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.


Review of Not One More! Feminicidio on the Border

Lozano, Nina Maria. Not One More! Feminicidio on the Border. Columbus: Ohio State UP, 2019. 188 pages.

Not One More! Feminicidio on the Border, by Nina Maria Lozano, exemplifies the kind of scholarship that can emerge from in-depth, participatory field work. The book provides several site-based cases that engage a variety of materialisms—assemblages of things and their vitalities, but also the place-based materialisms of monuments and visual rhetorics employed by counterpublics and social movements—all couched within an historical materialist critique of neoliberalism. Lozano interanimates these different materialisms and, in so doing, adds much to our understanding of the ongoing feminicidios as complexly situated in the political, cultural, and economic intersections that frame agentive possibilities in border towns reinvented by neoliberalism. It is neither a coincidence nor a simple calculation that these feminicidios emerged in the 1990s at the dawn of NAFTA and its promotion of foreign factories—maquiladoras—along the Mexican border. Such free-trade zones have been disruptive politically, economically, and culturally as cities like Juárez were not infrastructurally designed to support large numbers of factory workers, the female labor force predominantly employed by these factories lefts gaps in the traditional family structures, powerful drug cartels already predominate these border sites, and the Mexican government appears compromised by both cartels and corporate power. Lozano captures this on-the-ground reality and its role in the ongoing feminicidios through a lens she calls border materialism, a theoretical framework that intersects new materialism with historical materialism. As she defines it, border materialism “retains the element of human agency, attunes carefully to the role of economic and cultural forces, and yet focuses on the importance of physical matter and the assemblages of things in relation to cultural phenomena” (8). Using this theoretical approach, the study grounds itself within neoliberal political economic structures and their assemblages in the border town of Juárez, Mexico.

In addition to this theoretical contribution, the book provides an important model for rhetorical field work. Rather than exploring advocacy efforts from a purportedly neutral, outside perspective, this method encourages “participatory rhetorical advocacy where the scholar-activist engages with community members” (11). Lozano has been actively engaged with local activists in both Juárez (the site of her case studies) and Chihuahua for over 15 years. During this time, she has participated first-hand in movement actions (protests and rastreos or searches), interviewed participants for a total of 423 transcript pages, organized and conducted an “alternative break trip” for students to visit these cities and learn from local activists, sponsored trips for the victims’ Mothers (a label she capitalizes to stress their centrality to the movement) to speak at her campus, and documented her experiences through photographs and video-recordings. This rich field documentation undergirds her case studies (selected to illuminate both the possibilities and limitations of using new materialist theory to study the complex relations that contribute to feminicidios) and enables her to “privilege the testimony from the Juárez families and activists” (11). Lozano avoids appropriation and misrepresentation by affording these numerous voices the same authority as any other primary text. Indeed, the detailed first-person accounts that anchor the case studies position this book differently than so many of its predecessors.

The staggering number of feminicidios along the Mexican border—nearly 2400 women have been killed and countless others are officially missing—has garnered significant attention. Overwhelmingly, however, these responses have faltered because they have not centered the Mothers and their organically produced groups such as Justicia Para Nuestras Hijas (Justice for our Daughters), Voces sin Echo (Voices without Echo), Nuestras Hijas de Regreso a Casa (Bring our Daughters Home), and Mujeres de Negro (Women in Black). Without a strong, historical, and contextualized, local perspective, responses tend to view the feminicidios through a singular, and frequently narrow, lens that distorts the intersectional complexities contributing to the ongoing violence against women in this specific neoliberal location. This book, which has been in the making since Lozano began her activist work in 2003, does not fall into that trap as it both privileges local participants and analyzes their movement rhetorics through interlaced materialist theories that account for the many cultural, historical, political, and economic contingencies contributing to the feminicidios.

Lozano begins with an overview of the feminicidios that have been making news for nearly thirty years by sketching four historical waves. During the first wave, 1993-1998, activists, scholars, and family members became cognizant of and began to organize themselves in response to the surging violence against women. During the second wave, 1998-2010, these groups started “connecting the feminicidios to the larger neoliberal economic structures of Juárez” (21). This understanding pitted the Mothers (who opposed the changing neoliberal landscape) against a government that welcomed it. Fearing bad publicity for the burgeoning maquiladora industry, the government began to work against the activists. They falsified evidence, harassed protestors, and divided the Mothers by representing them as hysterical and the victims as promiscuous. These tactics, along with straightforward corruption, prevented investigations as well as interventions. Nevertheless, the movement pushed forward. Three cases were brought before the International Court of Human Rights on November 6, 2009, and the court ruled in their favor. Dubbed the “Cotton Field” ruling to denote the location where eight victims’ bodies were found, the decision mandated, among other things, that the government build a monument to memorialize the victims and assist in further investigations. After this landmark victory, the movement stalled for a short period. The activist efforts of wave three (2010-2014), identified as the lost years, were overshadowed by the face-off between an increasingly militarized government and the drug cartels. With government efforts targeting the so-called “narco war,” feminicidios continued virtually unnoticed. Explicitly designed to counter this invisibility, the fourth wave (2015-present) demonstrated a resurgence of feminist activism that, importantly, included a more visible role for men. The activist work of this wave, explored through a new materialist lens, provides the material for Lozano’s subsequent case studies.

As a challenge to new materialism’s emphasis on enchantment, chapter two examines the assemblage of things in border cities—including transnational products, maquiladora workers, a municipal infrastructure that privileges tourism over local workers, and female bodies both living and dead. As women have become the major workforce in maquiladora factories, there have been significant ruptures to the social and cultural fabric of Mexican families. Children are left without childcare, teenage girls travel unaccompanied to work (often in the middle of the night because of continuous shift production), and men feel emasculated without sufficient opportunities to provide for their families. Given this context, Lozano concludes that “the feminicidios in Juárez are structural, not individual crimes,” inasmuch as “women’s bodies are vulnerable precisely because of their relationship to the objects and things both within and outside the maquiladora sector’s free-trade zones” (60). This assemblage of things is “never neutral” and “cannot be isolated in its properties and impacts” (67). Whereas new materialism ignores historical, cultural, and economic contexts in its myopic focus on things, border materialisms, as Lozano envisions it, examines the conditions that enable things like dark roads, female bodies, and exported consumer items to form a particular assemblage. Moreover, she highlights the power of human agency in the neoliberal assemblage of things by studying the ecological toilets produced through the Las Hormigas project. Living in the outskirts of Juárez, far from the factories and the wealthier communities that surround them, workers have only intermittent access to running water; consequently, they use outhouses for toilets that, with reoccurring floods, send raw sewage into the streets. The interaction among this flooding landscape, the tipping toilets, and these female agents, combined to produce a new thing: ecological toilets for use and for sale. For Lozano, such contextualized analysis is imperative to border materialism, but frequently absent in new materialism.

Chapter three furthers this critique and extension of new materialism by focusing on thing power. Lozano compares the government monument (mandated by the Cotton Field decision) with the impromptu monuments produced by family members of the victims. Walled off from public view, the state monument contains misspelled, missing, or repeated names, suggesting that the victims are “not worthy of public remembrance” and that the feminicidios are part of the past rather than a contemporary urgency (73). Alternatively, the activist-produced memorials, located at strategic sites such as the state attorney’s office, shopping centers, bus stops, and border crossings are designed to garner attention for the ongoing importance of anti-feminicidio efforts. By continuing to place pink and black crosses (symbolizing women and loss) at the places where feminicidios occur as well as in areas where tourists frequent, activists construct memory by reshaping matter. This chapter accepts the thesis that things have power, but insists on human agency as a key factor that “affords matter and objects their ability to ‘kick back’ against neoliberal hegemonic logics” (86).  The power enacted by these different memorials derives simultaneously from their producers, locations, and symbolic features.

Perhaps the most intriguing of such oppositional assemblages, the “Faces of Feminicidio,” as chapter four details, serve vital affective and rhetorical ends. These murals represent individual identities whose faces “haunt, protect, and comfort vis-à-vis the public’s tactile interaction with the objects’ location” (102). The project organizers, graffiti artist Maclovio and Lluvia Rocho, interview the Mothers and family members to determine the design and site for each mural and work with the community to raise money for materials. Located in neighborhoods, on school grounds, and, in one case, on the side a family home, these murals contain identifying features like characteristic poses, jewelry, and musical instruments that stand in stark contrast to standardized government images “produced in assembly-line fashion—a face and a rose” that reveal nothing “of the face’s life—the face’s corporeal history” (104). Here and elsewhere, Lozano emphasizes the human mediated interactions among objects, bodies, and publics, arguing that “the affect emitted from the murals’ properties is deeply foregrounded in the ‘behind the scenes’ work that Maclovio and Lluvia painstakingly accomplish” and not from the inherent power of things themselves (105).

The final case study examines the new materialist concept of vibrant matter or the vitality to nonhuman things. This chapter explains how a main sense of justice for the victims’ families comes from retrieving their loved ones remains—clothing, bags, and especially bones. The case study focuses on remains from the Arroyo Del Navajo just outside of Juárez, considered the “dumping grounds” for many feminicidios. To date, the remains of 19 victims have been unearthed from this dried river bed. Endowed with DNA, skeletal remains identify themselves with specific victims and thus lend credence to the notion of vibrant matter. However, these remains must be collected and often that task falls to community groups rather than government officials. If these groups find anything, they hold press conferences and pressure the government to run DNA testing. Without such activist work, these bones would remain silent in the Arroyo where they were dumped, suggesting that the vibrancy within things “is always influenced by larger structural forces” (119). Because community-led restreos and state-sponsored forensic specialists form part of the human apparatus that determines whether or not human remains are worthy of speech, new materialist accounts should not, she argues, jettison human agency in their analysis of vibrant matter.

Through extensive primary data and carefully chosen case studies, Not One More! illustrates how neoliberalism structures gendered violence as well as the resistant practices pursued by Mothers and other family members against past and current feminicidios. Lozano’s conclusion reiterates her main critique: “new materialism’s decontextualization of matter, through its disavowal of the mediated properties of rhetoric and human agency, in conjunction with its lack of attention to the hegemonic and neoliberal forces” results in a theoretical approach in danger of slipping from posthumanism into antihumanism (134). Although the many new materialist proponents she cites might quibble with her reading of their work, it would be difficult to find a rhetorical theorist or critic willing to dismiss the asymmetrical power relations between the government, organized drug traffickers, and U.S. corporations on the one hand and poor, young, female workers on the other. Such power struggles call out for dynamic rhetorical solutions and the activist politics that have emerged in the face of this locally situated but globally structured feminicidio have much to teach us about the work of producing economic, political, and cultural justice.

Review of Indigenous Rhetorics and Survival in the Nineteenth Century: A Yurok Woman Speaks Out

Lowry, Elizabeth Schleber. Indigenous Rhetorics and Survival in the Nineteenth Century: A Yurok Woman Speaks Out. Palgrave, 2019. 85 pages.

