Resonant with portraiture as a genre of inquiry, found poetry “capture[s] the texture and nuance of human experience” in ways that recognize and celebrate the individual even as it blurs the “boundaries between individual and humankind” (Lawrence-Lightfoot and Davis 5, 21). I use found poetry to represent the relationship between each individual participant in my study and a composite story, emerging through poetry, that intermingles their words; between the “one” collective voice of the poem and the many readers who may find resonance there; between me as poet-researcher and faculty writer with my own lived experiences and each participant in the study sharing stories that speak to me in the data.

I crafted the poems featured in this article intuitively using a non-linear process similar to that of educational researchers Butler-Kisber (“Artful Portrayals”) and Walsh that involved several rounds of selecting, paring down, deleting, rearranging lines, building a “mental kaleidoscope” as words of one participant conjured aspects of other participants’ experiences until the accumulation surfaced and made “more tangible” various dimensions of the subject of investigation, resilience (Butler-Kisber, “Artful Portrayals” 233).6 As I prepared to conduct interviews in 2019, I read transcripts from 2018 and kept a file with sentences and phrases that struck me as I read. Because I was interested in exploring resilience, I paid particular attention to lines that captured adversity or faculty responses to adversity. I whittled down the file to the most poignant or impactful lines, the ones that provoked a bodily reaction in me, and those that chillingly captured the essence of what I’d heard from other participants. Next, I grouped the lines that spoke to each other and chose lines to title those groups. Finally, I arranged the lines within each group into stanzas that addressed different aspects of the topic or communicated a feeling.

In Butler-Kisber’s (“Artful Portrayals”) words, “there is no question that this found poem is my interpretation” of what I heard in participants’ stories based on what “resonated with my—and what I imagined were other [faculty writers’]—experiences” (234, 232).7 Attendees of my session at the 2019 Feminisms & Rhetorics conference performed a collaborative reading of this poem. Their unsolicited comments about how deeply, and in some cases disturbingly, the words and sentiments resonated with them as writers speak to the criteria used to assess the value and utility of poetic inquiry: verisimilitude, narrative truth, and evocation (Leavy, “Introduction”; Fernández-Giménez, Jennings, and Wilmer).8

Adversity and Resilience in Faculty Writing Lives: A Found Poem

End Note 9

1   All sorts of ways of telling a story,
—-Find the rhythm.

2   Get told: Okay, here’s the path, go down the path.
—-Over and over and over
—-Over and over and over again.
—-Such a torture!

3   You have to imagine Sisyphus is happy.

 

Failing Better

4   Anxious. Nervous.
—-Always
—-Always
—-Always
—-Always the question:
—-Will the words come?

5   Writing is what makes the pressure
—-of writing go away.

6   It shouldn’t be that hard, but it is for me.
—-A constant battle:
—-You can do this.
—-You can’t do this.
—-The good and the evil.

7   The demon has quieted.

8   I’m nervous in the chair.
—-Other people can do it, why can’t I?
—-Get stuck in feeling bad–
—-Why are you doing this, you’re such a fake?
—-It’s terrifying to feel that anxious.

—-Just keep my head above water,
—-surrendering to the fact that I’m not okay.

9   I’m more comfortable in the struggle.

 

It’s the Losses that Stick

10   Writing is such an alone thing,
– —in-between kind of purgatory position.
– —You don’t really have a choice, do this or fail.
— –I didn’t do it right,
— –I should have done it better.
— –I disappointed you.
— –I let you down.
— –I, I, I, I, sad, personal stuff.

11    I’m going to fail trying.

12    Waste of my talent,
–  — waste of years and relationships,
–  — letting down my family.
–  — It’d be catastrophic.
—     Don’t know if I can think of anything worse,
— –  besides severe disability or death.

13   Tenure has removed a lot of those shackles.

14    Life? That’s a whole other story.
—  – To live my life and work
—  – but not have work erode that life.
—    –I lost the chance to make that choice.
—  – Do people have to suffer
– – – to live the quality of life they want to lead?
 —  –My books aren’t going to come visit me when I’m old.

 

15    Learning to do life better.

 

I Want Poetry, I Want a Poetics

16   Time to go on this archeological expedition
 —– and find the thing that I want to be.
– — Try to put your round peg into that square hole.
 — –That’s just not how I am.
– — Creative juices don’t flow that way.
– —  Just need to suffer through it.

