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, -return to text
    • Foster-Frau, Silvia. “First Migrant Facility for Children Opens under Biden.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 24 Feb. 2021, -return to text

Review of Lives, Letters, and Quilts: Women and Everyday Rhetorics of Resistance

Sohan, Vanessa Kraemer. Lives, Letters, and Quilts: Women and Everyday Rhetorics of Resistance. University of Alabama Press, 2019. 232 pp.


As I finish this review in late 2020, the electoral college has officially named Joe Biden the President of the United States. When Vanessa Kraemer Sohan was working on her project, Donald Trump had just been elected. The past four years has offered a soap opera complete with outsized characters whose antics are repeated and circulated on the national stage. In this era of hyperbole, a book on “the courage of ordinary Americans” is a welcome reprieve.

Lives, Letters, and Quilts dips into three very different moments in time and place: 1930s Oregon, 1860s Civil War America, Gee’s Bend Alabama in the early 2000s (though the quiltmakers’ art exists from the 1800s), and 1940 in South Dakota (one artifact). Sohan narrows in on specific figures that served as background characters of larger historical moments, but she argues that they employ “everyday rhetorics” when “faced with “a desperate problem” (146). For Sohan, they “[respond] heroically without resorting to heroic measures” (146). The book begins with the Townsendites, a group advocated for “old age pensions” after the Great Depression. Sohan zeroes in onone particular chapter president Pearl S. Burkhalter. Following this discussion is a chapter on the ministry of Eliza P. Gurney and, especially, her correspondence with President Lincoln during and after the Civil War. The Gee Bend Quiltmakers round out her case studies with a more contemporary group that found recognition in the “high art” community during the 20th century, though African American women have been practicing this art since the beginning of slavery.

Sohan takes up an old question about women rhetors: “where were the spaces in which women chose/were permitted to speak?” While the work is grounded in feminist rhetorical theory, Sohan primarily investigates the question via theories focused on textual composition. While both “recontextualization” and “translingualism” have been used in various fields, Sohan is interested in the ways they help us think about literacy, language, and writing practices especially as methods for “adopting more democratic and descriptive approaches to language and modal practices…” (9). While scholars of translingualism/transmodalism, that she most often cites, are concerned about the ways college students creatively adapt “across languages and modes,” Sohan is “interested in how composers outside university contexts, and across history, engage in such work—albeit by using more obviously monolingual resources—and how they adapt to and change the system as a result” (15). To take up this challenge, Sohan explores an Oregonian woman in the 1930s who joined the Townsend Movement, a Quaker minister in the mid-1800s attempting to influence the course of the Civil War, and the Gee’s Bend quilters, African American women in Alabama who have been creating quilts for generations as both a functional material good and a form of resistant art and some Townsendites that also used quilting to do rhetorical work.

Chapter 1: The Pen as Sword: The Townsend Letter-Writing Campaigns and the Case of Pearl Burkhalter

The historical analysis of both the Townsendites and Pearl S. Burkhalter, in particular, is the strongest case study in the book. Sohan first outlines the Townsend Movement started by Francis Everett Townsend’s 1933 letter to a California newspaper arguing for a sales tax to fund a pension for citizens over 60 that becomes “the Townsend Plan” and spawns populist “clubs” across the country. She then focuses on one member, Pearl S. Burkhalter. Sohan’s careful discussion of the Townsend Movement as a counter to FDR’s New Deal and social security system, offers an overview of an important movement in the history of American governmental policy and populism that is particularly noteworthy considering current populist movements. Sohan focuses, not on the founder, but on one particularly enthusiastic female member, who eventually becomes a chapter president in Oregon City, Oregon. Sohan scours the archival treasure left by Burkhalter, a prolific writer, to produce a detailed study of her unique rhetorical choices. For her members, Burkhalter models an aggressive letter writing style, though she, herself, did not follow the polite, conservative models provided by the national leadership. This lively and compelling history offers a glimpse at a woman attempting to simultaneously embrace politically conservative and gendered norms and her desire for power beyond those norms.

Chapter 2: With Pen and Prayer: The Life and Ministry of Eliza P. Gurney

Sohan’s discussion of Eliza P. Gurney, a Quaker minister, who engaged with President Lincoln presents a slight twist on previous scholarship on this woman rhetor. Unlike Burkhalter, some scholarship has been written about Gurney’s letters and work (one of her letters was in Lincoln’s pocket when he was shot). This chapter attempts to reject characterizations of Gurney as simply a “‘pious, loveable old Quaker woman’” (71) and demonstrate the subtle ways Gurney both strategically used Quaker rhetorical practices and parted from them to claim the right to speak beyond prescribed parameters. Sohan argues that Gurney was particularly adept at seizing kairotic moments and finding ways to personally relate to prominent figures like Lincoln as a way to gain influence. Following a strong tradition of scholarship on women rhetors who use religion as an avenue to gain public agency, Sohan’s discussion adds another example to this list.

Chapter 3: “The Needle as the Pen”: Recontextualizing the Discourse of Quilts and Quiltmaking”

In the final short case study, Sohan turns from letter writing to the quilt making of the Gee’s Bend quiltmakers, especially Mensie Lee Pettway and Annie Mae Young. Following a look at the difficulties the Gee’s Bend quilters faced once white audiences began viewing and critiquing their work as “high art,” she concludes with quilts made by members of various Townsend clubs in the 1930’s and highlights their very different motives. To make the jump from text to quilt (pen to needle), Sohan employs Elaine Richardson’s argument that quilts are “African American female literacy practice” (118). It is well documented that quilting is an important material rhetoric, especially for women, and a rhetorical form that has simultaneously served as household staple, art, protest, memory and memorial. Quilt making is, unmistakably, a vital node in feminist rhetorical study. While Sohan’s chapter offers a reminder of the value of the rhetoric of quilting, the transition from the introductory theory is less seamless than in the first two chapters.

There is a long and complex history of scholarship on resistance (variously named activism, civil disobedience, social movements, and protest) that can be found in rhetorical studies, communication studies, political and social science (among other fields). Sohan comes at the study of resistance, specifically “everyday resistance” from composition and writing studies (which, of course, is influenced by these other fields) that brings a pedagogical, teacher/student dynamic to this study. While it made the shift to quilting a bit rocky, it did offer an angle on resistance that highlights the everyday acts of folks existing within organized systems, systems that do not always respect or even acknowledge the different experiences and language practices they bring to the table, much in the same ways students must work within institutions of higher learning. This is a choice that also allows Sohan to focus on writing.

Sohan’s conclusion points readers toward more traditional activist scholarship (like Pezzullo and Striphas, Feigenbaum, and Kynard) and provides an attention to the daily, slow, thoughtful work of resistance. As Sarah Ahmed recently encouraged in Living a Feminist Life, feminism is “homework,” a way of living infused in all of our daily acts (7). The readers of Peitho are all familiar with the recovery work that launched feminist rhetorical studies. This work reimagined the narrative of the history of rhetoric to include prominent, public women in the canon. I see Sohan’s work as part of Recovery 2.0. In this next phase, we see/have seen scholarship on rhetoric from “the kitchen, parlor, and nursery; the garden; the church; the body” as Joy Ritchie and Kate Ronald acknowledged in 2001 in Available Means (xvii). As Sohan asserts, not everyone can or wants to be a traditional, public hero. We owe the election of Joe Biden to the women and men, and let’s be honest, mostly Black women, who did the everyday work to cajole, humor, force, argue folks to registration tables, to the polls. The rhetors we choose to study and teach begin to create a canon cementing ideas about who makes change and how. What might it look like to focus on artifacts from a small town PTA that made a significant policy change rather than the Department of Education? What methods can we use to assess the strategies of quiet leaders who don’t make the headlines but spent 30 years shifting policies and ideas about race and gender and class one human at a time: ethnography, film? What does it mean for our careers to study folks who made change, but changes we mourn or disagree with? I look forward to more scholarship on these everyday creative efforts.

Works Cited

  1. Ahmed, Sarah. Living a Feminist Life. Duke University Press, 2017.
  2. Ritchie, Joy and Kate Ronald. Available Means: An Anthology of Women’s Rhetoric(s). University of Pittsburgh Press, 2001.

Review of Women’s Professional Lives in Rhetoric and Composition: Choice, Chance, and Serendipity

Flynn, Elizabeth A. and Tiffany Bourelle, eds. Women’s Professional Lives in Rhetoric and Composition: Choice, Chance, and Serendipity. The Ohio State University Press, 2018. 286 pp.

The three words that subtitle the collection of essays in Women’s Professional Lives in Rhetoric and Composition: Choice, Chance, and Serendipity (Flynn and Bourelle, eds.) actually describe the origin of this very book review. As a forty-eight-year-old first year Ph.D. grad student, my professors advised me to write a few book reviews to beef up my CV that lists the lone literary analysis I wrote twenty-three years ago.1 Choosing this book as my very first book review turned out to be a serendipitous one since I am beginning a new journey and I am looking for connection, inspiration, and place (space) in my professional career. In this collection of fifteen thematically linked narratives grounded by an illuminating preface and informative introduction, I travelled the journeys these professional women took/are taking as rhetors, teachers, activists, creators, and renegades and fortunately found myself in these stories. Flynn and Bourelle’s collection of essays could be a kind of an introductory primer for new scholars of rhetoric and composition who, like me, can relate to the personal and surprising beginnings and transcendental movements in the various paths of life. While reading these narratives, I recognized and related to the fears, the risks, the choices, the mentors, and the euphoric moments when everything just clicks: the explosive kairotic stillnesses in time that motivate us to keep going. Like all of these women, I have made choices that have given me great fulfillment, yet I still want more: more writing, more collaboration, more experience, more research, more learning, more change, more chances to make choices, and more moments of serendipity.

“Feminist Rhetorical Resilience”

Editors Elizabeth A. Flynn and Tiffany Bourelle are two forces of nature who have created, collaborated, resisted and changed the field of rhetoric and composition. Notably, Flynn co-authored with Patricia Sotirin and Ann Brady Feminist Rhetorical Resilience, the text that inspired this new essay collection, and Bourelle has “designed and currently runs eComp, a fully-online program that utilizes a multimodal pedagogy, helping distance education students acquire twenty first century literacies” (245).

As chance would have it, I am in the middle of a transcendental unit with my accelerated English III and AP Lang students that includes the reading of Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes were Watching God. The chances, choices, and serendipitous moments in Janie Starks’ journey of self-discovery align with those narratives in Women’s Professional Lives. Hurston writes, “Now, Women forget all the things they don’t want to remember and remember everything they don’t want to forget. The dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly. So the beginning of this was a woman” (1). Each woman in this collection of narratives recalls the expectations and challenges as times in which their core selves battled for individuality and as their dreams changed into their truths. And given choices, chances and serendipity, these women “act[ed] accordingly.”

In their introduction to the text, editors Flynn and Bourelle remind the reader of the center argument from Feminist Rhetorical Resilience: “feminist conception of resilience is best seen not as fundamentally psychological but as rhetorical, relational, and contextual” (Introduction). Incorporating the “metaphors feminist rhetoricians have used recently to describe the present-day and historical situation of marginalized groups,” Flynn, Sotirin, and Brady claim “like borderlands, streams, silence, listening, geographies, advocacy, motion, and walking and talking, resilience resonates with concerns about feminist agency and rhetorical action in the face of pernicious social and material forces” (“Introduction”). Women’s Professional Lives in Rhetoric and Composition develops this concept as the authors explore metis and fifteen journeywomen act in the “intersection of agency and accidental sagacity” (5). These travelers have been “unusually resilient,” have “exhibited considerable agency, especially in taking risks and have made decisions in serendipitous ways and at kairotic moments” (15). Like Janie Starks in Their Eyes Were Watching God, the women in these essays chronicle transcendental movements of the individual rhetor/scholar/teacher and her intimate relationships to place and others as she journeys to within and for herself. 

“Metaphors [and] Feminist Rhetoricians”

A central image of a pear tree for the metaphor of creation weaves through Hurston’s novel as the protagonist Janie searches for her own voice. Hurston writes, “Janie saw her life like a great tree in leaf with the things suffered, things enjoyed, things done and undone. Dawn and doom was in the branches” (8). Words and images are kin that center themselves in the study and practice of rhetoric and composition. Writers Malea Powell, Shirley Rose, Libby Falk Jones, and Suellyn Duffey contribute moving essays to Women’s Professional Lives in Composition and Rhetoric that also incorporate powerful metaphors of creation to frame their stories. In “Word by Word, Bead by Bead: Making a Scholarly Life” Malea Powell begins with “this story is a making, a tracing of relations, a beadwork of choices, of words, stitched around and through an accumulation of stories, anchored with poetry, shot through with chance” (124). As she instructs us in the making of her art, she “construct[s] a beadwork story-sculpture for how [she] became the scholar” she is (128). In her assertive tone she advises the reader to not be “afraid of what happens between asking and listening. Don’t be afraid to take a chance, to listen, to practice, to tell (136). Similarly creative, Shirley Rose‘s “What I Learned about Teaching, Administration, and Scholarship from Singing with the Scottsdale Chorus” reflects upon lessons both learned and remembered through becoming a member of the competitive Chorus. Through her creation of song and the development of her voice as it enhances the voices of others, Rose transcends the boundaries between student and teacher, follower and leader, seeker and finder. Poet Libby Falk Jones presents her essay woven with stanzas of poetry, “words and image” (74) that offer a “continuous and a discontinuous” narrative “speak[ing] to the new identity” she creates (84). She provides two poems in her essay that lay bare the emotions and snapshots of intersectionality in her life and she “defines [her]self as poet and photographer. In yet another artistic expression, Suellynn Duffey embraces “kinesthetic elegance” and claims that “we, as women in rhetoric and composition, move with a different choreography through dances that show diverse ways in which one can ‘make it’” (105). As a student of dance, “physical realms…. A sort of bodily experience in the mind” is both a “metaphorical abstraction” and “an embodied reality” of her life (89). Narrative is a form of art and metaphors, analogies, and connections are strong ways to speak to audience. Art both shapes and reflects life providing both aspiration and validation. These feminist rhetoricians and Hurston’s Janie, and writers Powell, Rose, Jones, and Duffey see incorporate these artistic expressions that begin as seeds but develop into branches, expand, and flourish. 