Elizabeth Schleber Lowry’s book, Indigenous Rhetorics and Survival in the Nineteenth Century: A Yurok Woman Speaks Out, situates Lucy Thompson as an important Indigenous rhetorician whose influence continues in contemporary Yurok culture through reclamation and revitalization efforts. Specifically, Lowry analyzes Thompson’s 1916 book, To the American Indian, which was the first book published in California by an Indigenous author, making it an important rhetorical and cultural artifact from a tumultuous time in American Indian history. In her first chapter, titled “Reminiscences,” Lowry explains that Thompson’s book can be read as autobiographical and is a prime example of nineteenth- and twentieth-century women’s “life writing” practices (6). At the same time, To the American Indian carefully mediates between celebrating daily Yurok life and deftly criticizing the colonial agenda of Euroamerican settlers. As Lowry points out, Thompson’s approach can be troubling to contemporary readers, especially as she invokes Christianity and employs discourse steeped ideas of the “savage” and “civilized” Native (16). While Lowry focuses on specific troubling passages in later chapters, she uses the first chapter to explore how Thompson’s life and her role as a Native woman married to a Euroamerican man shaped her as a rhetorician who was writing for a whiter audience during the early twentieth century. Building on the works of Malea Powell, Ernest Stromberg, and Gerald Vizenor, Lowry explains that Thompson’s writing had to “mediate between Native and Euroamerican worlds” (3). In doing so, Thompson developed rhetorical strategies of “survivance” that rejected victimhood and tragedy and recentered stories through continued existence. In order to highlight Thompson’s rhetorical practices as survivance, Lowry connects Thompson to other Native1 rhetors, such as Sarah Winnemucca Hopkins, to highlight similarities in the ways that Native rhetors used biblical references to critique colonization and questioned Christianity’s role in so-called civilizing practices (17). Drawing on Cheryl Walker’s notion of “subjugated” rhetoric, a strategy Walker claims is typical of several nineteenth century Native writers, Lowry argues that Thompson’s goal was to invite a sense of “moral outrage” among her white audiences in order to bring sympathy and “recruit white allies”(14). 

In her second chapter, “The Sacred and the Profane,” Lowry addresses some controversial rhetorical moves that Thompson makes, such as describing an ancient race of Yurok demigods, known to the Yurok as wa-ga, as white. While some scholars have claimed that the describing the wa-ga as “white” was perhaps due to a lack of vocabulary, translation error, or “ill-considered metaphor,” Lowry contends that Thompson was deliberate in her choice of language. According to Lowry, Thompson diverges from the traditional Yurok creation story in order to “teach Euroamericans both about themselves and about Yurok culture” through illustrations of sacred behavior of the wa-ga and profane behavior by the ken-e-ah, the word the Yurok used for white colonizing foreigners. Lowry suggests that Thompson employs what Kenneth Burke calls a “perspective of incongruity,” which is “a rhetorical strategy wherein a word or term is decontextualized and placed in a new—and often unexpected—context” to draw the reader’s attention to the discrepancies in logic “undergirding problematic cultural assumptions” (27). In order to address Thompson’s controversial use of a racialized “white” status of Yurok demigods, Lowry reframes Thompson’s more troubling passages in To the American Indian by highlighting Thompson’s sharp distinction between the benevolent wa-ga and the malevolent ken-e-ah. By connecting the most prevalent profanities of colonialism—domestic abuse, alcoholism, violence, and epidemics—to the ken-e-ah, Thompson recalls the sacredness of the wa-ga, suggesting that there could be an alternate means of Yurok and white settler contact. Thompson’s rhetorical goal in drawing these parallels, according to Lowry, is to reveal to a white audience their own profanities without having to address them directly or alienate them as potential allies (37). Lowry explains that as Thompson negotiates potential cultural conflicts, she continually uses the distinctions between the wa-ga and ken-e-ah as a diplomatic negotiation that teaches white settlers Yurok etiquette while preserving the sacredness of Yurok culture and customs. 

In chapter three, “‘Christianizing’ and ‘Indigenizing,’” Lowry addresses yet another controversial aspect of To the American Indian—that of Christianizing Yurok mythology. Similar to her analysis in the previous chapter, Lowry analyzes the ways in which Thompson’s work uses Christianity to connect to a white audience. Lowry positions Thompson as a “cultural broker” who took on the role of convincing “white power elites that indigenous [sic] people were not an abstraction: they were real human beings who had suffered—and who continued to suffer—horribly as a result of colonialism” (41). Unlike Thomas Buckley, who argues that Thompson was appealing to a white audience by Christianizing Yurok myths, Lowry suggests that Thompson is perhaps doing the opposite in that she is “indigenizing” Christian myths. Furthermore, Lowry suggests that Thompson is not just appealing to a white audience, but is also trying to encourage Natives to question Christianity’s importance (42). In order to support her claims, Lowry turns to the work of Ernest Stromberg to draw comparisons between Thompson and the subversive rhetoric of Susan La Flesche, Sarah Winnamucca Hopkins, and Zitkala Sa, all of whom pointed to the hypocrisy of Christianity (42). According to Lowery, by emplacing Yurok spirituality and rituals into Christian myths, Thompson hope to show her people that their spirituality was complete and that they did not need Christianity to morally guide them. More specifically, Lowry analyzes three of Thompson’s myths—”Our Christ,” a myth about a young Yurok Christ-like figure; “The Deluge,” a tale of a flood; and “Our Sampson,” a retelling of the story of Sampson and Delilah through Yurok cultural references. Lowry explains that, in each of these myths, Thompson asserts her ethos as a Yurok author by illustrating her intimate knowledge of Yurok spiritual practices and landscapes in the supplanted details of each myth. Additionally, Lowry proposes, when read in the context of the full narrative of To the American Indian, these myths go beyond being both Christian and Yurok. Instead, Thompson’s retellings overturn assumptions about Indigenous peoples made by Euroamericans. Lowry ultimately shows that Thompson upheld Yurok spirituality as superior to Christianity and reaffirmed their spiritual connection to the landscape, recovering these landscapes from the Euroamerican claims of a “godless wilderness.” 

The notion of the “godless wilderness is taken up further in chapter four, “Wilderness and Civilization.” In this chapter, Lowry examines Thompson’s tales of “wild Indians” and “Indian Devils.” Much like the rhetorical balancing acts she contextualizes in previous chapters, Lowry addresses the ways that Thompson rhetorically confronts Euroamerican views of wilderness and its supposed counterpoint, civilization, by analyzing Thompson’s work alongside other narratives of “civilized” Natives. Specifically, by comparing Thompson’s narrative to Theodora Kroeber’s account of the “wildness” of Ishi, “the last of the Yahi people” (55), Lowry contextualizes Thompson’s writings as an early counter-narrative to the emerging representations of Natives as created by Euroamericans. Lowry explains how Euroamericans often romanticized Natives as primitive, childlike, and needing care like Ishi, and yet contradicted those views by associating the wilderness of “Indian land” with savagery, barbarism, heathenism, and waste (56-57). Lowry argues that Kroeber’s narrative of Ishi serves as a benchmark to help us understand Thompson’s writings. According the Lowry, Kroeber’s work is a compelling narrative suggests that the real “savage” were the Euroamerican people and that undermines cultural assumptions by celebrating Ishi as embodying the hardworking, polite, formal, respectful, and restrained character traits that are emblematic of the Yahi people and (64-65). Lowry argues that, whereas Kroeber’s narrative takes Ishi (and all Indigenous people by association) out of the “wilderness” and situates them as a “stranger in their own country,” Thompson’s work reminds readers that “white people are the true strangers, they are the ones who are displaced, and they are the ones who upset the world’s balance” (66). The boundaries of Thompson’s “wilderness” are reclaimed through her stories of Yurok community members taking back and recovering their culture from “Indian devils” and “wild Indians” in order to rebalance their lives. 

In chapter five, “Regeneration,” Lowry considers the cultural importance and current impact of To the American Indian by situating the text within contemporary Yurok culture and argues that it is essential to the revitalization and regeneration of that culture. In order to discuss the legacy of Lucy Thompson as relevant to contemporary Yurok culture, Lowry contemplates the role of American Indian reservations on Indigenous rhetorics today. Building from the works of Lynn Huntsinger and Linda Tuhiwai Smith, Lowry claims that “the reservations of today present indigenous communities with choices—deciding which ideas and practices from the past might be regenerated or consciously continued, and which could be left behind” (70). To the American Indian, Lowry explains, has become vital in the process of multifaceted regeneration work currently being undertaken by the contemporary Yurok community, work such as creating a traditional tribal village, participating in environmental strategies to reintroduce native plants and animals to Northern California, recovering traditional cultural practices, and developing a Yurok language curriculum aimed at language revitalization. In this final chapter, Lowry also argues that several aspects of Thompson’s text are still issues that the Yurok community is facing, including domestic violence against women and addiction to stimulants and alcohol. She applies Tuhiwai Smith’s postcolonial work on the Maori people to connect Thompson’s work to contemporary Yurok experiences. Despite being rejected by the Red Power movement in the 1960s as a “victim-blaming” text, To the American Indian discusses a healing process similar to current healing processes of Yurok community members facing the court systems on drug and alcohol related charges; for Lowry, this connection helps solidify the text’s legacy (72-74). Lowry also points out that Thompson’s desperate calls for balance in Yurok ways of life are mirrored by Susan Matsen, a former Yurok vice-chairperson, specifically with regards to the salmon restoration efforts underway in the Klamath River region (76). Lowry concludes her book by asking how Thompson would feel about the state of the Yurok people today, given the similarities between Thompson’s own reflections on the long-lasting impact of colonialism during the early twentieth century and the ways that colonialism still operates in the Klamath River region for the Yurok people today. Regardless, Lowry explains, the importance of To the American Indian is clear as it offers pathways to cultural reclamation through stories, practical advice, and ceremony, as much today as it did in 1916. 

While the book title is focused on nineteenth-century Indigenous rhetorics, it is perhaps more accurate to say that Lowry’s book focuses on the rhetorical strategies of Indigenous rhetors during the Era of Allotment and Assimilation, which spanned the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century. Federal policy at this time shifted from establishing treaties with sovereign Indigenous nations and enforcing removal policies and instead proceeded with the allotment of land for the purpose of assimilating Indigenous peoples. As American Indians were stripped of their culture, Indigenous authors, like Lucy Thompson, developed strategies of rhetorical sovereignty that had to navigate the reality of assimilation with the perseverance of their own cultural practices and community. As feminist historiography, Lowry’s book draws scholars’ attention to the importance of contextualizing American Indian rhetorics in relation to distinctly Indigenous experiences during an era of American Indian erasure. Her work highlights the importance of analyzing Indigenous rhetorics with the understanding that texts that were written with a nineteenth-century audience in mind, rather than analyzing them through a contemporary lens and contemporary audiences. Ultimately, Lowry’s book recovers and celebrates this complex rhetorical navigation and joins the conversation of other indigenous scholars in Rhetoric and Composition, such as Malea Powell, Scott Lyons, Rose Gubele, and Lisa King. While Lowry takes a pan-tribal approach to comparative analysis, Indigenous Rhetorics and Survival in the Nineteenth Century: A Yurok Woman Speaks Out is an important addition to the history of Indigenous rhetorics and is especially relevant to scholars interested in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Yurok rhetorics and the rhetorical histories of Northwest California Indigenous peoples. Additionally, Lowry situates Thompson’s writing as both Indigenous and feminist, providing rhetorical scholars with an intersectional lens to examine a critical area of recovery while acquainting them with an influential Indigenous woman who is an important addition to the list of celebrated women rhetors from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. 