– – –Everything is fine,
– – –except when it’s not.

17    Just let it be.

18    Other people’s expectations:
– – –Good people are people who work hard.
– – –I don’t want to be that person
– – –checking the boxes.
– – –Am I being prideful?
– – –Am I too invested in praise and recognition?
– – –Get the fuck over yourself.
– – –You’re not special.

19    Y’all can kiss it. I could care less
— – What y’all care about.

20    Work is where I lose my sense of self
–   —not where I get my sense of self.
–   —It was such a clear omission,
–   —like I didn’t even exist.
–   —There’s a thing there that I’m chasing
–   —that I can’t quite get to.

21  I feel in my bones that the work is important.

 

Our Labor is Our Labor

22    Being pulled apart
–   —there just aren’t enough parts of me.
–   —Like the ameba that’s splitting in half,
–   —this physiological connection in my mind
–   —around writing.

23    Start dislodging the association
–  – —between anxiety and writing.

24    Physical and mental torment.
–   —Bargain with yourself,
–   —what you’re willing to accept.
–   —I wake up hot, sweaty.
–   —It’s awful,
—  – like being smashed down
—     but with no way out.

25    It comes down to support.

26    Emotionally exhausted and depressed,
–   —incredible sense of sorrow and guilt,
–   —heartbrokenness for the subject matter.
–   —Couldn’t talk myself out of the way that felt.
–   —Went home and cried,
–   —several times,
–   —by myself.

27    Just walk along with me.

28    So I’m just fucking doing it–
   —-Sewing together my parachute
   —-with the writing.
   —-Like the falcon rising from the dust.

29    How are you gonna start the revolution if
—   –you’re not writing?

Discussion

By revealing multiple truths in a collective voice, the poem honors affective, material experiences that often remain hidden in an academic culture that separates mind/body/emotion and favors linear narratives of success. The poetic representation invites a visceral association with embodied feelings of perpetual torment, anxiety, self-criticism and doubt, loss, longing, exhaustion, and resilience that mark faculty writing lives. It honors the humanity of writers in my study and lays bare my own vulnerability—as a researcher immersed in this project and as a faculty writer myself. As poet, I selected and arranged the words and phrases of others, making sense of their truths through my own lens. Because the poem foregrounds my role in its construction, in discussing its “meaning” I cannot hide behind analysis—“this is what the data show.” Thus in what follows I do not use the poem as evidence for an argument about resilience. Rather, I share insights that emerged for me through a recursive process of self-reflexive listening and composing.

          • Resilience is constructed: Resilience looks, feels, and means differently, has different implications, depending on the context and the type of adversity that demands it.
          • Resilience is nonlinear: Far from a steady march through adversity to success, resilience is more likely to be a messy, recursive mangle of starts, stops, and perpetual returns.
          • Resilience is discursive: Discourses of resilience shape how faculty writers understand their struggles and experiences in ways that enable and constrain their work.

Resilience is Constructed 

By featuring “all sorts of ways of telling the story” (1), the data poem reveals the constructed nature of resilience, surfacing numerous, sometimes paradoxical constructions.  Poetry honors and evokes emotion so readers feel multiple truths around how faculty experience their writing lives. For example, because resilience depends on adversity, attending to multiple descriptions of the lived experience of adversity in the poem shows how certain experiences and consequences of resilience are more meaningful than others. Adversity can be necessary and worth enduring. The struggle to figure out what one wants to say or be—how one works as a writer (16)—is essential for building a healthy writing life, making resilience an empowering self-investment. On the contrary, needless adversity demands resilience that is discriminatory and dehumanizing—writers describe physical and mental torment (24), splitting in half, being ripped apart (22). The demand to advocate for one’s right to exist (20), emotional exhaustion and heartbrokenness, suffering in solitude (26)—often the result of fighting to survive in sexist, racist, classist, ableist, colonialist institutions—are not only without benefit but also demeaning. In such a diminished state, individuals and groups are distracted from and ill equipped to transform dominant ideologies that create and sustain senseless adversity in the first place.

