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)

Bartholomae – Inventing the University

Bartholomae, David. “Inventing the University.” When a writer can’t write (1985): 134-65. Print.

In this foundational article, David Bartholomae explicated the challenges of first year students in adjusting to academic discourse at the college level. In his examination of 500 student essays for placement in college writing courses, Bartholomae wrote that the difference between those students labeled “basic writers” and those seen as proficient in college writing skills was the degree to which they were able to confidently negotiate academic discourse, who for most was a relatively foreign language. Of one student who struggled to take on the authority necessary to successfully use academic discourse in their writing, Bartholomae wrote the student’s essay was:

“… the record of a writer who has lost himself in the discourse of his readers. There is a context beyond the reader that is not the world but a way of talking about the world, a way of  talking that determines the use of examples, the possible conclusions, the acceptable commonplaces, and the key words of an essay on the construction of a clay model of the earth. This writer has entered the discourse without successfully approximating it.” (138)

Bartholomae argued that a key component of academic writing is the ability of the writer to “build bridges” between his point of view and his readers (139). This, however, according to Bartholomae, requires students inexperienced and unfamiliar with academic discourse to see themselves within a privileged discourse that they cannot control and that selectively includes and excludes groups of readers and writers. This issue of audience awareness, Bartholomae contended, is therefore “a problem of power and finesse” (140).

Through his examination of the student essays in his study, Bartholomae concluded that the so-called problem of “basic writers” is less a matter of sentence level errors than it is their difficulty in appropriating the particular “codes” and larger language of power and assumed wisdom in the university:

“In the papers I’ve examined in this essay, the writers have shown a varied awareness of the codes – or the competing codes – that operate within a discourse. To speak with authority student writers have to not only to speak in another’s voice but through another’s “code”; and they not only have to do this, they have to speak in the voice and through the codes of those of us with power and wisdom; and they not only have to do this, they have to participate in and know what they are doing, before they have a project to participate in and before, at least in terms of our disciplines, they have anything to say.” (156)

While Bartholomae implied that the problem was not in the inherent defect of incoming college students, but the expectations the university community places on them to use codes and prior discourses that they have not yet had time to learn, he did not question necessity of these expectations or the role of administrators and educators in perpetuating these expectations. Instead, Bartholomae suggested that students may need to learn to “crudely ‘mimic’ the ‘distinctive register’ of academic discourse before they are prepared to actually and legitimately do the work of the discourse, and before they are sophisticated enough with the refinements of tone and gesture to do it with grace and elegance” (162). He takes a functional literacy approach to writing pedagogy in which academic literacy is a tool (Selber 2004) and practice using it or revision makes perfect.

Selber – Multiliteracies for a Digital Age

Selber, Stuart A. Multiliteracies for a Digital Age. Southern Illinois University Press, 2004. Print.

Stuart Selber distinguished this text on computer literacy in a digital age by approaching the subject from a humanities perspective instead of a technical one. He contended that college English teachers need to take a postcritical stance toward computer literacy in which they understand that computers in education are inevitable and need to help their students develop a critical consciousness regarding digital technology and computer literacy.

“In sum, if teachers fail to adopt a postcritical stance, thus leaving technology design and education to those outside of the field, it is entirely probable that students will have a much more difficult time understanding computers in critical, contextual, and historical ways; that technology designs, informed by pedagogical and cultural values not our own, will define and redefine literacy practices in ways that are less than desirable; and that computer literacy initiatives will simply serve to perpetuate rather than alleviate existing social inequities.” (12)

The three components of his multiliteracy approach include functional literacy, critical literacy and rhetorical literacy. All three of these literacies are necessary because while functional and critical literacies are necessary to help students utilize and understand these technologies within their contexts, the rhetorical aspect of interfaces also need requires attention, according to Selber: “… students who are rhetorical literate will recognize the persuasive dimensions of human-computer interfaces and the deliberative and reflective aspects of interface design, all of which is not a purely technical endeavor but a form of social action” (140).