  1. Lowry uses “Native” to refer to Lucy Thompson and the Yurok people, and I will follow her terminology to remain consistent and avoid confusion. Other scholars may use “American Indian” or “Native American” when discussing the Indigenous peoples of the United States.

Works Cited

  • Gubele, Rose. “Unlearning the Pictures in Our Heads: Teaching the Cherokee Phoenix, Boudinot, and Cherokee History.” Survivance, Sovereignty, and Story: Teaching American Indian Rhetorics. Edited by Lisa King, Rose Gubele, and Joyce Rain Anderson, Utah State UP, 2015. 96-115.
  • King, Lisa. “Sovereignty, Rhetorical Sovereignty, and Representation: Keywords for Teaching Indigenous Texts.” Survivance, Sovereignty, and Story: Teaching American Indian Rhetorics. Edited by Lisa King, Rose Gubele, and Joyce Rain Anderson, Utah State UP, 2015. 17-34.
  • Lyons, Scott Richard. “Rhetorical Sovereignty: What Do American Indians Want from Writing?” College Composition and Communication, vol. 51, no. 3, 2000, pp. 447-468.

Review of Remembering Women Differently: Refiguring Rhetorical Work

Gaillet, Lynée Lewis and Helen Gaillet Bailey, editors. Remembering Women Differently: Refiguring Rhetorical Work. U of South Carolina P, 2019. 292 pages.

Within the rhetorical tradition, memory has a somewhat contradictory place; at various points it was eliminated from the canon entirely in favor of more highly valued dimensions of rhetoric, such as style and delivery (Pruchnic and Lacey). While memory is sometimes treated as a decontextualized skill by which individuals store and retrieve information, it is also a shared and communal phenomenon, an essential tool for understanding how we have arrived at a current cultural moment. As Hirsch and Smith put it, memory is “both public and private, both individual. . . and cultural” (2). In this framework, remembering the past becomes an act not just of retrieving facts or narrating events, but rather, negotiating meanings and representations (5). 

In their new collection, Remembering Women Differently: Refiguring Rhetorical Work, Lynée Lewis Gaillet and Helen Gaillet Bailey bring together these two conceptions of memory—the individual and the communal—presenting a series of essays that tell individual stories about significant women from the past, while collectively making an argument about how and why we should remember their contributions to intellectual and rhetorical history. The book invites us to rediscover women’s contributions to a range of disciplines through a rhetorical lens.

In the introduction, Letizia Guglielmo notes that remembering the past is a feminist act insofar as it “highlights the agency of both the recollector and the subject whose story is recovered or retold” (2). When we write women into rhetorical history, we typically do one of two things, either expanding our list of figures to be remembered, or broadening our definition of what counts as rhetoric. But a third kind of remembering is to offer alternative accounts that help us better understand existing narratives. The essays in this book perform all three functions, but the third, offering alternative accounts of how women have contributed to public discourse, is perhaps the most important contribution of this volume, which seeks to “[disrupt] seemingly stable, ‘disciplined’ memories of women’s lives and of cultural truths” (3). 

The book is divided into four parts. The first section, “Theoretical Frameworks,” offers new perspectives on recovery work, drawing from topics as wide-ranging as nineteenth and twentieth-century women in STEM, colonial and postcolonial feminism in Nigeria, and modern conceptions of Byzantine rhetoric. In their chapter, “Social Networks as a Powerful Force for Change: Women in the History of Medicine and Computing,” Gesa E. Kirsch and Patricia Fancher present case studies of “social circulation” by studying how women physicians and mathematicians/computer scientists used professional networks to share knowledge and resources. These case studies can not only help us understand women’s specific accomplishments but also help us to understand them “as actors in larger social circles whose ideas and actions shaped developments . . . that circulated across time, locations, and generations” (21). Kirsch and Fancher remind us that “social circulation is an analytical concept” (22) requiring that we ask “how [do] women collaborate, mentor one another, and share resources, knowledge, and everyday practices? What [is] the role of social and professional networks in allowing women to enter the workplace, navigate the public sphere, and advocate social change?” (22). 

Building on Kirsch and Fancher, subsequent essays in this section point to the need for non-western frameworks and for increased attention to the rhetorical work performed by texts such as biographies. In “From Erasure to Restoration: Rosalind Franklin and the Discovery of the DNA Structure,” Alice Johnston Myatt uses Franklin, a biologist, as a “case study for understanding [the] processes involved in restoration projects” (41). Franklin was written out of early accounts of the discovery of DNA but reclaimed in subsequent histories due to the rhetorical work of her biographers. A third essay in this section, “Taming Cerberus: Against Racism, Sexism, and Oppression in Colonial and Postcolonial Nigeria,” by Maria Martin, argues that we need non-western theories and approaches to understand global rhetorical movements such as that of the Nigerian women activists of her study. Martin advocates for “a more Africa-centered approach” to naming and defining women’s motives and movements”—one that “[comes] from the perspective of African women themselves” (58). Finally, “Afterlives of Anna Komnene: Moments in the History of History of Byzantium,” by Ellen Quandahl, looks at how modern writers have grappled with the legacy of Komnene, a Byzantine writer whose work is a primary historical text for the period of the first Crusade. Quandahl looks at how Komnene has been represented by three modern writers, whose “texts complicate the notion that writing women into our histories sufficiently challenges modes of interpretation that keep women apart from political and rhetorical history” (75). This chapter looks at the relationship between “individual remembering” and “broader practices by which people construct a past” (75). 

The book’s second section, “Erased Collaborators,” explores case studies of women whose partnerships with more prominent or powerful male figures have contributed to their being forgotten or silenced. In their essay, “Not Simply ‘Freeing the Men to Fight’: Rewriting the Reductive History of U.S. Military Women’s Achievements on and off the Battlefield,” Mariana Grohowski and Alexis Hart look at how women’s military history has been rhetorically constructed in such a way to frame women as serving a supporting role in relationship to men, rather than being important figures in their own right. They cite Kenneth Burke’s observation that “a way of seeing is a way of not seeing,” pointing out that previous ways of “seeing” women’s military history tended to make this history less visible and less important (99). They note that with changes in women’s military roles, and new, digital communities for women, there are now more avenues for women to share their stories and document their contributions. 

While Grohowski and Hart examine collective understandings of women’s military history, the next two essays focus on particular women at specific historical moments. An essay by Henrietta Nickels Shirk, “The Audubon-Martin Collaboration: An Exploration of Rhetorical Foreground and Background,” examines the contributions of Maria Martin, who was the background illustrator for Audubon’s famous photographs as well as an artist in her own right. The author places her within the Victorian “cult of true womanhood,” which encouraged women to embrace private and domestic roles. Shirk notes that while women are often rhetorically constructed as occupying a “background” position “where [they] use specific rhetorical techniques to free themselves from . . . oppression,” in Martin’s case, she served both metaphorically and literally in the background of Audubon’s work. 

Suzanne Bordelon’s chapter, “Please Cherish My Own Ideals and Dreams about the School of Expression”: The Erasure of Anna Baright Curry,” has a two-fold purpose: to draw attention to the nineteenth-century elocution school movement, an important site of rhetorical activity, and to understand how ethos is constructed—not just created by an author, but negotiated by an audience. Curry, the focus of the essay, collaborated with her husband to develop “a pedagogy that we would regard today as promoting reflection, critical thinking, [and] ‘deep’ reading. . . not simply artificial gestures and memorization” (119). Yet Curry’s contributions have largely been overlooked, as her husband received the primary credit for developing the institution and its pedagogical approach. One of Baright Curry’s important contributions to this approach was the emphasis placed on the reader’s role in responding to and interpreting texts. 

The third section of the book, “Overlooked Rhetors and Texts,” draws attention to women’s rhetorical practices that have been previously unnoticed or understudied. Kristie Fleckenstein’s engaging essay, “Remembering Women: Florence Smalley Babbit and the Victorian Family Photograph Album,” looks at family histories and albums as visual rhetoric. Fleckenstein notes that “previous attempts to write women into the history of rhetoric have focused on women as “wordsmiths” (139), but as curators of photographs, scrapbooks, and other visual texts, nineteenth-century women also practiced a form of vernacular and visual rhetoric (140). The mundane act of creating family albums relied on more than documents and artifacts alone; it involved creating a narrative and representing a “family ethos” (149). Fleckenstein cites Patricia Bizzell’s point that in order “to find women in the rhetorical tradition, we must look where those women were speaking and writing, even if those venues deviate from the traditional public sphere” (152). This search may take us into domestic spaces where women created public representations of their private lives. 

In their essay, “I Have Always Been Significant to Myself: Alice James’s Pragmatic Activism,” Hephzibah Roskelly and Kate Ronald examine the life and writing of Alice James, who was overshadowed by her male family members, Henry James Sr, a philosopher, William James, the founder of American psychology, and Henry James, the nineteenth-century American novelist. James was an intellectual woman silenced by the expectations of her time. The next chapter, Gail M. Presbey’s “Defying Stereotypes: An Indian Woman Freedom Fighter,” explores the contributions of Rukshmani Bhatia, an Indian freedom fighter and disciple of Ghandi. The chapter uses primary source interview material to understand “the concept of women’s power and the issue of the use of violence” for independence movements” (181). 

Finally, the fourth section of the book, “Disrupted Public Memory,” offers new or alternative accounts that build on existing narratives. Wendy Hayden’s work, “The Rhetorical Reputation of Forgotten Feminist Lois Waisbrooker,” treats Waisbrooker as a case study of activism outside the mainstream. Deviating from the nineteenth-century tradition in which women adopted the mantle of “respectability” to claim authority to speak, Waisbrooker delighted in shocking the public, cultivating an image that emphasized her working-class roots, lack of education, and status as a “fallen woman” (189). Her outsider identity allowed her to address topics, such as sexual freedom, that were considered radical in her day. Laurie A. Britt-Smith’s chapter, “Not So Easily Dismissed: The Intellectual Influences and Rhetorical Voice of Dorothy Day,” offers a valuable alternative narrative of a woman who is still well known today as a Catholic reformer and workers’ advocate. While Day has traditionally been understood in terms of how Catholicism influenced her, this essay offers a close analysis of her writing in order to understand what Day brought to Catholicism. Drawing from Karlyn Kohrs Campbell, Britt-Smith places Day within a tradition of women’s protest rhetoric, a tradition that values the personal voice and the use of narrative, and one that “[invites] the audience to test its experiences against the experience of the speaker/author in order to achieve agreement through identification” (213). 