Spotlighting varying truths is important because too often expectations about what resilience looks like are treated as universal when they are actually constructed and sanctioned through dominant ideologies (Hutcheon and Lashewicz, “Individuals”). Because resilience is determined by how well individuals fulfill institutionally valued roles, those who deviate from or resist those roles may be considered less resilient. We cling to “understandings of resilience that reflect the dominant cultural ethos of the rugged individual and that tout resilient individuals as possessing above-average levels of fortitude or character-armor” (Hutcheon and Lashewick, “Theorizing” 1388), and thus identify resilient writers as those who are stoic and independent, who seem “together,” confident, who don’t need help. Processes such as “mourning, distress, suffering, anxiety, vulnerability, or uncertainty” are attributed to “less-than resilient” individuals and groups (Hutcheon and Lashewicz, “Individuals” 44). In this view, lines in the poem such as “it comes down to support” (25) and “just walk along with me” (27) suggest writers are unprepared or as one writer in my study heard from her senior colleagues, in need of inappropriate “handholding.” Admission of extreme anxiety (“I’m nervous in the chair,” “It’s terrifying to feel that anxious” (8)), devastating doubt (“Will the words come?” (4)), and tortuous guilt (“I didn’t do it right/I should have done it better/I disappointed you/I let you down” (10), “Waste of years and relationships,/letting down my family” (12))—might likewise indicate lack of resilience.

However, when these expressions emerge from the collective as in the poem, they become more than unfortunate struggles of a select few and begin to trouble assumptions about what constitutes resilience. What if writers who “focus on stressors and burdens” and don’t always ascribe “positive meaning” are demonstrating resilience (Hutcheon and Lashewicz, “Individuals” 44)? The lines “Just keep my head above water/surrendering to the fact that I’m not okay” (8), for example, might initially suggest floundering, drowning, giving up. However, surrendering could also be an empowering release of denial, a refusal to waste energy treading water in order to appear resilient, the first step to making changes in structures or practices that are not sustainable. The poem demonstrates how faculty “navigate successes and challenges” in ways that are not always “expected, or even imagined, under prevailing definitions of resilience” (Hutcheon and Lashewicz, “Individuals” 42).

Resilience is Nonlinear

Prevailing constructions frame resilience as a linear progression in which individuals weather adversity, emerging worn and scarred but triumphant. However, in the poem literary strategies such as repetition trouble the linearity of resilience by forcing readers to linger with faculty in the grueling reiteration of relentless adversity. Writers don’t always see (let alone reach) the finish line, the last stop; they are lost in the perpetual monotony of the factory, the endless progression of train cars. They endure the torture of “going down the path over and over and over, over and over and over again” (2), eternally chasing a thing they “can’t quite get to” (20). The terrible possibility that the words will never come is “always, always, always” a reality (4) as faculty experience writing on the tenure track as an “in-between kind of purgatory position” (10). Literary techniques create an interpretive representation of faculty writers’ individual and collective experience, revealing this underacknowledged aspect of resilience; few experience it as consistent forward momentum.

Juxtaposed with lines that emphasize the perpetuity of adversity, other lines indicate hope—writers “imagine Sisyphus is happy” (3), that it is possible to quiet the demons (7); they demonstrate earned insight—“writing is what makes the pressure of writing go away” (5), and become “more comfortable in the struggle” (9); they demonstrate dogged determination—“I’m going to fail trying” (11). Importantly these lines are not gathered at the end of the poem as final statements of resilient fortitude in the face of adversity. Rather, they run alongside writers’ experiences of wallowing in the muck and mire, a refrain that responds to but does not resolve the agony expressed in the verses running down the left side of the page. In this way, the poem highlights a recursive relationship between adversity and resilience. Resilience is not necessarily a solution or even a response to adversity, as linear constructions would suggest.  Instead, writers hold these forces simultaneously in tension. The poetic form allows this seeming paradox to emerge as the literary/rhetorical technique of call and response contrasts writers’ experiences of perpetual adversity with sentiments of grit.

