One Step Back, Two Steps Forward: Black Girls’ Memory and (Re)Vision as Agency

Image of the Sankofa bird whose name in Twi translates to “Go back and get it” in English.

In my quest to deepen my understanding of the significance of Black girls’ memory, I am lingering over the notion of what it is to remember and its possibilities for creation and agency. I presently see it as a process of spiritual reconstitution of the mind, body, soul of self and community in the present for future and forward movement based on elements of the past. In her article, “Turning the Ships Around: A Case Study of (Re)Membering as Transnational Endarkened Feminist Inquiry and Praxis for Black Teachers,” Cynthia Dillard argued that (re)membering is an endarkened feminist praxis (Dillard 2016) and is important for Black teachers, researchers, and students to employ. For Dillard, an endarkened feminist epistemology (EFE) articulates an understanding of reality or truth grounded in the historical roots of global Black feminist thought, which is markedly different from that of mainstream and dominant cultural narratives and standpoints (Dillard 2016). The five parts to (re)membering, include: (re)searching, (re)visioning, (re)cognizing, (re)presenting, and (re)claiming (Dillard 2016:411). In her case study of university students traveling abroad from the United States to Ghana, Dillard sought to answer the following questions: 1) what happens when undergraduate and graduate students from the United States have encounters, dialogues, and interactions with African heritage knowledge, culture, and peoples in West Africa (Ghana)? 2) What does Ghana have to teach about African American education and personhood? (Dillard 2016:410-411). One of Dillard’s most significant conclusions is that for Black women, (re)membering can be a means of refuting white supremacist and patriarchal lies taught by dominant culture and education.

I feel hopeful about the potential efficacy of (re)membering for Black women and its potential uses. (Re)membering as a choice and internal process of connecting to and recreating Africa does not depend on external legislation, department meetings, town halls, or so-called allies. This is something that many Black women do intuitively, but there is power in naming and having a language to articulate the process of coming back to oneself and together with others of African descent. Jacqueline’s rebirth and internal liberation is tangible through Dillard’s storytelling.  

Black Girls Are Magic Image taken from Wikimedia Commons website.

(Re)membering and memory are epistemological and ontological. Through Dillard’s case study, I could see and feel the young American Black woman Jacqueline, who Dillard focused on, becoming or (re)coming the subjectivities of mother, auntie, and sister. Jacqueline was able to (re)vision/(re)member herself based on the how the Ghanaian people saw and named her along with her ability to accept, embrace, and take on those identities. According to Dillard, Jacqueline took up those identities during the study abroad experience and carried them forward afterward. Although Dillard and her students were able to physically travel overseas to the continent of Africa in order to (re)search and (re)member their cultural roots as members of the African diaspora, this endarkened feminist praxis does not require physical transit. Black women in the U.S. perform their identities in ways that mark and signal a (re)membering of Africa and other Black diasporic social locations that serve as homeplaces for them. These practices take place both offline and online. On social media spaces, Black women and girls (re)member and reconstitute community and kinship from across different geographic locations. Some examples of this include hashtags like #CarefreeBlackGirl, #BlackGirlMagic, and #DaughtersOf.

GirlTrek’s social media call to participation for Black History Bootcamp

The #DaughtersOf hashtag, started and circulated by co-founders of the international Black women’s organization GirlTrek, is perhaps the most recent and definitely one of the most salient movements and hashtags that encourage Black women and girls to (re)member who they are and who they are descended from. T. Morgan Dixon and Vanessa Garrison used the hashtag to launch the Daughters Of campaign which they describe on their website as: “a multi-media campaign [that] will examine the immediate and critical importance of self-care and healing for Black women through the lens of their matrilineal traditions.”[1] This examination of Black women through their maternal ancestry, or as Alice Walker might say, their mother’s gardens, is a contemporary example of (re)membering as endarkened feminist inquiry and praxis that is desperately needed in these times in which our general sense of time and truth seem to be in constant flux.