Selber outlined specific parameters for each of the three literacies, but cautioned readers/ educators that his program should not be taken as a rigid prescription, but as a suggestive guide. His table of the conceptual landscape of a computer multiliteracies program provides a clear summary of how the literacies work in relation to one another and their objectives:

Functional Literacy views computers as tools (metaphor), students as users of technology (subject position) to achieve effective employment (objective)

Critical Literacy views computers as cultural artifacts (metaphor) and students as questioners of technology (subject position) to achieve informed critique (objective)

Rhetorical Literacy views computers as hypertextual media (metaphor) and students as producers of technology  (subject position) to achieve reflective praxis (objective)

Selber essentially argued that Neil Postman was right: technological education is not a “technical” subject, but one of the humanities.

“Humanists often have estranged or uncomfortable relationships with technology, yet neither indifference nor paralysis are acceptable options nowadays. In fact, an important role for English departments is to help position human-computer interaction as essentially a social problem, one that involves values, interpretation, contingency, persuasion, communication, deliberation, and more.” (235)

Bridwell-Bowles – Discourse and Diversity: Experimental Writing within the Academy

Bridwell-Bowles, Lillian. “Discourse and Diversity: Experimental Writing within the Academy.” Feminism and Composition :A Critical Sourcebook. Eds. Gesa Kirsch, et al. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2003. 294-313. Print.

In this essay, Lillian Bridwell-Bowles utilized theories from Feminist Studies, critical pedagogy, and Composition and Rhetorical Studies as well as her teaching experience at the undergraduate and graduate levels to “imagine” and explicate the possibilities for the use of what she called a “diverse discourse” within the academy. She acknowledged the limitations of academic discourse and academic essays as a genre to connect with and express the full diversity of student bodies as well as meet their rhetorical needs. Despite the advances in composition theory through theories of cognitive process, social construction and advances in technology, Bridwell-Bowles argued that as long as our language remained inadequate (limited to academic discourse) our vision, thinking, and feeling will not be transformative (Rich 1979). Bridwell-Bowles alternative to exclusive academic discourse is “diverse discourse,” a discourse inspired by feminist discourse that allows for more languages and forms outside of academic discourse. She stated her conscious and political choice to not call it “alternative discourse” because it “does not allow us to reform thinking, to imagine the possibility that writing choices that are now marginal could someday be positioned alongside, or in place of , the dominant ones” (295). Bridell-Bowles does not argue for throwing out the pedagogical “baby (traditional academic writing components) with the bath water,” but asserts that in light of new theory these conventions should not be the only ones that count. While Bridwell-Bowles does not explicitly weigh in on the validity of bidialectalism for the speakers of language varieties outside of “standard” English, she does question its efficacy: “We may agree on its necessity, but not on its sufficiency. I also believe that linguistic and rhetorical flexibility may help students to write better conventional prose” (296).

Through her own experience and student examples Bridwell-Bowles admits she cannot provide concrete answers, but attempts to hypothesize the existence of a powerfully diverse discourse that allows for variation in race, gender, class, sexual orientation and other human variation. This work is challenging in complicated to do using a “patriarchal, racist, and classist variant of language,” because “it may not be possible to create feminist discourse with a “father’s tongue’ (Penelope) or the ‘master’s tools’ (Lorde, Master’s)” (298). She provides student examples of writing without argument and experimentation with form to illustrate ways that students have put themselves “back into their writing.” As she works to dot he same in her own writing she is candid about the privilege she has to do so as a tenured faculty member, but asserts that she intends to use this power to open more doors for others to do the same.

“The real change does not lie on the surface of language at all, where I have chosen to begin, but in the deep structure where language and culture interact. In these places, I treasure the new meanings that I and many others have discovered” (312).