“Exhibiting Considerable Agency”

In Their Eyes Were Watching God, Janie’s life was managed first by Nanny, then by her husbands Logan Killicks and Joe Starks and the town of Eatonville, and finally, by the racial inequality of pre-civil rights era America. Similarly, each essayist in Flynn and Bourelle’s collection describes expectations from families, from societies, and from circumstances that curse? bless? her to follow paths that required choices and action. The women exhibited considerable agency in battling the barriers they faced personally and professionally. Lisa Ede’s “desire” to collaborate with Andrea Lunsford was “challenged” by university departments as “shocking—even dangerous” (22). Lynn Z. Bloom’s marriage “defied [her] parent’s expectations” and her choice to have children were “defiant rebuttals to the stand advice for 60’s women, which equated maternity with professional suicide” (61). Jacqueline Rhodes was a “transient student, physically speaking, living in [her] own poverty in order to escape her families.” Rhodes continues: “those multiple paths, too, served as queer ways…queer time…was ‘unscripted’…by any conventions of straight temporality. It was disorderly and strange, the ‘constantly diminishing future’ indeed hovering like a storm cloud” (145). Irene Papoulis exposes her anxiety and struggles with shame in her career in the academic world as her essay “explore[s] how the social realities of the field of composition fueled her status anxiety” (204). Natasha N. Jones was “aware of and, almost immediately confronted with the stereotypes about black, single mothers and the challenges that [she] would face because of the gendered and racialized perceptions that are entrenched in our society” (222). Iklim Goksel’s emigration from Turkey and her study of ethnography to “give voice to women’s non-Western forms of linguistic and cultural rhetorical choices” employ the term “kismet” that “does not represent a ready-made world but rather entails a remaking that suggests inquiry, capability, resilience, choice, chance and serendipity” (192). Linda Adler-Kassner‘s “threshold concepts of writing studies” and her incorporation of Timmermans’s definition of “troublesome knowledge” are “central for growth and contribute to a sort of resilience through which growth can occur” (110). These women exercise resilience in the face of their obstacles in that they do not resign, but again, “act accordingly.” In Hurston’s novel, Janie’s resilience to have the faith to act on her dream is called upon when she meets Tea Cake after years of living a silent life. Tea Cake acts as mentor to hear Janie speak, telling her “Have de nerve tuh say whut you mean” (Hurston 109). Like Janie, Flynn and Bourelle also acknowledge the mentors who influenced them to take agency of their voices. Other mentors and influence came for Papoulis with Peter Elbow, and Susan Miller guided Duffey, Rhodes, and Ede. Every essayist regards influential texts that mentored her in her career, such as Jack Halberstam’s In a Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives for Rhodes, and “Technologies of Serendipity” by Paul Fyfe for Bourelle. Families, high school teachers, spouses, and groups of other women act as mentors supporting these women as they acknowledge the journey to discover self does not have to be a lonely one. After starts and stops and other branches in the road, these women, like Janie, ultimately find the power of their individual voice.

“…Like Borderlands, Streams, Silence, Listening, Geographies…”

Malea Powell writes “as human beings, we are all intimately connected to the land… you live in a geography, a particular space writing on a place, a body of land. …our lives happen on the land, in places practiced into spaces of discovery, of rhetoricity…” (136). The collection of essays does not name a higher power or mention religion, but the reverence for serendipity is clear, and often, inspiration is taken from nature and place. Bloom calls her life a “garden of serendipities” (59) and Bourelle looks to the “aspen trees that line the Rio Grande beginning to turn yellow and orange” (173) before beginning her recollections. Flynn cultivates gardens on her home farm and both Anne Ruggles Gere and Duffey describe hiking in the mountains. Bloom “listens to the lingua franca flutes, guitars, and the throbbing drums carried high on the western wind” (70). Many of the writers feel a connection to their universities and students and augment the culture of these places. In their retellings, the writers urge the reader to recognize those moments in order to be open to taking the chances provided. Serendipity can happen in times of great joy or despair. In Their Eyes Were Watching God, Janie and the others “seemed to be staring at the dark, but their eyes were questioning God” (160). After the devastation from the hurricane and events after that irreparably change Janie’s life, Janie returns home with a ‘package of garden seed that Tea Cake had bought to plant” (191). The writers in this collection also began with the stuff of possibility, often faced events that irreparably changed their lives, but still they drew upon their resilience and embarked on journeys to nourish their “packet of seeds.” In their personal lives they created families, in their professional lives they also created “democratic classrooms,” and writing groups, such as Gere’s Puget Sound Writing, and Beth L. Hewett’s OWI and GSOLE. Like Hurston’s pear tree that gives and receives, these women create and re-create themselves often in and around a constellation of others. These women teach, encourage, direct, research, engage, and challenge their audiences with their application of individual voice and purpose.

“Rhetorical, Relational, and Contextual”

The intention of the book is to provide guidance both professionally and personally since, as many of the essays describe, the two areas of life are inextricably entwined. I referred to it as an introductory primer for rhetoric and composition, but it is also transcendental primer for someone like me. Like Janie, I have a dream that has become my truth and prompted me to “act accordingly.” Like Lisa Ede’s and Iklim Goksel’s transition between academic disciplines, I am an English teacher transitioning from American Literature into a new space of rhetoric and composition. The narratives in this collection remind me of my resilience and validate my choices. My story is not without metaphor, agency, and space. I have navigated the waters of public high school education in Mississippi with the serendipitous fortune of teaching at a school where I have a voice. Encouraged by the narratives of these women, I can bravely blend my literary past with the new horizon presented in the discipline of rhetoric and composition. From these women, I am equipped with a reading list to expand my knowledge and bolster my teaching style such as “Border Crossings: Intersection of Rhetoric and Feminism” (Ede, Glenn, Lunsford), or A Writer Teaches Writing (Murray). As a reader/student, I learned new terms of this field such as “ethnography,” “queer theory,” andanti-modernist feminism.” I can hear myself in the singing in the constellation of these women’s voices here, in my own space, in my own classroom. Like Janie and these feminist rhetoricians, I search for more chances and hope to change rhetorically, relationally, and contextually. Women’s Professional Lives paints the journeys and the ultimate, profound kairiotic moments where “old thoughts [come] in handy now, but new words would have to be made and said to fit them” (Hurston 32). I choose to live and love this journey since, like them and Janie, I am not “finished thinking and feeling” but will “pull in [my] horizon like a great fish net” (Hurston 192). Illustrating the “feminist perspective of resilience” that is “rhetorical, relational, and contextual,” Women’s Professional Lives in Rhetoric and Composition breathes with the lives of choices and chance. It offers the reader—regardless of the path she is now onthe power to recognize her own resilience and the faith in the agency of serendipity.


  1. Keane-Temple, Rebecca. “The Sounds of Sanctuary: Horace Benbow’s Consciousness.” The Mississippi Quarterly, vol. 50, no. 3, Special Issue: William Faulkner, 1997, pp. 445-450.

Works Cited

  1. Flynn, Elizabeth, Patricia Sotirin, and Ann Brady, Eds. “Introduction.” Feminist Rhetorical Resilience. Utah State University Press, 2012. 
  2. Halberstam, J. Jack. In a Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives. New York UP, 2005.
  3. Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. Harper Perennial, 2006.


Review of Rhetorical Feminism and This Thing Called Hope

Glenn, Cheryl. Rhetorical Feminism and This Thing Called Hope. Southern Illinois UP, 2018. 296 pages.

I began work on this review of Cheryl Glenn’s Rhetorical Feminism and This Thing Called Hope in the summer of 2020 feeling distinctly devoid of hope. Outside of the academy, people were dying—from illness, from state-sanctioned violence. They still are. I felt cynical: What was I doing studying rhetoric? Why did it matter at a time like this? I had a hard time answering these questions while isolated during quarantine. I was suffering from the misconception that the subjects we treat as academic inquiries are somehow separate from the activist commitments that drive us. Rhetorical Feminism and This Thing Called Hope points out that these divisions are artificial by providing necessary insight into how the field of feminist rhetoric emerged and, more importantly, how it can be used right now to advocate for social justice projects.

Cheryl Glenn leverages her experience with research, teaching, and administrative work to give her readers a look into what it means to live a feminist life as a rhetorical scholar. Her concept of rhetorical feminism serves as the connective tissue for this book. In her introduction, she identifies rhetorical feminism instead as “a theoretical stance—that is responsive to the ideology that is feminism and to the key strategy that is feminist rhetoric” and is “[a]nchored in hope,” a critical touchstone for the book—and for those of us living through crisis (4). She differentiates rhetorical feminism from feminist rhetoric, which she instead defines as “a set of long established practices that advocates a political position of rights and responsibilities that certainly includes the equality of women and Others” (3). While these two terms may initially seem interchangeable, they are symbiotic; rhetorical feminism is the principle that guides the use of feminist rhetoric that creates material change. Glenn reminds readers that rhetoric ought to “do something,” and she shows how feminist rhetoric can carry out rhetorical feminism’s vision of the hope for a more equitable future that recognizes the value of all voices, especially the ones that have been most marginalized in the past (4, emphasis in orig.). This reminder is what makes the text stand out amongst other works in the field. Glenn’s articulation of rhetorical feminism offers us a cogent way of making the discipline of rhetoric more inclusive and is a crucial read for anyone wondering what rhetoric should do in our everyday practices. In the spirit of rhetorical feminism, this book is not argumentative. Instead, Glenn asks us to listen as she presents her decades of experience and shows readers how rhetorical feminism should exist in all facets of academia. As such, Rhetorical Feminism and This Thing Called Hope is an essential read for anyone new to the field and an important reminder to veteran scholars. Glenn’s book reviews the work we have done as feminist rhetorical scholars and points out the work we must continue to do to enact our commitments to inclusivity and justice.

Chapter one, “Activism,” reveals how rhetorical feminism has guided activists historically. Glenn begins her analysis with the U.S. suffrage movement and ends with Hilary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. Highlighting exemplars, or “Sister Rhetors,” who used feminist rhetoric in service of their activism, Glenn calls attention to rhetorical feminism’s long-standing advocacy in pursuit of the Aristotelian concept of eudaimonia, “the greatest good for all human beings” (5). She analyzes the speeches of Black and white suffragists, such as Maria W. Stewart, Angelina Grimké, Lucretia Mott, and Sojourner Truth, to show how they disidentified with hegemonic prescriptions of womanhood to argue for their enfranchisement. While this chapter touches on the racial schisms in the suffrage movement, further exploration of the political fissures that historically dissolved the alliance between African American suffragists and white women may be useful for clarifying current challenges around how rhetorical feminists can make differences a point of understanding, not contention. Nevertheless, by looking to the present moment at the end of this chapter, Glenn reminds us that it is imperative to build on activist legacies to secure real democratic equality in the U.S. With the November election looming and with the ongoing uprisings in pursuit of racial justice, this reminder of how rhetoric can serve activist goals feels especially urgent.

The second chapter, “Identities,” focuses on rhetorical feminism’s grounding in experience and, consequently, the obstacles to and possibilities for coalition-building across difference. The underlying question of “Identities” is not just who speaks but who they speak for and who is listened to. Glenn highlights the role of agency and audience as they relate to identity in different rhetorical strategies for coalition-building, She demonstrates the important challenges in actualizing these theories with historical examples of how feminists disidentify with each other, most notably Audre Lorde’s public critique of Mary Daly. Glenn points out that white feminists must prioritize “the rhetorical feminist precepts of silence and listening to Others” and acknowledge the limits of their experience without erasing different identities (42). Only with this mutual communication can rhetorical feminists form coalition around what they have in common while accepting the gravity of their experiential differences and “come together in their advocacy of human rights and social justice” (46). This is an especially timely reminder to white feminist rhetoricians, myself included, who must prioritize being effective allies to our BIPOC peers. Glenn’s acknowledgment of the epistemic potential of identity grounds the rest of the book’s exploration of rhetorical feminism as she repeatedly returns to the role that identity plays in determining the efficacy of one’s rhetorical actions. This insight urges rhetorical scholars to remain attentive to how the experience that underlies all rhetorical action is always informed by an embodied sense of identity. This principle can act as guiding force for our field, both professionally and in our activism.