Me on my first day walking as a part of GirlTrek’s Black History Bootcamp.

While I had been a participant in GirlTrek campaigns in the past, it was GirlTrek’s 21-day walking meditation, Black History Bootcamp, inspired by the Daughters Of campaign that allowed me to more fully (re)member the strength, courage, and wisdom (India Arie been knowing) that I come from and that I can call on to come through in these difficult times of anti-black antagonism and violence and the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the social, political, economic,  and educational implications it will have for Black people in the weeks, months, and years to come. Journalist and scholar Sherri Williams began to recount the incalculable and rising toll of these intersecting crises for Black America in The Crisis last week. When Black women’s ways of being and knowing are consciously connected to those who we are the daughters of, we are able to (re)vision the futures we want and deserve. Perhaps the greatest contribution of transnational endarkened feminist inquiry is (re)membering that we deserve when everything outside of us tries to convince us that we do not. It is time to (re)create from this space. As our futuristic foremother Octavia Butler once wrote: “So Be It! See To It!”

Dillard, Cynthia B. “Turning the Ships Around: A Case Study of (Re)Membering as Transnational Endarkened Feminist Inquiry and Praxis for Black Teachers.” Educational Studies 52.5 (2016): 406-23. Print.


[1] https://www.daughtersof.com/

Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child: A reflection on Black womanhood, cultural memory and connection during the reckoning of 2020

In “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book,” Hortense Spillers (re)membered (Dillard 2016, Morrison 1987) the history and making of African-American women and mothers as subjectivities in the United States as a result of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and the social, political, and economic workings of slavery in the U.S. Spillers highlighted that the legal and economic structures of white supremacy and patriarchy under slavery denied women of African descent the role of mother when they birthed children, and deprived them of traditional notions of family and lineage that typically accompany it. She argued that this history, or text as she described it, has been distorted to support false narratives about Black womanhood, motherhood, and those roles in the Black family as evidenced by the infamous Moynihan Report that characterized Black women as pathologically “dominant” and “strong” to the point of castrating Black men. The dominant culture, Spillers contended, has made a fatal flaw in projecting matriarchist value to African-American females because they were universally denied the right to lay claim to one’s child and lived in a society in which “motherhood” provided no legal path to cultural inheritance. Therefore, Spillers said that because the African American female falls outside of the traditional symbolics of female gender we have an opportunity to subvert and break free from traditional gender restrictions:

“…it is our task to make a place for this different social subject. In doing so, we are less interested in joining the ranks of gendered femaleness than gaining the insurgent ground as female social subject. Actually claiming the monstrosity (of a female with the potential to “name”), which her culture imposes in blindness, “Sapphire” might rewrite after all a radically different text for a female empowerment.” (Spillers 1987:80)

Reading the (re)membering and retelling of this history as a Black woman is painful still because as Spillers wrote, repetition does not rob these “well-known, oft-told events” of their power or sting. Nor should it, because to forget these horrors and that pain would disconnect us from an understanding of the ways in which that past continues to inform our present lived realities. The larger sting is that the distortions of Black womanhood, Black family and kinship have remained and continue to produce the very kinds of division that white supremacist, capitalistic patriarchy sowed so long ago; African American female flesh is still unprotected much as it was during the time of enslavement. Black women have had to stand face-to-face with this reality recently as we have mourned the murder of 27-year-old Breonna Taylor at the hands of Louisville, Kentucky police officers (who at the time of this post still have not been charged) even as we watch and participate in the rally cry for justice in the brutal murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis po-lice officers. At the same time, Black women are mollywomped by misogynoir with incidents like the attack against Iyanna Dior and sexual assault and murder of 19-year-old Black Lives Matter activist Oluwatoyin Salau. In the midst of collective grief, Black women have to be about the emotional, social, political, economic, and physical labor of ceaselessly bringing attention to these issues in order to have any hope for justice, like the example below calling for #JusticeForBreonnaTaylor.