Lines that suggest resilience are regularly followed by lines that reiterate ongoing clashes with adversity, resisting the notion of resilience as a happy ending. Writers describe a constant battle of good and evil: “You can do this. You can’t do this” (6). They struggle to the point of exhaustion to keep “head above water” (8), “get stuck in feeling bad” as they ponder why others appear more resilient (8). Writers fail to take an optimistic view or convince themselves to stay positive; they sit with exhaustion and sorrow, heartbroken (26). Writers doubt whether the goal is worth the effort to be resilient in the face of such anguish. They wonder if “people have to suffer/to live the quality of life they want to lead” and question what it is all for: “my books aren’t going to come visit me when I’m old” (14). By circling through adversity and resilience the movement of the poem resists linearity and invites readers to reconsider the relationship between those forces.  It illustrates how faculty writers “navigate, in a multitude of ways, the interface between the positive and the negative aspects of their experiences,” allowing “narratives of unevenness, paradox, and contradiction” to emerge in ways that challenge traditional, linear notions of resilience (Hutcheon and Lashewicz, “Individuals” 57, 56).

Resilience is Discursive

Constructions of resilience shape and are shaped by the discourses surrounding the lives and work of faculty writers. Sometimes discursive constructions of resilience are positive and empowering for faculty. Building a healthy writing life can inspire important identity work as faculty decide who they want to be as scholars and people (18). Often they are able to critically consider how the forces of academic discourse are shaping them for better or for worse. Resilience can come in the form of a reality check: Get the fuck over yourself./You’re not special (18).  Examples like these showcase writers who are able to get outside of and critique discourses that aren’t serving them in order to be resilient in living out their values.

At the same time, rather than empowering faculty writers, discourses of resilience rooted in neoliberal values can problematically shape self-perceptions. Individualistic constructions of resilience are paramount in neoliberal climates wherein faculty writers “are expected to compete and produce” (Stenberg 7). Faculty writers have clearly internalized neoliberal constructions of resilience, such as “good people are people who work hard” (18). The poem is designed to raise questions about faculty writers’ expressions of resilience given the cultural value of resilience reinforced through neoliberal academic discourse. That many verses focus on experiences of adversity, accentuated with flashes of resilience begs the question: Do faculty feel compelled by dominant discourses to find a silver lining in the midst of struggle? Might the prevalence of normative narratives of success coerce them into performing resilience? Do faculty celebrate “learning how to do life better” (15), claim to be “dislodging the association/between anxiety and writing” (23), and admonish themselves to “just let it be” (17) because they’ve been taught to want and expect themselves to be able to? If so, then the need to be and appear resilient, in a traditional sense, may very well be another source of adversity.

In their pursuit of resilience as a “desired good” (Bracke 53), individuals eagerly develop strategies for embracing and maintaining it, even if it means solidifying the conditions that demand resilience. For example, faculty writers find the resilience to endure the tenure track by believing that things will be better post-tenure. In the poem they say tenure has “removed their shackles” (13). They normalize and resign themselves to torment, admonishing they “must believe Sisyphus was happy” (3) and “just need to suffer through it” (16). Rob Cover calls this “resilient hopefulness” wherein the conditions that require resilience are presumed to be “timeless and unchangeable” so that individuals are “only able to find and develop resilience by looking beyond” the adverse circumstances that threaten hopelessness (359, 358). Because “resilience is structurally linked with the threats against which it is supposed to give shelter” allowing adverse conditions in the present is necessary for maintaining resilience, which cannot exist without the “disaster or threat” that demands it (Bracke 59). Resilient hopefulness serves this purpose, thwarting meaningful transformation of oppressive structures and practices that cause inhumane adversity detrimental to individual faculty writers and to the academic enterprise. Faculty feel pressure to show resilience by conforming, submitting to how things are, fitting their “round peg(s) into that square hole” (16).

In a similar vein, the poem highlights faculty writers’ experiences of neoliberal discourse in which “resilience turns away from vulnerability” (Bracke 59), promotes suffering in silence. Faculty writers say writing is “such an alone thing” (10), a “physical and mental torture” (24) they can never admit. They go home and cry alone (26). They “bargain with themselves” (24) about how much they can endure in silence. Writers deeply feel, but cannot show vulnerability. Entrenched in neoliberal discourses of resilience, which are exploited and reinforced through academic discourse and culture, faculty writers are resigned to “suffer through” (16) hardship alone because vulnerability is not an option.