Chapters three and four, “Theories” and “Methods and Methodologies,” focus on the disciplinary development of rhetorical feminism. “Theories” begins with the suggestion that “mainstream rhetorical theories remain mostly untouched by feminism,” leading Glenn to point out the main “conceptual actions” of rhetorical feminism in a loose taxonomy (50; 51). These conceptual actions include disidentification with hegemony, transformation of traditionally masculinist rhetorical tactics like argument and objectivity, reimagined uses of rhetorical appeals, and new methods of delivery. Glenn captures the breadth of these feminist rhetorical theories by drawing from a wide range of feminist scholars (Gloria Anzaldúa, bell hooks, Trinh T. Minh-ha, and Krista Ratcliffe to name just a few), highlighting the enormity of the work already done in this area. These theories each emphasize speaking from experience, emotion, silence, listening, and dialogue as core components of feminist rhetorical styles. This chapter’s identification of these theoretical movements can help us create a more expansive understanding of what rhetoric is and what it can do. “Methods and Methodologies” explores how rhetorical feminists carry these theories out in their work. This chapter focuses mostly on historical inquiry, drawing on Glenn’s background in feminist rhetorical history. She highlights Jacqueline Jones Royster’s and Gesa Kirsch’s ideas of critical imagination, strategic contemplation, social circulation, and globalization as the key practices that guide historical recovery while also pointing to the need for feminist historiography that questions accepted histories and reimagines the rhetorical tradition. Glenn also emphasizes the ethical imperative to listen to others involved in qualitative research, namely ethnography and interviews. Taken together, these chapters instruct researchers on how feminist precepts already are, and should continue to be, present in all facets of rhetorical scholarship.

In the second half of the book, Glenn switches from her examination of rhetorical feminism’s foundations to explore its guiding presence in other academic actions. In her meditations on rhetorical feminism’s place in our teaching, mentoring, and administrative work, Glenn reveals how we can use our rhetorical orientations to change the institutions we are a part of, a critical lesson for our current moment. Chapter five, “Teaching,” begins with a bleak, but honest, review of the state of education in the U.S. Perhaps because of this grim account of dwindling funding, program cuts, and the erasure of tenure, Glenn insists, “teaching is hope embodied. It is a forward-looking endeavor, one that has the power to change lives—our own, our students’” (125). Glenn suggests that rhetorical feminist teachers should acknowledge their own positionality, respect students’ experiences, and help students investigate patriarchy and other compounding injustices in the world. Equipped with this background, students are prepared “to develop rhetorical agency” and change the status quo, prompting us to see how our work matters and how our political commitments can guide our professional actions (148). Similarly, Glenn’s sixth chapter, “Mentoring,” calls attention to this essential component of academia and asks readers to practice alternatives to traditional, master-apprentice models of mentoring. She highlights how rhetorical feminist mentoring is non-hierarchical, mutual, and networked. It relies on real, supportive relationships built on honesty and shared trust. Glenn also points out that such mentoring is the way rhetorical feminists give each other hope and make space for each other in what has traditionally been a privileged and exclusionary white, male space. Chapter seven, “(Writing Program) Administration,” offers Glenn’s own experience securing new hiring lines and guiding curricular changes while directing the Program in Writing and Rhetoric at Pennsylvania State University as an example for how rhetorical feminism can make real, material changes in higher education. She balances the “feminization” of composition that leads female scholars to languish in an overworked, undervalued position and the “demands of a masculinist academy” with the possibility that WPAs can leverage their rhetorical savvy and expertise for more resources and inclusive education (176; 179). The basis of this work is collaboration, communication using silence and listening, and “mutual understanding” (186).

The final chapter, “This Thing Called Hope,” resists arriving at a neat conclusion, which is one of its greatest strengths. Glenn spends much of this conclusion ruminating on the consequences of the Trump presidency. She asks readers to wonder with her about what hope might look like in this political moment. She points to disciplinary successes of rhetorical feminism but suggests that this work is not done. There are more possibilities for inclusive scholarship, intersectional coalitions, and better teaching and mentorship. That potential, she implies, is “this thing called hope” that we must all work towards together (212). While this book is a valuable read for anyone already invested in the overlap between feminism and rhetorical studies—indeed, for any feminist pursuing rhetorical studies and hoping to work in academia, as “Mentoring” aptly shows—it is also the summation of decades of work in rhetorical feminism, making it a worthwhile read for the field at large that may be less aware of these histories and ongoing work. Additionally, any student who is new to rhetorical studies can benefit from this thorough synthesis of the pitfalls and successes of our rhetorical feminist forerunners. When the constant motions of research, teaching, and service wears us down, Glenn’s book reminds us why we do this work. As such, it is an incredible resource for those of us who seek to use our rhetorical repertoires to make changes in the world, whether this is in the classroom, in our day-to-day interactions, or in our marches. 

In the two years since the publication of Rhetorical Feminism and This Thing Called Hope, the future has become increasingly uncertain. Now, more than ever, hope is necessary. Glenn’s book urges us all to practice our rhetorical feminism: to listen, for example, when we hear people urge that Black Lives Matter, to be allies and amplify those voices, and to use all of the means available to us to make change in our world. Why study rhetoric? What can rhetoric do? It can help us enact ethical change if we use it well. Rhetorical Feminism and This Thing Called Hope encourages to shed our naivety about the past and the present and to build on the work of other rhetorical feminists to create a more just future. It dares us to hope.

Review of Queering Romantic Engagement in the Postal Age: A Rhetorical Education

VanHaitsma, Pamela. Queering Romantic Engagement in the Postal Age: A Rhetorical Education. U of South Carolina P, 2019. 162 pages.

We read Pamela VanHaitsma’s Queering Romantic Engagement in the Postal Age: A Rhetorical Education as two feminists, a student and a teacher, both queer women embarking on queer archival research projects. We studied VanHaitsma’s book in order to develop our own methods for queer archival research. VanHaitsma addresses many of the questions that we grapple with in our own work: How can we engage in archival research of queer lives when queerness has been systematically silenced? How can we interpret queerness in the past without projecting our contemporary standards? What interpretive practices can researchers adopt to attune to queer rhetorics in the archives? To answer these inquiries, VanHaitsma draws upon previous feminist and queer methodologies and, through her own research, demonstrates how to apply them.

VanHaitsma’s Queering Romantic Engagement in the Postal Age: A Rhetorical Education demonstrates that queer romantic letter writing builds upon heteronormative standards in ways that resist binaries between public and private, erotic and civic, to queer traditional genre expectations. VanHaitsma invites readers to consider queer romantic letters as rich sites of rhetorical education and civic participation. Further, she offers readers a methodology for queer archival research: “Methodologically queering binary distinctions between public and private life, my archival research turns historiographic attention to romantic engagement while exploring its civic implications within instruction and practice” (21). Her work of “methodologically queering binary distinctions” has a long precedent in both queer rhetorics and feminist research methods, upon which VanHaitsma builds her methodology.

Queering Romantic Engagement expands upon previous work in queer rhetorics and contributes to an emerging conversation on queer archival methodologies. Serving as an important grounding for queer rhetorics, Jean Bessette’s queer rhetoric in situ pairs queer theory and rhetorical analysis to effectively analyze queer rhetorical practices across historical contexts. In her article, Bessette defines queer rhetorics in historical and cultural contexts that identify both the dominant norms and what it means to queer those norms. Bessette’s approach to queer rhetoric has been important for queer scholars who need to define queer within historical contexts. Further, Bessette’s book, Retroactivism in the Lesbian Archives, is important for understanding the constructed, curated nature of archives and for theorizing lesbian identity through archival materials.

One of the most important contributions to queer archival research can be found in KJ Rawson’s archival theories and archival work on the Digital Transgender Archive. Rawson identifies the rhetorical and political significance of archival infrastructure, metadata, and access. This is important because Rawson identifies how heteronormative logic erases queer experiences and at the same time reimagines and rebuilds archives to make queer lives and experiences accessible to scholars. Of course, VanHaitsma’s own previous work has already outlined a queer methodology that includes gossip, genre analysis, and storytelling. From this work, she demonstrates her deep commitment to methodologies that resist stable definition and encourage imaginative interpretation. Released in the same year as Queering Romantic Engagement, Ames Hawking’s These Are Love(d) Letters similarly offers a queer archival methodology that breaks distinctions between personal and public, past and present, text and author. In addition, Hawkings performs the queer genre-bending that VanHaitsma identifies a feature of queer rhetorics.

In this review, we first offer these key terms that are central to VanHaitsma’s queer archival methodology:

  • Queer Failure: By failing at heteronormative instructions and genres, writers make visible how literacy practices discipline hetero norms and how writers can recreate and invent new queer rhetorics. (pg. 45-48)
  • Queer Practices: Actions, relations, and practices themselves are defined as queer, which allows an archival researcher to identify queer rhetorics without imposing an identity category that a person did not chose for themselves. (pg. 10-14)
  • Queer in Context: Each genre, situation, and archive is placed in historical context, first outlining the hetero standard in order to feature queer failures and queer inventions.
  • Queer Intersectionality: Queer rhetorics are defined in relation to intersections of oppression that include race, class, and gender. (pg. 61-63)


How does [instruction in language arts] enable nonnormative, or queer, rhetorical practices and romantic relations? (9)

As detailed among the key terms listed above, VanHaitsma’s preface and introduction emphasize the book’s interest in queer practices rather than identities. By studying more than forty 19th-century letter writing manuals, VanHaitsma considers how such sites of romantic epistolary education established the norms from which some writers queerly departed. As she notes, the queer writers she studies employed “rhetorical practices that were unconventional in their transgressions of generic boundaries while pursuing nonnormative romantic relations” (13). Additionally, she identifies queer writers as learners whose “romantic communication [is] a form of rhetoric, one with intimate as well as social dimensions” (15). VanHaitsma describes her own methodological practices as queer, noting her work’s insistence that the personal and romantic cannot be considered totally separate from the field of rhetoric’s emphasis on civic engagement as the primary purpose of rhetorical education. By turning to romantic engagement as a locus of rhetorical education, she “[queers] binary distinctions between public and private life” (21).

VanHaitsma stresses that queer archival methods must always work against both archival and historical erasure—take, for example, the tendency for historians to assume that erotic and romantic letter writing among same-sex couples was primarily a form of affectionate friendship. VanHaitsma names this erasure and dedicates her archival research to recovering the erotic and romantic.

Chapter 1: Norming and Failing

How might we critically imagine still other possibilities for pedagogical, rhetorical, and queer failures? (47)

VanHaitsma’s first methodological move is to identify a normative frame against which she later contrasts the queer rhetorical practices of her historical subjects. Chapter One, “‘The Language of the heart’: Genre Instruction in Heteronormative Relations,” defines the norms of heteronormative romantic epistolary engagement. By analyzing manuals that taught 19th-century readers how to write letters for social and romantic purposes, VanHaitsma determines that these norms include heartfelt yet crafted expression, gendered address, restraint, and an explicit purpose of letter-writing towards marriage. The chapter follows Jean Bessette in placing queer rhetoric in situ, crucially emphasizing context and convention. By defining heteronormative conventions, VanHaitsma is able to then identify queer rhetorics specifically within this context and thereby avoid any overreach that may frame queerness as a stable or objective term.

VanHaitsma then identifies moments of queer rhetorical practice even within the letter-writing handbooks. She asks, “How might we critically imagine still other possibilities for pedagogical, rhetorical, and queer failures within complete letter writers and across nineteenth-century manual culture?” (47) and “when desires and relations are queer within the context of contemporaneous conventions, how do people fail ‘exceptionally well’ by learning to compose nonnormative relations from the models, genres, and practices available to them?” (102). These questions guide her queer archival methodology in this chapter. In order to identify queer rhetorics within otherwise heteronormative letter-writing handbooks, VanHaitsma models methods of queer archival research by pairing critical imagination (Royster) and queer failure (Halbastram; Wait). She takes note of “hints,” suggestions, slippages, ellipses, and openings within the archives that could have been adopted for queer romantic engagement. VanHaitsma asks readers to “imagine this learner as a woman in a same-sex, cross-class relationship,” to think outside the literal text and towards what could have been (40). Later, she reads between the lines of model “skeleton” letters and speculates how writers could have reinvented this writing instruction towards queer ends.

Chapter 2: Rhetorical and Romantic

[H]ow we might complicate interpretations of romantic letters through greater attention to the ways they are evidence of rhetorical instruction and practice as much as they are of romantic feelings and relations[?] (72)

Turning towards archival examples that defy and queer the hetero norms espoused by letter-writing manuals, VanHaitsma’s second chapter focuses on the romantic epistolary exchange between “two freeborn African American women, Addie Brown and Rebecca Primus” (49). The romantic undercurrent of Brown and Primus’ correspondence was not their only departure from the norms established by the manuals. The women engaged in queer practices, addressing one another with terms that denoted friendship, familial relations, and romantic affection. They also broke from the “straight time” practice of caution and moderation advocated by letter writing handbooks. Instead, their correspondence was urgent and intense and not oriented toward marriage. Perhaps most importantly, the women’s romantic epistolary rhetoric strayed, topically, from that which was acceptable in heteronormative romantic letters of the time—Brown’s letters to Primus were at times erotic, even describing flirtations with and attractions to other women, as well as political, with “information and commentary about racial politics” existing within and alongside expressions of “more conventional romantic longing” (61-62).

Central to VanHaitsma’s approach is her deliberate attention to “‘everyday’ people” (49), and, specifically, Black women, whose rhetorical contributions have historically been under-researched and erased. VanHaitsma quotes scholar Farah Jasmine Griffin in order to emphasize that Brown and Primus’ correspondence addressed both the personal and the civic and, crucially, was concerned with racial uplift: “Brown and Primus were ‘women who loved each other romantically’ but ‘who were no less committed (in fact, were more committed than most) to the struggle for black freedom and progress’ (7)” (51). Moreover, she keeps the fact that Brown and Primus’ relationship was one that crossed class lines at the forefront, and she pays particular attention to Brown’s exclusion from formal education, highlighting the ways in which Brown was self-educated.