What is particularly painful about Oluwatoyin’s murder is that while she was fighting for the safety of the Black community, someone from within the “community” violated her safety. On the day she went missing, she took to Twitter to describe her account of being preyed on and attacked by a Black man. To make matters worse, she was vulnerable to attack because she had reportedly been ostracized by her family. Oluwatoyin was Nigerian-American and did not have direct experience with, or direct memory of, the history of enslavement of African people in the U.S. that Spiller discussed; however, her story and life is particularly relevant to the discussion of cultural memory and (re)membering here in a couple of ways. First, Oluwatoyin’s connection with and dedication to fighting on behalf of all Black lives here in the U.S. illustrates the power of rememory (Morrison 1987), the bringing back and dealing with the repressed parts of anti-black trauma, and (re)membering, recalling and (re)visioning the collective “spirit and strength of Blackness” (Dillard 2016:418) that fosters solidarity and fictive kinship with those who share an African heritage despite every attempt to destroy it.

The story of Oluwatoyin’s murder also speaks to the significance of cultural memory and the compensatory measures that Black women in the U.S. have historically taken in order to foster family and community through “certain ethical and sentimental features that tied her and him, across the landscape to others, often sold from hand to hand, of the same and different blood in a common fabric of memory and inspiration” (Spillers 1987:75). Oluwatoyin understood and lived this out as praxis through her fight to protect all Black people regardless of nationality, sexuality, or gender. As Spillers asserted, we typically call this type of connectedness family, kin, community, or support structure, but its existence and purpose are quite different than the ways “family” and lineage have been used by those in power to maintain racial supremacy, or more specifically whiteness and its mores. Spillers called into question the social efficacy of such alternate constructs and formations, and today I wonder the same. It is not that I doubt the social efficacy of Black community and kinship formation; it is the one thing that I know we would not have survived without. It is what we need now more than ever during this time of national reckoning, global pandemic, and physical distancing measures. However, Oluwatoyin’s murder shows the need to (re)member and tighten up our kinship and community ties for safety and survival. Even if she could not count on her blood family, she should have had people she could call upon. She should not have been left alone seeking shelter. As we call for the defunding of police and the tearing down of white supremacy, which surely do not keep us safe, the question remains, what are we building and creating? Who will be included? Who will do the labor? Who will be loved, cared for and protected? Oluwatoyin’s life did not only matter, it was precious and to be treasured. She deserved better. She took the “insurgent ground as a female subject” (Spillers 1987). What ground are we willing to take?

I’m boppin to Noname tryna figure it out…

Dillard, Cynthia B. “Turning the Ships Around: A Case Study of (Re) Membering as Transnational Endarkened Feminist Inquiry and Praxis for Black Teachers.” Educational Studies 52.5 (2016): 406-23. Print.

Morrison, Toni. “Beloved. 1987.” New York: Plume 252 (1988)Print.

Spillers, Hortense J. “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book.” Diacritics 17.2 (1987): 65-81. Print.

Sometimes It’s Where You’re from *and* Where You’re At: Bettina Love’s Hip Hop’s Li’l Sistas Speak

Love, Bettina. Hip Hop’s Li’l Sistas Speak: Negotiating Hip Hop Identities and Politics in the New South. Ed. Shirley R. Steinberg. 399 Vol. New York: Peter Lang, 2012. Print. Studies in the Postmodern Theory of Education.

hip-hop-s-li-l-sistas-speakBettina Love’s Hip Hop Li’l Sistas Speak shows that Black girls’ bodies are a major landscape of Southern Hip-hop music. In this ethnographic project born out of Love’s dissertation, she explores the lives of six teen-aged Black girls in Atlanta, Georgia (ATL), also known as the Motown of the South, and their relationship to Hip-hop music and culture. One of the most intriguing aspects of Love’s project is her focus on methodology and her positionality as a Black girl researcher from the North, from an earlier Hip-hop generation, who is also lesbian.