Implications for Faculty Writers, Evaluation, and Support

Our roles, and the power dynamics they imply, shape how we are positioned to use insights about resilience to resist and transform institutional structures that disproportionately determine who succeeds and fails in academia.10 We can be empowered or disempowered as writers. We can inhabit positions of power over faculty writers as institutional gatekeepers, and we can position ourselves to be in power with writers as faculty support professionals, un/official mentors and peer writers participating in faculty writing groups and/or conversations with colleagues about our writing lives. We can also take up “the actionable stance of power to,” a “facilitative power” that “involves standing up and as part of institutions” (Diab et al.). Because “power intersects our lives in and out of [institutions] and is part of how we live, communicate, and relate with self and others” (Diab et al.), power is a useful heuristic for orienting to issues of resilience. Given the transformative goals for this project, power is a vital consideration when it comes to acting on these insights. As Diab et al. put it: “When we see ourselves as powerful, we are better able to expand our perspectives; then we can work with and alongside others toward transforming inequities.”

Faculty Writers: (Em)Power(ing) For

A critical understanding of resilience can be empowering for faculty writers—those of us who write for academic publication, to survive the tenure track, to be attractive on the job market, and/or to contribute to our fields and disciplinary communities. From this perspective seeing ourselves and our experiences in the words of fellow writers reminds us that we are not alone, which is important considering one effect of neoliberalism on academic culture is a focus on individualism. We must appear strong, capable, independent. If we struggle with traditional forms of resilience, we assume we don’t belong, weren’t meant for this work. We look around and see nothing but resilient writers, writers who likely struggle with the very challenges we suffer but who hide or deny their feelings in order to appear resilient. The consequence is often debilitating self-doubt: “It shouldn’t be that hard, but it is for me” (6); “Other people can do it, why can’t I?” (8); “Why are you doing this, you’re such a fake?” (8). When we see those doubts and questions expressed by others, when others’ words resonate so deeply with our lived realities, we realize that the work is difficult for many, even most, and find camaraderie and support through vulnerability.

By honoring multiple truths about what it is like to forge a meaningful writing life, the data poem featured here joins research on collaborative writing and scholarship (Day and Eodice; Eodice; Hixon-Bowles and Paz; Lunsford and Ede “Why Write”; “Collaborative Authorship”; Writing Together), writing groups (Alexander and Shaver; Morris, Rule, and LaVecchia; Shaver, Davis, and Greer), critical mentoring (Glenn; Godbee and Novotny; Ribero and Arellano; Vanhaitsma and Ceraso) and faculty development (facultydiversity.org; Rockquemore and Laszloffy) in challenging neoliberal tendencies toward isolation and individualism and encouraging vulnerability as a vital component of resilience. Moreover, the poem stimulates discussion about which types of adversity are meaningful, worth tackling, and which are needless and dehumanizing. Learning to distinguish among these types of diversity and the resilience they demand positions writers to relax into the adversities we must face, perhaps by seeking out others who can sympathize and empathize and strategize with us as we do. It also empowers us to see patterns in needless adversity, to gather with others to resist and work to transform structures that keep them in place.

Faculty Support: “Power with”

Many of us support faculty writers in official roles through research offices, writing centers, writing across the curriculum programs, and centers for faculty excellence as well as through unofficial roles as mentors, senior colleagues and peers. By learning to differentiate among types of adversity those of us who support faculty writers can cultivate meaningful resilience needed to build sustainable writing lives. We can identify, honor, and support diverse strategies of resilience attuned to particular needs and circumstances. In doing so, we embrace “the relational stance of power with” characterized by “solidarity and affiliation” (Diab et al., original emphasis). We join with others, coalition building toward survival with the understanding that we are “much larger and stronger together than alone” (Diab et al., original emphasis).

Standing in “power with” calls for a “transformative notion of resilience” that recognizes “various forms of rebellion and resistance…as acts of resilience” (McMahon 55). For example, elaborating her theory of subversive resilience Collie Fulford describes blending accommodationist and resistant strategies to simultaneously survive immediate adversity and work toward transforming unsustainable conditions. By way of example, Fulford describes African American women’s historical and contemporary quilting practices in which they responded to frugal times by sewing together available scraps into artful, versatile, if imperfect quilts. A stitch work metaphor from my data poem taps into this artistic form of accommodationist resistance:

So I’m just fucking doing it–
sewing together my parachute
with the writing. (28)