Similar to Wendy Hayden’s chapter, Amy Aronson’s piece, “Activist, Pacifist, Mother, Feminist, Wife: Private Interventions and the Public Memory of Crystal Eastman,” examines the erasure of a woman who was well-known during her lifetime. Eastman was active in the formation of the National Woman’s Party, the ERA, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, and the ACLU. However, over time she has been mostly forgotten. Aronson argues that this erasure occurred as a result of a complex “interplay between private life and public stature” (238). The reasons were partly methodological, having to do with how documents and records are preserved (or not). But they were also personal, suggesting the complex interactions between women’s private and public lives.  The final case study turns our attention back to rhetoric as a discipline, examining two rhetoric textbooks written by women. In “Turning Trends: Lockwood’s and Emerson’s Rhetoric Textbooks at the American Fin de Siecle,” Nancy Myers shows how these two writers established the importance of female teachers in a male-dominated publishing world, demonstrating that women teachers were at the forefront of pedagogical and curricular innovation. 

Taken one-by-one, the chapters in this volume contribute to intellectual histories across a range of disciplines, from science/STEM to rhetoric/education, history, religion, and more. They tell individual stories that are worth knowing and celebrating. Collectively, however, they invite us to think in new ways about how we remember women, and they point to the communal nature of women’s rhetorical history. They show us the means by which women have participated in public discourse, built and established ethos, and participated in intellectual and social movements. They invite us to consider why some women’s narratives have been preserved while others have been erased or only partially understood.  This collection raises questions about what counts as rhetoric and points to places where we might turn to continue expanding the body of scholarship on women’s public discourse. But it also presents a series of lively and engaging histories that are likely to be of interest to scholars across a range of fields, from rhetoric, to women’s studies, science, and history. 

Works Cited

  • Hirsch, Marianne, and Valerie Smith. “Feminism and Cultural Memory: An Introduction.” Signs vol. 28, no. 1, 2002, pp. 1-19.
  • Pruchnic, Jeff, and Kim Lacey. “The Future of Forgetting: Rhetoric, Memory, Affect.” Rhetoric Society Quarterly vol. 41, no. 5, 2011, pp. 472-494.

Review of Surrender: Feminist Rhetoric and Ethics in Love and Illness

Restaino, Jessica. Surrender: Feminist Rhetoric and Ethics in Love and Illness. Southern Illinois UP, 2019. 204 pages.

Feminist rhetorical scholars have long been concerned with critically examining how care and love can be used as guiding forces in rhetorical methodologies (see Royster & Kirsch, Schell, Lunsford & Ede, among others). In Surrender: Feminist Rhetoric and Ethics in Love and Illness, Jessica Restaino revives and extends these concerns. Restaino grapples with questions such as, “What might research and writing look like, and how might knowledge take shape, in a practice (method) of intimacy as epistemology, as a way of writing through otherwise unspoken, even frightening, questions?” (9). She complicates notions of care and reflexivity in feminist rhetorical methods by considering how we might occupy a “space of misfit”—the space in between established ways of doing research and that which is unutterable and inexplicable, such as love and loss (85). She asks us, as practitioners of language, what do we do when our breath, and our words, are taken away? 

Surrender is an ethnography from Restaino’s two-year collaboration and friendship with Susan Lundy Maute who died of stage IV breast cancer. Restaino asks audiences interested in doing their own feminist scholarship around “unspoken, even frightening questions” to consider what new research questions and methods spaces of illness, love, and loss might present if we take those spaces as ones fit for academic, as well as personal, analysis. She writes, “What is lost when we ‘discipline’ the personal?” (3). She dwells in the multitude of written artifacts that remain after Sue’s death and grapples with the ethical questions of how and why to represent the language work that remains after the final years of Sue’s life. She considers what rhetorical work happened in the collaborative space of love and terminal illness that existed between her and Sue. Restaino calls for us to push beyond known methods, set research questions, articulable research-participants dynamics, and spaces of comfort in order to embrace “dark, uncertain spaces” such as the one she occupied with Sue as she loved and wrote with her through her illness (99). In this space with Sue, Restaino finds shifting notions of herself and her healthy body in relation to Sue’s ill body, altered and sometimes reversed researcher-participant dynamics, and a tension between known research tools and expectations and the lived experiences that cannot be fully articulated. She writes, “this book marks my own effort to stay in the work that overwhelms me, that pushes me to confront my own humanity and my capacity for pain and for love as rhetorical work. . . . I am most interested in exploring the ways in which personal and professional transformation is foundational to such projects and thus argue for working ‘imperfectly,’ honoring the limits as new forms of knowing” (7). In so doing, Restaino offers us a model for staying in the work that overwhelms us. 

Restaino’s vulnerable, beautiful work offers feminist researchers both an inspiration and model for going into the territories of our lives that might traditionally be considered seperate from or not fitting for research—the spaces that scare us, the moments that baffle us, the human interactions that might take our breath away—to look for how and why language works there and to consider new methods for working with language that such spaces call for. Restaino extends notions of care in feminist rhetoric by providing a model of intimacy as methodology. The concept of intimacy “invite[s] us to think of blurred boundaries, of being even dangerously close to each other: collapsed walls between the personal, the academic, and the analytic” (9). By taking care and loss as generative spaces fit for academic analysis, Surrender shows us the value of studying how language works in spaces where language may fail—spaces of death, love, and friendship. 

Restaino titles that chapters of the book in this order: “Stage IV,” “Stage III,” “Stage II,” “Stage I,” and “In Situ.” The chapter names represent the different diagnoses of breast cancer, but, because she “seeks to invert or disrupt our expectations,” the stages regress rather than progress as the book develops (6). Between each chapter, Restaino includes primary materials from her writing and collaboration with Sue, such as screenshots of text message conversations and Sue’s own writing. These inter-chapters, titled “Bloodwork” to signify a common process for cancer patients, allow readers to see firsthand the ways that language failed to relate Sue’s experience and body to Restaino while also showing us how Sue used language to document her wishes and to articulate her sense of loss. 

In “Stage IV,” Restaino calls for feminist rhetoricians to work with qualitative data in ways that “use our own porousness as an agent of knowledge making,” ways that acknolwedge the academic work we do as “part of our human growth” (41). Through collaboration and friendship, Sue used the rhetorical space between her and Restaino to come to terms with the end of her life. In this chapter, Restaino hopes that her own involvement in Sue’s language work might “serve as a testament to initmate human struggle as methodological and to the capacity of feminist rhetorical practices in allowing and generating spaces in which transformation can occur. Such transformation, when we use the frame of terminal illness, . . . marks a way to render ourselves as writing and thinking subjects and to subsequently destabilize the texts we produce” (41-2). Restaino’s alternative way of thinking of ourselves as writer-researchers, a way of thinking that embraces the deepest human vulnerability as a guiding methodology for the language work that we observe, allows those experiences like love and loss not traditionally thought of as academic work to be processes that use language in transformative ways.

 In “Stage III,” Restaino draws on the concept of “surrender,” which she defines as “a way of continually insisting on a kind of letting go . . . not only of what we already know how to do (practice) and what we think we know (epistemology) but also of our subjectivit(ies) as writers and researchers” (13). A practice of surrender called for Restaino to be continually remade by her dynamic with Sue. She explains, “As I served as her witness, her recorder, her scribe,…I was both rendered anew within our dynamic while also reoriented to my own body and mind” (48). Restaino offer feminist researchers an example of letting go completely to the work that we do—a testament to the usefulness of letting our ideas of ourselves continually change in relationship to our research collabroaters. Restaino and her work in Surrender are changed by loss, as she explains that “the impossibility of saving took on both practical and conceptual meanings, as I could not save [Sue] from dying—no one could—nor can I presently save or even replicate her through textual representation in our work following her death” (49). As Restaino illustrates when she describes a moment in which she dictated Sue’s wishes three weeks before her death, the ability to put words and material to the impending loss that they both felt was something that changed both of them—a moment which could not be fully realized without the practice of surrendering to what we think of as the limits of feminist research. Restaino shows us how instances of loss, friendship, and emotion that may not traditionally seem relevant to research may actually show us what language can do in moments that do not seem articulable. 

In “Stage II,” Restaino critiques Peter Smagorisnky’s notion that “studies work best when an author poses a limited set of answerable questions and then designs the paper around them” (14). Instead, she suggests that we embrace a tension between expectations for research findings and a “gut sense or force that exceeds capture. . . . In the context of my role as researcher-writer, these tensions represent a coming-into-agency, into an identity and methodology defined by movement and uncertainty and by my own material experience as witness [to Sue’s illness]” (84). The tension between a “hope for cohesiveness” and the “illegible status of lived experience” is a tension that Restaino calls us to embrace in our research methodologies. We must surrender to the questions that the work asks in order to fully embrace lived experience. For their collaboration, this meant that “unknowing [Sue]…meant treading out into the dark imagination where she resided with that which was not cured but also not immediately measurable: her cancer and its status as terminal . . . the utterly ungraspable sense of time and rationality, of how or when or why” (88). One method that Restaino used in their collaboration that is a written reflection in which the researcher and participant review the interviewer/researcher’s reactions to the audio recordings together and discuss any further questions (99). This practice, in particular, is one that feminist researchers might use to open a space of collaboration and reflexivity with participants while also creating a space for the shared project of articulating that which is not completely knowable, such as loss. 

In “Stage I,” Restaino thinks about rhetorical touch by considering the “rhetorical transaction uniquely possible between bodies, healthy and ill, in the dying process” (15). Restaino describes the eventual acceptance in decline that Sue’s condition that her physically deteriorating body forced them both into as an example of a “gathering around” that “exceeds earlier feminist notions of care and that demands instead radical sharing, at once threatening and comforting, housed in materiality” (106). Restaino’s caring for Sue’s body made the distance between their healthy and ill bodies visible while also drawing Restaino, as a person with a body also capable of illness, closer to Sue. Restaino provides a model of a researcher-participant dynamis from this experience of shared and divergent materiality with Sue. This dynamis includes: “1. I (participant) need you (researcher) to feel this in your body so you can understand. 2. I (researcher) need to feel that I can’t understand your (participant) experience. 3. I (participant) need you (researcher) to take care of my body  so I (as represented by the body) am safe and valued” (108). The dynamis that Restaino creates here provides a new way of thinking about care as both collaborative and material in feminist research. Though Restaino discovers this bodily codependence and collaboration as a part of meaning-making through the context of terminal illness, this model is particularly useful for feminist researchers in many other vulnerable research contexts. 

In the final chapter, Restaino draws on Jim Corder to consider the role of love in rhetorical work, as love reveals the lover “broken and incomplete but also, as such, evolving, and thus the researcher-who-loves-as-human, confused, fraught and generative.” Restaino advocates for the importance of work “that fails to protect us from pain or loss” (15). Restaino reminds us that our research might “unhinge us from our traditional expectations about time…and what it might yield,” as time, particularly in the context of terminal illness, is often out of the researcher’s control. Restaino also invites us to “integrate into our efforts at knowledge making the kinds of data that confound, frighten, or even repulse us.” In her case, this meant accepting her body as capable of the illness she observed in Sue’s, which is “not the same as living another’s experience. Rather, this is a methodological move that welcomes uncertainty, weakness, or even awfulness as valued, usable data” (148). Lastly, Restaino reminds us that if we are working in the “dark, uncertain spaces,” our traditional research tools will not work. In her own example, her audio recorder functioned as both a symbol of importance in traditional thoughts about research, but it simultaneously, contradictorily, functioned as agentive for Sue, as she describes how Sue often asked if she had “gotten that down” and, on one occasion, offered her bloodwork results to write on the back of when Restaino had forgotten her notebook and recorder. We must embrace that traditional research tools, like Restaino’s recorder,  might not work or we must let them work differently as we are moved by “dark, uncertain spaces” (152). Throughout the book, and in this chapter in particular, Restaino provides a vulnerable, visceral model of how we might do the work that frightens and pains us, and how the questions and tools that we use may shift as we venture into the most human of research spaces— the spaces with sometimes unanswerable questions and bodies that we both know and cannot know. 