Black girls, positionality, agency, and identity

In chapter two: Hip Hop, Context, and Black Girlhood, Love demonstrated how age, geographic location, and sexuality necessarily play important roles in the context of her research as well as her and her research participants’ lives. Continue reading

Lanehart – The Language of Identity

Lanehart, Sonja L. “The Language of Identity.” Journal of English Linguistics (1996): 322-31. Print.

In this article Sonja Lanehart argued that language is not just a means of communication, but a choice of expression that can reflect “solidarity, resistance, and identity within a culture” (322). In essence, our linguistic choices reflect our goals, possible selves, and identity. In terms of rhetorical theory, Lanehart’s most compelling claim was that speakers align their language with those that they wish to be identified with, even if that language community is not present; therefore, those that a speaker seeks to identify with may be distinct from the speaker’s audience Continue reading

Consigny – “Rhetoric and its Situations”

Consigny, Scott. “Rhetoric and its Situations.” Philosophy & Rhetoric 7.3 (1974): 175-86. Print. 

In this article, Scott Consigny critiqued Lloyd Bitzer and Richard Vatz’s theories of the rhetorical situation. He asserted that the two theories represent an antinomy that arose from partial views of rhetorical theory which failed to account for actual rhetorical practice. Consigny suggested that the antinomy would disappear in light of a complete view of rhetorical practice where rhetoric is considered an art. According to Consigny, there are two conditions that such an art must meet to allow the rhetor to effectively engage in particular situations – integrity and receptivity. He defined integrity as the ability of a rhetor to “disclose and manage indeterminate factors in novel situations without his [or her] action being predetermined.” This stance is in contrast to Bitzer’s requirement for a rhetor to respond in a “fitting” manner. Recognizing that a rhetor’s creativity is not without constraints, Consigny called for rhetors to also maintain receptivity, the ability to become engaged in individual situations and open to the particularities of the individual situation in a way that he can discover relevant issues (181).

Consigny proposed that rhetoric be understood as an art of topics or commonplaces to give rhetors the means to negotiate such particularities. In this conception, commonplaces function as both instruments of invention and situations (situs) and satisfy the conditions of integrity and receptivity.

Burke – “Rhetorical Situation”

Burke, Kenneth. “The Rhetorical Situation.” Communication: Ethical and moral issues (1973): 263-75. Print.

In this essay, Kenneth Burke sought to compose a summative definition of rhetorical situation. He asserted that the rhetorical situation is not confined to the resources that help to constitute it. Burke suggested that the rhetorical situation can be better understood through identification and his unofficial subtitle “congregation and segregation.” Burke used the example of a presidential campaign to illustrate his point highlighting that during a campaign the presidential candidates emphasize their differences, but once elected a president then emphasizes unity and identification. Theses emphases fall into categories of competition and cooperation respectively.

With regard to the rhetorical situation, Burke identified three major means of identification: 1- by sympathy, 2- By antithesis, and 3- by inaccuracy/ false assumption/ unawareness (i.e. A person’s mistaken identification with the power of her/ his technologies). Burke claimed that the rhetorical situation hinged on these fluid identifications. He stated that  “… the poignancy of the rhetorical situation attains its fullness in its spontaneously arising identifications whereby, even without deliberate intent upon the part of anyone, we fail to draw the lines at the right places” (271). He concluded that identification can be vague and we don’t know where to draw the line.  Barbara Biesecker would later echo this notion in her theory of rhetorical situation where she argued meaning is found in the fluctuating line of différance and makes the production of identities and social relations possible (Biesecker, “Rethinking the Rhetorical Situation”). This fluidity can also impact individual autonomy as illustrated by Burke’s example of the shepherd from Rhetoric of Motives in which the “protective” shepherd is simultaneously identified as the one leading the sheep to its slaughter.

Lecourt and Barnes – Writing Multiplicity: Hypertext and Feminist Textual Politics

Lecourt, Donna, and Luann Barnes. “Writing Multiplicity: Hypertext and Feminist Textual Politics.” Feminism and Composition :A Critical Sourcebook. Eds. Gesa Kirsch, et al. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2003. 321-338. Print.