These words inspire us to stay in power with those we intend to support, as we all find ways to do more than survive—to resist in order to transform, or perhaps more pointedly abolish, the systems and structures that limit thriving. Toward that end, faculty support efforts might foster critical engagement with the very concept of resilience (Cover) through explicit conversations with writers about neoliberal cooptation of resilience, and facilitate versatility in resilient practices, particularly resistant ones, by joining writers in asking: Resilient for what purpose? Resilient according to whom (McMahon 49)

Faculty Evaluation: “Power to”

 Many of us also interact with writers in institutionally sanctioned evaluative roles on annual evaluation committees and tenure and promotion committees, as journal reviewers and editors. In these roles, we are positioned to take “the actionable stance of power to,” a facilitative form of power that involves “standing up and as part of institutions,” acting toward transformation (Diab et al., original emphasis). This stance is about redirecting power from institutions with “power over” individuals to people with goal-directed power to change the institutional structures we have fashioned and sustain. For example, when evaluating faculty writers’ labor and accomplishments we can choose to value vulnerability as meaningful resilience rather than weakness. Rather than put a struggling writer on probation after a tough year, we might take a critical look at the adverse conditions demanding resilience and determine how to support the writer and simultaneously address structures creating needless, debilitating adversity through policy change.11 With greater awareness of faculty writers’ experiences of problematic structures, we might perceive and respond to vulnerability differently. If conservative top tier journals in our field won’t accept a writer’s critical scholarship drawing on minoritized theoretical frameworks, we might support the writer’s argument that their preferred venues are rigorous, important, and reaching their intended audience, and help rewrite tenure criteria to accept these venues.

Approaching evaluation of faculty writers from a place of facilitative power might also acknowledge that entrenched notions of resilience can have detrimental consequences for those deemed resilient (Hutcheon and Lashewicz, “Individuals”). Faculty who are perceived to be resilient based on dominant constructions of sanctioned social roles may not have access to the support and resources provided to those who appear less competent, less resilient. It may be assumed that a faculty writer who appears busy and reports good progress with their writing does not need a mentor, for example. The department tenure committee may decide not to pass along information about a funded writing retreat because their colleague doesn’t seem to need help. Normalizing the human experience of adversity faculty writers suffer and emphasizing the nonlinearity of resilience acknowledges that writers may not always be or feel as resilient as they seem and that resilience can come and go; it attests to the need for resources and support structures for seemingly resilient and less resilient faculty writers alike.

Conclusion 

In this article, I’ve used poetic inquiry to cultivate an “understanding of resilience that is not founded in notions of competency, skill, or ability, in ways that devalue and delimit” faculty writers, “an approach to resilience that takes into account fluid, changing, and localized perspectives” (Hutcheon and Lashewicz “Individuals” 57). I suggest that the words of faculty writers from my study, arranged poetically to foreground the isolation of the individual and the power of the collective, promote what Bracke calls a “politics of resisting resilience,” or more specifically, resistance to resilience when it is constructed through “a neoliberal social ontology that revolves around the individual” and ignores “the paralyzing effect that the complexity of our world has on that individual” (72). I hear the voices of these faculty writers, alone and together, calling for critical relational resilience rooted in an awareness of the constructed nature of resilience and how particular constructions are privileged according to context and circumstance.

Drawing on Judith V. Jordan’s work in feminist psychology, critical relational resilience in the context of faculty writing lives entails supporting and validating vulnerability as a rightful, necessary state of human connection that is integral to resilience. Rather than tout self-sufficiency, critical relational resilience depends on and cultivates investment in mutual relationships where individuals both give and receive, need and offer, confident that the roles will be reciprocal over time (Jordan 35). As Jordan points out, an “ethic of mutuality is essential”; when a person or persons “is in a position of ‘power over’ another” mutuality and relational resilience is not possible (35). Thus, as I’ve suggested, parsing out how we are “in relation” with/as faculty writers and reflecting on the role of power in those dynamics (i.e. when are we empowering/ed, in power over, in power with, invoking power to) is crucial for embracing critical relational resilience.