Restaino leaves us with a sense that we must work within the spaces where language cannot fully succeed, such as in articulating the lived experience of terminal illness, to continue feminist work on care and embodiment. Scholars of feminist rhetoric can take up Restaino’s concept of intimacy as methodology as they move into their own spaces of discomfit, exploring the ways that language works in times of extreme human emotion, of loss and love. We must do the work that blurs the boundaries between personal, academic, and analytic—the work that scares us. 

Works Cited

  • Kirsch, Gesa and Jacqueline Jones Royster. Feminist Rhetorical Practices: New Horizons for Rhetoric, Composition, and Literacy Studies. Southern Illinois UP, 2012.
  • Lunsford, Andrea and Lisa Ede. Writing Together: Collaboration in Theory and Practice. Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2011.
  • Schell, Eileen and K.J. Rawson, editors. Rhetorica in Motion: Feminist Rhetorical Methods and Methodologies, U of Pittsburgh P, 2010

Review of My Life with Charles Billups and Martin Luther King: Trauma and the Civil Rights Movement

Baker, Rene Billups (with Keith D. Miller). My Life with Charles Billups and Martin Luther King: Trauma and the Civil Rights Movement. Phoenix: Peacock Proud Press, 2019. 110 pages.

“Sometimes I would be my daddy’s mouthpiece,” remembers Rene Billups Baker within the pages of My Life with Charles Billups and Martin Luther King: Trauma and the Civil Rights Movement (9). Over fifty years after her father’s tragic death, Billups Baker found supportive encouragement in civil rights movement scholar Keith D. Miller and she summoned the courage to speak for her father once more. In recovering her father’s activism and in telling her own story, Billups Baker speaks back to oversimplified popular narratives of the civil rights movement in a manner that provides both an enriched version of American history and valuable lessons for America’s contemporary political context. 

My Life provides readers a firsthand account of the mid-twentieth-century civil rights movement in Birmingham, Alabama, which was vital to the strategies and successes of the larger black freedom struggle. Billups Baker’s memoir also grants readers a detailed introduction to her father, Charles Billups, a decorated WWII veteran and civil rights movement foot soldier whose activism warrants much further study. Billups pastored the New Pilgrim Church in Birmingham, which his daughter characterizes as a “big spark plug for the movement” (12). In many respects, New Pilgrim was the cornerstone of black life in the city—providing weekly sermons that fortified parishioners who daily struggled against the all-pervasive injustices and indignities of the Jim Crow South; New Pilgrim also provided a daycare center, a credit union, and free Monday night dinners for the community. The Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR), which Billups helped found in 1956, sponsored these Monday night dinners that turned into political rallies. The ACMHR was comprised of a core group of local ministers and parishioners who held their leadership sessions at New Pilgrim and also held their rallies there each week, enlisting the “movement choir” to help inspire Birmingham residents to “join the struggle to eliminate racial segregation” (12). As a core ACMHR organizer and a pastor at New Pilgrim, Billups worked alongside better-known movement greats like Reverends Fred Shuttlesworth, E.D. Nixon, and Martin Luther King, Jr. In fact, as Billups’ daughter recalls, King so respected her father’s leadership that he enlisted Billups in his inner circle when the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) centered their nonviolent protest movement in Birmingham in the Spring of 1963. Three years later, when the SCLC launched their Chicago Freedom Movement campaign, moreover, King recruited Billups to that northern city to help coordinate the SCLC’s Operation Breadbasket initiative.

Written as equal parts memoir, organizational history, and biography, My Life includes rare photographs, historical news clippings, and never-before-published movement memoranda. Billups Baker pairs these valuable primary sources with her own intimate account, informed by eyewitness experiences and the stories passed down within her family about Billups, King, and pivotal moments within the larger movement for civil rights. Scholars interested in the rhetoric of nonviolent social change, for instance, will find Billups Baker’s account of the Miracle March that her father led particularly valuable. As she recounts, on Sunday May 5, 1963, after Birmingham police arrested the white folk singers and civil rights supporters, Guy Carawan and Candy Carawan, Billups led thousands of black parishioners—adults and children all dressed in their Sunday’s best—on a half-mile march toward the jail. Once there, they gathered on the jailhouse lawn, kneeling, praying, and singing movement anthems in solidarity with the Carawans. Bull Connor, the arch segregationist city commissioner, ordered Birmingham’s firefighters to turn their hoses on the protestors and the police to sic their dogs on the kneeling parishioners. “Turn on the hoses! Turn loose the dogs! We will stay here ‘til we die!” Billups defiantly responded to Connor’s orders (Billups qtd. in Billups Baker 56).  At that, the firefighters put down their hoses; the police kept their dogs on leash. Connor commanded them again and again, cursing the first responders, and ordering them to attack the protestors. They refused. Eventually Billups led the peaceful protestors (without incident) from the jailhouse lawn, right by the firefighters and police officers, back toward New Pilgrim. 

The Miracle March deeply affected King, who referred to it as “one of the most fantastic events of the Birmingham story,” from which he felt “for the first time the pride and power of nonviolence” in Birmingham (King qtd. in Billups Baker 56-57). The Birmingham story, moreover, was a pivotal force in the overall movement for nonviolent social, political, and economic change. As famed performer and ardent movement supporter, Harry Belafonte proclaimed: “For the civil rights effort in America, Birmingham was the turning point . . . it was the most astonishing victory of nonviolent action that any of us had even seen” (Belafonte qtd. in Billups Baker 61). Within the pages of My Life, Billups Baker details the national and international attention the nonviolent movement for civil rights in Birmingham received. She also connects its success to nonviolent demonstrations across the South and even to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Through his dedicated activism in Birmingham, Charles Billups became a trusted advisor to King. Andrew Young referred to Billups as “one of the most faithful and fearless leaders of the old ACMHR,” and Billups Baker recalls the long nights her father spent strategizing with King, the SCLC, and local leaders in Birmingham’s Gaston Motel (57). In 1966, when King announced the SCLC’s Chicago Freedom Movement campaign, therefore, it was not surprising that he recruited Billups to help with the effort. Moving to Chicago was exciting for Billups Baker, then just a teenager. For two years, her father supported the SCLC’s Operation Breadbasket in Chicago. Shortly after King was assassinated in Memphis, however, Billups was shot in the chest and killed in Chicago. “The police never arrested anyone for murdering my father,” Billups Baker laments, “and the case was never solved” (82). For a time, the authorities suspected that Billups’s murder was tied to King’s assassination. Fearing more violence, they closely guarded the Billups family, but officials eventually reasoned that Charles Billups was likely the victim of a random armed robbery and essentially dropped the case. The grieving and fearful Billups family—Rene, her mother, Almarie, and two sisters, Charlotte and Lisa—moved back to Birmingham and distanced themselves from the movement. 

“I hated the civil rights movement” recalls Billups Baker, “because it had simply meant trouble and pain for me” (90). This through line, encapsulated by the book title’s post colon emphasis, “Trauma and the Civil Rights Movement,” will likely be of particular interest to Peitho’s readers. Billups Baker’s memoir offers a first-hand feminist history of her experience growing from a black child into a black woman, all the while navigating the trauma and grief wrought by white supremacy. The long nights her father spent strategizing with King and other movement leaders in the Gaston Motel, for instance, are particularly memorable for Billups Baker because her mother worked the graveyard shift at a hospital and so her father would bring her and her sisters to those meetings. Unlike the family-friendly atmosphere of contemporary Black Lives Matter meetings, wherein activists are encouraged to “fully participate with their children,” the Billups children were not welcome in the Gaston Motel strategy sessions (Black Lives Matter, “What We Believe”). Their father would, thus, leave Charlotte, Rene, and Lisa in the family’s car, parked under a streetlight outside the motel. Their teachers complained about how tired the children seemed at school on the days following these late night meetings. The teacher complaints created tension in the Billupses’ marriage. Billups Baker remembers her mother, fed up with the strain that the movement placed upon their family, taking the girls and leaving her father on more than one occasion. It wasn’t just the time Billups Baker’s father spent organizing for civil rights that her mother found difficult to bear; it was also the harassment and violence his activism engendered. The Klan burned crosses in the family’s front yard; the homes of their activist friends were bombed; and their neighbors shunned the Billups out of fear that their activism put the entire neighborhood in danger of white supremacist retaliation. 

Among Billups Baker’s most haunting childhood memories was the time her father narrowly escaped a Ku Klux Klan lynching. On the evening of April 10, 1959, Billups was returning from his job as an airplane mechanic when he was forced at gunpoint into a Klansman’s truck, taken into the woods, tied to a tree, and lashed by a white mob. Billups Baker recounts how her father prayed aloud and “asked God to care for the children of these men who were cruelly beating him and were about to murder him”; she characterized her father as a “deeply Christian man, a nonviolent man,” who “didn’t want any revenge” (21). Her father’s vocal prayers spared his life, according to Billups Baker. Moved by the power of Billups’ words, the Klansman who had driven the mob into the woods decided not to kill Billups and the other Klansmen fled the scene along with their leader. After being rejected from a nearby veterans’ hospital, Billups finally received lifesaving treatment for his severe wounds. Billups Baker recalls that he “looked a horrifying sight! Nobody wants to see their father or mother looking like that!” (23). Nor should any child have to live with the reminders of this white supremacist brutality. For the rest of his life, Charles Billups would “get frantic if anyone touched him in certain places . . . the Klan scarred him and left their souvenirs on his body” (24).

“I spent my childhood living in fear, always living in fear,” Billups Baker remembers (42). Fear that the Klan would try again to lynch her father, fear that the police would once again arrest him, and fear that their house would be firebombed never left her mind when she was a child. All of this fear engendered deep anger and distrust toward white people. After Billups narrowly escaped the Klan lynching, for example, a young Rene told her father that she “would get a double-barreled shotgun and kill all the white people” (33). Her father scolded her for this idea and Dr. King said, “I would hate to see her grow up with hate in her heart” (33). They took her on peaceful marches, which she enjoyed, until the sight of the police dogs brought fearful tears to her young eyes. “If you cry, you can’t go with me,” Billups Baker remembers her father telling her. “Because I wanted to go with him, I stopped crying,” she writes (34). 