In this chapter, originally published in Computers and Composition (1999), Donna Lecourt and her graduate student at the time, Luann Barnes, explicated their theory of feminist textual politics and how hypertext has the potential to enact it in the writing classroom. They argued that “social transformation is best executed by disrupting the gendered nature of writing. Because of hypertext’s ability to express multiplicity and multivocality, the two asserted that it could be used in the classroom to achieve two interventions:

“(a) the disruption of the contexts and communities that force the author to accede to masculine ways of knowing, and (b) the deconstruction of the author as a single, unified self who suppresses alternative perspectives and gendered ideologies.” (322)

The key problem, for the authors, is the type of voice, authority, and logic that writing produces (322). The implicit argument here is that the textual form not only creates the content, but that it also shapes the identity of the author. Lecourt and Barnes cited Janis and Richard Haswell’s concept of gendership to further explain: “‘the image of a writer’s sex interpretable from text and context. It can be conceived of as the gender dimension of the ‘implied author’ imagined by the reader’ (p.226)” (322). In light of gendership, then, they asserted that academic genres are connected to masculine ways of knowing and knowledge production and work to silence the “feminine.” To counteract this phenomenon, they advocated for a textual politic: “a direct intervention into the ideology of writing spaces” (323) that allows for inquiry into specific acts of reading and writing as well as challenge narrowly focused practices writing and knowledge-making that they identified as being phallocentric.

To this end, the authors described Barnes attempt to create a hypertext that could call attention to the politics of textuality. In doing so, they of the limitations to working with hypertext, or any media for that matter, is the constant need for remediation and attention to genre. They wrote:

“Venturing too far outside academic and cultural acceptability risks not only not being read but also the material results of grades, authority with the graduate students with whom [Barnes] works as a programmer, and her colleagues, teachers, and supervisors within the department… As such, even hypertext cannot escape the mechanism of ethos orchestrated by academic context. Knowing that others would eventually read this text construct a concern that Barnes not be seen as inappropriate; such a concern for self-presentation is difficult to resist, particularly for students.” (333)

Barnes and Lecourt also concluded, as they has anticipated, that hypertext and rhetorical literacy are not sufficient to achieve the goals of textual politics, but that other interventions that fall under the category of critical literacies would have to be incorporated in their writing pedagogy as well:

“Our analysis highlights many limitations for hypertext’s ability to enact a textual politic, including its inability to escape the logocentricism of writing, its immersion within the discourse context, and the new mechanisms of reader control it introduces… As Barnes’ continual concern with reader dislocation reveals, the disruptive potential of hypertext alone will not create an awareness of multivocality in a reader.” (336)

One example they offered for how to work against some of these challenges is to engage student in continual peer review of the hypertexts they are creating.

The concluded that despite the challenges hypertext is still valuable in the composition classroom:

“Whether the texts produced for class actually enact a textual politic seems less important than what students may learn in the process – the need to interrogate the discursive grounds for achieving authority such that they can write differently in the other contexts which would silence both their alternative voices and the challenges those voices might make to the context’s idoelogy.” (337)

Gold – Rhetoric at the Margins: Revising the History of Writing Instruction in American Colleges

Gold, David. Rhetoric at the Margins :Revising the History of Writing Instruction in American Colleges, 1873-1947. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2008. Print.

In Rhetoric at the Margins: Revising the History of Writing Instruction in American Colleges, 1873-1947, David Gold re-historicized the history of writing in American colleges during the late 19th century and early 20th century by including accounts from three colleges and universities outside of the typical liberal arts institutions that are commonly included in such histories. Gold argued that including these other formal sites of writing instruction would provide a fuller and more nuanced history of composition and rhetorical education in the U.S. during that time period:

“I argue that each of the schools in this study championed intellectual and pedagogical traditions that diverged from the Eastern liberal arts model that often serves as the standard bearer for the development of English studies and rhetorical education. Furthermore, by emphasizing community uplift and civic responsibility and by validating local institutional and demographic realities, these schools created contexts in which otherwise moribund curricular features of the era—such as strict classroom discipline and an emphasis on prescription—took on new possibilities. Indeed, I suggest that the epistemological schema that have long been applied to pedagogical practices may actually limit understanding of those practices.” (xi)

Gold stated the three goals of the text were: “( 1) to recover important histories that would otherwise be lost and give voice to the experiences of students and educators of a diverse past; ( 2) to complicate and challenge the master narratives of rhetoric and composition history and the ideological assumptions that underlie them; and ( 3 ) to demonstrate persistent connections between the past and the present in order to help develop richer pedagogies for diverse bodies of students” (x).

To reconstruct the histories of writing instruction at Wiley College, Texas Woman’s University, and East Texas Gold analyzed archival  resources including: catalogues, course descriptions, student and faculty class notes and essays, contemporary newspaper and governmental reports, letters and diaries, interviews and oral histories. Gold argued that “What we have dismissed as current-traditional rhetoric often represents a complex of interwoven practices, both conservative and radical, liberatory and disciplining, and subject to wide-ranging local and institutional variations” (5).

One of the most compelling examples of how generalizing histories and theories of  writing pedagogy based on a monolithic notion of liberal arts education drawn from a limited selection of “mainstream” liberal arts colleges and universities can be found in Gold’s analysis of black liberal arts and rhetorical education at Wiley College, a historically Black college (HBCU). Exploring these histories that have been marginalized are important to the future of writing instruction, according to Gold, because writing instructors and program administrators use these histories to policy and curriculum decisions.

Gold argued that James Berlin’s (1987) taxonomies have been treated as mutually exclusive and discrete: “One is either epistemic or current-traditional in pedagogical practice and never twain shall they meet” (17). Tolson’s rhetorical practices, however, did not fit into any simple category: “…rather he combined elements of classical, current-traditional, liberal, social-epistemic, and African American as he saw fit” (17).

This example along with others from the other two institutions examined in the book, reinforce Gold’s primary argument that our interpretations of composition and rhetorical theory, like the theories themselves, are socially constructed, in constant flux, and must be understood in context.

Once again, an example of the importance of this type of contextual understanding can be seen in professor Melvin Tolson’s pedagogy at Wiley College as it related to race, power, and language instruction. Gold highlighted how Tolson would not have seen his prescriptive teaching of Standard American English as being in conflict with his opposition to white supremacy:

“For Tolson, language instruction gave his students the tools to actively resist the pressures of racism, conservatism, and capitalism. The question of whether the master’s tools could be used to tear down or rebuild the master’s house never came up, as it never would have occurred to him that the tools belonged to the master in the first place” (153).

He concluded:

“Our inheritance as rhetoric, writing, and language instructors in the American academy is a rich one, and the late
nineteenth and early twentieth centuries are a vital part of that inheritance. Then, as now, writing instructors worked to expand educational opportunities for new constituencies of students, fought against what they saw as the reductive rhetoric of previous generations, and sought to promote citizen-ship through rhetorical instruction. This is a past that not only deserves to be remembered but might also bear some repeating.” (156)

Canagarajah – A Geopolitics of Academic Writing

Canagarajah, A. Suresh. A Geopolitics of Academic Writing. Pittsburgh, Pa.: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2002. Print. Pittsburgh Series in Composition, Literacy, and Culture.