As I hope to have shown, poetic inquiry is a promising way to foster the necessary conditions for this work by honoring vulnerability, inviting relationality, and disrupting the isolation that results from imposter syndrome, self-deprecation and self-doubt. Connection is vital for “it is when we feel most separate from others and from the flow of life that we are at most risk” (Jordan 36). Toward that end, my data poem promotes what Jordan calls “resonance with” by amplifying individual voices through the resounding swell of the choral. Broadening the lonely experience of “self at the center” to an “experience of ‘being with’” (36) has the potential to empower writers and those of us who work with them to resist a culture of blame directed at individuals and begin to dismantle the systems and structures, policies and procedures that hold us all back. These notions of vulnerability, relationality, “being with” and “in relation” align with feminist principles of composing and mentorship. Applying them to the concept of resilience may be a meaningful way to enact those principles as we write (and tell stories about our writing lives), and as we support, evaluate and research faculty writers.

End Notes

  1. In this article, my poetic inquiry manifests in three ways: data poems composed from interview transcripts; found poems using words from Peitho reviewers, published scholarship, and personal correspondence with fellow arts-based researchers; and generated poems crafted from scratch. I feature data poems in the main text to center the words of faculty writers and use endnotes and appendices for the other types of poems, creating a “hall of mirrors” (Cushman 8) that refracts my own critical self-reflections about subjectivity, representation, difference, relationality, methodology, and epistemology among other complexities resonant with my commitments as a feminist researcher. See Appendix A.   -return to text
  2. For a poetic consideration of how vulnerability-as-resilience-strategy is central to my inquiry and an important representational aspect of the work itself, see Appendix B.   -return to text
  3. Whereas a linear, lockstep theory of human development might be antithetical to uncovering diverse trajectories of becoming, I am inspired by researchers who have creatively employed the theory and research process to attend to the role of different social identities within the developmental process (Torres).   -return to text
  4. There is nothing special about this group of participants or this moment in time. As I prepared to conduct interviews in 2019, listening to audio recordings of interviews and reviewing transcripts from 2018, I was studying resilience and was curious what I could learn about faculty writers’ perceptions of and experiences with resilience by listening differently to the data in front of me.   -return to text
  5. See Appendix C for poetic consideration of difference, connection, and distance in making poetic meaning from the words of people who occupy different subject positions from my own.   -return to text
  6. See Appendix D for a Haiku series on method.   -return to text
  7. See Appendix E  for poetic reflection on the role of researcher subjectivity in analyzing and representing qualitative interview data.   -return to text
  8. Participants whose words appear in the poem also had a chance to read and respond to a draft of this article. All who responded were supportive of the methodology. Some were particularly moved by how other writers’ experiences resonated with their own.   -return to text
  9. See Appendix F for a poetic reflection about the process of assembling the data poem.   -return to text
  10. I am grateful to Beth Godbee who introduced me to expanded perspectives on power in her 40-Day Practice: Strengthening Emotional Stamina to Counter White Fragility (https://heart-head-hands.com/product/40-day-practice/), through her work with Rashia Diab and Thomas Ferrel (Diab et al.; Godbee et al.) and through her scholarship on feminist co-mentoring (Godbee and Novotny) and the trauma of graduate education (Godbee).   -return to text
  11. Academic structures are inherently racist, sexist, ableist, homophobic, and colonialist and therefore disproportionately constrain and even traumatize Black faculty as well as non-black faculty of color and faculty from other minoritized groups (Andrews; Croom and Patton; Gutiérrez y Muhs, Niemann, González, and Harris; Hartlep and Ball; marbley et al.; Price and Kerschbaum; Price, Salzer, O’Shea, and Kerschbaum; Stewart).   -return to text

Acknowledgements

I am grateful for the faculty writers who so graciously invest their precious time and energy in my research and our relationships; your words and experiences are the heart of this project. I appreciate the enthusiastic engagement of anonymous Peitho reviewers, whose provocative questions inspired poetry and meaningful revision. Thanks to Lesley Bartlett and Jessica Rivera-Mueller for their patience and encouragement through oh so many drafts of this article, to Julie Ward for “holding” the creative seed of this project with and for me, and to Willow Treviño, whose work writing counter stories that critique the discourse of student success inspired me to pursue the notion of resilience in the context of faculty writers and to experiment with alternative forms of data representation.