Chapter 3: Queering Genres

How might we read such texts within the context of not only genre-specific instruction but also networks of other related genres? (98)

In the following chapter, VanHaitsma turns her attention to a college-educated white male writer, who would have been a normative audience of the letter-writing manuals, but who nevertheless also engaged in nonnormative, queer rhetorical practices. Chapter Three studies the commonplace book-turned-diary of Albert Dodd, a document VanHaitsma considers “both multigene and epistolary: as taking the form of multiple genres other than the letter, yet functioning according to an epistolary logic of address to and exchange with readers” (75). This use of the diary was genre-queer, she argues, not only because of its switch from an academic genre into a personal genre, but because it functioned as “a site of rhetorical invention” (90) where Dodd developed and practiced romantic epistolary address to both men and women. The diary also demonstrates that Dodd drew upon his classical rhetorical education to inform his civic and romantic writing. In the diary, he introduces homoerotic ideas and writing from the classical era, concepts that Dodd used to understand and explore his own sexuality through self-rhetorical writing practices.

VanHaitsma’s methodological attention to genre allows her to counter popular interpretations that deny any possibility of homosexual desire within Dodd’s only other extant writings, three familial letters from later in his life. VanHaitsma argues that previous scholars fail to take into account the clear differences in genre between the personal diary and the familial letter and their corresponding audiences. While she does not assign a sexual identity to Dodd, her interpretation of the genre differences opens possibilities of queer romantic and erotic practices in his post-college years—which is to say, the fact that Dodd does not mention any romantic attachments in his letters to family may indicate more about the letters’ audience than it does the realities of his romantic or sexual life. Accordingly, VanHaitsma calls for increased attention to genre on the part of scholars working with epistolary rhetoric, asking, “How might we read such texts within the context of not only genre-specific instruction but also networks of other related genres?” (98).

Concluding Towards Failure

 When desires and relations are queer within the context of contemporaneous conventions, how do people fail “exceptionally well” by learning to compose nonnormative relations from the models, genres, and practices available to them? (102)

VanHaitsma concludes with the chapter that most explicitly addresses her methodological commitments to queer archival research. Again, she posits questions that can guide future researchers, including, “When desires and relations are queer within the context of contemporaneous conventions, how do people fail ‘exceptionally well’ by learning to compose nonnormative relations from the models, genres, and practices available to them?” (102). With this question, VanHaitsma connects imagination and failure through the act of invention. She describes Brown, Primus, and Dodd as “learners who failed by the heteronormative standards within their given historical contexts and, in so doing, revealed the failures of heteronormative rhetorical education” (100). By extension, she suggests, queer failure also makes visible the failures of heteronormative archives and histories and creates space for novelty, surprise, and creativity. In this way, queer failure is also queer invention.

She ends by centering queer failure within queer methodologies. The goal is never to master queer theory, to apply it perfectly and perform it the same each time. Rather, she invites us to fail well and fail in interesting ways. And with each beautiful failure, she encourages us to be inventively queer.

To that end, this book could most immediately be included in graduate courses on queer theory and queer rhetorics. More broadly, any course that teaches or integrates archival research methods would benefit by including Queering Romantic Engagement in the Postal Age in its curriculum. We believe that all scholars of rhetoric can benefit from VanHaitsma’s queer archival methods. She invites scholars to think capaciously and creatively about archival research and the interpretation of affect within archival materials. Importantly, her approach to queering archival methods can open up new lines of questioning, highlight new relationships, and enliven the research of any scholar whose research subject has been systematically erased from archival history.

Moving Forward | Queer Movement: The Next Steps

Our dear readers, we invite you to take up Queering Romantic Engagement in the Postal Age as a model of queer archival research. Flirt with the texts. Look for the intimate and public touching and the erotic and political aligning. Remember that genres are ours for the taking, breaking, and remaking. We hope you fail queerly and with joy.  


Amelia and Trish

Works Cited

  • Bessette, Jean. “Queer rhetoric in situ.” Rhetoric Review, vol. 35, no. 2, 2016, pp. 148-164.
  • Bessette, Jean. Retroactivism in the Lesbian Archives: Composing Pasts and Futures. SIU Press, 2018.
  • Halberstam, Jack. The Queer Art of Failure. Duke UP, 2011.
  • Hawkins, Ames. These are Love(d) Letters. Wayne State UP, 2019.
  • Morris, Charles E., and K. J. Rawson. “Queer archives/archival queers.” Theorizing histories of rhetoric. Southern Illinois UP, 2013. pp. 74-89.
  • Rawson, K. J. “Rhetorical History 2.0: Toward a Digital Transgender Archive.” Enculturation, vol. 16., no. 9, 2013.
  • Rawson, K. J. “The Rhetorical Power of Archival Description: Classifying Images of Gender Transgression.” Rhetoric Society Quarterly, vol. 48, no. 4, 2018, pp. 327-351.
  • Royster, Jacqueline Jones. Traces of a Stream: Literacy and Social Change among African American Women. U of Pittsburgh P, 2000.
  • VanHaitsma, Pamela. “Queering the Language of the Heart: Romantic letters, genre instruction, and rhetorical practice.” Rhetoric Society Quarterly, vol. 44, no. 1, 2014, pp. 6-24.
  • VanHaitsma, Pamela. “Gossip as rhetorical methodology for queer and feminist historiography.” Rhetoric Review, vol.  35, no. 2, 2016, pp. 135-147.
  • VanHaitsma, Pamela. “Stories of Straightening Up: Reading Femmes in the Archives of Romantic Friendship.” QED: A Journal in GLBTQ Worldmaking, vol. 6, no. 3, 2019, pp. 1-24.
  • VanHaitsma, Pamela. “Digital LGBTQ Archives as Sites of Public Memory and Pedagogy.” Rhetoric and Public Affairs, vol. 22, no. 2, 2019 pp. 253-280.

Review of Women at Work: Rhetorics of Gender and Labor

Gold, David and Jessica Enoch. Women at Work: Rhetorics of Gender and Labor. U of Pittsburgh P, 2019. 293 pages.

In a 2015 issue of Peitho, Sarah Hallenbeck and Michelle Smith challenged feminist rhetoricians to take on studies that see the gendering of work—workplaces, tasks, arrangements—as productive areas of inquiry. Jessica Enoch and David Gold’s 2019 edited collection Women at Work: Rhetorics of Gender and Labor looks at work as “a historically situated, rhetorically constructed, materially contingent concept” (Hallenbeck and Smith 201). Across fifteen chapters, a diverse cast of women living in nineteenth- and twentieth-century America create and react to challenges and opportunities within their working lives. Contributors describe the rhetorical strategies women used, faced or engaged, and build on previous chapters in a way that develops urgency across contexts. Unlike some edited collections, this work is perhaps most effective when read in order, as each setting and theory enriches the last, putting these women’s lives in conversation with one another across time, space, and intent.

Every chapter illustrates the powerful arena of “work” as a place for examining the rhetorical lives of women. Work-related rhetorics—from reframing business failure to challenging the leadership of educators—are the methodological self-corrective analyses feminist scholars seek (3-5). Female bodies engaged in labor introduce more spaces for women’s rights and rhetoric to be examined both historically and contemporarily. How were women challenging (or not) traditional gender roles or expectations? How are domestic spaces defined, and how are women complicating the relationship between “domestic space” and labor? What are entrepreneurs, labor activists, domestic laborers, inventors, seamstresses, factory workers, educators, and athletes doing rhetorically to challenge and complicate the “work” spaces they inhabit, despite expectations for female beauty and good-naturedness in spaces previously privileged to men? Stepping beyond political citizenship as the primary lens for female rhetorical voice, the contributors to this collection prove the fruitfulness of these questions. As the stories included illustrate, political and civic work hardly defines the whole of women’s participation in public spaces. Women at Work operates in tandem with Jessica Enoch’s other 2019 single-authored Domestic Occupations: Spatial Rhetorics and Women’s Work in shared examination of the complex and changing relationship of women to domestic spaces in the last two centuries. While Work focuses on spaces beyond the domestic, we will see that they are unavoidably interconnected—especially for women of color. Both books are an impetus for more scholarship; we can see the myriad questions not yet asked of women’s presence in work. Women At Work contains valuable conversations for both seasoned feminist rhetors and those newer to the field or beginning their own research foci. Its editors and contributors challenge us to further the important scholarship they have advanced.

Complicating the Woman at Work

As my review of the collection’s chapters will show, a victory of Women at Work is that it further complicates the work and character of each woman featured in its pages, presenting the messy, imperfect, and sometimes far from progressive figure we imagine. Michelle Smith’s chapter examines the rhetoric of the Office of War Information’s actual recruitment posters, which did not include the “We Can Do It!” poster that made “Rosie the Riveter” famous (and which is properly contextualized in scholarship by Kimble and Olson). Smith examines nine posters produced between 1942 and 1945 promoting women in “war work” as temporary, heteronormative, and composed of predominantly white, middle-class women “whose conventional femininity remained intact” (187). Smith engages visual rhetoric to study the nine posters and recruitment messaging, contextualizing WWII labor beyond the skewed feminist empowerment interpretation frequently referenced in public memory. Her conclusions are a useful starting point for more work in visual rhetoric related to wartime work and depictions of women in recruitment advertising over time.

Risa Applegarth’s chapter “Bodies of Praise,” uses epideictic theory to examine how women’s embodiment in professional spaces may affirm or confront the values held by the community—both the professional community and larger society. By studying Independent Woman, a periodical published by the National Federation of Business and Professional Women’s Club, Applegarth uncovers how women in the 1920s and ‘30s workforce approached beauty and appearance in the workplace. Written and read by women, the publication was a source for navigating the way their bodies ought to be presented in work settings, with specific directive to limit the “disruptive” potential of female bodies in traditionally male spaces (135). Her scholarship reinforces a key theme of this collection—subtle but conscious disruption, of work environments and who may gain entry.

In a similar exploration of work environments and who may gain entry, Lisa J. Shaver’s scholarship on athlete Babe Didrikson Zaharia’s public image and branding provides further evidence of female entry without disruption of the normative, gendered professional environment. Using sports as the professional space, Shaver’s example makes clear that when women enter a space they have not previously been permitted, it is not on equal footing. “Women must not only give evidence that they are supremely qualified, they must also affirm that they are still appropriately feminine” (181). It is not enough to be “qualified,” women must be better, far above the expectations set for male peers. In the gender-biased athletic world Zaharia inhabited, her appearance and persona had to be strategically presented so as not to appear too threatening to femininity norms.

Rhetorics of Success and Failure

Nineteenth century metallurgist and inventor Carrie Everson faced similar discrimination and biases, as Sarah Hallenbeck illustrates. Hallenbeck’s chapter is a reticent examination of the rhetoric of failure, and how we might complicate the concept by challenging the “exceptional woman” narrative (71). Everson faced several barriers that rendered her mining invention and business a “failure,” but uncovering the factors influencing that “failure” challenges the usefulness of such a label at all. It is valuable to engage what it means to succeed and fail, now and historically for women in work, and to expose the complexities therein. In Everson’s case, many contributing factors were larger than her individual efforts, and these are often not considered in a businessperson’s larger narrative. Studying women in athletics, metallurgy, and invention advances and complicates our understanding of where and how women engage in work-place rhetoric.

The chapters are arranged chronologically and echo the recurring themes across the time covered—roughly 1830 to 1950. The collection’s first and last chapters bookend in theme despite occurring furthest from one another in time: both examine rhetorical strategies used by women workers in mill and factory labor reform. Amy J. Wan’s chapter takes a critical look at the well-studied mill workers of Lowell, Massachusetts, specifically the unstudied rhetorical strategies used by the Lowell Female Labor Reform Association. Rather than further the popular depictions of the good mill girl, women workers co-opted language used publicly to praise them, and characteristics like piety and republican womanhood, to argue for labor reform (22-8). Wan argues that labor rhetoric utilized by LFLRA functioned with conscious and careful acknowledgement of expectations for white women workers and engaged with public fear of the effect industrialization might have on femininity. To bridge the contradictions facing women in an industrializing United States, they took advantage of the rhetoric of “women as the moral conscience of society” to demonstrate that factory owners were obligated to reform on behalf of their employees (29).

Carly S. Woods and Kristen Lucas’s chapter on labor activism in a 1949 strike at the H.W. Gossard factory, more than a century later, echoes those strategies. Gossard Girls, as they called themselves, fought for the labor reform men had earned in the region several years before. Their efforts, often critiqued in local newspapers, engaged playful representations of gender that maintained their image as “good girls,” nonthreatening to normative expectations (235). They did this by picketing in gender-challenging outfits, using effigies and signs intended as visual rhetorical representations that gave them permission for subtle subversive activism. These chapters couch the themes of this collection and show us that across history women have had to be cunning regarding how they represent their bodies and justify their presence in work environments.

Female worker as labor reformer is an unsurprising theme, advanced in Marybeth Poder’s chapter on the Women’s Trade Union League (WTUL). The WTUL created space for women to voice concerns over the struggles they faced at work regarding gender and class, a space where they could support one another before turning to men. Examining “mundane” texts like meeting minutes, annual bulletins, and officer’s reports, Poder shows the discursive strategies used to give working women a platform for their voice and leadership in labor reform (103). Similar to the Gossard Girls’ efforts, labor reform for women was not considered of equal importance to men’s. Poder’s work advances the rhetorical study of organizational archival materials we might have overlooked as inconsequential.