In this text, A. Suresh Canagarajah used ethnography of literacy along with empirical methodologies, such as discourse and textual analysis to explicate the geopolitics surrounding academic knowledge production both in the West, which positions itself in the center, and the Third World, which he argued is constrained to the periphery. Because of his position as a member of both communities he was able to describe his dilemma of trying to straddle the two discourse spaces. From this experience he contextualized the tensions between not only the “center” and “periphery,” but also between print media and talk, literacy and orality, dominant discourses and  vernacular – and how these factors along with power, material conditions, and genre conventions contribute to inequities regarding knowledge production and what he calls the geopolitics of academic writing. His main focus was on the conventions leading to the publication of the Research Article (RA) in the West because of the professional capital it carries in terms of producing “new” knowledge and helping scholars achieve tenure and promotion. For Third World academic communities, such as in Jaffna, Sri Lanka, he highlighted the importance of other forms of knowledge production, such as speaking engagements, verbal discussions, and publications in local publications.
Of his positionality as a researcher he stated:
“Though I claim to represent scholars from the type of background described above [periphery], my critical insights are enabled by my work experience in some American university settings as well. My membership in the academic communities of the center and the periphery has oriented me to the differences in literacy practices of both circles and provided a peculiar “double vision” that informs the discussion in this book.” (11)
Canagarajah was also candid regarding how his position also led to his standpoint be questioned by “periphery” scholars: “It is because I moved to the center that I am able to publish about the scholarly deprivation and exclusion I suffered while teaching at UJ, but in the process of moving my status has status has changed, calling into question my ability to represent my periphery colleagues” (11).
If we were to answer Spivak’s question “Can he subaltern speak?” based on this text, the answer would be no, because 1) although Canagarajah effectively portrayed the ways in which periphery scholars are silenced through Western academic writing textual and publishing conventions, periphery scholars are likely to enjoy more voice than their counterparts outside of the academy, but then also because 2) once periphery scholars begin to gain voice outside of their local circles of influence, which occurs only through varying degrees of using Western conventions they are no longer fully periphery, nevertheless subaltern. Then, 3) while speaking, or orality is valued in Third World and periphery communities within the “center” as a primary form of knowledge production, according to Canagarajah, he argued that periphery scholars are forced to utilize print media and its conventions in order to produce knowledge that is viewed as valuable and circulated.
Despite these conditions, Canagarajah argued that there are changes that both “center” and “periphery” academic communities must make in order to create more democratic knowledge production practices. One such adjustment that Canagarajah suggested “center” journals make was to establish a common bibliography format so that periphery scholars without word processing and print capabilities would not have to retype whole bibliographies or manuscripts to tailor it for submissions to different journals. On the other hand, Canagarajah encourage Third World scholars to continue to engage with center journals and ways of producing knowledge and avoid staying local, though, he emphasized they should not abandon local literacies. He argued that these moves toward changing the geopolitics in academic writing benefit both the “center” and the “periphery”:
“The more democratic the process of knowledge production, the more significant the progress. Paradoxically, therefore, the center academic institutions themselves impoverished by their hegemony. It is important to realize that the damages in knowledge production are not limited to periphery communities.” (254)
“It is worth repeating that the democratization of academic communication can make a critical contribution to center communities themselves… An engagement with local knowledge from periphery contexts can help enrich, expand, and reconstruct mainstream discourses and knowledge. In fact, the clash of diverse perspectives is valuable for its own sake: it affords an opportunity to reexamine the basic assumptions and beliefs of a community.” (303)
In his conclusion, Canagarajah reiterated that his intention was not to lower standards, but to expand and enrich them:
“This is rather an attempt to deconstruct the bases of “excellence” in published scholarship and knowledge construction. This is an argument for changing the relationships in the publication networks so that we can reconstruct knowledge – and presumably conduct international relations – in more egalitarian and enriching terms.” (305)

Berkenkotter and Huckin – Genre Knowledge in Disciplinary Communication: Cognition/ Culture/ Power

Berkenkotter, Carol, and Thomas N. Huckin. Genre Knowledge in Disciplinary Communication: Cognition/ Culture/ Power. Hillsdale, N.J.: L. Erlbaum Associates, 1995. Print.

In Genre Knowledge in Disciplinary Communication: Cognition/ Culture/ Power, the authors outline their theory of genre knowledge from a sociocognitive perspective and then further explicate how it works through several case studies featuring different forms of academic discourse, including scientific journal articles, academic conventions, and graduate school writing assignments.