Appendices:

Appendix A. Poetic inquiry as part of a feminist research methodology calls me to locate myself—as researcher, faculty writer, poet, and human—within this project. Inspired by Valerie J. Janesick, I offer the following identity poem to establish my orientation toward and investment in doing this research in this way.

I am from straight, cisgender, slim, able-bodied, whiteness,
from educated, English speaking, property owning, middle class citizenship
from married mother, neurotypical, (mostly) mentally stable womanhood.
I am from “follow the rules,” “confess your sins,”
and “hard work pays off.”
Good girl, good student, good choices. 
I am from check the details, put in the time, 
butt in seat, and “do you get up?”
I am from crying
              at my desk, late, bone deep frustration
              on the stairs, baby asleep, what if I can’t finish
              in the kitchen, across the island, no more to give.
Awake, drenched, heaving, pounding 
heart burning. 

-return to text use 1, use 2      -return to End Note

Appendix B. The following series of poems—including a found poem based on feedback from a Peitho reviewer, a blended poem that includes material from Caldera et al.’s article “When Researching the ‘Other’ Intersects with the Self: Women of Color Intimate Research,” and a generated poem—explores how crafting data poems demands researcher vulnerability even as it surfaces the notion of vulnerability as a strategy of resilience for faculty writers.

Resilience thrown into question
product of dominant, neoliberal ideologies
traditional performance, hushing
vulnerability as strategy of resilience
your central argument
if foregrounded and made real
with deep critical engagement
ideas about research and researcher
what and who, how and why
make this work representational itself.
(Peitho Reviewer)
Where am I vulnerable 
on the page behind the scenes 
an “institutional tool”
“identity, membership, positionality”
“influence interpretation”
“at times they were telling my story”
“different names” “another place” “recognizing
myself part of the collective” “complicit
role of subject never leaves
the self when it shifts to role of researcher”
(Author with Caldera et al.)

To write poetry
is to be vulnerable
lay bare self on page.

-return to End Note

Appendix C. The two found poems and generated poem below engage issues of difference, subjectivity, methodology and representation.

How—at a time of such racial pain—
does one hold deep connection and
respect for difference?
Where do you orient, author/researcher?
How do you engage and yet
keep your distance?
(Peitho Reviewer)
“Poetry situates me…
through its very form.”
“I too am the poem.”
“I resymbolize what occurred…
according to my own life and experiences.”
“I cannot do otherwise.”
(Walsh 990)
Respect difference
make myself vulnerable
listen, describe, feel.

-return to End Note

Appendix D: Below is a Haiku series on method inspired by Valerie J. Janesick in response to the welcome urging from a Peitho reviewer to be clearer about my method of composing and my stake in the project.

Read their words, struggle.
Visceral connection
seeing myself there.

To find the story
each word amplifies the next
reverberating.

Heart pounds. Stomach drops. 
cut pieces strike a chord nerve. 
There we are, exposed. 

Objective research,
evidence: “the data shows.”
But the poet? Naked. 

Is it them or me? 
We (e)merge to discover
A shared thread—the light. 

-return to End Note

Appendix E: Below I’ve included a found poem and generated poem complicating the expectation of objectivity, claiming and reflecting on researcher subjectivity in poetic inquiry.

Two core issues: methodology, subjectivity
inseparable. The method—deeply subjective—
a representation of the author’s sense making,
subjective identity, orientation.
Self-reflexive examination?
Critical methodological work?
Who is the one? You? Who is the many?
(Peitho Reviewer)
No question. This poem is mine. 
White, straight, cisgender, able-bodied woman
do not claim the meaning.
Surface insights revealed: “evocative
portrayal,” meaning(s) inseparable
from composing. Getting closer, 
listening, projecting…
beckoning others.
(Author, generated poem, with Butler-Kisber, “Artful Portrayals” 232)

-return to End Note

Appendix F: Below, find two found poems and a generated poem pondering the assembly process of data poems.

Poems feel disconnected
from process that generated them.
Engage the poems.
Self-reflexive examination of
assembly process
what/how/why?
(Peitho Reviewer)
Skeptical of long-winded passages
about my subjectivity
earnest and transparent they may be,
they also re-center me me me
Always power: feminist ethic of care
Making space for their words
(Rosenblatt, personal correspondence)
Replace the poems 
with “me, me, me”? I resist. 
They “luxuriate.” 

-return to End Note

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