Recognizing Black Labor

Coretta M. Pittman’s chapter explores resistance rhetoric of a different fashion, that of musician and writer Alberta Hunter. Hunter’s columns for three Black-owned newspapers continued in the long presence of Black women writing about the role of work in their lives, and the intersection of race, work, and fair pay. Hunter relied on her status in the music industry to voice discriminations, engage racial politics, and advocate on behalf of Black workers (145). Using resistance rhetoric in her writing, she called out hypocrisy and racist violations by white venue owners discriminating against their Black employees while profiting on Black entertainment labor (147). Hunter’s work is reminiscent of modern social justice conversations working for recognition of Black labor and deepens how we engage labor activism in history.

Domestic spaces and frameworks form another key theme across this collection, working strongest in the chapters interrogating the lives of Black female laborers. Patty Wilde recognizes the affective, emotional labor Elizabeth Keckley carried out for years as an enslaved woman and later for Mary Todd Lincoln, both in the White House and after (32). Wilde does a critical reading of Keckley’s memoir with an eye on the unrecognized emotional labor documented therein, to highlight the lack of reciprocity or acknowledgement of domestic work as such.

Jennifer Keohane’s chapter on labor activist Claudia Jones and her published writing continues this important work in domestic rhetorics (209-23). Claudia Jones published to her audience, the U.S. Communist Party of the 1950s, to argue that though white women had argued for the critique of capitalism to include gender, the white perspective completely ignored the experience of black women and their invisible labor in white homes. Jones is a rhetorical powerhouse, navigating a complex political environment using militant tone and downplaying her positionality to great effect. Consciously using Cold War language, Jones shows how domestic spaces are different things to white women than they are to black women in the United States. Jones also calls up the affective labor black women perform off the clock, facing Jim Crow discrimination and state-sanctioned racial violence that made their homes far from domestic “haven.” Jones demonstrates through strong, intentional language that at least if oppressive to women, the white family home was understood as a sanctuary; the same could not be said of the black home (218). Scholars of feminist rhetoric should recognize Jones as a “proto-intersectional” theorist, for her framing of the “triple oppression” (race, class, gender) that combined to reinforce disestablishment of the black female domestic laborer. Keohane’s effective chapter on Jones’s rhetorical labor is a model for future work on other proto-intersectional women, especially those in minority and marginalized groups. Combined, the scholarship in this book on Keckley, Hunter, and Jones is foundational for our continued work in the archives, critically historicizing and recognizing women of color in spaces of work, and the frequently unrecognized labor in and beyond those spaces.

Work Place and Women in it

When entering work dominated by men, women engaged deliberately with the “domestic” as female domain for their rhetorical strategies to succeed. Jane Greer interrogates the management of Donnelly Garment Company, specifically owner Nell Donnelly Reed’s use of domestic discourses to construct and condone her presence in the garment industry, and for the homelike spaces she curated for employees. She used generous compensation packages, homey and clean factory spaces, and family-like messaging to ensure her employees remained loyal and delay efforts to unionize. Casting her relationship with her employees in this way “reinforced her own femininity as a caretaker and avoided association with the stereotypically masculine factory owners concerned only with the bottom line” (164). When outside efforts to unionize became overpowering, her rhetorical domesticity reached its limit, and in fact this is where Greer’s scholarship carves new spaces for inquiry. Reed is a complicated entrepreneur who used domestic rhetoric to her advantage only until it no longer worked. It is useful for feminist scholars to question the powers and limitations of domestic rhetorics. As Greer and other contributors show, it is not useful to approach historical analysis using momentary snapshots of women in only narrow or ideal light, in work or any other context.

Nancy Myer’s examination of rhetorical invention in Louisa May Alcott’s Work: A Story of Experience introduces what Myers calls the “New True Woman,” someone seeking not only domestic satisfaction but financial and vocational self-fulfillment at the end of the nineteenth century (53). An analysis of this Alcott text looks at which virtues were downplayed, and which were redirected, to refashion the ideal of a woman in modern work. Myers argues this text illustrated to a large readership female agency while meeting the implicit social criteria of her era.

Pamela VanHaitsma, in a chapter that also examines female expression and gender roles within work, engages scholarship she started in Queering Romantic Engagement in the Postal Age: A Rhetorical Education (2019), examines the professional relationship of educators Irene Kirke Leache and Anna Cogswell Wood. VanHaistsma considers how the erotic may function rhetorically and pedagogically towards power and information in Leache and Wood’s relationship as educators. Defining erotic as a “passionate emotional and intellectual sharing,” VanHaistma argues that Leache and Wood were aware of eroticized same-sex love within Western cultural history and used this knowledge for as model for their “opulent friendship” as they coined it, and their belletristic pedagogical work (57). Her examination advances important questions in the history of relationships that presented threats to heteronormativity, and the caution we must use in applying contemporary modes of expression to previous eras. Both Myer’s and VanHaitsma’s theories reiterate an embodiment of female expression and gender roles, alongside a conscious and subtle disruption of work and how society viewed women doing it.

Validating Vocations for Women

Finally, the collected scholarship in this book resituates work, and what it means to be a women at work. Kristie S. Fleckenstein and Heather Brook Adams and Jason Barrett-Fox, respectively, make significant contributions to the collection by defining photography and sex work as valid vocations for women. Fleckenstein’s chapter focuses on Frances Benjamin Johnston, whose rhetorical work demonstrated photography was a profession, more than mere hobby, and that women could go far beyond rote work in the field (85). Women could be professional artists. These remain significant questions: work versus art, when and where art is considered a vocation, and how women justify their place in those realms.

Progressive for her time (perhaps even for 2020), Kate Waller Barrett worked in the 1920s for the recognition of sex work and sex workers as part of the economy men built. This chapter is a refreshing revelation complicating who is included and how they are perceived in their space of work. Barrett advocated on behalf of prostitutes and faced a “formidable rhetorical challenge: to genuinely advocate on behalf of women working as prostitutes in an effort to raise a wider set of concerns about the gendered implications of growing urban centers” (118). Across nineteen articles published in the Washington Times, Barrett pushed past sensationalism, misconceptions, and an archetype of the fallen woman to humanize the contemporary female worker. What lawmakers writing the Kenyon Act failed to see, she argued, was that prostitution was a vocation and the women employed therein are products of economy and the changing structure of society based on urban living. Barrett sought to place vice as part of economy and network, rather than in moral or individual failings by women employed as prostitutes (124). One cannot help but consider this rhetorical work as it relates to this same economic and moral debate one hundred year after her public writings. There is important work begun here that can be extended, in both historical and contemporary study, on the vulnerability of women as wage earners and the moral versus economic factors influencing decisions about work.

Opportunities for Further Scholarship

How does work create rhetorical challenges and opportunities for women? This question is as important today as it is historically. Women at Work asks, answers, and advances that question. The critical usefulness of this collection lies in the theories the contributors adopt, that other scholars can rely on to ask and respond to their own questions related to the interactions among gender, rhetoric, and work. Each contributor employs helpful terms and methodologies, especially for those who have engaged with rhetoric or feminist theory but perhaps have not yet combined the two. The methodologies in this collection reveal the “contingency and artificiality” covering up some significant historical and rhetorical realities about how work “ought to be structured, valued, and compensated” and by whom it was performed (Hallenbeck and Smith 204). Women at Work will be useful to any scholar interested in the rhetoric of workspaces, feminist rhetorics, or any of the specific companies, fields, or time periods included.

As Enoch and Gold acknowledge, many voices are missing from this conversation. The editors recognize the absence of “experiences of Latina, Chicana, Asian, LGBTQ, rural, and religious workers; the lives of working mothers, workers with disabilities and other understudied workers” (15). This lacuna is posed as a call for more work of this nature, a call to which Peitho readers will respond. As noted, the rhetorical tools presented give us numerous productive starting points as we return to the historical records in our own research areas. The work reviewed here advances the call put forth to not only “uncove[r] the particularities in each case but also to identif[y] common threads and strategies in the ongoing rhetorical co-construction of gender and work (Hallenbeck and Smith 202). These questions and theories are equally significant for scholars of historical and contemporary rhetorics.

I read this book because of an interest in how we define work both in scholarship and in our everyday lives. As a former career and internship advisor to college students and someone who began her professional career during The Great Recession, this question has remained through much of the work that I do with students and in my developing scholarship in feminist rhetorics. This text demonstrated to me the ways in which I can engage with the women who came before me and the ways they engaged with work and how they articulated it in their own lives. The women featured in the chapters of this book rhetorically place their bodies and voices in their respective workspaces—whether through activism, labor rights, acknowledging Black women, or reimagining what success and failure look like in work. Coming from a disciplinary background in history, reading Women At Work validated my asking the kind of questions I hope to ask and answer in my own academic work. And as I have noted across this review, the contributors and editors have given scholars like me a toolset from which to productively ask and answer questions about work using feminist rhetorics.

Works Cited

  • Enoch, Jessica. Domestic Occupations: Spatial Rhetorics and Women’s Work. Southern Illinois UP, 2019.
  • Hallenbeck, Sarah and Michelle Smith. “Mapping Topoi in the Rhetorical Gendering of Work.” Peitho, vol. 17, no. 2, 2015.  
  • Olson, Lester C. and James J. Kimble. “Visual Rhetoric Representing Rosie the Riveter: Myth and Misconception in J. Howard Miller’s ‘We Can Do It!’ Poster.” Rhetoric and Public Affairs, vol. 9, no. 4, 2006.
  • VanHaistma, Pamela. Queering Romantic Engagement in the Postal Age: A Rhetorical Education. U of South Carolina P, 2019.

Review of Culturally Speaking: The Rhetoric of Voice and Identity in Mediated Culture

Edgar, Nell Amanda. Culturally Speaking: The Rhetoric of Voice and Identity in Mediated Culture. Ohio State UP, 2019. 220 pages.

Amanda Nell Edgar’s Culturally Speaking: The Rhetoric of Voice and Identity in Mediated Culture responds to the inquiry of how gender and race merits an audience as well as the media’s role in resisting and oppressing marginalized voices. The book delves deeper into how mediated and cinematic vocal performances reinforce cultural assumptions, representations, and perceptions about diverse voices, bodies, and gendered identities (2-3). By focusing on voices that are heard (culturally privileged ) and ignored (culturally marginalized), Edgar demonstrates through numerous case studies and rhetorical analyses of prominent voices in mainstream American society (Barack Obama, Sarah Palin, Morgan Freeman, Adele, etc.) that “racial and gendered disciplinary mechanisms shape voice and vocal identity…and represent the complex interaction of bodies, the social forces that mold those bodies, and the media formats that circulate them” (4). The book, written in four chapters with extensive introductions and conclusions, accomplishes Edgar’s objective to draw from cultural theories of music, discourse, race, gender, vocal sound, and other areas to “poise rhetoric and media scholarship in a better position to communicate the value of sonic literacy to students and those outside academic spaces” (157). Overall, Edgar’s project contributes to the question that has been pursued by scholars of rhetoric and feminism, who has the power to speak and who has the power to create a listening audience? For Cheryl Glenn “identity and power determine who may speak, who merits an audience” (25), and what the results of the speech will be. Yet, Glenn argues the politics of vocal identity and circulation can be problematic in enabling the oppression, marginalization, and misrepresentation of “Others.” Simultaneously, Jacqueline Jones Royster’s famous essay “When the First Voice You Hear is Not Your Own,” addresses the problematic ways in which dominant culture and identity perpetuate the displacement and rejection of the voices of the “Othered” (35). Like these scholars, Edgar’s book also offers a valuable investigation into how race, gender, status, religious affiliations, and space complicates the composition of voice as a normalized human entity. However, Edgar’s work focuses more on reconstructing voice as a political and cultural inscribed artifact used by the culturally privileged to (un)consciously reinforce racialized and gendered oppression.

Edgar’s introduction grounds her inquiry by building on a new theoretical framework and methodology that she terms, “critical cultural vocalics,” an interdisciplinary approach to studying vocal production in media studies and resisting “the idea that voices are biologically sexed or naturally racialized and that instead embraces vocal sound as a socially shaped material text” (4). This frame challenges readers to investigate voice intimacy (the familiarity of a speaker’s voice to an audience) and voice identity (what vocal sounds reveal about a speaker) as inseparable ideological mechanisms that reinforce how minority voices are misrepresented, disciplined, and even restricted by the media  (4). Also, the exploration of vocal identity and vocal intimacy in the introduction depicts how voice becomes culturally privileged—“voices that are widely familiar in mainstream media circulation” (5) and “allows audiences to maintain unchecked assumptions about race, gender…which consequently shapes and reshapes systems of discipline and oppression” (5). In sum, the detailed anchor of her methodology sets up the rest of the book by helping readers understand the “interaction of identity and mediated voices” (20) while examining voice as a hegemonic tool profitable to the culturally privileged.

In Chapter One, “Singing in the Key of Identity: Adele and the Vocal Intimacy of the Blues,” Edgar sets out three key concepts: “vocal racial passing/appropriation,” “difference/Identity,” and “authenticity” to inform her rhetorical analysis of voice. Starting with a series of flashbacks to the controversial media comparison of Adele’s vocals to prominent Black singers after Adele’s 2012 Grammy performance, Edgar establishes what she calls “vocal racial passing-vocal appropriation” (31) a concept which explores how voice is socially structured by “media industry practices” (24) or “how a singer identified with one race performs a vocal sound that is identified with another race” (26). Developing this idea, Edgar delves into the brief history of Black and immigrant voices in the entertainment industry by highlighting how racialized vocal differences (Blackvoice vs. whitevoice) were structured through exaggerated dialects coached to sound more “ethnic” than their white actors to white audiences (28). To further explore “Blackvoice”—the colonization and appropriation of Black vocal sound (36), Edgar examines Adele’s performance under the complex scope of  “authenticity” and “difference” to raise consciousness about “vocal identity as socially constructed” (48), which ultimately creates a powerful and profitable situation for the culturally privileged (49). Overall, this chapter draws attention to at least two critical ideas. First, it highlights the colorblindness and racism in the music industry that caused “rock and roll bands to harness vocal emotion born from the cultural diasporic pain in Black blue culture” (33), “allowed white women singers to inject their physical bodies into Black voice” (33), and rejuvenated white masculine domination in the music industry (34). Second, Edgar demonstrates through Adele’s performance that vocal identity and vocal intimacy are cyclically connected and can conjure deep connection between singers and listeners even if the singer demonstrates problematic appropriations (48).