After her father died, remembers Billups Baker, “I wanted to commit suicide . . . It was just terrible, just awful! Mama ordered me to say nothing about the murder. Because we didn’t know who murdered him or why they did that, she worried that our lives might also be endangered” (82). Grieving for her father and terrified that her own life was in danger, a teen-aged Rene repressed her feelings, just as she had been forced to do as a young child marching for civil rights. It wasn’t until years later, after her mother and older sister died, after years of encouragement by her supportive partner, Winston Baker, and after she recovered—against all odds—from cancer surgery, that Billups Baker decided: “God left me here for a reason. I am speaking and writing about my father because the world needs to know about Charles Billups” (101). 

In the process of remembering, writing, and speaking about her father, Billups Baker appears to have found some peace. “In some ways, our family life during my childhood was terrible. Just awful, over and over! We had to live in so much fear! In other ways,” she recalls now, “life was rich and wonderful. My daddy and I had lots of good times over fifteen years. He told me not to hate white people. He told me to forgive” (98). While refusing to be consumed by hatred and promoting the type of forgiveness that lightens one’s own emotional burden are doubtlessly healthy attitudes to model, the way in which black forgiveness of white supremacist-inflicted tragedy has become an expected social script is highly problematic. Widely lauded statements of forgiveness by black people following the Charleston massacre and the murder of Botham Jean, for instance, have compelled cultural critics to wonder: are some actions too horrific to forgive? Does black forgiveness let white people off of the hook, divesting them of responsibility for the lethal effects of white supremacy? How can our nation heal from wounds we refuse to acknowledge, much less treat? Billups Baker’s recurrent reflections on her own fear, anger, and the compulsion to forgive encourage readers to think more deeply, and perhaps differently, about the expectation of forgiveness in the process of racial reconciliation.

Billups Baker’s description of the Children’s Crusade that her father organized and her account of her own childhood activism similarly compelled me to consider the climate change and gun violence activism spearheaded by children in our current political moment. While adults widely praise the child-activists’ bravery and leadership on issues that we have failed to confront ourselves, Billups Baker’s vivid descriptions of childhood trauma should give us all pause. Are we matching our encouraging gestures and words of praise for these young activists with mentorship and mental health support? Billups Baker’s experiences suggest the importance of validating not only the trauma that sparked the activism, but also the importance of working through the trauma of the activism itself. 

My Life provides a localized history that demonstrates the complexity of activist struggle and centers previously overlooked participants. More than this, though, Billups Baker’s memoir raises difficult questions and proffers thoughtful answers drawn from the crucible of her experience. My Life imbues civil rights history with much-needed humanity, vividly compelling readers to experience the toll that civil rights activism exacted from devoted families. Billups Baker’s memoir aptly demonstrates that localized histories, bravely told by survivors who have overcome trauma’s propensity to silence, provide significant counterpoints to oversimplified popular narratives of the civil rights movement even as accounts such as My Life share important lessons to inform contemporary activism.

Review of Glenn and Mountford’s Rhetoric and Writing Studies in the New Century: Historiography, Pedagogy, and Politics

Glenn, Cheryl and Roxanne Mountford, editors. Rhetoric and Writing Studies in the New Century: Historiography, Pedagogy, and Politics. Southern Illinois UP, 2017. 320 pages.

Book cover of Glenn and Mountford's edited collection. Feature three stacked ampersands in different shades of blue on a yellow background. The title text is in yellow typeface toward the bottom-left side of the cover.
Image from Southern Illinois University Press website.

In the game of chess, the queen is often valued for being the most versatile figure on the board; she can move in any direction, and unlike her royal counterpart, she’s not confined to moving one space at a time. As a young person learning the game, I did whatever it took to get her off the back row in the hopes that once free, she would whip around the board, taking out my opponent’s pawns, knights, and bishops. For many in our field over the last several decades, Andrea Abernathy Lunsford has often played a similar role: a brilliant and agile scholar with eclectic interests, Lunsford authored many of the first articles in our field on major topics from assessment and basic writing, to feminist rhetorics and historiography, to new media composing. When I was a new graduate student and teacher 25 years ago, “Lunsford” felt like an indexical shortcut for finding research and scholarship that could help me out on just about any topic.

The power of Glenn and Mountford’s collection Rhetoric and Writing Studies in the New Century, a collection that reads like a festschrift in honor of Lunsford’s varied contributions to our field, lies in the nimble way that the writers engage one of the matriarchs of our field in order to imagine what teaching and scholarship in the 21st century might look like. While Lunsford’s work on collaboration and co-authorship suggests that she might object to the royal appointment my chess metaphor enacts, the fact remains that the work she has done over her distinguished career has opened many areas of study for the new and experienced scholar-teachers alike. In this collection, we see how several of these areas of study continue to be central to our shared work in rhetoric and writing studies. The first half of this collection focuses on student writing and literacy, while the latter half asks us to pay attention to rhetorical histories, both ancient and modern; throughout, however, the authors challenge us to imagine what is different about writing and rhetoric in the 21st century—and what tools we may have to better understand shifts in language, composition, and politics.

In Part One, several authors take up Lunsford’s foundational work on authorship and collaboration, and raise important questions about how authorship might continue to figure into contemporary beliefs and practices involving literacy. In “Troubling the Waters: Religious Persuasion and Social Activism,” Shirley Wilson Logan looks back at the writings of Amanda Berry Smith, a nineteenth century evangelist and missionary who traveled extensively to teach people from India and West Africa about her religion. In writing about her travels and experiences, Smith blends “religious and social activism in various evangelical settings” in ways that demonstrate an “awareness of racial and gender differences, especially in her own country” (41). Through her reading of Smith’s work, Logan asks us to consider why Smith and similar authors have not been included in our anthologies of black women writers, and how we might bring them together with the writers of slave narratives and abolitionist speeches from the same time in order to have a more complete understanding of the rhetorical dimensions of nineteenth-century authorship.

The other two essays in this section explore the intersections of collaboration and authorship in order to query how we understand these concepts in two very different contexts. In “Collaboration, Authorship, and the Resistance to Change,” Lisa Ede asks us to explore what, if anything, has changed around our notions of collaborative writing, particularly in how academic institutions understand this work. Reflecting on the collaborative work she and Lunsford did in the 1980s and 1990s, Ede notes that “at the level of pedagogical and scholarly practice resistance to significant change surrounding issues of collaboration and authorship is much more powerful, and much more entrenched, than we ever could have imagined when we began our work thirty years ago” (49). Ede leaves us with a significant challenge: she recognizes that our disciplinary expertise and research should make us “acutely aware of the extent to which academic assumptions, practices, and structures work against collaboration” (52), yet we also know how important this collaborative work is. So what can we do about this problem? How do we advocate for our colleagues and the academy to value the richness and complexity that emerges from collaborative authorship? And what might that look like if we did?

Shirley Brice Heath approaches this dilemma differently in “When Not to Write: Reflections on Words, Books, and Authors.” Like Ede, Heath initially offers an important critique of how the modern academy has made little progress in recognizing and valuing the ways that authorship and collaboration have changed dramatically in the last one hundred years:  “academic assessments rarely tap into any of these ‘new’ ways of talking, reading, and writing among today’s teenagers. What is demanded in these assessments comes from assumptions regarding the dominance of information presented in extended texts, interactive deliberative discourse, and means of expression tied to academic subjects and ways of reasoning, comparing, and analyzing” (31). At the same time, Heath seems far less open to new ways of reading, writing, and thinking than this initial critique suggests. Instead, she falls back on unsubstantiated “kids today” commentary about “‘swiping’ replac[ing] keyboarding” with the result that “language will increasingly decline as the way into informational access” (35). Lunsford’s work on new media composing practices, however, challenged us to imagine young people as composers who bring with them a host of innovative ways for engaging and producing texts, even as they benefit from open and engaging mentors who can challenge them to bring together old and new ways of making meaning.

In Part Two, Glenn and Mountford provide chapters from contributors who take student writing both as something to respond to and as something to study, a move that Lunsford and others helped to initiate and which now seems foundational to Rhetoric and Composition as a field. Key to this work is a recognition that the traditional genres of student writing, formalized historically in the various methods of exposition that remain a common textbook framework, have given way somewhat—and should—to projects that are “remixed, mashed up, and code-meshed” (7). Suellynn Duffey’s “Teaching in Place: A Crucial Connection between the English Department and Its Community” reminds us how much our work in Writing Studies has often been shaped by our local conditions. By focusing on students as writers, or developing basic writing programs like Lunsford did early in her career, or by shifting our attention to the digitally mediated methods of communication we see young people around us engaging in, we pay attention to concerns that are both hyper-local and yet also connected across broader networks of communicative practices that seem continually to be shifting and changing around us. For Duffy, attention to the ways that graduate students are learning to teach writing—and what “writing” means in the 21st century—has reminded her about the value of local, connected, and material inquiry as a way to shape our research and our discipline, maintaining those powerful links among theory, research, and pedagogy that are hallmarks of our field.

In taking the visually-inspired work of student composers seriously, Alysa J. O’Brien asks in “Visual Rhetoric, Intercultural Writers: The University’s Turn” that we make yet another shift as a discipline, “this time to look outward and foster intercultural writing practices” (87). Building on Lunsford’s ideas around secondary literacies in Writing Matters, O’Brien offers the concept of “tertiary literacies” in order to argue that “academic institutions need to foster …‘intercultural writers’ who are able to communicate globally and across cultural differences through ‘multimediated’ writing” (83). While it is not necessarily clear in this chapter how universities will foster this sort of writer, it is intriguing to imagine how O’Brien’s tertiary literacies might engage teachers and students in recognizing how our primary and secondary literacy practices intersect and inter-animate each other and thus enable something new to happen. Melissa A. Goldthwaite asks us to make a similar shift in “Pushing Generic Boundaries in Rhetoric and Composition: Three Sites, One Reader’s Response.” She writes, “By experimenting with form, ethos, and style—by pushing generic boundaries and engaging in serious play—writers and scholars can expand not only their own rhetorical options and tools but also open up new spaces for reader response, reflection, and appreciation” (121-22). Both O’Brien and Goldthwaite have taken up Lunsford’s work on multimodality and digital composing practices and moved it forward to ask engaging questions about how we understand, value, and respond to this work when we see it from students—and what steps we might still need to make as teachers in order to evoke differently mediated compositions.