Feminist Rhetorical Practices Adds Representin and Recognizin to its 3 Rs

Jones Royster, Jacqueline, and Gesa E. Kirsch. Feminist Rhetorical Practices: New Horizons for Rhetoric, Composition, and Literacy Studies. Carbondale, Illinois: Southern Illinois University Press, 2012. Print.

Feminist Rhetorical Practices: New Horizons for Rhetoric, Composition, and Literacy Studies serves as a metaphoric Richter scale for the seismic shifts that have occurred in both Feminist Rhetorical Studies (FRS) and Composition and Rhetorical Studies over the last 30 years. Royster and Kirsch use the metaphor of tectonic plates to describe and document the shifts and shifting that has occurred and is still occurring within FRS in terms of theories, research agendas, and research methods and methodologies.

Recognizin/g and Representin/g

In this metaphor they emphasize that there is not a single fault line, but that scholars working within and across the lines of Feminist Rhetorical Studies have been disrupting and shaking the foundation of Rhetorical Studies which at its core has traditionally been centered of Greco-Roman and Western conceptions of rhetoric and androcentric. I appreciate this metaphor for the necessarily dynamic and fluid flow (or stream to mix metaphors) that Feminist Rhetorical Studies is and for also denoting a degree of physical energy and in-your-faceness or “wreck” as Pough (2004) might call it.

In doing so, Royster and Kirsch also add “recognizin/g” and “representin/g” to the three Rs of Feminist Rhetorical Studies – rescue, recovery, and (re)inscription. As Carmen Kynard (2010) states, in urban language “recognizing” is about “publicly acknowledging what is going on and who the central perpetrators are” (48). This text resonated with me in part because of both Royster and Kirsch’s efforts to make their audience “recognize” the oppression and challenges, the work that has been done, and the work that still remains. What was particularly logistically persuasive to me, and I imagine others in feminist and Black feminist studies, was the argument that it would/ will not be until the least valued in the field, those silenced and marginalized women such as those of African descent (10) were recognized and valued in the field that the field would grow and reach its full potential. In her narrative about how she began feminist rhetorical research and became involved with Feminist Rhetorical Practices she stated that Rhetorical Composition and Literacy Studies was in need of a reform.

Royster and Kirsch’s deliberate and careful efforts to recognize the efforts of so many scholars within Feminist Rhetorical Studies can also be seen as a way to “represent.” “Representin,” Elaine Richardson (2007) explains, is a Black discourse practice that enacts solidarity and a type of fictive kinship. In doing so they demonstrate their notion of strategic contemplation which foregrounds this recognition and they said shows “how [others] have enabled us to stand where we are today, and how their visions make it possible for us to imagine a future worth working for” (23).

Royster and Kirsch not only historicize and boldly present the collective (although not admittedly not comprehensive) work that has been done in FRS to the present date, but argue that these strides have not only benefited them and other scholars and teachers doing this work, but the field as a whole:

“…research and practice in rhetorical studies have changed – and to the benefit of the whole… We now see more about the nature , impact, and consequences of language use. We recognize the importance of contexts and conditions in performance. We understand more about how rhetorical actions function in the human enterprise.” (15)

The book represents an embodied argument for the value of Feminist Rhetorical Studies as a major component of Comp-rhet and a cornerstone in its advancement. As Patricia Bizzell states in the foreword, “anyone who wants to do research in rhetoric, composition, and literacy, in any subfield, from now on will need to read this book” (xii)

As Bizzell foreshadows, this text is likely to be a landmark text; in a sense it feels as though it is capping off one era and launching us into a new one. With that said, I wonder if this book and its recognition of FRS to this point will mark the end of a “first wave” of Feminist Rhetorical Studies and if so, how will the new “wave” or generation of feminist rhetorical scholars take up the mantle?

Questions of the horizon:

As has been noted by feminist scholars regarding the first, second, and third waves of feminism, the hard fought gains of one generation and the privileges of the up-and-coming generation always sparks new questions, challenges,
and responsibilities. What are some of these new concerns you see arising?