The second chapter takes a different route by focusing on how culturally privileged voices owned by minority bodies can still be subjected to systemic oppression. Beginning with an analysis of the “white traits”—dialect, soft spokenness, and tone—of Black actor Morgan Freeman, Edgar explores how Freeman’s culturally privileged vocal performances and cinematic roles are embedded with racialized and gendered stereotypes (52). First, Edgar examines multiple movie roles played by Freeman to establish his vocal identity and vocal intimacy with his audience as powerful. Despite this, Edgar argues Freeman’s Black masculinity is contained and recouped under themes and roles that reinforce racial servitude and marginalization of people of color (81). For instance, Freeman’s role in early movies like Unforgiven (1992), Million Dollar Baby (2004), and many others were usually designed to make him dependent upon the primary white character which reiterates his servile persona created to “soothe, rather than disrupt, white-supremacist representational systems” (80). This chapter, like the first, reveals how the vocal intimacy within the speaker-listener relationship and vocal identity give voice the ability to “replicate and strengthen cultural racial hierarchies” (82). Furthermore, the chapter exemplifies the kind of rigorous scholarship that can emerge from uncommon objects of study like TV shows and movies, setting up a valuable inquiry into racial subordination that remains stable beneath vocal identities and culturally privileged voices.

The first two chapters show the varying ways vocal identity shapes vocal intimacy between a speaker and listeners. Chapter three furthers this analysis of voice by teasing out how “the act of imitation in political satire layers culturally privileged voices and encourages marginalization based on race and gender despite its ostensibly progressive politics” (85). Through a rhetorical analysis of the bodily and vocal performance of actors Fred Armisen, Tina Fey, Jay Pharaoh, and Dwayne Johnson on the popular television show Saturday Night Live (SNL), Edgar explores the ways pitch patterns in the satirical impersonation of political figures (Barack Obama and Sarah Palin) reveal how some bodies are exaggeratedly gendered to “solidify racialized gendered stereotypes” (114). For instance, Fey’s impersonation of Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s voice on SNL was explicitly high pitched, reinforcing the image of white women as “emotionally excessive and unstable” (93) and positioning Palin as a “less desirable political candidate” (113) in stark contrast to Barack Obama’s voice which was “pleasantly melodious” (103), and made him seem “stronger and as authoritative fit for Presidency, especially against his feminine competitors” (113). This chapter typifies mediated interactions between listeners and speakers by elaborating political impersonations as powerful production mechanisms and narratives that can “subtly shift identities based on ideological contexts” (114). It also delineates voice appropriation, especially based on race and gender, as harboring the potential to reinforce and naturalize the types of bodies and voices that are assumed suitable to be represented in powerful positions within society.

Chapter four, “Whitevoice 2.0: Online Speech and Comedians of Color,” provides perhaps the most intriguing case study, which explores how marginalized identities and voices come to matter through a contemporary form of storytelling and comedy (145). Edgar begins with a historical context and social media analysis of how Black and Latino comedians used comedy to draw attention to issues of race and discourse through the mimicry of whitevoice. This tactic according to Edgar, enabled comedians of color to expose the privileged identification of whiteness, to call into question the economic disparities between white and Black families (127), exploit differences in linguistic communication patterns (131), and to bring marginalized stories to the public eye (117). What makes this chapter especially interesting is that unlike the previous case studies, Edgar reconstructs vocal intimacy and vocal identity as listeners being aware of “the standard speech within a community and being able to differentiate their normal vocal rhetoric from whitevoice vocal rhetoric” (146). Thus, the vocal intimacy and identity circulating between a speaker and listeners in this context can only be established through a communal and political project aiming to challenge white normativity while creating shared and comfortable relationships with listeners through familiar comic experiences and stories.

In the concluding chapter, “A Call to Listen,” Edgar recapitulates the cultural and disciplinary mechanisms and codes that condition voice for speakers and listeners. She does so by readdressing the practical and reflexive procedures involved in studying voice as an artifact of oppression and privilege (153) while motivating rhetoric and cultural media scholars to “take up the study of voice from a variety of methods beyond traditional textual analysis” (156). However, Edgar concludes with a final reflection and twist on “hearing representation”—a concept that examines deeply entangled narratives and voices that promote inequality, marginalization, racism, and discrimination against Black folks and LGBTQ+ groups.” (158) This call for research is particularly valuable because it interrogates representation as “not only visual but…embedded in stereotypical and conventional depictions of marginalized groups” (158), which perpetuates the neglect of oppressed bodies and shapes the reception of media representation and discrimination.

As a graduate student, I find this book very useful because the methodology Edgar offers and case studies she provides can serve the current discourse on social media repetition and recirculation, media cancel culture and vocal appropriation, as well as the call for accountability for racialized actions by vocal media activists. While her work exposes the complex politics of voice in the United States, it is relevant to mention that the issues she examines in the book are rampant in many transnational locations, and her methodology which focuses on “understanding the role of voice as bodies travel or are restricted, heard or ignored” (160) can offer transnational feminist scholars an approach to reimagining the cultural, socio-political, and consumer discourses within these spaces. I hope that Edgar or rhetoric and media cultural scholars would follow up with research that considers her theoretical insights in light of digital and social media representational trends during current police brutality protests, celebrity vocal influence in the COVID-19 season, and the media’s role in the current political climate.

Works Cited

  • Glenn, Cheryl. Rhetorical Feminism and This Thing Called Hope. Southern Illinois UP, 2018.
  • 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.

Review of Domestic Occupations: Spatial Rhetorics and Women’s Work

Enoch, Jessica. Domestic Occupations: Spatial Rhetorics and Women’s Work. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 2019. 260 pages.

I finished reading Jessica Enoch’s Domestic Occupations: Spatial Rhetorics and Women’s Work a few weeks before the 2020 COVID-19 outbreak caused a majority of cities and states to issue shelter-in-place orders that closed schools, colleges and businesses, and most people worldwide found themselves suddenly living and working at home. The rhetorics of domestic labor changed almost overnight. As our worlds became isolated, I thought often of Enoch’s discussion of space and gender, and specifically about how domestic spaces function in our patterns of life and our patterns of thought. While Enoch examines nineteenth-century schoolhouses, turn-of-the-century domestic science home laboratories and public kitchens, and childcare centers during World War II, her arguments and methodology are also immensely relevant to the current moment. Her book is essential to feminist rhetorical scholarship for its insight that as we shape our spaces, our spaces shape us. Enoch issues a charge to pay attention to space and a guide for how to do so.

Domestic Occupations considers the ways in which rhetoric constructs and reconstructs the spaces in which women live and work. Using a variety of archival materials, Enoch recovers and reconstructs their dynamic spatial histories, demonstrating how rhetoric shaped the material space, the bodies that could enter and inhabit that space, and the values and patterns of movement associated with that space. While I will focus primarily on the content of each case study in the paragraphs that follow, I want to begin by saying that Enoch’s discussion of method is what makes this book an essential text for any feminist scholar. In chapter one, “Contending with Home: Spatial Rhetorics and Women’s Work,” Enoch describes her project and sets out key premises that will inform her case studies. She establishes that her project is to explore how women’s relationship to home and work spaces has changed over time, writing that “this relationship is created, sustained, and reshaped through rhetorical operations that are crafted in response to particular constraints and that capitalize on specific opportunities” (5). She defines spatial rhetorics as the arguments made by the spaces themselves, which include the function of the space, the bodies and objects that can inhabit that space, and the values conferred upon them by that space (6). She also clarifies her choice of the word “space” as opposed to “place,” noting that her discussion is of the general types of spaces (schoolhouses, childcare centers) rather than specific locations. Enoch sets out three premises that guide her study and that should guide any exploration of spatial rhetorics: that “spatial (re)construction occurs through a variety of means and agencies,” that we must consider power as central, and that the meaning of any space confers meaning on bodies and objects within that space (10). Finally, she notes that her goal is to understand the construction of the white middle class through spatio-rhetorical discourse, but that this discourse inevitably reveals what it excludes from consideration: race, ethnicity, culture, and class. Enoch works to give special attention to these exclusions at the end of each chapter, and then devotes all of chapter five to a discussion of how feminist scholars might recover these spatial histories. Enoch ends her first chapter with a discussion of her personal stake in this issue, reminding readers that while her case studies are historical, her methods are relevant to contemporary discussions of women and work by writers such as Anne Marie Slaughter and Sheryl Sandberg. Additionally, she notes that the spaces we inhabit make demands of us and arguments about us, and it is our job as feminist scholars to be attentive to those arguments. Enoch offers three case studies as examples of this project.

In chapter two, “From Prison to Home: Spatial Rhetorics Regender the Nineteenth-Century School,” Enoch examines how spatial rhetorics allowed women to enter the teaching profession by altering the traditionally masculine space of the schoolhouse to resemble the feminized, nurturing space of the home. Using a variety of materials, from women’s magazines to newspapers and architectural plan books, Enoch constructs for readers the space of the early nineteenth-century schoolhouse as dirty, violent, and immoral, and the space of the home as nurturing, well-decorated, and virtuous. This distinction is necessary in order to demonstrate that the values and behaviors associated with both spaces derived from the material construction of those spaces and were at the center of educational reform. Spanning roughly from 1820-1870, this “radical renovation” of the schoolhouse took place as a response to the push for educational reform by educators such as Horace Mann and Henry Barnard, who believed that in order to train engaged citizens, schoolhouses should more closely resemble the tasteful, pleasurable, comfortable space of the white, middle-class home (33). Enoch uses Sarah Hallenbeck’s concept of “nondeliberate rhetorics” to argue that the introduction of female teachers was not the intended outcome of this reform, but that the design and location allowed for different bodies to inhabit that space (34). Enoch also points out, however, as she indicated in chapter one, that power is often central to these spatial transformations, and that, as spatial transformation allowed for women to enter the teaching profession, the profession was also changed such that women were rarely afforded the power and pay of their male counterparts.

In chapter three, “The Domestic Scientist’s Home Experiment: Spatial Rhetorics and Professional Ethos,” Enoch explores the role of space in ethos, describing how transforming the home into a laboratory enabled domestic scientists to construct a professional ethos for women without threatening traditional gender roles, particularly in light of women’s increased access to higher education and a burgeoning feminist movement. Domestic scientists sought to reinvent the home as a response to its construction as a maternal idyll or a site of domestic drudgery by challenging the idea that instinct was at the heart of domestic success. They promoted this spatial transformation through public kitchens, such as the New England Kitchen in Boston and the Rumford Kitchen at the 1893 Columbian Exhibition. Enoch highlights the spatial rhetorics at play in the Rumford Kitchen in particular, as Ellen Richards, director of the exhibit, turned down a space in the Women’s Building and instead set up a public kitchen near the Anthropology building because she wanted to associate domestic science with professionalism rather than gender. This deliberate spatial choice clearly demonstrates the goals of the movement, and its success extended even beyond demonstrations of home kitchens. Its principles were soon enacted in many public spaces under the purview of “municipal housekeeping,” in spaces such as settlement houses, dormitories, asylums, etc. (111).  At the end of the chapter, Enoch offers an empathetic scholarly examination of the conflict between domestic scientists and feminists working for suffrage and women’s representation, noting that “[f]or many working women, to associate with feminist causes might have come at too high a cost,” and that it is essential that feminist scholars consider the variety of arguments and methods women used to gain access to education, ethos, and financial support of their families (116).

Chapter four, “The Motherless Home: Working Mothers, Emotive Spatial Rhetorics, and the World War II Childcare Center” is perhaps Enoch’s most compelling case study, as she describes not one shift in spatial rhetorics but two. These shifts occurred in quick succession in response to the same event. During World War II, federal and state governments, private industries, and individual communities spent over $75 million constructing childcare centers or “war nurseries” to allow mothers to work to support the war effort without fearing for their children’s (and future citizens’) wellbeing. Enoch examines the emotional rhetoric used to make the childcare center a home-like space, and therefore acceptable individually and culturally as a place that provides a mother’s care, in order to counter the negative associations of failed and delinquent motherhood that had previously characterized the use of outside childcare. What is unique about this case study is how quickly this rhetorical reconstruction (and actual construction) of childcare centers took place, but also how quickly it was dismantled, again literally and figuratively, after the exigence of women’s wartime service had passed. In 1945, officials used prewar rhetoric surrounding the childcare center as unsafe, unhealthy, and an impediment to children’s growth and wellbeing to quell support for their continued existence. Meanwhile, they constructed the suburban “victory home” as a site of middle-class achievement and a place where women could now focus on rebuilding the nuclear family. Of course, as Enoch notes, this rhetoric was heavily raced and classed, as childcare centers served many families but their dismantling disproportionately harmed women of color and lower socioeconomic status who did not have access to the new home space that promoted its own culturally acceptable version of motherhood and labor.