For readers familiar with the breadth of Lunsford’s work and her commitments to social and restorative justice, Part Three: “The Politics of Rhetoric, Composition, and Writing in the Academy” will come as no surprise. The essays in this section engage the ways that rhetorical and civic education are interconnected projects, commitments that have been central to much of Lunsford’s research, scholarship, teaching, and mentoring. In “Citizenship, Rhetoric, and Pedagogy,” Gerard A. Hauser makes the case for rhetoric as a central part of higher education: “By helping [students] to develop rhetorical competence, rhetorical education also plays a major role in helping students understand civic responsibility, act responsibly, and, we hope, grow in performances of citizenship as public work” (138-39). Hauser goes on to argue for “civic professionalism,” which involves the intersections of two traditional ethical frameworks—“do no harm” and “is it safe?”—with a third framework, to “advance the public good”: “Civic commitment is not an inherent part of the disciplines; it comes from regard for the intersection of disciplinary practices with the well-being of those in the larger communities they touch” (139). Hauser offers three “modest” but important proposals if we want to maintain the civic values that have been central to rhetorical education in the West. One, we should “rethink the professional part of graduate education” in order to remember the interconnected role that citizenship and rhetoric have always had (142). Second, we should be expanding, rather than narrowing, “opportunities for graduate and undergraduate students to engage in public rhetoric” (143). Finally, Hauser asks that we turn our own and our students’ attention to texts that he calls “the canon of American democracy,” among which he lists texts like the Declaration of Independence, the Gettysburg Address, Anthony’s “Women’s Right to the Suffrage,” and King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” Likewise, for John J. Ruszkiewicz and Davida Charney, larger questions like the ones Hauser poses about civic and rhetorical education should be central to our thinking about the rhetoric majors we develop. In “Who, Then, Is the Rhetoric Major?” they suggest that current scholarship on our majors “treat[s] the students themselves only indirectly or instrumentally” (154) and they argue that our prospective students are “seeking a major more aspirational than those driven chiefly by job market skill—important as they are. They appreciate the intellectual skills and perceptions that a broad-based, intellectually challenging program in writing and rhetoric provides” (156). Both of these contributions remind us that the work of rhetoric is not simply instrumentalist or utilitarian; rhetoric is a world-making project that can excite our students and empower them to be agents of change in the work-a-day worlds they are currently or will soon be part of when they graduate.

Mountford and Glenn’s contribution to this collection, “Networked Feminism: Mentoring in the New Economy,” engages issues of justice and rhetoric by focusing on the ways that we can develop more effective mentoring frameworks for ourselves, our students, and our larger discipline. Mountford and Glenn look first to their own feminist mentor models, Andrea Lunsford and Lisa Ede, to highlight how feminist engagements with mentoring might look different from the top-down models that have traditionally dominated the academy, and Western rhetorical traditions more generally. Recognizing that “many women want mutually nourishing relationships with their mentors” (177), they unpack that concept to recognize what feminist mentoring can mean: “to cooperate without domination or submission; to respect and work with our mutual strengths, perceptions, and vulnerabilities; and, therefore, to stimulate the formulation of new ways of working together in the fields of rhetoric and writing” (177). Highlighting the limitations of mentoring frameworks like the “feminist-guru” model and the generational model, they instead advocate for a network model, one which recognizes “the constellations of connections among individuals, [among the] generations of individuals, scholarship, and information that comprise the field of rhetoric and writing studies” (187). Ultimately, the networks they envision are about both “in-reach” and “out-reach”: “Our hope for the future of rhetoric and writing studies is that we create a network of feminist mentoring that pays forward, backwards, sideways, and diagonally at the same time that it frames a scholarly and humane model of high expectations, rigorous preparation and execution, and (always) open communication” (191).

In the final section of this collection, “The Impermanence of a Canon,” two of the authors engage with feminist historiography, following the path that Lunsford encouraged in Reclaiming Rhetorica: Women in the Rhetorical Tradition. Specifically, Susan C. Jarratt’s “The Empress and the Sophist: Power and Artistry in Third-Century Greek Rhetoric” works to recover the rhetorical contributions of Julia Domna, whose Eastern/Syrian identity and place in rhetorical history have been effectively erased for centuries. Domna, Jarratt argues, demonstrates “that any easy dismissal of ancient rhetoric as ‘Western’ and ‘male’ is a mischaracterization” (201), but a story of rhetorical history that we continue to tell despite the growing evidence of alternative traditions and figures in the ancient world. Moving to more recent history, Nan Johnson’s “Rhetorical Education at Catholic Colleges for Women in Ohio 1925-1940” examines “a clear increase in [the] number and range of rhetoric, writing, and public speaking courses” during the years between the two world wars. Johnson’s study adds to the growing historical scholarship which disrupts the once-dominant narrative that very little was happening at this time within rhetorical education beyond strict textbook formulas and an obsession with grammatical correctness.

The other authors in this section engage with transnational rhetorical perspectives in order to challenge the rhetorical canons that remain part of our discipline. Elizabeth A. Flynn’s “Feminist Perspectives on Postcolonial Rhetorical Practices: Spivak’s Cosmopolitan Erudition and Nazer’s Surveilled Silence” challenges readers to re-imagine a postcolonial and transnational feminist rhetoric, one which recognizes a need in our scholarship to disrupt the simplistic canon-building of star scholars by integrating the voices of those less often heard or recognized. In this chapter, for example, Flynn reads Spivak’s theoretical work on subalternity with and against Nazer and Lewis’s Slave: The True Story of a Girl’s Lost Childhood and Her Fight for Survival in order to “focus on women from diverse backgrounds,” which “mitigates the tendency to place any one woman at the center and thus the tendency to iconize individual women” (245). Finally, Bo Wang’s “Translating Nora: Chinese Feminism and Global Rhetoric” makes a similar sort of transnational move by exploring how Ibsen’s A Doll’s House has been translated and produced in contemporary China, juxtaposing a classic of Western theatre with transnational analytical frameworks. For Wang, “Nora’s many trips to China illuminate the discursive relationship between China and the West in the modern and contemporary period” (256). Wang challenges our discipline to engage in “transrhetorical practice” in order to “think about the question of ‘speaking from’ and [to] consider native, noneuroamerican rhetorics as coeval contributions to a globalized canon” (270).

In closing this collection with a version of his powerful CCCC address from 2015, Adam J. Banks, in “Ain’t No Walls Behind the Sky, Baby! Funk, Flight, Freedom,” reminds us of a powerful critique of the ways that disciplinarity can become sedimented and stale, when rhetoric’s power should remain in its “funk,” in the ways that language at its best can be disruptive, unsettling, and powerfully anti-normative:

I want funk to be our guide not just because the rest of the academy feels too clean and too serene to me but because intellectual life is funky. It is messy. […] I want funk to be our guide because that is the only way we can close the huge gaps that exist between our professed ideals and our practice, the only way we can own our privilege within oppressive spaces. […] Funk means we are willing to deal with messiness and complexity. (282)

The spirit of resistance that Banks embodies in this piece is reminiscent of the ways that Andrea Lunsford has worked both to engage and resist the very field for which she is typically seen as a founding member. As one of the “queens” of Rhetoric and Composition, Lunsford helped create many of the programs, practices, and theories that established our field, and which now several generations of emerging scholars have challenged, critiqued, and revised in their efforts to move us forward. For those of us who have continued to pay attention to what Lunsford is doing, we’ve also seen a scholar-mentor who not only welcomes those critiques but who also continues to encourage a diverse group of new talent to push our collective thinking further. The essays that Glenn and Mountford have collected in Rhetoric and Writing Studies in the New Century: Historiography, Pedagogy, and Politics engage many of Andrea Lunsford’s important contributions to our discipline, but they do so not merely to praise her. By picking up important threads from her career-spanning scholarship, the authors here show us how their own work breaks new ground, often because of those important earlier contributions. Readers will find in this collection a beautiful diversity of perspectives and projects, and an important reminder, ultimately, of how much our field’s current trajectories are indebted to the careful scholarship and hard work of women like Andrea Lunsford. This collection is a festschrift in the best sense of that term, a festival of writing that will no doubt encourage even more people to read and engage with Lunsford’s impressive corpus of work.

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Review of Elizabeth A. Flynn and Tiffany Bourelle (Eds.), Women’s Professional Lives in Rhetoric & Composition: Choice, Chance, & Serendipity

Flynn, Elizabeth A. and Tiffany Bourelle, editors. Women’s Professional Lives in Rhetoric & Composition: Choice, Chance, & Serendipity. Ohio State UP, 2018. 286 pages.

Book cover of Flynn and Bourelle's edited collection. The title text is written on college-ruled notebook paper, and there is a colorful floral-like design made from the outlines of women's bodies in the center of the cover.
Image from The Ohio State University Press website.

When we decided to review Women’s Professional Lives in Rhetoric & Composition, it was not without a certain bitter taste leftover from our previous realization that certain voices are amplified (and others are not, like those who are multiply marginalized) within the working lives of women in rhetoric and composition. We learned this when we wrote “Sisyphus Rolls On: Reframing Women’s Ways of ‘Making It’ in Rhetoric and Composition” (Bivens, et al.). However, in Women’s Professional Lives in Rhetoric & Composition, there is a shift from a focus on an ideal tenure track career to the realities that pervade most of our working lives. The chapters in this collection do not focus on or establish a “normal” career path. Instead, the contributors emphasize how they navigated a career path or multiple career paths that include twists, turns, challenges, and, as editors Elizabeth A. Flynn and Tiffany Bourelle write in the introduction, “serendipity.” Although we have no criticism to offer the impressive selection of women and what they share about their remarkable lives in the volume, we were reminded that a print book limits inclusivity for projects like these. As we discuss later, if rhetoric and composition scholars want to represent career paths in the field and what the profession resembles then and now, we suggest that they turn to other venues that do not include word count limits, chapter limits, and design limits in quite the same ways that print texts do. The ability to inclusively showcase what women’s professional lives might look like at multiple levels, in multiple venues, and in ways that consider the current political, economic, and arguably anti-intellectual, anti-woman, anti-LGBTQ climate is of tantamount importance for those individuals up and coming in academic culture.

Before offering our review of the chapters, first a note on the editing. A skilled scholar with experience editing volumes can do wonders for readers in terms of maintaining an argument thread throughout a collection. Flynn and Bourelle do this skilled editorial work in framing Women’s Professional Lives in Rhetoric & Composition by focusing the collection on serendipity. In fact, Flynn and Bourelle point out, “Our collection differs…in that it places emphasis on the convergences of choice, chance, and serendipity in the professional lives of women with diverse backgrounds and situated in diverse locations within the field of rhetoric and composition” (3). Given that this thread, as well as references to each other’s narratives, is apparent throughout the collection, it is clear that the editors encouraged authors to explore serendipitous moments in their professional lives and to engage with each others’ experiences as appropriate. From start to finish, each narrative coherently and effortlessly exists within the frame Flynn and Bourelle introduce and maintain throughout the collection, resulting in an expertly edited volume that contributes to the discourses (and details) of women’s working lives.

Details allow readers to personalize these stories of serendipity and, as many of these women point out, the resiliency Flynn, Patricia Sotirin, and Ann Brady collected and theorized in Feminist Rhetorical Resilience. If we accept Kenneth Burke’s idea that identification precedes persuasion, then to be persuaded or moved, readers need these narratives’ details so readers can identify with these exemplary women. And the details, in almost all cases, are ample and persuasive. For instance, the details shared by Lisa Ede about her collaborations with Andrea Lunsford resonated with us because we, too, have collaborated on multiple texts. Flynn’s narrative helped us to trace and understand her feminism, its lineage, and its legacy at Michigan Technological University. Anne Ruggles Gere’s chapter highlights the necessary legacy of interdisciplinarity that grounds our field and the ways in which navigating various forms of writing, literacy, and rhetoric can open kairotic space along a career path that does not seem, at first, traditional. Her chapter also reflects the necessary though largely ignored role that care work and personal relationships have in our working lives. The vast majority of us will care for a young person or an ailing parent at some point in our lives, and Gere (as well as other contributors) seamlessly blends the discussion of her life with her career. It is a necessary example of the ways in which our personal lives powerfully factor into our professions and should be acknowledged as such.