The authors opened the text by stating the importance of Genre Studies to academic disciplines:

Genres are the media through which scholars and scientists communicate with their peers. Genres are intimately linked to a discipline’s methodology, and they package information in ways that conform to a discipline’s norms, values, and ideology. Understanding the genres of written communication in one’s field is, therefore, essential to professional success” (1).

Despite the importance of genre to all disciplines, including Composition and Rhetorical Studies, at the time, Berkenkotter and Huckin claimed that very little work informed by case research with insiders had been done regarding genre in rhetorical studies (2). Their research, based on eight years of rhetorical and linguistic analyses of case study data that foregrounded individual writers’ language-in-use, argued for the importance of focusing on the ways in which writers use genre knowledge (or fail to do so) as they engage in various disciplinary activities (i.e. negotiating revise and resubmits with reviewers, or judging conference proposals) (3). Their thesis was “that genres are inherently dynamic rhetorical structures that can be manipulated according to the conditions of use, and that genre knowledge is therefore best conceptualized as a form of situated cognition embedded in disciplinary activities. For writers to make things happen… they must know how to strategically utilize their understanding of genre” (3). In other words, genre knowledge for scholars (and everyone else) is an available means of persuasion.

Through their grounded, predominantly inductive approach they developed their theoretical framework consisting of the following five principles:

  • Dynamism – genres are dynamic rhetorical forms that develop from actors’ responses to recurring situations. Genres change over time in response to user’s sociocognitive needs
  • Situatedness – genres develop fromand are a part of user’s participation in communicative activities
  • Form and Content – genre knowledge embraces both form and content, including a sense of what content is appropriate based on the particular purpose, situation and time
  • Duality and Structure – as users draw on genre rules they both constitute social structures and reproduce them
  • Community Ownership – genre conventions signal a discourse community’s norms, epistemology, ideology, and social ontology (4).

Through the case studies presented in the text it s clear that at the same time genre knowledge can help users execute more rhetorical savvy and enact agency, its use can also reinforce rigid structures and perpetuate gatekeeping. This can serve as a hindrance to newcomers to a genre, such as doctoral students as evidenced in chapter 7, a case study on former Carnegie Mellon University’s Rhetoric program doctoral student John Ackerman (AKA “Nate”). While the study argued that over the course of several years of enculturation in the program Nate shifted from using genre conventions that identified him with his previous community and began to use those most suitable to his discipline, the study also highlighted tensions when individuals are faced with using academic discourse: “The linguistic analysis we did on Nate’s texts show clearly that he had difficulty switching from the one mode to the other. Although informal, expressive writing appears to help writers explore new ideas, it also may deter them from expressing these ideas in the highly explicit, cohesive, hierarchical style expected in formal expository prose” (142). The authors cited Chafe’s argument that in informal speech, writers also focused on their thoughts and feelings – this clearly went against the genre’s conventions. It is clear that in Nate’s example the issue was not a lack of clarity on his part, but one of genre violation on his part and gatekeeping on the part of his department, university, and perhaps discipline.

This issue of conformity to academic genres is addressed in chapter 8, as well, but from more-so with regard to the schooling of children. The authors use scholarship on teaching academic genres in the UK and Australia to question U.S. approaches. While acknowledging the power and privilege differentials between white and nonwhite students in the U.S. and abroad, their review of the literature showed a tentativeness with regard to a solution. They argued that the solution is not as simple as teaching genre knowledge in the classroom and cited Kress (1987, “Genres are cultural constructs, they are as culture determines. Challenging genres is therefore challenging culture” (159).

The concluded with a more comprehensive suggestion:

“It may be that a genre approach to the teaching of writing does not fit many language arts and composition teachers’ conception of their role, given their training, ideological loyalties, and professional allegiances. If this is the case, rethinking the training of language arts and composition teachers as well as the current curricula in language arts and university writing courses may be what is called for, should enough teachers and scholars see a need to bring about systemic, programmatic change.” (163) [Bold emphasis is mine]