Royster and Kirsch name some possible challenges on the next horizon:

“…because of the broadening nature and scope of rhetorical subjects, sites, and scenes we have set in motion the need to renegotiate the terms by which visibility, credibility, value, and excellence are determined…in effect we are re-forming the discpline and re-endowing the vision of our rhetorical landscape as a globalized, multi-dimensional human asset and not just the exclusive possession of Western, elite, white males.” (133)

In the last month CCR 635 has read Cintron’s Angels’ Town and Berry, Hawisher, and Selfe’s Transnational Literate Lives in Digital Times both of which attempt to broaden the nature and scope of rhetorical subjects. What similarities do you see in their methodological approaches to Royster and Kirsch’s four methodological approaches of Feminist Rhetorical Studies, critical imagination, strategic contemplation, social circulation, and globalization, and how might they have employed them to more effectively broaden the scope?

Kynard – From Candy Girls to Cyber Sista-Cypher: Narrating Black Females’ Color-Consciousness and Counterstories in and Out of School

Kynard, Carmen. “From Candy Girls to Cyber Sista-Cipher: Narrating Black Females’ Color-Consciousness and Counterstories in and Out of School.” Harvard Educational Review 80.1 (2010): 30-53. Print.

In her article, “From Candy Girls to Cyber Sista-Cipher: Narrating Black Females Color-Consciousness and Counterstories in and Out of School,” Carmen Kynard, assistant professor of English at St. John’s University, takes the reader on a journey through time, place, and space. Kynard’s stated goal is to use multiple narratives that explore how digital technologies offer hush harbors for Black female college students’ social and literacy practices in what she describes as “digitized Candy Girls” (33). The phrase Candy Girls, originally adopted from the popular 80s New Edition song, described Kynard’s clique of African American girls that she attended school with and navigated various issues of Black girlhood with.

Kynard described her approach as an “unhushing narrative methodology” (48), rather than an ethnographic one, in her research because she was an active agent in the cipher’s (group’s) sense making, decision making, and survival making” (48). Kynard used narrative to “unhush” and disclose the ways in which the “hidey spaces,” or hush harbors that she and the Black female students in the cipher formed. These spaces contradicted and challenged traditional notions of literacy where the purpose of literacy is understood solely as a means to achieve money and power.

Kynard argued that her use of groups or ciphers also worked against “isolationism of Black women, and unhushing methodology works against the isolating of researcher and participant” (48). The unhushing narrative methodology “(re)values black radical female subjectivity” (48).

These methods serve a rhetorical purpose because by strategically making the private public, Kynard sought to move a deeper understanding of their hush harbor as a site for “new political lenses into, and therefore struggles against, schooling’s processes of ethnic cleansing” (48). This is no doubt necessary in light of the fact that the rest of the institution failed to “recognized” the cipher members or their activity. Kynard defined the urban, youth term “recognize” as being about “publicly acknowledging what is going on and who the central perpetrators are” (48).

“It is worth saying again: no one in the department where I met the sistas in the cyber cipher noticed their displacement or talent; nobody recognized. It didn’t have to be that way, and it can’t be that way if we intend to really dismantle the race, gender, and class hierarchies of educational institutions.” (48)

Through her unhushing narrative, Kynard shows the various ways that Black women in postsecondary educational settings assess their contexts and their positioning within them and seek to employ and/ or develop community literacy skills in order to survive and potentially thrive in in-school contexts.

Composition as Methodological Flat-leaver

Flat-leaver: (n) A person who leaves a group of people to go with another group, without excusing or dismissing her/himself. Or in this case it may be a field/ discipline…

Haswell (2005) argued that both NCTE and CCCC initially sponsored empirical research and later “radically” unsponsored/ flat-left it.