Lynn Z. Bloom’s narrative reminds us to be flexible with our knowledge and consider deploying it to help others in telling their stories. Libby Falk Jones’s chapter is simply melodic in its organization and representation of her story through various lenses, while her discussion of mêtis and the ways closings and openings complement that melody and the pacing of her story’s presentation. Suellyn Duffy also draws upon the mêtis thread to frame her chapter. In it, she voices what many do not or cannot—that if she followed the scripts and the advice about how to make it as an academic she would judge herself as less than, or she would have to maintain an oppositional stance, neither of which are useful as we strive forward in our careers. Instead, she invites readers into an embodied feminist resilience that powerfully reminds us that there are times in which less than ideal circumstances allow for freedom—of movement, of choice, of direction. Malea Powell’s chapter is a story, and like Duffy, she reflects on her career through art. She gives us a narrative framed by beadwork. Her writing is tactical, physical, personal, instructional. Powell uses the weaving of beadwork to reflect on the network of relationships, the accumulations (385), that led to her professional choices. Powell’s work is a reflection on a career that necessarily indicates the continuing focus on settler colonialism on authenticity—a demand of our indigenous colleagues for a “real” identity that is unnecessary and, frankly, racist. Powell reminds us that as scholars in a diverse field we must do our part to consciously make the academy livable for those it was built to exclude and marginalize.

Linda Adler-Kassner’s chapter on scrappiness is the perfect corollary to the chapters that draw on mêtis, that write through art and expression. She uses the threshold concept of troublesome knowledge to frame herself as a “scrapper”—someone who looks for opportunity or “cracks” and moves to enter (350). As she deconstructs her reflection on her career path, she recognizes the ways in which the troublesome, the disappointing, and the seemingly insurmountable became serendipitous and led to a knowledge of self and scrappiness that propelled her forward in her career. This combination of determination and resilience is something that Holly Hassel and Kirsti Cole highlight in their 2017 collection, Surviving Sexism in Academia. Many of the contributors in that volume also found agency in spaces that ignored or dismissed them, and they leveraged those spaces to forge connections with people around them who were interested in building something new, in moving past outmoded and outdated notions of who belongs in our academic spaces. Resilience, then, is as deeply practical as it is creative. Resilience is how these women get things done.

Jacqueline Rhodes begins her narrative reflecting on depression and queer time through resilience. She writes, “Our strength comes through these fractured moments of influence and narrative, fleeting intensities, years of immediacy. And strength too comes from a balancing of choice and chance, of wave and field” (451). Class, identity, and intimacy intersect in Rhodes’s chapter as she writes about the vulnerabilities of coming from a working-class family, living the academic life with depression, and finding her identity as a queer scholar. Beth L. Hewett, who, like Bivens, taught for the City Colleges of Chicago for a period of time, shares her experiences with grief, loss, and challenges that ultimately led her research to focus on collaboration. Though she writes about serendipity, hers is certainly a career that exemplifies resilience, ultimately revealing that “…when a person has more than one deep interest and a compelling sense of obligation and motivation in different areas, one may never feel complete on any one path” (170). One of those areas includes bereavement training and grief coaching, or acting as a mentor for those experiencing loss. Rhodes and Hewett both draw attention to the intersections of affect and personal-professional lives, while challenging our notions of what it means to live an academic life.

The chapters in this collection are interconnected, and Bourelle illustrates the predominant ways in which they are interconnected. Her chapter acknowledges her influences and notes how her mentors “had guided [her] to find [her] own voice and to make [her] own decisions,” (179) which is a welcome nod toward personal agency—a rhetorical concept that serendipity seemingly excludes, especially for the inexperienced and uninitiated. Iklim Goksel relies on kismet (or destiny) for the choice, chance, and serendipity her story reveals; it is a breath of fresh air in the collection with its references to non-western traditions (e.g., Rumi, Yunus Emre) and a beautifully-written chapter whose narrative roams the globe from Sweden to Turkey to the United States. Bourelle’s serendipity and Goksel’s kismet use the frame Flynn and Bourelle craft in the introduction skillfully.

It is important to acknowledge, however, the ways in which serendipity could potentially limit agency. Sharon Crowley noted this in her profile in Women’s Ways of Making It in Rhetoric and Composition (Ballif, Davis, and Mountford). She says, “We did what we were told, and it did seem like serendipity if things happened for us. Or we were taught to rationalize it as serendipity. If we made it happen, we told ourselves it was luck” (218). However, Flynn and Bourelle note that their use of serendipity as a frame is not just “luck but the willingness to act on hunches or trust one’s own intuition—to learn from one’s experience” (Flynn and Bourelle 5). When trade presses focus on issues such as imposter syndrome and an unstable job market, trusting one’s intuition may seem, well, Sisyphean. But the collected chapters in this text demonstrate clearly that even seemingly impossible tasks are doable, and that voices that are not often heard can find a venue if individuals are willing to prepare themselves in their field, take on challenges, and navigate opportunities that seem, at first, like luck or chance. Or, as Bloom writes, “Making good choices positions you to take advantage of serendipity” (103). The process of making choices demonstrated throughout this collection is one motivated by the personal—something the contributors reference in each chapter. These are works of powerful vulnerability and making the most of it.

This kind of professional vulnerability is demonstrated in Irene Papoulis’s chapter. Those off the tenure track or not teaching at their ideal institutions—or those with feelings of “status anxiety” (202)—will find a similar, newfangled representation, like Goksel’s chapter, of the working lives of those who rely on contingent teaching assignments, while also living life as a single mother dealing with “considerable psychological stress” (13). Papoulis organizes her chapter around the elements of her life that have contributed to her “shame-inducing anxieties” (210), including being a lecturer, composition studies itself, and her scholarly dedication to expressivism. As readers and writing teachers, we found much to identify with in her chapter, especially in the chapter’s final paragraph, when Papoulis writes, “The antidotes to academic shame begin with acknowledging what the feeling is and how our institutions foster it” (216).

The remaining chapters in the collection, written by Natasha Jones and Shirley Rose, tackle the ways that institutional forces shape us and how we must work to shape them. As a single mother, Jones experienced a transformative commitment to social justice when her daughter was born. Jones cites inspiration from a keynote by Dr. Angela Davis at the Conference on College Communication and Composition in 2014—an inspiration that Jones responds to through her social justice scholarship in technical and professional communication. She writes, “simply that [her] personal and academic career goals are one in the same—to embrace change and to empower others and [herself] to be resilient and strong” (232). In the final chapter of the collection, Rose directs readers to our professional focus: teaching students to write. Rose starts with the acknowledgment that she is in the “last verse of her professional work” (244). She reminds readers of the vulnerability of learning and what we ask our students to do in unfamiliar educational territory. Rose frames her narrative with her experiences being a member of the Scottsdale Chorus. She reminds us of effective teaching practices, like being patient with students’ questions that we think we’ve answered already (239) and even “singing out” or taking the chance of making a mistake or doing something wrong (241). The latter reminds readers of agency and the power we find in making choices regarding our professional lives.

In this collection, Flynn and Bourelle include voices that remind us that our professional lives, at whatever stage, are necessarily grounded in our personal experiences, past histories, pains, and joys. One of the more powerful aspects of this volume is that the contributors tell their personal stories as they discuss their careers. Another unique aspect is that there are women in this volume that are no longer in academia, as well as women who served, at some point, in non-tenure track jobs at many Carnegie classification types of schools. For us, this collection serves as an important reminder to think strategically about the role of composition in the university and the role of those who teach it. Compositionists know the business of the university, perhaps better than people in any other discipline. However, knowing the business of the university requires a certain kind of permanence and stability. Without it, without the agency provided by tenure and tenure-track jobs, transience and insecurity interfere with our ability to focus on the spaces in which we work because we are forced to simply focus on whether or not we will work. The strength of a text such as this is that it opens space within precarious employment circumstances for individuals to leverage longitudinal knowledge and understand the systems in which we labor. In this way, resilience through mêtis is a key theme of Women’s Professional Lives. This book reflects a reality that many find themselves in—and asks readers to identify and take up the various pathways showcased as possibilities for moving through an academic career well. The problem is that the landscape that maps academic, career, and good navigation thereof are all shifting at an accelerated rate.

Regarding editorial savvy and the structure of the collection, we found great (and quite frankly, surprising) joy reading the endnotes of several chapters. For example, Ede, Flynn, Bloom, Duffey, Adler-Kassner, and Powell provide details that add depth to their professional lives’ narratives in these endnotes. In fact, Powell’s 29 endnotes read like a worthy history lesson for the uninitiated. Relatedly, Bloom adds depth and details to her work as a biographer with historical tidbits like “the international dateline determines whether December 7 or 8 is the date ‘which will live in infamy’” (72). It is because of these footnotes, as well as the limitations endemic to print books, that we recommend that works like these be moved to digital spaces. In our estimation, the metadiscourse found in these footnotes would benefit from a series of hyperlinked pages.1 By moving to digital spaces, not only can more narratives be included, but more details about those narratives can be included, too. Ultimately, although we find the book format limiting for works that describe women’s working lives in rhetoric and composition, the showcase of scholars, teachers, and workers here is extensive and inclusive. This collection is an exemplar in a small but significant group of texts that place under the microscope the demonstrably different and shockingly similar ways people come to and live in academia. However, if projects like this are to be more inclusive and welcoming for the diversity of those who teach rhetoric and composition, we suggest that these works transition to open access and be housed in digital spaces. The project of storytelling and reflecting on the serendipitous choices and chances of an academic career is, perhaps, more important than ever as the seemingly traditional career paths are disappearing, but in order to engage in this project and provide a blueprint or a way forward for up-and-coming people in the field, we must carefully consider how we access the stories that might provide insight and guidance along our own circuitous, contingent, caregiving, serendipitous professional paths.


  1. In fact, our work on the (now defunct) CCC Committee on the Status of Women in the Profession (CSWP) tried to do similar work, Story Corps-style, nearly ten years ago by working with Cindy Selfe’s Digital Archive of Literacy Narratives (DALN). In this project, a handful of women were interviewed for the Women’s Lives in the Profession Project under Eileen Schell’s chairing of the CSWP. Two interviews remain online: a video interview with Gwendolyn Pugh and a text self-interview of Bivens.

Works Cited

Ballif, Michelle, Diane Davis, and Roxanne Mountford, editors. Women’s Ways of Making It in Rhetoric and Composition. Routledge Press, 2008.

Bivens, Kristin, et al. “Sisyphus Rolls on: Reframing Women’s Ways of ‘Making It’ in Rhetoric and Composition.” Harlot: A Revealing Look at the Arts of Persuasion, vol. 1, no. 10, 2013.

Burke, Kenneth. A Rhetoric of Motives. University of California Press, 1969.

Flynn, Elizabeth A., Patricia Sotirin, and Ann Brady, editors. Feminist Rhetorical Resilience. University Press of Colorado, 2012.

Hassel, Holly and Kirsti Cole, editors. Surviving Sexism in Academia. Routledge Press, 2017.

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