In her final chapter, cleverly titled “Home Work: Spatial Rhetorics and Feminist Rhetorical Scholarship,” Enoch opens with Joan Wallach Scott’s charge that feminist scholarship should not only examine the past, but offer pathways for the future. While I always appreciate a thorough “future research” section in any academic article or book, there is something special about how Enoch constructs her final chapter. Rather than feeling like the book was winding down, “Home Work” gives readers energy and drive to start applying her methods to spaces they inhabit or study. By focusing on the feminist interrogation of the everyday, it suggests that this is work we should all be doing in order to be fully present and aware of our own spaces, and how the behaviors, ideas, and principles that result affect those women who do not share or are not permitted to enter those spaces. Enoch develops a series of topics that her examination of dominant spatio-rhetorical discussions did not allow her to explore, but which are essential to a fuller understanding of this rhetoric: she suggests that scholars should examine “the workings of politics and power,” especially in these everyday spaces (175), including, for example, the roles of domestic violence, family relations, and sex and sexuality on home spaces. Each of these topics is thoroughly articulated through a series of insightful questions that make this chapter dynamic and exciting as Enoch prepares scholars to take up this work.

I am grateful that I had the chance to read Domestic Occupations, and I can only hope that Enoch will write a follow-up study that considers her argument in light of the upheaval of living and working patterns for women during COVID-19. The methods she offers and case studies she provides can serve, as Joan Wallach Scott suggests, as knowledge of the past, insight into the present, and imagination for the future (171). Living and working at home has exposed many complicated legacies of domestic labor, and as we navigate the political, cultural, and consumer discourses that offer suggestions for our spaces, we can look to Enoch as our guide to understanding the work we must do and the everyday importance of spatial rhetorics.

Review of Crazy Horse Weeps: The Challenge of Being Lakota in White America

Marshall, Joseph M. III. Crazy Horse Weeps: The Challenge of Being Lakota in White America. Golden, CO: Fulcrum Publishing, 2019. 168 pages.

As a scholar and teacher of ecocomposition based on service-learning for environmental advocacy writing, I have often relied on the many works of Joseph M. Marshall III to provide my students with a narrative lens into the Indigenous worldview of the Lakota Sioux. Crazy Horse Weeps, Marshall’s most recent work, takes a fresh approach in weaving together not only the current state of our environment in the U.S., along with U.S. history, but also addresses modern day politics in light of the fact that, for the Lakota, the pervasive threads of oppression and simultaneous disrespect for Grandmother Earth have not changed over time. Where traditional Lakota esteem our planet as a living female entity connected in a balanced relationship with all things, too many of her inhabitants continue to view her simply as an exclusive sphere of resources to be controlled, “promoting an ideology of power over nature” in conquering “undomesticated ground” (Alaimo 2, 23). This “tamers of the land” mantra is diametrically opposed to the Lakota worldview, which teaches human responsibility to care for our planet, as she cares for us (Marshall, The Journey, xx). Her power and destiny are already manifest in her very existence. Our destiny is to reciprocate in kind. This important insight ultimately educates readers about the roles they play in the past, present, and future of consumerism, which has a profound effect on all people and our planet’s vital ecological balance.

From the onset of Crazy Horse Weeps, Marshall mourns the heartbreaking death of “They Are Afraid of Her,” Crazy Horse’s young daughter, from cholera. The book ends with dancing. In between is an enlightening journey beginning with the ability of “Tasunka Witko” (Crazy Horse) to carry on in the face of the unspeakable loss of a child, tragically the result of Euro-American invasion, accompanied with new disease(s). From there, Marshall patiently guides the reader through the Lakota vantage point of U.S. history starting with Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery and the Oregon Trail, to the resulting mantras of Manifest Destiny, Christian missions, assimilation, and capitalism, all of which remain, by and large, constant. Cause and effect examples in the text reveal the many troubling issues facing the Lakota today—ongoing results of unjust and often traumatic colonial forces. The ways in which these issues are oft portrayed by today’s mainstream media still contribute to what has historically been a “literature of dominance” (Vizenor 3). Rather than the greater population heeding Indigenous voices and knowledge regarding equal rights for all races of people, as well as a respectful belief to not deplete Grandmother Earth’s natural resources which sustain humanity, such worldviews are unfortunately more often quietly or unquietly silenced, and/or dismissed as unprogressive, inapplicable, and quaint.

Where some of Marshall’s previous works may have invoked a warm and nostalgic cedar flute tone, there is no flute here. This work boldly addresses today’s pivotal political issues which impact not just the Lakota, and not just the U.S., but ultimately, our connected global population. True to the subtitle, “The Challenge of Being Lakota in White America,” Marshall gives an authentic, autobiographical, and often familial context for what has been much of his experience on and off the Rosebud Reservation. He awakens the reader with an enlightening documentation of the fortitude required by the Lakota to endure with a spirit of survivance, while continuing to resist forces who oppress and disrespect both Indigenous peoples and Grandmother Earth. As a participant in the Standing Rock/DAPL water protectors peaceful protest, Marshall expresses that despite how some may misinterpret motives, “What we do want is for others to learn that coexisting with the environment and adapting to it is the way to ensure that our children and grandchildren of any race and color will have an unpolluted environment” (135).  At the heart, Marshall echoes the sentiments of Crazy Horse in seeking unity and a promising future “for all living things and [including] young white ones…” One must believe this noble vision ensures the possibility of sustaining all future generations, therefore such a goal necessitates purposeful leadership today: “Leadership is a responsibility, not a prize” (63). Within the Standing Rock camps, Lakota young people took up that responsibility. “It’s the young people who taught us how to stand again. It was the young people that brought that empowerment to the people” (Brave Bull Allard qtd. in Barnett).

As my students gradually become more aware that they exist in a relationship with the natural world through Marshall’s voiced identity and guided leadership in his writing, they are inspired to become fellow seekers in making changes, not only via my classroom and related service-learning work, but also in their everyday lives. These actions, in turn, shape their identities. Writing for environmental advocacy can serve as “one of the activities by which we locate ourselves in the enmeshed systems that make up the social world. It is not simply a way of thinking but more fundamentally a way of acting” (Cooper 373). When one invests their own identity in a place they have lived, cherished, interacted with, and advocated for, that relationship can foster an ongoing lineage crossing time-space dimensions (Deloria 209). Ties to land and place can become intergenerational, which has the potential to ultimately empower a heritage of respect for Grandmother Earth en masse, and from family to community. As Sidney I. Dobrin and Christian R. Weisser have argued, “Ecological thinking relies upon interrelationships rather than rigid boundaries” (569). Furthermore, shared Indigenous rhetorics based on these multifaceted relationships can foster a profound sense of belonging and purpose within the composition classroom, both locally and beyond.

With Native American lands constantly under ecological threat of contamination, endless pipeline developments, and myriad other ongoing treaty violations, as Keith H. Basso states, “new forms of ‘environmental awareness’ are being more radically charted and urgently advocated than ever in the past” (105). Operating from, and delving in-depth into, what Basso calls “contrasted ways of living in the world” are essential to experience the organic connection and relationship between human beings and all of creation. Once explored, these new and vital contrasts not only allow students to change their writing, but also their perception of identity and place within the world, clarifying their roles of respectful responsibility for Grandmother Earth’s care.

As Marshall very practically and poignantly illustrates the Lakota view of respect for all of creation via storytelling/narrative, such as with his remembrance of shock and sadness at a rancher indifferently destroying a meadowlark nest, he reminds us that abuses of power, even when interacting with the natural world, can start out small (127). Add racism and self-promotion to such an ideology, along with a group of followers, and soon a dangerous world leadership based on hatred of others can emerge, eventually leading to ethnocentrism and genocide (48-49). Such scenarios are painfully acute in Native American communities, yet still their belief in, and hope for, an eventual awareness of the essence of what it truly means to be human lives on for non-Native peoples. “I, for one, will place that hope and extend it to the cosmos, because where there is one good person and one kind heart, surely there are others” (115). Concurrently, from my observations, despite the often terrible treatment of the Lakota by whites, and despite the ways in which whites have disrespected Grandmother Earth, the Lakota love of “Unci Maka” (Grandmother Earth) is far greater than their hatred of the hate exhibited and exercised by those who seek to oppress them. In learning from scholars at Sinte Gleska University, as well as knowledgeable Lakota elders and friends, their prayer is that white society will realize what it means to be truly human in connection with all of creation, along with adapting to Grandmother Earth in good ways of balance (as it should be), rather than assuming that she will adapt to the whims of human dominance with every decision. It is overwhelmingly apparent, she cannot.

Amidst addressing current and weighty social issues in Lakota communities (and their related causes), as well as our overall environmental distress, Marshall balances what could seem to be solely insurmountable struggles, with humor. In reading the book chronologically, Marshall recounts his boyhood story of being chased up a tree by a badger, remembering an earlier lesson from his grandmother about the wily ways of badgers. In a subsequent chapter, he ties his first-hand experience with the badger to a story his grandmother later lovingly tells him about a stick and a snake, expressing that he values her profound and uncanny insight in light of the fact that she was previously “right about the badger” (9). This made me laugh out loud. As one of Marshall’s earliest teachers, his grandmother certainly modeled compassion and wisdom, and Marshall highlights the further wisdom of seeing the irony in certain situations. This tempered humor, so often a sign of Lakota strength in adversity, brings to the surface the depth of Lakota character and honor, simply facing what needs to be done. This is the Lakota way, echoing what has remained over millennia: constancy, stability, structure, purpose…part of the greater whole of what it means to be authentically Lakota (80). Returning to the traditional way of attending to concerns within the community, Marshall’s final chapter may initially seem out of step. However, considering Lakota oral culture and storytelling, he is highlighting the circular and reflective collaborative dialogue depended upon for countless generations. In effect, he is, like the book’s opening with Crazy Horse, reminding us of history and the old ways.

While Crazy Horse Weeps fully and openly confronts wrongdoings of the past, as the ending focuses on dancing, the limitless resiliency that comes with a sense of connected culture and tradition is a continued vision of hope for the future of Lakota people. And while Marshall quietly veils his own portion of that resiliency in his thankfulness for those non-Native people who have stood with the Lakota, one realizes hope for all humankind is perhaps what he, and Crazy Horse, have also together wept for all along (112). A journey in understanding the words of these two stalwart and unified leaders challenges my students (and myself) to develop a deep appreciation for a worldview with authentic relationships at its heart. And while over millennia this worldview has not changed, neither has its power to bring humanity together to serve and know that which sustains us, as was intended from the beginning.

Works Cited

  • Alaimo, Stacy. Undomesticated Ground: Recasting Nature as Feminist Space. Cornell University Press, 2000.
  • Barnett, Tracy L. “Women of Standing Rock: LaDonna Brave Bull Allard.” Resilience. Accessed 30 Aug. 2019.
  • Basso, Keith H. Wisdom Sits in Places: Landscape and Language Among the Western Apache. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1996.
  • Cooper, Marilyn. “The Ecology of Writing.” College English, vol. 48, no. 4, 1986,  pp. 364-75.
  • Deloria, Vine, Jr. The Metaphysics of Modern Existence. Fulcrum, 2012.
  • Dobrin, Sidney I., and Christian R. Weisser. “Breaking Ground in Ecocomposition: Exploring Relationships between Discourse and Environment.” College English, vol. 64, no. 5, 2002, pp. 566-98.
  • Marshall, Joseph M. III. The Journey of Crazy Horse: A Lakota History. Penguin Books, 2005.
  • Vizenor, Gerald. Manifest Manners: Narratives on Postindian Survivance. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1999.

Review of Re/Orienting Writing Studies: Queer Methods, Queer Projects

Banks, William P., Matthew B. Cox, and Caroline Dadas, editors. Re/Orienting Writing Studies: Queer Methods, Queer Projects. Logan: Utah State UP, 2019. 223 pages.

This review has two goals: First, we do the work of tracing some of the key arguments made by the authors of Re/Orienting Writing Studies: Queer Methods, Queer Projects. Second, we offer some thoughts on the current state of queer rhetorics research and the possibilities available to the field, especially our feminist allies, when we reflect on and re/orient our terms, methods, and methodologies. However, these two goals do not happen in isolation or in a this-then-that fashion. Instead, we utilize the more collaborative mode of dialogue to bounce ideas around, interspersed with quotations, zines, and critical commentary. In doing so, we invite readers to re/orient their thinking through the rhetorics of intentionality, rhetorics of forgetting, and rhetorics of failure suggested by Banks, Cox, and Dadas in their introduction. This might mean that you ask, “how does a queer rhetoric of intentionality shape methods of data collection or methodologies for understanding research purposes and contexts? (13). Or “What do we do with failure?” (13). Or “why [have] certain tropes, conceits, or values picked up steam in writing studies and c[o]me to occupy a central place in our journals and books and why [have] others have been (strategically) forgotten? How has forgetting those things been advantageous to certain researchers, composers, institutions? Why? What is it about these shameful figures that has made us forget?” (15). Or don’t.

Let’s begin.


Gavin: Or, perhaps, let’s begin again. Re/Orienting Writing Studies, after all, is definitely not the beginning of this conversation. [stares at shelves of scholarship in queer theories]

Cody: I’m thinking, as I sit here in the midst of trying to shed some of the brain fog that’s been lingering around, how to approach a review essay like this. On one hand, we want to discuss the elements of the text, as any review essay must do. On the other hand, we want to reach out for ways of doing queer work, specifically queer methods of engaging the labor of reviewing. Though I’m not exactly sure it’s as evenly divided as this. Should we use GIFs here? I feel like GIFs would be nice.


