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?

Stake – Qualitative Research: Studying How Things Work

Stake, Robert E. Qualitative Research: Studying How Things Work. The Guilford Press, 2010. Print.

In Robert Stake’s Qualitative research: Studying How Things Work, one could say that Stake’s “research question” is “what can qualitative research tell us about how things work, particularly as it relates to how the actions of people make them work? And how does qualitative research provide this information? A sub-question would then be “how can researchers best utilize these qualitative tool in their own studies?”

Early on Stake makes the distinction between quantitative and qualitative research, although he admits there are elements of each in the other, by stating that quantitative thinking relies heavily on outside knowledge, linear attributes, measurements, and statistical analysis as opposed to qualitative thinking based on human perception and understanding (11).

Two of the most important methodological differences between qualitative and quantitative research respectively is the difference between (1) aiming for explanation and (2) aiming for understanding, and the difference between (1) a personal role and (2) an impersonal role for the researcher (20). In addition, to qualitative research being personalistic, Stake identifies three other characteristics: interpretive, experiential, and situational (15). He gives a standard list of the most common methods of qualitative research – observation, interviewing, and examination of artifacts.

Overall, there were four significant features of qualitative research that I took away from Stake’s primer:

1-     Qualitative research is all about the microresearch and microanalysis

Most qualitative studies prefer to take a close-up view on individuals, or neighborhood groups, for example, as opposed to world cultures. These close ups allow for “rich” and “thick” Geertz (1993) descriptions. Stake cites anthropologist Clifford Geertz for his concept of thick description, which has become a staple in qualitative research, as descriptions that offer “direct connection to cultural theory and scientific knowledge” (49). Another methodological advantage of qualitative research and microanalysis can be found in comparative study designs. While, Stake asserts that macroanalyses run the risk of “reducing complex [cultural] differences to stereotypes” (28) qualitative inquiries have the potential to combat stereotypes by “emphasizing a particular experience, dialogue, context, and multiple realities” (28).

2-     Qualitative research is not concerned with “causes,” but comparisons and correlations.

Stake cautions qualitative researchers to refrain from using “because” and simply state what is:

“The qualitative researcher uses some of the words of causal connection, verbs such as influences, inhibits, facilitates, and even causes, but (if done properly) makes reference to the limited, local, and particular place and time of the activity. Even then, the qualitative researcher usually tries to assure the reader that the purpose has not been to attain generalization but to add situational examples to the readers’ experience.” (23)

3-     Qualitative research positions the researcher as an instrument that produces interpretation and data

 “For qualitative research, as indicated earlier, the researcher him- or herself is an instrument, observing action and contexts, often intentionally playing a subjective role in the study, using his or her own personal experience in making interpretations. The quantitative researcher makes methodological and other choices based partly on personal preference but usually tries to gather data objectively rather than subjectively.” (20)

Stake admits that the subjective nature of qualitative research is seen by critics as a weakness. However, Stake not only rejects the claim that subjectivity is necessarily sign of failure, but esteems it as essential to the process of gaining a better understanding of the human experience (29).

It is only through this subjectivity, that researchers can enact “empathetic inquiry” or Candib’s (1995) “connected knowing” whereby they can empathize “look at things closely, becoming sensitive to, even vicariously experiencing, the feelings, thoughts, and happenings” (46) as a part of their research process.

4-     A qualitative research project (design, methods, analysis) must be driven by and circulate back to one or more clearly articulated research questions

Stake argues that research questions should be a top priority for qualitative researchers. Not only does he claim they are more important than (and should be formulated prior to) research methods, but that choosing a research question (or two or three) may be among the most important choices we will make in our academic lifetimes (77). After research questions are chosen that are in need of microresearch and microanalysis, methods and lit reviews can be constructed, data can be gathered, and analysis and synthesis can commence, all the while circling back to the research question(s) to stay on point. Whew!

Stake’s approach to qualitative research in-and-of-itself does not seem particularly radical or earth-shattering. With that said, the style of the book with so many different examples was a bit overwhelming. I did appreciate his attempt to make the subject more interesting and the reading more like a journey. The rhetorical questions did remind me a bit of Blues Clues and Dora the Explorer : ). This may also because I am loopy with the flu. With that said I imagine some of Stake’s charts will come in handy during my future research, but some are a bit too rigid and formulaic for my taste. I am curious to know how and to what extent others see themselves using Stake’s approach to qualitative research in the future. Do tell…