Haswell (2005) seemed to be in agreement with Barton (2000) that the promotion of, or positive argument in favor of research methods that are reflexive and have dialogic relationships between researchers and informants can amount to a negative argument against empirical research methods. Thus, leaving Composition Studies with a dichotomy that is counterproductive, according to Haswell. He asked what the consequences of this methodological “warfare” may be for the field. Barton (2000) concluded that these types of argumentation limited the field by limiting the range of research methods seen as ethical:

“But the implication of this negative argument is that research that does not incorporate collaborative and reflexive design and analysis is (vaguely) ethically suspect. Unfortunately, research explicitly declaring its allegiance to the ethical turn far too often makes such negative arguments, presenting a narrow view of the field which implies that only certain methodologies incorporate ethical research practices.” (401)

Barton argued that negative argumentation works to reify a particular type of small scale case study type of methodological design as the ideal research design (402-403). On page 403, Barton (2000) listed three implications of Composition Studies’ move to privilege the collaborative, reflexive design over empirical models:

  1. Risks losing sight of the ethics of empirical frameworks
  2. By devaluing empirical research the field may lose its ability to ask certain types of research questions about oral and written language and the complexities of its production and interpretation in various contexts
  3. The field may also lose its ability to make the appropriate methodological choices for investigating problems of value which could have a trickle-down effect on the education of new practitioners in the field

Barton (2000) said that negative argumentation regarding empirical research could be countered by recognizing that not all composition research should be designed as collaborative and reflexive. She asserted that even some ethnographic studies could benefit by having more distanced relationships between the researcher and participants and remain ethical, especially ones that explore naturally occurring language events and pointed to her own research (“Discourses on Disability”) as an example (404).

In the battle of the methods, Barton (2000) argued that ethics could be a common factor in both non-empirical and empirical research and establish an area of conflict resolution: “The ethics of all research demand that subjects participate with full consent and that researchers present data in its full complexity, and the way that these standards are met by empirical studies needs to be better known in the field of composition” (405). She highlighted way that empirical and non-empirical research methods exist on a methodological continuum and could be used together in order to complement each other in a variety of investigations.

Despite all of these possibilities, Barton (2000), Haswell (2005), Roozen and Lunsford (2011), and Brandt (2011) agree that the field’s professional journals do not reflect the full methodological range equally.

“…during these two decades, NCTE/CCCC defined scholarship broadly but supported it selectively. More exactly, they have been hostile to one kind of scholarship while promoting the rest, with their exclusion of one kind and support of the rest growing more and more entrenched. Most crucial is that the kind of scholarship they are killing off happens to be essential to the rest they nurture. Define scholarship as broadly or diversely as they want, when essential nutrients are cut off, eventually the whole system will die. As when a body undermines its own immune system, when college composition as a whole treats the data-gathering, data-validating, and data-aggregating part of itself as alien, then the whole may be doomed.” (Haswell, 2005:219)

Brandt (2011) highlighted how the emergence of specialized journals within NCTE emphasized specific and separate pedagogical and research missions. She implied that the fields fracturing as evidenced by these journals s had an effect/ taught readers, researchers, WPA, and teachers how to think and be within the field. These texts piece together an interesting cycle where researchers give primacy to non-empirical research, publish it, devalue empirical research through explicitly through negative argumentation, or implicitly, readers pick this “sinks in” (Brandt, 2011) to the reader and the cycle begins afresh. Or does it begin with the reader? Surely it must be more complicated than my “chicken or the egg” metaphor. But understanding this cycle or just choosing a spot in it to disrupt the cycle may be essential to creating more methodological balance and using our full range.

“A number of disciplines have moved to incorporate both quantitative and qualitative work, but only a few disciplines, perhaps only our own, make use of the entire range of research methods from empirical investigation to humanistic inquiry. Composition has this range to offer, but this potential of our field is severely limited if, to repeat Lloyd-Jones, ‘the ethical badge of membership in our guild’ is not extended to ‘all that can be gathered (25).” (Barton, 2000:410)