This edited collection, published by Utah State University Press, contains eleven chapters and a forward. Each chapter describes the author’s(s’) project and reports on the ways in which each author engages a queer method/ology. The authors offer individualized definitions of queer. But beyond offering individual visions of queer they also orient and reorient …

queer/ness as identities/theories/writings/methods/methodologies/beings.


The authors and this collection are uninterested in offering a singular mode of queer/ing rhetoric and writing studies. We orient and are re/oriented as needed, or, perhaps, as desired.


30. Don’t be Faithful or loyal to institutions, disciplines, or persons to whom others say you must be speaking. (Waite 46)

33. Don’t become an authority on your subject. (Waite 46)

54. Ignore subject agreement, how normative, how boring, howunplural. (Waite 47)


Gavin: GIFs would be cool. Non-stationary images that don’t act in /normal time/ seem appropriate. But then we have to consider the limits of Peitho. Can Peitho’s infrastructure handle constant movement? Playful modes? Non-normative reviews?

Cody: I’m watching you type this and I feel like a voyeur. Just noting this for the record.

Fig. 1. Gif of dog gazing at fish until fish attacks. via GIPHY

Cody: In their forward to the book, Pamela Takayoshi recognizes that the type of queer work, or “queer methods,” we seem to long for “cannot arrive fast enough” (xi).

Gavin: And lord knows that queer turn in rhetorical studies has been slow! (cf. Alexander and Wallace; Cox and Faris; Morris & Rawson; Rhodes).

Cody: So…queerness is, at the same time, too slow and too fast? Something we can’t keep up with and also something we’ve left behind…stuck between orientations almost. What might re/orientation-as-praxis feel like? I guess that’s what I’d like to ask, and I think what this book gestures at repeatedly.

Gavin: I think so, and we can see Banks, Cox, and Dadas working through this in the introduction. They offer us three rhetorics which emerge from queer method/ologies: rhetorics of intentionality, rhetorics of failure, and rhetorics of forgetting (12-16). With these rhetorics, the editors are re/orienting us away from standard research exigencies. That is, the exigencies I see in this project are not the “realization of a gap in the scholarship” but rather an intentional orienting that puts us in contact with failed research or research topics rhetoric and writing forgot. Take, for example, Michael Faris’s chapter, which argues that scholarship has forgotten sex (the embodied act) as a rhetorical force and should turn toward an ontological orientation that privileges “affects, desires, and sensual life” (143). Or, perhaps, G Patterson’s point that marginalized communities are failed by quantitative research methods because such approaches attempt to remove outliers and clean the data.


When we look for X, what are we strategically forgetting in order to keep X in focus? How could we acknowledge that tension in our work? Why might we need to forget X in order to discover Y? (Banks, Cox, Dadas 16)

I am not trying to convey who I am, I am trying to arouse others’ desire or be open to encounters. (Faris 137)

Queered assemblages of health and medicine, then, rather than counterstories of health and medicine, male spaces to question biomedical practices and discourses that construct bodies of health within paradigms of “normalcy.” (Novotny 121)

Interpreting one’s data queerly isn’t just about embodying one’s participants; it’s about calling attention to how these bodies are (un)able to move through political space. (Patterson 68)

As we work to diversify rhetorical research through an interconnected queer and cross-cultural lens, we are not merely adding voices to rectify their absence within writing studies—we are working to redraw boundaries of rhetorical knowledge and paradigms, remapping the terrains of rhetorical studies within the global turn of rhetoric and composition with reflex, critical, and accountable cautions. (Adsanatham 91)


Cody: I’m also almost forced to point out the need for neuroqueer (cf. Yergeau, 2017) interventions in the work we come into contact with on queer rhetorics and queer/ing composition.

Gavin: I agree, and a discussion of neuroqueerness, crip theory, and disability is missing in this collection. I wish that that growing part of the scholarly conversation would have made its way into these pages—such frameworks don’t just re/orient us but change our very notions of the moves of orientation.

Cody: As I’m following your keystrokes, lightning bolts keep pinging…ideas forming and swirling. For instance, I’m still entangled with the Foreword and some of the metaphors deployed there. Takayoshi mentions that “this book provides a theoretical window onto the importance of understanding the knowledge-making practices involved in research” (xiv). They also state that “Queer theories…are foundational theories for anyone interested in writing and identity…” (xiii). And, I agree with this. I’m just lingering for a bit in the imagery of the home, because there’s something about disciplinarity that keeps us within the metaphor of “the home.” We hear a lot of talk about “disciplinary homes.” What happens when we take this metaphor, and that of the Burkean Parlor for that matter, and reorient ourselves? Maybe another way of asking: what happens when we cruise the Burkean Parlor? When we dare to disrupt the notion that there are ever seamless entries and exits in and out of discursive circulation(s) of knowledge. I’m rambling now, I think. But a crucial point that Stacey Waite makes in her chapter: “Don’t stay ‘on topic.’ Drift gleefully off. Get lost” (44). So, at the moment, I’m lost, and maybe that’s okay.

Gavin: Defining a disciplinary home is really hard when we engage in[queer]y. For example, as we work through this book, I’m drifting between documents and composing cover letters for the academic job market. I’ve been a rather promiscuous scholar in that I don’t do one thing and stick with it. I don’t just study writing. I don’t just study rhetoric. I don’t just study queer culture. I don’t just study digital communities. Such a diversity of interests—really, I’m willing to write about whatever momentarily catches my attention—makes it hard to qualify (quantify?) myself as a scholar. But reading this collection of essays has helped me understand that my unique orientation as a researcher is what moves me through this precarious academic world. Doing things differently, engaging in[queer]y, this collection suggests, is intentionally messy, open, unstable…just like the knowledges, languages, communities we wish to study.

Cody: I think this “in-between” feeling is a queer terrain, really. Jean Bessette’s chapter on queer historiography makes this point within the context of archival method. Your examples illuminate something that I think needs to be foregrounded a little more in conversations about queer method. That is, how can we acknowledge the embodied ways we simultaneously inhabit and “drift” in and out of disciplinarity? For instance, how can queer methods work to transform the material realities of our discipline and local contexts while also reaching outside of the academy, as so many queer scholars do, to remind us that queer praxis has never been anything but embodied? Asking how we can queer disciplinarity while also clinging on to it for dear life, is another way of putting it, I guess.

Gavin: I see a number of the authors struggling with it in their chapters. And I’ve definitely felt it too. In her chapter, Hillary Glasby turns to a “failure-affirming methodology.” So much of that argument is built around Jonathan Alexander and Jacqueline Rhodes’s notion of the impossibility of composition, and I think it falls into the same issues that Alexander and Rhodes run into in their work; that is, in working against the idea of composition’s disciplinarity they reinforce its power. Queer composition is impossible because the very people who seek to queer composition say it is impossible. It ignores, to some degree, the generative nature of queerness and the issue of practicing a queer methodology.


In the context of this collection, we might ask, how does a queer rhetoric of intentionality shape methods of data collection or methodologies for understanding research purposes or contexts? (Banks, Cox, Dadas 13)

Queerness at its core embraces ambiguity, excess, and instability, whereas methods represent logics that provides structure for inquiry. So when we discuss a queer method, we are discussing a contradiction in terms: unstable and ambiguous logics and ways of knowing. (Kuzawa 150)

Queering the field’s methodological lenses will involve exploring how queer theory can be used to disrupt objectivity, neutrality, and normativity. Because professional writing research had historically been associated with objectivity, we believe it is all the more important that we draw on queer notions of disruption, or “messiness” to reorient that work. (Dadas and Cox 190)


Where is race in queer rhetorics?

(Incomplete) Index:

Adsanathan, Chanon, viii, 10, 17
African American Vernacular English, 36
Ahmed, Sara, 4, 123, 169, 170, 176
Anzaldúa, Gloria, 27, 39, 30, 31, 32, 33
Buddha, 86, 87, 89, 90, 92n5
Buddhism, 17, 86, 87; bicultural
……….perspective of, 88; men/women privileges in, 92n9; understanding of, 90
civil rights, 8, 195
Combahee River Collective, 33
critical race theory (CRT), 114-115
Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples (Smith), 20
discrimination, 28, 59, 66
diversity, 83, 171, 178, 182
ethnicity, 158, 171, 194, 198-99
Eurocentrism, 75, 76, 83
heterowhiteness, 26
Indigenous Methodologies: Characteristics, Conversations, and Contexts (Kovach), 20
intersectionality, 116, 130, 177, 179
Lorde, Audre, 31, 155
Muñoz, José Esteban, 78, 101, 188
Pritchard, Eric Darnell, 202
Puar, Jasbir K., 71, 116, 122
race, 78, 114, 139, 158, 171, 189, 194;
……….technical communication and,
racism, 36, 55, 170
REDRES, 17, 76, 92n10; illustrating, 86-
……….91; methodology of, 79-86
Rhetorical Listening: Identification,
……….Gender, Whiteness (Ratcliffe),
sexuality, …racialized perverse, 116…
students of color, 70, 178
whiteness, narratives of, 114
women of color, queer, 37


Chanon Adsanatham’s chapter “REDRES[ING] RhetoricaA Methodological Proposal for Queering Cross-Cultural Rhetorical Studies” offers the most direct engagement with queerness and race. Specifically, this chapter approaches non-Western views of rhetoric, but is clear to remind readers,

Any attempt to queer rhetorical studies cross-culturally, however, raises complex issues. To begin with, studying non-Western rhetorics in the context of the West is already a complicated undertaking; it involves selecting, interpreting, and negotiating unfamiliar concepts from one culture and re-representing them to another—all of which has epistemic and ethical consequences. (75)

To aid in this work, Adsanatham offers a methodology of REDRES: Recontemplation, Defamiliarization and Reevaluation, Ethics of Care, Seeking Incongruities.


Gavin: And then there is Cox and Dadas chapter on queering professional writing. Could there be a more disciplined discipline? Or Nikki Caswell and Steph West-Puckett’s chapter on assessment! A queer approach to writing that is professional and the assessment of writing?! It is quite a beautiful contradiction, and one I’m happy to sit with in discomfort. What I really like about Cox and Dadas’ chapter is how they navigate the critiques coming from professional writing scholars. They are determined to bring cultural rhetorics and queer praxis to a stiff discipline regardless of the protests of the establishment. Similarly, Caswell and West-Puckett suggest a queer validity inquiry (QVI) to push against assessment’s critical validity inquiry (CVI). A QVI is “messy, scattered, lateral half-drawn” (175) and, in a way, represents the assessment of writing more validly then traditional approaches that seek to normalize results. Those chapters, to me, is perhaps the most radically queer (not in its writing—that goes to Waite) of the collection. Cox and Dadas and Caswell and West-Puckett as well as G Patterson are working on and against crystalized disciplinary structures that many queer scholars have abandoned. I really love the queering of a decidedly unqueer institution. Re/claiming spaces that were never designed for queer bodies or queer knowledges. I do, of course, recognize the high potential of failure here. But, as we are reminded throughout, failure is also queer.



Image shows a page from a zine. In the top-left corner there's a quote from J. Jack Halberstam's "The Queer Art of Failure," and in the bottom-right corner there's a quote from Nicole I. Caswell and Stephanie West-Puckett's "Assessment Killjoys." Each quote is boxed in with a black square. In the middle of the page and overlapping the quotes is a big red "F" written and circled in red.

Fig. 2. Failure: Halberstam to Caswell and West-Puckett. Zine by Cody Jackson.


[A rhetoric of failure (summarize it yourself, see pg. 13 & 14)]

Queer methodologies seek to expand not only representation for non-normative individuals but also ways for representing them and their complexities and paradoxes. (Glasby 39)

A failure-oriented practice of assessment would fail to be commodified, refusing to participate in these neoliberal ideological frames. As such, it would take a critical stance toward using assessment instruments to build collective capacity in our student populations and in our programs, foregrounding an understanding that writing, learning, and literacy are social practices enacted, shared, and embodied cultural networks (Caswell and West-Puckett, 180). How can we think beyond assessment as a validating protocol and, instead, as a process of queering and undoing the historical trajectories of composition theory and practice? In other words, a failure-oriented practice of assessment risks the inevitability that assessment—as a normalizing enterprise—must be undone.


60. Don’t come to conclusions. Come to other things: inquiry, questions, failures, side roads, off-road. (Waite 48)


Image shows a spiral of black text, starting from the center of the image and swirling counterclockwise. The text is a list of readings (titles and authors) on queerness.

Fig. 3. A spiral of queer texts. Zine by Cody Jackson.

Works Cited

  • Alexander, Jonathan and David Wallace. “The Queer Turn in Composition Studies: Reviewing and Assessing an Emerging Scholarship.” College Composition and Communication, vol. 61, no. 1, 2009, pp. 300-320.
  • Cox, Mathew B. and Michael J. Faris. “An Annotated Bibliography of LGBTQ Rhetorics.” Present Tense: A Journal of Rhetoric in Society, vol.4, no. 2, 2015, n.p.
  • Morris, Charles E., III, and K.J. Rawson. “Queer Archives/Archival Queers.” Theorizing Histories of Rhetoric, edited by Michelle Ballif. Carbondale: Southern Illinois State UP, 2013, pp. 74-89.
  • Rhodes, Jacqueline, editor. Queer Rhetorics, special issue of Pre/Text: A Journal of Rhetorical Theory, vol. 24, 2018.
  • Yergeau, Melanie. Authoring Autism: On Rhetoric and Neurological Queerness. Durham: Duke UP, 2017.